Friday, 1 January 2016

Iceland 2.1: Heathrow to Reykholt

The beginning of a brand new year is as good a time as any to start yet another interminable saga, I suppose, but the truth is that it's taken me since July to get round to processing the pictures from our summer holiday.  The few days off work after Christmas have allowed me to do a little bit of catching up, so brace yourselves for "Iceland 2: Just when you thought it was safe".  Don't say you weren't warned...

Those who followed the account of my previous trip to Iceland in 2013 will know that the place made a deep impression on both of us, so it's unsurprising that - when the opportunity arose to go back during July 2015 - we jumped at it.  Partly based on the experience gained during our previous visit, Harriet was asked to lead a small group to Iceland for ACE Cultural Tours.  ACE specialise in art, architecture, archaeology, history, music, regional culture and natural history, with its Iceland tour fitting very much into the last two categories.  (Incidentally, the picture advertising the 2016 ACE tour to Iceland, which Harriet is also leading, turns out to be one of mine: a pair of whimbrels.)  Harriet's tour started on July 12th, and I travelled out a week later on the 19th.  The idea was for me to be independent for three days, and then meet up with Harriet in Reykjavík to coincide with the end of her tour.  We would then embark on the rest of our holiday together, returning to the UK on August 2nd - a cunning plan which ended up working flawlessly.

Rather than head to Heathrow at the crack of dawn on departure day, I spent the previous night at the Holiday Inn Express in (not quite so sunny) Slough.  As it turns out the hotel was absolutely excellent, and infinitely better than the Sheraton Skyline we'd used before.  Despite dragging breakfast out for as long as I possibly could, I was still at Heathrow very early for my flight.  This gave me the opportunity to take a few snaps in the airport with my new toy - a Fuji X-T1 - which is far more discreet than any full-size SLR.

My mother always told me to beware of strange men on escalators...

Eventually it was time to go to the gate and wait to board the aircraft.  Unlike last time we travelled to Keflavík, there were no departure delays.  In fact, we even managed to jump the queue of several British Airways flights which were also waiting to take off.

This was my first view of Iceland: a small town on the Reykjanes peninsula.  I didn't know it at the time, but the town in question turned out to be Grindavík where we spent our final evening before returning home.

It was sunny but cool in Keflavík, and the airport was undergoing yet more renovations.  As before it was full of Americans, and the entrance hall was complete chaos as much of it was being rebuilt.  Eventually I found the Europcar desk - in a small, makeshift shack at the end of a corridor - and was able to pick up the keys for our trusty steed: a Suzuki Grand Vitara 4x4 in which we were destined to explore parts of the country which had been out of bounds to us on the previous trip.

The journey from Keflavík to Reykholt took about three hours and, apart from relatively heavy traffic returning to Reykjavík after the weekend, was very easy.  Reykholt itself turned out to be no more than a hamlet, but it is an important site to the Icelanders because of the Snorrastofa - a cultural centre dedicated to the mediaeval writer Snorri Sturluson who originally had a farmstead in Reykholt.

Apart from the Snorrastofa, the only other large building in Reykholt was the Foss Hotel where I was staying.  It was rather basic and slightly frayed at the edges, but otherwise clean and friendly.  More importantly it served food, which is just as well as lunch had been well over eight hours earlier!  Time for a quick walk around the block to look at Snorri's statue and Reykholt church before heading back to the hotel for an excellent dinner.

I didn't have a tripod with me, so decided to return to the church and spend more time there the following morning.  I'll finish this post with a couple of "Iceland specials" which I remembered very well from my previous trip.  The first shows lots of geo-thermally heated greenhouses, which are used to grow vegetables and flowers.  The second is a rather incongruous American hydrant - this one had been planted by the side of the main road!  I promise that I won't be quite so obsessed by hydrants during this trip.