Deaf Travel10th January 2016

Deaf Travel to Iceland did not Disappoint

Pre-planned and with pre-booked excursions, Iceland provided a quite wonderful short vacation

by Natasha Hirst, Deaf Writer

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars” - Jack Kerouac, On The Road

I was first inspired to travel the world in my early teens following a rite of passage familiar to many of those with wanderlust, that is, reading, On The Road. However, life brings with it many expectations and pressures and the desire to roam freely across the globe has to fit in around other things for most of us. So my exploration of the cosmos has taken place in smaller chunks.

In the space of five days and not too far from home, I can think of no better place to experience sun, snow, fire, water and sky in a stunning landscape than Iceland and all within quick reach of the comfortable and vibrant capital city, Reykjavik.

The research beforehand was mind boggling; accommodation, location, day trips, tours, places to eat and things to do. With my sister, we compiled our list of Things To Do In Five Days In Iceland and before we knew it there we were, red eyed from our early flight and feeling somewhat perplexed in the pitch dark at 9.30am at Keflavik airport.

Reykjavik Excursions Flybus provides a reliable and easy way to get from the airport to your accommodation in the city. As we journeyed across the snow covered lava fields the rising sun slowly revealed the splendour of Iceland’s landscape under a sky washed through with beautiful pastel clouds. Through Expedia we had bagged an amazing deal on flights and a twin room studio, two blocks from the main shopping street of Laugavegur. Waiting for check in, we hit Te og Kaffi for our caffeine fix (they do amazing cakes too) and took a short wander along the icy streets to soak up the relaxed and pretty ambience of Reykjavik city centre. With widespread excellent English, Icelanders proved very helpful and friendly. We took advantage of the brilliant sunshine by visiting Hallgrímskirkja, a church with a fabulous view across Reykjavik from the top of it’s steeple, which is reached by a lift and short flight of stairs. 

Our first evening was spent at a comedy show - ‘How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes’ - at the stunning Harpa concert hall.Sadly, the small theatre we were in lacks a loop system although the main theatre does have one and the acoustics are apparently fantastic - “it can make anything sound good”, one of our tour guides told us. A controversial structure with the locals, for its cost and significant departure from the usual architecture of the city, Harpa is a must see, easily combined with a walk along the waterfront and harbour. The show was funny and proved a very useful first night introduction to the history and culture of Iceland. We then undertook our first successful search for the Northern Lights, detailed in my previous article. 

Day two took us to the highly anticipated Blue Lagoon. The lagoon is deliciously warm, the water really is blue and the silica face scrub from the wooden boxes at the water’s edge leaves your skin feeling super soft. I loved using my waterproof aqua plus for my cochlear implant processor, enabling me to float and relax in the water and chat with my sister at the same. It surprised me just quite how exhausting it can be to wallow in hot water for a couple of hours but thankfully, there is a cafe to help restore your energy levels before you return for a second soak. Do be prepared that you are expected to shower thoroughly and naked before donning your bathers and entering the water.  This is expected at all pools and lagoons since the water is not treated with chemicals and cleanliness is very important.

Top tip: Book your Blue Lagoon tickets online and go early since it gets busy later in the day and there is a limit to the number of people in the lagoon at any one time. Depending on who you book with, you may need to book transport separately through Reykjavik Excursions.

Whereas our first two days brought blue skies, sunshine and starry nights, day three was spent in the limited visibility of snow and sleet. Through IHeartReykjavik we booked a private Golden Circle Tour, taking us to Þingvellir national park, the site of the world’s oldest Parliament, then to the Geysir area where we enjoyed an exhibition about Iceland’s geology and some delicious Icelandic lamb stew before watching the famous geysers erupt skywards. Next stop was the stunning Gullfoss waterfall, the roaring cascades of water interspersed with large sections of ice like suspended animation. On sunny days there is usually a rainbow across the falls. We ended our day in one of Iceland’s oldest pools, the glorious Secret Lagoon; the ultimate relaxation after a long day in snow and ice. To be immersed in hot water and feel the sharp chill of snowflakes landing on your face is quite an experience. By now, we were used to the smell of sulphur that emanates from the water, including the taps. Icelandic water is so pure to drink and bathe in, that your body feels great, inside and out. Our tour guide was brilliant, and I was able to sit up in the front of the vehicle making it easier to lipread as he talked about landmarks, history and Icelandic culture. He also played short audio clips which I could just about catch bits of. Later in the week, we visited the Settlement Museum and the National Museum of Iceland. Both are really engaging with excellent exhibitions and plenty of written information about the history and culture of Iceland.  It really helped me to fill in the gaps that I’d missed when talking to the tour guides.

Day four brought more adventures and slightly higher temperatures. Much of the snow had melted and the sun was shining brightly during its four hour appearance. With Iceland Mountain Guides we travelled South to the Solheimajokull Glacier. Covering some of the same routes as the day before, snowfall-free we were able to appreciate the strikingly beautiful landscape. Donning crampons and bundled up in multiple layers, our group of eight set out to hike the glacier. It was robust exercise and well worth the effort for the other worldly feeling of being dwarfed by the mountains, standing on blue ice that documents thousands of years of environmental history in its depths. Walking back down as night fell, I just didn’t want to leave. However, we recovered our energy at Restaurant Anna in Moldnúpi with excellent Icelandic meat stew (basically lamb cawl if you are Welsh), a nice selection of ales and a presentation from our guides about the Northern Lights before we set off in search of them.

On our final day we bought the Reykjavik City Pass from one of the museums which gave us free entry for 24 hours to many museums, buses and local swimming pools. We thoroughly enjoyed the museums and wandering around downtown Reykjavik, through the shops and past the humble city hall and parliament, admiring the Scandinavian architecture along the way. Wherever I travel, I keep an eye out for street art, and there was plenty to see across Reykjavik, from sculptures to brightly painted murals and amusing Christmas elves projected onto buildings at night time. Following up on a tip to visit a local public swimming pool, we found one just two streets from our accommodation. As well as a regular swimming pool, there was also a hot pool on the roof terrace, something I could certainly get used to! 

We found a number of great places to eat in Reykjavik, the joy of which largely lay in the individualism of both atmosphere and food. I sampled traditional Icelandic foods including dried fish and fermented shark at Laekjarbrekka, hit the latest trend for raw food at the very amiable Glo restaurant, filled up on scrumptious soup at Bergsson and excellent noodles at Thai Ban. There are also plenty of interesting looking bars that are ideal for sampling locally made schnapps or Icelandic Brennivin.

There are lots of opportunities to spend your money on fabulous souvenirs, traditional woollen jumpers and amazing outdoor clothing. When people say that Iceland is expensive, buying stuff you don’t need and/or drinking alcohol is the best way to see money drain through your fingers. All of the food we ate was excellent quality and although slightly expensive since much is imported, we saved food costs by buying at the supermarket and making our own breakfasts and lunches in our little kitchenette. You can visit Iceland without totally blowing your budget.

Top tip: If you know you will want to drink alcohol, buy some at Keflavik airport duty free when you arrive. One shot of schnapps/vodka in a bar costs approximately £5.

If there is anything to take away about Icelanders, it is this; they are passionate about their beautiful country and very proud of their heritage. They respect and protect their environment and they rightly expect visitors to Iceland to do the same. This is increasingly important following the recent surge in tourism to the country.  There are only 320,000 Icelanders living there but there were over 1 million tourists last year which not only creates a strain on infrastructure, but also on the fragile ecosystem. As everyone seeks out their own adventure in the wilderness, it becomes harder to keep Iceland looking and feeling untouched. Iceland is a fascinating country that has left me wanting much more. With a bit of luck, I’ll be back in the summer!

Article by Natasha Hirst, Deaf Writer

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Travel

10th January 2016