Posts Tagged ‘Iceland’

On holiday

June 8, 2014

Another wonderful weather day today, warm and sunny.  We enjoyed a morning in our rented cabin/house, the children played and read while The Dad and I prepared for tomorrow’s departure – the terms of the rental mean we must clean the house thoroughly before we go.  It was spotless when we arrived and we intend to leave it that way too.  We did some this morning and more this evening after dinner, leaving minimal chores for tomorrow morning.

In late morning we headed back to Reykjavik.  We had wanted to buy some quilting fabric – the kids are planning to make memory quilts of the trip when we get home – but the fabric shop (at least the only one I knew about) was closed for the weekend.  So we went on into the centre of town, and got fabric patches to sew onto horse- or volcano-themed fabric from elsewhere as a compromise.  We also got some t-shirts and some little souvenirs to take home with us.  Fainjin has been thwarted in his desire for “a remote-controlled flying puffin”, thank goodness, and has asked repeatedly for a helmet with horns on instead.  We’ve had to point out that it really wouldn’t fit into his backpack, and the airline probably wouldn’t be keen on him wearing it on the plane.

We had lunch in town.  Nice food but the service was a bit of a disaster, they served Babess an adult-sized meal when we’d ordered a children’s one, and Pearl’s meal never arrived at all, even after we’d reminded them.  But Fainjin couldn’t finish his, and of course Babess had far too much, so Pearl ate theirs and assured us she was quite satisfied.

Then we went to Laugurdalslaug, a very large public swimming pool complex.  We didn’t go in all the pools, just the recreation pool – a large pool about 1m deep and kept at around 28ºC – and the warmer family pool at 38ºC.  There is a big lane pool as well, and hotter hotpots, and some indoor pools too!  I really like the system at the pool – you take your shoes off before entering the change rooms.  Once inside, you store your clothes in a locker (included in your entrance fee, which is not terribly expensive).  Then you take your togs/swimsuit and towel into the wet area, where you shower thoroughly before putting your togs on – soap is provided, as is a diagram showing you what bits to wash extra-well(!).  You can leave your towel in a rack there, or take it with you to the pool.

When you come out, you can shower again if you choose, and there is a spin-dryer for the togs (brilliant idea!).  You get dry before going back to the locker area to get dressed, and there are hair-dryers available as well.  Finally you leave the locker area and put your shoes back on.  Everything (and everyone) is very clean.

Photography is forbidden in the pool complex, and even if it wasn’t it would probably not be a good idea to take the camera into such a wet steamy environment, so no photos of us in the pools!  But we had a great time.  Fainjin found a floating foam “race car” and had a great time scooting around the 1m pool in that with The Dad; Pearl went down the 86m-long waterslide several times; Babess & I sat and chatted in the warmer pool.

On the way home we took a scenic detour down the west side of Þingvallavatn (the lake at Þingvellir).  It was a slow but beautiful trip, mostly gravel roads around cliffs, bays and rolling countryside.

We do finally feel that we really are on holiday… and we leave tomorrow for New York.  I’ve resolved that future trips to Iceland (ha!) should be for a minimum of two weeks (and preferably much longer).

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

The big smoke

June 7, 2014

Yesterday was a very long day.

We headed into Reykjavik for some city action.  Reyk is the Icelandic word for smoke, so Reykjavik really is the Big Smoke!

We wandered around some souvenir shops, had lunch in a cafe, then visited Hallgrímskirkja.  This spectacular Lutheran cathedral is a major landmark in Reykjavik, very visible on top of a hill.

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja

Inside it is beautifully light, simple and elegant, with an amazing 5,275-pipe organ.

light and beauty

light and simplicity

organ

organ

 

We wandered back through town, and found a very nice coffee shop for afternoon tea.  There we discussed our next move: the big swimming pool with hot pools, water slides, etc; or a late-afternoon whale-watching tour.  A consensus was reached in favour of whale-watching. We’ll go swimming another day.

The day had been very changeable, sunny one minute and torrential rain the next, but the evening was spectacular.  The sea was flat and calm and the weather was perfect.  We were glad we’d chosen to cruise the bay.  There weren’t many people on the tour, so it felt very relaxed and personal.  We saw three or four minke whales, some porpoises and a pod of 8 white-beaked dolphins.

The Dad & Pearl get up close with dolphins

The Dad & Pearl get up close(ish) with dolphins

 

The dolphins were closer than they look in the photo!  At one point they were within 10m of the boat.

We also saw POOOFFINS!  The puffins were swimming about in the bay, and often tried to fly away when the boat got near.  They’re not very good at taking off from the water though.  As the guide said, “They make pretty good rowboats!” They were adorably cute while flapping along the surface of the water.

Fainjin & Babess on spotting duty

Fainjin & Babess on spotting duty

The crew were very welcoming to the children, sitting them up in the captain’s chair and giving them crew hats to wear, explaining the course computer and talking about whales with them.  Apart from the kids spotting the snacks for sale and pleading starvation from then on, we all had a fantastic time.  Even if we hadn’t seen any wildlife, it was a lovely evening to be out cruising in Faxafloi bay.

But… it was a 5pm cruise, so we got back at 8:30ish, and it was an hour’s drive home again… and we got a bit lost in the Reykjavik traffic system… so we didn’t get home until 10pm.  By which stage Babess was asleep in the back seat, and Fainjin very nearly so.  Fainjin woke up for some dinner, but Babess just went to bed.  (Perhaps we should have fed them snacks on the boat after all…).

The Dad and I took a while to wind down, and soon found ourselves watching the sun set.  It was a beautiful calm evening.  The Dad went outside just after midnight and took these photos.

a neighbour's place in the midnight dusk

a neighbour’s place in the midnight dusk

looking towards the just-set sun

looking towards the just-set sun

This morning was, not unexpectedly, a slow start.  The weather was… perfect. Fine, sunny, warm – about 19’C, much warmer than previous days, and calm.  We fluffed around the cabin for most of the morning, reading, playing chess, doing not much, then decided to head back to Þingvellír to see it properly.

But first the kids went up to investigate these potential trolls behind our house. This is the view from our bedroom window!

But first the kids went up to investigate these potential trolls behind our house. This is the view from our bedroom window!

Since we were last here, a visitors’ centre has been built at Þingvellír, and new walkways over the rocks.  It’s all very swish and nice, although we somewhat regret that the pressure of tourist numbers (to which we are contributing) has made this kind of development necessary.  It’s still a very beautiful place.

view of the lake at Thingvellir

view of the lake at Thingvellir

The water in the rivers and lake is incredibly clear, you can see right to the bottom of very deep pools, and often can’t quite judge where the surface of the water is.  It’s a shame to see lots of coins have been thrown into nearly every pool though, despite signs asking people not to do this.

one decent earthquake and this will fall...

one decent earthquake and this will fall…

pretty church at Thingvellir

pretty church at Thingvellir

inside the church

inside the church

our silhouettes on a river bridge - we'd just seen a trout swimming past!

our silhouettes on a river bridge – we’d just seen a trout swimming past!

It was so tempting to linger, but we had an appointment, so we headed home for a very quick lunch, then straight out again to a horse-riding centre.

Pearl & I signed up for a one-hour ride on Icelandic horses.  I was a bit nervous – I haven’t ridden for years and never very well – but these horses were steady and well-behaved and a delight to ride.  We just walked along the track; perhaps next time I will summon up the courage to attempt the famous tölt which is a unique Icelandic gait.  Again, the scenery was spectacular.

Pearl & I and our two guides ride along the base of a local mountain

Pearl & I and our two guides ride along the base of a local mountain

After our ride, our lovely guides suggested that they could give Fainjin and Babess little rides as well – just in the driveway.  Of course they jumped at the chance! I thought Babess’ face might split, she was grinning so much.

Fainjin has a ride in front of our lovely guide

Fainjin has a ride in front of our guide

The afternoon was wonderfully relaxed – there was tea & coffee available, a sunny deck to sit on and chat, some other people but not too many, a friendly dog and a pet lamb called Hercules.  We were there for two hours doing our one-hour ride!  The sun was so warm and there was no wind… I felt a small regret that we hadn’t signed up for the 3-hour ride instead. Until I hopped off my horse, that is, and tried to walk!  Luckily we have a spa back at the cabin for soaking tired muscles.

So that’s what we did – we came home, had a leisurely dinner, had a soak, then sat eating ice-cream until after bedtime.

Anyone would think we were on holiday.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

Southern Iceland

June 5, 2014

Today was meant to be waterfalls and puffins.  “Pooooffins!” we promised, evoking Happy Feet 2.

The first bit went according to plan, anyway.

We stopped for a quick peek at Kerið, a 6,500-year-old volcanic crater just a few kilometers from our accommodation.  Like several things, it has been developed a bit since our last visit 8 years ago, and now has roped-off paths and even an entrance booth – including an entrance charge.  Last time we were amazed that you could just walk right up to the crater’s edge, no warning signs or anything.  Now you can’t do that (probably a good thing).

From there we headed across the farmland of south-west Iceland, which seems to be mostly inhabited by horses and sheep – more horses, I would say.  Our second stop was The Dad’s favourite waterfall, Seljalandsfoss.  You can see it from quite a way off, approaching from the west.

Seljalandsfoss from quite a way away

Seljalandsfoss from quite a way away

The Dad and Fainjin took up the challenge and walked behind the falls; the womenfolk stayed out of the spray and waved happily to them on the other side of the water.

Fainjin in his red raincoat behind the water at Seljalandsfoss

Fainjin in his red raincoat behind the water at Seljalandsfoss

Next stop was further east, at Skogafoss.  I like this one better than Seljalandsfoss, myself.  The kids took off running for the sheer joy of it.

Pearl in the blue on the left, Babess in pink, The Dad in green, and the red dot is Fainjin

Pearl in the blue on the left, Babess in pink, The Dad in green, and the red dot is Fainjin

When you get up really close and in the spray at the bottom of the waterfall, if the sun shines, magic happens.

I'm quite proud of this shot

I’m quite proud of this shot

The Dad took the kids up loads of steps to the top.  He was tempted to keep going – there’s a walkway up there which he reckons leads up to the ice-cap, but he knew we had to keep going eastwards and southwards.

We stopped in Vik for lunch, found a nice little cafe in some sunshine and enjoyed a break.  Then we turned back westward again and turned off at Dyrhólaey where we expected to see…. POOOFFINS!

On past visits we’ve seen lots of puffins there.  This time… nope.  Lots of skuas, and artic terns, and shags.  Lots and lots of very cold wind – especially on the clifftop where we have previously seen puffins.  Eventually The Dad and Babess, on a final foray to the clifftop (holding hands the whole way, thank you very much) saw a puffin being harrassed by a skua, but that was the only puffin our family saw today.

On the other hand, Dyrhólaey is an interesting place to visit anyway.  The rock formations are fascinating, and the view is amazing.

rock formations

rock formations

Some of the rocks are climbable (carefully!):

King of the castle!

King of the castle!

puffin-less cliff-face

puffin-less cliff-face

And on the way back we saw a pretty white house with a turf-house next to it, and artic terns swooping in the field in front:

070

See the turf-house on the left?

And of course, more horses. I don’t remember seeing so many on our previous visits.

Icelandic horses have 5 gaits: walk, trot, canter/gallop, and two uniquely Icelandic ones: tolt and skeid

Icelandic horses have 5 gaits: walk, trot, canter/gallop, and two uniquely Icelandic ones: tolt and skeid

On the way home we entertained ourselves by looking for (and finding!) troll faces in the cliff formations we passed, and elf-houses (doors into turf-covered hillsides).

Once home, it was soon time for dinner, spa and bed – a very nice routine to be falling into!

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

 

 

Golden Circle

June 4, 2014

Today we hit the “big three” tourist attractions in Iceland’s Golden Circle: Geysir, Gullfoss and Þingvellir.

First stop was the thermal area of Haukadalur, where the geyser Strokkur erupts every 10 minutes or so.  The children were most impressed.  I have tried to upload a video here with no success.  However, I also got a half-way decent still shot, including The Dad taking a photo of me taking a photo, and Fainjin looking on:

You can see the bubbles (light blue) rising below the surface of the water. This is a split-second before the geyser erupts.

You can see the bubbles (light blue) rising below the surface of the water. This is a split-second before the geyser erupts.

And thar she blows! You can see the spray from a big eruption still falling as a smaller one goes. This taken from further away than the first photo.

And thar she blows! You can see the spray from a big eruption still falling as a smaller one goes. This taken from further away than the first photo.

Geysir, the geyser that all others are named after, doesn’t erupt much any more, but was steaming away merrily and looking quite full.

Gullfoss, the golden falls, was the next stop for us.  Last time we were here, there was no safety rope along the walkway and I didn’t go very close because it was wet and windy and scary.  This time it was sunny and not quite as windy and the psychological effect of the safety rope was very reassuring.

The size & power of the falls are astonishing.

The size & power of the falls are astonishing.

This time I walked all the way to the top of that rocky bit sticking out into the falls.

This time I walked all the way to the top of that rocky bit sticking out into the falls.

The children promptly terrified me by jumping gleefully over the slippery wet rocks, mere metres from certain death.  It is very hard to see the bottom of the falls, there is so much spray thrown up in the chasm.  Fainjin was a bit miffed that the spray made his glasses wet.

A restorative snack in the cafe later, we were on the road again towards Þingvellir. On the way we tried to give the children an appreciation for the historical significance of the site – the world’s first parliament meeting in 930AD, the reading of the laws, the declaration 70 years ago of Iceland as an independent republic… the kids were more interested in the geology, quite frankly.  I suppose that is a lot more visible.  Babess was particularly taken by the idea of the tectonic plates moving slowly apart and being able to “see the edges” in the cliffs.

It was raining quite hard though, so we didn’t linger.  We’re staying not far away, and we’ll probably go through the valley again, so if it’s fine we’ll stop for a longer look.

Babess said, "Take a photo of the tectonic plate, Mummy, so I can send it to my class at school!"

Babess said, “Take a photo of the tectonic plate, Mummy, so I can send it to my class at school!”

Meanwhile, the children have been enchanted by the number of Icelandic horses we have seen already on our travels – they are everywhere – and Fainjin is keeping a sharp eye out for trolls.  He tells me they are very clever at disguising themselves as rocks, and their green hair looks just like moss.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.

 

Contrast

June 3, 2014

This morning we packed up in our apartment in Paris (with workmen banging on the outside walls – we’re SO glad they weren’t working over the holiday weekend!) and battled our way through the metro and RER systems to the airport.  Then we queued for over an hour to check in, trudged to our overcrowded gate, and had to sit on the floor to eat some hastily-gathered late lunch.

When we arrived in Iceland, we picked up our car and drove through a magical, deserted landscape – in 90 minutes we passed through volcanic wasteland, green farm fields and wetlands, and hardly saw any traffic.

For a family fatigued by the great crowds in London and Paris, this place is a tonic indeed.

Our accommodation is amazing, a cabin all to ourselves with fantastic views and all the amenities we could want. It’s a 15 minute drive back to the supermarket where we accidentally bought yogurt instead of milk (not great for tea or coffee!), but the only sounds we can hear are the birds and we can see for miles.  It’s not completely isolated – we can see other houses and even a restaurant – but it’s peaceful and beautiful and we might have trouble leaving the house to do the tourism we want to do!

There will be photos, tomorrow.  For now my body is still on Paris time (2 hours difference), it has been a long day, and there’s no milk for my tea.

© UpsideBackwards 2014.


%d bloggers like this: