#NorthernLightsChasers – Iceland 2015

It’s become almost routine for a few of us on the Radiotherapy and Oncology course (RONC) to go away together! Being a very small undergraduate course, we are quite a close knit group, especially within our placement sites, and get on so well that a few of us have been on trips together in the *limited* free time that we do have!

So, where to go this year!? Iceland was always top of the list. With its beautiful landscapes and outstanding scenery, December being peak time for the Northern Lights and the prospect of some actual snow!

I’m not going to lie, the prices did freak us out a little bit, BUT THINK OF THE INSTAGRAM PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES!!!!

So, time to meet the ‘crew’. Myself, Smizz, Courtenay and Katie are all on the RONC course, covering #TeamLeeds and #TeamDerby and we arranged to meet Smizz’s friend, Leah, from the USA in Iceland!

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L to R: Katie, Smizz, Courtenay, Leah, Me

 

Day Before:

So, after much excitement, Friday 4th December rolled around and it was our last day of academic at university! With suitcases in tow, we endured the last full day of lectures [which seemed to last forever] before getting the train down to London town. The plan was for us all to head down to my hometown in Essex to stay the night before catching our plane the next morning. Although it was around 10pm by the time we got back to my house and had food, we were still left with the tiresome task of packing the food case! You see, we are all students and we’d heard that anything you buy in Iceland is extremely expensive, so we decided to take our own food to cut down on costs.

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Yes, that is the actual case load that we took…

 

Day 1:

The morning of Saturday 5th arrives and in the car on the way to Gatwick Airport the important decision of our holiday hashtag was made. Many important factors such as relevance and uniqueness contributed to the final choice which ended up being: #NorthernLightsChasers [search this on Twitter and Instagram to find out more about our trip!].

After our 3-or-so hour flight, we landed at Keflavik International Airport in Iceland! So, first excitement before we are even off the plane – SNOW – and lots of it! We were greeted at the airport by Smizz’s friend Leah in our lovely rental car, nice and warm :).

Our stop for the night was the capital of Iceland – Reykjavik. After trying to find somewhere to park amongst the one-way street system and the many inches of snow, we arrived in our beautiful apartment in the middle of Reykjavik. As it was already evening, we quickly freshened ourselves up and had a shot (or two!) of rum to toast the start of our trip and warm us up a little before going out to explore Reykjavik and find a nice bar!

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We nestled ourselves in a cosy whisky bar where everything was made out of wood and drinking was one by candle light. I think there was some confusion in translation as most of us ordered “The Christmas Beer” but a few of us seemed to get different variations! During our time in the bar we did get into conversation with some of the locals and even entered into some banter with a deaf man through sign language!

Upon return to our swanky apartment, we booked our tickets for the Blue Lagoon the next day and planned to get up at 7:30am to be able to get there!

Day 2:

After arising early it was time to set off for the Blue Lagoon! A place I have heard so much about and have been wanting to visit for years! Like most things in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is in the middle of nowhere and the signage isn’t that easy to work out (especially when everywhere is covered in snow and it is pitch black!).

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Eventually we got there and checked in with our e-tickets (swish I know! Thank goodness for the free Wi-Fi!) and went to get changed! The facilities were very fancy, with underfloor heating and electronic lockers, but they are very strict about hygiene in Iceland so, for some reason, you had to take everything off and have a shower before entering the lagoon. Unfortunately shower cubicles with doors on where in short supply! #Awkward.

Smizz and I took our phones with us to try and get some photos before we plunged in. However, we underestimated how cold we would get so quickly wearing swimming things when it was something like -5 degrees Celsius outside. Therefore, all my phone pictures were blurry due to shivering and I ran back to my locker to drop my phone off.

Then it was finally time to plunge in! So warm – absolutely the perfect temperature for a cold crisp day like that. A few words of warning – if any of the water goes in/near your mouth, it’s incredibly salty (due to the high sulfur content), the floor is also very uneven and rocky in parts (a few of us had grazed knees when we got out) but apart from that, it’s perfect!

Of course we went an did the touristy thing of putting the natural mud on our faces in some sort of warpaint/facepack resemblance. There’s a cave to the side of the lagoon which tells you the history/chemistry of the lagoon which is very interesting (although I think we disturbed a few honeymooning couples whilst in there!).

After losing my friends a couple of times due to the steam/mist, we used our cool wristband things to buy a few drinks and enjoy another 20 minutes or so before having to get out and brave the cold again!

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This picture will be going in ALL the travel brochures!

Once we were all dressed, dry and wrapped up again, it was time to explore the gift shop (c’mon, this is a tourist MUST). After picking up a cobalt blue coloured candle holder made out of volcanic rock for my mum, we venture outside to take in some of the amazing landscapes that surrounded the lagoon;

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We jumped back in our sexy hire car (which we named and will henceforth be called Mila from now on) but this time with me in the driving seat! So, automatic car, where everything is different, in a country I don’t know, on the different side of the road with loads of snow, I can handle that, right? We plugged in our new location and off we went!

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It was a slow start – with roads being shut and us having to redirect our route – it took us around 3 hours to get us to our next location – a huge waterfall called Seljalandsfoss. The long drive was definitely worth it when you see this huge cascading waterfall in the sunset (yes, even though it was only around 3:30pm) amongst this vast white wilderness with all the untouched, perfect snow surrounding it;

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Quick rush back to the warm car and for someone else to take over the driving to our home for the night, but, en route we made an impromptu stop off at the Black Beaches of Vik!

Although it was dark, the sun was still setting behind the cliffs and the blackness of the sand was still visible:

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By this time, it was pitch black again and with all the roads looking the same and the shortage of street-lights and inhabitants, we got a little lost to our home for the night, but we found it eventually and were greeted with news of a horrendous storm that was to hit the country of Iceland around midday the next day. A storm so bad, that people were asked not to travel or be outside! Oh dear!

We settled for the night and ate some tea before Smizz came running in saying, well shouting excitedly “It’s the flippin Northern Lights guys!!!”.

Scarves and hats flew everywhere and cameras were quickly grabbed before running outside, where, yes, you could see some veins of green within the sky. Very exciting!

Now, Smizz’s camera was way better at picking these up than mine and I will warn you that the lights aren’t very vivid, but it was exciting and a wondrous experience none-the-less.

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Photo Kudos: Smizz

Now, after all this excitement, time to get our thinking caps on with regard to this storm. We planed to get up at 6am so that we could go and see some sights and still be at our next cabin before the storm hits, early night it is then!

Day 3:

Although an *awesome* playlist was blaring, the inhabitants of the car were virtually silent as we all struggled with the early rise. In the pitch black, we drove through the baron streets of Southern Iceland on our way to the Kerið! Although were tired, we were all kind of anxious about beating this storm as well as not wasting a valuable day of our trip!

After a few hours drive, we arrived at the Kerið, which is a volcanic crater believed to be formed by a huge volcanic explosion. However, a controversial  theory suggests that the Kerið was a cone volcano which erupted and thus emptied its magma causing the weight of the cone to collapse, forming the crater.

Now, there is meant to be an entrance fee to see the crater, however, the ticket cabin was shut when we got there, so we just made our own way in (bargain!).

 

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After a few quick snaps, it was time to head back to the car and drive to our next destination – the Geysir hot springs. The “great” Geysir has been active for around 10,000 years and was apparently the first geyser described in a printed source! The particular geysir we saw erupted every 5 minutes (which is a long time when it is about minus 10) and it was pretty spectacular!

P1040667Once again, after a few snaps (and a look round the gift shop obviously!) we were back in the car and took a gamble to try and fit in a visit to Gullfoss!

Upon arrival to Gullfoss, the lady there told us we had about enough time to get down to the waterfall and take a few snaps before we should run back. We got all wrapped up and grabbed our cameras and braced one of the strongest winds I’ve ever experienced down some icy stairs until we were faced with Gullfoss – a three-step “staircase” style waterfall which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland.

Now, apologies if the photos aren’t that great but please bear in mind that it was FREEZING and SO windy so I was shivering and stuff, but anyhow, photos can’t really do this waterfall justice! You need to see the 80 m³ of water tumbling every second and hear the roar of the sheer volume of water that is in motion.

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Our final destination for the day was our cabin for the night. But on our way, we couldn’t resist some pictures with the Icelandic horses!

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We reached the cabin complex by about 3pm to find a deserted accommodation village. After a few phone calls, the situation in a nutshell was that the owners had abandoned the cabin park for their own homes because of the storm (didn’t give us much hope!) but had left our cabin open with the keys inside.

We quickly got all the stuff in and Katie and I made a start on some lunch and hot tea to warm us up. However, it was only about 3:30pm by this point and with only a cheesey crime drama channel to watch, I decided to go and have a nap for an hour or 2 so that I wouldn’t be bored and would still have the whole evening to socialise and stuff.

I woke up, a little drowsy still, but kept hearing multiple toasts, must have been around 6 in total.. surely they can’t be drinking a shot for each of those? Then I overheard Leah asking if I was still asleep and if they should wake me up. To which I heard Smizz reply, well, shout; “NO! LEAVE HER! SHE NEEDS HER REST AS SHE’S NOT FEELING GREAT. LET HER BE!!!”. I knew at this point I needed to get up and find out what was going on!

When I entered the living room, I did not expect to see two nearly empty bottles of Rum and Southern Comfort! At this point, a shot of one of these spirits was shoved under my nose and I was told to catch up! As much as I tried to join in, I had to accept that by the time I had peaked in my “I’m up for a laugh” state-of-mind, the others were on a downer and feeling sleepy.. oh well.

 

Day 4:

Needless to say, some people were feeling rather fragile in the morning and we were met with the surprise that the door wouldn’t open and we were snowed in! Fortunately, the windows of the cabin opened wide enough so that we could climb out and shovel out the snow around the door.

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Now, snow dilemma over now… right? Certainly not! On our way out, Mila got stuck in the snow and wouldn’t move any further forward or backwards… Uh oh! We all had to get out the car and spent around an hour shovelling out snow 😦 The shovelling, along with the fact a lot of it was mushy water (due to rain) and that when we tried to get the car to go forward, a lot of this mush was then sprayed up at us (thanks Mila!). Although we got the car out, this meant we were all freezing cold and wet through!

We made our way to the national park and stopped off at some toilets to have a quick change of clothes before getting some great pictures from the park;

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Then began our drive back to the Icelandic capital where we checked into our swanky modern apartment! After unpacking, we went to explore the city and find something to eat!

We visited the Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran (church of Iceland) parish church of Reykjavik. As an atheist, I sometimes find it difficult to appreciate churches, however, this church was beautiful both on the inside and out. For a church, it doesn’t push religion on you and the interior of the church contains minimal religious symbolism. It is one of the only churches I have felt a sense of calm and spirituality, which was a bit different!

(I won’t put a picture up, because it was really windy and all my pictures came out blurry because of this)

We explored some of the shop and stumbled upon this cool record shop where you can listen to the CDs downstairs before buying them, the shop owner offers you a cup of coffee and you get a fresh copy of the CD when you go to buy it! What customer service! (It was called 12 Tónar and there website can be found here: http://www.12tonar.is/)

One thing to note is that it is extremely difficult to find a restaurant that does vegetarian food as we discovered. As brits, we are used to restaurants having at least one vegetarian dish on the  menu (even in places such as Nando’s, GBK and Red’s, known for their meat!). However, this is not the case and something that anyone who is vegetarian and planning to go to Iceland should take note of!

After our meal out, it was painful setting the alarm for 2:40AM. Our flight was at 6:30 which meant we had to be at the airport by 4:30, taking an hour long rive and Mila drop off into consideration. With awesome playlist on to keep us awake for the drive, we took Mila on her last voyage, giving her an emotional send-off!

Fortunately, we got to the airport and checked in and stuff just before the Reykjavik – Keflavik shuttle bus full of people got there so we missed all the queues! Then we boarded a BRAND NEW (oooooh) plane back to the UK!

 

This was a fantastic trip that I will not forget. I was lucky to see some amazing sights, stunning views and outstanding natural wonders. It was to see these that I went on the trip in the first place. Sometimes we take for granted some of the amazing experiences nature can give us and Iceland is such a fantastic destination to go and see a variety of these wonders in short succession.

We went to Iceland in the winter, in what was apparently the coldest few weeks Iceland has had in a long time along with the storm. The ice and snow although provides an aspect of glistening innocence to the landscapes, it can obscure some of the sights due to the lack of variety in colours.

Overall, it was a beautiful trip. I shared it with some beautiful people also and would definitely recommend this destination for everyone to visit at least once in their lifetime!

 

Char 🙂

 

 

 

 

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