The Icelandic Yule Lads

As today’s the day, I wanted to share how Icelandic people count down to Christmas. I found a book about this during my first trip to Iceland. Since then, I’ve loved this story about the 13 little fellas who keep excitable Children in check as Christmas approaches.

They reputedly come from the lava fields of Dimmuborgir, so of course I visited there when I was chilling on the north side of iceland two years ago.

Me and the lads

This is their natural habitat, and playground:

Dimmuborgir: look closely and you may see one of the Yule Lads hiding in the lava field

Keep an eye on your sausages, and look forward to the day when you can gobble Skyr, safe in the knowledge that you are only copying the example of another.

Here’s someone else’s (much better, and more knowledgeable than mine) explanation:
Icelandic Jólasveinar – Santa Clauses in Iceland

From Furugrund

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Christmas day in airports

Last Christmas I gave you my heart…uh, wrong piece of writing…I worked an incredibly heartwarming shift in the Crisis Rough Sleepers Centre in London, followed by a sandwich and Doctor Who in a Premier Inn at Gatwick airport!

This Christmas started off in Singapore, with an inexplicable brass rubbing counter at Changi Terminal 3??!

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After a 1 1/2 hour flight was a 4-hour layover in Kuching (Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo). Which, sadly, is the only dry airport I’ve ever found. Not even a single Christmas drink. In the end, I found some Ferrero Rocher and had a Christmas tea party with Travel Paddington.

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Only one tip for Kuching: clear immigration even if you’re only in transit. Three separate airport staff told me to remain airside. That led to “squeaky bum time” (though not literally…no, ahem, intimate searches for me!), when I finally arrived at Kota Kinabalu. Apparently Malaysian law (at time of writing) is to clear immigration on first touch of soil, even if you don’t leave the airport.

Tropical rainstorms meant it was unsafe to take off, so we sat on the tarmac for nearly an hour before heading to Kota Kinabalu. Through dense clouds on the bumpiest flight I’ve ever had the “privilege” to endure.

Still, travel is made of such fun moments. And a short taxi ride later I was at my hotel.

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I hope you all have a great Christmas X

My Christmas build-up in London

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I’m off traveling over Christmas and New Year, so everything is happening early in my world.

I cooked Christmas dinner for my parents last week (we’ve taken to doing a full un-Christmas celebration early so we can do what we want to without guilt or missing out…they’re in Egypt now).

I’ve been:
– ice-skating at one of the temporary outdoor rinks that pop up in London (Somerset House this year)
– to the German-style Christmas market on the South Bank (all bustle, pickpockets and buskers playing carols at at least double speed – avoid!)
– to see the giant LEGO Christmas tree at St Pancras station (pic)

I’m a little old for visiting Santa.

And…whilst everyone else is having last-minute shopping panic, I can be smug that mine was done weeks ago! (I’m onto the rucksack now).

Mulled wine, mince pies and Christmas carols next weekend…then I’m off to the airport 🙂

Chilling on the north side of Iceland

THE ROAD. After a late-to-bed and early-to-rise (to watch the F1 from Suzuka) it’s safe to say I arrived a Heathrow a little tired. This is attested by the fact that I punched myself in the nose at the departure gate at Heathrow (I was getting the Sunday Times out of my rucksack, so I blame Rupert Murdoch…).

Anyways, an Icelandair flight to Reykjavik (Keflavik), the Flybus to Reykjavik (domestic) and an Air Iceland flight to Akureyri later, Elly and I were checked into our hostel, Storholt , and headed to downtown Akureyri. This may be the local gay bar?!

Electric Six's next album cover

Bláa kannan – the Blue Coffee Pot – cafe bar was a much prettier nicer location (with cake!) for the cold Thule I’d been promising myself on the first night back in lovely Iceland.

DAY ONE Monday (the 1st full day) saw Elly and I pick up a hire car made for me:

My Icelandic wheels

We headed north-west out of Akureyri, up the west coast of the Eyjafjörður fjord, stopping briefly in Dalvik & Ólafsfjörður before heading into the newly-finished tunnels under the mountains. The first, being single-file with absolutely no indication as to traffic priority, would have descended into a Chuckle Brothers style to-me-to-you farce if we weren’t deep into the offseason. The second and third tunnels broke for air in the lovely setting of Héðinsfjörður.

Héðinsfjörðurvatn. Beautiful even on a misty, drizzly day

We reached Siglufjörður – “herring town” – to find the town’s main attaction, a museum celebrating the “herring years” (unsure if this is to do with the comedian Richard?!) was closed, as was most of the town at this time of year. However there was a lovely craft shop and a rusting boat that reflected itself in a seepia tint into a muddy puddle.

Rusty boat in Siglufjörður

DAY TWO. An early start to get the kilometres under the tyres, east out of Akureyri. First stop was Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods.

Godfoss in full flow

There are a couple of much better photos, and a note on the myth behind the formation of the waterfall here

Heading further eastwards we reached Lake Myvatn , stopping for a spot to eat, then to walk the shore near the strange lava formations standing in the lake at Höfði.

Lava formations in Lake Myvatn at Höfði

Following a wee bit of marvelling over the workings of nature, we headed for still more around the ‘dark castles’ of the rock pillar formations at Dimmuborgir

Lava formations on dry land at Dimmuborgir

Dimmuborgir, it should be noted, is also the feted home of the Icelandic Jólasveinar or Yule Lads , a Christmas tradition.
Also the inspiration for a Norwegian black metal band (fans of the latter mistakenly finding this page via Google should click here to return to the darkness!).

Next stop on the anti-clockwise (hey, I got fed up of clockwise with all the Buddhist holy places earlier this year, and have been going the other way to counteract the dizziness!) lap of the lake was the mud pots and steam vents of the Hverir geothermal area.

It just backs up my comments that parts of Iceland are like walking on the moon (and, in fact, it’s not far from Askja where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and other Apollo programme astronauts trained for their moon landings).


The video helps, but can’t take you there (or convey the potent suphorous “eggy” smells!)

We then headed up to the coast to Husavik, the capital of whale watching.

Husavik harbour

Unfortunately we’d missed the only whale watching boat of the day and the Icelandic Phallological Museum (yes, really !!) was closed for the winter, with it being low season. Instead we went to the whale museum, where I learnt a lot about something I never really knew that I didn’t know anything about, if you catch my drift…?

Finally, back to Myvatan to see the sunset, relax in the hot springs at Myvatn Nature Baths and look (in vain, as it turned out, for the Northern Lights).

Sunset over Lake Myvatn

Shame about not seeing the Northern Lights. Again. Means I’ll just have to keep coming back to lovely, lovely Iceland. Obviously I’m really upset about that…!