#30 Swim in a hot pool in Iceland
I have wanted to visit Iceland for many, many years, so the country was an easy inclusion on The List, but writing simply ‘Visit Iceland’ seemed too boring. What did I really want to do in Iceland? The true answer to that question, of course, was “see the Northern Lights”, BUT as with any natural phenomenon, there are no guarantees. The Lights are caused by solar activity, so that is one variable, but the other is Earth’s weather. If it’s cloudy or rainy, there can be lots of solar activity but virtually no chance of seeing the Lights because the skies are simply not clear enough. I didn’t feel I could put the Northern Lights on The List precisely because of these variables; potentially I could camp out in Iceland for weeks and if the conditions weren’t right, still not see any Lights at all. In the interests of practicality and actually being able to achieve The List, I plumped instead for another iconic Icelandic experience; to swim in a hot pool.
So it was that I set off with a bunch of friends I hadn’t yet met, for a few days in Reykjavik. I’d rather assumed that Iceland would be covered in snow and ice for most of the year, but when we arrived, somewhat disappointingly it was warmer than I had expected and raining. Rain was rather a theme of the next few days but we soon learnt that in Iceland, if you don’t like the weather, wait half an hour. It usually dries up, the sun comes out and there are rainbows. More rainbows in three days than I’ve seen in my lifetime I think! They didn’t quite make up for the lack of a snowy landscape but they were very pretty nevertheless.
It was a whirlwind few days. From touring the city sights in Reykjavik (I was particularly taken with the innovative architecture of the Harpa Concert Hall with its hexagonal glass frontage), and exploring the city’s many museums including the unique Phallalogical Museum where I was able to take a selfie with both an elephant penis and penis casts of the Olympic silver medal winning Icelandic Handball team (there aren’t many places in the world you can do that!), to checking out some of the landscapes which are so typical of Iceland; geysers, waterfalls and Thingvellir, the National Park which was the meeting place for the country’s Parliament until less than a hundred years ago and happens to be situated in one of only two places in the world where you can see the divide between two of the tectonic plates that make up the Earth’s crust. I also enjoyed tasting a sample of the country’s fantastic craft beer scene, using my Appy Hour app to find the best deals and taking some time out to relax and enjoy their wonderful café culture. I could have done with more time for coffee and cake though!
For my hot pool swim, it had to be the world famous Blue Lagoon. Not, as you may expect, a natural hot spring but in fact (far less romantically) the outflow from a geothermal power station. The silica in the water is what makes it so milky and so blue. As it is not a natural site but a man made one, the Blue Lagoon comes with many comforts and amenities such as bath robes, massages and a swim up pool bar. It’s very, very cold as you move between the changing rooms and the pool – you don’t want to be out of the water for very long!
I of course, felt it incumbent upon me to celebrate achieving another one of my 40 before 40 by enjoying a glass of bubbles in the pool. That’s 29 of my 40 challenges completed now.
It wasn’t quite the natural idyll I had been expecting but nevertheless The Blue Lagoon was a very pleasant place to spend a few hours and I came out with beautifully soft skin, feeling very relaxed.
As you may be able to tell, overall I was a little disappointed with Iceland. Its history and culture is very interesting and I did enjoy learning about that. For example, its language has changed so little that modern Icelanders can, if they wish, read the parchment sagas of their ancestors 900 years ago. I probably visited at the wrong time of year but I was disappointed that I didn’t see a land of pristine white snow and ice. It wasn’t quite as rugged and remote as I had envisaged it to be. And, if I’m honest, I fear New Zealand has spoiled me for the entire rest of the world. Many is the time I visit somewhere and think “It’s good…, but it’s not as good as New Zealand”… I suppose when you think about it, even though they are at opposite ends of the world, one volcanic landscape is much like another.
In one area however, Iceland didn’t disappoint. In fact it delivered the ultimate, hadn’t dared hope for, Aurora Borealis. A small group of us took a jeep safari one evening and were exceptionally lucky to experience one of the best showings of the Northern Lights Iceland has had recently. In total, we saw the Lights for over an hour. Our first stop was on a beach, just on the edge of Reykjavik. It was very magical to stand there in the darkness, listening to the waves lapping gently on the pebbles and watching a ribbon of green light gradually shape shifting in the sky, moving from wavy lines, to parallel stripes, to swirling galaxy-like formations. Our second stop was just as good. We stood atop a snowy hillside with the city lights spread out below us as the Aurora arced across the sky above our heads. At times the Lights appeared static although you realised after a time that they had gradually moved into a different formation, at other times they danced, looking like flickering green flames. The sighting was so good that I was able to take photos on my camera phone, without requiring any filters or delayed exposure.
I count myself truly privileged to have had this once in a lifetime experience. Thank you Iceland.