Tag Archives: Reykjavik

Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland and I went there on 13th November 2007.  The steamy waters are part of a landscape constructed by lava formation and the warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur, which are used as a skin exfoliant and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help many people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.  The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages a very comfortable 40 ° centigrade all year round.

The lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant because in Iceland, renewable energy provides over 70% of the nation’s primary energy and over 99% of  electricity is produced from hydropower and geothermal energy, and the country expects to be energy-independent by 2050.

At the Blue Lagoon as part of the process of power generation superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity.  After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal hot water heating system and then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in.

The signs to the attraction were a bit confusing but as we approached we could see the plumes of steam rising into the atmosphere and finally it was impossible to miss the huge structure of the power station looking like a set from a James Bond movie and we turned off the road and into the car park, which today, probably on account of the wretched weather was virtually empty.  Soon after the power plant was opened and the pools began to fill people started to bathe here and some made claims about magic healing properties so eventually the company seeing this as a commercial opportunity developed it as leisure centre/tourist attraction and now it costs £15 for a one hour swim.  They market it in the promotional literature in this rather extravagant way:

‘Guests enjoy bathing and relaxing in Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater, known for its positive effects on the skin. A visit to the spa promotes harmony between body, mind and spirit, and enables one to soak away the stresses of modern life. The spa’s guests rekindle their relationship with nature, soak up the scenic beauty and enjoy breathing the clean, fresh air.’

The Blue Lagoon has about four hundred thousand visitors a year but today there were no more than about twenty in the water so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  After changing and showering the only way to the open air pool was to leave the building and as the temperature was only slightly above freezing it was a short but brisk walk to the luxuriously blue water which was warm and welcoming and once in the water we made immediately for the hot spots.  Soon these became too hot to sit around in and we had to swim off to explore.  In boxes at the side of the pool were plentiful supplies of mud brimming with silica  for application to the face and body and we had a good laugh slapping this over our faces and making fun of each other.

The bottom of the pool was soft and silty with a pale brownish mud that you definitely wouldn’t want to slap on your face or anywhere else for that matter.  A handful revealed a scoop of human hair and it was unnerving to think that although the water is changed every forty-eight hours that we were swimming about and walking in the dead psoriatic skin cells of nearly half a million visitors a year.  Put this on your face and as the mud dries I can guarantee an unusual beard of multi coloured pubic miscellany that would not be terribly attractive.  Having made this unpleasant discovery we hastily left the soft silty bits and stayed for the rest of our visit in the parts with the rocky lava bottom.

Lost Luggage and no Knickers

On 11th November 2007 we flew to Reykjavik and this was a British Airways flight so there was a level of sophistication to which we have become unaccustomed in our travels with the budget airlines and here are just a few things that British Airways do better than Ryanair; on this flight there were comfortable leather seats, flight attendants in smart uniforms, ample legroom for stretching out, a bag of breakfast, complimentary drinks and whilst we were in the air we had nothing but good things to say about the airline.

Things changed however when we arrived in Reykjavik and here is something that Ryanair do better than British Airways; they remember to put your luggage on board the same aircraft as you and deliver it to the same airport at the same time.

Arrival in Reykjavik started well enough with duty free being helpfully opened for arriving passengers and I was able to purchase moderately priced beer to see me through the three days and while I saw to this important purchase Kim waited for the luggage to arrive on the baggage carousel.  And she waited for quite a while longer than usual because although my bag came through quickly, there was no sign of hers.

We watched the conveyor belt complete about five full cycles and a pink suitcase go round at least four when it began to dawn on us that the bag probably wasn’t going to come through the little hole in the wall where the bags came from.  I optimistically went to have a look through the rubber flaps to see if it had fallen off airside but of course it hadn’t.  Staff at the desk confirmed that unfortunately the bag was still in London but assured us that it would arrive the next day and be delivered directly to our hotel.  This was British Airways and they seemed to display a degree of confidence and efficiency about their handling of the situation so we were certain that this promise would be fulfilled.

After completing forms about the missing luggage we were obliged to explain the situation to the Icelandic customs officer who was a bit unnecessarily sharp with us and who seemed to be showing an unnerving amount of interest in our alcohol supplies that were the equivalent of eight bottles of red wine and six litres of beer.  I don’t know if we had too much but he waved us through anyway with a charmless sneer and we went through to the arrivals hall to pick up our hire car after completing the hiring formalities discovered that it was cunningly hidden at the very back of a car park with hopelessly inadequate signage to assist.  Welcome to Iceland!

We had landed through a thick grey sky heavy with rain and outside the weather was wet and uninviting.  It wasn’t heavy rain, just that low cloud and mizzle that is cold, damp and depressing.  Reykjavik was about a fifty-kilometre drive and it was across a barren lunar type landscape with black granite rocks and no vegetation at all except for the vibrant green moss that was clinging to the boulders.  This was an unfamiliar terrain unlike anything that I had seen before and it reminded me of a tray of freshly baked muffins that had risen quickly due to the heat and had split and cracked as though some mighty force from below and heaved them up through the earth’s crust, which of course it had.

We found the Hotel Bjork with no difficulty at all and once we had checked in and found our room I emptied my bag and hung up my clothes and Kim watched me with a long face.  Then the seriousness of the situation finally hit me – my razor was in Kim’s bag – absolutely bloody brilliant!  How was I going to have a shave!  Together we went through the contents of mine to share them out between us and Kim accepted my spare hat and pair of gloves but rejected the offer of my spare pair of underpants.

Leif Ericson and Norwegians in the USA

Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the plumes of hot steam that were coming from the nearby hot springs.

Outside the Lutheran church, the Hallgrimskirkja in Reyjkavik  is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson who was an Icelander born about 970 and who explored the oceans and the lands west of Iceland, establishing colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland and who according to legend reached America long before Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucchi.

The statue was a gift from the American Government in 1930 to mark Iceland’s 1,000th anniversary and October 9th is commemorated as Leif Ericson day in the United States.  The date is not associated with any particular event in Leif Erikson’s life, it was chosen because the ship ‘Restauration’ sailing from Stavanger in Norway, arrived in New York Harbour on October 9th 1825 at the start of the first organized immigration from Norway to the United States.

Nearly a thousand years after Lief Ericson many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century.  According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and Norwegian Americans currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group.

In Minnesota 868,361 Minnesotans claim Norwegian ancestry, 16.5% of the population of the State.  No wonder then that in professional football the team from Minneapolis was officially named the Minnesota Vikings in 1960; the name is partly meant to reflect Minnesota’s importance as a center of Scandinavian American culture.

In actual fact there is no real evidence that Eiriksson discovered America but his statue faces to the west through thunderous skies full of Nordic drama as though in expectation of belated recognition for his achievement.

Norway Haugesund and the Vikings

Weather Surprise in Iceland

The weather was a bit of a surprise because we had interpreted ‘Ice land’ rather literally and were expecting sub zero temperatures, snow and not unexpectedly lots of ice.

What we hadn’t taken fully into consideration was the effect of the gulf stream that delivers warm water from the Caribbean directly to the south of Iceland and thereby keeps the temperature unexpectedly mild.  Reykjavik is on a line of latitude 64° north which is approximately the same as Anchorage in Alaska and Arkhangelsk in Russia but whilst the average November temperature in these two cities is about -12° centigrade in Iceland it is only about  -1°.  Whilst you wouldn’t step out on the streets in Anchorage or Arkhangelsk without a warm coat, thermal gloves and a fur hat it really wasn’t absolutely necessary here today.  Additionally there are parts of the extreme north of Norway and Finland that are further north than Iceland but nobody sensible lives there and Reykjavik happens to be the most northerly capital city in the world as well as being the most westerly in Europe.  Iceland it seems is a most inappropriately named country.

Although the weather was a surprise there were some things that we knew about Iceland before we travelled; during the Second-World-War Iceland was occupied by Britain as a naval base to protect the North Atlantic convoys from the German navy, later Britain and Iceland fell out over fishing quotas and fought three bad tempered little cod wars in the North Atlantic between the 1950s and the 1970s, in 1972 Bobby Fischer and Boris Spasky played a famous world championship chess match that was billed as the match of the century in Reykjavik (Fischer beat Spasky on 31st August 1992) and that in 1984 there was a famous summit meeting here between Presidents Regan of the USA and Gorbachov of the USSR that signified improving relations between the two world super-powers.

Kim’s luggage had been misplaced by British Airways but we made do and went out for the day anyway and at the end of the day by the time we got back to the car it was dark and we returned to Reykjavik in anticipation of being reunited with the lost luggage.  I parked the car and we went into the hotel but the helpful desk clerk had some bad news for us.   This didn’t make Kim very happy at all and by some irrational twist of feminine logic it appeared that it is was all my fault now as well.  This wasn’t good and back in the room Kim sulked and I tried to keep a low profile and cut down on the silly quips that weren’t proving very helpful.

Eventually Kim cheered up and a couple of large glasses of red wine helped as well!  After she had chosen between the only two clothing options that were available to her, my vest and jumper or the clothes she had travelled here in, we walked out into the city again in search of a restaurant and a nice evening meal.  We found a hospitable Icelandic restaurant and we ordered seafood pasta and red wine and as we were past worrying about the cost of living in Reykjavik we thoroughly enjoyed it.

After dinner we walked back past the Cathedral and Leif Erikisson and there was some sleety snow falling and we became optimistic about the possibility of snowfall over night and white streets and icy conditions in the morning.  Back at the hotel Kim washed out her only pair of knickers and I made reassuring noises about the bag surely turning up tomorrow.

A Year in a Life – 13th November, Iceland, Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon

 

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland and I went there on 13th November 2007. The steamy waters are part of a landscape constructed by lava formation and the warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, which are used as a skin exfoliant and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help many people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages a very comfortable 40 ° centigrade all year round.

The lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant because in Iceland, renewable energy provides over 70% of the nation’s primary energy and over 99% of the country’s electricity is produced from hydropower and geothermal energy, and the country expects to be energy-independent by 2050.  At the Blue Lagoon as part of the process of power generation superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity.  After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal hot water heating system and then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in and is changed every forty-eight hours. 

The signs to the attraction were a bit confusing but as we approached we could see the plumes of steam rising into the atmosphere and finally it was impossible to miss the huge structure of the power station looking like a set from a James Bond movie and we turned off the road and into the car park, which today, probably on account of the wretched weather was virtually empty.  Soon after the power plant was opened and the pools began to fill people started to bathe here and some made claims about magic healing properties so eventually the company seeing this as a commercially viable venture developed it as leisure centre/tourist attraction and now it costs £15 for a one hour swim.  They market it in the promotional literature in this rather extravagant way:

 ‘Guests enjoy bathing and relaxing in Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater, known for its positive effects on the skin. A visit to the spa promotes harmony between body, mind and spirit, and enables one to soak away the stresses of modern life. The spa’s guests rekindle their relationship with nature, soak up the scenic beauty and enjoy breathing the clean, fresh air.’

The Blue Lagoon has about four hundred thousand visitors a year but today there were no more than about twenty in the water so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  After changing and showering the only way to the open air pool was to leave the building and as the temperature was only slightly above freezing it was a short but brisk walk to the luxuriously blue water which was warm and welcoming and once in the water we made immediately for the hot spots.  Soon these became too hot to sit around in and we had to swim off to explore.  In boxes at the side of the pool were plentiful supplies of mud brimming with silica and sulfur for application to the face and body and we had a good laugh slapping this over our faces and making fun of each other.

The bottom of the pool was soft and silty with a pale brownish mud that you definitely wouldn’t want to slap on your face or anywhere else for that matter.  A handful revealed a scoop of human hair and it was unnerving to think that we were swimming about and walking in the dead psoriatic skin cells of nearly half a million visitors a year.  Put this on your face and as the mud dries I can guarantee an unusual beard of multi coloured pubic miscellany that would not be terribly attractive to the opposite sex.  Having made this unpleasant discovery we hastily left the soft silty bits and stayed for the rest of our visit in the parts with the rocky lava bottom.

An hour or so was long enough in the lagoon so after we had showered and changed we left and drove to try and find somewhere for lunch.  This was spectacularly unsuccessful and the only likely place that we found was closed.  The weather was desperate and the road signs were unhelpful so after a couple of u-turns and having become snarled up in a funeral cortege we abandoned the planned coastline scenic route back and returned directly to Reykjavik where we found a diner opposite the hotel and warmed up with soup and a roll.

A Year in a Life – 11th November, Lost Luggage and no Knickers in Iceland

On 11th November 2007 we flew to Reykjavik and this was a British Airways flight so there was a level of sophistication to which we have become unaccustomed in our travels with the budget airlines and here are just a few things that British Airways do better than Ryanair; on this flight there were comfortable leather seats, flight attendants in smart uniforms, ample legroom for stretching out, a bag of breakfast, complimentary drinks and a pretty blonde Icelandic girl in the seat next to me and whilst we were in the air we had nothing but good things to say about the airline. 

Things changed however when we arrived in Reykjavik and here is something that Ryanair do better than British Airways; they remember to put your luggage on board the same aircraft as you and deliver it to the same airport at the same time. 

Arrival in Reykjavik started well enough with duty free being helpfully opened for arriving passengers and I was able to purchase moderately priced beer to see me through the three days and while I saw to this important purchase Kim waited for the luggage to arrive on the baggage carousel.  And she waited for quite a while longer than usual because although my bag came through quickly, there was no sign of hers.  We watched the conveyor belt complete about five full cycles and a pink suitcase go round at least four when it began to dawn on us that the bag probably wasn’t going to come through the little hole in the wall where the bags came from.  I optimistically went to have a look through the rubber flaps to see if it had fallen off airside but of course it hadn’t.  Staff at the desk confirmed that unfortunately the bag was still in London but assured us that it would arrive the next day and be delivered directly to our hotel.  This was British Airways and they seemed to display a degree of confidence and efficiency about their handling of the situation so we were certain that this promise would be fulfilled.

After completing forms about the missing luggage we were obliged to explain the situation to the Icelandic customs officer who was a bit unnecessarily sharp with us and who seemed to be showing an unnerving amount of interest in our alcohol supplies that were the equivalent of eight bottles of red wine and six litres of beer.  I don’t know if we had too much but he waved us through anyway with a charmless sneer and we went through to the arrivals hall to pick up our hire car after completing the hiring formalities discovered that it was cunningly hidden at the very back of a car park with hopelessly inadequate signage to assist.  Welcome to Iceland!

We had landed through a thick grey sky heavy with rain and outside the weather was wet and uninviting.  It wasn’t heavy rain, just that low cloud and mizzle that is cold, damp and depressing.  Reykjavik was about a fifty-kilometre drive and it was across a barren lunar type landscape with black granite rocks and no vegetation at all except for the vibrant green moss that was clinging to the boulders.  This was an unfamiliar terrain unlike anything that I had seen before and it reminded me of a tray of freshly baked muffins that had risen quickly due to the heat and had split and cracked as though some mighty force from below and heaved them up through the earth’s crust, which of course it had. 

We found the Hotel Bjork with no difficulty at all and once we had checked in and found our room I emptied my bag and hung up my clothes and Kim watched me with a long face.  Then the seriousness of the situation finally hit me – my razor was in Kim’s bag – absolutely bloody brilliant!  How was I going to have a shave!  Together we went through the contents of mine to share them out between us and Kim accepted my spare hat and pair of gloves but rejected the offer of my spare pair of underpants.

A Life in a Year – 9th October, Reyjkavik, Vikings and Explorers

 Viking Longship reyjkavik Iceland

Reykjavik was about a fifty-kilometre drive from the airport and it was across a barren lunar type landscape with black granite rocks and no vegetation at all except for the vibrant green moss that was clinging stoically to the boulders.  This was an unfamiliar terrain unlike anything that I had seen before and it reminded me of a tray of freshly baked muffins that had risen quickly due to the heat and had split and cracked as though some mighty force from below and heaved them up through the earth’s crust, which of course it had.

We found the Hotel Bjork and it was only a short walk to the seafront and we found our way to the promenade and walked along to the Sólfar suncraft, which is a stainless steel 1986 sculpture of a Viking long boat that occupies an impressive spot overlooking the bay and Mount Esja on the other side.  Iceland is proud of its Viking heritage because the country was first colonised by Norwegians in the ninth century and the first permanent settler was a man called Ingólfur Arnarson who landed here in 871 and named the location Reykjavik, which means smoky bay, on account of the plumes of hot steam that were coming from the nearby hot springs.

After an expensive snack we walked up a steep hill to the Hallgrimskirkja, which is the city’s Lutheran Cathedral and at seventy-three metres high dominates the skyline.  Outside the church is a statue of Leifur Eiriksson who was an Icelander born about 970 and who explored the oceans and the lands west of Iceland, establishing colonies in Greenland and Newfoundland and who according to legend reached America long before Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucchi.

Leifur Eiriksson Reyjkavik Iceland

The statue was a gift from the American Government in 1930 to mark Iceland’s 1,000th anniversary and October 9th is commemorated as Leif Ericson day in the United States.  The date is not associated with any particular event in Leif Erikson’s life, it was chosen because the ship Restauration sailing from Stavanger in Norway, arrived in New York Harbour on October 9th 1825 at the start of the first organized immigration from Norway to the United States.

Nearly a thousand years after Lief Ericson many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century. According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and Norwegian Americans currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group.

In Minnesota 868,361 Minnesotans claim Norwegian ancestry, 16.5% of the population of the State.  No wonder then that in professional football the team from Minneapolis was officially named the Minnesota Vikings on September 27th 1960; the name is partly meant to reflect Minnesota’s importance as a centre of Scandinavian American culture.

In actual fact there is no real evidence that Eiriksson discovered America but his statue faces to the west as though in expectation of belated recognition for his achievement.  Today he looked out over Viking skies full of Nordic drama with mountainous clouds as big and as grey as a medieval cathedral.

Norway Haugesund and the Vikings

A Life in a Year – 31st August, Chess Grand Masters Compete in Iceland

The weather was a bit of a surprise because we had interpreted ‘Ice land’ rather literally and were expecting sub zero temperatures, snow and not unexpectedly lots of ice.

What we hadn’t taken fully into consideration was the effect of the gulf stream that delivers warm water from the Caribbean directly to the south of Iceland and thereby keeps the temperature unexpectedly mild.  Reykjavik is on a line of latitude 64° north which is approximately the same as Anchorage in Alaska and Arkhangelsk in Russia but whilst the average November temperature in these two cities is about -12° centigrade in Iceland it is only about  -1°.  Whilst you wouldn’t step out on the streets in Anchorage or Arkhangelsk without a warm coat, thermal gloves and a fur hat it really wasn’t absolutely necessary here today.  Additionally there are parts of the extreme north of Norway and Finland that are further north than Iceland but nobody sensible lives there and Reykjavik happens to be the most northerly capital city in the world as well as being the most westerly in Europe.  Iceland it seems is a most inappropriately named country.

Although the weather was a surprise there were some things that we knew about Iceland before we travelled; during the Second-World-War Iceland was occupied by Britain as a naval base to protect the North Atlantic convoys from the German navy, later Britain and Iceland fell out over fishing quotas and fought three bad tempered little cod wars in the North Atlantic between the 1950s and the 1970s, in 1972 Bobby Fischer and Boris Spasky played a famous world championship chess match that was billed as the match of the century in Reykjavik (Fischer beat Spasky on 31st August 1992) and that in 1984 there was a famous summit meeting here between Presidents Regan of the USA and Gorbachov of the USSR that signified improving relations between the two world super-powers.

Kim’s luggage had been misplaced by British Airways but we made do and went out for the day anyway and at the end of the day by the time we got back to the car it was dark and we returned to Reykjavik in anticipation of being reunited with the lost luggage.  I parked the car and we went into the hotel but the helpful desk clerk had some bad news for us.   This didn’t make Kim very happy at all and by some irrational twist of feminine logic it appeared that it is was all my fault now as well.  This wasn’t good and back in the room Kim sulked and I tried to keep a low profile and cut down on the silly quips that weren’t proving very helpful.

Eventually Kim cheered up and a couple of large glasses of red wine helped as well!  After she had chosen between the only two clothing options that were available to her, my vest and jumper or the clothes she had travelled here in, we walked out into the city again in search of a restaurant and a nice evening meal.  We found a hospitable Icelandic restaurant and we ordered seafood pasta and red wine and as we were past worrying about the cost of living in Reykjavik we thoroughly enjoyed it.

After dinner we walked back past the Cathedral and Leif Erikisson and there was some sleety snow falling and we became optimistic about the possibility of snowfall over night and white streets and icy conditions in the morning.  Back at the hotel Kim washed out her only pair of knickers and I made reassuring noises about the bag surely turning up tomorrow.