Escorted Tour - Coach
Wonderful winter Iceland
50 people found this review helpful
11-15 January 2015
We flew out from Heathrow on the Sunday mid/late-morning. The airport was eerily quiet and we sailed through with no queues through baggage drop and security – that had to be a first ! A leisurely breakfast and we boarded a full flight to Reykjavik with ‘Iceland Air’. The leg room was slightly more than on some airlines and we had a comfortable flight arriving at Reykjavik late afternoon. It was already a heavy dusk as we walked off the plane and it was dark by the time we boarded the flybus to the town. A quick change of bus at the bus station and we were at our hotel – the Fosshotel Baron. It was clean, modern and comfortable. In snowy, cold conditions we opted for the nearest restaurant, the Argentine Steak House, slightly hidden from view down a short passage to a heavy wooden door then into a very softly lit, wood-clad room with an open charcoal grill at one end. This is where all the meat and fish is cooked. We had a lobster bisque soup for starter, mixed lamb and steak platters and mixed deserts. The food was of truly excellent quality and all locally sourced, but eye-wateringly expensive!
Next morning, after an excellent buffet breakfast we had an 8:30 start. There were to be nine of us in the group with our Driver/Guide Borgstein in a 17 seater, minibus so everyone had a window seat. Borgstein proved to be very knowledgeable on all matters Icelandic, attentive and most importantly – an excellent driver in the wintry conditions. Naturally all the vehicles are fitted with winter tyres and the main roads are kept clear by snow ploughs at regular intervals but it still took much skill to give us such smooth and safe rides for the whole time we were on the bus.
We began with a walk through Reykjavik town centre, through the dawning light, to the ‘Volcano House’ . Borgstein pointed out various important locations and his pride in his country soon became apparent. At the House we had a video about the eruptions at Eyjafjallajokull and Fimmvoroulhals in 2010 and the earlier eruption on the island Vestmannaeyjar when Eldfell erupted in 1973. On this occasion the town of Heimaey was evacuated at 2 in the morning without a single casualty and half the town was destroyed. It was rebuilt and the residents returned 6 months later. The director of the Volcano House was a little boy living on the island and was able to show us a photograph of his grandmother’s house pretty much engulfed by ash and his own house, two doors down, with the open bedroom window where he had been asleep when the event occurred. The Baroarbunga volcano, under the glacier, in the Vatnajokull National park, on the eastern side of the island, is currently erupting and we were able to hold a piece of rock from it that was 22 days old.
By now it was light and we headed out of town towards the Pingvellir National Park and Albingi, where the original Icelandic parliament was held in 930 AD and where one can see the fissure line between the two tectonic plates of the mid-atlantic ridge that meet on the island. This is widening by about 10 cm annually and you can see the split and walk between the two plates. As Borgstien said Iceland just keeps getting bigger, one day it might take over the world! The scenery was beautiful and we walked for about 45 minutes around the area. A couple of words of warning: Our tour provided us with crampons; essential for safe walking on the very compacted snow and ice paths. It was so cold that my camera kept telling me the battery was running down when it wasn’t; it was just freezing (keeping it next to your skin when not using it helps, though it’s a cold shock sometimes !)
We then moved on to see the geysers and hot springs in the park and the falls at Gullfoss. Lunch was at the hot springs in the visitor centre, simple and tasty but expensive. Geysir is no longer active but we did see Strokkur spout several times in a 15 minute period, as the 80-100 oC water shot out, sending clouds of sulphurous steam high into the air which instantly condensed in the cold air forming a heavy sporadic mist. The unusual wide double Gullfoss falls – at right angles to each other – was beautiful. Surrounded by snow, partially frozen water and icy spikes the whole area around both sets of falls we saw was breath-taking.
That night we stayed in simple timber hut-type accommodation near Selfoss. This was our one regret: that we did not take our swimming costumes when we walked in to the little town as we could have used the geothermally heated open-air swimming pool had we done so. The huts look like garden sheds from the outside but are comfortable, clean and very warm on the inside and are set amongst trees next to a wide, fast-flowing river. That evening Borgstein gave us a talk about the ‘Northern Lights’ which included a related video . We had a delicious Icelandic fish and chips (very crispy batter) for supper and went to bed with a promise that we would be awakened if the ‘Northern Lights’ appeared, but looking at the sky and weather forecast we knew this was to be very unlikely.
The next morning (we were right about the absence of the lights) there were high winds across the island and it was not safe to visit the main part of glacier field and our departure was delayed until 10:15. Instead we undertook the third day’s sights and headed to the Laki Lava field and the village of Vik. We walked on the black sand beach and saw the rock stacks, locally said to be three trolls who stayed out too long on a fishing boat. We drove along the coast passing the cliffs of Reynisfjara and the glacier at Myrdalsjokull, close by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, seeing the farm that was regularly featured on the television footage. We saw the Skogafoss waterfall, plunging some 60 meters, walking up steep stairs to near the top (and sliding part way down) Further on we saw the Seljandsfoss waterfall which has a path that goes behind it. Unfortunately this path was closed due to severe icing. That night we stayed at the Fosshotel Nupar, a very modernistic comfortable single story building in the middle of nowhere and partially snowed-in ! Dinner was a delicious lamb shank and vegetables. At the end of the meal Borgstein told us we would be woken if the ‘Northern Lights’ appeared later and he popped outside: only to return immediately to say come now. We were then treated to a display lasting some two hours. It consisted of green fluorescent bands moving across the sky with the occasional red streak at the outer edge. My camera was not powerful enough but one of our group had better equipment and, with a 15 second exposure, got some beautiful shots. He even managed to pick up the red glow on the skyline of the erupting volcano Baroarbunga. Hot chocolate and biscuits were a warming end to an exciting evening.
An early start next day, as we had a lot to cram in on our last day and after another generous buffet breakfast we were off before 8 am. It was still dark when we left the hotel and we watched the dawn rise as we approached the Jokulsarlon Glacial lagoon. The lagoon, fed by both glacial melt waters and the connected nearby ocean is filled with small floating icebergs that calve off the edge of the glacier – seals and seabirds rest on both water and the blue-hued ice – it is a sight to behold. We walked out onto the black sandy beach which is littered with clear glass ice sculptures from the icebergs that have been washed out to sea , rinsed clear of sand and gravel, and then redeposited by the rising tide. These were splitting the light in the dawning sun, like massive diamonds , and it was a unique and awe inspiring sight. We continued to drive round to Myrdalsjokull glacier and were able to walk out onto the edges of the glacier which episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’ and a couple of ‘James Bond ‘ films had used as locations. The morning was filled with short drives to different beauty spots, including an excellent view of the highest peak in Iceland in true ‘alpine-like’ splendour in bright sunlight after a recent heavy snow-fall.
It was dark by the time we arrived back in Reykjavik to the Fosshotel Baron. We opted for a seafood meal at a fish restaurant in the old harbour and made our way along the seafront to the restaurant ‘Mar’ . The food once again was delicious (a langoustine, catch of the day, muscle and prawn type broth using a well-judged lobster bisque liquid )- if unsurprisingly pricey once again ! We walked back along the main high street which was still busy ( and festivally decorated ! ) at 9pm. Apparently, for night life lovers, Friday and Saturday nights are highlights on this street which is alive with bars and clubs till morning.
Next morning we had decided to call in at the ‘Blue Lagoon’ on our way to the airport and pre-booked a swim, free mud facial and steam in the extensive hot waters of the geothermal lagoon – constantly replenished by underwater springs. A busy – but typically nordically well-organised luxurious setting. It is easy to manage this trip on your way to or from the airport – you only need bring your swimming costume, everything else is available at the spa.
Our flight home was a little less crowded and we were blown back by a wind that made the last 10 minutes quite bumpy. Heathrow (terminal 1) was once again oddly quiet and peaceful – a fitting end to a lovely winter holiday.
The holiday had been booked through Protravel and the tour organised by Guomundur Jonasson Travel.
50 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.