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{25/08/2012}   Iceland Travel Diary: Day Six

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. 

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