FRIDAY 21ST OCTOBER
After a delayed but flight we arrived at Keflavik airport at about 1.30am.
The bus journey to our hotel took about 45 minutes, 5 minutes into which the Northern Lights put on a fantastic display.
Our hotel has only been open about 6 months, made from several traditional-style buildings converted into one by clever use of connecting walkways and glass roofs. Our room was a bit on the small side, to store our clothes, but still very comfortable. And warm.
SATURDAY 22ND OCTOBER
Getting our bearings
Weather: cold but reasonably bright
After a breakfast at the hotel, we took in the sights around Reykjavik; the Viking-boat sculpture, the church and the view from the bell-tower, Perlan (where we watched their man-made geysir, then warmed-up with a drink and some cake in the cafe) then walked back to town to look in the shops.
That evening we ate out at the Japanese restaurant just up from our hotel. My food was OK, but nothing special. We didn't have any alcohol as wine was charged by the glass at a rate you'd consider expensive for a whole bottle in the UK.
SUNDAY 23RD OCTOBER
The Golden Circle tour
Weather: cold and overcast
The tour company picked us up from the hotel at 8am for the 'Golden Circle Tour'.
stop #1: a view of and Lake Þingvallavatn
stop #2: þingvellir
stop #3: Gulfoss waterfall
stop #4: Geysir
stop #5: un-named waterfall
stop #6: Skáholt church
stop #7: Kerið crater
stop #8: Hveragerði
Thought this was a trip well worth doing. I'd been expecting it to be a bit rushed, but found we had just about the right amount of time in each place. The church was a bit dull and, although the guide had explained its significance, I still didn't see the point of stopping there. The Hveragerði stop was not as good as it could have been - it seemed to have been a bit of an excuse to herd us thorough a big touristy shop.
Ate out at Caruso that evening. Again, we didn't have any alcohol with our meal, so headed over the road to what is reputedly the cheapest bar in Iceland, Nelly's. My bottled alco-pop was £8. Cough.
MONDAY 24TH OCTOBER
Shopping and Northern Lights
Weather: cold and overcast
After a bit of a lie-in we went for a stroll along the coast road to investigate the 'thermal beach'. The map seemed to be slightly out of proportion, making what we had imagined to be a short stroll into a two-hour trek. Then the thermal beach was closed.
We carried on walking to the Kringlan mall and ate at the world's most expensive McDonalds - £17 for two chicken nugget meals (one of which was large) and an apple pie.
Strolled round the mall, but as everything was so bloody expensive we didn't buy anything.
Walked back into town, where there was a huge demonstration about equal pay for women. I have never seen so many women in one place and Reyjavik was bursting at the seams. It was hard to move round the streets and all the cafes, bars and restaurants were full.
As it was so bloody cold I decided to treat myself to a new hat from 66 North and wore it immediately.
That evening we went on the Northern Lights tour. Again, the tour company picked us up from the hotel and took us out to where we waited in sub-zero temperatures for bloody ages until we saw a very faint green glow. The tour guide was not impressed with the display, rating it as 1 out of 10.
I was wearing 3 pairs of socks, hiking boots, jeans, over-trousers, vest, long-sleeved t-shirt, 2 jumpers, fleece, winter coat, hat, scarf and two pairs of gloves and I was only just warm enough.
As soon as we got back to the hotel at about 1am, I looked up at the sky to see an amazing display right above the hotel.
Lesson learned from this: don't waste your money on a Northern Lights tour. If the sky is clear in the city, you'll stand the same chance of seeing them as you would if you went out into the countryside.
TUESDAY 25TH OCTOBER
The South Shore tour
Weather: cold and overcast
This trip was with Reykjavik Excursions. There were only 14 of us in total, so we went in a minibus instead of a huge coach.
stop #1: Eyrarbakki fishing village
stop #2: Skógafoss waterfall
stop #3: Dyrhólaey
stop #4: Vík
stop #5: Solheimahjókull glacier
stop #6: Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Again, another good trip, perhaps because of the smaller numbers.
By the time we got back to Reykjavik the wind had picked up and it was bloody freezing.
Ate out at the Austur India Felagið, which was very tasty.
The Northern Lights put on an amazing show for us, which rounded the day off nicely.
WEDNESDAY 26TH OCTOBER
Weather: cold and bright
Hired a car for the day to investigate the Reykajanes peninsula, as we'd heard the organised excursions there weren't that great and it worked out much cheaper. I took the outdated copy of the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland I'd borrowed from W, a road map and off we went.
We had a little Suzuki Jimny, which wasn't that great on the unmade roads, but added a real sense of
danger adventure to the whole thing. Although we have experience of driving on the right hand side of the road from various day trips to France, we'd never driven a left-hand drive, so it was fairly hairy for the first few miles.
The Blue Lagoon was amazing, could have spent all day there. I think we benefitted from arriving at a time which did not coincide with an organised excursion, as there were probably only about 20 other people in the water.
Had a go in the steam room, the hot waterfall was and tried the silica face mudpack. It was expensive to get in but, off-peak, certainly worth it.
Only stayed about an hour and a half as we were keen to get moving before sunset.
Just north of the tip of the peninsula we stopped to look at (what the guidebook claimed were) active craters.
Drove back to Reykjavik and ate at 'Laugar-Ás', which had been recommended in the guide book and were led to believe served traditional Icelandic food. Not so sure that was the case. The starters and desserts were nothing special, but we enjoyed the main meal.
We used the car that evening to drive our to the western tip of Reykjavik to watch the Northern Lights. It was very, very cold, even though I was wearing even more than I had been wearing on Monday night.
THURSDAY 27TH OCTOBER
Whale tour attempt #1
Weather: very cold and windy
After taking the car back to the rental place we went to the whale watching ticket office with the intention of buying tickets for that afternoon's excursion. However, it was very windy, too windy to comfortably sail, so all excursions were cancelled.
That evening we went to The Volcano Show, a kind of home-made cinema show run by the very friendly and chatty volcano-film-maker. The first show was interesting, but badly edited - chopping and changing from one topic to another, neither sequenced chronologically nor by region. For a show about volcanoes there were a few too many detours to fous on vegetation, children riding on horses and nude bathers.
The first part of the second film about Heimaey was the best, and made me wish I'd learned about it earlier in our stay so we could have booked an excursion there. The second part of the second film about Surtsey was a bit too long and the music very jarring.
Walked back via the lake, which was frozen, and drank at the ice-bar. £13 each for one drink. Ouch.
FRIDAY 28TH OCTOBER
Whale tour attempt #2
Weather: very cold and windy with snow.
Woke up to a light dusting of snow on the ground. The whale watching tour was cancelled again due to strong winds at sea, and without a back-up plan the day seemed to be wasted. We went for a walk out in the snow, up to the church.
It was bitterly cold, so we decided to spend the day indoors. Meanwhile, the snow started to fall more heavily.
Went out for a walk in the snow round the lake. There was a good 5cm covering, drifting to 30cm or more in places, but bitterly cold. The snow was coming in almost horizontally, whipping painfully against our faces.
Wanted to eat 'Icelandic', so ate at Siggi Hall. The walk back was painful in the snow and cold wind. I was caked in snow by the time we got back to the hotel.
SATURDAY 29TH OCTOBER
Whale tour attempt #3
Weather: bright and clear
The snow was still on the ground, but the day was noticeably warmer and the wind had dropped. We checked out the flea market that morning - a bit of an over-priced car boot sale, then went off on the whale-watching tour.
It was extremely cold out at sea. Extremely.
In the three-hour journey we got a 1 second view of a porpoise and about 10 seconds in total of minky whales.
It took us the rest of the day to warm up, then ate at Lækjarbrekka, which was vastly over-priced. Nice dessert, though.
SUNDAY 30TH OCTOBER
Had to get up at 4.15am to catch the 5am bus to the airport.
When we left, Reykjavik was still awake. People were queuing up for buses and taxis after a night out on the town.
Another uneventful flight, then back to Tropical Britain.
Essentials for Iceland:
A panoramic camera - Iceland is too big for most normal cameras, things don't fit in the view-finder! Couldn't find any panoramic disposable cameras anywhere and the annoying thing was knowing we had one sitting unused in our living room!
Alcohol - if you want to drink, bring it with you! We also brought sweets and chocolate with us, which we were very glad of.
A bottle - don't bother buying bottled water - the tap water is just as good.
MONEY - nothing is cheap bar the fresh air.
Essentials for Iceland in October:
Scarf, hat and gloves, thermal underwear, thick socks, waterproof clothing and lots of layers.
Lip balm and moisturiser - I applied moisturiser at least 3 times a day and still managed to get a chapped chin!
I'd happily go again, but at a time of year. I'd hire a car to drive round Iceland on the ring-road, stopping as-and-when, and certainly make time for Heimaey. The tours we did were good and added lots of extra information, but are perhaps more particularly suited to the first-time visitor. A good guide book would do the job just as well.
Next time I'd pop into the tourist information centre FIRST, as many of the leaflets there had money-off vouchers in (as did the in-flight magazine).
All-in-all, a bloody good holiday.
Iceland: 9 out of 10.