Exploring Iceland
Mina Aletrari
Mina Aletrari • Nov 04

Exploring Iceland

by Mina Aletrari

Some years ago, before the pandemic, before I had children, and (if I’m being completely honest) pre-grey hair, my then-fiancé surprised me with a trip to celebrate my thesis submission. In the depths of winter, I was eagerly anticipating the mystery destination– would it be a sandy beach somewhere warm? Not this time. Knowing that I wanted to visit Iceland over the summer, he thoughtfully booked flights leaving in a few days. Off we went to Iceland at the end of November.

We landed late at night in Keflavik and headed over to an inn near the Blue Lagoon – a man-made geothermal spa. We were fortunate to have a friendly driver who took the time to explain some Icelandic history, culture, and sites we should visit. She also filled us in on the amazing language education; a large portion of Icelandic people learn to speak 4-5 languages! It was hard to make out the terrain as we drove, so the next day was a real surprise. 

On Day 2, we walked from the inn to the Blue Lagoon. The terrain was unlike anything I had seen before: as far as the eye could see, there was moss-covered igneous rock, accompanied by the smell of sulphur. As we made our way over to the spa, I began to worry about the actual logistics of entering the water. Although the water is heated, the surroundings are not! With the temperature at -2 degrees Celsius (not accounting for windchill), we stripped off, got into swimming gear and dove in. It was beautiful, relaxing, and warm. By the end of our soak in the lagoon, we discovered getting out felt much colder than getting in. 

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We stayed a couple of nights, enjoying the peace and the staggering number of stars above, before packing up. We hopped on a bus for a 50-minute journey to the capital city, Reykjavík. We were fortunate with the weather – wall-to-wall sunshine and absolutely freezing temperatures! The roads were narrow, covered with a thin film of ice that reflected the blinding winter sun. 

Having arrived in Reykjavík, we started exploring. We walked past a completely frozen lake, then made our way to the High Street. The shops were small and varied, sometimes with unexpected contents. The largest, most striking structure we spotted was the Hallgrimskirkja Church, which somewhat dominated the skyline and city’s architecture. 

The next day, we booked a bus tour for some more exploring on our relatively limited time and budget. The tour was fantastic; when travelling between sites, the guide shared interesting information, such as the origins of Icelandic parliament or the elves (álfar) of Icelandic folklore and the Icelandic horses we saw dotted along the landscape. That day was long, but the Golden Circle tour didn’t disappoint. The most memorable stops were the beautiful Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the Geysir area.

That evening, we went in search of the Northern Lights. Never have I been so cold and in need of a nice warm drink (or indeed a proper coat and thermals). Unfortunately, we only got a glimpse of the aurora borealis, and I consoled myself that we may have better luck next time. The night was cloudy, and as our guide pointed out, to have an impressive show of the Northern Lights, the conditions have to be right. 

The next day we walked along the ice-free pavements, grateful that warm water was piped through the city pavements, and returned to the frozen lake. Kids were playing football, a lady was playing fetch with her dog, and another woman crossed with her pram. I stepped out of my comfort zone, onto the ice, and was delighted that it didn’t crack. The thick ice was melted at the side of the lake to allow the local birds to swim and feed. As with everything we came across, it was a small and thoughtful gesture to nature.

Iceland was a beautiful country. There was so much more to explore, and I would dearly love to visit again one day, though next time in the summer. There were many opportunities to enjoy nature, and the people were friendly, warm, and willing to share something of their history and culture. If you do decide to visit, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did – but have better luck seeing the Lights!

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Mina Aletrari
Mina Aletrari

Mina has a love for science, animals, and baking. Not necessarily in that order.

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