What spurred me to visit the land of fire and ice this year were stunning pictures of Iceland on Facebook that a friend had posted.
I wanted to go during the summer, so I started planning for the journey in March after collating all the information I could get from the Internet.
Since there was no direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, I made a stop in London first. I then took a three-hour flight to Reykjavik on British Airways.
Once I arrived at Keflavik Airport, I got on the shuttle bus I had booked two weeks earlier. If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, I suggest you do this, too, as there is not much to choose from in terms of public transportation.
My return ticket for the shuttle bus (airport to town) cost me around RM230, but a private car hire would probably cost much more than that.
There are many types of lodging available at Reykjavik to fit most budgets. However, do be wary of websites or accommodations that post misleading pictures of their rooms online. I checked into a guesthouse that’s further away from Laugavegur, the main tourist district, for three nights and paid almost RM750 a night (twin sharing). At that price, one might expect a hotel with five-star facilities but what I actually got was a tiny room with cobwebs, a broken shower curtain and dim lighting!
I booked a six-day ground tour online via Viator.com for US$2,030 (RM8,275) which included accommodation, some meals, sight-seeing tours, transportation and a tour guide-cum-driver. The tour might seem expensive but I think it is a value for money offer as things in Iceland in general are very expensive.
The country is sparsely populated and many people live in the capital city. The main industries are tourism, fishing, geothermal power and hydropower. Icelandic is the official language but English is widely spoken, especially in popular tourist areas.
Iceland is blessed with breathtaking landscapes ranging from active volcanoes to towering waterfalls and what I witnessed during my sojourn was only the tip of the iceberg. It appears that there are countless amazing foss (waterfall in Icelandic) in Iceland like the cascading Gullfoss and thundering Dettifoss.
However, in order to get close to the waterfalls, one needs to be reasonably fit as some of the mountain treks are physically challenging.
Hot and cold
Water and fire don’t mix, but these elements uniquely co-exist in Iceland. One of the most prominent geothermal areas is the Great Geysir which can spurt hot water as high as 70m. The Great Geysir erupts every seven to eight minutes.
In the summer, you can enjoy activities like kayaking, cycling, hiking and rock climbing. I chose to go whale watching at the Eyjafjörður fjord near Akureyriin in the north. The first half hour of the journey was uninteresting but once we spotted the first humpback whale splashing from a distance everyone perked up.
We started cheering as we got closer – it was a sight to behold. Some passengers also saw a pair of adorable white-beaked dolphins frolicking nearby.
If you’re not into any of these activities, then maybe glacier walking is for you. I joined a three-hour glacier hike expedition on one of the Vatnajökull outlet glaciers in Skaftafell. The expedition was led by a skilled female guide from Britain. It was a cloudy day with occasional drizzles during the hike, making it more challenging but it didn’t dampen my spirits.
To me, feeling the glacier beneath my feet was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
After the hike, we went to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. The place was so beautiful I felt like I was hypnotised by the view. I saw snow-capped mountains, glaciers, floating icebergs and sparkling waters from the lagoon, and it was breathtaking.
Small towns, big charm
There are many quaint towns in Iceland, mainly near the coastlines. One of those small towns I enjoyed the most was Siglufjörður which has a population of about 1,000 people. I could hardly find any modern retail shops or trendy cafes and bars in this small fishing town but it seemed that everyone knew each other by name. What an ideal choice for retirement!
After spending six days experiencing Mother Nature at its most beautiful in Iceland, it was time to head home but not before exploring Reykjavik. I yearned for a cup of freshly brewed coffee, and Reykjavik did not disappoint. The city centre is small and walkable, and unless you are a history freak, there is really not much else to do than to soak up the local culture and atmosphere.
I spent two days there checking out the charming street art. As a result of the government’s decision to overturn its ban on street art, many walls and lanes in the city are now covered in interesting works of art.
Some people may be mesmerised by the hypnotic dance of the aurora borealis in Iceland but for me the “midnight sun experience” during the summer months was equally rewarding and enthralling. If you ever find yourself in Iceland, try to say “Eyjafjallajökull” when you’re in front of the camera!
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