Iceland part 1: Reykjavík and whale watching

My workplace decided we did so well and were such good sports during the pandemic that the owners wanted to treat us all to a group vacation… To freakin’ ICELAND! 🤯 Iceland has been on my bucket list since forever so I was beyond excited!

We went there at the end of May and stayed for 4 days.

Since Reykjavík is on the west coast of Iceland the plane had to fly over the entire country before landing. I had hoped to see some of it from the sky but it was too cloudy. But there was a brief gap in the clouds for a while and I managed to catch a glimpse of Vatnajökull! 😀 It’s the largest glacier in Europe so it just looked like an enormous snowfield from above, but still cool IMO.

When we landed and got out of the airport, the landscape immediately set the tone. Endless moss-covered lava fields from horizon to horizon. Inhospitable and extremely alluring.

Am I weird or does anyone else get an intense desire to venture out in those fields? To walk all the way to the horizon?

Wouldn’t have been a good idea though. The moss growing on the lava is very ecologically important, incredibly fragile (takes 50 years to grow back), and almost sacred to the people. You’re not supposed to even touch it. Every Icelandic person we talked to brought it up unprompted like “Whatever you do, do NOT walk on the moss”.

Reykjavík

We stayed in a hotel close to the city centre, so everything was well within walking distance. Actually, most of the city is within walking distance. Reykjavík only has 200 000 people so it is small for a capitol.

I liked the relatively small size. It was cosy, made me feel right at home, and it was easy to navigate. I was also impressed with the range of restaurants, shops, museums etc! I could probably have spent all 4 days exploring Reykjavík and still not see everything.

This rainbow road was first made annually for Reykjavík Pride, but since 2019 it’s been a permanent feature of the city. Gorgeous view of Hallgrímskirkja from here too, which is one landmark I missed visiting. I love visiting churches and Hallgrímskirkja is such an unusual and cool building. Bummer I never went there but hopefully I’ll get more chances.

Walking along the streets, I’d see huge gorgeous elaborate murals everywhere. There were so many cool houses, way too many to photograph. I loved the main street where all the shops and restaurants were.

One evening a few of us took a walk down to the water, enjoying the view of the mountains across the bay. Also came across the Sun Voyager, a sculpture in the stylised shape of a Viking longship.

A nearby plaque told us “We all have our fantasy boats, vessels that we dream of sailing away in, into the dream. In my ships I unite my own fantasy, precision, and the knowledge that boat builders have developed throughout the ages. The sun ship gives us a promise of primaeval lands.”

The Icelandic lamb is a national speciality so I had to try it. Sheep are easier to keep than cattle when you live on a mostly barren rock in the middle of the North Atlantic, so they have way more sheep than cows. I’m not a huge fan of red meat in general but this lamb was very good!

A guide also told us that it’s very difficult to be vegetarian or vegan in Iceland and it’s considered weird by the general masses. We did find ONE vegan restaurant in Reykjavik (Mama Reykjavik) though. They served some really nice stews and sandwiches, but I forgot to take any pictures there.

Most nights everyone split up into groups depending on what they wanted to do, but on Friday we had a group dinner with everyone. I turned 40 recently and another coworker recently turned 50, so they had also ordered dessert especially for us. The CEO stood up and held a little happy birthday speech for us, it was very sweet. And a little embarrassing lol. 🙈 Thankfully the restaurant was so crowded they didn’t dare sing for us as well, haha!

One night a few of us went to the Kiki Queer Bar and got lucky that they had a drag show that night! Queen Faye Knús (yes, “fake news”) entertained us with jokes and lipsyncing. She was hilarious and we had a great time!

At some point, she started asking where people in the audience were from (she had endless fun picking on the Americans in the front seats) and eventually asked if there were any Norwegians in the house? No? Swedes? So we cheered and she went “Right, well whatever, it’s the same thing. Sweden is just like Norway except without the money.” Can’t argue with that 😂 (Norway has oil and is the richest Nordic country.)

Whale watching

This was probably the coolest part of the trip. Iceland was full of amazing and epic sights, but this took the cake. I actually got to see WHALES!!

I didn’t get any good pictures of them though. The weather was far too bad. But I have 3 blurry photos further down that a colleague managed to take.

Our boat, the Amelia Rose
The resting room below deck. The whole boat had this ornate wooden interior.

We walked from the hotel down to the harbour early on Friday morning. It was very cold and the rain was pouring down. But I live by the rule “there is no bad weather, only bad clothes” so I came prepared. I think I had like 5 layers of clothes under a raincoat and rain trousers.

I had imagined some kind of Deadliest Catch vessel and was actually slightly disappointed to learn the boat was a big yacht-like thing (I know nothing about boats), complete with a café and bar inside. Little did I know it would get a lot more like Deadliest Catch later. 😂

Me and Emma

When we left the harbour it was still pretty calm, but as we reached open water it got progressively rougher. The guide announced that we would have very rough seas today, but not to worry. Nothing the boat couldn’t handle.

And rough it got.

The wind got stronger and the rain heavier and the waves larger by the minute. About an hour into the journey it was raining sideways and the sea had turned into a rollercoaster.

At this point people started getting seasick too. The staff had clearly been through this before and had laid out puke bags, but not everyone made it that far. I saw one person throw up right outside the door to the cabin. Several threw up over the railing. 🤢
To my immense relief, it turns out I wasn’t affected. I’ve only been in small row boats on lakes and on a large cruise liner once, so my boating experience is very limited. But I guess I’m not susceptible to seasickness because while I did feel slightly uneasy at some points, I never felt actually sick or like I was gonna throw up.

Right then, in the middle of all this, the guide called out that we had reached the spot and was now right above a herd of humpback whales!

It was hard to see anything because the boat moved so much and the sea and the sky seemed to have blurred together in the rain and wind, but the guide told us to look for the birds in the water. There were lots of birds all around and the guide said to look for when they all take off at once, which meant a whale was on its way up.

And I saw lots of them!

Lots of plumes of water shooting up from a blowhole, followed by a sleek dark back with a fin. A couple of times we also saw tailfins flipping in the air. Never saw a head though, but it was still so cool! A few of them came up very close to the boat too so we got a good look!

These are the only photos any of us got. My colleague Samuel risked his life and his camera by letting go of the railing long enough to snap these. And we’re all eternally grateful. 😅🙏

I’m surprised at how calm the sea looks in these still images. It was much more intense IRL.

The boat was swaying so much that I had to hold on with both hands to not fall. Especially if trying to move anywhere. That’s why I didn’t dare take any photos because I knew if I let go to take up my phone I would either fall or drop the phone into the sea or both. Probably both.

I don’t know how long we stayed out with the whales but at some point, the guide said we were leaving and started turning the boat around. The cabin was full of people with their heads buried in puke bags (I wonder how many missed the whales because of seasickness) but I was too excited to care!

This was an incredible experience and I have to say the weather actually added to it. What an adventure! 10/10, would love to go again! 🤩🐳

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