Iceland

Iceland - Day 3 - Skógar

Date: 25th July 2008

A day for some travel. It was a pretty easy day, we took our time. left Reyjavík heading for Skógar. When we went in this direction in 2006, we went via Seltún, emerging on Highway 1 at Hverageði after travelling on gravel road 42. This time we went directly on Highway 1.

Monica near SeljalandfossSeljalandfoss

We had good weather for the day. It was warm and pleasant. We stopped at Seljalandsfoss which is about 20km along the road from Hvolsvöllur. Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall, visible for miles along the road as a vertical streak on Stórhödði. There is a picnic area there, as well as public conveniences - and that's it.

Seljalandsfoss is formed from the meltwaters of Eyjafjalljökull, the baby glacier of the Eyjafjalljökull, Mýrdalsjökull, Eyjafjalljökull, Vatnajökull trilogy. Vatnajökull being the big daddy of the glaciers, indeed, it's so large that the various extremities of it often have their own names.

At Seljalandsfoss Monica and I walked behind the waterfall. The paths isn't particularly hard, but it can be slipperly, and on a few occasions it can be steep (but it is 'stepped'). If you decide to do this, start by going to the right of the falls, it's easier that way - and take a waterproof due to the fine spray.

Continuing on, we arrived at Skógar, we were staying at Hotel Skógar. It's a nice little hotel - quite quiet. The trouble was that being all at ground level, occasionally someone walked past the window - we had a small kid looking in at one point. The same was true later in the week at the Northern Lights hotel, but people seemed less inclined there to walk around the hotel.

When we arrived, at about 4pm, I decided to unpack my bicycle and go for a ride. The bike went together with no problems at all. Open case. Lift out. Unfold. Remove fork spacer, put quick release on wheel. Attach wheel. Put in stem. Put in handlebars. Put in saddle. Pedals. Done. Then it came to pumping the tyres. Now, here I had problems. The pump I had brought with me chose this point to fail. It simply would not get a good seal around the valve. It was a non-starter - I could not ride. This was so frustrating. I had to pack everything up again.

So, what to do now? Well, Mum had gone for a walk up to Skógarfoss, so Monica and I went to find her, then suggested that we take a trip down to Vík. At Vík there are some superb black sand beaches. Around the corner is Dyrhólaey, where one can see puffins and nice rock formations (although we didn't get there on this trip). As we got near to Vík the weather changed. It became very windy - and so this small excursion became nothing more than arriving at Vík, getting blown about on our way into the touristy wool shop there, and returning to the hotel (where the weather improved again). That's the thing with Iceland, the weather can change quickly both with time and with geography.

In the evening, we ate at the hotel. It was rather expensive, though very nice. Other options (discovered the next day) included a cheap-end diner nearer Skógarfoss, which served things like the obligatory pizza, and a diner in Vík at the service station.

Iceland - Day 2 - Reykjanes Peninsula

Date: 24th July 2008

We began with a trip to Perlan (the artificial geyser runs from noon until 4pm - we were early). We had a look around and then headed out of town. We took the 42 south past Klerfarvatn. This can be a great road, but as we approached we had horizontal rain and poor visibility. It's a gravel road, and where the tarmac ends there is a steep climb. When we took this road before we had trepidation, but it was fine. Gravel roads in Iceland are usually pretty good (with a couple of exceptions, hire cars are allowed on them, but not allowed on the F roads)

As we left Klerfarvatn the weather cleared up just in time for our stop at Seltún. This is a spot in the Krýsuvík geothermal area. We missed it when we first looked for it in 2006. The trick is to realise that if you see the turning to Grindavík, you've gone too far. It's near the start of the tarmac road (why do some roads in Iceland have a tarmac bit miles from anywhere, which can only be got to be going over gravel?)

Seltún

We visited Seltún for its geothermal and bubbly goodness, and then took the road to Grindavík, stopping at Krýsuvíkurkirkja, a little church not far from the junction.

Krýsuvíkurkirkja

From there we stopped by the road side for some rock structures (common in Iceland), and ended up in Grindavík. Now this is a town which doesn't look much, but it did grow on me by the time we came back at the end of the holiday (final night). It has some nice food, petrol station (important!), and a geothermal pool. We took some lunch in a place by the harbour - a reasonably priced buffet affair, then went over the road to look at the Salt Fish museum.

Continuing around the peninsula, we stopped at the 'Bridge between Continents'. It's there solely to give a target for tourists driving around this peninsula. It's a bridge over a small rift which seperates the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate. The rift is much wider at

'Bridge Between Continents' Björn

Back in Reykjavík we got ready to go over to see Björn, who was our gracious host for the evening. He had prepared great big steaks of Icelandic lamb for us - very simply done, and very tasty. We committed geek-talk.

Then, we dropped Mum back at the hotel, and Monica, Björn and I all went out to downtown Reykjavík. We ended up in a bar called b5. It was a 'trendy' kind of place, and I felt quite scruffy in there... but still, I didn't have a smart change of clothes, so...

LampshadeBottles in B5

It was quite pricey in there, but the Mojito was good. The bar is trendily lit, and had a horse as a lampshade. The music choice was very good as we walked in they were playing 'The Theme from Shaft' (Ya damn right!).

We got back to the hotel at around 1am - the sun was down, but it was a twilight, not dark.

Iceland - Day 1 - Stansted to Reykjavík

Date: 23rd July 2008. We travelled to Iceland with Mum - we would be repeating some of our earlier visit, but going to some new areas.

We stayed at the Hilton in Stansted the night before flying. It wasn't the cheapest of options, but given the convenience, it was worth doing.

We had an oddity in that we could have the room with breakfast or with long stay parking (and an extra 17 quid for breakfast). 17 quid? In hindsight, I should have got the room with Parking for Mum, and the room with breakfast for Monica and myself, paying the 17 quid for Mum.

Stansted is a small airport by Heathrow and Gatwick standards, but worked fairly well. I did kill some time by having a panic that I left the car window open - and this meant that when we went through security we went straight to the gate.

I took my New World Tourist, and was a little worried about the weight limits, but it was fine - I just checked it in. I think it helped that there were three of us, and the other cases were under.

Iceland Express was pretty good, although they did the Ryanair/Easyjet thing of charging for everything on the flight, even down to the cup of tea. This was bad.

We landed at Keflavík airport. Collected our bags and went straight out to the car pickup. It was very windy, and a bit cold. It had been raining! The weather in Iceland is very changeable. over the next ten days we would have everything from warm T shirt weather to fog, cold, wind and rain. Fortunately, the weather was usually good whenever we wanted to see something - the good weather outweighed the bad. Later in the week it'd be 20°C whilst simultaneously standing next to beached icebergs at Jökulsárlón.

The car we had was a Sköda Octavia. Not a bad car at all. I did find that the seat could have done with being a few centimetres more central, as the slope of the side door meant that it would touch my shoulder annoyingly. Apart from that, it was good.

We drove into Reykjavík, noticing that the road was being developed since our last visit. There were new businesses alongside. I do hope that this doesn't end up being one long and thin extension of Reykjavík.

We found our hotel with only a little difficulty (having a streetplan of Reykjavík was essential). We stayed at the Hotel Óðinsvé which is centrally located. It was also the only Hotel which we stayed in to provide tea and coffee facilities in the room (Hotels! This is essential!)

The rooms were pretty good, though Mum's room was not as nice as ours. The staff were helpful, and when we found the TV in our room did not work (not that we wanted to watch it much, but that's not the point) we had a new TV the next day.

Once into the Hotel, we went for a walk around Reykjavík, going around the town centre, seeing the Alþing (the Icelandic Parliament) and exploring that sort of area.

Alþing

We had a small meal in the Café Paris - which was a reminder of Icelandic prices, and then went back to the hotel.

I considered unpacking the bike - but thought (wrongly) that I'd be able to cycle in Reykjavík before leaving, and so left it in the case.

Iceland

I'm back from a trip to Iceland. My return flight was delayed from just after 5pm to 1am... so I'm a bit wiped out today. I got out of the airport at 5:30am, drove for a while, slept for a couple of hours, watched 'Britain's Strongest Man' at Mum's house. Drove a little more. I got home at 1pm. Washed. A little under 24 hours before, I had been leaving the Blue Lagoon in Iceland 'just in time' to get checked in for my flight - only to sit around for 8 hours at Keflavík airport. This afternoon all I've done really is (slowly) geotag, and go to fetch the cats from the cattery.

Anyhow, I've geotagged about half the pictures. When I've done the rest they'll appear on flickr and I'll start referencing a few here.

... and seeing as I didn't reference it at the time: What about poor ol' Gordon and Glasgow East? *chuckle*.

Iceland

There are a couple of gaps (most noticeably the drive up to Gullfoss, I only got the route back, which was slightly different) - but here's a google earth track of my Iceland trip - though I doubt that anyone is interested except me! If you have google earth, save the kml file and then double click on it (google earth should launch - if it doesn't try dragging the kml file onto the google earth icon).

If you don't have google earth, then you'll need to install it to use the file. It's free.

GPS Track of our Iceland Trip

Reykjavík is the busiest part of the map, unsurprisingly - though there are lots of small gaps in the track due to signal loss.

Blue Lagoon

Date: Friday 28th JulyPlace: The Northern Lights Hotel

Bæjarins Bestu - Bædarins BeztuFrom Selfoss we drove west, stopping in Reykjavík for a little walk around. We had a snack at Bædarins Beztu, a hot dog stand where Clinton ate on his visit to Iceland. Monica missed her chance for an easy joke.

We wandered up Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur, popping into various shops (most of which carry essentially the same range). We got a few bits, and nipped into a tea shop for cup.

From Reykjavík we took the road to Keflavík, and then south toward Grindavík across a lava field.

The Northern Lights HotelThe Steamy Blue LagoonIn the distance we could see steam rising, this was from a geothermal plant. Water from a depth of 2km comes up heated, which drives turbines to generate electricity for Reykjavík. Hot water is also piped into town.

The Northern Lights Hotel is right next to the geothermal plant, with views over the lava field. The waste water from the hotel is sent to an artificial lagoon behind the plant, called 'The Blue Lagoon', or Bláa Lónið. This place is a must visit when in Iceland, it's very close to the airport so it makes a perfect way to begin or end a visit. Or both.

The geothermal plant makes a great backdrop, like a sci-fi set. One gets changed in the building, braves the cold weather for a few seconds and then straight into the warm water.

Monica in the Blue LagoonThe water is full of minerals, and so is a milky white colour, these settle in nooks and crannies to form a thick white mud. Pots of this have been placed around the pool, and bathers can just grab a handful and smear it on. There's a sauna and a steam room, it's a great way to spend the day.

They have missed one trick, it should be possible to enter the water under cover, and then go outside in the water, similarly, one must leave the water to get to the steam room and sauna. However, they're redeveloping at the moment, so this may change in the future.

As one moves around the lagoon, there are relative hotspots at places where the water enters the lagoon, temperature variations are a bit of an issue, and from time to time clouds of steam waft across the lagoon. At times, it was hard to see my own hand in front of my face.

I did think it was a bit of a shame that the Blue Lagoon seems to have chosen to use English in preference to Icelandic in a lot of it's signs. I don't have a problem with making English prominent (indeed, I relied on it in Iceland), but I do think that it shouldn't displace the local language.

The meal back at the hotel was very good indeed, though there were fewer people there than I would have expected. The combination of hotel with Blue Lagoon was a winning one for us, we'd like to come back.

The next day we would go straight to the airport and onto the plane. Landing in London the temperature was so high it felt like we were starting the holiday! It was so nice to be in cooler climes for a time - the UK had been very hot and sticky.

Geysir, Gulfoss and þingvellir

Date: Thursday 27th JulyPlace: Selfoss

On the 27th we had a drive around some of the major sites of Iceland. We headed out of Selfoss, and soon took the road inland. The routes around this area are some of the few inland roads which are reasonable for two wheel drives (beyond Gulfoss it apparently gets hairy).

Crater at the Kerið VolcanoOur first stop was at the kerið volcanic crater. Not much to see here, in the sense of 'once you've arrived, you've seen it', but it's worth a look nonetheless. The crater has steep sides, and is full of water. It's an active volcanic crater.

It's a bit of a case of 'blink and you miss it'.

A bit further on we stopped at a small waterfall, which was quite pretty (but pails compared to Gulfoss just up the road). Again, rather easy to miss from the roadside.

The first main stop of the day was Geysir (not a mis-spelling). At the right of the road is a car park and visitor centre, and to the left is a steaming geothermal area.

The scene at GeysirLitli-GeysirAt Geysir there are several Geysers. The great geyser is quite dormant at the moment, but Strokkur makes a good standby. Strokkur sends jets of boiling water skywards every eight to ten minutes, sometimes it sends several large jets in close succession.

Eruption of StrokkurEruption of StrokkurEruption of StrokkurNow, Strokkur is fantastic, and it goes off so often it's hard to believe. Protected by a small rope is a hole in the ground, maybe four or five feet across. It's full of water. Then we see a little bubbling...

Then the water surges a little, a bulge appears. Shortly after that the water spouts high into the air, there's boiling water and steam. It's very impressive.

After an eruption, water flows into StrokkurAt Blesi, one can see a hole down to the bowels of the EarthAfter the eruption, water flows back into the hole, the water level is topped off, presumably, from groundwater.

The process begins again.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone may be a bigger geyser, but you'd find it hard to beat Strokkur for sheer frequency.

Geysir has a few other features, for example, at Blesi there is a blue pool, and one can see a large hole beneath it, leading down to the depths. Blesi is actually higher than Strokkur, which probably tells geologists something significant.

GulfossMe at GulfossAt Gulfoss, there is a tea room and visitor centre (again), but the main attraction is the waterfall itself. There was a time when the authorities wanted to place a dam and flood this valley in order to generate hydroelectric electricity, this fell through, and Gulfoss survives.

The falls themselves have immense power, yes there are larger falls in the world, but I thought that Gulfoss was large enough to impress, yet small enough that a human could grasp how big it was (if that makes sense). In the same way, if one goes into a large cathedral there is a sense of size, that isn't present when walking under the infinitely larger sky outside.

Tea and Cake at the Gulfoss CaféWe took a little lunch at the café, and Monica bought a hat.

We then made our way across to þingvellir. (Þ is pronounced 'th'). The shortest route is a bit of a rough road, but was quite okay in our car, and we soon found ourselves descending into the rift valley. Þingvellir is the home of the first Icelandic parliament, the Alþing, the site was chosen perhaps for the cliffs which would provide reasonable acoustics and allow people to be heard.

The edge of the North American tectonic plateLooking toward LögbergMonica reads about the þingvellir fissuresIt's set in a rift valley, it's the site where the North American and European tectonic plates seperate, and the valley floor sinks as they do so. The floor of the valley is riddled with fissures, many are filled with incredibly clear water and one can see a long way down.

As we left þingvellir I stopped at a geocache, which was in an obvious place if looking for it, but was very unlikely to be found by the average passer by, not least because it's in the middle of a lava field!

Back in Selfoss, thoughts turned to food. We didn't want anything too big, so we nipped to the local supermarket, but could not find anything which we could easily use (other than things like crisps). We ended up visiting the subway near the hotel, don't knock it, it's better than McDonalds! At the back of the hotel (past the subway) is the local cinema. We toyed with the idea of going to see 'Superman'. We didn't want to see it if it was dubbed (subtitles would have been fine), but the we couldn't make ourselves understood to the woman in the ticket office when we tried to find out - our first, and last, language issue in Iceland. In the end, we left it. We'd see the film on our return to the UK.

Kirkjubæjarklaustir to Selfoss

Dateline: Wednesday 26th JulyPlace: Selfoss

KirkjugólfLooking toward SystrapapiSteingrímsson Memorial ChapelWe began the day by looking at some of the sights of Kirk­jub­æjark­laustir itself. This didn't take long. We started with Kirkjugólf, a level surface which is made from the top of buried basalt columns. This , early settlers believed, was what remained of an earlier church floor, hence the name.

We had a look at Systrapapi, and then at the local church, the Steingrímsson Memorial Chapel. This is named for the local rector, who, during a volcanic eruption, lectured in the church. When the lava stopped short of the town he was creditted with saving the town. One wonders how many other rectors have tried that and had their town destroyed.... we don't hear of the failures, do we?

We refuelled and got provisions, then headed west.

Our next stop was Vík í Mýrdal. It's a tiny little place, but compared to the road to the east, it's a heaving metropolis!

Our first stop was a quick look in the wool shop, and we had a snack, then it was time to explore.

'Voyage' uniting Vík í Mýrdal and Kingston Upon HullLooking East at Vík í MýrdalWe walked past the 'Voyage' statue, linking Vík to Kingston Upon Hull, along the black sands beach westward toward Reynisdrangur, watching the puffins bob up and down on the sea (the one time this holiday I could have really used a camera with a massive zoom lens!)

Black sands at Vík í MýrdalLooking up from Vík í MýrdalWe spent quite some time there, walking along, looking at the puffins and the scenery. In the rocks there was much evidence of past volcanic activity (quite apart from the sand colour). Nice place to walk.

Nevertheless, we returned to the car and drove around the headland to Reynisdrangur itself. This connect to an outcrop called Dyrhólaey by a long sandbar. At Reynisdrangur there are great basalt columns around shallow (but tall and wide) caves.

One can also see the other side of the sea stacks.

Monica at the Reynisdrangur Basalt ColumnsCave showing basalt columns at ReynisdrangurThe basalt columns are huge in scale, and are quite easy to climb - but it's quite a different matter coming down, so be careful! Look for the people in the photos to get a sense of scale.

There is a cave there whose roof consists of these basalt columns, it has a beautiful quality about it.

It was fairly quiet for our visit, though as we were leaving, a coach party was arriving, a close shave.

We continued around the coast for a bit more on Highway 1, and took the next turn for Dyrhólaey.

Icelandic Horses on the road to DyrhólaeyDyrhólaey is only accessible outside of the bird breeding season, so check the dates if you're really keen to go there. At the turning, we saw a couple of very friendly icelandic horses, and spent some time looking at them.

This panorama was made from six photos taken atop DyrhólaeyDyrhólaey rock archWe drove to Dyrhólaey, and took the road to the top of the hill. This is doable in a regular car, but I wouldn't attempt it in anything less than ideal conditions, a few places could be hairy in the wet. There is a lighthouse at the top, and the views are fantastic, across to the east one looks back to Reynisdrangur, and to the west is an expanse of black sand, stretching off into the distance.

At Dyrhólaey there are rock arches, and in the bottom car park one can see puffin nesting in the cliffs (the second time I really wanted a decent zoom!)

Driving onward to Selfoss, we stopped again at Seljalandsfoss, which this time was to the right of the road (blink and you miss it). This time we had sunny weather, and so there were rainbows in the spray of the waterfall.

The Seljalandfoss waterfall near Highway 1Me behind the Seljalandsfoss waterfallRainbow at the Seljalandfoss waterfall near Highway 1I decided to walk behind the waterfall (Monica left me to it). I emerged quite dry (there is a light spray back there, nothing too bad).

It's a bit steep in a couple of places, and a little slippery too, so taking care was the order of the day.

It's a really nice spot to break a journey.

Our next stop was Hotel Selfoss. This is near the roundabout where Highway 1 crosses a bridge over the river. It's quite a posh hotel, with a dining room that overlooks the river, well appointed rooms and all the trimmings (except tea making facilities in the room!)

For our evening meal, we decided to head for a 'Viking Restaurant', just west of Selfoss. It's mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. it's a little touristy, perhaps, but we fancied a bit of a laugh.

We found the place with no problems, a few km out of Selfoss there is a small road heading north, and it's a few km up that road. The directions in the Lonely Planet were very good.

It's a grass roofed dining hall, but when we went in, it was abandoned. The place was wood panelled with long benches, a real cliché, but clichés can be a lot of fun if they're well done.

We ended up eating just opposite the hotel in a Thai restaurant. Good food, but a tad pricey (though no more than anywhere else in the country!)

So thus it was that we found ourselves eating Thai food, in Iceland, whilst listening to the sound system playing Robbie Williams singing 'Mack the Knife'.

Before coming to Iceland, I was quite keen to try 'lundi' (puffin). No luck yet... I had high hopes for the Viking Restaurant.

I was not to get the opportunity at all. The cute birdie things survive for another day.

Höfn and back

Dateline: Tuesday 25th July, 2006Place: Kirkjubæjarklaustir

On the tuesday we travelled east to Höfn and then back to the hotel at Kirkjubæjarklaustir. It's hard to do justice to this day, as though it was one of the best on the trip, and the scenery was fantastic, there were only a couple of stops!

SkeiðarársandurEast of Kirkjubæjarklaustir is the Sandur. It's hard to do this place justice, it's a flat open expanse, stretching for miles in all directions.

Occasionally there is volcanic activity under the glacier, this causes a melt, and when the water bursts forth from beneath the glacier it washes everything before it, sweeping the landscape clean. The peak flow in 1996 was some 50000 cubic metres per second. That's phenomenal. Such an event is called a jökulhlaup.

Girders on Skeiðarársandur Me and the glacierHighway 1, the road we were travelling on, was 'interrupted' at the last event, and by the side of the road they've left some girders which are from a bridge destroyed in the jökulhlaup of 1996 - it really brings home the strength of the waters.

A little further on from the girders, one can walk alongside the glacier at Svinafellsjökull, right at the end, the glacier was a little grubby, but a little further up one can see the blues of the ice. I don't want to give the impression that Iceland is full of Ice - it isn't. It has glaciers, true, but the majority of the country is lush and green, or dark and volcanic!

JökulsárlónBorder Collie on an IcebergOur next stop was Jökulsárlón. This is a lagoon fed by the Vatnajökull glacier. The glacier breaks into icebergs, which sit in the lagoon until small enough to get through the narrow channel and out to sea.

At Vatnajökull there is a tea room, toilets and Icebergs. One can take a ride in an amphibious vehicle out among the Icebergs, but honestly we didn't see the point, as they come right up to the shoreline (virtually).

At one point, a guy was throwing stones into the water, and his border collie ran after one, climbing onto a small iceberg, it didn't know how to return without getting cold and wet, and so ran back and forth looking for a way out before taking the plunge. This was most amusing.

From here we headed up to Höfn, giving a lift to some French people we met. The woman was to stay in Iceland for a year to study geology and Icelandic, she can speak Danish and English as well.

We didn't see much in Höfn, as things were closing, so we turned around fairly soon and headed back, stopping for a break at Jökulsárlón once more (the evening light gave it a whole different look, one that I couldn't really capture on camera to my satisfaction).

View from the road east of JökulsárlónThe views east of Jökulsárlón were pretty nice, but in hindsight, we should have turned at Jökulsárlón as this would have given us time to explore some of Skaftafell National Park. Ah well, we have to leave something for the future!

Back in Kirkjubæjarklaustir we ate at the Systra kaffi, to get to this one takes exit at the roundabout which puts the Esso garage on the left of the car. The place stays open late (midnight), and is relatively cheap (though still expensive by non-Icelandic standards). The food is pretty good too. Monica had a fish dish, and I had a bacon burger (good stuff, not a scrotumburger in any sense!) There were all the trimmings, salad etc.

Driving to Ví­­k (and beyond)

Dateline: Monday 24th July, 2006Place: Kirkjubæjarklaustir

The 24th was a long day. We started later than I would've liked - the hire car was a little late arriving at the hotel, and there were a few other delays on top of that.

Our first stop was the bank near the hotel. This was an experience. I went in and started to wait for someone to serve me. There was one other customer (being serves) and about 10 staff. Three were on the desks, and the rest on specialised desks (investments, mortgages and the like). Nobody was serving me.

A member of staff walked to the cashier desks and sat down, tucking her tin of pilsner discretely behind the monitor of the computer. She had a chat to a guy who looked like the boss before doing so, tin in hand, and nothing was said. This astounded me.

Still, I didn't get served. I was beginning to get annoyed. Then a new customer came in and went to a machine and got a ticket. (The machine was obvious, but the signs were all in Icelandic - so it wasn't clear what the function of the machine was). They were seen straight away... it's like the deli aisle in a supermarket!

I got a ticket, and was seen within a minute or two. The whole experience was rather annoying though, when they're not exactly rushed off their feet, could they not have seen that I was waiting and acknowledged me?

We made our way out of Reykjavík in the direction of Keflavík, and then transferred to the 42 (this was a little tricky at the junction due to roadworks, but no real problem).

Lava Field to the southwest of ReykjavíkThe 42 heads across 'a lava field, and turns into a gravel road. This is a little daunting at first sight, but the first hill was the worst part, and after that it was plain sailing..er..driving.

We were looking for the Seltún geothermal area, I don't know how but we went straight past it, and ended up turning right, stopping at a little place called Krýsuvíkurkirkja, or Krýsuví Church. This is a tiny little church (there is a geocache there, but I missed it, annoyingly). It has hills in one direction, and a plain leading to the sea in the other. Beautiful location.

KrýsuvíkurkirkjaRock Balancing in IcelandThe road continued to a dirt track, and we went along this for a short while, until N63°51.521 W22°07.512. At this point we saw a rocky outcrop covered with hundreds (if not thousands) of rock piles. People come to this place and balance rocks. This was not to the the last time we saw this in Iceland, and still don't quite know why it's so common. Not to be the odd ones out, we made our own tiny rock balance and headed back - this time to Seltún

Bubbling Mud at Seltún Geothermal AreaOur final Rock BalanceSeltún itself is quite a small area, there are wooden walkways taking the visitor to the active area (past warning signs). The smell is something of rotten egg. Whilst it's a short visit, as a first experience of geothermal activity it's an interesting one. Around the walkways, steam emerges from the ground, causing pools to bubble and the ground to take on all sorts of white, yellow and red hues (and sometimes just boring old grey) as different minerals are brought to the surface.

As one enters, there are warning signs about the prospect of steam explosions - all adding to the atmosphere.

From Seltún we took the road south, then west. This was a gravel road, but was a pretty good road (the one slight issue was at the end, when what looked on the map like a crossroads was actually a pair of offset T junctions), and we soon joined Highway 1 heading through Selfoss - we stopped for a break as soon as we got to the main road, though! Our other stopping place for reasons other than sightseeing would (briefly) be Vík, &iacutel Mýrdal and that was only to check that our Hotel, the Efri-Vík wasn't actually in Vík!

Rútshellir, just by the side of Highway 1 (near Seljalandsfoss)Monica at The Seljalandfoss waterfallRock balancing at LaufskálavarðaWe stopped briefly at Seljalandfoss, a waterfall - we would stop here again on the way back, and at a place a little further on called Rúshellir. At Laufskálavarða there were more rock piles, this time there was an explanatory information board. In essence, if passing Laufskálavarða for the first time, legend has it that if you add to a rock pile then you are blessed with luck on the journey.

Rock balancing near Highway 1, west of KirkjubæjarklaustirMonica near balanced rocks west of KirkjubæjarklaustirNearing Kirkjubæjarklaustir we saw yet more rock balancing near a sign about Fjaðrárgljúfur

At Kirkjubæjarklaustir we were staying in a place called 'Efri-Vík'. This hotel was undergoing some building work when we were there, but that didn't bother us. Our 'room' was a little house away from the main building. We could park the car right next to the room - perfect. It was essentially a large room, with a small bathroom, and a ladder going up to a mezannine floor where two others could sleep. It was wood lined, and very cosy. There was even a small kitchen!

Our hotel room at KirkjubæjarklaustirInside our hotel roomWe ate at the hotel that evening. For what it was, this was an extremely expensive meal. It was perfectly nice, but it didn't represent value for money (even by Icelandic standards). The starter was herring on rye bread, followed by a lamb dish and finished with a chocolate cake. We each had a beer, and I tried a Brennivín, a local spirit. This burned my lips a little, but was perfectly okay if it's not allowed to touch the sides on the way down.

Back in the little house, we were out for the count pretty promptly.

Wandering Reykjaví­k

Dateline: Sunday 23rd July, 2006 A gift from the US AmbassadorMonica eats an Icelandic cake thing.For our second day in Reykjaví­k we walked down to the harbour and then into the flea market. There was only the usual sort of bric-a-brac, but we did get a nice cake thing to share.

We walked toward Ingólfstorg, via the Rammegeðin store. It's really hitting home how pricey this country can be! We didn't buy anything at Rammegeðin, but at the shops on Ingólfstorg, Monica bought herself some wooly hats. Once again we walked south, past Alþingi and Domkirkja, past Tjörn and Frikirkjan í Reykjavík, we headed up to Perlan.

PerlanPerlan sits atop a hill to the south of Reykjavík, and looks for all the world like a giant silver mammary gland pointing at the sky. It's built atop the city's geothermally heated hot water supply. At Perlan there is an artificial guyser, and a restaurant built into the glass dome (a cheaper café is also there).

At one point we were on the viewing platform at Perlan, looking out to the artificial geyser, chatting to a pleasant-seeming American woman. A guy climbed over the barrier to the geyser with his girlfriend and stared into the hole of the geyser. The American woman got quite agitated at this point, but from where we are there was nothing we could do. Besides, the signs are pretty clear that the thing uses superheated water, and that approaching it too closely might not be wise. I said something like 'I view it as a form of natural selection', Monica was amused - but the American woman took it very literally and just walked off. I think she must have been offended at the use of the term 'natural selection' - not at my apparent inhumanity (being on the viewing platform, all I could've done was yell, and that would be ignored - and I notice that she took no further action herself).

After exploring Perlan, Monica wanted a swim, so we moved down to the Nauthólsvik Geothermal beach near Perlan, she decided it was too cold there, so we hot-footed it across town to the Laugardaur pool (which may have been geothermally heated, but looked boringly like a regular pool to me).

Monica at 9pm in ReykjavíkWe went back to the hotel via the sea wall, taking some evening photos as we went, and at 10pm were ready to go out for a meal - it was still light out (obviously), and the sun was up - so we didn't imagine a problem. How wrong we were. The restaurants near the hotel closed at 10pm - in the summer Reykjavík could be a 24 hour city (perhaps the centre is?) - but near our hotel it was virtually impossible to get food. We ended up with a takeaway pizza, very nice - but even that was hugely expensive.

Good things about Reykjavík so far? Lots of light, friendly sort of place. Bad things: Hugely expensive, difficult to get a sitdown meal in the evening, and service can be slow.

First day in Iceland

Dateline: Saturday 22nd JulyWe had an early start. We had to check in by 5:30am, this meant a 3:00am start, latest. And we were a little late! Fortunately we always build in some wiggle room, and so there was no problem.

The flight to Reykjavík was on a tiny little plane (well, it was a jet, but compared to the other things at Gatwick it looked tiny - it wasn't really). We had a full day to explore and be tired in.

We had a transfer from the airport, and were delivered to Hotel Björk, a nice enough place, and it had free internet access in the lobby. It felt like we were in the outskirts of town, but soon came to realise that this is Reykjavík! Upon arriving from the UK, it feels more like a provincial town than a capital city - after a week driving around southern Iceland, it feels like a metropolis!

Sólfar, Sun VoyagerLeifr Eiricsson at Reykjavík CathedralAfter settling in, we walked along the shoreline, past Sólfar (finding a geocache there), and then up to the cathedral. This is a distinctive cathedral, reminiscent of large basalt columns which rise from the ground. It's also a modern cathedral - there is a lift which goes up to the top.

We toured Reykjavík for a while, seeing the Alþingi, and other such places, stopping in Café Paris for a bite and a drink, and then walking near Tjörn, before returning to the hotel for a snooze in the late afternoon/early evening.

We woke at 11pm to find it was still light out, despite not being in the arctic circle, we were close enough that the sun only dips just below the horizon - so the middle of the night feels like early evening in the UK. It's still light out. For the first few nights I was glad of the blinds supplied by airlines (we still had some from the India trip, there were none supplied for the Iceland hop).

Good points about Reykjavík so far: it's easy to get about, it has a few interesting bits and pieces to see. Bad points: The graffiti - it makes the place feel generally run down - and at times it can seem too quiet for a capital city.

Iceland

We've just returned from Iceland, visiting Reykjaví­k, Ví­k, Selfoss and a place on the way to Höfn that I'd need to look up. We didn't alert our favourite Icelander that we were coming as we were told he was in NY... and, frankly, we were rather too disorganised to find out first hand!

I'll post more detail, link to photos at a later date.