Fire and Ice-land - New Year's Eve

Happy New Year, everyone! Okay, let's not lose time with celebrations, and keep our schedule for blogging!

So, after Snaefellnes and the Golden Circle, spending NYE in Reykjavik was my next goal for Iceland, and discovering the Winter Wonderland that becomes Iceland during the winter time.

But first I must warn you: BE PREPARED FOR ICELAND IN WINTER

Dangerous Business and other travel blogs are good at describing the ups and downs of Iceland in winter.

I hate generalizing, but I have seen too many Asians coming to Iceland in winter, and not prepared at all. As my guide put it, they come to experience "real" winter, but have no idea how cold it is going to be... I even saw 3 Chinese girls, attempting to walk on a Glacier with no gloves on! So please, if you consider going to Iceland in winter, be ready to cover yourselves with warm layers. The temperature will probably never drop down to -20 or so, thanks to the Gulf Stream, but snow storms and hail are fearful.

If I had to classify this trip between failure and success, I wouldn't put it as a sucess. The conditions are quite hard and ever changing during the winter season, even more so than the summer season, and of course, you only have few hours of light... Also, I wouldn't advise a road trip at this season, unless you are very experienced driving with strong gales, snow and ice. But I will explain everything in this article (and the next one).

Jokulsarlon and NYE

So, apart from the NYE in Reykjavik, another goal of mine for this winter holiday was Jokulsarlon, with this idea that I could maybe, if conditions permit, have a picture of the Northern lights above it (spoiler alert: deception follows... Remember when you travel to never expect anything, you'll never get disappointed).
So I arrived on the 26th of December, and checked in at the Reykjavik City Hostel, a bit out of Downtown Reykjavik. Once comfortably settled, I received an email saying that my ice climbing session of the next day was cancelled due to bad weather, so I spent the evening trying to figure out things to do in Reykjavik in case of bad weather. I decided to go for a dip in the nearby thermal pool, and booked several other excursions for the next days, as my only plan was the 2-day trip to Jokulsarlon. I also booked the Bonfire and Fireworks tours for NYE.

The next day was therefore quite empty, except for the short walk on icy sidewalks to go to the public pool. This particular pool, so close to the hostel, offers a variety of heated options. The outside pool is heated at a comfortable 30-ish degree Celsius, there is a great slide, and different hot pots heated at different temperatures ranging from 37°C to 40°C.

On Monday, I had the Whale watching tour planned. You're going to say "But whale watching in Iceland is mostly in Summer!", and you would be right, but when you have run out of options, it could be a good half day out. Actually, the tours go all year round, and even if you don't spot whales in winter, as they have already migrated, if you are lucky enough, you can spot some dolphins. We were lucky enough, as the weather was more or less clement (except at the end), good for spotting wildlife apparently, as there was no glare from the sun.
Plus, a boat trip is always cool
Tuesday was the Game of Thrones tour with Reykjavik Excursions, with our very talkative guide Didi, who gave us a lot of fun facts about Iceland and Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Rings, and Vikings...... It was particularly nice, because the snow was fresh and stopped for a while, which made for good pictures with this amazing winter light you have up north, between dawn and dusk.
Our guide, Didi
Wednesday was the start of the 2-day tour to Jokulsarlon with Extreme Iceland. We were quite lucky because the storm hit the previous day, so our tour wasn't cancelled, but we had bad weather all along, with snow storms and hail in between quiet moments.
Try driving under this kind of weather...
The good point of this windy weather was that while enjoying the coastline, you could see huge waves crashing on rocks, with great effects.
On the road to Vik
We stopped just before Vik, taking road 215, to see the famous basalt marches, again, with powerful waves crashing on the rocks

On the Vik side of the cliffs
After a couple of hours driving in complete darkness, with snow and hail still on to us, we arrived at our lodges, where a warm dinner was waiting for us. We did try to see the Northern Lights, as there were some holes in the cloud cover, but to no avail.

The next day, we drove back to Jokulsarlon, and guess what? the storm had pushed all the icebergs to the sea, so the very famous picturesque lagoon was just... flat out boring... It was still quite interesting to play with the camera on the ice:

On the black beach next to the lagoon, however, there were ice pieces galore. It's always fun to imagine a creature carved in the ice
what do you see?
The afternoon was planned for a walk on a nearby glacier, Skaftafell, the one featured in Interstellar, and really, even though hail was once again among us, it was a vision out of this world!

Due to the bad conditions, we arrived quite late in Reykjavik, and missed the bonfires activities, but were more than early enough to see the fireworks. Actually, we arrived in Reykjavik at around 20:30, and the fireworks had already started.

Reykjavik's NYE is absolutely amazing. The principle is that anyone - and I mean absolutely anyone - can buy fireworks from the Rescue Volonteers, and launch them absolutely anywhere, anytime during the night, except of course between 22h30 and 23h30, where the famous Sarcastic show Áramótaskaupið. Then, everyone goes out again and continues to launch fireworks. Our group stayed on the plaza in front of Hallgrímskirkja, which I thought would be crowded, but I forgot that this was Iceland we were talking about, so the standard of "crowds" are a bit lowered compared to London, for instance.

From 23h30 and for at least an hour, you are surrounded with fireworks, exploding everywhere, climaxing into lights and noise at midnight. I cannot describe it better, you have to be there. Everyone that has been there will say the same thing, but let me tell you one thing: it is better than anything you can read on it!

What other New Year's Eve would you recommend? Stay tune for some practical information on Iceland!

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