Iceland, land of of fire and ice, volcanoes, Vikings and visitors. Thousands of them, including us. All to see the sights that the original visitor who came here didn’t see. Floki Vilgerdarson came here from Norway in 870 AD but was disappointed because all he could see was ice. A practical man, with his incredible powers of observation, he named the country with intuition and called it Iceland.
Sitting just below the Arctic Circle, I’ve booked a holiday slightly warmer than the last one where we were in the Arctic Circle. Based on our visit, we would have called it “Very Heavy Rain Land” but we can’t control the weather so we don’t try to worry about it, even if the rain killed our DSLR camera and any chance of the Northern Lights. This is a holiday with a difference, one where my own shield-maiden Sam, gets her hands wrapped around large specimens and where I get a hot geyser shooting its hot load all over my face, which I loved and recommend, not something I thought I would ever say. First up though on our Iceland trip is Reykjavik.
Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital, a small city centre with a laid back attitude and cafe culture (with WiFi in every bar) where half of the countries population is currently sitting or getting wrecked during the renowned Reykjavik nightlife. God knows how they can afford to though, it is horrendously expensive for everything. 2 beers, 2 soups in a bread bowl cost us £37, our cheapest meal, this is not a budget travel destination.
We’re based at Hotel Fron on Laugavegur, Reykjavik’s main street, smack bang in the centre of town and its a short walk from one end of the city centre to the other and you’ll be guaranteed whichever way, that you’ll come across some talented and vibrant street that adorn the sides of buildings. In the UK, this would just be some tatty tag mark, but here they put as much effort into it as they do in getting wrecked.
If you thought that the food cost is monstrous, that is nothing compared to the 73 metre high phallus shaped concrete monster that is Reykjavik’s most famous landmark of Hallgrimskirkja Church, visible from almost everywhere in downtown Reykjavik. You can ride the rocket shaped tower to the top viewing platform for some splendid panoramic views of Reykjavik and surrounding scenery. Outside the entrance to Hallgrimskirkja is the statue of the viking Leifur Eriksson with his Danish war axe, discoverer of America, looking majestically over the city.
Of course, no visit to Iceland and Reykjavik is complete without a compulsory visit to vikings and what better place is there than the Saga Museum. In an old fish factory near the old harbour, this museum brings the Viking age to life with the Sagas a huge part of Icelandic culture. With realistic silicone figures dressed in specially crafted weapons and authentic garb, like Westworld in miniature and not unsimiliar to Jorvik in York. The information boards cover from the late 800s onwards with 17 scenes from sagas.
You get an audio guide to accompany you round while you marvel at the wanton bloodthirsty characters. Seems our Nordic cousins decided to populate Iceland during the settlement age by popping off to Britain along the way for a smash and grab as over half the women during the settlement age were of Celtic blood. Before you exit, you get the chance, its almost compulsory, to to try on the chain-mail and pose as a Viking warrior. Throwing on the chain-mail weighs a ton, and I may have enjoyed this dressing up a little too much as I start to get comfy with it.
For a more sedate museum experience, we head to the Settlement Exhibition, Landnamssyningin, to see how the first Icelanders lived. An underground, purpose-built museum around the extensive ruins of a Viking-age farmhouse excavated in 2001. With the oldest relics of human habitation from 871 AD (+ or – 2 years), the finds include a 10th century farmhouse which was inhabited from 930 to 1000 AD, with the hall 20m long and 8m wide, not so much of a fan of the animal backbone stuffed into the wall for good luck though. The settlement of Iceland was easily dated due to a layer of ash from an enormous eruption in the Torfojokull area in 871 AD which can be dated to a degree of accuracy because traces of this have been found in the Greenland ice cap which forms annual layers and can be counted back.
It’s a shame we didn’t get to see the coolest light show on the planet, the Northern Lights, cancelled for each of the 3 nights we were there, we did see them briefly earlier in the year while we were in the Arctic Circle in Norway. I guess this just gives an excuse to visit another Nordic country next year.