The North Remembers: Visiting Reykjavik

This weekend, Niall and I decided to escape the harsh London winter and head to the northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Undeterred by the maximum temperature prediction of 4 degrees and the notoriously unpredictable weather, we packed our longjohns and woollens and hopped on a plane.

Despite being so cold that it was literally painful almost all of the time, the three days we spent in Iceland housed some of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

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Yeah, including those. But first things first.

We started our time in Reykjavik with a trip to the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa nestled among Iceland’s seemingly endless lava fields. The Blue Lagoon comprises an enormous pool of geothermally heated seawater. The seawater contains the active ingredient silica, as well as minerals and algae which heals and softens skin. And it’s gloriously, beautifully warm.

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I’ve always loved hot outdoor pools. There’s something so satisfying about feeling the cold air play around your shoulders and then ducking into gorgeous, scalding water. The Blue Lagoon takes it to another level, with a spectacular setting, buckets of silica mud to rub into your face and body and an in water bar. We floated around the lagoon for two glorious hours, feeling all our tension wash away. It was busy, but because the lagoon is so big, it was easy to find quiet spots to relax and make out. A word of warning, the water in the lagoon is very good for your skin, but not awesome on your hair. I loaded my hair up with conditioner before I got in and it still took five shampoos and a whole travel sized conditioner bottle before I could even get a comb through it. And even then, it was a struggle. I dread to think of the damage I did to my hair. Smother your hair in deep conditioner and try to keep it out of the water as much as possible.

We left the Lagoon after a couple of hour because we wanted to squeeze in an afternoon nap before catching the late night light show. At 10pm, we headed out into the freezing Reykjavik night in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive and magnificent Northern Lights. As we drove South towards the coast, the snow which had been fluttering down all day thickened and threatened to envelope the bus completely. Eventually, all we could see was white in all directions. After two hours of shivering in the blizzard, we got back on the bus, cold, wet and thoroughly miserable. Having been obsessed with the sky for as long as I can remember, I was desperate to see the lights. I reached peak grumpiness on that bus ride home. But then, about half an hour into the journey, the bus pulled over to the side of the road. A thin grey band stretched from the horizon into the night sky, dotted all around with stars. Fun fact: the lights appear grey to the naked eye most of the time, due to how we perceive colour at night. It’s only when we look at them on a camera that we see the bright colours. The grey band slowly split in two and started to twist across the sky.

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And then, out of nowhere, the band split and went shifting and skipping across the sky. The lights were dancing. And it was probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

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They might have been fashionably late, refusing to show up until 2am, but they were so worth the wait.

We arrived back at the hotel at 3am, begrudgingly set our alarms for 8am and fell into bed.

Early next morning, we got up and got on another bus to go explore Iceland’s Golden Circle. Comprising of Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir’s geysers and Thingvellir National Park, this infamous route takes in the most spectacular and bizarre of Icelandic scenery. We also added a stop to a tomato greenhouse, which was powered entirely by geothermal energy. They boasted a massive collection of tomato plants, which they grow all year round, boxes and boxes of bumblebees, adorable basil plants on each table and a cafe serving fresh tomato soup and bloody marys, made fresh from their tomatoes.

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After warming up with some soup and fresh bread, we headed back out into the cold to explore Iceland’s amazing natural landscape.

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First stop was Geysir, where we watched the enormous Strokker shoot boiling steam metres into the air. All the way to the burny boil. We lasted approximately three minutes in the cold and then made a dash for the visitor centre cafe. The Icelandic have a word for days like this: Gluggaveður. Literally translating as “window weather”, this word described weather that is beautiful, but best enjoyed through a window. We figured that the natives know best, so decided to follow their advice.

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Having consumed our second bowl of soup of the day, it was time to head for the Gullfoss waterfall. The waterfall cuts through an incredible snowscape, and is impossible to see until you’re right on top of it.

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Freezing our butts off.

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Again, we lasted about a minute outside before retiring to the cafe for hot chocolates and a slice of apple pie. It’s important to keep your energy up in these low temperatures you know.

The last stop on our tour was the incredible Thingvellir National Park. The park is situated in the rift valley between the North American and Eurasian continental plates, making for some incredible views. Lava fields and earthquake canyons stretch out as far as the eye can see, surrounded by dormant volcanos and cut through with icy blue rivers.

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I wasted no time in establishing myself as Queen in the North, ignoring Niall’s suggestion that the Young Wolf probably wouldn’t be shivering under her four layers of clothing.

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The snow which had been floating in the air started to fall with a bit more abandon, and it wasn’t long before we were stuck in our four hundredth blizzard of the holiday. So we made our way back to Reykjavik in search of alcohol to numb the cold. Having read a recommendation for Snaps restaurant on Tripadvisor, we decided to go check it out. And I’m so glad we did. Enormous windows, bare lightbulbs and hanging plants gave the place an almost dreamy, greenhouse feel. The atmosphere was warm and informal, and the food was to die for. I had a warm duck salad with pear, pomegranate and sweet potato, and Niall had an open porkbelly sandwich. Both were completely delicious and they definitely weren’t shy with their portions.

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Honestly, I ate until I was absolutely stuffed and still had a full plate of food in front of me. We passed on dessert, opting instead for another round of drinks to prepare us for the walk home.

We packed so much into our two and a half days, paying the price in sleep. Honestly, I’m still reeling a little. But I feel so lucky to have experienced this amazingly beautiful, volatile and completely quirky country.

Skál, to Iceland!

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P.S. If you’d like to watch me taste all the weird assed Icelandic alcohol we bought in duty free, click here!