What's that smell?
We all know with every country, comes it’s own quirky customs and cultures. Us Brits are the best for forcing our superior traditions on to ‘foreigners’ with such barefaced yet subliminal effort. But the nation I’ve come to speak of today, is a nation that have many customs that are widely accepted ways of behaving, but ones to which I find particularly strange. In what world is it normal to leave babies outside in sub zero temperatures? Nor is it appetising to eat the flesh of fish, marinaded in piss?
My first remark when stepping off the plane was “Welcome to Wales!!”. Yes, it appeared I had spent an agonising 4 hour plane ride to meet the same cold, desolate countryside I can see on a twenty-minute drive over the Severn bridge. Though the vast terrain could be likened to the deepest of wintery valleys, Iceland was no match when winning an icy victory. With nothing as far as the eye could see, it was hard to believe that this land could inhabit anything other than cold.
Any bus ride here was like a road trip of mile to mile nothingness. Vehicles armed with studs and chains, ready to battle the elements.. And me in all my tourist glory with my waist high salopettes, snow white gloves and matching hat. When touring on any bus here, you’ll be lucky enough to be greeted with a chirpy yet slightly pessimistic guide. On a typical sight seeing expedition you’d be told of all the local highlights as your bus quickly speeds past them, which leaves you with little to no time to see them. I noticed as time passed by, on one excursion in particular, that the tour guide seemed to slip slowly into a deep sense of monotony. With each highlight that we passed, a little more light seemed to fall from his voice. Once we had visited all our destinations, and returning back to the bus and onwards to our hotel, he began to speak once again about Icelandic life, but this time in a darker and more cynical way. He felt the need to explain in thorough detail about how they make hay bails – which wasn’t at all thrilling for me, but compelling to the elderly Asians sat across from us. The elderly Asians who had an obsession with the windscreen fans, but that’s another exhausting tale all together. Our tour guide, with his customary sky blue Reykjavík Excursions Parka on and his little, pale balding head bobbing up and down with the rough terrain a few seats ahead of us.. His words became filled with ‘Um’s’ and “Er’s’ and concluded with a few spaced mumbles, and finally a sentence about suicide. Though, despite the dark and depressing day trip stories, I’ll admit it was well worth the endurance. Nothing can prepare you for the untouched views of this beautiful country. Beautiful, but smelly.
You hear about the warm stench of canal life in Venice, and the fragrant pong from the road side gutters of Kolkata, but nothing can prepare you for the eggy hell that is bathing in Iceland.
I don’t know about you, but my flat only has a shower.. Which is great if you’re a teenage boy with a LYNX addiction, but not so good for a nearing 30 year old woman who enjoys long, hot baths and quiet time. I’m usually overjoyed at finding a bath in a hotel room, but I’m afraid this wasn’t the case when the I opened the door to this eggy palace of disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, once the bath has run and the bubbles bulge over the water line; that sweet excitement that only bath time can resemble returns, you’ll possibly become accustomed to the smell.
With only 4 hours of sunlight during winter on this island, it’s hard to find things to do between outdoor adventures, but a massive selling point for visiting this country is the Aurora Borealis. We left our hotel around 9pm, by which time the sun had set, a mere 5 hours before. We made our way north of the island away from civilisation and city lights. We waited patiently for around 2 hours for this spectacle to appear with no prevail. While many people stood outside the bus, with only positivity to warm them up, my partner and I knew it was too overcast and napped like a pair of loved up cats at the back of the coach. Despite not seeing this natural wonder this time, I’m positive that when we visit again we will have better luck.
Though the Northern Lights were a complete let down, we didn’t stop there when it came to excursions. We took another coach down to the Golden Circle, where we had the pleasure of visiting The Gullfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National park and The Geysirs. The Geysirs were most definitely my favourite of all the treasures we visited that day, and was topped off with the best Mushroom soup I have ever eaten in my life. The cafe in the visitors centre could be likened to the cafe they have plonked in the middle of IKEA. A conveyer belt of foreign goodness. I can honestly say, when we return to Iceland, and aren’t fortunate enough to see the Northern Lights on our second attempt, I’d die happy to have this soup again. Apart from seeing the cafe cashier.. I don’t want to see him again.. He sternly told me I could only have one butter. Which I thought was ludicrous. Who only has one butter on a bread roll? You want enough butter on your roll to leave a salty, buttery pool in the middle of your soup. Those are the rules.
The only downfall to a return visit is the expense of it all. It has to be the most expensive country I have had the pleasure of visiting so far. Due to it being a country that either has to import everything inland, or somehow grow sustenance in its vast wasteland of lava rock and ice – which therefore means they usually charge the salt of the earth for most things. Almost every night we found ourselves in a local sushi restaurant.. Sushi Samba – located in central Reykjavík, with a platter for two. We found eating here gave us more bang for our buck and considered this fortunate as we’re both hardcore sushi lovers, and would have more than likely landed our rumbly bellies here anyway.
Our final stop on our Northern, Northern hemisphere adventure, was The Blue Lagoon. The weather on our final day was particularly bad, and the coach swerved from side to side on the dark road on our way to this national treasure. We queued patiently outside the entrance, while hand sized drops of rain seemed to slap us in the face with the force of the wind. We hoped that inside The Blue Lagoon we would be compensated by the solace of the warm mineral pools, but we were gravely mistaken. In up to our chins – below, as beautiful as we had hoped – and above, the storm of all storms battering us from pillar to post. This bitter sweet combination led to utter confusion and led us to take some free silica mask and place it on our faces, ignoring all warnings to distinctively avoid placing it on your forehead, due to the bad weather. We plastered it on, and instantly we were blinded. Desperately splashing the milky egg water into our eyes to rinse out the sting, and relieve ourselves from this heaven and hell situation. Who’s stupid enough to place face mask on their foreheads in the middle of a storm I’ll never know. But finally we found refuge in a cave where we clung on to each other like Koalas on a Eucalyptus tree. Where I enjoyed almost half of my £8.00 pint of beer before dropping it into the egg milk. I still tried to carry on drinking it, but let me tell you… Some things in life really can taste worse than warm beer.
To conclude Our icy adventure, Iceland taught me to be grateful of what we have as a nation. Our ever growing economy. Running water that isn’t powered by GeoThermic egg stations, and at least 10 hours of sunlight a day.. I’d say we have it pretty good over here, in boring old England. Something for you to think about the next time you moan how our country’s going to the dogs!? Thank god your’e not bat shit crazy like Bjork.