If memory serves (and it’s all a bit hazy) it started the way that all the best plans do: quite a few drinks into the evening, we decided to plan a trip to Iceland. My friend James and I had both been wanting to go for a while, and like so many other travel destinations this one had always taken a bit of a back seat. Living in Scotland, half the appeal for me when going travelling is being somewhere hot and sunny – not exactly what Iceland is best known for. But in the depths of Winter it’s hard to go anywhere nearby that offers much improvement in weather or temperature, so we decided that February was the perfect time to go.
Since I returned to the UK and a grown-up salaried job, running off around the world every 5 minutes is no longer really an option, but at the same time it means I’m no longer on quite so strict a budget, which is always nice, especially in Iceland which is hardly cheap. Nonetheless we opted to stay in a hostel, partly because Iceland is pretty damn expensive but also for the social aspects. We chose the Bus Hostel in Reykjavik, which is about a 15 minute walk out of the city centre. For some reason this made it about half the price of any other hostel as it is apparently too far away for all the lazy people who can’t be bothered walking the 1.5km to the main street.
Either way it wasn’t an issue for us, and it actually turned out to be one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in. The atmosphere was great, with a huge, cosy, fairylight adorned common room constantly playing soothing Icelandic tunes and the cheapest bar in Reykjavik. As with any hostel though, it is the people who make it. Everyone we met there, from the staff to the locals who came for the cheap drinks to the other guests from all over the world, was absolutely lovely.
We arrived in Iceland on Tuesday evening, and after finally making it to the hostel and locating the nearest shop to buy some food were too wiped out to do anything much. Which was unlucky for us, as apparently the Aurora Borealis was out that night and wouldn’t be seen again for the rest of the week due to cloudy nights.
On Wednesday we decided to explore Reykjavik a bit to help get our bearings and did some of the usual touristy things like visit the Hallgrímskirkja, Harpa, try the famous hotdogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, browse the shops for Lopapeysas, chill out in cute little cafes drinking coffee & eating chocolate, and wander the town centre. In the evening we attempted to offset the hotdogs and alcohol by having dinner at Gló, a mostly vegetarian restaurant just off the main street, Laugavegur, which served some of the prettiest & tastiest salads I have ever had.
Thursday was supposed to be spent venturing a bit further afield, and so we were up horribly early for being on holiday, but unfortunately a rather severe storm was approaching and there had been heavy snow and high winds the day before which made a lot of the roads undrivable for even the most seasoned Icelander, let alone us. We were advised by hostel staff to just stay indoors and certainly not to leave the city, but as the storm wasn’t due to hit until the afternoon and we were already awake, we headed into the city centre and went on a free walking tour with City Walk. I’d done these tours before in Melbourne and Sydney and they were both fantastic, and the Reykjavik version did not disappoint. Even though we’d been around the city ourselves the day before, having a guide to show you things which you otherwise walk right past, give you local knowledge, tell you stories and give a bit of history, makes such a difference.
Our guide Marteinn was great, and when we asked him at the end of the tour if he could recommend anywhere to grab lunch he told us about this little place called Nora Magasin which supposedly did an amazing fish of the day and had great lunch deals. He even joined us for lunch along with a couple of other girls from the tour, and we all had some of the nicest, fresh fish I’ve ever tasted. By the time we finished lunch the storm was definitely getting closer so we decided the safest thing was to head back to the hostel. But not before we hit the Vínbúð to stock up on drinks for the day – after all, if you’re going to be stuck inside during a storm in Iceland, it’s much better with alcohol! Prohibition lasted until 1989 in Iceland, and this can still be felt in that alcohol can only be bought in government owned liqueur stores, of which there are only 50 in the whole country. And so as the sun began to set and the storm hit hard, we spent the late afternoon until late into the night back at the hostel, playing silly games & drinking with our fellow travellers – in my opinion, probably one of the better ways to wait out a storm.
More to come later on the rest of our Iceland travels 🙂