We travelled to Heathrow on the train, and saw egrets on the estuary – one of the big advantages of Brunel's weird railway design in Devon (the downside, of course, being that it's practically *in the sea* so not particularly quick).
We stayed at the Hotel Arial – notable mostly for the fact that their bedrooms are really designed for one person, not two. The bed was a bit wider than single sized and shoved against the wall, and they didn't even give us two towels! Still, it did the job as travelling and flying the same day from Cornwall wasn't really feasible.
We flew to Reykjavik. Contrary to what all the signs said there was no wireless internet in the lounge at Heathrow. But so what, it was Saturday. We read our books instead. Contrary to what all the guidebooks said was likely weather, Reykjavik was blindingly sunny with clear blue skies. The centre of town where we stayed at Hotel Odinsve was full of pretty houses all covered in brightly painted corrugated iron (walls and roofs). I'd not previously encountered corrugated iron as something to cover houses in, but it was rather attractive when painted. Many of the streets and gardens were planted with rowan trees all weighed down with berries. I think some of the other trees may have been less popular rowan relatives, but wasn't able to get names for them. There was also an elder with red berries that seemed to be a popular ornamental.
The country between Reykjavik and the international airport at Keflavik is a moonscape. Apparently the chap that first settled Iceland and founded Reykjavik decided where to set up shop by flinging his high seat overboard and then sending slaves out to find out where they'd washed ashore. The account I read said that the slaves were pretty miffed to find the seat had washed up at Reykjavik and I can see why. I guess they were lucky they didn't wash in further along towards Keflavik: if I thought my gods were suggesting I set up home in that desolate waste, I'd be strongly tempted to try a more reasonable deity...
We walked along the estuary (fjord?) in the evening, where we met some eider ducks and found a KPMG office, much to Mark's delight (we didn't go in...).
I had lobster for tea. Mmmmmmm. Mark had smoked puffin and arctic char. Also Mmmmmmmmm though with a slight pang for the puffin, but I suppose there are lots of them. Neither of us had minke whale on principle, though it seemed to be on all the menus.
I was struck by the strength of the light: even fairly late in the evening I was still turning the shutter speed on my camera right up to allow for the brightness. Otherwise there was a tendency for dark things to come out too dark, and the sky to be overexposed.
Discovered that hot water at our hotel smells of eggs. Ew!
First attempt at whalewatching got off to a poor start when we discovered that although the sun was bright and the sky clear, the swell was too great to allow whalewatching boats to be launched from Reykjavik. Instead we were bussed (in a very ancient double decker bus!) to Grindavik, a town entirely composed of bungalows, whose harbour was more sheltered – well, a little more sheltered anyway.
Great white gouts of spray came rushing over the front of the boat as it fought through the waves to get out into the ocean. The sun was still shining and I was having fun, being well wrapped up and waterproofed. After a while, I noticed that many people on our boat did not seem happy, and had stopped looking eagerly for whales. They were cold, and they were sick: poor people! (Fortunately for me, I never get seasick. No idea why not, I only get sick if I play computer games. Odd. ) We didn't see any whales – not sure if this was down to the waves, or whether the fact that many people on board were not up to lookout duty, I don't know. We did see some gannets, cormorants and (rather excitingly) a Great Skua, looking like a giant predatory duck - and I would swear I saw a storm petrel, only Mark doesn't believe me.
Mark survived the boat, more or less – though his boots filled up with water, so he had very cold feet by the end – but the bus back was too much – he was horribly sick, and then had to go to bed and recover for a while.
I went out and found a cafe hung with very disturbing pictures – I'm not sure if they were icelandic folklaw or out of the artists own head, but they showed sneaky looking odd little grey creatures with sharp teeth, long fingers and red mouths, of the kind that I suspect would have given me the screaming heeby jeebies as a small child. But I didn't care as I am grown up now, and more importantly, they sold excellent waffles 'with whipped cream and jam'. I think the jam was a variety of redcurrent jelly.
Then I mooched around Reykjavik for a bit. I tried to buy some gloves, only the choice available seemed to be Brightly Coloured Crafty Islandic gloves, or desperately expensive designer ones, so I gave up. We had planned to do a museum or so, but I decided I wasn't in the mood. Later on, Mark woke up, so we went and did a little exploring and found some Greylag Geese and tufted ducks.
Enough Reykjavik! We flew north to Akureyri, where our trusty steed, a hire car awaited. We'd expected something 'just like a Golf' and were a little taken aback when it actually WAS a Golf. It was pouring with rain and freezing cold in Akureyri, which again, what not what the guidebooks had suggested (they reckoned Akureyri, despite being further North, was a lot warmer and dryer. Not while we were there it wasn't!) Driving on the wrong side with a gear lever in the wrong place was a bit traumatic to start with, though the roads were so quiet and empty it did make it a lot more pleasant than it could have been.
So we went into the town, what there was of it, and found a pair of pizzas, which were served, rather bafflingly, with jam.
Again, 'jam' was really a jelly, again, I think redcurrant. I was fascinated to see that redcurrants are popular hedging plants in Akureyri, and they were bursting with fruit when we were there too. The ubiquitous rowans were all over the place also, but I don't think I saw a single vegetable garden, which seems odd given that food here is relatively pricy.
Akureyri has a botanical gardens, the most northerly one in the world, apparently, which seemed like too good an opportunity to drive past. I must say, given the location and that it was getting on to the end of the summer, it was an awesome little garden: loads of colour, loads of variety, and not too big to walk round comfortably. Though I wish the trees were better signed: as gardens often do, the border perennials were very well marked up, but the trees had obvioualy been around long enough that any labels most of them had originally possessed had fallen off or been grown over.
I seek labels.
I'd been hoping to find out names for some of the odder trees I'd seen in Reyjavik, but had little joy. Still, we did see some redwings (no, birds, not plants!) And found some stonking funguses that I think had volunteered rather than being specially selected. I was particularly amused by the carefully tended bed of equisetums (horsetail) as most gardens I've been to consider all Equisetums a noxious infestation, not a plant!
Oh, strangely, gloves in Akureyri are cheaper than Reykjavik gloves, and more practical (ie, waterproof). Possibly Akureyri is a place where gloves are a real necessity.
Our hotel this time was the Sel Hotel Myvatn, which was nice enough in a slightly Seventies sort of way, with a good view of the lake and some of the mountains. We discovered that hot water here also smelled of eggs, even more than in Reykjavik! Must be the geothermal whatsits that keep everything warm. In the evening we went round some pseudocraters, only I can't remember what was pseudish about them.
Behind our hotel room was a sleeping troll. He didn't photograph terribly well so I drew a charcoal drawing of him instead, which I may eventually scan if I get a moment.