We must have been going over ninety-miles-per-hour when Chris jammed on the brakes.
I winced as we fishtailed into the intersection and thundered over the kerb, teeth rattling all the way.
“Sorry.” He said with a chuckle, as he steered us back onto the road.
We had left Chris’s house for the airport with a predicted arrival time of ten minutes after our flight departed. In this case, we all agreed, taking the speed limit as advice rather than edict would be necessary for the greater good.
After arriving to the airport miraculously intact, we hurried through security and sprinted to the gate just before the staff cordoned it off.
We landed around midnight and took a bus to Reykjavik. The roads had been plowed but the pavements were thick with snow.
As we approached the hotel, I removed my gloves to open the keysafe. The mechanism was frozen shut and I pulled at it aggressively. I was tired after the flight and a long trudge through the snow and after only a minute or two of exposure to the subzero temperatures my hands had lost all sensation.
“For fuck’s sake!” I said, gaining no purchase.
Eventually I was able to prise open the box and gain entry with a sigh of relief.
The next day we strolled through Reykjavik taking in the sights. We approached the bizarre amalgam of spaceship and pipe organ that is the Hallgrímskirkja. A blizzard began as we hurried into the church and huddled on a spare pew.
“Did you know, one hundred percent of Iceland’s energy comes from renewable sources?” I said, out of the blue.
Chris nodded. “I know they get a lot from geothermal.”
I considered for a minute. “At least we don’t need to feel guilty about leaving the heating on all day.”
The wind howled outside. I approached the church entrance to see if it was safe to leave.
The heavy doors flapped in the gale as tourists pushed and shoved to get away from the snow that was blowing into the building.
I shoved my way outside to test the waters and was immediately blown sideways like a rag doll by a strong gust. I could see people in the distance laboriously approaching the church like arctic explorers, one step at a time, against the wind and snow. Desperate for sanctuary.
When the blizzard subsided we walked down to the Harpa Concert Hall, an architectural marvel of geometric steel-framed glass with perspective-warping staircases and three-dimensional ceiling adornments.
We took a wrong turn into an auditorium and realized we had entered some kind of business conference, which had just ended. Ushers were handing out free gifts and pointing attendees towards a free confectionery station on the mezzanine. ‘Why not?’ I said, loading up the cardboard box I had been handed by the usher with sweets and liquorice.
The Golden Circle
We headed out on a tourist bus the following morning for the ‘Golden Circle’ tour. The first stop was Þingvellir, the site of Iceland’s ancient parliament meetings and the tectonic boundary between the Eurasia and North America.
Jumping out of the bus the cold hit me like a refreshing splash of liquid nitrogen to the face. I had a vision of the Vikings of yore trudging hundreds of miles through the snow for the auspicious union of tribes and wondered how they survived. I guess you can get used to anything.
Geysir National Park was the next stop, where I watched in wonder as Strokkur periodically blasted towers of superheated water and steam skywards.
The eponymous Geysir, which seldomly erupts, was dormant, but the underlying energy of place could be felt, a volcanic bubbling just below the surface, given away by wisps of steam drifting across the snow.
Onto the waterfall Gullfoss we went. The falls were visible from several viewpoints, but remained unreachable, distant thunder, indifferent to the squalling tourists besides me.
Our final stop was the antithetically-named Secret Lagoon, a geothermal hot spring near the village of Flúðir.
“You have two hours.” The bus driver called.
‘That long?’ I thought.
Having visited the world-famous Blue Lagoon on a previous trip to Iceland, I was surprised by how low-key the establishment was. Not a glass of champagne in sight. I bobbed about in the boiling pool, surrounded by fresh snowfall.
Though part of a daily tourist treadmill, the Secret Lagoon didn’t feel overcrowded and I was able to recline and float into a state of pure relaxation. There is something wonderful about a hot spring in a frozen environment, perhaps similar to feeling of shelter you experience being indoors on a rainy night.
I drifted around the pool surrounded by the low murmur of fellow revellers.
My bubble was burst by a sudden “Hey!”
I splashed upright and looked around for the culprit.
“Come on you guys. It’s been two hours. The driver is about to leave.” A fellow tourist who had been sent by the driver.
I smiled as I heaved myself out of the pool and jogged towards the changing room, feeling serene.
Ice to see you
Spending any amount of time on Iceland in the winter is an education on the human ability to thrive in the harshest conditions. The Vikings that arrived here over a thousand years ago must have encountered similar icy, dark winters in their native lands, but modern Icelanders have really put a nice sheen on the place.
Tourism has boomed here in the last decade and adding into the mix Iceland’s manafacturing and fishing industries, the per capita economic situation there is good. So good, in fact, the prices for everything seem extortionate, even to other rich Westerners. But there is probably a lesson about gratitude in there somewhere.
Despite the price (which is hard to say as a Yorkshireman), Iceland comes highly recommended and I would not hesitate to return. There is something magical out there in those volcanic fields, among the fire and ice of that inhospitable rock.