Reykjavik, Iceland – part 2

Gosh this feels a long time ago now! If you missed Part 1 catch it HERE. Continuing on my Iceland holiday recap then, on Sunday morning I had just finished my lovely (pain free, smooth) 13.1 miles around Reykjavik.

My next tour was called Inside The Volcano. In true Anna style I hadn’t realised I’d double-booked myself for the Saturday. I’d booked both the Golden Circle and the volcano tour for Saturday and only realised when I received an email on Friday saying that due to the bad weather they needed to move the tour to Sunday instead. Erm…so no change then from what I thought I had booked! How lucky am I!?

It’s not a cheap tour at all, but I would say it’s worth it. We were driven out in a mini-bus to a building literally in the middle of nowhere. We were given a brief that we were to hike about two miles across the volcanic fields to the base camp next to the volcano, Thrihnukagigur. The volcano had been discovered in 1974 and has been dormant for 4,000 years. We were offered more waterproofs if we wanted them (I called them Minion suits; they were bright yellow huge anorak things). I was fine as I was though – the website gives a clear itinerary of what you’re in for so you can properly prepare.

Inside Volcano tour

You can see the minions behind 😉

The hike was tough going as it was so windy across the flat fields and it rained sporadically. But it was fun and beautiful.

Inside Volcano tour 6

We followed a guide who was really informative of the local landscape and history. I asked her how many times a day she hikes there and back and she said three! But she loves it – I mean who wouldn’t!

When we got to the base camp building we were given unlimited hot drinks which was lovely! We were split into groups of four-five (I think there were about 20 of us in total) and taken to the volcano in our groups. This is great for safety reasons and to help protect the volcano, of which they were very keen to do. We weren’t allowed to take any of the rock from the volcano back with us, understandably.

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By now it was really windy and the trek up to the volcano itself was one of the scariest things I’ve done, I won’t lie. The path up to it had one rope as a fence along the side and then sudden death on the other side. Imagine Frodo and Sam climbing Mount Doom with no helpful eagles. It was a health and safety nightmare I can tell you.

One of the girls in my group shouted over the wind she’d never been so glad to weigh as much as she did before as it anchored her more to the ground. A slight girl and myself however clung on for dear life as we were almost blown away! I genuinely feared for my life. We then had to walk across a very rickety bridge to get to the lift thing (but thankfully we were strapped on with a harness at this point).

The lift down to the volcano took about six minutes. The area underneath the lift was fenced off and called the iPhone drop zone as so many people had dropped there phones trying to take photos as the lift descended which was obviously dangerous to the people below.

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My photos don’t do the volcano any justice. There were so many colours in the rock, it was beautiful. The colours came from silicon, iron, sulphur and copper. It was very cold down there but so still. There are rocks everywhere and you can climb about and touch the sides. It was fascinating.

After a good amount of time, we headed back up and battled the wind to come back down to the base camp. I was fully ready for some hot soup after that!! There was a veggie option and a lamb option. I went for lamb and, as before, it was delicious.

Outside, just casually chilling out in the very cold and windy conditions was Mr Frosty, the base camp leader’s dog.

Inside Volcano tour 13

At first I thought he was a wolf but thankfully not, just a lovely dog.

The hike back was easier as the wind had dropped and I chatted away to our tour guide, Sigun. Her boyfriend was a runner and had run the Berlin marathon! I asked her about the Reyjavik marathon and she said that in the past few years Iceland had had a boom of running. Very cool.

That evening it took me a good while to warm up again. I had a hot shower and it felt divine. I was also very ready for a good hearty meal after my run and the hike. I found a fab restaurant called the Public House which was very quirky inside. It was kind of like tapas in that you ordered a few smaller dishes.

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Or sit there with your Kindle…

It had a buzzing atmosphere and I felt a little sad to be on my own. I found it tough to choose from the menu as there were so many tasty-sounding things on it and I had no one to bounce back my thoughts to. I asked the waitress a few things about my choices and she was really helpful. When you’re on your own you need someone to discuss these things with!

Public House Iceland

I chose three plates and honestly they all rocked my world. I had reindeer tataki (basically very quickly seared) with Icelandic blue cheese. I did feel bad for eating Rudolf but the waitress recommended it. For my second dish I had a beef slider with chipotle sauce and bacon with fries. It looks like a full-sized burger (and though I kinda wished it was) it was a mini-burger. The final dish was the best. It was slow cooked lamb in an “Ástarpungur” (an Icelandic doughnut) with apricot jam. It had the right balance of sweet and savoury and was DELICIOUS.

I asked the waitress what I should have for pudding and she recommended the Mexican chocolate cake.

Mexican chocolate cake

The lighting was rubbish, apologies. Basically it was chocolate cake kind of dismantled into a heap of crispy and delicious crumbs, with ice cream and marshmallow fluff. Dear god that was good. Calorie deficit defeated 😉

Monday morning I was off for some horse riding on an Icelandic horse. The riding tour is called Islenski Hesturinn and the raves on TripAdvisor are amazing. And I can confirm true!

Begga, the owner, was hilarious, informative and clearly hugely passionate about what she does. She really made the tour. She went through in a good amount of detail what to expect, what we needed to do and instilled a good sense of confidence in us, even to those who it was their first horse riding experience.

Icelandic horses are different in that they are smaller and have additional gaits, whereas ‘normal’ horses only have the standard walk, trot, canter/gallop. We got to experience the tölt, which is similar to trotting in speed but a whole lot more comfortable. No bouncing! Islenski Hesturinn

Minion trousers were offered of which I was grateful for as my leggings would have gotten soaked

Despite it raining and being rather cold, the horse riding was so much fun. Begga took loads of photos of us which was great, so we could just sit back and enjoy ourselves. My horse was lovely and the scenery was, as always, beautiful.

As part of my tour I got a voucher for a meal at a “healthy eating restaurant”. The restaurant was called Gló and it was amazing! Raw, vegan, and gluten-free options…they had it all! Obviously I went for the Mexican chicken though 😉

Gló Restaurant

With each meal you get a choice of four salads as sides. I had a beetroot one and a sweet potato one and I can’t remember the other two, but it was SO good. I followed it up with a slice of rhubarb and blueberry cake and a Swiss coffee (like a mocha but thicker with Belgian chocolate). Yep. Pretty damn good as you can imagine.

In the interest of keeping things short(er) now… the rest of my trip (as in the rest of Monday and Tuesday morning before I flew back) was fairly low-key as I had no more tours planned. It gave me a chance to do lots of walking around Reykjavik, looking at the shops and sights.Reykjavik

Iceland seems to be full of very cool people. The shops are funky, modern and selling quirky (albeit expensive) items. There was beautiful and interesting graffiti everywhere, interesting sculptures dotted about the place and a rainbow painted on the ground left over from the Gay Pride celebration.

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I spent some time chilling, reading magazines and using the WIFI (which was everywhere by the way) in a very quirky cafe/restaurant called The Laundromat Cafe. The décor was very retro and there was a genuine laundromat downstairs.

Reyjkavik

On Tuesday I ran another four miles in the morning (which were just blissful) and then spent the rest of the morning walking along the coast, taking photos and listening to podcasts. I picked up a salad from a great restaurant called XO so I would have dinner later (as my flight didn’t get back until 8pm that evening). I really recommend this place as it’s very low-key and a bit cheaper. It’s further out from the main area of Reykjavik but this worked nicely for a long walk.

XO and fro-yo

I’d had a meal from there for dinner the night before (the Indian chicken salad) and it was huge and delicious so I went for the same, but take-away. Next door is a fro-yo place!! I obviously had to try it out. I didn’t hold back on toppings!

For my last sit-down meal in Reykjavik I went back to Gló because it had been so good. Then I got a transfer back to the airport. On a final note, my flight back was amazing. They had movies!! I watched Mad Max: Fury Road, which I initially thought I wouldn’t like but actually really enjoyed.

Obviously I could keep going and going, with more and more photos but I think it would be indulgent (or more indulgent) of me. Needless to say, I fully recommend Iceland as a holiday. It’s expensive but you get so much from it.

What are your top places to visit?

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Reykjavik, Iceland – part 1

I’ve never been on holiday on my own so I was quite nervous when my friend sadly had to bail out at the last minute of our trip to Iceland. Instead of just cancelling it though I thought I’d still go and enjoy myself. It would be an “experience” and a good time to get away from it all. I’m so glad I did go because I had a fantastic time. Though I was alone, I was never lonely.

I’d planned to do my usual tradition of going to Jamie’s Italian for a big dirty fry-up before flying but was aghast to find that Gatwick South Terminal didn’t have one. Despite this, I was spoilt for choice and almost went to Nando’s (I know, I know, I’m obsessed) but in the interest of trying something different I chose WonderTree as it seemed quite unusual and had a good menu. I ordered the ‘Woodstock’ with a side of bacon and sausages (because I’d been craving them).

Woodstock - Wondertree

Poached eggs, avocado, hummus, roasted cherry tomatoes, labneh cheese, za’atar, baked potato wedges and basil-parsley oil

Very tasty. It did feel weird sat there on my own but I enjoyed people watching and reading my Kindle (“My Sister’s Secret“- very good).

I arrived in Keflavik airport after an easy three-hour flight and got a transfer to the Blue Lagoon en route to Reykjavik where I would be staying. I really recommend this as it’s half-way there so you don’t need to waste time during your holiday to drive back out there. I used FlyBus which was great.

Blue Lagoon 2

The Blue Lagoon was really something else. I changed into my swimming gear and did the mad “omg it’s so cold out here” dash from the lovely warm building into the water.

Blue Lagoon 1

It was fantastic. I waded around (it’s fairly shallow, but enough so you can submerge your body) and just relaxed. It was cold and windy outside but deliciously hot in the water. It’s probably hot tub warm, though I found an area which was SUPER hot (it’s clearly marked as a hotter area so there’s no danger of accidentally going there). There’s also an area where you can put the white silica mud on your face and body. Lots of fun, though I did get my arm stuck when I foolishly tried to fish some out without using the special ‘stick thing’. It was one of those panicked moments where I tried to pretend it wasn’t stuck so no one would notice but at the same time try to desperately free myself.

A few tips if you ever plan on going there:

  • Take a towel, your swim gear and flip-flops with you (you can upgrade your ticket to include a towel, bathrobe and slippers but it’s over £7/10$).
  • DON’T get your hair wet as the water is so full of minerals it will dry it out (I read this beforehand luckily).
  • I took my waterproof iPhone cover so I could take photos easily without worry.
  • Be prepared for naked bodies in the changing room. Europeans are quite “free”. There are changing rooms but only a small number.
  • They have shower gel and a strong conditioner there (if you did get your hair wet).

Then I showered and got dressed (naked bodies ahoy!) and got my transfer to my AirBnB in Reykjavik. At this point I was beyond hungry as I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast (which was around 10am). By the time I got to my accommodation it was almost 7pm and I was HANGRY. I won’t lie, the choice of restaurant was more on “what’s closest” than any other value. But it was a great choice! (And TripAdvisor is so handy to do a very quick check). It was a restaurant called Meze which was Turkish/Mediterranean style.

I wanted to try to eat as much Icelandic food, and different food, as I could on the holiday. I also decided fairly early on not to worry about cost (to an extent obviously!) or about being particularly healthy. This holiday was about relaxing in every sense of the word.

Meze Reykjavic

I had a cheese platter (halloumi, feta and mozzarella) to start, followed by a lamb shish kebab for main and a melt-in-the-middle chocolate cake for pudding. OK so Turkish food isn’t exactly Icelandic food, but I was keen to try the lamb as it’s well-known that Icelandic sheep graze relatively freely and are hormone-free, meaning the meat is of fantastic quality and the animals had a happy life.

But I will stress that Iceland is not a cheap place at all. An average three-course meal was around £35/$54. To get a main course cheaper than £15 was rare.

The next day I’d planned to do a three-four mile run. Sadly there are no parkruns in Iceland, though I can attest to some fabulous locations where they could easily have them!

Reykjavic running

I scientifically tested how cold it was outside by sticking my hand out the window. It wasn’t too bad so went with shorts but wore a long-sleeved top (which later felt far too warm). I had a very vague idea of where to run as I’d Googled some routes beforehand, but I knew I wanted to get to the Hallgrimskirkja church as it looked so awe-inspiring.

Hallgrimskirkja run

Running so early in the morning (well, 7am) meant the streets were clear and there was no one around to get in my photos. It was very calm and peaceful, probably because they all went to bed about 5am judging by the sounds outside my flat. Reykjavik is also surprisingly hilly as you come away from the coast edge!

As I had a kitchen in the AirBnB I decided to save money (and time) by buying oats and milk and making porridge in the morning. I love my breakfast so I didn’t mind. It also meant I could sleep a bit more.

My plans for my first day was going on a tour of the Golden Circle. I used the tour company Iceland Horizon, which were fantastic. I was in a mini-bus with about 10 other people and our tour guide was both interesting and funny. I met a Portuguese girl and a Canadian guy around my age who were both solo travellers as well so we instantly bonded.

The Golden Circle consists of the national park, Þingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss, and the geysirs Geysir and Strokkur on the valley of Haukadalur. We also saw the Faxafoss waterfall too.

The Golden Circle tour

L-R: the national park, a glacier in the distance near the Gullfoss waterfall, the Gullfoss, a geysir

The tour was great as the guide told us lots about Iceland and the areas we were visiting. I found the random facts the most interesting, such as most of the larger trees in Iceland come from Aspen (apparently a well-known joke in Iceland is that if you get lost in a forest, just stand up, as all the Icelandic trees are tiny. Incidentally a lot of teenagers will earn money over the summer planting trees). In the national park you can see the connecting points for two tectonic plates, the Mid-Atlantic ridge and the North American plate.

The Golden Circle

L-R: The thermally active geyser, the small Faxafoss waterfall, the tectonic plate ridge

We had enough time to look around the different sites and half-way to grab some lunch from a little restaurant en route. I had the Icelandic speciality, “meat soup”. The meat was lamb and it was amazing.

Icelandic meat soup

I’d dressed appropriately for the weather so I wasn’t cold but I was very wind-swept so the hot soup was much appreciated. If you’re planning on doing this tour, wear sturdy boots as there’s lots of walking and a mini-mountain you can climb (I saw a girl in Converses struggling…). The weather in Iceland is extremely changeable. One moment it can be sunny and bright, then the next clouds have come over and it tips it down. Be prepared for all weathers!

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My two companions were good fun to be with and it was nice to turn around to someone and say “this is amazing”. And to take photos of each other as well. There’s only so much a selfie can achieve 😉

The tour was pretty much all day and I definitely felt like I got my money’s worth. I saw so much! I have so many photos it’s ridiculous. I had a lovely cheeky nap on the way back to Reykjavic to rejuvenate myself a bit.

I was fully ready for dinner after getting back and tidying myself up a bit (oh my hair…). I’d done a bit of research before coming to Iceland for some good restaurants but in the end I decided to walk down the main street, Laugavegur, to see what took my fancy. It’s quite tricky when you’re on own as you have no one to discuss with what you fancy eating! I literally could go anywhere I fancied which was both amazing and overwhelming. I knew I wanted something quite big though as I was hungry and was chuffed to find a fish buffet restaurant called Restaurant Reykjavik. It was quite expensive, but for all you can eat fresh and local fish I was swayed! And it looked very posh inside.

Restaurant Reykjavic

I literally tried everything. There was smoked salmon, cooked salmon, herring in several different sauces, pickled fish, ceviche, marinated fish, salted cod, fish stew, shellfish, soup, salad, vegetables, potatoes…so much food!! And randomly a leg of lamb that the chef would calves for you with a delicious red wine sauce.

Again I sat with my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Of course there was a pudding buffet as well, and it would have been rude not to have tried some…I had blondies, rhubarb and oat cake and mango cheesecake. Yep I was stuffed!

I was a little concerned how my stomach would react to all this food as I had planned to run 13 miles the next morning (my last long run before the marathon). Because my tour the next day wasn’t until 1pm I could have a luxurious lie-in and a late breakfast. Thankfully I actually felt pretty good the next morning. I woke up naturally before my alarm (which had been set to 8am) and got ready to go.

I was initially nervous about running 13 miles in a new city but because I’d already done one run and lots of walking about I vaguely knew the area. I could run along the coastline quite easily and keep the sight of the church constantly in view which I knew was near where I was staying. Very handy!

Reykjavic running

I felt really good on this run. I listened to a podcast and just zoned out. I felt strong running and didn’t really think about my pace too much, except when I started going too fast. Near the coast it was very flat but it was a bit breezy. The weather was beautiful so I was pleased to whip out my MarathonTalk t-shirt from last year’s Run Camp.IMG_4646

Have you ever been on holiday on your own?

Do you enjoy running around new cities? I found it such a great way to get my bearings and see the sights!