As creatives and content creators, we need a constant stream of inspiration. Sometimes that stream needs to be manually watered.
During one creatively dry spell in 2019, I made the decision to go on a writing retreat to one of the most inspiration-rich places I could think of: Reykjavík, Iceland. It seems only fitting to relive that experience now that we’re in the creative desert of 2020.
Culture-hungry though I am, I’m on a starving artist’s budget so Groupon to the rescue. With only the briefest of searches, a Bargain Late Holidays package came up which included a five-night stay in Iceland with four tours and flights for €600.
Within 24 hours of clicking ‘buy’, I got a call from Bargain Late Holidays prodding me to change my flights (for a cost, of course) so that I’d get the full benefit of that first day, arriving at noon instead of midnight, and to pay an additional flat fee to cover all of my coach travel. Irked though I was by the intrusive series of phone calls, I did ultimately agree to their terms, putting down an extra €75 which, I must admit, was 100% worth it.
Because of those phone calls, I had very little to worry about for the entire trip and almost all of my costs were covered upfront. Plus, the real victory was getting those extra daytime hours on day one of the trip.
I stayed in Hotel Smari in Reykjavík, conveniently close to a local shopping centre where I was able to pick up bits and pieces along the way… and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, the mightiest and most elusive of doughnuts. Needless to say, I made daily trips and got a loyalty card which I made the very most of.
The hotel itself was perfectly forgettable, providing basically what would be expected from a four-star hotel: reasonably comfortable bed, WiFi that mostly worked, complimentary breakfast, a decentish* bathroom (*the ‘ish’ is because I was subjected to, not just one, but two cold showers – not ideal when the temperatures are already ten degrees lower than tropical Ireland) and a desk for writing between tours and outings.
This first eagerly-awaited tour was dependent on the right weather, so it only took one cancellation before I ventured onto the coach that took me and about 50 other tourists to the darkest parts of Iceland where the lights were likely to be seen.
The tour guide had a tough job, tiptoeing across the thin line between interesting and informative to keep us both amused and awake (it was late, after all). And he did just that! Despite my fatigue, I laughed on and off with the other tourists for the full four hours.
After midnight I had mostly given up hope, but I did eventually see the lights which look nothing like the pictures you see on Google. Those supernatural-looking green streaks across the sky are the results of strategic camera settings.
To the human eye, the northern lights are more like rays of sunshine beaming down from the heavens against the onyx black night sky. Still beautiful and very worth the late night, although I did sleep like a corpse on the way back to the hotel at 2 am.
This tour was amazing. At only three hours long it packed in so many beautiful sites in a short space of a time, and allowed me several free-roaming/creative hours as well. I’m not a particular geography buff but seeing the effects of volcanic activity was really thrilling… although every stop reeked of sulphur. ‘Twas worth it.
I saw hot springs ranging from bubbling puddling to giant whale blowhole eruption (to use the technical term) and glorious snow-covered mountains along the way. The sites were too postcard-beautiful to be real, and yet there they were, right beyond the comfy coach window. I wouldn’t change one single thing about this tour.
The Blue Lagoon
This is the one I would have changed because, long story short, I didn’t get in. Although I paid for four tours in my package, when I arrived I was told that only the cost of travel was covered and I had to purchase tickets to get in separately. After a series of phone calls and queries, it became clear that I needed to find something else to do for the day, so I booked my own tour.
This was hands down amazing! Again, geology isn’t exactly my passion, but ohmygawd this tour was exactly was the writer in me needed.
I first had to stop at a visitor’s centre to gear up, meaning I attached grips to my hiking boots, I got a walking aid to help with balance on my trek and I even got one of those cartoony helmets with a light on the front. They’re real!
Every inch of this experience was fascinating and my fiction brain ran completely amok with ideas for stories and scenes set in caves. Not only was it an experience and a half, it was also surprisingly beautiful. I periodically stumbled (literally) upon mounds of ice glittering in the sunlight creeping in from above and everywhere was lined with rounded icicles. Photos, sadly, do no justice to the caves.
This one’s short: I didn’t see any.
I did, however, get very cold and have to do extensive research to find the correct dock, involving Googling the phone number on the ticket to find the name of the company.
Because of the lack of whales, I was given free tickets to come back anytime within the next two years, so it’s very possible that there are no Icelandic whales but this is an elaborate ruse to keep them bustling with tourists. Sans whales, though, it was still a glorious boat ride with a view of some pretty birds, so still time well-spent.
There were definitely a few letdowns on this trip, from the botched Blue Lagoon trip and the cold showers to the absentee whales and the poor communication with the travel company, but Iceland itself more than made up for it.
The people were friendly; there were no real language barriers; everywhere was clean; the public transport system was a dream and the views were almost too stunning to be real. The currency (the Icelandic króna, ISK) was a bit of a learning curve and meant that I overspent by quite a bit, but ultimately I would even consider moving to the awe-inspiring Iceland. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before and every day was fuel for the imagination.