The edge of nowhere is such a beautiful place

Date: 2 November 2015.

Location: Icelandair Reykjavik Marina hotel, by the fire. Snug and smug.

Apologies to people about to turn 30 everywhere. My birthday present from my mum was better than yours is going to be: she took me to Iceland this week.

The seatback ads on the Icelandair air flight from London Heathrow to Keflavik, Reykjavik set the mood for the country you're about to visit.

For example, one screen informs you that, 'The most amazing thing about Iceland isn't that it has the world's most northerly capital city… It's that more than 60% of the national population attended Harpa concert hall last year to see live music'. Another, 'The most amazing thing about Iceland is not the picturesque landscape or the geothermal pools… It is the fact that in Iceland the national dish is cured shark. And 'The most amazing thing about Iceland is not that Vatnajokull is the largest glacier in Europe… It’s the fact that the most popular restaurant in Iceland is a hot dog stand.'

Whilst, yes, these things are amazing, I think I can do better already.

Like, the most amazing this about Iceland isn't that the sky is so clear that visibility when driving goes for miles… It's the way that the Google Maps guy struggles with pronouncing the road names. Mum and I were in convulsive fits of laughter the first time he told us to 'in 800m, turn left onto Reykjanesbrot.' He sounded possessed. Endless amusement.

And that the most amazing thing about Iceland isn't the Blue Lagoon… It's when you're driving there through the volcanic area and your mum remarks on the smell of sulphur — and you have to admit that you simply thought she'd farted.

The most amazing thing about Iceland isn't that you can have fresh seafood for every meal… It's that our dinner at Hofnin was served to us by a tall, brawny, red-bearded honest to god Viking descendent (with much lovelier manners than I'd suppose his forebears to have possessed.) Even Viking aside, Hofnin was a real find: a pretty, cozy little place on the marina with decently priced (for Iceland!) food. The island's long hours of darkness had already begun to mess with us as mum dubiously remarked at how few people were in the restaurant. I had to remind her that it was 5.45pm. We were eating dinner at grandparent time for a day lounging in the lagoon and then exploring the quirky grey streets of Reykjavic had left us starving.

The most amazing thing about Iceland isn't that, over summer, it has 24 straight hours of daylight… It's that there's a Northern Lights forecast. I had taken for granted that it would be too early in the season for us to see the lights, but I began to suspect differently on our second night as, from our snug seats at Hofnin, we watched a steady stream of people, rugged up and waterproofed and lugging camera equipment, board a whale-watching boat in the deep dark of 8pm. Mum and I puzzled over it and pulled our drinks closer. Could you whale watch at night, in the rain? Mum asked the Viking. No, no whale watching: these people were going out in sarch of northern lights. Would they see some, we asked, skeptical. He said he thought not because of the clouds and also because he'd checked the northern lights forecast and they were at a '2 out if 9'. We were ready to return to our dinners when he added, 'but they look like they'll be a 6 tomorrow!'

The most amazing thing about Iceland isn't that the Australian book Burial Rites has inspired so many peopl to visit… It's that, driving through the big-sky countryside, you get the distinctly chilly feeling that you could easily still be in 1830, when the book was set. Then your global-roaming phone buzzes or Justin Bieber comes on or your mum asks you to turn up the seat warmer in the rental car and the feeling is shaken off.

Finally, the most amazing thing about Iceland isn't that the scenery is straight out of Middle Earth or Westeros… It's when you're showing off by an icy cold waterfall in Thingviller and fall in in front of the other tourists — and your mum catches the whole thing on film.

Love

Alex

 

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