Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Iceland 2.35: The Blue Lagoon and Seltún

We had breakfast at the restaurant in the Northern Light Inn, with its delightful view over the adjacent power station.  The hotel (and its inhabitants) were geothermally heated to within an inch of their lives too, but otherwise we really enjoyed our stay there.

We needed to drop the hire car off at the airport in Keflavík around 14:00, so had the morning to explore the area a bit before commencing our journey home.  Since the hotel was right next door to the Blue Lagoon we decided we ought to go and explore.  We had neither the time nor the inclination to take a dip, but instead wandered around the many geothermal pools outside the lagoon itself.

The place was a magnet for Homo photographicus of various nationalities, although the very harsh light was doing the place no favours from a photographic point of view.  Some people simply wanted cheesy family portraits, but Harriet showed her mettle by helping a poor chap who was having trouble taking a selfie.

Having exhausted the Blue Lagoon (well, the free bit of it, anyway) we had time to visit one last geothermal area - this time at Seltún, near Krýsuvík.  The Reykjanes peninsula is highly active volcanic region, being situated over one of the tectonic plate boundaries.  Several power stations have been built to harness the energy, and in the early 1990s a sink-hole was drilled at Seltún in order to provide hot water for the nearby settlement at Hafnarfjörður.  The sink-hole exploded inexplicably in 1999, so the project was abandoned.  The area has now been provided with board-walks to allow visitors to observe the boiling mud and steaming fumaroles at close quarters.  Having seen some much bigger, and more impressive, geothermal areas during our two trips to Iceland, Seltún turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax.  There again, maybe it was because we were about to head home after an excellent holiday and were simply not in the right frame of mind to appreciate it?

The final picture from the trip shows the mobile "Farmers Soup" van, which was in the process of opening up.  I searched for an apostrophe to tell me how many farmers were involved in the soup making - or even whether the soup was made from farmers - but all in vain.  Time was pressing, unfortunately, so we weren't able to hang around to find out.

The journey home was long and tedious, starting with a huge queue at the airport to drop off our bags.  The flight was on time, and everything went smoothly until we got to passport control at Heathrow.  Those with the super-duper new "biometric" passports were forced to use the automated system.  This involved standing in a specific spot in order to have one's photograph taken - sans spectacles - for comparison with the passport.  When this didn't work properly, it was necessary to follow the instructions on a screen (which, of course, were unreadable without glasses).  If I ever meet the idiot responsible for designing the system, I look forward to shaking him or her warmly by the throat!  We eventually got back to the car park by 21:00, only to find that the car's battery was completely flat.  It was almost exactly 6 years to the day since exactly the same thing happened to us on our return from South Africa.  The AA promised they would be with us by 23:00, but in the end it was 23:30 before they turned up.  After another 30 minutes there was enough power in the battery for us to leave, and we finally crawled through our front door at 01:30.  Since it was now Monday morning and we both needed to go to work in a few hours, it was a less than perfect way of ending what was otherwise a really amazing trip.

So, another long and tedious travelogue finished.  The next stage is to turn this series of blog posts into a book, and I'll post a link when this is done.  Iceland really got under our skin in 2013, and this was reinforced by our experiences in 2015.  The place is certainly getting busier, and the pace of hotel-building is barely keeping up with demand.  Having said that, most of the visitors are restricted to the main tourist areas around Reykjavík and along the south coast, and it's still possible to find absolute peace and solitude on this magical island.  So, will we be back?  I'll answer that question with another: Does the pope go into the woods with the bears?

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Iceland 2.34: Hvolsvöllur, Reykjanes and Grindavík

The long drive west along Route 1 was actually rather dull in terms of both the weather and the scenery.  Heavy rain had started soon after we left Reynisfjara, and the landscape became much less dramatic once we were past the Eyjafjallajökull museum in Þorvaldseyri.  In order to relieve the boredom and stretch our legs, we decided to visit an exhibition about Njáls Saga (one of the original stories telling the history of Icelandic settlement).  Rather more interesting, in fact, were the farm co-operative museum and the area where an enormous tapestry was being constructed.  Think Bayeux, but brought up to date a bit.  Sadly there was nobody working on the tapestry on a Saturday, but a whole wall was dedicated to showing what it will look like when it's finished.

By the time we reached Selfoss the weather had started to clear up a bit, so we made the short diversion to Hveragerði in order to pick up some presents to take home with us.  We then left the main road, heading south into the Reykjanes peninsula.  This area is famous for its bird life, and - since the sun was now shining - we drove down to one of the large cliffs which was home to thousands of nesting kittiwakes, along with a handful of fulmars and puffins.

Just inland from the cliffs there was a sandy area absolutely covered in wild flowers.  I walked away from the car and waited to see if anything turned up; and, sure enough, my patience was rewarded with visits from both golden plovers and whimbrels.

Our bed for the night was at the evocatively-named "Northern Light Inn" which is right next door to the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland's top tourist attractions.  What the brochures don't show, however, is that the location is also the site of an enormous geothermal power station and right in the middle of a huge lava field!  Despite the less than attractive views, the hotel was absolutely excellent.  It claims to be one of the best places to watch the aurora borealis, boasting a 360 degree indoor viewing area.  The hotel even manages to have its own personalised number plates.

Rather than eat at the hotel's restaurant, we decided to go to the local fishing town of Grindavík to see what we could find.  Our guide book listed various eateries, all but one of which was either shut or had been converted into something different.  After driving around what felt like a ghost town for 20 minutes or so, we eventually accepted the inevitable and headed for the Bryggjan Café on the harbour side.  It was the only place which was open, after all.  We needn't have worried, however, as the welcome was warm and friendly, and the food on offer was to die for.  Lobster soup with home made bread followed by home-made cake, all washed down with Faroese beer.  Simple, honest fare which was some of the best we'd encountered anywhere in Iceland.

Sadly it was now end of our final full day on this particular trip, but the Bryggjan Café provided a fitting location for our "last supper".