Under icy water and inside magma chambers
It’s (sort of) nice and sunny in England.
And I choose to go somewhere colder.
Or maybe even icy.
And the bank holiday weekend is a perfect excuse to fly off for a long weekend (I didn’t need much convincing…!). I caught the train to Gatwick, this time with a bit more luggage than usual. I’ve got all my dive kit (it’s been a while!).
I would have ended up with even more, but I made a last minute decision not to bring my dry suit. I’ve hired one there instead. Hopefully I won’t regret that decision!
I’m flying with a rather random airline – wow air. And they don’t do online check in, which is rather odd.
We ended up being on an Atlantic Airlines plane – with Faroe Island writing across the side of it. Some people thought we were going there perhaps instead, but the cabin crew reminded us that we were actually going to Iceland and the plane was on loan for the summer!
3 hours later….
2014 country number 13 – Iceland
It was late when I landed – 10.30pm. But the sun had been setting for the past 3 hours – so pretty – an orange sky for the entire flight! Then it took 30 minutes to get off the plane, wait for buses to transfer and drive half way around the airport area to reach the small terminal. So it was gone 11pm by the time I got into the terminal building (which was all brand new looking and actually very nice).
The city centre is around 50 minutes from the airport. However, rather handily there are coaches running back and forth all day and night at £12 each way. There are several companies to choose from.
I went with Grey Line Airport Express. It didn’t feel fairly express, I waited 25 minutes before it decided to pull away at 11.40pm.
The roads were deserted. The area also completely bare. Just nothing. So much open, empty space!
We passed through a few small towns – the Town of Vikings, then the Town of Elves.
The bus dropped me off at a mini bus terminal and I walked the rest of the way and finally arrived at 12.45am.
Iceland is expensive.
Getting a room for myself for 4 nights seemed a bit too expensive (especially given the price of the diving and all the other sights I want to visit!), so I am in a dorm.
Luckily it’s really nice – a massive room, really comfy beds and a massive bathroom. Bed time.
What a long journey (and I haven’t even travelled that far!).
Friday 22 August 2014
Iceland is the largest volcanic island in the world, sitting on the mid-Atlantic ridge. This area is one of the most volcanically active in the world, with eruptions every 3-4 years. It was only a couple of years ago that an Icelandic eruption caused global flight chaos. And just a couple of days ago one of the larger volcanos started causing minor earthquakes, threatening to erupt! Lying right along a fault line where the Eurasian and North American plates are moving apart.
This is the the main reason I came here – to go diving between the tectonic plates!
Diving involves being up early. Never any rest while on holiday!
So up at 7am ready to be picked up at 7.30am. And at 7.30am they arrived to pick me up – wow – no waiting around here!! After a short circuit around the city picking up the rest of the people, the drive to the dive site took about 40 minutes. It was such a nice day, warm (ish), blue sky and very clear. We could even see across to a small glacier in the distance.
Random things along side the road here – cut out sheep! The landscape was grey, brown, green and so interesting – surrounded by mountains, volcanos and the sea. Even some Icelandic horses hanging out in the fields.
The National Park Thingvellir is a UNESCO world heritage site and the gap between Europe and America, this is where you can dive!
There was a car park for the van to park, and wooden tables set out for kit.
The entrance to the water was just a short walk away, so we went to have a look – a metal ladder leading down the rocky side and into the crystal clear water. The crack leads out into a large lake, which you could see in the distance. So pretty!
Kitting up took a while and a lot of faffing, most people had never used a dry suit before. So it was nearly 12pm before we got in the water!!
It was definitely a tad chilly! 3 degrees Celsius!!
I was wearing a dry suit, 3 layers of undergarments (I get cold!), 5mm gloves and a 5mm hood.
The only part exposed – part of my forehead, cheeks and lips.
After the initial brain freeze, it was surprisingly fine. (And much better than the cold in England largely due to the 100m visibility!) the water was so so clear.
My group was only 3 plus a guide, nice and small! The entrance lead to a narrow passageway, up and down – no constant level. Turning around shallow corners (basically scuba-snorkelling sometimes!).
At one point, where is was the narrowest, you could touch both sides of the continental plates at the same time. Then it opened out into the deep, wide cathedral.
So blue, so clear, so pretty. Amazing.
We went down to about 16m.
Constant 3 degrees.
You can’t tell how deep you are, same blue everywhere.
Then we turned off, into a shallow lagoon just off the rocky crack. This was again, so cool. About 2-3m deep, sandy bottom, algae floating around.
With the wide camera lens you could picture the reflection of the bottom of the lake on the surface of the water.
Very blue, very green and very yellow.
Then we were at the end, 37 minutes later.
Time to get out and hike (with around 35-40kg of kit) the 350m back to the carpark.
Even the walk back was pretty.
A quick biscuit, change of tank and hot drink later, time to head off again! This time, same again, same route, still pretty. But this time a lot colder.
Different pair of gloves and they were leaking – my fingers were totally numb! All I could think about was being cold, which was a shame, as the first dive had been so cool!
After I had finished diving, I went back to have a last look at the water, with the sun higher in the sky it seemed impossibly blue, totally clear and didn’t even look real. Wow.
Last month I was in Northern Ireland and visited the locations that the Game of Thrones was filmed at. Turns out it was also filmed here – at Thingvellier. I really need to watch this programme!!
The drive back was a nice rest!
We got back to the city about 3pm. Time for a hot shower!
Reykjavik is the most Northerly capital in the world and is small, with a population of just 200,000. I’m staying right on the main street in the middle of the shops – perfect location to go for a little walk around.
Hallgrimskirkja (the big church) can be seen all across the capital (and actually still from 20km away!), being a large concrete 75m tall building. It does look pretty cool though! It took 34 (!) years to build this church and the concrete running up each edge is meant to represent the volcanic basalt columns, which are found across the country. It costs £3.70 to ascend the 75m to the top.
The views were nice, across the colourful roofs of the buildings, out across the sea and to the mountains.
Was a bit windy though! I popped into a small neighbourhood food shop – it was so expensive!!
The main street is full of small artisan shops. One that I went in was selling fish skin leather! Never seen that before, totally weird. (Not like the fish skin used for jewellery in the amazon which is very hard).
I wandered along the sea front, to the Viking shop monument and up to the big new concert hall. A few streets beyond was a small grassy square, surrounded by cafés, which were completely packed!
For dinner, I went to the city’s only raw vegan restaurant. I had a chickpea tikka masala, with some side salads – beetroot/carrot, broccoli/courgette and butternut squash/orange. It was so delicious!
It has been a very long day. But so much fun!
Saturday 23 August 2014
Iceland is full of unique.
Where else can you dive between continental plates.
And where else can you go INSIDE a volcano.
Well right here you can.
And I am! I’m so excited!
Today is the Reykjavik marathon, so the entire city centre is closed off. I only had to walk 10 minutes up to the large church to wait for my pick up. I was told to be here at 7.20am. The bus didn’t arrive until 7.50am.
It was just a 30 minute drive out of the city, into the dry, moon-like landscape. Whilst driving, we spotted a fluffy arctic fox! He was cute.
The walk started on the Blue mountain ridge, surrounded by black-ish mounds, all volcanos. It was a 40 ish minute walk across the lava field to the base of Thrihnukagigur – the volcano that you can go inside. It was freezing!!
But pretty, surrounded by rocks, over some collapsed lava tubes, across some deep cracks in the floor, and over lava shaped rocks. So cool.
At the base of the volcano, there is a small hut which acts as a rest area, kitchen and kit area.
We were each given a hard hat and a harness to put on. I was in the second group, so left 15 minutes after the first group. Meant I had time for a wander around and to check out a small hut which has been built right on top of a lava tube – and apparently someone had been living here!
Then it was my group’s time! 5 of us headed up the last steep section to the top of the volcano. After crossing a short bridge, into the window cleaning lift that would take us 120m deep down inside the volcano.
No time to be scared, we were off!
Last time this volcano erupted was 4,000 years ago. All around this area is known as the sulphuric mountains, and they get around 1,000 earthquakes per month (all small, so usually don’t feel these!).
The descent into the volcano was slow, it’s 120m down. The sides of the volcano were rocky, then suddenly began to change colour. Reds (from oxidised iron), yellows (from sulphur), blacks and blues. It was so amazing. Being inside a magma chamber.
Apparently more people have been into space than been inside a volcano chamber. (This being the only one where it is possible!).
Once at the bottom, we could wander around and clamber over the rocks. Looking up you could see the small opening up to the sky, so far away.
It was 4 degrees inside, but as there was no wind, it felt a lot warmer than the outside did. The colours were just so amazing though. Impossible to stop staring around at it all!
After 45 minutes inside, it was time to head back out again. Back into the lift and back out. I thought I was going to be terrified. But I wasn’t – it wasn’t scary at all!
The views from the top were lovely – surrounded by volcanos and Reykjavik in the background.
Back down to the hut and we were served some warm vegetable soup – it was really tasty! Then back for the walk across the lava field, back to the road. This time it only took 35 minutes (apparently most groups take around 50 minutes!). I had a fit group!
This area is where the Icelandic tap water is sourced. The water filters down through the moss and water and takes 30 years to reach the city! Talking of tap water – here, it is so pure and cold and clean and apparently it is illegal to deny water to people. No wonder everywhere I have been there is free water!
It was just gone 1pm when I got back to the city. So time for some lunch (avocado and rye bread from the supermarket), shower and a rest.
After the marathon, there is the Reykjavik culture night. It started around lunch time and when I headed back out just after 3pm, I could barely move down the street. It was completely packed with people! Stalls set up, music playing, photo exhibition, Viking demonstrations, food stalls, pole dancers (!), a famous actor…..and apparently Justin Timberlake is here. He has a concert on.
Trying to fit everything into just a few short days is rather difficult. And expensive. But rather than miss out, I booked (another) tour to go around the ‘golden circle’ a couple of sights just outside of Reykjavik city.
I caught a bus at 4pm – this time a much bigger bus – no longer in a small group tour! This is a big bus tour!
Back out across the pretty landscape, back the way I went yesterday to Thingvellier again. This time with an unexpected stop – at a horse farm! There were lots out, all fluffy tails and manes, quite funny horses!
All along the roads here there are yellow sticks along the edge. These are for when it snows – this tells people where the roads are!
Most people here seem to believe in elves and other ‘little people’. There are dedicated doorways for them, along with stories and tales of folklore involving these multiple families of elves. The bus driver spent quite a long time telling us about them! (After a lady at the volcano this morning told us all about a family of elves that were unhappy about a road being built by their rock house…..) there are Icelandic people who are actually able to listen to these elves (!).
First proper stop – back at Thingvellier. This time at a completely different area of it, up on a viewing platform. It was such a nice view out across the lake and back across to where I was diving yesterday. So pretty.
You could walk down between a large fissure of rock, it was pretty. (And being quite late, was really quiet!). This lake, Þingvallavatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland. Parliament was established at Þingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1798. There is a flag marking the point at which a man shouted at rocks so that hundreds of people were able to hear what he was saying. Around the lake there is a geothermal power plant – make use of everything here in Iceland! All so well planned. The heat from the ground is used to heat the water, which then takes 3 hours to flow down to Reykjavik.
Only annoying thing – everything is expensive in Iceland. It even costs £1 to use a toilet. We continued the drive and one hour later, the next was Gullfoss waterfalls.
So called golden falls as in the evening the water lights up golden. They were huge!! Made up of 2 sets of waterfalls, one above the other. You could walk around the base and climb up some rocks at the side. The spray made you rather wet though! Then walk up the side of the rocky cliff for a view over the top of the waterfall. Was really nice – and again nice and quiet! In the distance, a row of black volcanos, and just behind them, the second largest glacier in Iceland. It looked really cool – a huge mound of ice! It was really getting cold again. I really didn’t bring enough clothes for this icy wind.
The final stop of the evening was the geyser sites. These geysers are said to be over 1,000 years old. All around in random patches, bubbling pools of clear water. The water is hot, so sulphur-smelling steam fills the air. The ground is steaming.
There were several pools like this, then one larger one (called Strokkur) which spouts around every 5 minutes up to 20m high. I watched it burst a couple of times. It doesn’t give much notice and catches you a bit off guard – and is loud! You don’t want to be standing down wind of that!
Then the long drive (1.5 hours) back to Reykjavik. And it gradually became dark. I fell asleep for most of it….!
Culture night was in full swing when we made it back to the city. The streets were busy with people and music again. At 11pm, just at the end of the main street (and conveniently 2 minutes away from where I am staying) the firework show started. It was really good and so pretty! Great end to a busy day. Shattered!