A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Technical difficulty

I'm having trouble with Travellerspoint not saving my work. We return late too the hotel and I don't have time to fix it properly. Will try later.
Sorry for the break in transmission,

Posted by fay_bee 14:59 Comments (1)

Superjeep and the Golden Circle.

semi-overcast 16 °C
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On Thursday, a long day was spend in the biggest beast of a 4WD I've ever been in. This thing was made to conquer Iceland. Actually it's for tourism and rescue. In Iceland, they buy normal 4WDs then put the chassis on a humongous platform with the most monstrous wheels you have ever seen on a street legal machine.
Ref. super jeep wikipedia

Alfred the self proclaimed Viking was our guide and driver and we were his only passengers. Let's go!

First stop was the site of the first European Parliament at Thingvellir which is also where the European and North American tectonic plates meet. In the not so distant past the ravine between the cliffs was a road, yes a road! Also here, is a crystal clear brook 20m deep, called Peningagjá. The king of Denmark visited in 1874 and threw a coin into the water declaring he would return to Iceland one day. Since then visitors throw money in there. It isn't full of money, just the right amount for a pretty silvery glinting but some poor sod must have to get in there and retrieve the coins. It is Cold.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Þingvellir

The first huge waterfall of our trip was Gullfoss. This two tiered powerful waterfall ultimately tumbles into a narrow canyon so deep that you cannot see the bottom. You can see the mist rising from the road because the falls are lower than the land.

A word about Iceland's idea of safety. There is scarcely a barrier between the idiot tourist and death. A piddly little string separates you from the spectacle. Whilst not wanting to witness anything that causes me PTSD, I did watch in amazement as people stepped over the ropes to pose for that so important snap. If Iceland ever enters the EU, then that will change. Another reason to visit Iceland!

Here's a story that Alfred the Viking guide told us. The last person to live in a cave in Iceland was the grandmother of his friend. She moved out of the cave in 1950. Alfred's friend lives in Manhattan. Worlds apart or what?

The capability of the superjeep was demonstrated in a trip to the Langjökull glacier (second largest in Europe) and part of the Vatnajökull national park. Bumps, potholes and corrugations are not apparent to the passengers. This thing literally rolls over huge obstacles and climbs steep ascents with no trouble. At times I would think, no we cannot possible go that way but nup, we conquered. Being in the front seat was tops!

The glacier was icy and wet and black with old volcanic ash. It was like standing in a black and white photograph, then the mist and rain came so we left quickly. Having a heavy vehicle on the glacier edge can be a bit dangerous.

Another interesting sight was the Kerid crater. She is a witch, evil and bad luck but beautiful. Inside is a pool of very blue water 14m deep. One summer, a floating platform was placed on the surface and a brave orchestra played a concert for the audience sitting around the crater. All in the name of good acoustics, it must have been awesome.
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerið

I haven't even mentioned Geysir...... Most people know about that place, for me I was expecting a sulphurous stench like in Rotorua (New Zealand) but was pleasantly surprised to discover it was not that smelly. Could this have something to do with the fact that my morning shower pours over me smelling like hard boiled egg? Am I becoming desensitised to hydrogen sulphide? Apparently hot water in Reykjavik is famous for its hot water pong.

You cannot escape smells, the other one here is the pervading ever present aroma of cooked fish.

Iceland provides something for all 5 senses. I hope to say more in the next few days.

Posted by fay_bee 14:11 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Lake Myvatn.

Lava lava lava

sunny 15 °C
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Our guide today was called Bjorn. He was a youngish guy, drives buses of all sizes and is licensed to fly small planes. He's an engineer. He was full of info but by the end of the day, his eyes were drooping and I swear he was nodding off. Scary.

But we survived and I can blog it.

A Fokker 50 turbo prop took us to Akureyri which is the second largest populated place in Iceland. It is on the north coast and is painfully picturesque. Having a backdrop of snow capped mountain ranges and a fjord, it was like a living postcard. We didn't stay here though, it was a day for "the nature".

Lake Myvatn is an odd spot, the land around it has pseudo craters which look like what happens when you steam a pudding and the surface has evidence of popped bubbles. It looks for all the world like a peculiar golf course with too many bunkers, next to a very large lake with more bunkers in it.

We were blessed with a light wind that kept the midges away. Lake Myvatn is famous for midges, to the point of being called Midge Lake in English. Bjorn said anything smaller than a fly is called a mosquito in Iceland. That wouldn't work in Australia.

Another thing about Bjorn, he grew up on a farm and so he knew a thing or two about animal husbandry in Iceland. The sheep were of particular interest to me because they are so pretty like story book sheep. They come in 4 shades: brown, black, white and grey. White predominates. Brown sheep are like the rangas of the flock and get up to no good. Sheep are kept inside for winter and are released to wander the entire island for 6 months. When the time comes to round them up, the farmers all combine forces to search and muster. No dogs. On foot. Sheep are herded into stone walled sorting pens which are dotted around the place and farmers ID their sheep and take them home. I was so stunned, I forgot to ask how they do that last step.

The volcanic eruption that occurred 4000 years ago to form the pseudo crates also created some other interesting formations such as Dimmuborgir which means dark castles and it was a bit eerie here. You wander around a valley of towering dark lava forms that start to have faces the longer you look at them. Myth says that the trolls were out partying again and daylight turned them to stone. We also encountered those tectonic plates there, identified as a long crevice.

Those who saw the Game of Thrones film may like to know we saw the location of some filming. Here was a spot where the land rises up in a long hill and splits in half like a soft biscuit down the middle. Inside and underneath you climb down to find clear blue bath warm water scented with sulphur. Unbelievable.

Some landscape is so dry and dusty, you might think you are in outback Australia, complete with a grey Uluru. That being the perfect cinder cone, an entire circle of 1km diameter, called Hverfall. People walk around it. I wish we had had the time.

A stop off in a village for lunch..... Lunch options: service station, supermarket or restaurant?
Supermarket picnic all good, but nowhere to sit. Wandered around, found a hillock by the road and watch the few people and cars go by. Of course sometimes buying food in foreign places means a risk is taken when guessing what packets contain. Paul wanted an iced coffee. Kaffi is coffee and mjölk is milk, easy right? No, the carton contained cream for coffee. 12% fat. Mmmmm. I was happy with my Blàbur juice, thank you.

I've put up photos of the Námafyall region called Hverarönd where the boiling mud, fumaroles and sulphur deposits are seen. Totally like being on a film set for an alien movie or perhaps a dinosaur might come stampeding around the mountain..... This is earth in its most primitive form. It's like seeing the birth of planet earth, or it might be post apocalyptic, I have no other words for this dry, desolate side of Iceland.

Every day shows us something different.

Posted by fay_bee 13:46 Archived in Iceland Comments (2)

Wonderful West Fjords

Fishy fishy fishy fish.

sunny 17 °C
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Another morning, another Fokker 50. The beauty of adventure is never knowing what is going to happen.

On this Saturday morning, we arrived in Isafjodur, West Fjords' oldest trading post, nestled between two snow capped mountains. We were greeted by Maik and his 6 year old son, Felix, our guides for the day. There are some people who you feel you've known without ever having met before, Maik and Felix were such people. Their welcome was most friendly. A good start.

The theme of the day was fish, fishing technique, fishing boats, eating fish, processing fish, fishing sustainability, history of fishing and future of fishing. FISH. And to remind us the day was about fish, there was the scent of fresh fish wafting about. So if fish bores you, do not read any further.

Fishing is taken very seriously here. And the people are extremely passionate and proud of what they do. So they should be; what we learned was incredible. The sustainability of fishing in Iceland dates back a very long time. We were able to see the way olden-day fisherman lived and operated in the tiny station called Osvor Bolungarvik. The female guide was dressed in a rather unusual garb of handmade leather overalls. Not terribly flattering or practical (involved rope going around regions that make toilet visits next to impossible). The reconstructed mini "living museum" showcased genuine articles used by fisherman of the olden days - tools, eating and sleeping arrangements, fish drying racks, "backpacks" which were basically wooden crates, and examples of innovation that I cannot sufficiently describe here. The larger and formal maritime museum is only worth a mention because it was half-filled with vintage and curious accordions. None of them playable underwater.

To return to Isafjodur, instead of using the rundown, avalanche-prone, pot-holed, cliff skimming road again, we took the faster and safer tunnel through the mountain and popped out into the sunshine. Ah, lunchtime.

Now here's the thing. When there is no menu and you are told "today it's plaice or halibut" you kind of have to go with it. Plaice for me (my favourite fish and cannot get it in Australia) and Halibut for Paul, so we can get a taste of both.
The restaurant was a wooden cabin with long wooden picnic benches inside. Tjorhusid is not a fancy place, but let me tell you I ate the singularly BEST fish in my entire life here. Each meal is presented in a huge cast iron skillet: fried fish, tiny potatoes, vegetables, capers and seasoning. Simple and flavoursome. But TOO MUCH! One dish would have fed us both. Needless to say on this occasion, I overate.

Staggering out of Tjorhusid, we met up with Maik and Felix and continued the fishy adventure.

Maik is another interesting guide. He lived in Australia's east coast for a while, and built a timber house for John Butler. He has a friend who drummed for Midnight Oil. He used to live in the presidents house in Isafjordur. And he has a Masters in Marine/Fishery Management. He was a font of knowledge and very talkative. I could barely keep up.

Here's a few factoids I remember from Maik:

Some architectural influences are from Chicago because the first architect from the West Fjords lived there. Some houses are named after world cities which the occupants assume as their surname. For example: Agnes Tokyo. Magnus London etc.

The avalanche protection design is envied by Alpine countries. They've managed to create steps and barriers so that they blend into the scenery.

Driftwood from Siberia is a handy source of wood which is in scarce supply in Iceland.

There is a law saying if you see anyone operating a winch, you must stop and help.

Isafjodur is the place of many firsts in Iceland: first retirement home, apartment building, Danish consulate.
The isolation of this area inspired innovation, ingenuity and creativity in the past and it continues today with their commitment to sustainability.

And so to Sudureyri, another town in the fjords, accessed through another tunnel. But hang on, this is no ordinary tunnel. This is a one-way 9km tunnel with an INTERSECTION and passing bays. Drunk people and sheep are night-time hazards. This must be a tunnel created by a CGI specialist, it couldn't be real.

Sudureyri is a small (pop 275) environmentally friendly fishing village. Here we were given an exclusive tour in the fish processing factory (unfortunately not operating, it being a Saturday). My audit and QA hat was ON, people, I cannot help myself - I was asking questions like nobody's business and Maik just loved it. (Poor Paul). Therefore I shall bore nobody with the details. Suffice to say, Islandssaga is an immaculate and modern facility. It can get fresh fish to New York in 36 hours. I'm hoping one day it can come to Perth too.

One thing worth mentioning is the waste management here. There is very little that goes to waste. Fish waste ends up in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fashion, but never as cat food. Apparently, finding a fish head in your soup is a status symbol in Nigeria. So guess where the fish heads go?

A fishing culture day is not complete without more fish to eat.
Maik had set up a trail. At each point he stopped and told us snippets of interesting information and had placed a basket of fish to taste. We sampled coconut fish, dried fish (like fish jerky - Very Nice), and a mashed cod with brandy. By now my stomach was bulging and I was really not in the mood for any more fish.....

....except we had a little cooking lesson on how to make a ceviche. I could barely manage a mouthful.

Today was like a school tour, I returned to Reykjavik, my head full of fishy facts. But no fish for dinner.

Posted by fay_bee 17:03 Archived in Iceland Comments (1)

The Blue Lagoon

Alien experience. Patches of warm water. Beneficial silt.

overcast 15 °C
View Iceland 2014 on fay_bee's travel map.

If there is just one famous place to experience in Iceland, they will tell you it is the Blue Lagoon.

Now, I am usually skeptical of the "famous tourist location" because invariably they are over-priced, over-sensationalised and generally, a bit of a let-down. But this is Iceland. I am not likely to be back and everything so far has been worthy of awe (i.e. the real meaning of "awesome"). This was the last day of planned activities, it was paid for and so off we went.

The Blue Lagoon is about an hour's drive from Reykjavik and is quite near the airport, so many people go there before boarding a plane. Um, ick? I can't imagine sitting on a plane after that, but most tourists to Iceland are from Scandinavia, Nordic Countries, England or France so they are not far away from home, like we were.

What is the Blue Lagoon? It is blue. It is a lagoon. Yes but it is more than that - it is a geothermally heated, mineral saturated, outdoor bathing area surrounded by black lava boulders in a desolate remote location, which has no equivalent anywhere in the world. The water is actually run off from a geothermal power station which sounds a bit toxic, and with the milky blue water, laden with algae, it would make one a bit cautious to get in.... but it is actually pleasant and has multiple health-giving properties.

Before even thinking about entering the water, you need to navigate the change rooms. A bit of TripAdvisor research did not go astray here. Prepare for confusion. And nudity.

The change rooms are incredibly smart, modern and posh. Everybody gets an electronic wristband to work the lockers. There is a TV monitor to tell you where the free lockers are. You choose an area (there are many and they all look the same - just like a car park - it's easy to forget where you parked your clothes), you undress, put your gear into your locker and then head to the showers where you are to shower without your togs on. Some cubicles have no doors. Some showers are not even in a cubicle. Most people disobey and shower with their togs on. Put on your togs and head out into the cold outdoors. There was a place outside to hang towels. Thank goodness because it was a bit nippy.

Despite the coachloads of tourists in the reception area and the long queues to get in, the lagoon itself was surprisingly uncrowded and the occupants were not at all rowdy. Though in fairness, this is not a place to splash, chuck a few bombies, or even yell. The mellowness of the bathers only added to the alien-feeling of the experience. People wade. People beach themselves on the edge of the lagoon and look like they are dead. In the water, people wander about looking half stunned but happy and relaxed. Does the water contain a volatile happy drug?

Dotted about are large vats of silica silt (selling for an ungodly price in the gift shop). You wade up, you get a ladle spoonful and plaster it over your face. Or bald head, if you have one. Then you find a spot and wait for it to dry pure white. Then you splash it off. I kid you not, my skin felt amazing for at least 5 days afterward. In fact, the next day, I felt as if I'd had a massage or I'd done a huge workout. So there is some truth about the beneficial minerals and blue-green algae in the lagoon.

The lagoon has pockets of warmer areas and you can wade about to find your desired temperature. Don't be afraid I told myself, it is not someone's wee, it is geothermal and natural. Nowhere was too hot or deep. It was like standing in a bath of blue milk. The "floor" is a mixture of very fine silty sand and rocks, making you constantly aware that is a natural phenomenon. But how can something natural feel so alien?

What a fabulous way to end our planned activities in Iceland.

Exit through the gift shop. Don't stop. Duty free at the airport is the way to go.

Posted by fay_bee 01:25 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

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