Friday, June 15, 2007


Hallgrimska, Reykjavik, 12:30am

Over the weekend we had a lovely trip to Iceland. A proper trip, even, namely on of the three or four in my entire life for which I've had to pay for accomodation (what the hell are family and friends for anyway?).

We landed just before midnight on Friday at Keflavik, and from there it was a 40 minute bus ride to Reykjavik ("smoky bay"). As a result, we got to see the sun set. After midnight. And it didn't go all the way down; it just sort of sulked over the horizon. This photo of the main cathedral, Hallgrimska, was taken just as we were walking to our guesthouse, pushing 1am. FREAKY. The sun came back up again a little after 3am which wouldn't have been a problem, except that we had no blinds in our room. Funny how quickly you get used to it though.

I must say I did a kickass job of picking the guesthouse. It was opposite a strip joint and two pubs, two blocks back from the harbour and one from the main shopping strip, and our apartment had a jacuzzi, dishwasher, and washing and drying machines, making the place as a whole roughly 98% more attractive, convenient and awesome than the pixieflat. I miss you guesthouse apartment! Oh, but since Reykjavik's water is geothermally heated, things got a little sulfurous when showering/washing up/having any contact whatsoever with hot water. This I do not miss.

On Saturday we had a wander around Reykjavik, which at 300,000 barely counts as a city by back-home standards. It is really quite pretty; all the old houses are made out of corrugated iron, but with elaborate wooden trims. Note to self: bring true gospel of tarting up tin shacks home. The main shopping strip is nice but quite tourist-directed (albeit blessedly without any of the major European/American chains) and really pushing Icelandic lopi jumpers. These are a little too simple for me to spend 80 euro on, given I could make one with my eyes closed for about a quarter of that, but they were interesting to eyeball anyway. I did actually pick up two balls of thin icelandic wool for about 1/5 of what I've seen anything sold in UK, land of "we pretend we don't have sheep so as to force up the prices." Icelandic wool is tough as an old boot, and I imagine would outwear merino by several hundred years. Might be a little rough on the hands, but we'll see!

During our wander, Grant made a new friend at the sculpture garden near Hallgrimska. Then we headed up the tower of the church itself, which is one of the high points of the city. It was great except that (a) I'm terrified of heights and (b) we went up there just before 3pm without realising what happens in a bell tower on the hour. BELL MAKE BIG NOISE.

Later, we went out on a boat for a whale/puffin-watching adventure, which did indeed include sightings of puffins on Puffin Island (shooting fish in a barrel, as that's where the puffins live at this time of year) but only dolphins, no whales around. Unfortunately dolphins appeared to satisfy there "get a cetacean sighting or get another trip free," or so I gathered from the tour guide's repeated discussion of the dolphins several hours after we had last seen them. The dolphins were, in fact, pretty cool - not like bottlenoses at all.

Later, in commemoration of the puffin sighting, my companions ate a puffin. I demurred.

On Sunday we rented a car to better experience the joys of Iceland. It came with a CD to replace those pesky human tour guides. Once we worked out the suggested route out of town it was quite good. The route was the golden circle, which covers Geysir (the Big One after which all geysers are named), Gulfoss (honking waterfall) and a park called Thingvellir (actually it isn't "Th" it's an icelandic character, the same as for the start of Thor's name, but let's not overtax blogger) where the Icelanders formed the first European parliament.

First stop was a nice lava field:

The dirt is quite black; the green stuff is really thing moss, not grass. Quite an alien landscape. At the instructions of our tour guide CD, we then visited this volcanic crater:

Oo er. We of course had to walk down into it; Grant and Rohan then raced each other back up, because they are both youngest children. And people make fun of my only child status. AT LEAST I WASN'T SCARRED FOR LIFE, people.

OK, next stop. Does my public want geysers? I am going to assume the answer is yes.

This isn't Geysir, which is unpredictable and in fact stopped erupting for a few decades before the 2000 earthquake jogged it back into life. It didn't go up while we were there. This is Geysir's little brother, which kindly shows off every 5 minutes or so. And is pretty blinkiy impressive. Of course, this entire area was rank with sulfur. Probably one of the few places on earth one can fart with impunity.

And this beauty is Gulfoss, a really, really big waterfall.

The first drop is about 11m and the second around 20-30 I think. Water flow is 100 cubic metres per second, so of course they wanted to dam it in the early 1900s. Fortunately, reason prevailed. This things puts out an amazing amount of water vapour. Grant and Rohan then spent some time standing on the edge, etc (Iceland has the same hatred of public safety as the UK, and even better, it's got a lot more dangerous things to refuse to protect people from) - see above re: youngest children.

And on to Thingvellir.

Thingvellir is at the rift between the American and Eurasian continental plates, which are moving apart at a rate of 2cm per year and being nicely infilled with LIQUID HOT MAGMA, which we are sort of standing on in this shot. Behind us is one of the continental walls; I think the edge of the American plate. We are also near the supposed site of the Law Rock, where in the early days of the Icelandic parliament, which was pre-script (backward Vikings), the Law Speaker would recite all the laws then in force. Sounds like a fun job, doesn't it?

On Monday we actually got proper sunshine, but were so wiped out from the adventures of the day before that we mostly mosied about the apartment. We went up in the Perlan for another 360 degree of Reykjavik and a visit to a most peculiar saga museum of Icelandic history (sort of history museum crossed with Madame Tussaud's) and had a wander about the harbour, but that was about it.

Tuesday was our last day, and was spent at Iceland's premier tourist trap, the Blue Lagoon hot bathing springs:

I'm cheating - this is outside the Blue Lagoon, but it's also the only part that is blue so we'll go with it. The hot springs are 37-39 degrees, like a toasty warm bath, and very salty, therefore conducive to a nice float. They also have a nice fake waterfall that will hammer your back and shoulders into submission for you, but which is not, I should add, of quite the same magnitude as Gulfoss. It was tremendously relaxing and exactly the best way to end a lovely holiday. PITY WE THEN HAD TO CATCH A PLANE.

And then we came home sweet home.

In short, visit Iceland!

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