Have Bag, Will Travel
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“That is Snaefellsjokull a mountain about five thousand feet in height, one of the most remarkable in the whole island, and certainly doomed to be the most celebrated in the world, for through its crater we shall reach the centre of the earth.” Jules Verne – ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’
Our plan was to drive north to the villages of Akranes and then Borgarnes and the swing inland and visit the Þingvellir National Park but for now we just kept driving north and keeping the sea close to the left. Eventually we arrived at a decision making point with a road around the Whalefjord or a toll tunnel underneath that would save eighty kilometres or so of hard driving.
So we took the second option through the only underwater tunnel in Iceland, almost six thousand metres long and reaching a depth of one hundred and sixty-five metres. It cost 1,000 Krona at the toll booth, or about £5, which seemed like good value to save the fifty minute alternative drive around the fjord.
The Tunnel received a bad rating in the latest European tunnel test (believe me, it’s true), which is carried out annually by the German Automobile Club ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club). Specifically mentioned were poor lighting (it was very dark I have to say), the absence of an automatic fire alarm system and poor ventilation.
“The distance from the surface of the Earth to the middle is 6,370 kilometres, which isn’t very far (relative to the size of the Universe)…. Our own attempts to penetrate towards the middle have been modest indeed. One or two South African gold mines reach to a depth of over 3 kilometres, but most mines on Earth go no more than about 400 metres below the surface.” Bill Bryson – ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’.
“No waterfall in Europe can match Gullfoss. In wildness and fury it outdoes the Niagra Falls in the United States” From the Travel Diary of two Danes in the retinue of Frederick VII of Denmark (1907).
I haven’t seen any of the World’s major falls such as the Angel Falls in Venezuela (the highest, and thirty times taller than Gullfoss), the Victoria Falls (claimed to be the largest in the world by volume) or the Niagara Falls (the widest in the world), but these were nevertheless really most exciting and dramatic and even better because the river was swollen from weeks of heavy rain and the water thundered over the rocks adjacent to the paths and the spray gathered into a white mist that wrapped itself around us like a damp cloak.
Reykjavik from the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral
It was a gloriously clear day in Reykjavik with a low sun that was casting shadows over the city. I liked this picture, on the left is the shadow of the Cathedral Tower and on the right is a street cast in shadow by the buildings. At first I thought it was an optical illusion with two shadows of the single tower and Kim had to explain it to me.
Our main purpose for visiting the cathedral was to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower. It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there were glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east and we stayed at the top for several minutes enjoying the views.
As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.
The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.
It’s nice to feel useful (5) …
Every so often I like to take a look at the search engine terms that may or may not have directed people towards some of my posts. Some of them are just so funny and so here are ten more recent ones:
“Joan of Arc getting burned at the stake clean images”. Now, I guess that burning at the stake would have been a fairly messy business with all of that smoke and ash and burning embers rising up into the sky, not to mention the spitting fat as the flesh melted in the flames so I imagine that even if there were cameras in medieval France that the chances of getting a ‘clean’ image would have been rather difficult.
I wrote a post about Joan of Arc so perhaps that is where the enquirer was directed?
Next, I have three searches about bridges. The first one is just too specific for me to be able to help but I did write a post about this bridge after a visit to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2008 – “how much space is between the beams on the stari most bridge?”. Second, this one from an enquirer whose stupidity is just immense – “what is a bridge?” and finally this one which is almost equally as dumb – “why was the Humber bridge being built?” – doh! Why did the chicken cross the road?
Actually the 2,220 metre Humber Suspension Bridge is the fifth largest of its type in the World. This is a very big bridge indeed but the statistic used to be even more impressive because when it was first opened in 1981 it was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the World, a record that it held for the next sixteen years.
Leading on from the Humber Bridge my next favourite is – “Anne Frank connection with hull?” because as far as I can make out there is none other than the Hull to Rotterdam P&O ferry.
I have posted a few times about travelling in Italy and the inevitability of a statue of the Italian hero of unification Giuseppe Garibaldi and although everyone knows that he has a biscuit named after him I was surprised to come across this search term – “which Italian town has a biscuit named after it?” Maybe the enquirer turned up at my post about Garbaldi when they were really looking for Genoese cake?
Sex almost always rears its ugly head of course and “large Norwegian penis in a jar” is my offering in this collection of search out-takes. I am not an expert on Norwegian penises, large or small, but I did visit the Penis Museum in Reykjavik and this is probably close enough to have recorded the visit to the blog.
This next search may or may not have anything to do with sex, I’ll leave readers to reach their own conclusions – “car park in Ciudad Rodrigo”. I have visited and stayed in Ciudad Rodrigo but I give you my word that I absolutely did not hang around in town centre car parks!
For this selection of search terms I have save my favourite until last and this is it – “things to do in Tossa de Marr Spain for clairvoyants”. Now, call me a sceptic if you like but if you can see into the future what on earth does a clairvoyant need with a website of advertised events – why don’t they just look in their crystal ball?
I have been to Tossa de Mar and I have to say that palm reader, soothsayer or clairvoyant that it is a very fine place to visit.
This was a second visit to Iceland and the first since the crash of 2008 so there were some significant changes – mostly financial.
In 2008 the economy bombed, the krona has lost more than half its value. GDP dropped by 10% in under a year and unemployment hit a forty year high. Following negotiations with the IMF a massive rescue package of $4.6bn was agreed by a combination of loans and currency swaps from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. In addition the little Faroe Islands offered 300m Danish kroner, which was roughly the equivalent of the United Kingdom lending 300 billion Danish krona or 35 billion pounds! How generous was that.
Six years previously I had found the country horrendously expensive but immediately after the crash the krona lost fifty percent of its value against the euro and even taking into account six years of relatively high inflation, which even now remains high at over 5%, I was rather hoping for cheaper prices this time and I was not disappointed because I estimate that the tourist cost of living was only about 65% of the costs of 2007.
The smugness of 2007 had been completely wiped away and coffee shops, bars and restaurants were now all eager for business and visitors’ money, beer was cheaper, wine was cheaper and food was cheaper. Hotels were no more expensive than anywhere else in Europe and local businesses were keen to accommodate visitors.
One place that wasn’t cheaper was the ludicrously overpriced ‘Blue Lagoon’ and I would recommend visitors to Iceland to definitely give this overrated attraction a miss. Since our last visit to Iceland in 2007 the cost of everything seemed to have become more reasonable but the entrance fee to the Blue Lagoon had rocketed from €20 to €34 and that was only for the standard winter entrance which rises to €40 in the summer and which includes no more than an hour or so in the water. At the premium end of the scale of charges is the luxury experience which costs a whopping €430 – EACH! The Blue Lagoon boasts about four hundred thousand visitors a year so this place is making serious money.
And talking of rip-offs visitors should also beware of car hire scams. Unfortunately hiring a car on line is as big a financial minefield as booking a low cost flight with a range of confusing add ons and exclusions all designed to generate additional revenue. Sixt have come up with a brilliant wheeze. I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that the cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’.
Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage. Volcano damage – WTF? Upon enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either. Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as I was surely burnt to a cinder and my flesh was stripped from my blackened bones was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car, so I declined the offer to purchase the additional cover.
As a postscript to this point I would like to point out to Sixt car hire that as we drove around over the next few days I didn’t see a single car stripped down to bare metal so I have come to the inescapable conclusion that volcano damage insurance is a complete con.
But I/we did enjoy Iceland, we had a nice hotel, found an excellent restaurant (Harry’s Bar), drove the Golden Circle and on the final night got to see the Northern Lights just as we had given up all hope of seeing the spectacular light show.
I am tempted now to return to Iceland, maybe in June and experience the midnight sun but this time I would miss Reykjavik because I have been there twice now and seen all that there is to see but I think I would hire a car (perhaps not from Sixt) and circumnavigate the island, that would be about one thousand, five hundred kilometres but I am guessing that this would be a wonderful experience.
Click on an image below to scroll through the gallery…
We were only underground for a few minutes but in that short time the weather surprisingly improved and when we emerged on the Akranes peninsular the sun was doing it best to elbow its way through the cloud. We took the coast road to the town but only stopped on the outskirts and without giving it the courtesy of a visit carried right on to Borgarnes where we crossed a bridge that had replaced a previous ferry service and from the deserted quay side made our way into the town centre where we found a car park next to a café and a sort of museum called ‘the Settlement Centre’. So we stopped for coffee, cake and WiFi.