Monday 27 April 2020

Reykjavík, Iceland

Our 4-day trip to Iceland was undoubtedly the best holiday I have been on so far. Sean bought the holiday for us for my 25th birthday present and we were both incredibly excited - we had always wanted to visit!

On the 11th December, we left home for our early morning flight, suitcases stuffed to bursting with thermal wear, woolly hats and cosy socks. Naturally, our flight was delayed as Iceland was experiencing it's biggest snowstorm in over a decade as we arrived at Gatwick. Brill. Wondering if we would ever make it to Reykjavík, we sat in Spoons and made the most of their refillable hot drinks station, nervously waiting for our gate to be called. Four hours later, we head to board our plane which had been upgraded to one of the fancy ones with in-flight entertainment. Is there a better way to travel in December then accompanied by 'Home Alone'?

We arrived in Keflavik and even the airport was beautiful. Stepping out of the airport, the severity of the storm was beyond apparent. Mounds of snow covered the airport car park and the wind was so strong these little domes were constantly being shifted around the tarmac. After an hour's coach journey, we checked into Reykjavík Lights where we would be staying throughout our trip and much to our delight, our room overlooked the snow covered mountains. I was thrilled to find that we only had to take one step left out of the door of our hotel into the crisp, cold air to find ourselves in Eldsmiðjan; a pizzeria serving THE BEST pizza I have ever had. We had our dinner here on the first night of our holiday. It didn't come as a surprise to us that we ended up eating here 3 times during our 4 day holiday. 

Geysers on the Golden Circle tour
An early night was had as we had been up since around 2 am and we were heading off for our Golden Circle tour at 07:30 the next morning. We hopped on the coach and drank in the beautiful scenery on our way to our first stop. Iceland had the most incredible landscape I had ever seen. After an hour or so, we arrived at the Geysers. I don't pretend to know too much about natural phenomenons, however this spiked my interest. A geyser is a hole in the surface of the Earth which shoots up a load of steam and hot water every few minutes, the ones we saw erupted every 6 to 8 minutes. That's about as far as my understanding goes, but it's all to do with geothermal energy (there's a lot of that kind of thing in Iceland) and I highly recommend looking into it if that floats your boat. We spent about an hour here, and managed to catch several eruptions on camera.

Gullfoss waterfall 
We piled back onto the coach and made our way to our next stop on the tour; the Gullfoss waterfall. Translating to "golden waterfall", this was by far my favourite part of the tour. Sean and I got off the coach and were immediately ushered into a hall where we were served traditional Icelandic meat soup (basically lamb soup, was so delish) and warm bread rolls. With full tummies, we ventured outside to make our way down to the waterfall. I was concentrating so hard on trying not to fall down all the steps whilst the workers there tried to clear them of all the snow and ice from the storm the day before. We reached the bottom and it was the most breathtaking view I have ever seen and probably will ever see. Sean asked me to take a photo of him looking out at the waterfall (how artsy, I thought) and then he would take one of me. I posed the best I could, given that I had my back to him, and growing impatient, I asked if he had got the photo when I heard a little voice below me ask "will you marry me?". I turned around and Sean was on one knee in the snow and ice, asking me to be his wife. Panicked by the fact he might get a frostbitten knee (priorities!), I encouraged him up before accepting his proposal. It was such a huge surprise, and he kept it a secret so well! We were very lucky that someone nearby clocked what was going on before I did, and took Sean's phone to get some snaps.  Dazed and shocked by the excitement of it all, we asked each other what on earth happens now before staggering back up to the top of the steps. I felt like the luckiest person in the world. Gullfoss is totally beautiful, by the way. If you find yourself in Iceland, you'd be silly not to make a trip there. 

Gullfoss waterfall
We got back to Reykjavík, and still not really knowing what to do with ourselves and our newfound engagement, we celebrated with a burrito. Yep. You read that right. We strolled along the road our hotel was on to find ourselves gazing at the menu for a nearby Mexican restaurant and decided that this was how we celebrated this milestone. For anyone who knows Sean and I, we don't do fancy so this suited us down to the ground. And of course, the perfect day had to be tarnished with my first fall of the trip as I slid on my arse across the entrance to a multi-storey car park. I think I styled it out quite well, but I think Sean would probably disagree. In the evening, we had a trip to the outskirts of Reykjavík to try and catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights. On the coach journey out, the tour guide explained to us that the forecast for the lights wasn't too promising, but there was a chance we might be able to catch them if we were lucky. Ever have those moments where you just feel like something was meant to be? I got engaged to my soul mate and I saw the Northern Lights. ALL IN ONE DAY. It was incredible. Unfortunately I didn't manage to pick them up on my camera, but they were beautiful and I will never forget standing with my fiance in the freezing cold (it was -14°c at this point) gazing up at the most amazing natural phenomenon of them all. 

Hallgrímskirkja (Icelandic Church)
We had a slower start the next day as we didn't get home from the Northern Lights excursion until around 2 am. We got ourselves ready for the day and headed into central Reykjavík for a few hours of exploring. It was about a 30 minute walk from the hotel at my pace (aka SLOW) and there was lots to see on the way in. The entirety of the walk we seemed to be followed by these gigantic, snowy mountains that never faded into the distance. It was unlike any scenery I'd ever seen on a holiday before. We got into town and were faced with the most intricate piece of architecture I've ever seen. Again, I am not an expert when it comes to architecture, but this church was truly breathtaking. Hallgrímskirkja is the biggest church in Iceland, and houses a magnificent pipe organ. We went inside and lit a candle and took a moment to soak in every little bit of detail. Stepping back out into the bitterly cold air, we found ourselves on a rainbow-painted road leading further into town. Due to the time of year we visited, there was lots of cute little Christmas shops, selling some traditional Icelandic Christmas decorations. We absolutely had to nab ourselves a bauble! We noticed loads of hot dog stands, and a fair few drive-thru style ones too which I didn't know was a thing before we went. We found ourselves a really nice restaurant, selling Icelandic cod and chips. I am not a fish lover, but this was proper yum. 

Yummy fish and chips!

The Blue Lagoon excursion was probably the one we were looking forward to the most before we flew out to Iceland, and it really didn't disappoint. We were up bright and early for the first Blue Lagoon trip of the day and were on the coach by around 7 am. As we approached the Blue Lagoon, we could see all the geothermal springs nearby and the tour guide explained to us the technicalities of how the heat in the ground is produced and how they use it to their advantage. I'm not going to pretend that I can remember all of those details but it was super interesting to listen to. We arrived at the Blue Lagoon and we queued up for our wristband and our towels. We were separated into same-sex changing rooms which were communal and we all had to shower before entering the lagoon. I considered having a mini-meltdown, but decided that all these people were strangers who I'd never see again and just got on with it. I met Sean again at the entrance to the lagoon itself and we made our way in. It was -9°c on this morning, and I felt absolutely stupid to be in my swimming costume as the freezing cold wind hit my already wet skin. Before I knew it, we had tip-toed our way in to the very warm waters of the lagoon and my panic was over. It was absolutely surreal that this lagoon was completely naturally heated by the earth and we were in it so early in the morning whilst it was SO cold outside. We were encouraged to put conditioner on our hair before entering the lagoon because of how salty it is, and our hair FROZE. You are given a free drinks token which some people used for an alcoholic drink, but it was a little early for Sean and I so we stuck to smoothies. This trip is DEFINITELY in my top 3 highlights of our whole holiday, and I would absolutely have to go again if we ever find ourselves back in Iceland. 

SO. There you have it! A very lengthy log of our wonderful trip to Iceland. I would go again in a heartbeat, and it holds a very special place in my heart for many reasons. I thought I would share a couple of top tips that we were super grateful for.

  •  I can only speak for the winter months in Iceland, but it was SO cold. We didn't experience any temperatures above freezing throughout our stay. I definitely recommend wearing several layers when you're out and about. My go-to was: thermal top, t-shirt, jumper and coat for the top-half, and tights, thermal trousers and jeans/joggers for the bottom-half. Normal cotton socks, cosy/thermal socks and then boots. Add a scarf or snood, a hat and some gloves and you're good to go. Also, we had around 4 hours of daylight each day so plan your trips carefully. 
  • Like any holiday, it's always a smart move to tank up on brekkie if it's included in your hotel package to keep you going through your day and any trips you might have booked. You've heard it said that Iceland is expensive. The rumours are true. It's a beautiful place, but it ain't cheap so be prepared to spend a little more on a pizza and a pint than you would usually. 
  • Invest in a good pair of boots. You will spend a lot of time on your feet, and some boots with a decent amount of grip will be your best friend to keep the slips and trips to a minimum. 
  • Although it's super cold, you can still catch a few rays off the snow so I was sure to take my moisturiser that has SPF 50 in it, just to make sure I didn't get sunburned!
  • We both took backpacks to wear on our day-to-day adventures and it was a great decision. It helps to have your hands free while you're trying to maintain some sort of composure and balance on the slippy paths, and I was grateful of having my hands available to me to break my fall(s). Also, as Iceland can be a bit pricey, it's advisable to take a refillable water bottle out and about with you (note: Icelandic water is the best) and maybe some snacks too to curb the mid-afternoon hanger. 

Have you been to Iceland? Are you planning a trip now?! Let me know in the comments and let's have a chat. I'm so keen to go back and I hope you are lucky enough to experience Iceland too. 

Love, Samantha x


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