Months ago, Jacqueline and I had agreed that we would head out to Canada for Christmas time, given that she had visited Australia in July. We had book flights on Icelandair, which gave us the opportunity to stop over in Iceland for a few nights.
We left Cambridge on a train for London, with bags packed and eager to go. A slow train didn’t phase us as we had left plenty of time to get out to Heathrow. But when we arrived, we discovered that there had been a major storm in Reykjavik, and all of the Icelandair planes had been stranded. By the time our flight was due to leave London, our plane had not even left Iceland. We had been given a compensation meal by the airline, but Jacqueline’s travel insurance allowed us to use the business class lounge during a long delay, so we went along and sat in comfort and ate nice food while we waited.
It would be several hours before we eventually were able to board our flight. Even now, the landing into Iceland was quite sketchy and the winds were still very strong. We left the terminal, with the weird novelty that we were entering the Schengen area so far west. We had arrived quite late, and there was a lot of confusion as the airline was putting up a lot of their connecting passengers in hotels. Our stay in Iceland was intentional, so we caught the bus from the airport into the city. By the time we arrived at the bus terminal, it was dark, windy and raining, so we managed to call a taxi to take us to our hostel. Iceland is usually an expensive place, but we had managed to find a hostel that was newly opened and was offering a discount.
The next day we woke in the near dark and found ourselves some breakfast from a local convenience store. It was near the solstice and we were so far north that the sun would only rise for around 4 hours each day. To make the most of our daylight hours, we had booked a bus tour around the key geological highlights of south-west Iceland, a tourist route known as the Golden Circle. We went to a different bus station and found our bus. At first, there was a loop through the hotels in the city to pick up the rest of the tourist groups, before meeting at a service station just outside town to sort everybody into the different bus groups. However, there was an issue: the tour that we had booked on was supposed to visit the Secret Lagoon, but for various reasons that tour could not proceed today. After some negotiation with the tour company, they let us join a different tour group which would go to the Blue Lagoon instead, but that tour would not leave for another hour, so they shuttled us back to the bus station to complete the hotel loop all over again.
Eventually, we found ourselves out on the open road and the day started to get lighter. Our first stop was Þingvellir, one of the most culturally significant sites to the Icelandic people. The main feature is a geological rift valley that marks the border between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. The result is a narrow rock valley that you can walk through. It was the site of the Althing, an open air parliament that dates back to the 8th century, where chieftains would meet to discuss laws and settle disputes. There was a lot of fascinating history to discover, and we walked slowly through the canyon, watching the sun rise in the distance over Iceland’s largest lake.
Finally, we got back on the bus, having now dried off, and headed back to Reykjavik. After dropping everybody back at their hotels, we offloaded at the bus station and walked home.
The next day, we headed out early to explore Reykjavik. It was still dark when we left the hostel and walked into the centre of the town. Unlike many other famous European cities, there is no real old town to Reykjavik and much of it is neat and modern. We went to the Settlement Museum, where the ruins of an old longhouse from over a thousand years ago has been preserved, with details about how the Icelandic people came to Iceland and how they used to live. We then explored some of the city and the new-age cathedral building before heading back to the hostel to pick up our bags. We headed for the airport, and checked in to our flight. We would be flying a narrow body plane all the way to Vancouver, at just about the limit of its range. Fortunately, this time the weather was much calmer and we were able to set off without any major issues. Our flight was uniquely timed that we witnessed a sunset on the ground in Iceland, and then caught up with the daylight again briefly over northern Canada.