It’s time for the second part of Ben’s Icelandic adventure…
Following on from the opening part a couple of days ago, there’s plenty more that Ben and Clare crammed into their trip that we’re yet to hear about.
So without further ado, it’s time to hand back to Ben!
The morning after our stay at the Viking Hotel in Hafnarfjörður, we took a bus and left for Reykjavik…
Incidentally, in the most brilliantly simple piece of public service I’ve ever seen, bus travel anywhere cost precisely 350ISK thrown into the bus driver’s pot.
I find Reykjavik difficult to describe properly, because although it’s a beautiful, thriving, exciting city, in this case it’s being assessed by a guy who finds similarities in a lot of different cities. The friendliness of the Icelandic people is abundant in the capital (although as with any capital, a good portion of the populace are foreign tourists) and there are plenty of cultural sights to see – we found our way around several art galleries and museums, most of them themed around some aspect of Icelandic life (such as a very cool volcano museum). We spent the rest of the day finding somewhere to stay (ending up at Kex hostel, which I can highly recommend – very much catering to the trendy, hip traveller crowd, but at the same time nicely communal and easy-going) and visiting the public pools.
In Iceland, outdoor public pools are everywhere, as a basic neighbourhood amenity akin to a corner shop or post office; in fact the traditional second date for young Icelanders is to go and sit in an outdoor hot pot for a while. We sampled a few different baths over our trip, but each shared a common theme of inexpensiveness, sparse cleanliness and above all, community. It was refreshing to take in the Icelandic norm of being comfortable in one’s own skin (showering before entering is compulsorily nude) and to see how perfectly integrated this gentle, but frequent exercise is into the country’s way of life (compare this to the UK’s feeling of a ‘special weekend trip’ to go to a pool with the family).
After a very active day around Reykjavik, we were ready for a very good night’s sleep and certainly got one in our accommodation. At this point, Clare would never let me get away without being totally honest about what happened next: I messed up!
As we were going to sleep, I was having a problem logging on to the up-to-then-fine WiFi to double-check the time of our internal flight the next morning. To cut a long and stressful morning of running around Reykjavik with our bags short, we missed our booked flight, had a tense few long minutes until we eventually managed to rearrange our next couple of days’ plans and then thankfully bought some new tickets for a flight later that day.
In spite of feeling like more than a bit of a numpty in the light of this little slip-up, perhaps it turned out for the best. Because our flight wasn’t for a couple of hours, we got to visit the National Museum of Iceland, which was fascinating. As I mentioned, because of the way that Iceland was settled, they actually have very clear records from the country’s birth up until today. The permanent exhibition paints a very clear picture of the progression of a tenacious and potentially bleak land to being the thriving culture that it is now; a temporary exhibition was also there, showcasing photographs from Iceland’s first ever photographer, Sigfus Eymundsson, whose 1860′s photographs helped to leave us with even more of a feeling of what it was like to live in that Northern outpost of civilisation.
Back at the airport, check in was about as complicated as getting on a bus, which is why it shouldn’t have surprised us when we were ushered to what looked like an old bus with propellers. Now, I don’t mind exciting, death-defying flights, but I’m assured by my better half that this may not be for everyone (and her clammy vice-like grip on my hand during landing would testify to this), so if you plan on taking an internal Icelandic flight, do be prepared.
Our flight was to the Northern town of Akureyri, from where we were to drive further North along the coast to Húsavík. From when we landed, to the hour-long drive through awesome Alpine-esque scenery, to our arrival in Húsavík itself, we were in a completely different Iceland to Reykjavik. In a country of only around 320,000 people where 120,000 of them live in the capital, empty roads and vast open vistas outside of towns feel infinitely solitary.
We made a short stop along the way to take in a magnificent set of waterfalls and fjords and it was only our need to get to Húsavík by a certain time that stopped us from taking more time at some of the many sights along the way – there’s certainly more to explore between Icelandic towns than one trip could take in.
In Húsavík, we’d booked to take in some whale-watching and a little horse riding, but due to limited numbers, it turned out the whale-watching was pushed on to the following day with the horses, leaving us with that afternoon and evening to explore the town.
Húsavík is a small harbour town that sits in the shadow of the mountain Húsavíkurfjall and although it’s a lot sleepier than Reykjavik, the focus is still clearly on tourism. Not in an obtrusive way, but the harbour front is definitely kitted out to cater mainly to people who are looking to get out in the ocean or sample some good food. Luckily for us, this meant an abundance of options for our evening meal (and customary shot or two of Brennivín) before eventually heading off on a slightly-sozzled late-night walk along the coast into the countryside.
And thankfully, this nocturnal (if that is the right word in perpetual light) expedition meant we both enjoyed a very good night’s sleep in our hastily-found guest house, which would come in very handy before the next day’s adventures…
Check back in a couple of days for the final part of Ben’s Icelandic experience.
On the 18th August Ben is attempting something rather incredible in the name of charity – namely running 130 miles in one day, from our hometown of Barnstaple to Bristol! Crazy? Quite possibly. But brilliant, and also all for the awesome cause of Vision Aid Overseas.
And if that’s not enough, you can also check out Ben’s music at BenjiOneLung.com