Iceland blew us away! Not just the icy winds — it was the breath taking landscapes, pristine surroundings and natural wonders, combined with impeccable organisation by my friend who organized the trip in a painstaking, meticulous manner that made this an unforgettable eight-day sojourn. Here’s the first of a two part travelogue
Members of the group were literally “blown away’ at Keflavik Airport by strong winds, which threw everyone and their luggage around! Reaching the comfort of Hotel Radisson Blu 1919 in Reykjavik, after a nearly 50 km drive, everyone had a free evening on the first day to discover the sights and sounds of the city and relax after the long journey from India.
Iceland has a total population of around 323,000, with Reykjavik having more than two thirds of the country’s population.
After this “whirlwind” start, the tour began in right earnest with a sightseeing tour of Reykjavik, the northernmost capital of the world. We visited the Northern Lights Museum, which provided a lot of factual information as well as folklore, whetting our appetite to witness this breathtaking phenomenon.
The next stop was the site of the Gorbachev Reagan détente talks in 1985-86, which was key to the end of the Cold War and a reduction in nuclear stockpiles. The Fischer-Spassky chess duel for the world title also took place here. Fischer not only won the title but also opted to become an Icelander and eventually died in this beautiful country.
A visit to Reykjavik’s iconic Hallgrimskirkja Church awed us and many took the elevator to the top of the tower to get a panoramic view of the city. Then on to view world renowned sculptor Einar Jonsson’s thought-provoking sculptures with various philosophical as well as mythological themes.
After a sumptuous lunch (the forerunner to the exquisite meals ahead) we visited many other interesting sites of the city, before arriving at Reykjavik Domestic Airport to take a flight to Akureyri in the North.
The flight felt like old times when the world was still an innocent place. There was no frisking, scanning of luggage or removing of laptops in the small airport. The short journey in the propeller aircraft enabled us to feast our eyes on this amazing “fire and ice” country.
On arrival at Kea Hotel, we were treated to a spectacular rainbow, and soon a second one parallel to the first, snow clad mountains and a beautiful sunset, getting us mentally keyed up for the Northern Lights tour the next day.
At the evening’s dinner, we ushered in the birthday of one of our friends, followed by lively music, including our own Iceland trip theme song, and old English and Hindi favourites.
We set off on our comfortable bus, which, along with our excellent and knowledgeable guide Pelle, stayed with us until the end of the tour.
The first stop was the majestic Godafoss, one of Iceland’s many waterfalls in the Lake Myvatn Area. The drive through an area of extreme contrasts with varied flora, remnants of geothermal activity, lava, hot springs, etc. was a breathtaking one with a number of stops to take photographs.
The highlight of the day was a relaxing geothermal bath in the stunning Myvatn natural lagoon. The 30+ degrees temperature in the water was very welcome and a sharp contrast to the 6-7 degrees weather outside. Even those initially reluctant to brave the short sprint between changing rooms and the pool were indeed glad that they had this unique experience.
Later at night, we embarked upon an adventurous bus journey, looking for and chasing the Northern Lights. We hit pay dirt soon, stopping at a lonely spot close to a lighthouse. The clear sky enabled us to have our first darshan of the Northern Lights. It was an awesome sight, spanning the horizon. Many excellent photographs were taken showing the brilliant hues, which are not visible to the naked eye.
We left Akureyri to travel to our northern-most city Siglufjordur, just half a degree from the Arctic Circle.
En route we went on a whale-watching excursion. Everyone had to don heavy-duty wet suits for the adventurous ferry journey into the fjord. The many humpback whales we saw and photographed ensured that we were not disappointed. One of our friends, showed his latent expertise in fishing and generously let his catch back into the sea, not a surprise as he is a vegetarian!
The drive to Siglo was breath taking, including around 11 kms of a long, narrow one way tunnel and ending at a beautiful boutique hotel set in the bay of this most picturesque town. The Herring Museum gave us an insight into Siglo’s history which flourished as a herring fishing and processing centre, accounting for nearly 50% of Iceland’s exports in the first half of the 20th century. Then on to a microbrewery — Se Gull 67 — where one of our friends, a former owner of one of Mumbai’s biggest brewery, shared nuances on how good quality lager is brewed!
The evening’s revelries began with everyone enjoying the channa from the “Chanawala” (one of our lady group members in disguise) with “his Channawali” (yet another of our lady members). A highlight of the dinner were the Indian dishes prepared by our very own senior lady member who managed to sweet talk her way with the Hotel Chef! She had thoughtfully carried masalas from India, precisely for such opportune occasions!