Day One: WOW, what a first day in Iceland. We flew in with WOW airline (we now appreciate what it is like to be a sardine in a can) and landed in heavy rain. Happily baggage collection and meeting our guide went without a hitch. We were introduced to the Yellow Peril (the minibus) and a lovely friendly driver and off we went. First stop, the Bubbling Mud Pits. It was amazing to see water boiling violently just from the heat of the Earth. We sneaked off the path to feel the hot ground and had to hold our noses occasionally, to avoid the strong smell of rotting eggs (Hydrogen Sulphide for the Chemists among us). We heard about the legend of Gunnuhver the ghost that haunted the peninsular until a warlock trapped her in a mud pit and although we listened we could not her the wails that some people who visit report!
Our next stop was the famous Blue Lagoon, where we were able to relax in geothermally heated mineral waters. The colour of the water almost unreal and the warmth very relaxing; the rising plumes of steam making it seem even more other-worldly. It was great fun. Back in the yellow bus and off to the Viking Hotel. The name does not do this hotel justice. Not only are all the staff dressed in medieval garb, but as you eat you are visited by two very large Vikings who will proceed to serenade you with a mixture of traditional Viking songs and modern classics from your own country given a special Viking twist.
Day 2: The Golden Circle Tour; We started with a visit to the main Geothermal Power station powering Reykjavik (Hellisheidrarvirkjun) where you can see fantastic presentations of how Iceland taps into its abundant Geothermal Power.
Next stop was Gullfoss, the Golden waterfall, where thousands of tons of icy glacial water thunder majestically down onto a deep canyon. Very close by we stopped at Geysir, which has given its name to all the hot springs in the world. There the Strokkur Geyser erupts every few minutes, spouting up to 30m. After we returned to the hotel, we had just enough time to go swimming.
In Iceland there are thermal outdoor pools everywhere. We visited the local one (10 minutes’ walk away). The one in near the Viking Hotel in Hafnarfjordurhad has a number of pools at different temperatures ranging from 32 – 45C and some slides for children. It is very cheap and free for hotel guests for one night. Finally, after dinner, we were picked up by our friendly bus driver and taken out of the town into the hills where there is no light pollution. We all were fortunate enough to see the Aurora Borealis. What a great day!
Day 3: The South Shore Tour. We drove from Reykjavik over the Hellisheidi mountain pass which offered a magnificent view of the wide plains formed by glacial rivers, then along the coast to the mountains towering over the coast.
Here we had views of snow covered mountains including Hekla (see above), the country’s most active volcano and Eyjafjallajokull (the one that grounded all the flights in 2010). We stopped at a Volcano ‘museum’ there where we saw a documentary on the lives of a farming family caught up in the eruption of 2010; this was really worth a visit! Next stop was the Seljandsfoss and Skogarfoss waterfalls, which are fed from glaciers and fall from high rock escarpments. The students had an opportunity to walk behind the falling water, (but waterproof clothes were essential, as the spray coming off would have thoroughly soaked us otherwise)!
Black Beaches: Onwards to the village of Vik where there are café’s where you can stop for lunch. Here the beach was flankedby 200ft cliffs, with jet black volcanic sand and rocks. There were also massive caves containing hexagonal rock formations and columns. The waves were big and the currents powerful and dangerous, so we had to be very careful near the water’s edge. To be honest the cold dark waters did not look very inviting, even to the intrepid surfers amongst the group!
Touching a Glacier!
On the way back to Reykjavik, we stopped off at the Myrdalsjokull glacier. Here you can easily walk on the lower reaches of the glacier (where the dark moraine gives traction). Students had a chance to see the amazing blue-ice of the glacier and touch a living, moving, wonder of nature that carved so much of our own landscape her in the UK. This really did bring our geography lessons to life. It would be fun to come back with proper crampons, an ice axe and a guide for a more thorough exploration ……….maybe next time! Anyhow, it was time to head back for dinner at the Viking Village Hotel in the company of our friendly Vikings.
Day 4: Reykjavik It’s not over until the fat Viking sings (which he had the night before), but with an afternoon flight we were determined to squeeze some Icelandic culture into the last day and see some of the sights in and around Reykjavik. First stop the President’s House which has no security or fences! We learned that, after the financial crash of 2008, the Icelanders elected a comedian as Mayor of Reykjavik, who managed to do a ‘stand-up’ job 😉
With my Science hat on, I had requested that we see the Perlan district heating towers where all the hot water is pumped from the Geothermal Power Station that we visited on the 1st day. It had a great 360˚ view of the city and Reykjavik. We briefly caught sight of the house were the Non-Proliferation treaty was signed between Gorbachev and Regan during the Cold War on the way to the iconic 250ft tall Lutheran Church (Hallgrímskirkja) with a colossal stainless steel church organ inside. We were even lucky enough to hear it being played. Finally, we had 30 minutes in the City itself, which had lovely cafes and a pleasant low-key atmosphere. After picking up some souvenirs and little gifts for the very helpful and friendly driver and tour-guide, we headed off to Keflavik Airport for our flight home with tired but (I think) happy children (and teachers).
As we waved goodbye to Iceland, I reflected on our hectic visit to this wonderful eccentric country with its spectacular views, awe-inspiring natural wonders, magical aurora and hardy welcoming people. These ancestors of Vikings who don’t use surnames, have no trains at all and even build their roads around places where they believe the ‘invisibles’ (trolls and fairies) live are a modern yet romantic people. I can’t wait to go back one day…… with a better camera!