A brief exchange with Logi, the driver and guide on our Superjeep tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle summed up the depth of my knowledge of this European outpost. Actually, I say “my”, I mean “our”. Between me, Jo and the lovely family from Kentish Town- Christine, Graham and their young twins Ewan and Kirsty- when pressed, we could only name two famous natives. And one of them was former Chelsea player Eidur Gudjonsson.
The other was, of course, Bjork.
For us, Iceland was the very definition of uncharted territory. We were there last week as Jo wanted to see the Northern Lights for her 30th birthday. And drink White Russians in the Lebowski Bar. Well, actually, where she would be drinking them wasn’t as important as actually drinking them. As long as she was in Iceland.
And so it came to pass that, on Tuesday afternoon, we landed at Keflavik airport, boarded a bus to Reykjavik and checked into the Centerhotel Þingholt. We then promptly changed clothes and headed over to the Lebowski Bar. You see, I had done my research. Not only was the Dude worshipping bar a rather obvious shout for a Caucasian or two, but they were also showing the Arsenal v West Ham game. West Ham scored first, but in doing so, sparked us into life. Inspired by Santi Cazorla, a wonderful goal by Olivier Giroud and the predatory instincts of Lukas Podolski, Arsenal went on to win the game fairly comfortably. We were a few drinks down the line by then and had also eaten one of the tastiest cheeseburgers I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Thirst quenched, hunger sated and Arsenal with three points in the bag, we returned to the hotel and, more or less, promptly crashed out.
On Wednesday, knowing that the big Superjeep excursion was only one day away, we kept a low profile. Having established that we had missed the Northern Lights tour season (it had actually ended on Tuesday), we decided to mooch around town. We headed up to Hallgrimkirkja, one of the most striking churches I’ve seen in my life, with its statue of Leif Erikson out front. Who was Leif Erikson? Well, Leif was apparently the first European to land in North America- some five hundred years before Christopher Columbus, fact fans. We debated a trip to the top of the church tower, but decided against it before heading down towards Harpa, quite an impressive looking Concert Hall. The interior of which reminded me of London’s very own Royal Festival Hall.
Photo by Jo.
Reasoning with Jo that we were unlikely to see the Northern Lights on our trip (we had already established that the seasonal tours were finished- in fact they had finished the previous night), we headed off to Aurora Reykjavik to learn a bit more about the Northern Lights. Having got there, we decided not to go in. And then we changed our minds. It was interesting to learn some of the science behind the phenomena but, in all honesty, I think we felt a bit underwhelmed.
We headed back to the hotel via City Hall and “The Pond”. There we were treated to an outtake from Hitchcock’s The Birds as what seemed like the entire avian population of the city descended on one piece of bread. I jest, but for a minute there, it was a little scary.
Photo by Jo.
We dined in the hotel that night and I ate a lamb carpaccio starter that was simply stunning in its flavour. I was still talking about it when our mains arrived- the main was a little disappointing set against the staggering starter, but only a little. Back up to our room and a choice between Shaun of the Dead & Casino (yes, folks, they have all our tv channels over there) before Jo dragged me away from Robert De Niro’s troubles with Joe Pesci & Sharon Stone, out of the warmth of our room and onto the streets of Reykjavik in the hope of seeing the Northern Lights on her birthday. It was still the 16th April in Iceland, but back home, it had just passed midnight.
As soon as we walked out of the hotel under a clear sky, I just sensed it might be our night. The light in the sky seemed weird and as we headed back towards the harbour, we saw a glimmer of green light in the sky. It wasn’t a laser pen making that shape. By the time we returned to Harpa, the glimmer had become a line in the sky and then, as we watched, the green line expanded and seemed to reach out towards us. It is difficult, even a week later, to explain to you just what this felt like. I’m not religious (sorry, Grandparents!), but I felt as though I was in the presence of God. Or something.
Photo by Jo.
This may look blurry to you, but it was thrilling and, as I watched, a wave of emotion swept over me. It was genuinely awe inspiring and, as I think back over the trips Jo and I have taken together over the years, it’s difficult to think of anything that has moved me as much as this did. It’s difficult to think of anything that comes close.
As I keep telling people, Reykjavik would be worth doing just to witness this, but obviously it’s not guaranteed. Even so, there is plenty more to get your teeth into. That, though, is a story for another time…