{22/08/2012}   Iceland Travel Diary: Day Three

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!



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