Iceland Ring Road: completing the circle

A slight detour from R1 took us to Laugarvatn, a natural thermal pool favoured by Icelanders over the Blue Lagoon. Some of our party went in but it was quite busy so we had a leisurely beer instead. Our guide took us on a short walk along the lakeside to show us where the locals baked their rye bread on hot stones near the pools. We then continued to Þingvallavatn in the Rift Valley. It is Iceland’s largest natural lake.

Iceland’s ancient parliament used to be situated near here but was later moved after earthquakes and flooding. Apparently being drowned in marshes, lakes or the sea was one form of execution. The Rift Valley is widening by 2cm every year. We crossed over to the American plate and had a walk through the rocky cleft where the Öxará River runs.

A short time afterwards we were back in Reykjavik for a meal in the Icelandic Bar. At the next table was a hen party from Suffolk. On our last day we had a slow start and walked down the coastal path to the Modern Art Museum at the harbour. On the ground floor of the museum is an installation entitled Panik by Ilmur Stefánsdóttir who is also a theatre designer. Photography was not allowed so here is a picture from the museum website.

The first floor had video installtions from their archive but I think my favourite of the exhibits were the colourful pop artist Erró’s works.

We went into the cafe only to find that the espresso machine was broken. The member of staff behind the counter brewed a pot of coffee and then refused to take payment as were were ‘guests’. The 24 hour ticket for the gallery also covers the Painting Museum and Sculpture Garden elsewhere in the city. They and the Photography Museum will have to wait until the next visit. Also down near the harbour is the Flea Market which is open daily 10-5. There is some serious collectors’ stuff including postcards, stamps, vinyl and vintage clothing but also bric a brac, secondhand books, DVDs, CDs and Icelandic woollens at 50% of the price in the shops. There is also a section devoted to Icelandic Food.

Wandering back it was too foggy to climb to the top of Hallgrímskirkja for the view and we have seen some fabulous views in the last week. Heading back down the hill to return to our hotel we came across this intriguing collection of single gloves. The sign reads ‘Single Gloves’ and someone has added ‘speed dating’. The project was begun by Estelle Divorne who is originally from Switzerland but now living in Iceland.

To the Land of Fire and Ice

It was trying to snow as we left home in the dark and there was a light dusting at the airport. A couple of days before we left there had been a photograph of a train in a snowy landscape south of Inverness in a newspaper where it was described as ‘battling through the snow’. As there only appeared to be a couple of inches this generated great discussion with contributions from Ken Bruce on Radio 2. It reminded me of trying to leave my first job in Inverness to travel to the next one in Stirling in January 1985. Inverness was cut off by deep snow on all the surrounding roads and I was phoning the station every day to find out whether the trains were running as they had been sliding back down the icy track at Aviemore. Eventually I did leave and arrived in Stirling on a train completely covered in snow. That amount of snow might lead to ‘battling’. I was hoping for snow in Iceland as we have had very mild winters for the last few years. As we descended into Keflavik there were some snowy hills peeking through the cloud. Having landed, our baggage took a long time to emerge so I could not resist pressing the ‘grumpy’ emoji button on the feedback post which asked how satisfied we were with the speed of our baggage arrival. We took the Grayline bus to our hotel as taxis are around £95 one way from the airport to Reykjavik. The Flybus is a bit cheaper but just takes you to a central point in the city. The next day we had the morning to explore some of the city before meeting up with the rest of our group in the afternoon. We headed down to the harbour first.
The Harpa Concert Hall was started before the 2008 financial crisis and completed later.
We then wandered around the streets admiring the street art and discovering that there is a punk museum.
All the usual fast food outlets are here as well as Irish pubs and American bars. The only exception was McDonalds which was odd but I later found out that they had left in 2008 and not returned. It was soon time to walk along the sea wall path to meet up with our tour leader. Here is the sculpture ‘Sun Voyager’ by Jón Gunnar Árnason.
Our tour leader told us that Iceland was having an unusually mild winter which was a little disappointing but yet another indicator of climate change. He said that some birds had not migrated and that farmers were keeping some of their animals outside which was unusual at this stage of winter. We met the rest of the group and then went for a dip in the Blue Lagoon. It is busy and booking is essential. We only just managed to find empty lockers and after the obligatory shower, sampled the water. I did not take my camera into the rain, steam and silica but there were plenty who did and we had to dodge the selfie sticks. Facials and other treatments are available and there is a bar in the pool but we just relaxed before I took a few shots through the windows of the cafe and along the path around the edge of the pool.
Back at the hotel, we met the resident cat who was lounging on the doormat but was a little camera-shy. James was delighted to find Sky Sports on the TV in the room and live football in the bar. There was even a school trip from Liverpool watching the match to make us feel at home.