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Published: January 10th 2016
Where Glyn had his shower
Probably the last thing you want to do in the middle of Iceland in the middle of winter is get soaked by a Geysir and my hubby did just that. He was the only one to do it too. The bigger tragedy is that I missed it.
We left the street lights of Reykjavík for the day to go on a coach tour of the Golden Circle. The roads connecting the tiny villages and farms are not lit, but the white glow of the snow brightened the darkness. Quaint churches in the snow would have made for excellent photos had we stopped.
Our guide, Elizabeth, had a rather monotone drone and I fell asleep on the coach for the first 90 minutes when we made our first stop at Fridheimar Tomato farm. This family run farm is entirely in greenhouses powered by green energy with carbon dioxide pumped in from a nearby borehole. They don't use pesticides but import bugs and bees from the Netherlands and supply Iceland with 18% of their tomatoes which grow throughout the year. We partook in their very delicious tomato soup with a seeded bread roll.
The coach continued on to Geysir through
the snow covered countryside as it began to get light, the time being around 11am. We passed lots of very hairy Icelandic horses looking perfectly warm and content, eating through the snow.
Elizabeth warned us that "When you see ice, it is slippery, so walk like a penguin." And she's right you know, it was incredibly slippery. Arriving at the site, we were all in awe of steam gushing out of the ground in various places. On average 7 tourists per week during the summer seriously burn their hands by placing them into the hot pools to see how hot they are. They must not believe the warning signs or refuse to read.
Geysir is one of the very few Icelandic words to make it into the lexicon of world language and now there are geysirs all over the place. But this is THE Geysir, the big boy where it all started. It used to gush up to 200ft but these days it's as lazy as the Icelandic winter sun and its efforts are minimal, maybe popping up once a month, so little hope of any performance.
But not to worry, there's Strokkur (Little Churn) who can
spurt up to 20 metres every 5-10 minutes to the sounds of cooing tourists. Some of the spurts are a lot shorter, but the power of it shooting out of the ground still kept us all happy as around 30 of us stood by it, arms beginning to tire from holding up our cameras in anticipation. There isn't much warning, less than a second of bubbles which erupt with a heart of glowing turquoise, transforming into gushing white foam and steam up into the sky. Signs warned that it can be 80-100 degrees, so we were advised not to walk downwind of it as it spurted. However, that was the way of the only path leading back to the coach.
Glyn and I hung around to catch Strokkur in action a few more times. I said to Glyn that the second we decide to turn around and leave would be when the most powerful spurt would happen. And guess what, I was absolutely correct! Fortunately, I'd not turned my camera off, so I managed to catch the end of it.
We headed to THE Geysir and watched it gently bubble and steam for a while. I found that
fixing a hard stare upon it at length did not encourage any actual Geysir action. Damn.
We headed up the hill because everyone else did. This was a great idea as it was a stunning mix of glassy ice and large rocks for maximum pain should you slip over. Lots of people did slip over in spectacular fashion.
All my Geysir photos were taken with my Nikon, but I also have a 'blog' camera for uploading at the time of publishing as bought for me for Christmas by my lovely hubby. So I hung around to attempt a photo with that as Glyn headed off because he didn't want to be late. So it was his good time keeping that got him, and him alone, soaked. So bad things do happen to good people. I didn't know about it until I got on the coach and he showed me his soggy coat and soaking left leg. His head and neck were wet and cold but he was more worried about his cameras, but he managed to dry them off with my lens cloth.
Our next stop, Gullfoss, was recently voted as one of the top 10 most
interesting (note interesting not beautiful) by Lonely Planet in the world. It is actually two falls that combined drop about 32 metres. They were almost destroyed in the 1920s by plans to build a hydro electric dam, but a local woman rode her horse into Reykavík at a time of no roads and threatened to kill herself by jumping into the falls unless the dam was stopped. Strangely, but happily this tactic worked and there's a statue of her by the falls (that I didn't see).
We were warned to not stray from the path, like not EVEN if we see footprints in the out of bounds areas. We trotted down some wooden steps to a viewing area and there was a narrow icy path skirting the edge of a dangerously steep slope above the falls. The top of the path was chained off with visible warning signs in a nearby wheelbarrow; so naturally tourists lifted up the chain to go under it and headed down. Like lemmings we all followed, it might be stupidly dangerous but what if we missed something?! It was a once in a lifetime opportunity I told Glyn. And yes, It was a slightly
better view, all the more fun because we were breaking the law - the law of good sense and self preservation that is. A woman in a high vis jacket eventually shooed us back to the safe area and hung the warning signs from the chain so that no one would ignore them again....
Climbing back up the steps, I discovered that the view from above was far superior and I had a far better idea of the layout of the falls. The paths were clear in places, but in other areas, it was the kind of ice that no one could cross without slipping. I went over the ropes to the safer looking snowy areas; the snow was rock solid in places, occasionally giving way so that I could sink in knee deep - I still felt safer than on the ice.
I was the last one on the coach and one of the other passengers warned me to sit down quickly before I got into trouble for being late. I got to my seat, sorted myself out and saw that it was only two minutes after the designated return time - this is a harsh regime.
It was now just after 2pm and the pale yellow sun was beginning to set weakly over the snow. Elizabeth started to tell us about the mammals of Iceland, the Artic Fox being the only native animal. Horses, sheep, and reindeer all having been imported in. They do get occasional visits from polar bears swanning in over glacial ice from Greenland, the last one coming for a summer jaunt but ended up being shot when it charged a few people. "These polar bears are not pets!" Elizabeth stressed - another had killed a British school kid a few years back and his teacher had been hospitalised trying to protect him.
The site of the original Icelandic parliament (Alþingi) is at the large national park of Þingvellir, but there's not a lot there to tell you this. More interestingly (to me anyway) is that it is a place where the North American and Eurasian continental plates meet, although they are pulling apart at a rate of 2cms per year. Elizabeth likened 2cms to the length of a fingernail, crikey, I wouldn't like to get into a cat-fight with her! The huge rift between the rocks was impressive with a
path between them that we could walk along. We were told to stick to the path as amazingly to Elizabeth tourists do get lost there. Seriously, it's a HUGE rift in the ground, how do people lose it? But then we spotted tourists stepping over warning cones, slipping along icy steps and rocks, desperately looking to get lost. So that's how it's done.
At the top was a big crack in the rocks where tall people could stand with each leg on either tectonic plate, posing for photos. Some of the shorter people gave it a miss, not me! I just stood there with a gait that would make any decent rock guitarist extremely jealous.
Despite needing the loo, Glyn refused to pay the equivalent of a quid to use it but I could not afford such morals and they were very clean loos after all, with Dyson airblades.
Talking of clean, Iceland has some of the cleanest air in the entire world, we were miles away from anything industrial and yet there were Japanese tourists wearing pollution masks. Stranger still, no one was laughing at them.
The journey back to Reykavík was uneventful and I
kept peering out of the window looking for Icelandic horses in the dim light. For once Glyn and I were the first to be dropped off! We were gobsmacked as this kind of thing is unheard of and our jaws hit the floor as we are used to being the last.
I suggested we pop into reception to see if our Northern Lights tour had been confirmed yet. Little did I know what was coming next for as we were waiting, the husband of the woman who had complained yesterday that her Northern Lights tour had been cancelled due to the weather (after she had spent all day doing nothing in preparation), was there. Glyn refers to this woman as the Peckerhead. A mother and daughter came down the stairs and Peckerhead-husband asked what they had been up to today. "Watching movies in the room all day" came the enthusiastic reply. I could see Glyn's face turning black and glowery. Yes, they had found a way to get extra channels on the telly so it wasn't just American stuff, but British movies too! Woot! Peckerhead-husband was most keen to find out how this was done and they furnished him
with instructions. With all the restraint he could muster, Glyn managed to not bang his head repeatedly against the wall. The mother was explaining that her daughter had only been abroad once before, so she was starting her slowly with a long weekend in Iceland (sitting in a hotel room all day). As Glyn turned the corner, he began to scream with despair at certain British people - why did they fly for three hours to visit a foreign country just to sit in their room all day? Why?!! WHY?!! stay at home and subscribe to Netflix, it's loads cheaper and warmer!!!
I thought the northern lights trip might be cancelled again because the sign in the foyer telling you that trip is off is exactly the same design as the one that tells you it is on. So from a distance, you could be fooled. A minibus took us to the tourist hub of a bus station where we were decanted to a packed coach. Our guide warned us that Icelanders cannot switch the lights on or off. So basically, be prepared to not see them. She gave us reflective armbands so that she could
The coach (full of peckerheads according to Glyn) headed towards Selfoss because the weather centre had advised the tour guides where the best chance at seeing the light was. The Northern Lights or ''Aurora Borealis' if you think you are fancy, happen because of solar flares that react with Earth's atmosphere around the poles but clear skies are required - and at a place with minimal or no light pollution. So the weather centre had guided us to a place where there was a hole in the cloud. We were warned that the lights generally don't look as vibrant to the human eye as they do in photographs; something to do with camera lenses staying open longer than human lenses. So if you take a photo of the lights, it probably will look better than how you remember it.
A coach load of peckerheads, one guide, myself and Glyn disembarked by a roadside in the middle of nowhere. Armed with torches, we clambered over ice to find seemingly good spots to set up for a few hours to hang out in the cold. It didn't take long for most to return to the warmth of the
coach to wait there. Our trusty guide stayed out in earnest, staring at the sky, ready to call all the softy tourists off the coach with good news.
Glyn and I did stay out and attempted a bit of starry photography. It was cold but we were both wrapped up well and for once Glyn even wore his wooly thermal hat. I have been on at him the entire trip to wear that hat and FINALLY he decided to look after himself properly. My work is done.
I asked what was the average appearance of the lights per trip, but didn't get a straight answer. I was told that the lights are so unpredictable that sometimes that are faint at the edge of the sky and then woosh! they are all aglow throughout the sky... or alternatively, they just give up. But you know, sometimes our guide sees them from her garden... and where exactly is that? She did not elaborate. so she stood on watch and had seen a faint effort in the corner of the sky but not enough to call the peckerheads off the bus.
So after two hours, it was time to give
up and go. Oh well. However, even though we did not see the lights, Glyn's camera did, faintly at the edge of the sky whilst he was photographing the stars. We both had taken long exposure photos, but Glyn had done a lot more as his camera is better than mine and the noise in my images made it not worth the bother. So Glyn does have a couple of photos of a very faint green glow at the edges and no, it is not light pollution. NO, it is not.
Our guide apologised far too many times for the lack of Aurora Borealis action.. it was more like Aurora Bogus action, but we still enjoyed being out in the snowy dark landscape, away from city lights. And another bonus was that yet again, we were dropped off first.
We stopped at the hotel bar where Glyn's cheese and ham toastie, expresso and bottle of coke cost just a bit more than my one pint of Viking beer. But I wouldn't have swapped! We had a nice chat with the barmaid / receptionist / hotel employee who it turns out is Swedish and doesn't speak a word of Icelandic. So despite that Northern Lights fail, it was a great day. We just have to visit another Arctic country and try again
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