Skyrim, or Iceland

Skyrim, or Iceland

Iceland has been extremely high on my wanderlust list for several years, and February truly seemed to be the time to visit. A few of my pals were travelling there the week before us and had gorgeous photos and stories enough to whet my appetite.

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We knew we wouldn’t have time to see as much as we wanted, which is the traveller’s curse, but also gives me an incentive to come back! In light of this, we booked several Airbnbs along the West coast of Iceland and planned to loop back around, giving us a few days in Reykjavik at the end of the trip.

After spending a night in Reykjavik gathering our bearings, we drove from Reykjavik to Þingvellir, quickly realising that we wouldn’t be able to pronounce anything correctly. As well as the runic symbols I vaguely remembered studying in Old English, combinations of letters we considered familiar were actually pronounced completely differently. Usually I strive to speak some of the native language to be courteous, but I felt like Icelandic was a bit of a stretch.

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It was incredibly liberating and humbling driving around a country with such an iconic and striking landscape. The population of Icelandic is so small that every town felt almost interchangeable and strange, juxtaposed against the mountainous skyline. We could drive for hours, almost snowblind on the brightest days, with our view of volcanoes, craters and mountains unobscured. We stayed in a small cabin in Varmabrekka, near Borgarnes, and I was struck by the glorious silence of the evening. Waking up to see the river and being surrounded by mountains was such a change from the bustle of London and one I always relish.

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The next day we set off from Varmabrekka, resupplied at Borgarnes and drove further West. We drove towards Snaefellsness in search of the elusive Landbrotalaug, a secret hot spring not to be found on Google Maps. Following directions from other travel blogs, we found the ‘hot pot’, a tiny two person hot spring next to the gorgeous Eldborg crater. After this, the idea of going to the Blue Lagoon seemed unthinkable. This was our secluded adventure. It began snowing, which made staying in the hot pool for eternity a very appealing prospect. After running back to the car, pink as newborns and half-dressed in damp socks, we continued our journey to our destination for the evening, Hvammstangi, or the Land of the Seals.

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We didn’t see any seals, but the cottage we stayed in was lovely. There were some cabins nearby, and someone from next door came by in the evening to tell us that the Northern Lights were out. I didn’t take any photos as they weren’t bright enough to be captured, and I was too gripped to do anything but stare. The sky cleared just long enough for us to get a good look at them, as well as the myriad of stars out that night.

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The next day we began meandering our way back to Reykjavik. We drove South and stopped by Grabok, walking a hill to get some stunning views. It was a clear bright day, and so we decided to take advantage of the daylight. We kept driving towards two of the Golden Circle attractions, Geysir and Gulfoss. I’m really glad we decided to do something traditionally touristy. We spent most time by Stokkur, one of the smaller geysers near Geysir which erupts more frequently. The whole area, while busy, is gorgeous and generally didn’t feel too overwhelming and crowded, even after our unbroken isolation.

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Gulfoss is a gorgeous waterfall, which in February was partly frozen. It was pretty darn majestic, but I was much dismayed at other visitors who ignored the safety barriers which warned of falling rocks and traversed across the ice (frequently in inappropriate footwear) to get closer to the waterfall. Even in my hiking boots with good traction, I didn’t feel very comfortable getting close to the safety rail near the edge.

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I look like a marshmallow

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After that we drove back to Reykjavik, which felt somewhat bizarre after staying in remote cabins for several days. We walked about the city, which didn’t take long, looking at the iconic sights such as the Harpa concert hall, which we named ‘the fish building’ because the glass windows look like scales. Hallgrimskirkja is the largest church in Reykjavik, which I found surprisingly pretty, considering the architecture is more modern than my taste.

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The next day we got our Icelandic culture education from the National Museum of Iceland, an extensive and eclectic collection of historical objects detailing the history of the country from the settlers to the modern day. My favourite part was the children’s dress up section where you could dress like a settler and play with a toy farm, but yeah.

After that, we decided to lower the tone and visit the Museum of Phallology. When I read this on the list of recommendations, I really hoped it was what I thought it would be. Oh happy day, penis specimens abound! The museum was founded by a retired teacher, whose interest in phallic specimens began when he received a bull’s pizzle to be used as a cattle whip when he was a child. The museum is somewhat informative, but mostly silly. I enjoyed standing next to a pickled whale penis which was was possibly taller than I am.

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Ooh shiny
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For vegetarians only
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I’m almost as tall as a penis!

On our final day we visited the Volcano House, a fascinating free little museum which has samples of past volcano eruptions and was very informative. There was also the most enthusiastic guide I’ve ever seen – it was incredibly endearing how passionate he was about geology and answering people’s questions.

There’s still so much I want to see and I definitely hope to visit Iceland again. It truly felt like some kind of fantasy landscape, and I kept thinking of Skyrim or the Lands Beyond the Wall from A Song of Ice and Fire.

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