I feel I should begin with a disclaimer. The thing about Iceland is the scale. The mind-boggling, awesome scale of everything. Things aren’t just big; more often then not, they are HUGE in this hulking, primeval way that is extremely difficult to capture when your photography skills are virtually non-existent.
Good thing I bothered to actually go visit, instead of just reading about in a blog post written by a woman who devotes far too much time to self-deprecation… wait, what?
Moving right along: Iceland. You will need to forgive me in advance because I tend to begin talking like a hyperactive child when talking about Iceland.
It’s great! But cold! But not that cold! The showers in Reykjavik smell like sulfur in a nice way! There is fisk everywhere! And so on. It’s also about the most crazy hardcore country I’ve visited (and don’t forget, I am Australian*). There are giant volcanoes and quicksand. They have these things called jökulhlaups; think crazy glacial floods that can be caused by the eruption of ice-covered volcanoes. There is a very active volcano that was historically regarded as the gate to Hell. Iceland is the most metal place ever.
Reykavik is a gorgeous town. Plus the water in the showers comes out searing hot and smells like hot spring. I found this charming, having cut my hot spring teeth in Japan last year (where you get the idea that slightly funky smelling water means health giving and beautifying firmly fixed in your head) but my travelling companions did not particularly appreciate the mildly eggy smell. Can’t please everyone!
The waterfalls. Oh wow, the waterfalls.
There are waterfalls on the side of the highway in Iceland that we would have national parks devoted to here in Australia. And then the sun comes out and people on Facebook start accusing you of Photoshopping because surely nowhere outside of Pinterest and desktop backgrounds actually looks that beautiful, right?
Sometimes along the side of the road there are little pathways that just lead off into the moss covered lava fields. I followed one for probably less than 100 metres and still managed to arrive in a spot where all I could see was moss, spreading out on all sides.
Aside from the wind there was not one single sound. It was so eerie and so beautiful that I could have stayed all day, but sadly more pretty things were waiting so I had to traipse back and resume the drive.
The south eastern coast of Iceland is difficult, seriously. You have just recovered from the waterfalls and then you can’t stop yourself from getting out of the car at Skaftafell just to gawp at the glacier. Listen too, because glaciers make noises. They’re full of creaks and groans that you catch on the wind here and there.
And then you had around the corner and hit Jökulsárlón and your eyes fall out of your head because Iceland is like that.
Soon after we headed away from the coast and up to Akureyri. While this obviously didn’t take us too far into the interior, it did give us a delightfully surreal taste. We were up high and surrounded by nothing but ice, snow, and the occasional peek of bare rock. As far as the eye could see. Perhaps this will be bleedingly obvious to people who don’t reside in a country that is mostly desert, but I was amazed to find that large quantities of snow and ice have a strangely soporific effect; I actually dozed off once or twice. And again, the eerie silence.
We spent a little over a week there altogether, driving the delightfully convenient Route 1 in an anti-clockwise direction. By the end of Day 1, I had given up trying to pronounce things correctly. By Day 3 I was pining for vegetarian food. By the end of Day 4 I had pretty much decided that I was never setting foot in a car again because fjords, though beautiful, are not always friendly to people who suffer from car-sickness. And by Day 5 the rain showed up and never really left again. But the country never stopped being gorgeous. So ridiculously gorgeous. And populated, albeit sparsely, by such friendly people too. I have heard travellers talk about Australians being a friendly bunch, but we are surely a sad little bunch of surly curmudgeons next to Icelanders.
All said and done, it was definitely like nowhere else I had ever been before. Some people I know compare it to New Zealand, though I’ve never crossed the Tasman to confirm (somewhat embarrassingly, since New Zealand is one of the few places that is easy to get to from Melbourne). But I would have trouble believing that anywhere could match the strange atmosphere of Iceland. It’s full of vast spaces, eerie quiet, tempting pathways and caves, and for a country that is so young, geologically speaking, it has an incredibly ancient feel about it.
Finally, I’ll end this post with a wholehearted suggestion that any readers with an interest in Iceland, folklore and/or geology go and read this story, “A Stone Woman” by A.S. Byatt. It’s my all time favourite short story** and one of the main reasons I knew I had to visit Iceland if I ever got the opportunity to do so. As soon as I returned to my bookshelf I dug it out and read it again and only loved it more for having actually seen some of the landscape it describes.
Next time: Scotland and Malta!
*That said, I never really bought into the idea that Australia is a particularly dangerous place to live or visit. I mean, if you’re in the country watch where you step and knock your boots out before putting them on, but honestly, it’s hardly fraught with peril. I get nervier in the US because BEARS are a thing there.
** I am one of those people who can generally never name a favourite anything because I am too indecisive but “A Stone Woman” is an exception. It is my favourite short story. Period.