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Published: December 7th 2013
NOT as we saw them!!!
Dec 2013 – Friday 6th
I think Iceland is one of the strangest places I have visited!! It is the worlds 18th
largest island and has a total population of just 320,000 people! We happened to be there when an old 100 year old record was broken and a new record of ‘the coldest first 5 days of December’ was made! We were experiencing temperatures of -12C to -20C in the day time, and even with a slight breeze, it was uncomfortably cold!
We stayed at the Ramada Plaza, Three Bridges on the Monday night for the bargain price of £55.28 which included 3 days parking at ACH Parking near Cobstone. It worked very well as we walked for 30mins into Crawley on Monday afternoon and found a lovely old pub (The Old Punchbowl) for our evening meal, after buying a new coat ( unexpected as the zip got jammed and broke on my old one!) Drove 10mins to ACH the next day, and then caught the free shuttle bus to the airport (15mins)
It was a Tuesday lunchtime flight so we arrived in Iceland about 15,30pm in the dark and a
snow blizzard! It was a very bleak forty-five minute drive from Keflavic Airport to Reykjavic (where a lot of houses were already decorated with Christmas lights! Apparently Christmas starts in November in Iceland!) before being dropped off at Hotel Cabin. We soon discovered the reason for its name, as our room was smaller than a cabin!! However it had a small ensuite and as long as we took turns to move around, it was fine! (It’s a good job we are used to living in a small campervan!!!) The weather was so bad that we ate at the hotel and then watched English tv. We also had free wifi on our phones in the room – not sure why as in the Reception area they are charging 4 euros for 15mins!!
Wednesday morning breakfast at 9.00am.......and it was still dark outside! It started to get light about 10.00am and it looked like it was going to be a sunny day so we walked along the sea front – fortunately the path had been cleared of the worst of the snow and ice! Took about an hour to walk along to the Old Harbour, but with fine views over the
mountains, ( turning pink in the sunrise ) and of the bay. It was a pleasant walk and daylight by the time we got there! Visited the Northern Lights Museum, that had some fantastic photos of the Aurora Borealis , together with detailed explanations of what causes this phenomena..........
Wandered around the Old Town and walked around the frozen lake before walking up to Hallgrimskirkja Church to watch the sunset about 14.30ish, even though it stays dusk until about 16.30ish. Had some fine views over Reykjavic before walking along the shopping street Laugavegur with all its Christmas lights blazing, and back to our hotel ready for our trip tonight to see the Northern Lights.
The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in brief, is a natural light display in the sky caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms as they are pulled towards the magnetic fields of the North and South Pole at 5 million miles per hour.. The particles are released from deep inside the sun and seeing the lights depend on the solar winds and cloud cover.
Great excitement and anticipation in the reception area as we all waited for the coach. (Reykjavic Bus
Tours). An hours drive to a location away from the city and we all got out, armed with our fluorescent armbands in case we got lost (!!) and waited expectantly. There was a bitter wind but a cafe was on hand to supply hot chocolate (at a price!!) Well after about an hour there was a glimmer of green haze for a while – which then gradually disappeared! We all then re-boarded the coach and went to a different location where half the coach disembarked (some people were already too disillusioned......and cold!) to see if there were any more lights. We saw a white arc and then a white sort of Bart Simpsons haircut appear for a while – and that was it!!
And our guide thought that we had been really lucky and was quite impressed!! She must have been the only one, as anyone else we spoke to, was also very disappointed! Some people we spoke to went to different locations and still only saw the same lights so location doesn’t seem to matter. Very over rated but I’m sure that if you had about a month to spare and went looking every night for them –
eventually you would see some spectacular lights.....well......maybe!! Another couple had been out in the snow blizzard the night before and seen nothing, (not surprising!) then had gone whale watching – saw nothing! They were completely disillusioned!
Anyway, a late night followed by an early morning, as we were supposed to be picked up at 8.30am for our trip around the Golden Circle. Got picked up at 8.00am and our first stop was a Thermal Electric Power Station. It was fairly interesting learning how they tame the heat from the ground and use it for their electricity and hot water and run it through pipes underneath the roads that therefore keep their City roads and pavements free of ice! A short information film about the tectonic plates and an interactive earthquake noise machine???? A quarter of Iceland is an active volcanic zone and it experiences earthquakes most years.
It was just starting to get light as we left and we drove over the mountains just as the sun rose, giving us a good view of Eyjafjallajokull (the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused disruption to all of Europes airports!) Turned off 2km before Selfossand stopped at
Skalholt Church, a political centre and Bishops Seat, and where old archaeological artefacts dating back to the 17thC have been found.
Because it was such a beautiful morning, with the early morning sun just rising, we were taken to see a thermal waterfall. Very atmospheric as the sun started to shine through the steam and cast a pink light on the surrounding snowy mountains as well. Passed loads of Icelandic ponies that are used mainly for riding and pleasure now but in the past have been used for working and farming.
Drove on up the Haukadalur valley to Geyser and the waterfall Gullfoss,(Golden Waterfall!) where we stopped for just over an hour to walk down to see the two waterfalls totalling 31 metres and the Gorge which is about 2.5km long. Unfortunately as it was so icy and cold we weren’t really able to explore the area but had to stay on the well trodden paths! Lamb soup and bread for lunch which was absolutely delicious! A bit pricey at about £7.50 but you could have a refill as well, so not too bad!
Back to the actual Geyser area where we were able to wander around
the thermal area with all the geysers and steam! Strokkur, the most famous geyser wasn’t performing but there was still a pretty impressive geyser called Geysir that boiled up and released a huge column of steam every 5 mins or so!
Back to the coach and onward to the Pingvellir National Park where the American Tectonic Plate and the Europe tectonic plate are pulling apart a few centimetres every year. It was getting darker by now but managed to have a 40minute walk around the area, across a river that had iced over the path, up to the American Tectonic plate and over to The Law Rock (Loberg) This is where the parliament was first formed in 930AD between the Chieftians and the Farmers. The Parliament met every year until 1798 and the rules of society read out by the paid Law Speaker (there was no written language!) the sound being projected against the rock towards all the people who stood below. Many important speeches were made here by the Old Commonwealth, settling of disputes and summons were made, punishments of drowning committed etc. Iceland re-formed its Parliament in 1845AD and also declared its Independence from Denmark in 1944.
It was a shame it was sooooo cold and getting dark as I would like to have looked around a little bit more...
Our final stop was a hot chocolate stop ( we were very cold by now – even with thermals on!!) and then a book shop and view point by Pingvellir Lake but unfortunately it was too dark to really appreciate it!
Back to the hotel by about 17.00pm and dinner again in the hotel- soup and salad with a hot dish of rice and sausage for about £9.00. The food has been relatively expensive but its a shame we didn’t get to eat more of the local food, such as whale, puffin and fermented skate – a Christmas traditional food!
Had a relaxing evening thawing out before setting the alarm for 5.00am, as we needed to get the bus to the airport at 6.00am for our flight at 8.15am. All went to plan, uneventful flight, bus was at Bus Stop at Gatwick to take us back to ACP Parking, collected Campervan and a steady drive to get back home at about 16.30pm.
I think if I was going to go back to Iceland
I would prefer to go in the warm weather, there are lots of flowers and fauna there so it could be very pretty – but winter time is a pretty bleak, unique experience too. It is quite an amazing place!
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