{31/08/2012}   Impromptu nights out

Last night, having finished work earlier than expected at 4.50pm, I texted a good friend of mine, who I knew probably wasn’t at work, to see if she could meet me for a pre-dinner drink or two.  By 5.25pm we were both outside London Bridge station and headed off to Cooperage on Tooley Street.  As my work is so unpredictable, I appreciate last minute plans more than most people.  It’s also really great to be able to go out with a friend and have a drink (or a meal) when you are 100% in the mood for going out.  I love it when a last minute plan comes together!

We were only out for an hour and three quarters but that time was so much better than a phone call, or more likely with us when we don’t meet, a few text exchange catch ups.  I wish my social life could more often be like this, it suits my work life and my mind set.  Sometimes I have longstanding plans to meet friends, but on the day I’m really tired or finish work late or just want to get home and slob.  But without planning, I can easily see there is a chance that you won’t get to see some people and could end up with no friends available for last minute plans and/or not seeing anyone for ages.

It’s like new year’s eve; a lot of people feel they have to have something planned months in advance, but when the night draws near other options come up, you feel less inclined to go to whatever it is you’ve booked and, worst of all, you get apprehensive about the night because it’d be horrible to have a rubbish night out after you’ve spent so long planning it.

I’ve had quite a few exceptional nights out for new year’s eve, many of which have been left to the last minute to plan.  One such new year’s eve was planned either 30th or 31st December and ended with a group of five of us eating a chiminea-cooked feast (so all cooked outdoors!), drinking lots of bubbly and playing games.  No pressure, just a group of people who hadn’t really planned what to do.  No expectations can lead to great things, I reckon.

I also like the fact that when things aren’t planned in advance, when a meet-up happens there is a sense of jubilation that such a plan could work so your evening is already a success in terms of making you feel good, which largely is what meeting friends is about.  Going on holiday to Somerset last year, I drove near Winchester, around where two friends live who I shared a hall of residence with in my first year at university.  We keep in touch but rarely meet up.  I contacted one of the friends in Winchester maybe two or three days before I knew I’d be passing on my way back to see if she’d be around.  Not only was she around and happy to have us all visit, our other nearby friend was also free.  Any attempts for more than two of us from that particular group of four to meet had failed and not even been initiated for years.  We had a really lovely afternoon that I bet wouldn’t have happened had we organised it weeks or months in advance.

Still buzzing from a lovely catch-up last night, I have a few people in mind to try next time I finish work early or have free time in central London.  And hopefully someone will try to get hold of me at a last minute opportune moment too!


{30/08/2012}   Post-holiday

I am now into week two of being back from a lovely holiday.  Unusually for me, I am still feeling quite laid back and, particularly going by yesterday’s sloppy “whatever” attitude to work, I am not yet in work mode.  Admittedly, I have had more time off as I’ve had friends visiting and courts are still largely on holiday but I am still clinging desperately to a not-seen-enough chilled out me.

As I so often hear, you need a holiday to recover from a holiday.  I’ve not really had that problem this year, though it may have helped that I only had one day’s work the first week I was back and because I had friends staying I knew I had to unpack, wash, tidy, clean, etc, so kind of did it without the usual stress and procrastination.  I also took the opportunity to wash most of my clothes while on holiday, meaning some clothes were merely transferred from suitcase to wardrobe, a huge novelty.

Also, I always love getting home, sleeping in my own bed, having a large choice of clothes (fortunately holiday clothes usually cater for a different climate than home so even if there’s washing to be done, you still have a full season-appropriate wardrobe), having cat-pleased-to-see-me affection and a really, really good mug of tea.

However, while contemplating how it is that I still feel a bit like I’m in holiday mode, I have realised a few other things, namely that I am writing this from my second adopted home, in London, so I am not faced with a washing basket of clothes, sheets and towels, I didn’t check email while away and still haven’t addressed or even read a lot of emails, I have managed not to do a big supermarket shop (meaning I haven’t spent a huge amount of money in one foul swoop or had to find homes for all the myriad things I convince myself I’d been starved of while on holiday – I treat shop big time after a holiday – and I don’t have a fridge or kitchen full of perishables that in reality I won’t have time or inclination to eat before they expire and I am burdened with the guilt of wasted food (yes, this really is how my post-holiday world rolls!)) and it’s school holidays, the Paralympics and I got a seat on the train in both morning and evening rush hour.  It’s all good really.

I have known some friends to fly back home in the morning and go straight in to work.  I can see that recovering from jetlag and lack of sleep is better done while being paid and not losing a day’s precious holiday, but surely that must merely serve to eradicate all sense of holiday relaxation.  I like to have time to sort my stuff and de-holiday slowly while at the same time enjoying being in my own space.

I had a memorably relaxing holiday in Iceland and I should shut up about all this and just enjoy the fact that a week and a half later I still feel the benefits of having been away.  I am of course planning future holidays in my spare time now: Denmark next month and Reykjavik for new year … if all goes to plan!

Sunday, 19th August 2012

I hadn’t planned to write anything today as I didn’t think I’d do much on my last morning, but I think I can eke out a small post!

I got up, had breakfast and finished packing.  By this point I’d decided that I would have my final swim, the ninth consecutive swim of my holiday, so packed my swimming stuff and left my case and heavy camera bag for my host to collect for me.

I left the flat at around 9.30am.  It was a beautifully clear morning so I could see the glacial mountain, towns, islands, mountains, etc, really clearly.  I walked along the waterfront then to Laundromat café for a coffee.  The restaurant is hip and trendy but welcoming, in part because of the huge number of books around, and there is also a funky laundromat there as well as a spectacular children’s play area, but the service was painfully slow (especially considering there were only about four tables occupied and there were at least four waiting staff around) and the cappuccino I had was too milky and the chocolate on top was very, very sweet hot chocolate.  Disappointing start.

So I headed to Kaffitár, a chain that I think does really good coffee, and my coffee confidence was restored.  I then headed back to the coast to continue the walk to Laugardalslaug, the biggest of the Reykjavik pools that I’d been to earlier in the week.  The sea was calm, the scenery was clear and there was a ruddy great yacht anchored in the bay.  I was obsessed with the yacht, it was so beautiful.  I later discovered that it is a superyacht owned by Paul Allen (Microsoft co-founder) and can take two helicopters, two submarines, jet skiis … yeah, somewhat out of my league and comprehension!

I can increasingly see why not writing today would have been a good idea as there were no adventures or much more to report other than, “and then I went …”!

I had a lovely swim and hot tub soak, which again rendered me weak and feeble.  Unsurprisingly, I walked back by the sea, ogled the yacht some more and made a bee line for the old harbour to get sushi, which I ate in the sun sitting on a rock looking across the harbour.  I then, cleverly, hot footed it to Sandholt, the lovely bakery in town, and got provisions for my 5.50pm flight.

With a brief sit down in front of Hallgrímskirkja, the iconic Lutheran church atop Reykjavik, I walked to the bus station, BSI, and met Hordur and my bags before catching the bus to the airport.

The rest was even less eventful so I will end here.

In brief: I love Iceland, it has never disappointed me and it is a joy to visit.  I also love that even when the weather is bleak there are things to do and enjoy and I can still be in awe of the scenery.  But when the sky is blue and the sun is out, it is about 300 times better, stunning.  But possibly most of all, I love that Iceland has, as ever, made me feel unbelievably relaxed and calm.  Long may that last.

Saturday, 18th August 2012

I need to stay alert for another hour and 20 minutes so I can walk to the harbour to see the fireworks at 11pm.  I am eating an unexpectedly tasty chocolate coated wafer and drinking a herbal tea that promises to invigorate.  The rest of the city is probably out drinking beer.  It was really, really busy in Reykjavik today for the Culture Day; a really buzzy, friendly, lively and noisy atmosphere with live music or DJs playing everywhere possible.

I saw a makeshift bar set up in a wool shop in town.  They appeared to be giving out free alcohol.  On closer inspection, the wine was boxed Liebfraumilch, but I was even up for that.  I ended up with a free bottle of beer as I wandered around the shop looking at wooly jumpers.  Most surreal.  And there was a DJ playing pumped up Rod Stewart.  I thoroughly enjoyed that little interlude.

There were lots of bands, though I didn’t know any of their names and on the stage I didn’t know if it was advertising, sponsorship or the band’s name written there, so much confusion as to who was what!

Embracing the art scene (not that I knew I was going to be embracing art until I was committed), I queued for about 25 minutes to get on a steely grey (ie very official) Fishery Inspection boat, assuming it would be an interesting opportunity to see inside this massive boat.  At no point did I think or was it suggested (albeit that most people were Icelandic thus I couldn’t understand a thing) that I was queuing for anything other than a snoop.  It was a hot day today (about 18 degrees and sunny).  About 15 of us were led along the side of the boat and into it, then down some stairs and along a very narrow grey corridor with no windows and which was hot (the outside wall of the ship was really hot – sun) and on a par with a sauna (no kidding).  I don’t know if any of the Icelandic people knew what to expect.  We were led into what was probably the front of the ship as in the middle of the floor was a sort of hole through which a massive chain, presumably attached to an anchor, was visible.  At no point were any lights used beyond a torch so you didn’t trip over a high step.  We all assembled in the “room”.  It was very dark except for some lights on some of the grey ship panels.  Then it started.  It was a light and sound display, art I believe.  It was very clever.  The lights matched the many shapes of that part of the boat, so a white light would spread up a pipe of the same size for example.  It lasted maybe ten minutes and was impressive for its unexpectedness and weirdness but also for the precision of the light display to map the features of the “room”.  I was glad I’d queued, having followed a few other people!

I then went into the relatively new concert hall, Harpa, which I had previously only ever seen from a distance.  It was designed by architects and an artist, the latter being the Icelandic-Danish bloke who did the big sun/weather installation at the Tate Modern almost ten years ago.  It is absolutely incredible inside and outside, especially as today it was full of people and full of live music!  The windows are all segmented and some are slightly coloured.  It looks kind of like ice or water and seems even more amazing in photographs.  I am ashamed to say I had never wandered into the building before.  In terms of its purpose, it reminded me of the South Bank Centre, lots of different spaces, seating areas all over the place and open for all.

I listened a bit to two different groups of musicians in there, then listened to two outside, one a bit Chemical Brothers and the others quite pop rock with a hint of classical.  Wandering around the streets was amazing as the roads were closed to traffic and it seemed as if the whole of Iceland and chunks of France and America were all congregating in the capital.  There were all kinds of performers around, music from almost every open doorway and street corner and a whole host of food stands.  Plus it was sunny.  I’d been to the harbour earlier and it was like a busy Greek resort where people were wearing more clothes but otherwise ignoring the fact it wasn’t in the 30s but rather in the upper 10s! 

I had a disappointing coffee that gave me a tummy ache (always a bad sign – Starbucks do that to me too) then went to the flea market again.  I bought some smoked salmon to take home.  Every time I’ve been to that stall, Depla, I’ve wondered what the white nougat-resembling coating is on one kind of fish.  Today I found out: a type of cheese marinade on smoked trout.  It’s very white and does appear to have thin slices of nuts on it and really does look like nougat.  I didn’t buy any!

So that was my afternoon.  My morning was very different!  I slept really badly last night and was very sluggish in the morning.  I set off at about 9.30am for another swimming pool, quite a walk away and technically out of Reykjavik.  I got to the road that runs by the sea and was greeted by the 8.30am-start marathon!  It was so different to the London marathon; hardly any spectators (about four), Powerade being offered as the free drink, which left the air around the hand-out point, smelling sweet, cars still on the road (though not for the first round – I think they ran at least three times the same route) and pan lids being the go-go-go sound!  There were runners, walkers, people running while pushing children in buggies, people cycling alongside and a wheelchair user speeding past a lot of people (though that was at the 8km mark, so I’m not sure if he managed to sustain those speeds!).  I would have felt mildly inferior in sporting terms had it not been for the fact I was walking about a mile and a half for a swim (I made sure my towel was on display!).

As I got to the pool, the sun seemed to be making progress through the misty cloud.  The pools were almost empty and it was a lovely pool, the one with water that helps skin problems (I am seriously baby soft at the moment!).  I swam a few lengths, while the marathon runners ran right alongside the pool, did the rounds of three different hot tubs (the latter being 40-45 degrees and which I endured for fewer seconds than degrees) then, aware the sun was surrounded by blue sky, I positioned myself in one of the large shallow pools with my face to the sun.  And there I stayed for about 30 minutes.  I have discovered that my head, slightly off-centre, has a good flat area perfect for resting my head face up to the sky.  It was this flat area that largely held me in place as I largely floated in the salty pool water.  It was a real “life is good” time.  I am hoping to develop a fisherman’s tan but it hasn’t seemed to have formed quite yet.

On leaving the pool I stopped at a bakery in an attempt to try local delicacies.  I ordered something that ended up being very good.  Kind of like a bakewell tart but no pastry, just almost meringuey almondy bits, gooey in the middle, with a lick of red berry jam.  Rather lovely.  I had that sitting on some lava rocks just above the beach.  I secured myself a rather large, well-angled rock looking out to sea.  I wrote a letter sitting there with the sun on my back and the runners behind.  Then, almost an hour later, weird things happened with the weather and this bizarre low fog cloud quickly, in seconds, crept over and it was suddenly chilly so I climbed down the rocks below and onto the beach and walked along the sand.  There was a lot of sand-ground glass on the beach, I’m not sure how or why.  It was really pretty and the sea was so still.  Then the fog sort of cleared and suddenly you could see mountains, islands and another town again.  Very odd.

I then went to the flat, had lunch, and headed out to the festivities.  I also managed to sneak in an extra Sea Baron post-lunch meal, though instead of a third lobster soup I had prawns and scallops.  The sun is still lingering at 9.52 pm which is helping me prepare myself for my departure in less than an hour.  I may need to wear my new Icelandic wool cardigan as I expect the temperature will have dropped considerably from the 18 degree peak indicated earlier (it may have got a bit warmer during the day but I don’t think so).

I had hoped to go swimming tomorrow but on Sunday the local pool doesn’t open until 11am.  I think I will have my first shower in a flat instead, though I would like a final swim.  The flat owner is letting me leave my bags here, he’ll then put them in his car when he comes to prepare the flat for the next guests and meet me at the bus station at 2.15pm, 15 minutes before my airport bus leaves, with my case.  So helpful.

Tomorrow, I will either walk around (I might take my towel and costume just in case) or sit around, but either way I will spend the morning at leisure before heading for the airport and my non-holiday life.

I am so, so glad I stayed up to see the fireworks.  The walk by the sea to get to the harbour at dusk was lovely and the sun had left a red glow to the west across the sea beyond some mountains.  There were loads of people around and it was buzzy.  I didn’t know where exactly the fireworks would be but I’d seen photos of fireworks displays and people seem to watch them from a grass bank on one side of the harbour.  I decided to stay on the other side of the harbour and walked up the harbour arm with quite a few other people.  I sort of ended up following some people onto a boat whale museum and, undisturbed, with no one jostling my view, I watched the fireworks from across the sea.  It was amazing and I loved it.  They were a bit late starting because a free concert was still going on outside – it was so noisy and the crowd could be heard cheering and singing along – and its finale wasn’t until shortly after 11pm.  Then, with the crowd still cheering and clapping, the fireworks began.  I loved it and it was fantastic to be front row with just the sea and a boat between me and the fireworks.

I even enjoyed walking back as it still wasn’t properly dark and even though there was a torrent of vehicles driving out of Reykjavik, someone always stopped the traffic to let me cross roads.  A very enjoyable and kind of apt last night in Reykjavik.

Friday, 17th August 2012

It’s 6pm and if I manage to stay awake long enough to write this, it will be a small miracle.  I think I had deep sleep that was occasionally interrupted and I woke too early, actually around 6am again, though I didn’t hear any untoward sounds!

I went to a new swimming pool today.  It had an outdoor lane and splash-around pool and five hot tubs.  I got there at about 8.30am and was greeted with an almost empty pool.  I did a few lengths, again in a pool longer than I’m used to, so after four lengths I deemed myself leaden-armed and adequately exercised.  I then rewarded myself with a very long soak in a 36-38 degree hot tub, then in a 38-40 degree hot tub with gentle bubbles.  I could have slept, it was so warm and snug feeling and nobody else came into either tub with me.  I wore a swimming hat.  I figure my hair has had enough salt, sulphur, etc, but I look absolutely awful in a swimming hat; it makes me feel like I’m in disguise to look as dreadful as possible.  But at least my hair came out of it 95 % dry.

On my walk back, I felt exhausted, like every step were an effort.  I think it is the hot tubs that do me in, I really can’t function when I get that hot, I just slow down.  I got back to the flat and had a very brief lie down before heading into town.  I had coffee and finished a letter in a lovely 1960s/1970s living room style café, Stofan, wandered, had more lobster soup (yummety yum!), went into a few shops and, guess what, I did it, I bought a wooly jumper (sort of!). 

I had a bit of a shopping spree today, which I put down to deciding not to go on a whale spotting boat trip.  I went on a whale spotting trip the first time I came to Iceland and we were treated with a pod of orcas and some minke whales.  I got lots of photos of almost unidentifiable whale body parts and sea.  But in terms of seeing the whales we saw, only seeing the tail of a big whale could top that and I fear the odds of that are slim.  I’m so trying to justify my spending spree!

I came here with two items of foot wear, my trusty old walking boots (one of which sunk with me into some volcanic mud at the glacier and look even worse than they did before) and a pair of what were once comfy slip on trainer type shoes without laces or style.  The latter were what I wore out for round one of my walk about but the pads of my feet got a bit sore.  On getting back to the flat I discovered the inner and outer soles were virtually meeting.  My walking boots, which had me slipping more than I would have thought right with Vibram-soled boots, have, it would appear, come to the end of their useful life.  The soles are smooth in places, there are a few leaky areas and the shoe lace holders (eyes?) are rusty.  You can see where I’m going with this!  I am now the proud owner of a pair of bright plummy pink Scarpa Vibram-soled light walking shoe/trainers.  They are fab.  I will also be throwing out my other shoes.  This is all good as it will mean my case is a little lighter to carry other things!

My favourite purchase was of two CDs.  I went into a music shop and asked the man working there what Icelandic music he would recommend that had “pretty music”.  He gave me about 20 CDs, a CD player and headphones.  I was in there about three quarters of an hour listening to them, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I had three in my big yes pile, three in my maybe pile and the rest were no.  I ended up buying two.  I am quite into Keane at the moment and I think both kind of reflect that current interest but I got Of Monsters and Men “My Head is an Animal”, English lyrics, and Lockerbie “Ólgusjór”, Icelandic lyrics.

And finally, a woolen top!  I know, I know, I vowed not to look at any more as they really, really don’t suit me.  But this one is quite, ahem, stylish.  It’s a zip up cardi that covers my bottom.  It’s black, 100% wool and, get this, it has a reindeer pattern!  It’s not quite Colin Firth in Bridget Jones; I would say it has style.  Anyway, it was staggeringly cheap.  Usually over £100, I got it for the bargain price of £30.  I feel it will be a winter staple, though I might tire of the reindeer pattern!

I have just finished a mug of tea and I am feeling a little more alert.  I went to the fishmonger on Freyjugata, near the Hotel Odinsve, and bought ling for my dinner.  As with every Icelandic person I’ve encountered, the fishmonger’s English was excellent and he even went through what all the fish were and a bit about how they taste.  I am also poised to watch at least one film from Hordur’s absolutely amazing DVD collection.  He has so many films I want to see, mostly foreign films.  The first one I want to watch is the film of the book I recently read and loved: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.  With the film, I shall be eating leftovers from my fish and “chips” yesterday, fried tomatoes (cheapest veg (fruit) I could get that weren’t frozen), and ling.  All that will be washed down with my Polar Beer – what a great name for a beer!

I watched the film.  It was good and the scenery was lovely, but the book had so much more detail and was a much better developed story.

 Thursday, 16th August 2012

Today was the hottest day of the year here, around 23 degrees!  It was positively scorcio, largely blue sky and everyone seemed even happier than normal, though some sheep I saw were huffing and puffing like they’d been left in a sauna with triple layers of wooly jumpers on, poor blighters.  I had two sheep bonding moments today.  I petted one rather pretty little ewe (I think – she didn’t have horns and was quite girlie pretty), then had a long stroke with a four-horned ram, such a softie.  I was somewhat in awe of his headgear though, it must be ever so heavy and cumbersome.

This morning it was really, really foggy/misty so the mountains and some of the islands off where I was staying were well hidden.  But the sun was lurking, breaking its way through the fog.  It was also quite warm.  After sitting on the boardwalk drinking my mug of tea, I decided to write a card sitting on the rocks above the beach area.  It was such a lovely spot.  As it was low tide, loads of birds were out and about, chirruping, squawking and twittering, I watched containers being loaded onto a cargo ship, the sun slowly burnt away most of the fog and there was some low level grey stuff, which I convinced myself (based on something that was once pointed out to me here) was volcanic ash.  Far more exciting and interesting to think it was that than merely fog.

I sat out there for an hour or so, by which time it was apparent it was going to be a lovely day.  I got my stuff sorted – camera, swimming stuff, change of clothes, just-in-case layers – and headed off to a nearby ethnographic museum, Árbæjarsafn.  Good choice of museum as most of the visit was spent outside petting sheep, looking in wonder at the cute foal and calf and walking between houses.  I’ve been to that museum before and I love it.  I really like snooping around houses and, like the house I visited yesterday in Stykkishólmur, it gave me all kinds of housey ideas.  I even took a very specific photograph of old mechanics’ tools neatly hung up that I’d like to make into a card for a particular friend.

I walked around most houses on my own, which I really appreciated, but every now and then I caught the tail end of one of two groups.  For a small group of Icelandic children, I walked in one of the staff roleplaying a strict housewife (a guess), complete with ye olde outfit, shooeing the children out of the house.  She then pelted back into the house and started undressing.  She didn’t seem too bothered about my presence, though I was sniggering.  She peeled off those clothes to reveal another period costume, then ran out to the next house!  I wonder how many outfits she had on, she looked well padded!

By the time I left the museum it was maybe 12.30 so I got my lunch from the car (tuna sandwiches and a herbal tea I’d put in my mug flask thing) and walked to a salmon fishing river and sat with some ducks to eat my lunch.  I gave one a bit of my sandwich but he totally dismissed it.  I then did the dreadful thing I always do when I see ducks, I think about crispy duck pancakes.  I hate that I do that because I like ducks, they have such pretty faces and feathers and their bums are so sweet when they bob their heads below the water (Kaori, if you are reading this, I thought of you as they did that!).

It was all very idyllic as the weather was glorious and I felt relieved to be outdoors and not driving all day.  I then decided to postpone my swim and head to a place just off the main road to the airport as I’ve often gone past it and thought how pretty it looked, Halakot.  I had a bit of a photo frenzy out there and couldn’t stop eating crowberries, which were growing rampantly!  I saw no other cars or people while I was there.  It’s an area of lava fields with a few houses right by the sea, the beach of which is lava stones, grey rocks, black sand and lots of different colours of seaweed.  I stayed there an hour or so and lay on a massive bit of lava and almost fell asleep.  The tide was very slowly coming in and the sea was calm so it was a very gentle, soothing sea sound.  As usual, lots of birds, each type making its distinctive sound.  I also saw a few empty urchin shells, some enormous mussel shells and, unexpectedly, a dark gingery red stoat type animal running across the seaweed.  I guess it was after eggs, but I wasn’t expecting a creature like that to run in front of me! 

I photographed a house I have coveted for a while.  In my mind it is picture perfect: a tall muted red house, kind of square and simple, with grass and lava fields around it, Icelandic horses standing by the house, the sea behind and, across the sea, quite a long way away, the glacial mountain I was near to yesterday.

After my sunbathing, photographing and wandering in amazement stop there, I headed for a new swimming pool.  I was quite impressed that I found it, but on closer inspection, new and lovely though it looked, all the pools were indoors and the outdoor hot tubs were far too crowded.  So I drove to the big pool in Reykjavik, Laugardalslaug, which I didn’t have to pay for thanks to my new friend from another swimming pool who gave me what I now know is a 20-swim pass valid until 2014.  It was a bit disappointing as it was absolutely packed.  However, it was still lovely.  It’s been improved since last September.  Where there was concrete outside to walk on around the pools, now there is this really cool kind of almost bouncy sand-coloured foot massagey, erm, stuff.  It looks and feels really good.  There are also a few new small pools, one with floating pads under a rope hanging bridge so you can try to hang on while landing on a pad.  It appears that that pool is for children but it looked a lot of fun!  There are also more slides and a pool of naturally heated Atlantic Ocean water.  I tasted the water in that pool to check it was salty and it was.  Yet it was Caribbean in terms of clarity and heat (actually, it was 40 degrees, which I suspect is somewhat warmer than even the Caribbean – pah, who needs a Caribbean island when you have Iceland?!).

I did another few lengths in the longer-than-I’m-used-to outdoor pool.  I was exhausted.  I think I overheated in the hot tubs (I even ventured into the 44 degrees hot tub, at which point I was, and stayed for some time, far hotter than my body could endure) so it was good to swim in the cooler pool, but I have no endurance when it comes to swimming and I could feel my leaden arms doing very little to progress me down the length of the pool.

I then drove home.  Though can I say that I was somewhat proud of myself for navigating my way around then across Reykjavik with only a few frantic map-clutched-to-the-steering-wheel moments.  I know Reykjavik is a small capital city, roughly the size of Ipswich, but it’s potentially hard to navigate because I can’t pronounce or spell places and I don’t know districts, which is kind of how a lot of roads are signposted.  Plus I have a crappy tourist map, having failed to ever find a proper A to Z type of map.  Pat on the back to me.

Once at the flat, I had just under an hour to finish cleaning and packing.  All that was done and I had time for tea and biscuits on the boardwalk again before Steinar arrived and drove me to the bus station where Hordur picked me up!  Very smooth.

I am now at Hordur’s flat.  Both flats are very “bachelor” in style.  This one has a handsome kitchen.  The last one had an extraordinarily fancy TV.  This flat is located about 15 minutes on foot to the centre of town and about two minutes from the sea.

As soon as I got here and had a look around, Hordur left.  I then realised I had no idea where I was, no address, nothing.  Fortunately, I knew very vaguely what area the flat was in and I knew where the sea was.  So I had a sunny evening walk along the sea front to the harbour where I got takeaway spelt battered cod, rosemary salted potatoes and spinach, mango and coconut salad from “Icelandic Fish and Chips”.  I took it home, having downed a small beer while waiting for the food to be prepared (it took ages) and drank it with a Coca Cola.

Now, I do not often drink cola, especially not near my bed time, but I read the other day that Coca Cola here tastes better than anywhere else as they use Icelandic water instead of corn syrup.  I am not a cola connoisseur but chilled and with a truly exceptional meal, it tasted fan-bloody-tastic!  If I remember and if I feel like being a taste geek, I might buy a small bottle at the airport and do a blind tasting of colas to see if I can notice a difference.  It’s unlikely I’d notice.  But this one really did taste good, not so artificial.

(On returning to the UK with a bottle of Icelandic Coca-Cola, Chris and I did a blind taste test – identical plastic bottles of drink drunk from identical glasses and from the same fridge – of Icelandic and British Coca-Cola and Pepsi cola.  We both agreed the taste hierarchy.  Pepsi and UK cola were similar but the UK Coka-Cola was a little less watery and artificial tasting, putting Pepsi into third place.  The Icelandic cola had a shockingly different, superior taste!  It was actually nice and had a more natural, subtle sweetness!)

Looking out the window at 10.33 pm, it’s still not fully dark.  I think I could like the almost 24-hour daylight in May to July, though even with it being this late I have developed a complete inability to judge what time it is based on the light (there have not been many sun sightings prior to today, hence “light” rather than “sun”!).

As for tomorrow, I will be walking the streets of Reykjavik and going for day seven’s swim.  I have found two pools relatively near where I’m staying and I’ve never been to either.  I’m also looking forward to a proper coffee in town.  Oh, it’s just lovely to be in Reykjavik.  Well, I was in Reykjavik before but it wasn’t at all walking distance into town.  I am glad I stayed there though as it was a nice area and much easier to drive out of town.

Now to see if I can sleep well here (not too impressed by the blinds as I have serious issues with slatted blinds, ie they’re rubbish at keeping light out).  I’m wildly optimistic there won’t be neighbours above who have a daily headboard banging session at 6am though!

Wednesday, 15th August 2012

Another fantastic day in Iceland!  All went to plan and I drove to Stykkishólmur, about 180km away.  As usual, it took longer than it should have taken because I kept stopping to either gawp in wonder or to take photographs.  It’s not a beautiful country in the dreamy countryside idyll kind of way; it is dramatic, rugged and unspoilt.

I had an exceptionally deep sleep last night and was immensely indignant about being woken at 6am by headboard banging from the flat above.  It still took me about two hours before I could get out of bed.  I so rarely have a long, deep sleep that I kind of forget how long it takes to fully awaken yourself afterwards, not that I’m complaining!

The mountains I was heading for can be seen across “my” harbour.  I could see amidst the dullness that you could see all of the mountains so I figured that while sun was unlikely, high clouds were enough for it to be worthwhile.  I set off just before 9am and, with stops for petrol, a wee, to take photos, I arrived at 12pm.  As with all towns in Iceland I’ve visited outside Reykjavik, I am always surprised that each town has next to no shops.  Stykkishólmur is a pretty harbour town.  There were a few small supermarkets, a post office, an alcohol shop (you can only buy alcohol from these booze shops and not many towns have them), a very mini version of Woolworth’s (I miss Woolworth’s), at least two restaurants and at least two cafes, a craft shop … maybe the odd other shop, but not that I saw.  I walked around the harbour and up a small cliff to a small lighthouse.  The views were lovely, even though it started to drizzle around about then.  From there you can see dozens of islands/rocks and the near silence, once you’re on the other side of the cliff to the harbour and town, is interrupted only by the cries of sea birds.  It is nigh on impossible to take a photo without getting at least one sea bird in the photo.

I sat on the turf by the lighthouse looking out to sea and all the islands and ate my slightly stale flatbread and cheese.  It may not have been a gourmet lunch, but it was one of the most memorable lunch spots ever.  I took photos but they make it look like a bleak, grey seascape; to see it live is a pleasure.  It also isn’t quite the same without the bird sounds, the splashes as they dive into the sea and the distinctive smell of seaweed.

It continued drizzling from this time until I had left.  I walked back via one of the harbour front cafes where I had an ok coffee sitting outside under an awning, listening to the rain.  As had been my vague plan anyway, I picked up a tourist map to see where the swimming pool was so I could get my daily swim/hot tub fix.  On the map of the region, a c30 mile round trip detour back would take me to an area marked with pictures of seals.  I had been hoping to see seals so thought I’d make the detour.

Before going to the pool, I decided to go into a Norwegian House museum.  I don’t know what it is about visiting places that makes me feel a need to go into the odd museum.  I enjoyed it as it was small.  There was a relatively niche exhibition on about eider ducks!  I got to feel eider down in its raw state and as an extraordinarily expensive quilt.  But it really is incredible.  Each Icelandic eider down product has to be certified, they weigh next to nothing yet are unbelievably snug and warm.  I photographed the price list, I think they are as staggeringly expensive as I first worked out, a double duvet being c£3,250.  On the off chance you ever go to Stykkishólmur, I recommend that museum.  It’s a lovely house and an interesting reflection on life in Iceland in the 19th Century.  There is also a fantastic souvenir shop that smells amazing from all the teas and sweets it also sells.  I bought some lovely arty cards there.

There was a handmade craft centre in the town and there were some nice things but nothing particularly different to other shops.  For example, since THE volcano went off and disrupted air travel, there has been a lot of art made from the volcanic ash!  In that shop, as in many others, there were glass goods with patterns made within the glass from ash.  There is even a perfume “celebrating” the eruption, complete with your own chunk of lava attached to the bottle!

I then had a quick drive around in the rain before going to the pool, where there were only about six other people using the outdoor pools (and only a family of four inside).  The water in Stykkishólmur is famed for its healing properties and that pool is geothermal and … I don’t know but it’s a beacon of environmental friendliness and sustainability.  I did a few lengths in the warm, outdoor lane pool while it rained delightfully cool rain, I then lay in the shallow jacuzzi/laying-around-in pool followed by a very long almost-sleep in a 40-42 degree hot tub.  One of the nicest things about Icelandic pools is that there is little or no chlorine as they are very strict about showering before entering the pool.  Also, I have never been to an Icelandic pool that does not have outdoor pools.

I felt so relaxed after that, really good.  I stopped at the post office and bakery (where I opted for my afternoon sweet treat of deep fried something with raisins.  It was spicy and very nice, though I don’t know what it was.  Then, as the rain started to die down, I headed for the seal beach, not really convinced the map would be right.

Driving west, I was driving towards Snæfellsjökull, a stratovolcano with a glacier on top.  This mountain featured in Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth as it was where the protagonist found the entrance to the centre of the earth.  It was a very dramatic drive.  With one major upset, namely seeing a massive (I am talking swan-sized) sea bird being hit by the van in front of me and then seeing it hobble and flap on one wing and leg (no visible signs of wounding but it must have been very badly hurt to have been hit at about 80km per hour, though the van might have slowed down in anticipation of hitting it – I didn’t see it actually happen, I just wondered at first why we had almost stopped) to the other side of the road.  What got me, and really haunted me for a few hours after, was hearing the bird crying in pain and looking after the van that had hit it.  I was so upset.  As I had to drive that way, I was obviously looking to see it.  There was a large road kill bird on that side but I think I had seen that from the other direction as I remember thinking I would have to drive over it and don’t like having to do that.  So I think it had either managed to fly off or had been rescued.  That cry though, so sad and in pain.  Awful.

A few kilometres on from that was my track off to the coast, Ytri-Tunga .  A few cars were parked there.  It was a yellow sandy beach with that beautiful bluey green sea grass and grey stones.  So pretty.  The sea was clear, you could see the glacial mountain … really stunning.  Plus it was warm by then, about 4pm.  I loved it there and could happily have spent all day sitting on the beach.  Such a beautiful spot and the sea was calm and gently lapping, there were rocks and islands poking out of the sea and you could see right to the sea bed amidst all the sea weed.  Really, lovely.  A German family were leaving as I headed towards Snæfellsjökull, lured by its closer proximity and snowy-looking grandeur.  They told me to go in the other direction.  Surely not seals?

I walked where they had pointed, in the direction of a few other people.  Sure enough, there were two seals lapping up the attention on two rocks not far out to sea.  I watched them for ages and took lots of seal photos: male seal yawning, female seal looking at me, male seal flapping fin, female seal rolling over a bit … you get the picture, loads of them!  I also took lots of photos of sea birds.  They are quite distant shots but with a bit of cropping , some might resemble the birds they were!

The drive back was uneventful, but again tiring.  It’s not just the driving, it’s looking around all the time too which is tiring!  Plus, the roads I drove on were main roads, 90km/h speed limit.  Most of the roads are raised and the tarmac road has a white line, usually reflector poles by the edge of the road and the edge is an almost sheer drop, so almost like you’re constantly driving on a bridge with no sides.  Lots of concentration needed.

I got home at around 7.15pm.  It’s now 9.50pm, still light enough to not need light outdoors to read a book and I am very much looking forward to another deep sleep.  Though I did drink a can of lager that the owner of the flat left for me and it was 7%, which has gone to my head a bit!

Today, other than thinking about things related to the poor bird that got hit, I thought more about holidays, what I was dwelling on yesterday.  I realise that I hired a car because I wanted to travel.  I like travelling more than whatever the opposite of travelling is.  I like new scenery and places and not being in my home country is a holiday if only for the fact it is different.  To really see those differences, for me it’s all about seeing as much as you can of a place and trying to see places as a local would see them, which is why I love going to markets when I’m abroad.  I am on holiday because I am not at home and my daily worries are different: will I get to see seals, will the clouds cover the mountains I want to see, was that grey box a speed camera and if I buy all those scallops will I be able to eat them before I move to tomorrow’s flat (I didn’t buy them!  They were frozen and there were so many I knew I didn’t have enough meals left – £9, bargain!).  I also genuinely believe that there is something in the ground, air or water here that I feed off and thrive on; I can’t otherwise explain why I feel so relaxed and comfortable here. 

Tuesday, 14th August 2012

Today was very much a lazy holiday day.  I am currently sitting by the open harbour-front window watching terns diving for small fish that on closer inspection I can see; little slivers of mercury alerting the terns to their presence near the surface of the calm sea.  They are also squeaking, though there is probably a proper term for tern bird song!

This morning I sorted stuff (including doing a clothes wash and wishing I’d only brought half the amount of clothes), had lots of teas and finished a good book (“The Yacoubian Building”, a book about the inhabitants of the building, from very poor to very rich, in Cairo).  I then tried and failed to snooze as all the while I was thinking about things I could be doing.  I drove to a fishmonger to get my dinner (salmon – really, really fresh salmon), dropped that off then headed out to the Blue Lagoon again.  I got a bit waylaid by the scenery as the clouds were lifting and in some places clearing.

I also decided to go past the Blue Lagoon and on to Grindavik, a fishing town.  At first I was almost horrified by how ugly and industrial it was for somewhere so small.  Then I found some prettier areas.  Something I find fascinating about towns in that area is that they are built amidst lava fields.  There may be a house but around it will be a garden of lava covered in moss.  I also saw and heard something really bizarre.  While driving slowly round the harbour, I heard a kind of warning bell.  Then an almighty but muted explosion.  Within the enclosed section of the harbour was a small motorised dinghy with two men in it.  A short way from their boat, the sea was bubbling black and orange and an orange cloud expanded from the site and slowly blew away, making everywhere look orange (if you’ve ever had the eye test where they drop orange dye in your eyes, it was just like that).  Then a small boat platform approached the area and the four legs/anchors were dropped into the sea.  On the small platform was what looked like a kind of digger.  I have no idea what happened, I assume a controlled explosion, but to get what I don’t know.  At first I was convinced it was a whale but then I realised that there was no red water, it was a relatively small, largely enclosed harbour and two men in a dinghy could not be adequate to deal with a whale.  I have no idea what it was. 

I then drove off and came across a field of ponies.  I stopped the car and had a mega pony petting session.  They were so sweet and so loving the strokes.  But my hands got all horsey and I developed quite an impressive rash on the back of both hands.  A mystery to me.  But fortunately, I was en route to the magical healing Blue Lagoon and that sorted it out straight away.

So that was my day.  It was nice not to be rushing about and trying to fit too much in.  I also spent a bit of time contemplating holidays.

Ultimately, a holiday is about leaving your everyday routines and habits and staying somewhere that offers you the time to do things you don’t usually feel you have time for.  For me, this holiday was about reading, being somewhere that makes me feel inexplicably relaxed and staying in an apartment with a view.  I am having a really memorable holiday, but I have only read half a book and have been out and about for at least part of every day.  If I didn’t have a car, I would have stayed in and read a lot more.  But I have enjoyed going places in the car and I have seen a lot more than I would have without a car.  Plus, as of Thursday night I will be staying in central Reykjavik without a car so will do a lot more wandering and lazing then.

For me to sit or lie down all day and read a book (intermingled with snoozes because I am incapable of reading without snoozing) every day for a week or more probably wouldn’t suit me.  But if I were to do it, it would have to be somewhere, say a very small island, where there was nothing much else to do.  I have this slightly annoying habit of feeling that I’m missing out if I’m not out and about while on holiday.  Tomorrow, I could stay in and read.  But I have a car and there is a small town I’d like to go to tomorrow that is quite a long drive.  If it’s pouring with rain, which isn’t unlikely, I may reconsider, but I would rather do that than stay in and read.  Yet there is a part of me that does just want to stay in and read.  After all, the light and the view is lovely from here.  I feel torn and I don’t really know what I want to do.  I guess I will see what the weather is like.

On Thursday, my last day with the car, I might head up to the lava fields around Reykjanes peninsula and explore that area and go to the Blue Lagoon for the final time this trip.  But if it rains, I might not.  Holiday indecision?!  Today I felt really tired, in a nice way, and probably an indicator that I feel I’m on holiday.  It is so much easier not getting up to much when you’re somewhere different.  I should embrace the fact that to stay in here would enable me to do whatever I want rather than what usually happens, whereby chores glower at you.

Maybe it’s just your mindset that makes a holiday.  If all you want to do is sit around and read books, you can do that at home if you discipline yourself not to get distracted by chores, the phone, internet … ah, yes, my life without my mobile.  It’s wonderful and I don’t miss it.  Because I’m on holiday?  I have my laptop and there is wi fi, which I am connected to (largely for weather and opening times), but while I have contemplated having a sneaky peak at Facebook or my email, I haven’t been as sorely tempted as I would have expected and I certainly have no intention of checking until I get back to the UK.

It’s now 10pm and the sun is setting very, very slowly.  It’s still light and you could easily read a book outside in this light.  I love that the sun here sets so slowly.  It’s currently the clearest the sky has been since I got here.  Please be like this tomorrow!


Monday, 13th August 2012

I have had an amazing but exhausting day!  I don’t even know where to begin, there were too many highlights!

I chose today to do my big drive as I had read that the weather would be decent.  I left the flat at 8.10 in drizzle and after an hour’s driving it was raining quite a lot.  I contemplated turning round but I carried on on the basis that I could at least have my lunch in the car overlooking a dramatic black sand beach.

Sure enough, it did stop raining.  There was even blue sky on my way back.

I have not mastered a few things with the car, including whether or not the lights are on.  As the weather was so bad, I ended up pulling into a petrol station, filling up with petrol and checking my lights.  All ok.  It was really dark.  The cloud wasn’t even that low, it just made everywhere dark, yet ahead there were streaks of red, like sunset, only it was about 9.30 am.  All very moody.  Which suited the fact I drove near the volcano that caused all the air traffic issues a few years ago!  I stopped off for a toilet and coffee break at a remote café that was part of a dairy farm.  They were closed and I was very disappointed for it seemed suitably odd.  I carried on until I saw signs for snowmobiling.  By this stage I had realised that I could see a glacier and felt an urge to get as close to it as possible, not that I wanted to go snowmobiling on it.  I made a turn towards the glacier.  My poor Lexus was then off roading for about five kilometres!  After probably half a kilometre, I contemplated turning round, but there was not enough track for that, so I felt committed, though I had no idea how long the track went on for.  I drove down an unexpectedly steep hillock and worried about coming back up it with my non-off-road automatic car.  But the car did really well and I alternated between feeling, frankly, a bit James Bond and a bit Frank Spencer.

Finally, I arrived at the car park, a large area of scree.  There was a café.  Which was closed.  As were the toilets.  I convinced myself that being by a glacier would be cold so I over-layered, to the point I overheated enormously.  The walk was on a rubble track and as I got closer to the glacier, its enormity dazzled.  There had clearly been a lot of landslides and I was very disappointed that the blue/white glacier was largely black.  Then I realised that the landslides and black coating were all from the effects of the volcano, which was right next to it.  Bizarre.  With no nod to health and safety, we tourists scrambled up and down scree, through muddy puddles (I submerged one boot in mud) and across … oh, a glacier.  It was so strange walking on ice but on lava scree on ice.  There would be areas where there was little or no black coating, probably from all the people who had walked over it.  Sometimes it was just white, sometimes bluey white, sometimes clear with a bit of moving water below.  Amazing.  And there were ice ravines (small ones) and lots of dripping and running water.  It was a real, “pleased to meet you, Mother Nature”, type experience. 

I followed a few other people and ended up within the ice under a dripping ice bridge and into a roof-less ice cave.  To steady myself at one point, I put my hand out to the side and was strangely surprised that I had put my hand on ice.  It was all really exciting, dramatic and so far removed from my everyday life that I wanted to just sit and stare at my surroundings all day.  But, no, I had a track to make my way back along.

The car was fine all the way back, then going onto a tarmac road was so smooth and lovely.  It is very hard driving in Iceland because the scenery is so dramatic and stunning that you want to look at everything.  I did stop a few times and usually took a few pictures, but it was still very grey.

I finally got to Vik, parked opposite a café and headed excitedly for the black sand beach that was even more familiar than I expected.  It was extraordinarily windy and rain was in the air.  I headed straight for the puffin cliffs.  Oh my, I saw thousands of puffins.  Everywhere: flying, sitting, swimming, diving, playing.  They fascinate me.  I took lots of photos of distant bird blur. 

Having my lunch on the black sand beach looking across the very choppy sea and at rocky outcrops with thousands of seabirds, particularly puffins, flying about was just magical.  I was so happy.  Had my sandwich then accidentally, in my excitement, ate both bits of the Dime bar I’d bought.  I always have them when I’m in other countries and see them, but for some reason never buy them at home.  They are so good.

Reluctantly walked back to the car after about an hour or more feeling windswept and giddy.  I had a decent coffee in one of the cafes, had a nostalgia detour to the Vik campsite where my friend and I spent our first night of 14 nights camping round Iceland and headed for Dyrhólaey, where I had read that it was even easier to see puffins and from where the views across the beach were even better than Vik.  It was exceptionally windy and walking on low cliff edges was a little challenging.  But I did see puffins even closer up!  More blurry bird photos.  I then got dived at by some arctic terns and have lots of photos of terns flying toward me!  Also blurred.

I also stopped at Skógafoss, a high waterfall.  By this time, the sky was blue in that area so the lush green surrounding the waterfall, the white of the water and the blue of the sky looked beautiful.  There were, unsurprisingly, rainbows, usually two.  I saw something I have never seen before or even knew could happen: a 360 degree rainbow, ie a circle of rainbow!  I was standing on the edge of it, then I realised it was a full circle.  That happened three times.  I figured that symbolised my being in the pot of gold.

I stopped the car quite a few times around that area because the weather was so beautiful.  The glacier was even clearer, seemingly bulging over the tops of mountains and leaking down the mountains in long silver waterfalls.  I twice had to slow right down to get past a herd of Icelandic Horses.  It was quite amazing have Icelandic horses running right next to the car. 

After the second horses-in-road traffic jam, I pulled over about a mile further down the road and waited with my camera to take a photo.  The horses in the field next to me were very excited about seeing all these horses thundering past, so I decided to go to the edge of their field to bond with them.  In my excitement, I failed to associate the pretty marsh birds with their marsh habitat and promptly sunk above my boot in water.  At least the horses came fairly close though.  What I’ll do for a pony pet is quite staggering!

By around this time, with probably 80 miles still to go, I was tired and the rest of the drive seemed to take ages, in part because of a car in front going just a bit fast to overtake but slow enough to be irritating.  I then drove past a fairly remote hotel where, at my supermarket stop in Selfoss, I spotted an Icelandic gossip magazine announcing that Emma Watson had been staying there, I assume filming something nearby.

Iceland is a lot cheaper now the exchange rate is more in our favour, but I still couldn’t bring myself to buy fresh vegetables as they were either imported and expensive, Icelandic and expensive or mangy looking and expensive.  So I bought frozen vegetables.  Guess who packaged them?  Iceland!  How bizarre is that?!  They even had UK prices on, bought as you would buy them in the UK, though they weren’t reflected in the Icelandic price.

There is a town, Hveragerði, you drive through on this road, highway 1 (which goes around Iceland), where vegetables can be grown.  There is so much geothermal activity that the ground is warm enough for vegetables to grow.  The vegetables are then nurtured in greenhouses with artificial sunlight, which are kind of surreal seen from the huge mountain you drive over to get into that valley.  Today, the top of that mountain was shrouded in cloud, something I find truly bizarre.

On my return to Reykjavik, I drove straight to the swimming pool where I started off my journey, Grafarvogslaug, and met my new friend again.  She very kindly gave me a swimming pass which I can use in all Reykjavik swimming pools for 20 swims.  This so isn’t the UK.  I was really, really tired after all that driving (more than 250 miles) and sightseeing.  Icelandic pools are the perfect antidote.  I swam a few lengths in the warm outdoor pool, sort of swam in what I realise was a children’s paddling pool, lay in the jacuzzi pool, then went into three dip pools of increasing temperature.  The final hot tub is over 40 degrees.  I managed to stay in it for about 30 seconds.  I also went into the steam room and a kind of massage jet hot pool. The pools were all outdoors.  I was like the proverbial pig in shit and felt so much better afterwards.

I then drove “home” and had lamb chops, rice and Iceland frozen vegetables and more skyr cake.  Then the owner of the flat came by and I chatted to him for the past hour.

All in all, a lovely day.  I have seen puffins, ponies, a glacier, a volcano, a black sand beach, a huge waterfall, a 360 degree rainbow, lava fields, a multitude of different sea birds, sheep with their special wool that was billowing in the wind, turf-roofed houses and I have had a rather exhilarating glacier walk and off road drive and I got to relax in outdoor hot tubs.  There is very little that could have made my day better.  I love it here so much.


Sunday, 12th August 2012

I awoke at about 6am, having slept from about 10pm, nothing short of a miracle in my sleeping world.  I felt very sleepy still.  At 7am, I decided to get up and go somewhere, not wanting to miss out on anything.   I then heard the more carefree me reminding me I was on holiday and could do what I liked, including not going anywhere.  I had a lazy-feeling lie-in until about 8.40am, then made myself fried eggs and bacon for breakfast and a cheese and smoked lamb (a bit on the pungent side for my liking) mini baguette for lunch.

I decided, despite the on/off rain and persistent fairly dark cloud cover, to go to Reykjavik’s man made sandy swimming beach, Nauthólsvík.  It may be no surprise that the Icelandic water is usually far too cold for most people to go swimming.  I know there are, erm, thrill seekers out there who love an icy dip, but I am not remotely hardcore when it comes to cold water.  The sea and two pools at this beach, during its summer opening hours, are heated from naturally occurring hot water.

There was one man in a long hot tub, three children in a circular warm tub in the midst of the sand and no one in the sectioned-off area of sea lapping on the sandy beach.  It was grey, the wind was getting up and it was verging on chilly.  It’s free to use the beach, hot tubs and changing rooms.  The changing rooms are basic but functional.  I exited the changing rooms wearing my swimming costume and wrapped in my towel.  I reiterate that it was very windy and chilly.

The sea area had thin slivers of tepid water, the kind of temperature streaking usually associated with someone having wee-ed, the rest of the water varying only in degrees of coldness.  It was ok and I could have swum but it wasn’t very deep and I was worried my towel would blow away if I left it on the beach.  (It was a lightweight towel admittedly, but it really was windy!)

The three children then left the round warm tub so I went into that.  For a total of about one minute, on and off, the sun made a muted appearance so I lay in the warm water with my face to the sun and wind, thinking how glad I was I had made the effort to go there, for I was contemplating not going swimming as I felt altogether uninspired this morning.

I then heard a plane, turned round and there was a small aircraft flying very low almost directly above me!  The domestic airport runway ended almost at the sea next to the beach where I was.  Quite a few planes flew over while I was there, I felt almost like I was on St Martin (where the aircraft fly very low over the beach just before landing).

With the sun gone and the wind more ferocious, I upped the temperature by going into the long hot tub.  Ahhh, just like a bath only with a stone base and looking out to what looks like a cold beach with choppy sea beyond.  A few people walked across the beach, most of whom were wearing wintery-looking layers.  I felt quite proud of myself for having wandered around in just a swimming costume and towel.  I did have quite a display of goose bumps until I got into the hot tub though.

After maybe an hour, I decided to investigate where the joyous but not that joyful screaming was coming from.  I discovered an area of sandy beach where the sea was unheated.  I saw a few people exiting the water with very pink skin.  I paddled.  It hurt.  It was really chuffing chilly!  Cold actually, icy cold.

Once showered and, unsurprisingly, hungry, I drove to one of my favourite parts of Reykjavik, Laugames, parked and had my lunch sitting on a rock in drizzle and wind facing Reykjavik city centre across the water.  I love it there.  The coast line is rugged, black sand and pebbles mixed with lava chunks, clear water, loads of seaweed, all kinds of birds and the usual vast expanse of sky.  I wandered around for a bit then drove to my new parking area near Hlemmur bus station and walked into town.  There was no sign of Gay Pride, other than a lot of rainbow flags and suitably dressed windows and the odd road closed by a cluster of sunloungers plonked in the middle of the road.

I took lots of photos of graffiti and, my latest photographic interest, colours, eg lots of walls and brightly coloured corrugated tin.  It was lovely to be walking around Reykjavik again.  I had a peep in the window of The Icelandic Phallological Museum, a concept which horrifies me.  The “Member of the Month” was on display in the window, a distressingly large skyward-pointing giraffe penis encased in a cylinder of embalming fluid.  I also spotted a souvenir t-shirt with the museum’s name and the logo: “This Museum is not for Pussies”.  I felt somewhat prudish and that I shouldn’t be gawping, but I had a snigger to myself.  They seemed to have some rather, erm, unique souvenirs too, ranging from keyrings to hats, all featuring appendages suitable for the museum’s niche subject matter!

I managed to re-caffeinate myself at my favourite cafe, Litli Bóndabærinn , open today, though the owner (from Kent!) warned that he was using milk from special-grass cows, or some such, so the milk wouldn’t froth.  It had a distinctive flavour, which I think was ok, but possibly a bit cowy, like goat milk can be goaty.

The flea market was my main purpose for going into town today so, with a few graffiti photo opportunities, I headed straight there.  I was distracted somewhat by a slightly odd looking man sitting on a low wall with a small backpack, attached to which were maybe six different balloon dogs and animals.  I had wanted to take a photo of him but he stood up before I could move somewhere discreet.  I carried on walking but on hearing an almighty pop, I turned round.  He proceeded to unfasten each balloon animal from his backpack, lay them one by one on the pavement and stamp on them.  Quite a lot of people watched in horror, for it seemed cruel to be stamping on balloon animals.  I found it oddly disturbing, though I did get a few photos, including one of his sandaled foot poised to decimate another animal!

I got a chunk of lightly smoked salmon from the stall I love within the market, Depla, and had a wander around the large indoor market.  As usual, I convinced myself I wanted a typical icelandic wool jumper, complete with a distinctive pattern.  I have spent a long time trying these on in the past.  They do not suit me, largely because, as I see it, they are not designed for women with large busts, both because the wool is chunky and the necks are high.  I did, however, feel a need to remind myself they don’t suit me by trying some on, second hand so a bit cheaper, though the one I really liked was still c£80.  It really was lovely, sheep white with dark green neck and upper chest patterning.  So lovely.  It was my size.  But I could see it made me look more enormous than is necessary.  I put it back and didn’t look at any other jumpers.  I’m thinking my jumper obsession could be over!

The rest of my afternoon was spent wandering Reykjavik, going to some favourite places and photographing a few more places and graffiti!  Special mention, however, must be made for the lobster soup I had from Sægreifinn, Sea Baron.  I don’t like soup particularly and I don’t like any kind of fish sauce or fish liquid and certainly not fish soup, but the lobster soup from that place is an absolute joy to the tastebuds.  It’s kind of creamy yet watery, not too fishy, there’s lots of seasoning, bits of vegetable and chunks – CHUNKS – of juicy lobster.  Oh, it’s just one of the most amazing taste sensations imaginable and a mere c£6.  I ordered mine to take away as I fancied sitting in the drizzle overlooking the harbour.  While waiting in the shack, I felt privileged to see the very elderly former fisherman who started the business.  He was very slowly clearing away the plates of satisfied customers.

Sægreifinn deserves special mention for it is a most wonderful place for anyone who loves to eat fresh fish, cooked and prepared in a most simple manner: grilled kebabs.  The now-retired fisherman, many years ago (forgive the inaccuracies, I am relying on my memory after reading this a year ago), was unloading his day’s catch when some tourists approached him and asked if they could buy some fish.  Ever eager to make a bit of extra money, the fisherman agreed.  It then transpired the tourists wanted it cooked.  They had seen his stove outside his fishing shack, which was used by him to cook his own fish.  He agreed, cooked their fish and, fuelled by their enthusiasm for the delicious fish, he made his fishing shack into a place for people to come and eat fresh fish.  To call it a restaurant would, in my mind, do it an injustice.  You enter the small cabin and on your left is a basic refrigerated shelving unit, on which are placed white trays piled with skewers of raw fish or vegetables with food identifiers (in Icelandic and English).  You choose the fish on a skewer (today there were scallops, prawns, minke whale (blee), salmon, Blue Ling, pollock, cod and maybe two others) and it is then taken to the grill to be cooked.  As well as the fish, you can also get skewers of potatoes and of vegetables.  There is a vacuum pump flask of coffee that’s free to customers and plenty of clean, fresh Icelandic tap water.  As for my takeaway, it came in a plastic tub, nesting in a small, deep foam tray and all covered in foil.  I also got a bag of warm baguette, a pack of butter, a plastic knife and a plastic fork.  I sat by the harbour and couldn’t help but emit the odd contented sigh as I savoured the delicious hot lobster soup.  It even brings a smile to my face as I write this!

It took about two hours to dawdle back to the car, via a few shops and down a few graffiti-adourned alleyways.  I sometimes get a bit obsessed with one type of souvenir when I’m away.  Last time I was in Reykjavik, I couldn’t stop looking at anything made of fish skin.  This time, I am obsessed with salt.  I bought four different kinds of salt, based on the fact I really love the one I bought last time.  That one is salt soaked in wild berry sap and with dried berries in the mix.  It leaves a lovely taste.  Today’s salt goodies are: rhubarb and angelica salt (“sea salt marinated in organic rhubarb sap and sea salt infused with wild angelica sap, angelica leaf and seed and dry organic rhubarb”), kelp and garlic salt, arctic herb salt with moss and thyme and the one I had before, “sea salt marinated in blueberry and crowberry sap with dry bilberry, crowberry, rowanberry and juniper berry”.  Yums.

Wow, pretty much a whole paragraph on my new interest in salt!

It’s now 9.45 pm and I am half watching the slow sunset, despite it largely being cloudy still.  I am now sitting on the doorstep of the flat looking straight onto a kind of boardwalk, below and beyond which is the sheltered sea of the small harbour, land with a few houses and trees beyond that and a mountain that up until now has been obscured by cloud.  There are other islands I can see and tips of land in the distance.  I am used to hearing the noisy, course sound of seagulls in Folkestone.  Here, there are seabirds that make pretty, tuneful sounds.  Without the sound of cars crossing the water to the sort of island across the harbour, it would be quiet save for the birds.  I can also hear the odd splash of water from the birds diving into the sea at the speed of a vigorously thrown javelin (a nod to the Olympic closing ceremony that is currently going on in London!).

So comes to an end another fantastic day.  I still haven’t read a page of my book.  Tomorrow I may make a long road trip to revisit somewhere I last and first visited about eight years ago, Vik, where I would hope to see lots of ponies and puffins!


et cetera