It’s time to take a back step for this post, and introduce you to one of my best buddies, Mr Ben Brewer!
My musical-playing, endurance-running long time optician amigo is also rather fond of the odd sojourn abroad, and he’s recently taken a trip to a country rather high on my list – Iceland. And as I wanted to hear all about it from him, I figured why not give him a few posts worth with which to tell everyone about it!
So here’s the first part of Ben’s Icelandic escapades. And make sure you read on to the end to find out about something special Mr Brewer is doing for charity next month…
For now though, it’s over to Ben!
Let’s get this out the way to start with: ‘Iceland’ is also the name of a budget frozen-goods supermarket in the UK. OK?
Now I’m going to proceed without making another one of the million rubbish jokes I’ve heard since telling everyone I was making a trip there with my girlfriend, Clare; we definitely didn’t go to pick up any pizzas or chilled profiteroles.
I’ve wanted to go to Iceland for a long time – I’m not really a massive fan of sitting-on-the-beach holidays and I guess the allure of a slightly more chilly and rugged climate came partly as a reaction to that; judging by Carl’s travelling outlook and extrapolating that onto you, dear readers, I reckon you might enjoy Iceland as much as we did.
We took an early-morning flight from London to Keflavik International Airport , where we got our first bleary-eyed taste of Icelandic culture and Icelanders in general. The first thing to note is the almost completely non-existent language barrier – although Icelandic is considered one of the more difficult languages to learn, with a couple of additional letters to the English alphabet and a nice smattering of accents, being concerned about a lack of an Icelandic tongue would be best compared to being worried about visiting Wales without knowing Welsh. Everyone speaks a good degree of English, which is taught in Icelandic schools from a very early age, and although we initially put the bilingualism of the people we met down to their tourist-heavy positions, it ended up being the same throughout our visit.
We definitely hit the ground running and got straight to one of the frequent buses that runs between the airport and Reykjavik, although our destination – the ‘little sister’ town of Hafnarfjörður – meant we were getting off slightly before the capital. Although the lava-field, boulder-strewn scenery on the bus trip looked increasingly alien, we got off into what looked like most other very clean, very quiet European towns.
Hafnarfjörður is a beautiful place, full of more than the friendly barista we first spoke to let on (although to be fair, I think I recognised a little familiar ‘home town disaffection’ in him) – in fact in hindsight, our time there almost turned out to be a sort of synecdoche for our whole Iceland trip. As we found out later, there’s a very strong sense of national history in Iceland and we had a surprisingly interesting meander around the official oldest house in the town; the common traditional Icelandic belief in the faerie and ‘hidden folk’ was on show in the town’s beautiful and winding Elf Garden, which was almost mesmerisingly cut by nature into the ground – lacking in any signs of vandalism or disrespect, which I sadly suspect would have been the case at home in the UK – and centred around a small Elf information hut where we enjoyed some Elf tea (which the gentleman ensured me was simply made to an Elven recipe, rather than made of actual elves).
We also sampled some of the seemingly ubiquitous Icelandic appreciation of art in the town’s modern art gallery and got to spend the evening experiencing the very strong bond the country feels with their Viking ancestors in our suitably-themed hotel.
In describing The Viking Hotel (and attached restaurant) to my friends, I haven’t yet come up with a way to suitably express that this wasn’t some kind of cheesy novelty hotel – these guys were living it.
The facilities were clean and comfortable, but the atmosphere and food were straight off the last longboat; we dived into the traditional Viking menu with gusto and tried out not only some shark and dried fish pieces, but a few shots of the locally-made spirit, Brennivín. Perhaps it’s most illustrative to say that it will certainly keep you warm in a cold Arctic night and I’d recommend trying it at least once.
That night also gave us our first taste of the land of the midnight sun – although the timing of our summer visit precluded any chance of seeing the Northern Lights, the spookiness of 24-hour daylight was at least another experience to tick off. Although the sun technically set for a couple of hours between three and five in the morning, if it ever got dark, then I didn’t see it. Although it was strange and definitely threw both of our internal clocks a little out, it wasn’t unpleasant – in fact, it actually gave us more time to get things done!
After we finished dinner (with a dessert of the delicious Icelandic sour-yoghurt-like skyr) at around 10pm, we explored a good stretch of the harbour from which Hafnarfjörður takes its name – and this late-night exploration became a common theme over the next few days…
Part 2 of Ben’s Icelandic adventure will be up in a couple of days.
On the 18th August Ben is attempting something rather incredible in the name of charity – namely running 130 miles in one day, from our hometown of Barnstaple to Bristol! Crazy? Quite possibly. But brilliant, and also all for the awesome cause of Vision Aid Overseas.
And if that’s not enough, you can also check out Ben’s music at BenjiOneLung.com