Iceland Diary

April 1999

Day 1 – Friday 16th April 1999

Our cab arrived a few minutes before 10am and took us down to Terminal One. After a bit of confusion about which of the Air Lingus desks to check in at, we finally checked in and went off in search of currency. We went to Thomas Cook in arrivals (next to the cashpoints) but they didn’t have enough Krone for us. They suggested we went to Departures instead. So, off we trotted and got £200 of currency between the 4 of us – 22,000 Krone.

After a wander around the shops in the check-in area we went through into departures. We went for a walk around and we bought a Minolta Weathermatic APS camera from Dixons, Amanda and Chris bought a Canon Ixus camera. Their’s really small whilst ours is big, chunky and waterproof to a depth of 10m. We then wandered around looking for APS films so we could all get the best deal. Once we were all shopped out we grabbed some drinks from Pret A Manger and packed our goodies away. We wandered off to Gate 36 and arrived just as the plane was starting to board. We found our seats and were pleased to discover that Rich and I had a spare seat next to us so we used it to store stuff away. There was actually quite a lot of leg room. We got served a quite nice lunch of salmon mousse, chicken and rice and creme caramel shortly after we took off. The film on the plane was “Home Fries” which helped to pass the time.

We arrived in Keflavic airport at 3pm and were met by a representive who would take us to the hotel. As we left the airport the scenery was like a moonscape, very barren – oh and snowy. There were 2 other people on the “people carrier” vehicle that brought us into Reykjavik. It’s 50km from the airport to Reykjayik and as we got closer to Reykjavik more snow was apparent at the side of the road. The vehicles have studs in their tyres to help in their grip. We went past a thermometer which read -3∞C. We dropped the other 2 people off at the Hotel Loftleidir and then carried on to the Hotel Leifur Eiriksson. We checked in and were given 2 twin-bedded rooms, one on the top floor and one on the ground floor. The decision of who got which room was based on “pick-a-hand” and so Rich and I were in room 105 on the ground floor. The rooms are quite basic but clean and warm and the hotel is in a really neat location – just next to the Hallgrimskirkja which is a really impressive building and an excellent landmark.

We unpacked our stuff and then went for a walk into town. Amanda wanted a hat so we wandered around with a mission. We stumbled across the Tourist Information Centre so we picked up a free map. We found a supermarket and so bought some tonic to go with the vodka we bought at the airport, some juice and a large bag of Paprika crisps. Amanda found a hat and then we trotted off back to the hotel as it was very cold.

Back at the hotel we had a hot chocolate followed by a small beer whilst looking at the various guides and leaflets that we’d aquired between us. It was around 6.30 and we were all a bit weary and so decided to retire for a while. We agreed to meet up for vodka and tonics at around 8pm in our room. Amanda took one of the bottles of tonic up to their room and hung it out of the window to chill.

At 8.15pm Amanda and Chris knocked on the door and we had our drinks before heading off to find a place to eat. We walked towards the Conran Bar/grill “Rex” but we felt very under-dressed for there as we caught sight of people in tuxedos. We wandered around in search of eateries and ended up at the lake – it had ice in the middle and ducks around the outside. We turned around and headed nearer the harbour and found a Bar/Grill place “Grillhosid” at Tryggvagˆtu 20 where I had a lovely lamb steak with chips and a jacket potato, Rich had lamb chops, Amanda had a Tex Mex burger and Chris had the largest BBQ pork ribs I’ve ever seen. We washed it down with a 2 litre jug of beer. it got dark whilst we were eating our meal at around 10pm.

Once we’d eaten we headed back to the hotel, packed a small bag for tomorrow and went to bed feeling very contented.

Day 2 – Saturday 17th April

What a day! The alarm went off at 7:30 and we dragged ourselves into the shower. After standing in the hot sulphury water I came out feeling like I had very soft skin but smelt like a boiled egg.

We met up at 8:15 for breakfast which was a buffet of cereals, bread, ham and cheese. We had time to go for a walk to the Icelandic knitting society shop so Amanda could buy her silly Icelandic hat.

We then headed back to the hotel to get togged up in our thermal gear.

Hakon pronounced “Howcon” from Geysir collected us at 9:20 from reception and we clambered into the Toyota Landcruiser which was to be our transport for the day.

Our first stop was after about 20 minutes at Geysir’s snowmobile clothing store where we all get kitted out with fur-lined suits, helmets and boots. There is a large building there which was described as being the “Party House” and behind the store is a swimming pool with steam rising into the cold air.

We put our suit, boots and helmets into the boot and headed off along the N1 and then the N374. The jeep was very comfortable. At around 10am we stopped at the Esso petrol station in Selfoss. We stayed in car whilst “Howcon” went to get some nibbles and some gloves for later.

We travelled further along past frozen lakes, rivers running with ice cubes on the top, icelandic horses, riding stables, small water powered power stations, and were fascinated by the really deep channel for a new power station, dug out of rock. We even saw some trees which was the first bit of green we’d seen.

We arrived at the motel in Hrauneyar at 11:30. The snow was really deep in places and there were lots of skidoos around the place.

We had lunch at the motel which consisted of asparagus soup, salad with prawns, bread, ham and cheese – it was really tasty.

A chap named Benny joined us for lunch. He works for Geysir but is currently on holiday skidooing. Hakon said that Benny was a bit of a nutter.

After lunch we got kitted up in our suits and boots and put the rest of our stuff into the jeep. We collected our helmets, goggles, cameras, hats and gloves and headed off to where the skidoos were. Benny told us how to start, drive and stop them. There were 3 skidoos for us to use between the 4 of us, so Amanda and Chris shared one (Amanda was a bit unsure about snowmobiling).

We set off at around 1pm with Hakon at the front, then Amanda and Chris, then me and then Rich. We started off doing about 10kph. Hakon kept turning around to check on us all. He turned around at one point and sped off behind us to rescue Rich who had driven into a rock.

As we got more confident we started to speed up which made steering much easier. We drove over rutted snow, over frozen ponds and rivers, up hills, down again. As we going around a bend Amanda fell off off into the snow. We set off again and go across the first stream uneventfully. At the second stream we’re not lined up properly so Hakon gets us to line up. Whilst turning the snowmobile around Chris, Amanda and the skidoo sink. Rich and Hakon go to help. Rich was holding the back of the skidoo whilst Hakon attempts to get it moving. Hakon gets it away, Rich falls face down in the snow and looks up just as the skidoo throws the snow back – straight into his face.

We cross the last 2 streams and arrive at Landmannalaugar. This is a chance to rest for a while and we go for a stroll. I decide to visit the toilets which are at the bottom of a snowy 6 foot drop which I manage to fall down.

We go for a walk down to the hot springs. The water is amazingly hot. It’s very strange to be in a landscape covered in snow but with steam drifting up from the springs. There were people swimming in the pools.

We return to our skidoos. We sit and watch some of the jeeps driving up unlikely hills. Hakon told us that they were mad and quite often rolled their jeeps. Amanda was not very happy about going back all the way as a passenger and Hakon persuades someone to drive over the streams in their jeep with her as a passenger. So whilst Amanda gets a lift over the water in a jeep we get to skidoo quite fast with a skidoo each We even had a little play up the side of a hill. We skidood through the first stream without problem. At the second stream we meet up with other Geysir party with one skidoo stuck in water. All of their group are sharing skidoos. We all get through the second stream okay, although Rich goes through a bit too fast and soaks himself and the skidoo. We go through the final stream and meet up with Amanda.

Hakon manages to persuade Amanda to try driving a skidoo. So we all swap around and Rich and I share so Amanda and Chris each have their own. Amanda gets on much better driving. Rich and I share the driving of our skidoo. I take us into very rutted snow but not fast enough so we fall over very slowly.. We pick ourselves up and drive off.

On our drive along we pass by some cross country skiiers. I’m starting to get cold as we get close to the end. As a passenger you get to look around a lot more than as a driver, but driving is much more fun. Hakon managed to drive his skidoo into a snow drift, so it wasn’t just us. The lads had to help him get his skidoo back out of the snow.

We got back to the motel at about 5.30 and had a well-deserved cup of tea and a Mars bar.

We clamber back into the jeep and drive along for about half an hour before Hakon pulls over and takes us to see a waterfall. The waterfall is named Hjalparfoss, which means “the waterfall of help”. It is really beautiful and the pool where the water falls into has broken ice along the top. We take a walk down the steps to get a closer look. Rich jumps onto one of the steps which is covered in snow and soon discovers that there isn’t anything under the snow up to around knee height. He picks himself up and walks down the rest of the steps.

We all get back into the jeep and continue our journey back to the hotel. Hakon asked us if we wanted to stop for a coffee and so we decided we would. He drove us into Selfoss and we stopped at a really nice coffee house there.

We returned to the hotel at around 8.30pm and then had a discussion about how we were going to pay for our trip. In the end Hakon decided that he’d get someone to see us on Sunday to take our Visa cards. We gave Hakon a 2,000 krone tip between us because he had been really good.

We then went back to our rooms and sorted ourselves out a little before meeting back up to nibble on some crisps before going to find a restaurant to eat in.

We wandered down the main street and decided upon Caruso, an italian restaurant. It was pretty busy and we were asked to wait for a table. There is a sitting room upstairs which is where we waited until a table was available for us. The menu at the restaurant was printed in the style of an Italian newspaper with the dishes displayed in boxes amongst stories.

I had garlic bread with cheese as a starter and flounder with shrimp in blue cheese sauce as a main course. All washed down with a beer. It was really lovely and very filling. We decided not to have desserts and just to head back to the hotel.

We sat in the cafe/bar area and ordered a beer each. Our main topic of conversation during the evening was skidooing, unsurprisingly. I think we were all hooked on it.

I asked Shaun, the barman, who we knew had lived in England for a while, and spoke with an african accent, how he came to be in Iceland. He said that when he was at school in Namibia he had a friend whose family was Icelandic and so he’d seen pictures of it. I asked him whereabouts in Namibia he came from and he told me Swakopmund, which is where Richard Gossow (a contractor at Glaxo Wellcome – a member of my project team) is from. So, of course, I mentioned Richard’s name. It turns out he his a big friend of Richard’s sister – small world.

We were all shattered and so at about 11.45pm we called it a day and went to bed.

Day 3 – Sunday 18th April

We got up later than yesterday and met up for breakfast at around 9.20. The lads went off to have showers and sort themselves out whilst Amanda and I tried to put together a plan for the day. The owner of the hotel was very helpful and gave us some good advice, including a restaurant recommendation for this evening.

The first thing we did was to go up the tower of Hallgrimskirkja. We were a bit unsure as to whether we’d be allowed up as it was 10.40am and their Mass started at 11am. They seemed very happy to take our 200Krone and so we took the lift to the top. The bells were ringing for Mass as we went up in the lift and we could feel the bells resonating. The lift took us up to the same level as the clock face. We needed to walk up a flight of stairs to get to the bells and the windows. There is a great view across the expanse of Reykjavik so we took lots of photos. The big bell started ringing whilst we were up there which was very loud.

We then walked down into the town via restaurant suggested earlier. I booked us a table for 8.30 although the booking was made in the name of Fotherdo as Fothergill was obviously far too difficult for the Icelandic lady to cope with.

As we were walking down towards the pond and the music tower we got accused of being german by some drunken lands with cries of “Heil Hitler” and “Iceland, Iceland Uber Alles”. We arrived at the lake and stood and watched the ducks and swan swimming, and doing skid landings onto the ice. We walked around the pond and down towards the harbour. We went into the covered market which was another place the owner of the Hotel Leifur Eirikson had suggested we take a look at.

We then started to walk back through the main shopping area towards hotel. Amanda and Chris popped into a supermarket to get a couple of donuts for their lunch. Rich and I decided to try our the 24 hour snack menu at the hotel, and so contented ourselves with toasted cheese and ham sandwiches which proved to be very tasty, all washed down with a small beer.

We went back to our rooms to rest, and I started looking through the Lonely Planet guide and the leaflets I’d picked up and I discovered that at 3pm there was an exhibition in town called “The Volcano Show”. We decided to go along and it transpired to be two films about the volcanic history of Iceland. The first one was a general film about volcanos in Iceland generally. The second one was much more interesting as it featured only the eruption of the volcano on Heimamy, one of the Westman Islands, and how the town had suffered, especially as the eruption lasted for 18 months. The other aspect of the second film was all about the creation of the island of Surtsey due to a 1963 eruption. I learnt a lot during the films, like for instance, Reykjavik has a minor earthquake every 3 weeks as it is directly on the planes affected by the continental shift.

We headed back to the hotel and had chance of a snooze before dinner.

I bought three postcards – two to send (general pictures of Iceland) and one to keep of Landmannalaugar in summer time. It seems very strange to look at the place where we stood, with snow deeper than our knees during summer when there is no snow at all.

We wandered down to the “Insert Name Here” restaurant and had a really good meal. I had garlic bread with cheese as a starter. Rich had orly shrimps in batter with toast and they were absolutely wonderul. For my main course I went for the pan fried rouvet (white tuna) in mushroom sauce, this was absolutely lovely too.

We got the bill and wandered back to the hotel and had a beer before bedtime. We decided that we would settle up the bill this evening as it would save us a job at 5 tomorrow morning.

We started to pack our bags to save us a job in the morning, and I was pleased to note that I’d brought just about the right number of clothes for the weekend.

Then time to sleep.

Day 4 – Monday 19th April

After a bad nights sleep (constantly waking up to check the time) we got up at 5am and were picked up at 5:25am. The journey to the airport was uneventfull. Weather very cloudy and not what we’ve come to expect over the last few days. It has definitely got warmer during our time here and some of the snow has melted away.

We got to the airport, checked in and went through security and into departures. We found the cafe place and had a cup of tea and chocolate croissant thing. Then took ourselves down to gate 3 and waited for the plane to board.

We boarded the plane at around 7:40 and this time didn’t have a spare seat next to us. Instead I appeared to be sitting next to a member of the French Resistance.

Shortly after take-off newspapers were brought around and then breakfast was served. Cheese omelette, tomato and bacon and potato cubes. Quite tasty. Icelandair seem to be pretty good and there is a reasonable amount of leg room.

After our breakfast, Rich was reading “Letters From Iceland” by W.H.Auden and Louis MacNeice and I was reading “Moon Country – Further reports from Iceland” by Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell.

We had a slightly bumpy landing into a 6 degree C Heathrow at 11:50am and made our way off the plane, through Passport control, through customs and into arrivals. We couldn’t be bothered to get the tube and so got into a black cab. The bloke at the Taxi information point in Arrivals had estimated it costing us £18 but in the end it cost £23. Still, it got us back to Ealing in one piece.

We all piled into my car and I drove Amanda and Chris to GW so they could collect their car from the car park. Then back into Ealing for us to drop the photos off to get developed. They can be collected tomorrow after work.

Author: jane

Software Developer, Photographer and Snowboarder