It’s not like the word for Iceland’s capital city is as difficult to spell as the one for their recently exploding volcano (Eyjafjallajokull). But still I have to search for it, copy and paste every time I use the word. It’s the y, k and j and scuppers me – sorry Reykjavik.
Anyway, the reason I use the word quite a lot is because after having visited a few years back, I’m obsessed with the place. It’s my spiritual home. And this coming from someone who can’t stand the cold …
Here are some of the things I love about Reykjavik and the surrounding area. (I know there’s more to Iceland – just haven’t seen it yet.)
If black, red and white is your thing, come to Iceland. The lava-strewn countryside is splashed with other-worldly colour from hardy plants and minerals bravely clinging to life in a not altogether sympathetic climate. Glimpses of steam from the geysers and power station at Þingvellir are a dramatic contrast to the black rock and remind you of the heat and violence going on beneath your very feet.
The Volcano Show
If you’re at all interested in volcanos, give this a go. The cinema is run by Villi Knudsen, who is also the director, star and one of the volcanologists featured in the films (along with his volcanologist father). The films are split into two – if you stay for both you’ll be there for three hours. I saw the two and loved them both.
The first part features most of the largest eruptions up to 2000 (that may have changed since Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption – I visited before it happened). The second focuses on the eruption on Surtsey that caused the birth of Little Surtsey and Christmas island. It also shows the eruption near the little fishing village of Heimaey in 1973. Both are fascinating and one can only admire the dedication of Villi and his father in capturing hours and hours of fantastic footage. He has a lovely dry sense of humour in real life and his films, also.
Corrugated iron is a common material in the buildings of Reykjavik. It protects against the weather and there’s a shortage of wood on the island. However, don’t expect an expanse of grey iron walls. The townspeople have painted their homes in beautiful bright colours that stand out against the grey skies.
The guided walk
When I visited, Iceland was in the throes of economic collapse. While fortunate for me as it was much cheaper to visit than it had been in the past, this was of course a disaster for the residents. My guide on the Reykjavík cultural city walk told us of the dire straits some who had bought houses at the height of a housing boom were in. He’d avoided the problems because he’d been renting as he felt that prices were just too high at the time. Details like this and stories of elves and goblins, or how the President of Iceland is in the phone book, made this free walk a useful way to get to know the city.
A dry sense of humour, kindness, laid-backness and of course, quirkiness: this seems to me to be what Icelanders are about. Our guided walk man mentioned that many of the good things about Iceland and its people have come from Denmark. If this is true, I’ll be visiting Denmark as well!
Mini bus tour
One of the characters I met was the lady who took us in a mini bus on the Grand Circle Tour. (Her company is Iceland Horizons – they provide scheduled tours for smaller groups – up to 16 people.) She gave us a lot of information on the day to day lives of Icelanders, telling us that when she visits relatives in Denmark she and her family have to be reminded to turn off the lights and heating – it’s on all the time in her home in Reykjavík simply because the geothermal heating is so much cheaper.
I visited in September. It was quite warm in London, and quite cold in Iceland. And as I’ve said, I hate the cold. But I knew what I was in for. I had my waterproof jacket with inner fleece lining sorted. It wasn’t going to bother me. And Reykjavik was so good that it really didn’t!
The sky was grey and there was a persistent drizzle, but the sun did break through one afternoon, and it wasn’t freezing. There is apparently less snow in Iceland than people believe. Of course you have the permanent glaciers, but it doesn’t get cold enough often enough for there to be major amounts of the white stuff.
Fish and chips
Iceland Fish and Chips is an organic restaurant that specialises in fish and chips. The chips are actually hand cut potatoes roasted in olive oil, with rosemary or garlic. There’s a choice of skyronnaises (made with the local skyr, soft cheese) made with ginger and wasabi, mango, or coriander and lime (and more). The fish is fried in a lovely light batter and none of it tastes unhealthy and heavy. However, if you feel you haven’t had the required number of calories, have one of their desserts afterwards – sky with wild berries or carrot cake perhaps?
The Blue Lagoon
You’ll have seen photographs of this surreal lagoon, but it’s even better in real life. It’s situated beside a geothermal power plant and volcanic mountains, and the steam from hot water, along with the iridescent blue of the water and white of the minerals around the pools make it gorgeous beyond belief. nfortunately, it was also teaming with tourists.
However, I had a lovely time wandering outside the pool itself and photographing the strange minerals and plants among the rocks, and bought some gorgeous Blue Lagoon algae and mineral body lotion which I’m still eking out!
The sulphur from all that volcanic energy can be smelt everywhere, what with the preponderence of geothermal springs and suchlike. This mixed with the smells from the fishy ocean and working harbour give it an aroma quite unlike the petrol fumes of London!