The third installment of our trip to Iceland has lights, works of art and…my hairy Hobbit feet.
Wait…come back! They’re not that hairy, honest…and you don’t see a close up. 😉
Whilst in Iceland, we stayed in the capital, Reykjavik, renting an AirBnb apartment near the seafront. Reykjavik has a good reputation for having great nightlife, being one of the safest capitals in the world and being expensive.
And oh my, it’s expensive! We were lucky in having an entire apartment so were able to prepare lunches and dinner for ourselves. But on our first day there we spent £90 on…
- 2 x six-inch subs.
- 2 x small cartons of chips (fries).
- 4 pints of beer.
- A glass of lemonade.
- Breakfast and lunch items for the week (which only came to £19!!).
But when statistics (for 2015) tell you the average Icelandic wage is close to £50,000 a year, it’s easy to see why prices are sky high to the rest of us! On our last night we had a meal of two 10″ pizzas and two beers – which set us back £57. Kind of felt like a scam.
Remember the £9 cans of nowt? Exactly!
The safety aspect was something I was grateful for as the centre of town (and yes, it really is more small town than capital city) was a 20 minute walk away, through a very quiet neighbourhood. Yet, even coming home late at night I never felt uneasy and everyone was very pleasant if a little reserved (I think it’s just the Icelandic way!)
However, I can’t say I was a huge fan of Reykjavik. Granted, we had neither the inclination nor funds to sample the famous nightlife, especially after a full day of exploring but we did wander around a couple of times and didn’t think much to it.
I quite liked this troll though!
To us, it seemed to be trying to be something it’s not – had it remained a quiet (by capital city standards) fishing town, it would have been more to our liking. But the influx of tourism requires it to cater to the masses and touristy traps are something we hate. So obligatory Irish pubs and shops full of ‘I heart Iceland’ tees we could do without!
Harsh? Maybe. Or maybe we just weren’t cool enough to uncover the ‘real’ Reykjavik…
Our capital escapades weren’t all negative mind you. One of the best things about meandering through back streets was discovering the spectacular street art on nearly every building.
Some has been commissioned on specific buildings, but other pieces seemed like they had cropped up overnight and the community thought they were too beautiful to take down.
A major landmark in the city is Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutherean church (Church of Iceland) and one of the largest structures in the country.
Its unusual design, which took over 40 years to complete, is meant to represent the basalt columns produced by volcanic lava flow, and it certainly casts an impressive and imposing eye over the capital.
The interior I found to be less impressive, being too modern for this Gothic architecture fan, but I was very taken by the organ sat high on the wall and the overall peace inside, despite the glut of tourists. Plus, if you don’t mind waiting in a long line, you can take a lift to the top of the tower for fabulous views over the little houses of rainbow colours.
Our favourite day staying closer to ‘home’ however took us to the opposite end of Reykjavik and only a 5 minute drive from our apartment. Thanks to looking up some nearby geocaches, we discovered we were incredibly close to a nature reserve down by the seashore.
The area, called Seltjanarnes, is a distinct town from Reykjavik, due to some political loopholing, yet there is nothing much to say you’ve crossed a boundary. The western-most point of the region has a lovely lighthouse, Grotta, which can be accessed across the water – if the tide is out!
It wasn’t on the day we visited but it didn’t matter as the views across Faxafloi Bay were fabulous, even if the rain was lashing down and the wind threatening to throw us off balance!
Rainbow after rainbow provided us with a gorgeous backdrop and we even found a geothermal hot tub, hidden between the rocks – Time to take those Hobbit feet for a dip!
It was soooo hot. Like scold your toes hot. A very weird but cool (ok, opposite of cool!) experience when the surrounding air temp was freezing.
We also heard that this was an excellent place to see the Northern Lights within the city limits. Prospects for viewing the Aurora were fairly dire all week and again, due to cost we had decided not to book a tour. At almost £100 for essentially a bus ticket into the countryside, with no guarantee of seeing this natural phenomena, I’d resigned myself to realising we probably wouldn’t get to witness them.
But as with everything these days, there’s an app for that. So with a quick download of ‘Aurora’ on to my iPhone, we had regular notification of sudden surges in the Kp index (what the lights are measured in), cloud cover and percentage chance of viewing based on location.
We hadn’t been back long from our visit to the reserve when my phone started pinging. It suggested there was a 70% probability of seeing them that evening…at Grotta!!
A quick bite to eat and we re-wrapped ourselves in multiple layers to head out. We were the only people on the peninsula when we arrived and it gave a peaceful, nighttime perspective of the city in the background. We were soon joined by other aurora hunters though, so we knew we were on to something!
Except, we didn’t know exactly what we were looking for. Granted, we knew from photos what they were supposed to look like, but in most cases, they have been edited heavily.
But eventually, the clouds parted and there they were! Twisting across the heavens, vanishing and reappearing at will, with their unmistakable green hue.
Looking back towards the city, with the Lennon Peace Tower shining in the background.
The photos were hastily captured using ‘Night Cap’, a long-exposure app on the iPhone. They won’t win any awards and the lights didn’t have the clarity they may have had further outside the city in darker skies. But we saw them nonetheless and it’s an incredible phenomena I may never get to experience again.
Out towards Grotta Lighthouse.
I’m thankful we got very lucky: we heard most tours that week were cancelled due to zero visibility / weak Kp index. The night we saw them would have been two months to the day of saying goodbye to my Grandad – I definitely think he was up there, responsible for the display. 🙂
Image Credits: My own or taken by Sam.