After a high intensity audio visual experience of the night before, we decided to take Saturday at a slower pace. After breakfast we took a leisurely stroll up towards the Eye of Sauron, sorry, I mean Hallgrimskirkja or ‘Hallgrims Church. But it really does look like something out of Lord of the Rings, and with all these Elf Rocks and blizzards it does get a little confusing.
You really can’t miss this masterpiece of a land mark if you are coming at it from Skólavörðustígur, you can even see it’s tower looming above the residential houses even from the bottom of the hill! Once at the top tho, there are ample opportunities for photographs. Inside is a classic Lutherian style church, quite simplistic in appearance, which is heavily compensated by the grand organ behind. The crisp white walls give a clean yet peacefull atmosphere, punctuated by a stained glass window at either end of the pews. A whispering howl of wind from outside can be heard as a fresh but gentle blizzard begins to batter around the church.
Unlike other churches and even the cathedral in Reykjavik, this one has a very VERY tall tower which you can can ascend to the top of for a small fee – stairs or a lift, it’s your choice (we chose the lift) – just remember to actually push the button if you decide to take the lift, rather than faffing around with your selfie stick. It’s not one of those intuitive lifts that knows what you want to do. From the top you will be faced with a spectacular 360 view of Reykjavik, the coastline and beyond.
Coming back down to earth and with not much time to spare, we made a quick pit stop into the hotel next to our apartment; Alda Hotel which has a health bar and small chocolate shop known as Berber Chocolate shop. Here we warmed up again and stocked up on supplies for the bus ride out to Blue Lagoon. These chocolates are not made on the premises, but instead by the adventurous Haflið Ragnarsso, from Mosfellsbakarí who has won awards for their delectable chocolates and desserts, founed in 1981 they are a well established Icelandic chocolate institution. Haflið, a passionate chocolatier, has visited Africa, America and Europe all in the name of discovering and studying chocolate. Berber have a fine selection here, mainly specialising in Haflið’s filled chocolates and truffles, as well as flavoured bars. They had some delightful combinations and flavour options including peppermint, ginger caramel and, the Scandinavian favourite liquorice! I went for strawberry white chocolate (the white and red speckled one) and ginger caramel (piped into a cocoa pod mould) and was not disappointed. This pioneering chocolatier, along with bean to bar chocolate producers OmNom really are putting Icelandic chocolate on the map and I can’t wait to see how they progress.
One of the things that really has to be done in Iceland, regardless of the duration of your stay, is to visit one of the many many thermal spas and springs. Although you can visit many local spas, of which locals and tour guides will be more than happy to advise you on, by far the most famous (and therefor most expensive) is the Blue Lagoon. Located in Grindavik, on the Reykjanes Peninsula of southwestern Iceland, the lagoon is in fact a man made structure fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant Svartslengi. The warm milky blue waters (holding a natural temperature of 37-39 degrees celsius) are rich in minerals including silica and sulfur and bathing in these waters is reported to carry huge health benefits, especially to those suffering skin ailments. A standard ticket including your bus transfer fare from Reykjavik will set you back around £50 or so, but it is well worth it and you can stay for as long as you want (closing is around 9pm, but you are required to leave the pools about 30 minutes before the centre closes). Just remember to bring your bath robe and / or towel with the standard pack, as these are not included. If you’re lucky you can get a scoop of silica clay to smear all over your face and let all those good-for-you minerals sink in as you lounge around in the warm waters. It is well worth exploring all areas of the lagoon as there are also two saunas, a high pressured waterfall of warm water – perfect for those stiff shoulders and bad backs, and a steam room. One astonishing thing you will find, after exiting the lagoon, is that even after showering you skin feels soft and not at all pruney, no matter how long you’ve spent lounging.
After spending the best part of four hours floating leisurely around the milky waters of the Blue Lagoon, it was time to head back to town. Our stomachs were beginning to guide us, and we needed to answer the call. Arriving back in town, just in time for last orders we head to Kol restaurant, just down the road from the Lord of the Rings church, on Skólavörðustígur. Despite the fact they were fully booked and incredibly busy, they went out of their way to make us welcome, and despite the wait still managed to squeeze us onto a table. After one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, we were more than delighted that we stayed – the food far exceeded the reviews they have received on Trip Advisor. Although it is a little out of the way from Downtown Reykjavik, I would highly recommend this as a stop on your trip. Yes, Iceland is expensive, but a meal for two is very reasonable and if you can bear to share, then the seafood platter is well worth it, followed by a fungi and ox tail ragu. There is even a fine selection of afters, including a selection of home made ice cream. Yes, it does seem weird that they would serve ice cream in a country so cold, but when you ask and Icelander they say ‘it’s in our name, so why not?’, well, fair comment. Suitably warmed and with full bellies it was time to return home, we had a big day ahead of us tomorrow and were in desperate need of some sleep.