Travel: Sharon and Tracey do Iceland

Tracey MacLeod knew that Reykjavik was Europe's coolest destination. But that was about it...

VALENTINE'S DAY was looming and Sharon and I found that, unaccountably, we were both at a loose end, so we decided at the last minute to take ourselves away on a glamorous city break. But all the obvious destinations, such as Paris and Florence, were full up and, after a frantic morning on the phone, it seemed that the only hotel rooms still available anywhere in Europe were in Reykjavik.

All we knew about Iceland's capital was that it's Europe's coolest destination, with Jarvis Cocker popping over for Christmas and Damon from Blur practically owning the place. Fancying ourselves as stylish pioneers, we booked a three-night stay in a four-star hotel for a bargain pounds 239, including flights on Icelandair leaving the next day.

Our first serious misgivings kicked in on the way to the airport when we discovered that it was known as the Land of the Midnight Sun. The horrible thought then struck us that, in February Iceland might also be the Land of the Midday Moon, a suspicion confirmed by our guidebook, which read "winters here are dark and dreary, with only a few hours of twilight to break the long polar night". This was a real bombshell for Sharon because she had packed seven pairs of trousers and two dresses for our three-day trip, and no one would be able to see any of them in the gloom. We only perked up when a stewardess reassured us that we could expect at least eight hours of daylight in February - plenty of time for Sharon to work through most of her wardrobe permutations.

We made the 25-mile journey from Keflavik airport to our hotel by Flybus across barren tundra, and arrived to find we were staying in a kind of suburban wasteland on the edge of a town that resembled Stevenage. The name of the hotel, the Saga, was also a little unpromising. The friendly staff assured us, however, that swinging downtown Reykjavik was a mere 10-minute walk from the hotel, and so it proved the next day, which dawned crisp and sunny.

Reykjavik has the cosy feel of a small fishing port, and even the guide book refers to it as an "overgrown village". Apart from a few historic buildings in the centre, most of the houses are modern, many of them made of painted wood and corrugated iron. But the presence on every street corner of gaggles of stupendously good-looking women, all wearing the latest in boot-cut trousers and platform shoes, gave things a slightly surreal edge, as though the town had been taken over for the day by a convention of undercover supermodels.

As we cruised the main shopping street, Laugavegur, it began to dawn on us that our bargain mini-break wasn't going to be such a bargain after all. Prices in the boutiques were prohibitive, reflecting the fact that everything on the island has to be imported, apart from fish. Even fish was expensive, judging from the menus displayed outside restaurants. We did manage to find a relatively cheap place for lunch, the Kaffi Svarta, a dark and cosy first-floor cafe/bar whose speciality, described as "soup in bread" we assumed to be a mistranslation until we were brought two football-sized cottage loaves, hollowed out and filled with tasty, tomato soup. With a beer and a couple of cappuccinos, we escaped for about pounds 24.

Wary that we might be ensnared into a ruinous spending spree, we left the Svarta and headed for the Westurbaejar outdoor swimming pool, one of the many dotted around the city, filled with water from natural hot springs. In the women's changing room, a stern Nurse Ratchet figure, in rubber shoes, drew our attention to the diagram by the showers, which instructed us about just which areas of our anatomies we were expected to wash before we'd be allowed to swim. Despite the sub-zero temperatures, the pool was packed with swimmers of all ages, cheerfully bobbing around in the steaming waters, then sprinting across the icy concrete to sit in hot-tubs. There seemed to be a relaxed, family atmosphere in the tubs, with men and women sitting comfortably together, so after a little swim we thought we'd join them.

We'd just lowered ourselves into a hot tub when we were joined by a middle- aged man with a resemblance to Leonard Nimoy, who began to rub himself up against Sharon, groaning with pleasure, while pretending to luxuriate in the water jet. She endured this Vulcan assault for as long as seemed polite before we both sprinted out. But we were still prepared to give the Icelandic male the benefit of the doubt as we got ready for Reykjavik's infamous Friday-night cruise.

Sharon had decided that the epicentre of trendy Reykjavik must be the bar co-owned by Damon Albarn, so, as we only had sketchy knowledge, we decided to go to the tourist office to get the exact address. The office was full of people studying leaflets about Iceland's natural glories, which are geysers, glaciers and fjords, and somehow neither of us could come straight out with "what's the name of the bar Damon Albarn owns?" Sharon tried every possible pronunciation of the name she had scribbled down, until the assistant finally snatched the scrap of paper and read out Sharon's notes in a loud voice: "Damon's bar ... full of trendy people ... v. trendy." "Aha," she shrieked, "you want to go to the Kaffi Barinn where all the little English girls sit in the chairs and go: 'Ooh, maybe this is the chair where Damon sits ...'"

We got there at around 11pm. A waitress challenged Sharon to produce some ID. "Why, are we too old to come in?" quavered Sharon. The waitress looked at us more closely and waved us through. It transpired that for a brief moment, she had thought that Sharon might be under 20, and therefore not allowed to drink alcohol. As Sharon last saw 20 around the same time that the Labour party last saw government, she was naturally delighted. The Barinn, once attained, could never live up to expectations. Dark, wooden and crowded, it was full of beautiful people who ignored us and a sprinkling of other trendsurfing Brits, detectable by their shocked expressions when asked to pay pounds 7 for two beers. Despite Sharon's bootcuts and youthful demeanour, we felt we didn't fit in, and left to rejoin the procession of bar-hoppers trawling endlessly up and down the main drag.

We decided to recuperate the next day with a swim in the Blue Lagoon (Blaalonid). Though several of the organised tours from our hotel visited it, they were all expensive and took a day, so we decided to make the 40-minute journey by bus. The name Blue Lagoon had inspired visions of clear glacial waters. The reality was rather more scary - a broiling sulphuric soup that had started life as seawater before being warmed beneath the earth's crust, used to fuel a power station, then spewed out again for tourists to swim in. The pale blue water was scalding, and occasionally the steam would part to reveal the pipes of the power station looming overhead. Apparently a dip in the Blue Lagoon is good for psoriasis, as the water is full of algae. So we doggy-paddled around, trying not to get any of the reeking water in our mouths, until Sharon started to feel nauseous and our hair solidified into wedges.

After a couple of hours back at the hotel with some conditioner, a stiff brush and stiff drinks, we were ready to hit the town again. But instead, we spent the night slumbering in front of the television. The waters of the Blue Lagoon obviously had narcotic powers. But the trip out there had shown us enough of Iceland's natural beauty to convince us that we wanted to return. Next time, though, we'll skip the nightspots of Reykjavik and head straight for the wilderness. Assuming Sharon's heated rollers will fit into a rucksack.

reykjavik fact file

Icelandair Holidays (tel: 0171 388 5599) is offering some excellent deals. On 21 February you can fly to Rekyjavik from London Heathrow, spend one night in a four-star hotel for pounds 149 including transfers, breakfast and taxes. From Glasgow you can get two nights for pounds 169, departing 27 February.

Otherwise, standard weekend breaks from London Heathrow start from pounds 288, and from Glasgow from pounds 252. A two-night Valentine Weekend for couples, including a trip to the Blue Lagoon, is available for pounds 290.

Day-trips to Iceland can be booked with Transun (tel: 01865 798888) whose charters fly to Rekyjavik and back in a single day, from a wide range of regional airports. Price starts at pounds 159 (including tax).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Sport
Lionel Messi pictured after reaching the final
world cup 2014
Sport
Lionel Messi and Thomas Muller have shone brightest for Argentina and Germany respectively on their way to the World Cup final
Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?