ABBA in Sweden, dog sledding in Northern Finland and sneaky trip to Norway


Hej hej everyone!

We have just arrived in Berlin and will be here until 29 January. We have had an epic few weeks exploring more of Scandinavia and where the vikings lived. After Iceland, I really wanted to find more winter and to be honest, I really wanted to do dog sledding. We were told by the Icelanders that dog sledding is a Finnish thing to do in Lapland. So even though it was quite a trek to get to Finland, we decided to make our way there.

Stockholm, Sweden

We made a pit stop in Stockholm, Sweden for two days and one of those days was spent at the ABBA Museum! Oh yea!  Mom was a big fan of theirs, and so I was exposed to ABBA from a young age and had their tunes etched in memory. The museum only opened in 2013 and let me tell you, it is a lot of fun for ABBA fans and non ABBA fans! The museum is more than just reading about the band, it is like a mini game centre. There are all these interactive stations, which with you ticket, your results are recorded and posted on the ABBA museum website (accessible only to you with your ticket number).

Wooooo ABBA Museum!
Wooooo ABBA Museum!
DSC09995
Kev boogying with ABBA
Dancing with ABBA
Dancing with ABBA
'Mamma Mia!'
‘Mamma Mia!’
Singing with ABBA
Singing with ABBA
Sexy no?
Sexy no?

I had a blast, and I fell in love with all of the ABBA songs. As soon as we left the museum I got all their albums synced up on my Spotify playlist and geez, these guys wrote some really good songs!

Leppäjärvi and Enontekiö, Finland and sneaky drive to Kautokeino, Norway

Kev and I flew up to Kittilä, Finland to pick up our rental car and to drive two hours north to our Airbnb accommodation in the middle of nowhere. Their listing title was ‘Experience the Arctic Circle’. I know that I just wanted to get as north as possible because when are we ever going to get the chance to do this again? Kev was also very keen because it meant that we were going to have a better chance to see more northern lights! The drive was beautiful! It was snow, snow, snow everywhere! Blankets of white icing all over pine trees and large fells. It was quite a daunting drive for two Aussies who have only driven in Australia’s dry and warm conditions. Snow and ice was a new challenge.

Our hosts Elina and Gareth gave us the following tips:

1. Drive calmly and slowly (max speed 80km); and

2. If you see reindeer on the road, do not honk them, just slow down calmly and they will walk off.

Due to point one, Kev and I unanimously agreed that he should perhaps drive first.

Our beautiful introduction to Lapland, Finland
Our beautiful introduction to Lapland, Finland
Elina and Gareth's front yard.
Elina and Gareth’s front yard.

When we arrived to our Airbnb accommodation our hosts, Elina and Gareth were so open and welcoming. Kev and I were a bit wired from the travel, two hours of cautious driving and overwhelmed by the beauty around us. It was about 3.30pm and it was already looking like 7pm so luckily for us, Gareth had started preparing dinner for us. Reindeer! As always, I was a little worried about eating such a cute animal, especially since we did encounter a few on our drive down, but Gareth put my mind at ease explaining that all the locals eat reindeer and from what I could tell, they are the equivalent of cow/beef in Australia (as in people own herds of them).

We were also greeted by all three of Elina and Gareth’s dogs! They were all so adorable and I could not contain my happiness having a furry friend near by again.

Kev with Rolly and Saku, looking longingly for Elina to return home.
Kev with Rolly and Saku, looking longingly for Elina to return home.

Our week in Lapland was truly a unique experience. On our first day out to the town to get some food it was a chilly -36 degrees celsius. This was quite an unusual and exciting experience for me. It was like very trip out of the house was an adventure! We had to wear so many layers to keep warm, and when you opened the door to go outside, a gush of frost or mist would enter the house. It was as if you were walking out into a huge freezer, except that outside was a lot colder than the usual freezer! One time when Kev ducked in to the toilet, I waited outside and just jumped up and down to keep myself warm. When Kev walked out he asked me ‘Did you roll around in snow?‘ I was confused and told him that I was just standing there for the few minutes he was inside. He then took a photo to show me what amused him.

Within seconds, frost had started to form on my hair from my breath.
Within seconds, frost had started to form on my hair from my breath.

This extreme cold continued to amuse and surprise us. I could not help but giggle every time I walked out to feel the moisture on my nostrils freeze instantly. My nose would all of a sudden go ‘crusty’. Haha!

Husky Sledding

On our second day, we secured a spot on a 20km husky sledding tour of Lapland! I was so, so, so very excited. There was only Kev and myself and two Frenchmen who were on the tour. We all were able to have a go at driving the sled and man, was it an adventure! Elina and Gareth gave us extra layers of socks, leg warmers and gave us two mittens (woollen ones and leather ones). Kev was given a heavy wool sweater to wear under his down jacket. We also hired boots as the awesome Gore-Tex ones that we had were not warm enough. The day started at -36 but when we arrived at the Husky farm we were told that it was -38 degrees. When we stepped out of the car, I saw a puppy and gasped in excitement, however, that gasp was my first breath in, and I ended up coughing as the dry, icy air tightened my chest and throat. (This sensation amused me too).

Me and the husky puppy that made me lose my breath!
Me and the husky puppy that made me lose my breath!

Sledding was just dazzling! We were able to catch a little bit of sun when we were out there. Our tour guides were loving it, saying that only a week ago there was absolutely no sun for months!

Sunrise at midday while Husky sledding
Sunrise at midday while Husky sledding
View from the passenger.
View from the passenger.
Our beards getting frosty.
Our beards getting frosty.

Here’s a video of our husky experience bravely taken by Kev!

My scary moment in the extreme cold

When we switched over, and I was in the passenger seat, I wanted to take some quick photos. I remember the tour guide saying at the beginning of the tour ‘Do not take off your gloves during the ride.‘ Usually I listen to such instructions, but this was once in a lifetime, and I wasn’t going to have my hands out for long. So I took some photos and a short video on my camera. But within a minute my hand got so cold I didn’t realise it turned completely numb. Like real numb. Dead numb. I started to really freak out. I couldn’t feel the camera in my hand, couldn’t even feel where my hand was located. I tried to put the camera in my pocket, but felt nothing. I then just tucked the phone in my lap and tried putting my mitten on. No luck. I was jabbing my hand in and out of whatever was tucked under the blanket. If my finger had gotten caught on something while jabbing it, I wouldn’t have felt it. It was gone. With the wind in your face and in your ears while in a moving vehicle, I had to focus on looking at my lap under the covers to find the mitten. When I did, I just shoved my hand in there and started shaking my shoulders, arms, legs… everything and anything to try and get the blood moving in my hand. For a good 10 minutes I went quiet. I just prayed that my hand was ok and I was regretting not listening to the guide’s instructions. After a while, I started feeling ‘ice’ in my mitten. I was a really mystified. How did I get ice in my mitten? It made no sense? I kept pumping my hand and then I realised that the ‘ice’ in my mitten were in fact the tips of my fingers rubbing agains my palms. Soon after that, my whole hand started to burn as if it was on fire. It was so hot that I tried not to squirm in my sled. After that, my hand was swollen and sore for the rest of the day and for the day after. Lesson learnt.

Experiencing the arctic 

Sauna the Finnish way

We were 68 degrees North, 4 degrees higher than when we were in Reykjavik in Iceland!  After our Husky ride Gareth and Elina prepared their indoor sauna for us to use to defrost. OH MY GOD! I never understood the power of the sauna until that day.  We were warm enough throughout the day so that we could enjoy ourselves, but only when we sat in the heavy, heat of the sauna did we realise how cold we actually were. Everything felt so relaxed and we warmed up quickly. Once we were hot, we then made a quick dash through the laundry out to the backyard stark naked giggling and shrieking out swear words as our feet hit the snow and rolled around in the powdery stuff! When we returned back from the cold into the sauna, we had this cool tingle where all the snow made contact with our skin. It was a really invigorating sensation, and yes. It’s addictive. It is the Finnish way, and those Finnish are CRAZY! I can’t back down on a challenge, and doing an insane thing like rolling around in snow stark naked in -36 degrees, I can proudly say, I’ve done it!

Life is connected to nature

Seasons – The Finnish life style in the Lapland area is very closely connected to the seasons. This is something I quite liked about it. During the summer they pick wild berries, fish in the lakes and hunt the reindeer and freeze all of them for the winter. For the Finnish, these sub zero temperatures which are an adventure for me, is a walk in the park for them. It is normal to have layers upon layers. It is normal to have those cute knitted mittens, leg warmers and hats for men and women (in fact, they are the best kind of warm). A part of Finnish life is that in the winter, you must warm up your car by a cable a good 10 minutes before leaving. This small detail was something Kev and I never had to experience in Australia. Our rental car was pretty good for most days (not needing a cable to warm up like Elina and Gareth’s and most of the locals) but after the second day of -40 something, all three of our cars refused to turn on.

The sun –  this becomes very important to those guys who live in the arctic circle. When we were there, the sun would rise at 10.00am and then set at around 3.00pm. This made everyone more tired due to less sun, and it affected me heaps… however, Kev surprisingly was more awake than usual. Hrmm?

The quiet – I’ve never been to a place where I hear nothing but my breath or my insane voice in my head speak. It is so quiet that at times it is a little confronting. There’s no wind, breeze or any movement in the air. There are no birds, there are no rustling as everything is covered in a heavy coat of snow. It’s really something. The closest thing I can think of is going diving, but even then, you can still hear clicking and scratching from the crustaceans.

Relying on neighbours – because you’re in the middle of nowhere, with only 80 people in the village, who else can you turn to when you run out of food and your car is frozen? That’s the lifestyle for those who live in the arctic circle. Houses have enough distance to offer complete privacy, but everyone knows everyone and are happy to check in on you to make sure you’re ok. Here are some snaps of our arctic life:

It's so cold and dry up here, that the snow falls like glitter.
It’s so cold and dry up here, that the snow falls and twinkles like diamonds or glitter, and when you have a closer look, they really look like stars!
While Kev sits inside keeping warm, I'm out with Elina collecting wood for the fire.
While Kev sits inside keeping warm, I’m out with Elina collecting wood for the fire that keeps the house and water warm.
Experiencing the 'Blue moment' in Finland -  where everything is blue.
Experiencing the ‘Blue moment’ in Finland. During this moment everything is just blue.
Falling in love with Moomin. A popular Finnish cartoon.
Falling in love with Moomin. A popular Finnish cartoon. Kev bought me this mug because I kept on umming and ahhing about whether I should get one. Elina and Gareth had tons of these mugs at their place and I wanted to be able to experience the joy of drinking out of a Moomin mug.

Driving to Kautokeino, Norway

When Gareth and Elina were able to get our car to start again, we decided to take a drive down the road. There was a Norwegian town that was a little over two hours down the street called Kautokeino. It was a small town, but it had a silversmith there which had an interesting studio. So with Kev’s encouragement (I had been too nervous to drive beforehand) I took the steering wheel and drove us across international borders! The driving wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of the left hand drive with changing gears with the right hand. The thing that was difficult was trying to keep on the right side of the street without going over the centre line as it was covered by snow, and in the afternoon on the way back, there was heavy fog making everything even more whiter. But it was ok. I completed the return trip! And while driving we came across heaps of reindeers! 

Driving a manual on the left hand side of the car and on the right hand side of the road is weird.
Driving a manual on the left hand side of the car and on the right hand side of the road is weird.
Reindeer!
Reindeer!
More reindeer!
More reindeer!
They saw me coming!
They saw us coming.
On the way home from Norway.
On the way home from Norway these guys just chilled on the road with us behind them.

Having a complete conversation in Finnish with…

Elina and Gareth’s dogs! Can you believe it? This was by far the coolest experience for me! Haha! By the 4th night at our Airbnb place, I was able to pick up a few cool Finnish words from hearing Elina and Gareth speak to their dogs Saku, Rolly and Myrsky.

One night when Myrsky (a beautiful Siberian Laikan x Bear Dog puppy, who is a reindeer killer… oh yes he is!) was inside, I surprised myself with this:

Me: Myrsky! Toole tan-ne!

Myrsky looks at me from the other side of the room, gets up and comes to me.

Me: Myrsky, Eestu!

Myrsky looks at me, processes what I’ve said and then sits.

Me: Hoover! Key-toss!!!! OH my god, the dog is teaching me Finnish!

praise him with pats, rubs, hugs and excited vibes as I can’t believe that I am talking Finnish to a dog and he understands me! It’s a friggin miracle! Myrsky just laps up my well deserved affection.

I learnt other ‘useful’ doggy words:

Toole tun-ne = Come here

Eestu = sit

Hoover = good

Key-toss = Thank you

Eh-men = Go

Eh-men, eh-men, eh-men = Go Go Go! (This sounds really cute saying out loud)

Oo-loss – Out

Damn, there were two other words, but after two days of leaving Finland, I’ve already forgotten them. However, I was pleased to have picked up something of this very foreign language. Even if it is doggy language. I am sure I can use them practically one day…

Before we left, Elina and Gareth treated Kev and I to a movie night with popcorn and the oldie Top Gun! It was such a wonderful last night, and we were able to take a ‘family photo’ to remember our time there!

Family photo! Rolly, Myrsky, Elina, Gareth, Saku, Kev and I all enjoying the popcorn!
Family photo! Rolly, Myrsky, Elina, Gareth, Saku, Kev and I all enjoying the popcorn!

We had such a wonderful experience in Finland because of Elina and Gareth, and if anyone wants to give living in the middle of nowhere in the arctic circle a go, please visit these guys! You can see their Airbnb listing here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/2060177

Scandinavia

So Finland completes our Scandinavian trip. We have visited very country in Scandinavia which was a complete surprise because initially Kev and I had not even looked at any websites about Scandinavia. Looking back at what we have achieved amazes me and I am so happy that our travels have turned out the way they have. People may comment that our travel path is a little unusual jumping from Austria then up to Scandinavia, however, I like it like that. I like it that I have the freedom to choose where I want to go and when I want to go, even if it is a little unconventional, no one can take the experiences away from us.

On a final note, I have been inspired and I’ve written a bitter sweet song called Scandinavia. Have a look below!

P.S I had to sneak this photo in:

My own little reindeer to remind me of Finland. I've named him Myrski in memory of my favourite Reindeer-Killer-Pup.
My own little reindeer to remind me of Finland. I’ve named him Myrski (spelt with an ‘i’ instead of a ‘y’ because it’s smaller than the real Myrsky, in memory of my favourite Reindeer-Killer-Pup.

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/T4roueB , http://spiked.it/ykqMw89 , http://spiked.it/JmGKWL4 , http://spiked.it/W8i9ayc , http://spiked.it/pDtmy1g

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Hopping to Iceland


Right now we’re taking a short stop in Stockholm before heading into the cold north in Finland and with a little extra time it’s time for a catch up post.

Back on the 26th of December we headed to the Innsbruk hbf at the early time of 7am, ready for a 15hour train trip to Copenhagen. The pain of the long transits are softened by three things. Firstly having a eurail pass it feels like you’re getting a bargain the more you travel by train (even if you are shattered from travel at least you felt like you made some money out of the trip). Secondly wifi access just makes passing time so easy. Thirdly seeing the countryside roll past and change.

One of the most impressive rail lines to see is supposed to be between Innsbruck and Munich. I say ‘supposed to be’ because when we left Innsbruck it was still very dark. And as we approached Munich a fog had descended. So we didn’t see much of this famous view at all. We travelled on, a little disheartened, but transit excitement was returned to us when we left Hamburg to Copenhagen. We hopped on a diesel train at Hamburg and started watching the King’s Speech just to pass the time on our last leg. About an hour in an announcement came on “In half an hour all passengers must disembark the carriage when the ferry crosses the channel”. We were tired, engrossed in the movie and just didn’t want to pay the notice any mind. So after 15 mins we heard a heavy *THUD*. We threw our eyes outside and saw that our train was getting on a BOAT! I don’t know why it was so exciting then, or now even, maybe it’s just having your ideas challenged of how trains stay on rails and do NOT board boats. I think if I was in a car getting on a Hercules aircraft or getting airlifted by a Chinook I’d have a seizure.  

Anna heading back to the train inside of the ferry

The boat ride was a short 40 minutes and we arrived soon after in Copenhagen. In our three days of Copenhagen the best thing was meeting the people. Not to say that people aren’t friendly in other countries but the Danes take it one step further. We were approached multiple times for strangers making sure we weren’t lost or just wanting to share a bit of Danish history with us.

One time we were just staring at a small building in the middle of a plaza and a store keeper started walking towards us. I thought he was going to start trying to sell us something we didn’t need and wanted to get away but he opened up by asking “Do you know what that building is?” while pointing to the small building we were looking at. “No” we replied. After hearing that he started explaining that it was an old telephone booth setup by a King in the past so the people had access to communication. Then after that brief history lesson he wished us a good day and for us to enjoy our stay in Copenhagen. We were left surprised but pleased by the encounter and I could see how this was the happiest country on earth if everyone was so nice to each other.

We left Copenhagen happy and full from the delicious food (the Danish pasty comes from here for a reason).

Prettiest graveyard you’ll ever see. Also home to Hans Christian Anderson.
Anna waves goodbye to Ariel.
Its alright big guy. I know everyone goes to see the mermaid but that doesn’t mean you’re not special.
Nothin’ like some brain couches for the living room.
Groed. Porridge so good we went there…thrice.

After Copenhagen we hopped onto an afternoon flight to London for a whirlwind of being tourists, festivities, and a jam session with our host. We spent new years eve with a mass of people from Perth which for me was strangely comforting. I’ve never met these people before in my life but after a while it was nice to listen to a familiar accent and having a break in conversation about differences in culture. 

NYE Orphans From Perth on the way from dinner to the countdown.
We had to see a show!
Anna and our Airbnb host Kelvin jamming under a bridge in Camden. The less musically talented stand around and take pictures.

We stepped through London and Copenhagen quickly as our main goal was the get to Iceland and see the Aurora Borealis or the Northern lights. cue *oooooooo* noises. I first heard about Aurora Borealis as an eight year old when we visited relatives in America. My uncle explained to me that it was a group of lights that show up in the sky when sun flares collide with the magnetic field.I don’t remember how I responded but I remembered those words and the eagerness of wanting to see them then. Fast forward 20 years and now I have the opportunity to see them for myself 🙂

We scheduled arriving in Iceland around new year because that’s during the new moon, during the peak of the 27 day solar activity cycle and it was forecast for clear skies. When these 3 conditions occur you should have a good opportunity to see the lights. So when we arrived we immediately booked a tour for the following night. We would ride a four wheeler which would take us out of the light pollution of the city and into the dark cold and clear skies of the countryside.

The following night we were picked up from our hotel and met our guide Mike who took us and our fellow aurora hunters out of the city. On our drive out Mike enlightened us on some Icelandic landmarks, culture (they actually have 12 days of Christmas here! They start on Christmas day and then go crazy with fireworks on the 12th day) and some background on the auroras (from what I understand fast moving particles ejected out of the sun that get caught in Earth’s magnetic field and the slow down of these particles creates the soft glowy lights we know as auroras). Then he tasked us with our job for the next four hours. Sit and stare out the window and shout out if you see green stuff. I looked back at Anna and told her ‘This is just like spotting sharks again’ and memories of how fun that was made the anticipation of lights all the more greater.

We were going to spend the night travelling ahead of the clouds going from dark spot to dark spot to hope to see some lights. At our first stop we saw no lights but I did get some nice pictures of the night sky.

Nothing like snow capped mountains and night skies.

After 15 minutes of watching and waiting in the cold wind the group grew tired of this location and we hopped back into the car to warm up. Then after a 20 minute drive we caught up with another group and our guide decided to go off road to where they were. Unfortunately after getting 2 meters off the road we got bogged. Then our guide tried to accelerate out of the ditch which just dug us further in.

Anna demonstrating how under we are

We spent the next 15 minutes waiting around as our driver and the other car discussed how to get us  . The plan ended up being the other car dragging us back onto the road while two “volunteers” stand in the middle of the dark highway with small flashing lights to warn on coming traffic. And for the large part this worked. Unfortunately in the process of getting us out the other car went down the other side of the road embankment which was then too steep to drive up. There was a lot of face palming. Normally I wouldn’t been as calm about the wasted time but it was an amusing sort of calamity and also we had a guarantee that if we didn’t see it on our tour out we could book another tour again for free.

The other car trying to accelerate up the snowy slope to get back on the road. In the end the car had to be emptied to get out.

The misfortune turned out to be the highlight of the night because we didn’t see any auroras that night. We spent the rest of the time driving to several spots and just shots of the night sky. Which I had a lot of fun doing despite the numbing cold.

A ghostly me and the car
Black volcanic sand beach with chunks of ice debris

Although I was a little sad that we didn’t get to see the lights I still enjoyed the eventful night. After getting back we rebooked our free tour and two days later we were out again. We followed the same routine and we were out on the road. Although I was still enjoying it I could see myself getting tired of the hunt should we fail again.

But it was a different night and we had a different guide, Gilly. After leaving the city, it wasn’t long till he excitedly shouted “Hey I think I see a lttle green over there” he pulled over into a brightly lit carpark and pulled out a tripod and camera for a long exposure shot over the mountains. The rest of us muttered quietly wondering why were taken to a bright car park when we could drive further out. But in just 20 seconds a shot was taken and our concerns were dashed. There faintly in the image of gilly’s camera was the faint green haze of an aurora! The first time I saw an aurora since my uncle mentioned it to me 20 years ago. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. Gilly said that it was a 0.2 on a scale of 0-9 so it was very weak. Then he ushered us into the car and drove off determinedly. We drove on roads for half an hour and then spent another half and hour off road. On the way he told us we were going to his “favourite viewing spot because nobody else will be there, getting in the way of your shot and having pointless flashes going off”.

So when we stopped Anna pulled out her camera and took a shot. There it was. Excited I set my own camera and took my own shots. We were at that site for maybe over an hour braving the cold but for such a rare experience on the other side of the world we were going to make the most of it. So that’s it for the aurora hunt for now. I’m ecstatic that I finally got to see one and now I’m hoping I can get a few more glimpses of them before I return home. I’ll leave you with picture and a time lapse I put together.

Double aurorabow!
Double aurorabow!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4b2Qj0UE9ow

Delving into the playground of Vikings – Reykjavik, Iceland


One of Kev’s dreams was to see the northern lights. He looked into when was the best time to see them, and with the new moon after New Year’s eve, we decided to head up to Reykjavik in Iceland, the cheaper alternative to Tromso, Norway.

My first impressions

My limited knowledge of Iceland stemmed from years of re-watching the Mighty Ducks – D2. In the Disney classic, I remember first hearing about Iceland when someone said ‘Iceland is actually green, and Greenland is full of ice.’ Since then, it has just stuck. So this was the ample opportunity to put that statement to the test!

When we arrived, both Kev and I didn’t have a clue what to expect. So when we walked out of the airport and were hit with strong, icy winds bellowing across a vast and untouched volcanic black and snow white land spanning across the horizon with peaks jutting out and very little trees, I was very wide-eyed, awed and curious. This was nothing like any other place I’ve seen in my life. I’ve seen the dry, dusty, red Australian dirt in the outback, seen the humid, luscious greens in the tropics, the magical winter wonderland of the Austrian Alps. But this, this was completely foreign. Similarly to visiting Exmouth in Western Australia, there was a feeling that we were out in the wild, with only the small town-like-capital-city of Reykjavik as ‘civilisation’.

We intended to stay for 7 days. We ended up staying for 11. Iceland is just amazing. It also helped that we have been lucky to find cheap accommodation on Airbnb.

Within the first day, it was clear that Kev and I needed more appropriate clothes. A local mentioned to me that ‘in Iceland, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.’ I really liked that piece of intimate Icelandic thinking. When I looked around, I saw that everyone had top quality wool beanies, scarves, sweaters, gloves, top quality snow jackets, pants and shoes, and the men had stunning, healthy, full beards which looked both wild and refined at the same time.

Nothing like a good beard to keep you warm and looking worldly.
Nothing like a good beard to keep you warm and looking worldly.

So our new purchases included a ‘snood’ as Kev calls it. This is worth a mention as it has been one of the most useful purchases we have made. It’s a merino wool tube which can be made into a scarf, beanie, headband, balaclava, hood, mask and other awesome head-face-warming-wear.

Our snoods. Me donning a balaclava and Kev, a beanie.
Our snoods. Me donning a balaclava and Kev, a beanie.

The things that Vikings do

Being in Iceland, Kev and I wanted to take advantage of all the things that the Icelanders do here that we could not possibly do back home. After reading through all the pamphlets and websites we decided on doing a northern lights tour, glacier hike with ice climbing, the golden circle tour (this the most popular tour in Iceland) with snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, visit the Blue Lagoon and then a tour around the lava fields on the Icelandic horse!

Seeing the northern lights

Kev is drafting a detailed post on our northern lights experience so I’ll keep this one really short.

We went out on a super jeep, and our tour guide, ‘Gilly’ pulled over and took his camera out. I followed suit and took a 15 second shot in the same direction that he pointed his camera to see what my little Canon s95 could do, and to my surprise, my first shot was this:

First shot of the night!
First shot of the night!

was so surprised and squirmed in excitement! I didn’t care that it was blurry, I was just so ecstatic that there was a real aurora there, and that my camera could capture it! Kev who was busy setting up his tripod and camera next to me, grabbed my camera to have a look got instantly excited, and then went back to setting up his beastly camera (but a lot faster) to take the beautiful photos and time lapse that he will include in his post later!

Glacier hiking on Sólheimajöku and ice climbing

One of the incredible highlights of our trip was to go hiking on a glacier and go ice climbing on the glacier wall! It sounded so ‘cool’ and it was something I know I needed as a physical challenge!

The glacier hiking experience was so much fun! We learnt how to walk up an incline and down an incline, and transverse parallel on an incline too. From what I could see, I just had to stomp my feet a little harder than how I usually would when walking so that the crampons could cut into the ice and grip. After that, hiking was a breeze. I enjoyed hearing the crunch of the ice with each step while watching the ice change from a milky, to misty, to glass coloured. The formations of this frozen body reminded me of rolling waves that were frozen in action.

Our gear for the hike and for climbing - harness, helmet, pick and crampons.
Our gear for the hike and for climbing – harness, helmet, pick and crampons.
On the tongue of Sólheimajökull.
On the tongue of Sólheimajökull.
Kev in his hiking gear on Sólheimajökull
Kev in his hiking gear on Sólheimajökull

When we reached the ice wall that we were to climb up, both Kev and I were eager to give it a try. An American couple volunteered first, and so Kev and I watched in excitement to see them go. As you can imagine, as soon as they were near the bottom of the wall, Kev and I prepared ourselves to jump on right after them! As the day progressed, it appeared that the climbing wasn’t for everyone who took the tour, but luckily for us, both Kev and I enjoyed the challenge and the thrill of the height as we trusted our ice picks, harness and crampons to be free enough to climb to the top without fear. I say that if you have done rock climbing, bouldering or abseiling before and enjoyed it, it is very similar to that!

I quickly learnt from watching the American couple that the trick to climbing up the wall was to ‘abuse the ice’ as I whispered to Kev. What I meant was, you needed to assertively hack into the ice to create your holding point deep enough. If you were too gentle, you wouldn’t even make a mark into the wall.

Kev climbing up the ice wall
Kev climbing up the ice wall
Near the top of the glacier wall
Near the top of the glacier wall
Boo yea! Ladies represent!
Boo yea! Ladies represent!

After we finished our climb, Kev and I had a while to wait for the other tourists to do their climb. So we played around with Kev’s new mobile phone which has this cool animated photo setting.

Teee hee heee heeeeeeee!
Teee hee heee heeeeeeee!
Kev training up for his ice climb!
Kev training up for his ice climb!

Once everyone had their turn to climb, we started the last part of our hike. This allowed us to appreciate the beautiful sun which only shines from 10.30am till 3:50pm and to see more formations on the glacier.

On the glacier looking out to the ocean.
On the glacier looking out to the ocean.
Kev going through an ice tunnel!
Kev going through an ice tunnel!
Frozen ripples. It just reminded me of the ocean.
Frozen ripples. It just reminded me of the ocean.

Bathing outdoors in the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon was the one thing that we heard about Iceland before we arrived. It was everywhere on the internet and everywhere in the airports. So we made a trip to this natural spa telling ourselves that it was for the purposes of ‘experiencing what the locals do’, but knowing that we both craved a bit of pampering after the hike and climb on the previous day.

We decided to try night time so just in case the northern lights decided to make an appearance. Unfortunately, they did not, but that did not spoil the night. Bathing in the 30 degree waters at 0 to – 3 degrees celsius in Iceland at night was magical! It felt so surreal and relaxing at the same time.

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Kev relaxing in the 30 degree blue waters of the Blue Lagoon.
Warming up after jumping in with a bikini from a 0 degree (but felt like -2 degrees) Iceland.
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Enjoying a fruity drink at the bar while waiting for our geo thermal masks to dry.

Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure and the Golden Circle

I’ve been lugging around my underwater housing for my Canon for this moment. For the snorkel in glacier waters between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates in the National Park of Thingvellir. This was an experience that both Kev and I were keen to give a go, but also we were unsure how this would work. We never experienced extreme cold diving (2 degrees celsius), and never had worn a try suit before. Luckily for us, the tour that we went on and Ian, our snorkel guide, had everything prepared for us.

Ian told us that the waters were from the glacier, and that they have spent over 30 years trickling through the underground volcanic soil system to reach this silfra fissure. This process has created the purest water that we would ever swim in and taste! Let me tell you, it was such a refreshing sensation when I pulled out my snorkel to taste the lightest, cleanest water ever! Because the water is so pure, visibility is up to 100 metres. I kid you not, there were numerous of times when I put my face under the water, and I almost forgot to put my snorkel back in. Ian mentioned that those who go scuba diving sometimes experience vertigo when looking down below them!

Silfra fissure in Iceland
Silfra fissure in Iceland
Kev with his full teddy suit on.
Kev getting comfortable with his full teddy suit on.
Kev with his teddy, dry suit, wet suit hood and snorkel gear.
Kev with his teddy, dry suit, wet suit hood and snorkel gear.
Ian, our guide, fixing up my mask so that it's tucked into my hood.
Ian, our guide, fixing up my mask so that it’s tucked into my hood.
Incredible visability!!!!
Incredible visability!!!!
Sunrise over the mountains.
Sunrise over the mountains.
This is glacier waters, the purest waters we would ever swim in and taste! Up to 100m visibility!
This is glacier waters, the purest waters we would ever swim in and taste! Up to 100m visibility.
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Kev exploring.
Our faces were so numb that we lost the feeling of how to smile for the camera. Kev's doing a great job though!
Our faces were so numb that we lost the feeling of how to smile for the camera. Kev’s doing a great job though!
Swim in 2 degree glacier waters - MISSION accomplished!
Swim in 2 degree glacier waters – MISSION accomplished!

Snorkeling in the teddy and dry suit made us extremely buoyant. We all clumsily bobbed like apples in a bucket of water. I tried to dive down to Ian’s amusement, only to find myself bouncing up back to the surface. The gear given to use kept us really warm but our faces, fingers and toes suffered a bit.

After our snorkel, I embarked on being like my childhood hero, James Bond. Have a look see in the video below.

Ok, so perhaps I need more practice.

After snorkeling we visited the geysers and the Gullfoss Waterfall. These were all part of the golden circle tour, and were very beautiful and interesting to see.

Getting ready to burst!
Getting ready to burst!
Whoosh!
Whoosh!
At Gullfoss Waterfall
At Gullfoss Waterfall

Surprise Snowfall!

On Friday night (10 January 2014), Kev and I finally experienced our first snow fall! I was soooooo excited! It was so beautiful to see the snow flakes float in the wind and whirl around the light poles. After cooking dinner, I asked Kev if he would mind to come on an after dinner stroll. He didn’t hesitate. We ended up walking the streets for hours enjoying the moment, and playing in the dark unashamedly.

Snowfall!!!
Snowfall!!!
Snowball fights! I accidentally got Kev in the groin and in the face a few times. He snuck up on me as pay back.
Snowball fights! I accidentally got Kev in the groin and in the face a few times. He snuck up on me as pay back.
The snowball fight eventuated into giving life to Little Mr Snowman and his little snow dog.
The snowball fight eventuated into giving life to Little Mr Snowman and his little snow dog.

Riding Icelandic horses

You can’t get any more Icelandic than riding the Icelandic horse. The Icelandic horse, which you can see, smell, touch and experience, is a unique specimen of the horses that the Vikings brought over from Ireland and Scotland and used during their reign. Apparently, these horses have changed very little since then!

When I was younger I always loved horses, so horse riding was always a must for me. Kev however, had (and I emphasise the had) a preconception that horses were, and I quote ‘death traps’. His opinion changed as soon as he walked up to the cute and cuddly Icelandic horse. We met Blondie and Fakyir, our two horses for the tour. Blondie was so sweet natured and had these large loving eyes that connected with you when you approached, and she met you half way. She was gentle and I loved her! She definitely warmed Kev’s feelings too! Fakyir was a character. He was licking my hand and nibbling at my fingers immediately. He was a little stocky and pudgy looking, but I liked him. We were told that out of the two, Blondie was the easy going one. So eventually Kev took Blondie who was very nice to Kev, and I took the mischievous Fakyir who I had to pull back into line a few times.

Due to the snowfall from the previous night, our ride on Blondie and Fakyir at sunrise was exquisite. No words can describe it. Just these photos taken by our guide Andreas.

We were the first in Reykjavik to walk through this trail after a night of snow fall!
We were the first in Reykjavik to walk through this trail after a night of snow fall!
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Snow porn!
The Iceland that we hoped to see.
The Iceland that we hoped to see.
The Christmas I wished for!
The Christmas I wished for!
Kev and Blondie enjoying the morning rays
Kev and Blondie enjoying the morning rays
Winter wonderland at sunrise
Winter wonderland at sunrise
Cheeky Fakyir!
Cheeky Fakyir!

Andreas was amazed at our luck. He could not believe how beautiful the trail was. He kept saying ‘This is amazing,’ ‘you guys are so lucky,’ and ‘this is the best, and I mean the best tour this in the past year!’ As we explored on horseback, I could not help but grin the whole time. We were doing what the Vikings did!

The Icelandic horses were happier and more playful than the horses I have ridden back home. When we finished the trail, as soon as the saddles were taken off them, Blondie and Fakyir could not wait to roll around in the snow! They neighed and grunted in happiness while doing so. Kev and I just stood there amused at such large animals enjoying the pleasures of what my little dog Coco would do on my lawn in the backyard.

Last impressions

Iceland has been an adventure.

Iceland does have some green on it (Disney is correct on that point). However, Iceland is more than that. It is that magical place where fire meets ice. Where wild wilderness is less than a 10 minute drive outside of the city.

Iceland is expensive. We have spent a lot of money here on tours, clothing and food, but we have not regretted one thing.

I’ve gotten used to the egg smell in the hot water (from the sulphur), and I’ve become accustomed to expect glacier water from my tap from now on (big expectations now!).

I’ve given up on trying to speak Icelandic. To be honest, I didn’t really start as the sounds are too foreign for our tongues. The command of English here is outstanding.

I have become intrigued by some of the locals’ strong belief in elves and the hidden folk who live in rocks and caves around the area. I kid you not. It is a thing here. Check out this link : http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/22/22009310-icelands-hidden-elves-delay-road-projects?lite

The seafood here is excellent. They love their hotdogs here (What?) Yup, they do. Hotdogs too, are a thing here.

We had a hotdog almost once a day.
We had a hotdog almost once a day.

After being here for 11 days and doing the things that Vikings do, it is hard to avoid becoming just like the locals. As such, I sign off with our last photo taken in Reykjavik before leaving Iceland.

Complete Viking transformation guaranteed after 12 days in Iceland.
Complete Viking transformation guaranteed after 11 days in Iceland.

 

Our footprints: http://spiked.it/aziM6AW , http://spiked.it/RbLj9pJ , http://spiked.it/NSoEV5V , http://spiked.it/HJtuCn1 , http://spiked.it/S5QBPFM