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Iceland

The weeks march on, and I haven’t had the right moment to write about our trip to Iceland at the start of April. But I wanted to post the rest of the photos before it got to the start of July, so here’s the story at last...

I first wrote here about our yearning to see Iceland in 2004, while reviewing Tim Moore’s travelogue about it. J. spent a week there in late 2006, and brought home some wonderful photos. After visiting Shetland in 2013 I read Sarah Moss’s excellent Names for the Sea, a memoir of living for a year in Reykjavik, and was reminded again of unfinished business. Now, at last, we had four nights there as a family (meeting up with J.’s brother, who flew in from New York): three at an Airbnb in Selfoss, and one at a hotel in Keflavik before our flight out the next morning.

Early April turned out to be a perfect time to visit. It was cold, but not so bitterly cold that being outdoors was impossible, and it sometimes rained, but also sometimes snowed, which after a warm Edinburgh winter was great. We had passed the equinoxe by early April, so the days were long enough to enjoy the sights. We didn’t get to see the Northern lights, but even in winter you would have to be lucky to see them, and staying up past midnight with young children is difficult. (As it turns out, I’d have had better luck going home—home home—the following month, and seeing the Southern kind.)

Shopping in local supermarkets for dinner supplies, Skyr yoghurt and liquorice was fun, but you wouldn’t want to do it for long: everything was at least twice what it would cost in the UK. We stood behind one guy doing a weekly shop comparable to ours which cost three times what ours would. Alcohol wasn’t always as expensive as it was reputed to be, as long as you stuck to local 2.5% light beer (it was something to do with the taxes by volume of alcohol).

We rented a four-wheel drive (and were advised to take care opening the doors, as the wind could catch them and bend them backwards, an uninsurable repair) so that we could explore on our own, although our sightseeing stuck to popular territory: Reykjavik on the first day, then the Golden Circle the next, then along the dramatic south coast to Eyjafjallajökull and Reynisfjara beach, and finally the Reykjanes peninsula, all moss-covered lava and misty mountains, on the way out to Keflavik. Heavy snow prevented a visit to Thingvellir (Þingvellir) to see the rift between continental plates. A trip to the Snæfellsnes peninsula and a lava cave in Borgarfjörður will have to wait for another visit.

We couldn’t get into the famous Blue Lagoon—we hadn’t realised you needed to book weeks in advance—so instead spent a morning at the Selfoss outdoor pool, swimming in 35°C water with snow lying around. As well as being a far more authentic local experience, this felt much more relaxed; the kids loved leaping out to get snowballs to throw into the warm water.

One thing they didn’t love was getting hit by the icy Atlantic the day before. Reynisfjara, near the town of Vik on the south coast, is an otherworldly black-sand beach with a basalt-columned cave and towering sea stacks nearby: a breathtaking sight, but tempered by warning signs of “deadly sneaker waves” that can catch tourists unawares. We kept a close watch on the kids, but even when they were at the very top of the beach near the cave, one wave swept in much further than the rest and went up past their knees, almost pulling our daughter off her feet. It was a scary moment, and reading later about what had happened on the beach only months before brought home how right we were to be scared. Visitors, be warned.

Apart from that sneaky wave, I loved everything we saw, particularly Gulfoss, a waterfall to rival Niagara; the 3000-year-old Kerið crater; the original geyser of Geysir and the boiling mud of Seltún; and the very volcano that caused us such trouble in 2010. (I passed on buying a jar of Eyjafjallajökull ash for £8, and instead scooped up some black ash soil from beside the road a few kilometres away.) The landscape could only have been improved by the sight of a few giant-shaped electricity pylons, which sadly haven’t yet been built; maybe by the time we next visit, they will have been. I’d love to go back to check.

In the meantime, I’ve been inspired to make Icelandic flatbread (although without the moss, or cooking it on the embers of sheepdung) and a lot of homemade yoghurt, which I’ll write more about shortly.

Here are a few more links to other people’s photos of Iceland, some of which I’ve posted before: the last turf church of Hof (too far east for us this time, alas); Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption; the Aurora Borealis and some unusual clouds; some breathtaking aerial landscapes; and an intriguing article on the Scots who visited in Iceland before the Vikings.

13 June 2017 · Travel


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