Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Iceland - All in One.

Day 0

Got all the way to Heathrow (about an hour and a half on the tube with massive amounts of luggage) to be told by the nice lady at Icelandair that our tickets were for Sunday. Not for Saturday. Felt like a proper pair of chumps, then got back on the tube (about an hour and a half with massive amounts of luggage in mid-day heat) and went home. Lisa did some gardening, and I drank beer and watched the cup final. Result. (Unless you are an Everton fan - which I was for the day).

Day 1

Got all the way to Heathrow (about an hour and a half on the tube with massive amounts of luggage) and were very happy when the nice man at the check in desk accepted our passports, took massive amounts of luggage off us and allowed us into the depths of Terminal 1. Had enough time for a sandwich, the purchase of a duty free filter for my camera (circular polarizer) and ogling over a Ferrari (one of those you give us £100 and we won’t call you in a month to ask you where you want your Ferrari delivered things) and we got on a nice big plane to Iceland. A pleasant flight (Lisa watched all the tourism videos, I watched Moulin Rouge (I’d seen it before, but Mei was right – it is “a big camp mess”)) and we landed in Iceland.

We got the flight bus to the centre of Reykjavik, and then took a couple of proper busses to our hotel. When the nice people of Expedia tell you it is in central Reykjavik, check. Nice hotel – in an industrial estate, next to a shopping mall. (It was v cheap though). We didn’t do a great deal on the first night, other than discover that the shopping mall (and all its food outlets other than pizza hut) was pretty much closed – being Sunday night and all so we found a Chinese fast food type place called “Nings” which served both tofu and chicken, thus satiating both of our food based needs.

At about 22.30 we adjusted the curtains, as we realised the sun wasn’t really going to set, being early June and only a few degrees south of the arctic circle – it doesn’t seem to get dark here. Goodness knows how gloomy it gets in the winter.

Day 2

A lovely breakfast, (the hotel was mysteriously empty, but we’ll discover why later) and we walked out to the bus stop to get a bus into the town centre. As we’d discovered, the buses run very much on time, but not very often – and the 2 – our bus to the city, was expected at 41minutes past the hour. It didn’t come. And neither did the 24, the other bus that should have stopped there too. Something was up. We checked the timetable. Then we checked the guide book.

The Icelanders seem to celebrate Whitsun a week late (or more likely the British can’t cope with Whit Sunday falling in June and not May, so moved the bank holiday so it was still the last Monday in May) so we were waiting for a bus that doesn’t run in the mornings on bank holidays. So we decided to walk. In inappropriate footwear, we strolled about 6 miles round the beautiful waterfront of western Reykjavik, admiring ducks, geese, lapwings (we think), footballers (both young girl and fully grown men – I think it may have actually been the national team in training – they were in the gear, and very good, and they do play Holland at the weekend) and bulldozers.

Eventually we climbed a hill and got to the Pearl. A restaurant/observation deck overlooking the city to the North, and the domestic airport to the South, and offering such exciting choices as a very impressive (although we learned – artificial) geyser, a small Viking museum, and a very reasonably priced bottomless bowl of soup and all the bread rolls you can stuff in your cheeks. (That is quite a few). Stopping here to do our best hamster impressions, we did everything listed above except the Viking museum (I’ve seen the film) and then carried on our merry way.

Reykjavik is a very pretty city, and seems to be a delightful mix of Scandinavia and America. Huge American cars mix with little European ones, and Mexican restaurants sit alongside those serving nothing but fish. Being a public holiday, people were cruising the streets in their cars, kids were doing that thing that kids do when they aren’t very good at skateboarding, but they insist on practising in public, as if they either enjoy falling on their butts with a hundred people watching, or they believe that one day they will pull off the perfect bluntside 720 switch purely by accident, and at least someone will have seen them, and won’t beat them up for lying about their coincidental skateboarding prowess. It was baking hot in the sun (it must have been at least 15 degrees) and the queue for the ice creams was insurmountable. We decided not to attempt to surmount it, so had some cartons of strawberry squash from the supermarket instead.

We sat and watched more ducks, where the sport amongst the tiny children was not to feed them, but to throw bread into the water. The ducks were not interested in the slightest. (this was in “the pond”). Then we walked to the remnants of the Icelandic arts festival, where some caravans had been mutilated into mobile artworks (to good effect) and wandered back to the aforementioned Mexican restaurant.

The number 2 bus was running by the time we were done, so we took it back to the hotel.

This was all yesterday now. Tomorrow I’ll tell you all about our fun day, when we left Reykjavik behind, and took a reasonably priced car to Iceland’s top tourist attraction.

Day 3

Another big breakfast (when that’s the pre-paid meal, you make the most of it) and the man arrived to take us to the car rental place. I’m always concerned when renting a car – the miser in me needs good value, the tall person in me needs a car big enough for me to drive without the need to stick my head out of the sunroof (think Dino out of the Flintstones – that’s me in a DeLorean, Ford Ka, Lamborghini Countach and (amusingly) a Ford Focus). 41€ seemed like pretty good value for a small car, and I was there when the (very useful) man at the hotel called to book the car, so he had me and my ludicrous height to use as reference, so I was in safe hands. When we got to the rental office, there was a Blue Chevrolet Lacetti out the front, and I was hoping it would be ours because a – it is big enough (we have quite a lot of luggage) and b – it is EXACTLY the same car used in Top Gear as their “reasonably priced car”, which they then give to celebrities to thrash around the racetrack (one memorable scene springs to mind when Lionel Richie was overtaken by his own front wheel, while sparks flew off the bottom of the car...) so I was very happy when I was told that yes – this would be our ride for a week.

Last time I hired a car, it was a Massive ford mustang, and the first thing we did was navigate our way down the Las Vegas strip with the roof down, which came in handy when kind Americans needed to point out to me that I was drifting between two lanes, and should really learn to drive. Fortunately as the only person driving a convertible with the top down on that cold Vegas morning, it was completely obvious that I was a tourist, so I had a readymade excuse and we all got out of the city in one piece (actually if we all got out of the city in one piece it would mean we all got stuck together and left the city all stuck together, and that would have been far from satisfactory and undoubtedly have added to the extra they charged me at the end of the rental period for not filling it completely with gas.)

This time of course, I was ready. I knew the sort of mistakes a foolhardy Brit would make driving on the right (I mean wrong) side of the road would make, so I gauged where the lines should be, and I got Lisa on “drifting” duty, and I realised that I was sitting on the left side of the car so everything is backwards, so I put the car into R (it’s an automatic, which means I don’t have a bruised left hand from attempting to change gear using the electric window controls, but I do have whiplash from putting my left foot on the clutch which isn’t there but the brake pedal is, and you stop really quickly when you press the brake like you’d usually press the clutch) and we pulled out and onto highway 1.

There is only one big road in Iceland. It is road number 1 and it goes all the way round. Unfortunately we needed to go to the south, so we took highway 41, which is also a road, but only has two lanes. This is fine, and it got us to the Blue Lagoon by about 11am (saving us 26€ in bus fares – another good reason for hiring a car) and in we went.

Iceland is blessed with a lot of geothermal activity. Yes this means that the middle part of it might as well contain dinosaurs, as no-one is allowed there without one of the 4x4s from Jurassic park and Pete Postlethwaite with an extraordinarily large gun as a guide except for about a week in the middle of July, when it is fair game and some towns are in grave danger of being washed away when the volcanoes hit the glaciers and all the ice melts, but it does mean they have a quality source of clean energy.

If you imagine all the hot water that is produced by sizewell B in Suffolk, and deciding to fill a quarry with that hot water, and then charging 20€ for people to swim in it, then you are a sick and twisted human being who ought to be stopped immediately, possibly by Daniel Craig, but that is what they did with Blue Lagoon, except with geothermal water. Yes it smells of eggs a bit, but the combination of creepy warmth, lots of salts, and the encouragement of the staff in smearing white goo all over your face while you float in the water makes it a pretty amazing place to be. We loved it, and may well go back for more next week. They had steam rooms and saunas and a waterfall which pummelled your back and neck in a quite exquisite way, and we even didn’t wait an hour between our very enjoyable lunch (sandwich and Skyr and coffee) and jumping back in the water. I’m not sure my splashing around with white goo on my face counts as triathlon training though.

We tore ourselves away from there, and were back in the car, pausing only to take some photos of the creepy surrounding area, then we decided to take a more direct route to the south east, towards our destination of Vik as the main road would take us pretty much back through Reykjavik, which would seem very like going back on ourselves and wasting time. Bad idea. You remember when I said about Iceland only having one decent road, and then the other road to the airport being a bit small? Every other road looks like I made it. Think a light scattering of stones, and you are pretty much there. Our “short cut” took us though about 30 miles of crawling along, fearing for the underside of our nice car, with only the occasional monster truck overtaking us making us feel in any way that if we broke down we’d not be sitting in the car feeding biscuits to the arctic foxes.

About 14 hours later (ok it was about 2 hours later) we’d enjoyed some nice views we might not have otherwise seen, but we were driving through Reykjavik, in fact – we were driving past our hotel of the previous night, and on our way to Vik.

Day 4

Remember when I mentioned the town that will be washed away when the volcano’s eruption melts the glacier and all the water comes down? Well – that is Vik. Apparently the 200 or so residents regularly practice running up the hill to the church, just to prove they can. I don’t know if there is a time involved – if they have a 5 minute warning between the mountain blowing its top and having to be in the graveyard, but the residents all looked pretty fit. Although one of the waitresses wasn’t as svelte as she might have been, she might have moved in recently, and I’m sure they give new residents a grace period by which they must be at the required fitness level. Obviously the tourists can swim for it – we didn’t have any drills while we were there, although on climbing the hill (we weren’t racing – so I didn’t time us) I was very tempted to start clanging away on the church bell (I have no idea if this is the signal – it would be a bit mad to have the signal at the top of the hill – you’d lose the first 5 minutes waiting for the fittest person in the village to get to the church to ring the bell to let everyone else know they should have run to the top of the hill 5 minutes ago. Maybe I’m thinking about this too much.

The first thing we noticed as we drove towards Vik was a nice line in rocks at one end of the cliff – legend has it that three trolls were pulling their boat in to shore one morning, and were caught by the rising sun, turning them to stone. I like legends like that. Apparently 25% of Icelandic people believe in trolls. (I have a feeling they might have said that mostly because it makes them seem a bit mad, and kind of cool, or they might have misunderstood and thought they were being asked if those horrible little plastic people with the crazy hair existed, which they obviously do).

We were certainly glad of our decision to hire a car, rather than use our original option of the bus. Not only is it giving us the freedom to drive ourselves around, but the hotel in Vik is about 3 miles to the east of the town, so we would have been pretty fed up either staying there for 2 days, or walking a 6 mile round trip every time we wanted to go anywhere interesting. Not that the hotel wasn’t interesting – more big breakfasts, cute waitresses who we annoyed by asking them to find food that wasn’t on the menu for Lisa (vegetarianism hasn’t made it as far as hotels on the south coast of Iceland – Reykjavik has a few veggie restaurants (what would I eat?) but the hotel in Vik had three choices, 2 meat, one fish, so Lisa had soup and a feta salad. I had a steak.) there were oystercatchers nesting in the lawn out the front – they had two very cute and fluffy baby oystercatchers with them, and they made pleasant squawking noises – and they had 4 hot tubs (which we didn’t partake in) so we wouldn’t have gone completely mad, but being able to drive to the village, and climb their hills, walk on their freaky volcanic black sand and visit their little church was certainly a bonus.

In the afternoon, after coming down from the aforementioned hill, we ate at a very sweet little cafe (we’d had coffee and a cake there in the morning) finding a huge veggie pizza, and a very good burger/fries combo on offer. This was about 3pm, so we were back to the hotel by 5, and we did a marathon of “lost” and had a fairly early night! (that was also when I wrote to you about the blue lagoon).

Day 5

Checked out and on the road – a pretty short hop to glacier country. Further to the east, the roads became quieter, (I was driving pretty conservatively at about 80kph, the limit being 90, and in about 100km we were overtaken by 3 cars and a lorry.) I don’t believe there is an Icelandic word for traffic, but if there is, I doubt it is used very often.

A glacier is basically a very very slow avalanche. You’d have to be very foolish to get caught by one by surprise. The ones where we stayed were actually going backwards at the time (partly as it is summer now, and also due to climate change (man made or otherwise). It is very odd to see what looks like a pair of enormous ice creams, melting their way down the side of a pair of mountains.

Our “glacier view” room was a little disappointing (how often would you have to look out of the window at the mountain to get an extra £20s worth of value out of a view, even if you could see it through the clouds, which enshrouded the room for about 90% of the time,) but the walks around the nearby waterfalls and the view over the glacier were all quite superb, so we were very happy overall.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about walking on the ice, and some other things (mostly involving ice).

Day 6
In an attempt to get us up early in the morning, we’d booked an ice walk, starting at 10am. Stuffing ourselves silly with the best breakfast yet (this one had donuts and chocolate chip cookies) we put on all our clothes, and off we went.

Step 1 – put on crampons. Remember roller skates in the 1970s? I don’t, but we still had some hanging around in the 80s when I was a lad. These were similar, clamp them over your own shoes, and tighten the straps, but instead of creaky wheels with rusted bearings, we have metal spikes sticking out in all directions.

Step 2 – take off crampons and get in minibus (no-one wants a minibus with a messed up floor) and a short drive down some hideous un-driveable dirt tracks.

Step 3 – off the bus, and a short walk to the start of the ice. Then on with the crampons and our guide distributed ice axes all round (nice). At this point we were walking on what seemed like a dirty gritty beach like thing, but you didn’t have to dig far to discover the ice wasn’t too deep under our feet.

Just a few steps further and we were on the glacier proper. Starting off pretty filthy – left over ash from quite a few volcanic eruptions (as the snow falls, the ash forms layers through the glacier, as it melts, the ash forms a nice black crust on top) – we learned the basics of crampon walking, and how to hold an ice axe without swinging it into the face of the person walking behind, and we started tramping around the glacier.

When ice is that old, and that compact, it takes on a very different form to what I regularly use the bread knife to scrape out of the freezer. The tour was called the “Blue Ice Discovery” package and every crevice and occasionally just on a cleaner bit under our feet, displayed this weird effect – totally solid, brilliantly transparent, shockingly blue crystalline rocks of ice.

Although our tour was a very sedate one, our guide did demonstrate one of the more freaky aspects of the glacier. Every so often there would be a sink hole – a place where a natural fault in the ice had opened to create a hole where the melting water would pour through. Break off a chunk of ice, and chuck it down there, and it kept on rattling until you didn’t hear it due to it being too far away, not because it had got to the bottom. I remembered him packing a rope in his rucksack – I’m not too sure how useful it would have been had one of us fallen. We didn’t get close enough to find out!

Lunch at their cafe, and then we were still feeling energetic to try the third of the available walks around the hills and waterfalls that surround the glacier. This one was a little more heavy going than the stroll around the base of the hills the day before – this time it was up and over the hill overlooking the glacier, with spectacular panoramas of the glacier itself, the mountain where it all started (the highest in Iceland – next time we’ll be doing the 10-15 hour guided climb up to the top) and the flat, river filled plains where all that water meanders down towards the sea. Another waterfall on our way back, and we felt we deserved our dinner. (which had mysteriously transformed from me having the most expensive roast lamb in the world (it was superb though) and Lisa having the soup, to the place suddenly having an extensive and varied bistro menu, with several veggie options, and a far more reasonable price tag too.

Day 7

Checking out of our hotel, the nice girl at reception gave us a discount for the lack of a view, and the fact we had to use a different room in order to obtain hot water for a shower, although it was still the most expensive place we stayed, and we were back in the car and onwards towards the most easterly point of our little journey.

At Jokul, the glacier ends in a lake of its own making, which is deep enough to allow the ice to break off and float down to the sea in massive blue icebergs. The enterprising Icelanders, realising they can’t charge just for standing by the side of the water (I’m sure the British would try if they could, but Iceland seems to suffer from all the best tourist attractions being natural wonders, which is probably why they need to charge a little (but not that much following the financial crisis!) more for certain things) have set up a tour using amphibious landing craft to drive the tourists into the lake and motor around the icebergs, hopefully spotting a seal on the way (we’d already seen one bobbing around in the water).

Out we went, all life jacketed up (there is nothing cuter than a 9 month old baby in a life jacket) and we chugged along (wheels still turning) keeping a safe distance from the ice (iceberg 101 – nine tenths of them are under the surface of the water) while a pair of inflatable dinghies buzzed round, spotting underwater problems, but also passing our guide a basketball sized chunk of iceberg which looked like one of the examples of a perfect (and freakishly large) quartz crystal you see in the geology section of a museum. You could look all the way through it, it weighed more than it seemed like it should, and when she broke off chunks for tasting, - well – it would have cooled your drink and lasted a lot longer than what my freezer produces. Very strange.

We didn’t see any more seals, but I took about a thousand photos of icebergs (I’ll try and edit them down to something a little more manageable for showing you all)

In the evening we checked into our room (the cheapest, and also the nicest of the trip) ate an early dinner (they found a veggie special for Lisa, while I had a FANTASTIC arctic char (trout to you and me) with a citrus crust – honestly – it was some of the finest food I’ve ever had.

Day 8

I’m going to rattle through day 8, as we didn’t actually do a great deal. A drive back past our haunts of the last few days, and back to Kirkjubaejarklaustur – yes I did just copy and paste the name from the hotel booking form. We did another epic walk round the town and over the hill, including bothering some sheep (they were standing on the major attraction of the town, a giants causewayesque effect of basalt columns tessellating perfectly to form the “cathedral floor” hidden in a field, climbing a cliff, enjoying the view, scrambling back down the other side of the hill, eating dinner at a former nunnery (served by two very surly young ladies, but fortunately cooked by some very talented young men) and back to the hotel, where we finished series 4 of lost, (the hotel boasted 7 TV channels, but 6 of them were not working. – so glad we brought the laptop with us!)

5 days in Reykjavik still to tell you about – I’ll try and get it all down this evening, but you might have to wait until we get home!

Day 9

Another early start, as if we wanted to cram it all in, we had some serious driving to do. Of course, when I say we, I mean I had some serious driving to do, while Lisa had some serious passengering, which involved some not so serious looking out of the window, some rather serious map reading, and some extremely serious telling Dave to drive on the right side of the road you freaking idiot – isn’t the fact that you are on the left of the car and that bus is on the wrong side of the road giving you enough of a hint.

Back past Vik and then a right turn towards Gullfoss and Geysir. These were two of the places we’d had recommended by friends who had been before, and we’d seen pictures from Gullfoss on Jill’s FaceBook so it had to be done. The down side was that to get there from Reykjavik would have been another day’s excursion, and a colossal bill (would have been cheaper to hire another car and drive ourselves) so we took the crazy detour down the less than satisfactory road and crawled our way there.

Gullfoss is magnificent – the best waterfall I’ve seen (and I’ve been to North Wales AND Niagara) with enormous cascades going down big drops and rocky bits and wide bits and producing enormous clouds of mist and pretty much being spectacular and amazing. We’ll be home soon, and I’ll get some photos uploaded. (my) Words can’t describe it. Or if you are really lucky, we’ll come and visit and bring the laptop. You have a week to spare don’t you? Only a few miles up the road was Geysir. Although the original one after which all the others were named is broken (people chucked too many rocks into it) it had a little brother which goes mental about every 10 minutes, sending a plume of boiling water about 30 feet into the air. Shame the whole place smelled of rotten eggs though, but you can’t have everything.

Having only spent about an hour at Gullfoss/Geysir (thus further justifying the decision not to do a separate excursion) we got back to the car hire place in time to drop it off, and get a lift to central Reykjavik, where our apartment was waiting for us. We have a little kitchen, a massive bed and a 32inch LCD TV with DVD, so there will be no excuse for boredom! We went out and ate at our favourite Mexican restaurant (I had fish and chips, Lisa has quesadillas)

Day 10

The whale watching tours can’t guarantee you’ll see anything, but they offer another trip for nothing if you don’t see anything. Therefore – we needed to go early enough in the trip to ensure we’d be able to take them up on this offer. Maybe they have enough people on weekends and day trips it becomes an empty gesture?

We turned up in time for the one o'clock sailing, paid in Kroner (so much cheaper than paying in Euros!) and enjoyed their small but entertaining and informative museum (in the hold of an older ship, which was the holding area and visitor centre – good use of space) until they allowed us onto our boat for the day – a solid ship – probably big enough for about 200 visitors – although I reckon we had 100 on our voyage – which was probably about right, as we all crowded to the front of the outside deck as soon as we got to the feeding ground.

Still within sight of Reykjavik, the guide gave us a quick setting of expectations – allegedly it took them over an hour to see a single whale (enough to satisfy the money back guarantee) – so obviously anything better than that would be a success. Introducing Lisa to the “clock” system of knowing which way to look (obviously – being a chap, I was well used to identifying which direction to look, based on the numbers of the clock) the cry of “12 o'clock” went up and as we looked – there, not quite on the horizon, was a whale doing the “breaching” thing – leaping out of the water (although disappointingly not roaring, (although I’m well aware that the shark in “Jaws 4 – The Revenge”, was a shark, and a fake shark at that and therefore not a whale and definitely a load of old bollocks))

We got closer in, and saw a number of minke whales, just bobbing up to breathe in front of us (and when the wind was in the right direction – we smelled them, which was not fun – they were extremely stinky whales), a few of us (including me, but not Lisa,) saw a pair of porpoises jumping (at one o'clock) out of the water and disappear – not to be seen again) and then, disappointingly without a cry of “thar she blows!” we saw a huge spout going up on the horizon – a humpback whale, which also seemed to breach, and we could see it was massive. The captain put his foot down and with just the sort of lurches that make me rather unwell (I’m fine on little boats, but this one was making me pretty queasy) we headed off at full speed to attempt to catch the humpback. Whenever we saw the spout again, it wasn’t any closer, so off we went again, at full speed. We never did catch up, which was probably for the best, as I have a feeling he was trying to draw us into some sort of whaley ambush, and we’d have been beaten with their tails, scraped across their barnacled bellies, and speared by the narwhals tusks. Instead we ran out of time, and had to head back to the harbour – taking a slight detour to the island of Lundy (Icelandic for Puffin) where, with the aid of binoculars, we saw many puffins doing their thing. In a very cute way.

One of the advantages of the hotel where we stayed was having a kitchen (which I might have mentioned before) so after four hours on the boat, and with half a flapjack and a snickers to feed me, we got some pasta, sauce and cheese, and made ourselves a huge portion each, then hid in the room for the evening, watching Withnail and I on DVD.

Day 11

Lisa pretty much took me to Iceland for the horse riding, so off we went. Icelandic horses are unusual for many reasons. They can never leave Iceland – if they do – they can’t ever come back. This is because they don’t have any horse diseases in Iceland – they’ve stayed quarantined, and a pure breed for a long time. As another result of this, they’ve developed their own weird and wonderful ways. Most horses have 4 speeds – Walk, Trot, Canter and Gallop – those who have read my early work will have heard about how I’ve cantered twice, the first time (in Australia) ended prematurely as Ben was a lazy old bastard, and the second time (in New Zealand) ended prematurely as Caruba was an obstinate bastard and threw me off.

Icelandic Horses have an extra speed – somewhere between the trot and the canter, there is a Tolt. One pair of legs is trotting, and the other is cantering, resulting in a smooth but medium fast motion. Lisa needed to give this a go, so off we went and gave it a go, Lisa doing a 3 hour ride, and me deciding not to chance it, and taking a 2 hour session. I can’t tell you much about Lisa’s other than the fact that her legs were heavily chafed, and she didn’t stop smiling for several days, but mine was great fun – only 6 of us including the instructor, and plenty of opportunity to trot and tolt (we knew we were tolting, as the incessant spanking of the saddle against my butt ceased for a few seconds (being at the back of the group, as soon as the front horse slowed down, so did mine – the instructor gave me her whip for the journey back, which certainly helped)). We also had time to look around and enjoy the scenery, which was more of the weird moss covered lava fields, and we gave the horses a short rest (after leading them to water) half way through.

The best bit was as we were heading home – with little warning the guide told us we’d have a go at galloping, and with a kick and a shout (and a touch of the whip for mine) we were stampeding up hills at full speed – hanging on for dear life and grinning from ear to ear. Lisa doubts that we actually galloped (she didn’t) and I maintain that the solid 1234, 1234 rhythm of the hooves was all I needed to know. Loved it.

In the evening we found the hotel’s communal hot tub empty, so we had a go, sitting in warm bubbles on a cold day, looking out over the city.

Day 12

We had a bit of a quieter day - legs still aching following the riding, so we stretched them with a day wandering around the town – we visited the cathedral – a bizarrely beautiful concrete beast, unfortunately swathed in scaffolding and tarpaulin at the moment, it erupts from the pavement like an organic space shuttle, very beautiful, with the most magnificent organ we’d ever seen. A font carved from about a tonne of crystal, and a gravity defying pulpit finished the place off fantastically. We took the lift up the tower, and looked out (through the scaffolding) on 270degrees of Reykjavik.

All done there, we popped to the bus station (exciting) and upgraded our tickets back to the airport to enable us to detour to the Blue Lagoon, then wandered back and stopped off for a drink at Damon Albarn’s Bar – He bought it, possibly while drunk, at the height of the Britpop years, and it is rather cute (if a little full of people with iMacs and pretention) and the wine was reasonable and cold.

In the evening we cooked more pasta, and watched the Da Vinci code on DVD. (Not as bad as we were expecting).

Day 13

Our last full day was spent visiting Vithy, a small and uninhabited (they tried, but gave up) island, a short and infrequent boat ride from Reykjavik. Obtaining a return ticket including a coffee and a waffle (for only about an extra pound) we first of all sat in the sun and enjoyed a coffee and a waffle (with jam and cream!), then walked pretty much all the way round the island, enjoying seabirds, hairy horses, pretty flowers, beautiful cliffs and rocks, a few ducklings, and a small shrine to the Virgin Mary. A very pleasant way to spend the day. Discovering (as we so often did on this holiday) that it was 4pm and we’d not eaten anything (other than a coffee and a waffle) since breakfast, we took the boat back, found a bus, and got off outside a pizza place Lisa had her eye on and stuffed ourselves silly.

Day 14

One of the advantages of having a major tourist attraction just by the airport is that instead of checking out of the hotel at 10am, then having nothing to do but carry enormous amounts of luggage around for 6 hours until your flight leaves, you can check out of your hotel, put your luggage straight on a bus, go to the Blue Lagoon, where they look after your luggage while you splash around, have saunas, wine, facials, and a waterfall massage, then you get your luggage, check it for drugs and bombs, get back on the coach, get driven the other 10 minutes to the airport, and get on the plane – relaxed, clean and smelling vaguely sulphurous. We were home by 10pm, and can’t wait to get back there.

Thanks for listening. – I’ll be back to whinging about my daily life before you know it.