A trip to Iceland, the land of fire and ice
Believed to have been settled by Vikings back in the 800s and home to the first Parliament in Europe, Iceland is a truly spectacular country. It is a place so special that it will make you in awe of God's generosity to humankind.
They call it the land of fire and ice and that's because it boasts dramatic landscapes adorned with geysers, volcanoes, rapid waterfalls and of course, lava fields and hot springs - pretty common, right?
My trip to this icy paradise was over a long weekend and I strongly advise you to take longer if you can - you will most certainly not get bored.
We stayed at Fosshotel, an eco-friendly hotel that harnesses the power of the wind to provide its guests with heating and cooling and other leisurely facilities. It's in a great location both for exploring Reykjavik, as well as touring this wondrous island more widely.
Since we went there in early December, we were not adventurous enough to rent a car and face the blazing icy storms and so we booked on one of the famous Golden Circle Tours that take you around some of the main natural beauties of the island.
Our tour was booked with an agency called Sterna Travel and they were great - on time, professional and with a very entertaining guide.
This is a day tour so it starts really early and lasts for about 9 hours with the mention that you do get to soak in a natural hot spring at the end of the day. The latter is an amazing experience, especially if you go in winter where the unforgiving temperatures reach unbelievable lows and the hot springs rise like an oasis in the middle of a frozen desert.
The itinerary included a first stop at Þingvellir National Park, where we got to learn about Viking history and witness the spot where the tectonic plates are pulling apart, forming a rift valley between the Eurasian and North American plates. It's a beautifully serene landscape charged with history and natural drama.
Next stop was one of my favourites: the geyser. Here, whilst feeling like you are walking on planet Mars, you need to watch your step as every few minutes, the mighty Strokkur geyser erupts from the sizzling hot water underneath the soil, craving the attention of its visitors and reminding them of its mighty powers.
The final stop before the hot springs is the incredible and mighty Gullfoss waterfall, famous for the golden mist it sprays across the viewing platform. It is a truly spectacular sight, especially in winter where everything is frozen and you are made to feel as if in a movie entering a still white paradise.
After all the exploration and awe at mother nature's beauty, it is finally time for a good hour or so of relaxation at the Secret Lagoon, a geothermal hot spring offering a sneak peek preview into the Gods' private spa at the end of a long world-changing decision-making day; just another unforgettable experience that Iceland offers.
We headed back to the hotel only to get ready for our second tour of the day (I know, crazy right?) where we went hunting for the Northern Lights. Here we booked a Deluxe Tour which included hot chocolate and doughnuts - don't judge, it gets extremely cold!
The reality of this tour is that you are basically driving into the depth of the night under a frosty dark sky, hoping to see the aurora borealis make an appearance on your private stage. After a few hours and semi-frozen toes, we finally saw it - the shy green light trembling across the skies.
After a restful night in our eco-hotel, the next day was earmarked for exploring the Nordic capital, Reykjavik (translated as 'the Smoky Bay') and trying some of the local delicacies. There are lots of things to see and as always, my suggestion is to simply get lost in town and immerse yourself in its Nordic charm.
Some of the most impressive sights we saw include Hallgrimskirkja Church, the largest expressionist style building in town that is guarded by a statue of the famous explorer Leif Eriksson who discovered North America about 500 years before Columbus.
Then there's the Harpa Concert Hall and the Sun Voyager (a statue that is a romantic expression of an ode to the sun). The city centre with its semi-frozen lake and gracious swans, captivating art galleries and hipster coffee shops are amongst other local attractions that you should not miss.
Overall, Iceland is one of the most naturally beautiful countries I have seen (closely followed by Scotland in my view). It's a paradise for hikers and outdoor lovers and is filled with fascinating discoveries.
#europe #north #iceland #Reykjavik #weekends #landoficeandfire #nature