Published: February 29th 2008February 29th 2008
Heathrow Terminal 1 is crowded as usual but just about bearable. What is less bearable is the departures board which stubbornly refuses to say anything except “please wait” next to our flight to Rekjavik. Flights which should have been taking off long after us go through the “Go to gate 99”, “boarding” then “last call”. And we still wait. It was a late flight anyway - not due to arrive in Iceland until nearly midnight, so now we were not going to get into bed until the early hours. Our airplane finally slid in to Heathrow and we took off nearly 2 hours late. Add my hacking cough, tight seats, drinks you have to pay for and an indifferent airline meal and I was not in the best of moods. We finally got into bed about 2.30 and, unsurprisingly, I slept well. Wednesday
Our functional hotel, the Foss Lind (“ we focus on friendliness) provided us with a cold buffet breakfast and plenty of coffee so we set off at 10 in good spirits. We were taking on the “Golden Tour” named after something golden, but not sure what. Very quickly after leaving the city (hardly a city
though - it has less than 200,000 inhabitants) we reached a bleak snowy wasteland. There are hills, but nothing too big, and there are lots of old volcanoes. But no trees. It is quite spectacular and awesome. We stopped at the edge of a lake in this white, freezing desert and our excellent guide gave us a comprehensive geological lecture. It boiled down to the fact that we were standing on the exact point where the Europe and North Amierican continents meet, or rather, move away from each other. And as they part all sorts of things happen in the gap created such as volcanoes, earthquakes and hot geysirs. The area, which is called Pingvellir, was also the site of early parliaments of the chieftans. Iceland is not only geologically very young but it was settled only 1200 years ago so has had to go through all the growing pains of new nation in a very short time. Anyway this spot is very important to Icelanders because it is seen as the spot where Iceland was founded. As yet there are no shops selling souvenirs and Icelandic flags, but maybe soon.
Next stop was for lunch. We had been
warned about the eye-watering prices by every book and person who had been to the country, and yes, it was more expensive than UK but you have to eat. We had the recommended local soup with lumps of Lamb in. It was very good and filling cost about £8 but worth the money to sit in the warm and look out across the frozen desert. We were there was to see a spectacular waterfall, so after lunch we put our hat, coats, gloves and scarves on and followed our guide. We only had to walk about 300m but it was the hardest 300m I have ever walked. Not only was it cold and icy which made walking trechourous but the wind was fearsome. If it had been any stronger we would have had to crawl through the snow and ice. I was well wrapped up but when I removed my scarf to speak the wind literally took my breathe away and tried to suffocate me. Any item of clothing not firmly secured was liable to whip you in the eye or strangle you. It was the first time I have ever felt that my own clothes could murder me. We
edged our way to the view point and hung onto the railings to get a view. It was an impressive waterfall but its impact was lessened by the need to survive the incessant onslaught of the wind, the cold and your wild clothes. Phew!
We edged our way down some steps into a relatively sheltered spot. The steps were clear of snow except, and this seemed to be an Icelandic policy, for a area which was left iced up. This policy caught me out in the town - I was striding confidently along a clear path then whoops, slipped over on a small area of uncleared, pavement coloured ice. Back at the waterfall we made it safely back to the coach and congratulated ourselves on surviving. Even the guide said the extreme wind was unusual.
Next stop were the Geysirs and thermal springs. Geysirs are hot water springs which, due to their shape and a few other things I forget, will blow out water from time to time. Like a big sneeze. The one we saw sneezes every few minutes, normally when you are looking the other way saying to someone “it should go off anytime now”. But its
very spectacular when they do. And being full of sulphur they give off a rotten egg smell, as does the shower in our room, so we were used to it. After more geological information we went to our last site on the Golden tour- a crater. This crater had a lake in it with fish, though because it was frozen we didn't see any. There is not much more to say about it really. It was a great tour and gave a marvellous view, albeit short, of the amazing geology and natural wonders of Iceland.
As far as I know Iceland is not known for its cuisine, apart from its expense and lack of vegetables. We decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and go for the best restaurants we could find, and tonight we chose Perlan (the pearl). Perlan's USP (unique selling point) is that it sits on water tanks on top of a hill and has fantastic views across the city. It also revolves slowly. And the food is supposed to be good, so we entered it with high expectations. And we were not disappointed. We had a table next to the window and the
views (at night of course) were wonderful. The whole city lay before us and almost imperceptably changed as we slowly revolved. The food was good as well. Fours courses for a bargain £40ish per head and a bottle of wine. Highlight was a sumptuous lobster soup made with, I assume but didn't ask, local lobsters. We had chicken and duck so my fears of a cod only diet for 2 days were allayed.
We used taxis to and from the restaurant for their convenience. Amazingly, and something we should adopt in the UK, neither the taxi drivers (nor the waiters) expect a tip. Thursday
We declined a coach tour of the south coast and chose to explore the city of Rekjavik. First impressions as we walked in was of a slightly scruffy city with a graffitti problem. A guide book said that litter is unknown. Well they are getting to know it now. The architecture is not really impressive. Many buildings are wooden covered with painted corrugated iron (excellent for graffitti) and there are some quite mundane office blocks of 60s or 7os design. The new city hall is nice, though it is very grey. Buildings
are, on the whole, low rise, appearing to keep a low profile to avoid the piercing wind and driving rain. The new cathedral is magnificent though. Built quite recently, the interior is reminiscent of a European medieval gothic cathedral but without the decoration, and much brighter. A lift goes to the top of the tower for spectacular views.
A guide book suggests a walking tour of the city, visiting the highlights. One of the highlights is feeding ducks. I think they were struggling to fill the tour. However the Museum of Iceland occupies 1 or 2 hours, which was particularly welcome because outside it started to rain in a relentless and determined manner.
After a nice lunch at the cafe de Paris we fought the weather again to walk along the uninspiring front, past the building site, along a busy road to a stainless steel sculpture of a viking boat. We ticked that site off our list, decided the weather had beaten us and waded back to our room to dry off.
Part 2 of our culinary investigation of Iceland was a meal at Laegerbrekka. A renowned restaurant in a traditional house in the centre of the city.
I rang to book a table for 2 at 7.30. The person at the other end said she would see if there was such a table and that was that. I could hear the sounds of a restaurant in the background. Nothing happened for a few minutes. I shouted and whistled, imagining the telephone handset lying on a desk somewhere. How long do you wait, especially on Icelandic hotel phone rates? After another minute or two I put the phone down, immediately re-rang, spoke to a person and booked a table. What happened to the previous person? Is she still trying to find us a table?
Another short taxi drive and we turned up at the very cosy restaurant. We were upstairs in the loft. Thankfully we had a table for 4 so we could sit on the outside seats: the inside seats were under the eaves and the roof was about 1 inch from your head and must have been very claustrophobic. Service was charming but a little chaotic. We were offered an aperitif but with cocktails over £10 each we declined. The menu was interesting in that it had things we had not seen before; reindeer, puffin
and whale. There were set “feasts”. For example the lamb feast had an awful lot of lamb in it, likewise the lobster feast. What caught our eye was the Gourment menu of 4 courses. We asked the waiter what it contained because neither of us were keen on the idea of puffin or whale. The obliging and friendly man checked with chef and reported that it was mainly reindeer and lamb. So that was OK and we ordered it with 4 accompanying glasses of wine. After placing our order another waitress wandered over and asked if we had seen the valentines menu (it being valentines day). She appeared to be out of step with the other staff and we concluded she was the one who answered the phone and was still looking for a table for us. The food arrived surprisingly quickly. First course was thin slices of raw reindeer which did not have a strong taste but very velvety. However after this our waiter, noting our interest (actually non-interest) in strange meats, brought us an extra dish of puffin and whale. Puffin I can leave, being, to my mind a bit slimey and fishy, Jen liked it (though she
likes any meat). The whale meat though (it was actually minke whale and apparently there are millions of them) was an amazing taste. Very like beef steak but meltingly tender. We felt a bit guilty eating it but you have to try these things. The rest of the meal was very nice and the wine was adequate if not perfectly complementary to the food, for example the delicate souffle struggled with the very large wine glass full of port. Great place, good and interesting food and very good staff, if a bit chaotic. Friday
Our last activity on this very short trip was the “Blue Lagoon”. In the middle of a huge lava field of many square miles, is a geo-thermal station which pumps up hot water for heating or making electricity. The effluent (actually just water which cannot be used) is pumped into a very big pool (an acre in size perhaps). The water is bath temperature and because of the minerals in it, is bright blue. So you just float and lie in it, drifting around enjoying the moonscape view across the lava field to the volcanoes in the distance. A very special and memorable experience.
The Blue Lagoon put us in a relaxed frame of mind, ready to face the plane journey and the hell that is Heathrow terminal 1. All in all a very enjoyable short break, and who knows, may even return.
There are more photos below