Monday, July 16, 2018

Jiggety jig, and all that

While it's certainly very pleasant to luxuriate in the business class lounge while waiting to depart on a flight to the other side of the planet - and especially when you can gloat over not having to do it in the tender care of the EasyJet plane you can see from the window - it's disappointing then to have to go down the back of the plane because you haven't been upgraded. Yeah, yeah, first world and all that. But it's true.


The Heathrow one was perfectly fine, but as business class lounges go, it's hard to beat the Emirates one in Dubai, crowded and busy though it always is. It's just so modern and efficient and full of whatever you need or fancy. The airport always gives me a bit of a buzz - helped by it being such a huge hub that as you walk to your gate you go past others labelled with destination names from all over the world.
It was a good trip. Copenhagen was a delight, and the Norway cruise was pretty special, despite the loss of three ports to bad weather - it's always good to settle into Silversea again. Getting to Iceland was a triumph both of ambition fulfilled, and practical booking skills (we'll overlook that accidental business class leg - that will remain forever a mystery). England was full of famously impressive sights and places, and family, and familiarity, and it was lovely to be there again.
But it's so good to get home! To beauty, comfort, and a welcoming cat... there's nothing better. Well, maybe this time it just got an edge thanks to that precious bottle of Einstök White Ale I found by chance in Clitheroe. And that, regular readers 😊 will be relieved to learn, is the last time I'll be referencing (or tasting) that beer.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Well, I never!

Back in the UK, after a sorry goodbye to the Firstborn, we headed north to Lancashire for some more family stuff. Naturally proud of their bit of England, they took us out and about to some lovely places that really deserved more time and attention than we were able to give them. There was a bit of a food theme going on, and one of the first places we went to was the Bowland Food Hall in Clitheroe which had shelves and shelves of tempting things (gin and tonic gourmet popcorn!) including - unexpected joy! - a single bottle of EINSTÖK ICELANDIC WHITE ALE!!! So I snatched that one up, to take back home and savour.
We went to have lunch at the Inn at Whitewell, where we stayed last time we were up this way, in the room that featured in the first 'The Trip' movie. It was just as gorgeous as ever, above a stream and with a classically English rural view. 
Afterwards we cruised through gorgeous summer countryside and cute villages, past fancy schools and  mansions, and stopped at Lytham, where the fishmongers was as full of enthusiasm as fish (and shrimps for potting) and other home-made temptations. Not so impressed with the plastic-wrapped swedes I saw in the grocer's, though, for goodness sake.
Then the sky went grey as we drove up the coast, so the classic ghastly glories of Blackpool and the nearby uninviting beaches made us glad again that we live in New Zealand where we do that sort of thing properly. You know, with blue sea, sand, and warm(er) water that you actually want to get into, and it's not something to boast about afterwards.
Back at the house, the sun came out again, there was Wimbledon on the TV, papers to read, crows cawing in the trees, the church clock striking periodically - truly, it couldn't have been any more English. So we were converted again to loving it here. But only as a place to visit - it's time to go home.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Iceland 6 - Bless (not getting religious on you - that's Icelandic for 'goodbye')

One good thing (of very many) about Iceland in the summer is that when you have to haul yourself out of bed at 3.45am in order to catch your shuttle to the airport, at least it's light. So I waited by the big church again, feeling perfectly safe, was joined by others, and was then delivered smoothly to Keflavik for my 7.45am flight to Gatwick. My inexplicable Business-class ticket on the way here was, sadly, not duplicated on return, so I was down the back this time. With a vengeance - I was put in the despised middle seat and the flight was full so I couldn't change it.

Even worse, the window seat was taken by a typically big (not fat) Icelandic man who immediately man-spread himself into my space, not just with his knee, but also taking the armrest AND MORE, his elbow well over my side. He then fell asleep for the whole trip, while I sat scrunched up and simmering in what would have been limited space anyway. And of course there was no food provided, just a hot drink, plus when I missed the handing out of arrival cards and asked for one, the grumpy stewardess said they were all gone - though her more obliging colleague was able to fetch one for me. 

So, Icelandair? Not a huge fan - definitely one to splash out on Business for, I reckon. Also, at the airport, beware of the futuristic and clever-looking basins in the loos, where the tap doubles as a Dyson-style airblade. Which is all very well, until it blasts out a rush of air into a rounded basin full of soap foam and water drips. Where do you think that all ends up? Yeah. That's right.
And, Iceland? Yes! Big fan. Would definitely go again, and take the time to explore further, up to the north, and the western fjords, for even more spectacular scenery, and fewer tourists. Some hiking would be good, and self-driving. This Intrepid Iceland Express tour was an economical way to get a good taste of the place, but next time I would brace myself to spend more, and see more. I probably wouldn't be adventurous with the beer, though: there's no going past Einstök White Ale. And there will be no forgetting those four bottles I accidentally left on the bus, either... Pretty niche brew - can't imagine finding it anywhere else. 😱

Monday, July 9, 2018

Iceland 5 - NOT PONIES!

Today I realised an ambition. Two, actually – to ride an Icelandic horse, and to experience the tölt. I waited under a grey sky in a chilly wind by the big church for my lift to Íshestar (chosen purely because I once had a photo book about Icelandic horses titled ‘Hestar’ which, just the fifty years later, I have learnt means horse) on the outskirts of ReykjavĂ­k. It’s a big operation – they have about 180 horses, 2/3 of which are at the stables at one time – and very efficient.

It’s also very well equipped: there was a whole room of complimentary gumboots, waterproof jackets, spine protectors and full-body padded suits, which seemed entirely over the top. So I spurned all that in favour of my own overtrousers and jacket – only to be told by the guy behind the counter that I would regret it and should wear the suit. “The weather’s not going to get better,” he warned me. “You’ll be sorry if you don’t.” So I did as I was told and, dear reader, he was entirely right and I thanked him sincerely afterwards.
There were lovely hairy, chubby horses outside milling about in a couple of yards, and also some in looseboxes inside next to the tackroom. They had a bucket of used shoes in there, free for the taking, which I did, mainly for the novelty of their being studded. A nice American lady, novice rider, was interested to see them but recoiled at the nails still in some of them. “Doesn’t that hurt the horse’s feet?” she asked. Good grief.

We were shown a disclaimer notice and a video - which was very stern about these animals being horses, not ponies, despite their size. They have been such valued partners throughout Iceland's history that to call them ponies is genuinely considered an insult. Then we were taken into the stables to be assigned our mounts according to a blithely trusting self-description of our riding ability. My horse was a pretty dun mare called something unpronounceable meaning ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – but I was warned the name is misleading and she could be a bit bouncy at sudden noises like zips being undone. She was only about 13.2hh (= hands high: that's about 134cm height to the withers, for you unhorsy types) (withers = base of the neck) though it was still a struggle to mount, embarrassingly, because of my gammy knee from yesterday’s glacier falls – but we managed.
In short order, all twelve of us were up and on our way with the two guides, one local, the other American. She was kind of irritating: she kept talking about “having a speed-up”, later told us to “tighten your saddles” (she meant girths) and thought cantering and galloping were the same thing. Pft. I’m used to people working with horses being obsessives like me who have read endlessly about every aspect of horsemanship.

Anyway, the first hour of the three-hour ride was a bit of a let-down, as it was so suburban: out past houses and gardens, and various cranes on building sites. The track was purpose-built, which was good, and there was open country on our right, but I began to despair of getting the sort of ride I had envisaged. Finally, though, we crossed the road and went into what I assume was a national park of some sort. There were mossy lava rocks, sheets of purple lupins, even some trees like spruce and birch, a big sky, and distant mountains. It was much better. There were big black ravens on the rocks, but no other sign of life other than us and our horses.
Mostly we walked, and every so often did a collective “speed-up” which was, finally, the tölt: this is a pace that only the Icelandic horses can do, a bit faster than a trot, smooth and efficient for covering long distances. Or at least, it’s meant to be smooth. Even concentrating hard on relaxing into the saddle and being loose at the hips, it was still a bit jarring and I was deeply thankful I didn’t have a full bladder. I did wish I’d worn a sports bra. But it wasn’t uncomfortable and I could appreciate what a useful pace it could be. So, tick.
We also occasionally had what the American insisted on calling a gallop, though it wasn’t, which was fun although too short each time. We rode in single file and I was impressed at how amenable the horses were – no ears back, biting or tail swishing. Anywhere else, we’d have been instructed about keeping distances for fear of kicks. Icelandic horses are much more laid-back – apparently because they have always lived in a land without predators, so they're not nervy at all.

There was a break halfway, and then we mounted again for the ride home, which came far too soon. It was so lovely to be out in that wide-open landscape, on pretty little horses, just enjoying ourselves. The three hours had sped by.
Back in ReykjavĂ­k, I had a last wander around, seeing two more cats with neck ruffs – must be the fashion here for felines – and enjoying again the colourful architecture, clean streets, and feeling perfectly safe. For form’s sake I visited “the world’s best hotdog stand!” according to PĂ ll, which did have an eager queue for their lamb-meat dogs with mustard, mayo and raw and fried onions. Not my scene: I went back up the hill to the church (which I went into earlier – it’s as sparely decorated inside as it is out, with a huge modern organ). Across the road from there is CafĂ© Loki, which felt authentic (there were some locals inside it, at least) and served a very fast and tasty lamb broth with oddly sweet rye bread, with my last Einstök White Ale probably forever. Good day.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Iceland 4 - I really could have done with some ice

Thank you to Intrepid Travel for the discount on this Iceland Express trip
This morning brought yet more sunshine, for which we were duly thankful, and another optional outing which was a walk on the Vatnajökull Glacier with Blue Iceland. Our guide was a lovely, friendly man whose name I didn't catch, which I'm still sorry about because he (foreshadowing) really saved the day for me. 
We all got set up with crampons, helmets and ice-axes, waited longer than we should have for a big family party who didn't think to apologise to us (there was muttering) and then set off in a rugged truck with studded tyres across the moraine. Once at the tongue of the glacier, we strapped on our crampons, got instruction on how to walk in them without getting them tangled, and were given our three main points to remember which were "One: Don't fall over. Two: Don't fall over! Three: DON'T FALL OVER!" (Again, foreshadowing...)
Then we set off behind Nameless Man, up onto the glacier which wasn't smooth and snowy like the ones back home I've walked on, but covered in shattered ice that sparkled like diamonds in the sun. We stopped here and there to gaze into blue crevasses and marvel at small hillocks of black ash that were once hollows in the glacier but, protected by the ash from being melted, now stand several metres higher than the surrounding ice. NM told us about the glacier and ice, and we trailed behind him to the turn-around point in an icy valley where the selfie-urge was indulged. Those of us not wearing boots also commiserated with each other about how uncomfortable the crampons were, the metal lugs digging into our ankles. 
Then, startled by being pelted from behind by small shards of ice (which, it turned out, was a natural glacier phenomenon and not someone being mischievous), I tried to turn around quickly, got my crampons jammed together and fell over like a toppled log, just missing a stream. I really whacked my left knee and it hurt a lot; plus, with my feet tied together, I couldn't get up unaided, so it was embarrassing as well as painful. I did try to be brave. Then we set off back to the  truck and - @#%$! - almost straight away I did it again! Same knee, even more painful, plus more embarrassment, and afterwards difficulty walking because of the sore and hammered knee. All the other guests glanced away and kept walking and chatting, but NM saw my need and was so very kind and non-patronising, taking my hand for the rest of the walk and talking to me pleasantly, that he actually made it harder not to cry. I'm so grateful to him. He's my hero. [Update: I think of him with gratitude every time I see the scars on my knee from where the ice gouged it through my jeans.]
The rest of the day was occupied mainly by our 450km drive back to Reykjavik, with PĂ ll telling us about the Icelandic language and its similarities, believe it or not, with English ("but it's purer!"), recounting a Saga (you really have to be Icelandic to enjoy them) and describing the Icelandic character, which is so direct it can appear rude - like, please is rare, doors are not held, Mr and Mrs is unknown. We had two stops. One was on a lava field where, horrors! someone had had a poo on the path - which led to some fairly (understandably) bitter grumbling about tourists generally that certainly as a Kiwi I could sympathise with. And then we stopped at the spectacular Seljalandsfoss waterfall that also featured in SLWM and which you can walk behind, which is fun, if wetting.
Finally, we returned to Reykjavik and the Aurora Guest House, where we said goodbye to PĂ ll. Though this Iceland Express tour is officially five days, tomorrow we're on our own in the city. So that made it even sadder for me when I realised too late that I had forgotten to remove my six-pack of Einstök White Ale from under my seat in the bus, of which I had drunk only two bottles. Damn. We ate our last dinner together at the nearby pizzeria, which was nice - though I have to say the highlight of the evening for me was coming across a cat wearing a neck ruff. Cute! 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Iceland 3 - Green, black, brown, blue, purple, white...

Thank you to Intrepid Travel for the discount on this Iceland Express trip
Today we drove through green, lush countryside that was broken up by sheets of purple lupins. They were introduced to Iceland from Alaska to retain the soil on lava flows and are now - did you guess? - a huge problem because they are unstoppably rampant. Sigh. (We have the same problem, on a fortunately much smaller scale, along the rivers in the South Island). But they do look pretty in July, certainly. There weren't initially many animals to see since the sheep at least are free-range (there will be a national huge round-up soon, the réttir, which would be something to witness) but masses of birds, notably oystercatchers, and Arctic terns, which do the most incredible annual migration. Honestly, can you believe it? They fly from the Arctic to the Antarctic! Amazing. It never fails to amaze me, how hard birds make life for themselves. But respect, certainly - especially since one has been tagged and is now certifiably 22 years old. That's a whole lot of miles.
We drove around an edge of - wait for it - the famous EyjafjallajĂłkull which, if you want to sound clever next time it erupts, as it will, is pronounced eye-a fyatla-yokult. It dominated the skyline, not high but immense, as we drove along the coast past now-inland sea cliffs that were streaked by high waterfalls, so many that there was no question of stopping for a closer look at them all since we had a long way to go. We did stop at one, though, to soothe our itchy shutter-fingers. Way out to the right was a 450 km stretch of black sand beach ("longest in the world!") where there's a crashed (emergency-landed) US Navy DC3 from 1973 that people spend hours trailing out across the lava fields to look at.
Much more impressive was the SkĂłgafoss waterfall - and personally satisfying too, since it prompted the first Secret Life of Walter Mitty reference of this trip. It's not surprising it was chosen as a location: it's 60m high and 25m wide, the water plunging off the top of the seacliff very picturesquely. Of course, there were masses of tourists there - but since I'm one myself I should stop sniping at them. In sunshine, it has a permanent rainbow, but sadly we had a grey sky at that point. We heard lots of volcano facts from PĂ ll - Iceland does a mean volcano, with regular huge eruptions and quite a few now well overdue. He also did a lot of growling about stupid tourists getting into trouble out hiking and risking the lives of the volunteer rescue services, who he totally respects as heroes.
Our next stop was at DyrhĂłlaey, which sounds a bit Game of Thrones-ish (and they did a lot of filming in Iceland too). It's a dramatic headland pierced with holes, giving views of spiky islands along the coast, with lots of cute puffins nesting, flying and floating on the sea. Then we went down to Reynisfjara, a black beach, past a big notice warning sternly of "sneaker waves" and walked along for a closer look at those pointy rocks in the sea. The cliffs here are basalt stacks of hexagonal columns, like piles of huge pencils, some horizontal, others vertical and making the perfect backdrop for selfies. Really spectacular - plus more puffins and other seabirds, caves, and always the chance of some unsuspecting tourist being caught out by a huge and unpredictable wave rushing in from the Atlantic.
The lupins came into their own at Vik, where they surrounded a pretty little church on a hill above the town, and almost made up for our not seeing it in its more common Instagram form, as a silhouette beneath the Northern Lights. The sun was out and it was beautiful. I really enjoyed eating my sandwich on the black sand beach. Then we were back on the bus for a 3-hour drive towards Jökulsårlón Glacier Lagoon. En route there were Icelandic horses, lots of them (77,000 altogether in Iceland - that's a much more impressive horse-to-population ratio than the sheep one they're so proud of), plus waterfalls, glacier tongues, brown lichen-softened lava fields, lupins, one-way bridges (unlike ours, with no give-way guidance: it's first come, first served) and history. Like in 1783-4, there was constant winter caused by an eruption haze ("the worst in the world!") that killed vegetation, animals and people, 20% of the population. "It did happen, and it will happen," said Pàll sombrely.
And, ice facts, which was of course appropriate. Ice is not just ice, you know - the blue ice of bergs, for instance, is that colour because of the pressure that formed it, and it melts very slowly. Conveniently, that means that cubes of it in your drink will last 6-8 times longer than a regular freezer ice cube. Good to know! After such a long drive, we all perked up when we got to the Diamond Beach - partly because of the icy brisk wind, but mainly because it was so gorgeous. The black sand was littered with small icebergs, all shapes and textures, glistening like, well, diamonds against the black, and popping and dripping quietly in the sunshine.
And if that wasn't beautiful enough (we passed a bride in gown - and thick parka - on her way down for a photo-shoot) there was the lagoon itself, blue and lovely and littered with lots and lots of proper, Antarctica-type bergs, big and small, white, blue and streaked black, smooth and pitted. It was a glorious sight. And beyond them, the icy cliff of the glacier tongue dropping down from the mountains behind. Truly spectacular, especially in the sunshine we were so lucky to have.
We went on a cruise then in a LARC - not included, but unmissable - which took us on a tour around the lake to inspect the bergs more closely, and even to taste a bit of one that was delivered to us by zodiac. Our guide, PĂłlk, cheerfully held it in his bare hands for ages as he talked about the glacier - brrr!
And finally, after a very long day of driving, but with some spectacular breaks, we got to our guest house for the night, tucked away up a valley against a waterfall-streaked cliff, with long views towards the sea. I can report that a supermarket sandwich and a can of Campbell's chicken soup mixed with a can of sweetcorn make a super-easy and very substantial dinner.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Iceland 2 - Today's theme: water

Thank you to Intrepid Travel for the discount on this Iceland Express trip 
That was a whole night of rare clear sky I wasted by sleeping, because it was still sunny this morning. But at least I woke early enough to have time to nip out before our tour departure at 9am, to have another wander around the city. It was lovely, with the streets quiet, to just mosey around, taking random turnings and discovering street art and cats in windows and more pretty painted houses with gables and window features. Eventually I ended up down on the waterfront where there was a striking modern aluminium sculpture of a Viking ship, just the bones of it, with a shiny silvery sea behind it and a snow-streaked range beyond that.

Unfortunately, in front was a large group of tourists speaking American-accented English and also something that might have been Indonesian or similar and boy! Were they focused on the photos. Not of the sculpture, you understand, but of themselves draped over it, in innumerable poses, all adopted under the loud instruction of the mother-figure. It went on and on and on, honestly, while a handful of other tourists including me just stood there, holding our cameras and waiting with ostentatious patience for them to finish and vacate the site.

That turned out to be the running theme of today: other tourists swarming over the places we visited. And yes, of course we’re tourists too, and it’s July, and that’s life, and also the big problem of modern Iceland that I knew all about before coming: population 350,000 and over 2 million visitors annually. But that doesn’t stop it from being dismaying.
We started with a drive around the city and up to The Pearl for coffee (a very decent flat white!) and views. It's a dome built on top of huge water tanks where water is heated geo-thermally to 100 degrees-plus and then piped to everybody’s houses for heating, hot tubs and even warming the pavement outside so there’s no ice-scraping required in winter. Clever, and so environmental!
We learned about the great rift valley, and drove across it from the North American to the Eurasian plate, while Pàll told us about geology and hotspots and such. We went to ᚩingvellir, a culturally and historically important site that was also pretty spectacular with basalt cliffs, super-clear blue river pools and lovely views past a pretty church to the huge lake. There were purple lupins, yellow buttercups and dandelions, white yarrow, and larks and geese; and also lots of assorted tourists.
Then we left the National Park to enter Iceland’s farming centre: flat, green, fertile and populated by woolly sheep and cute shaggy ponies. Our next stop was at GeysĂ­r which, despite giving its name to the whole phenomenon, just steamed sulkily and these days scarcely performs at all. A nearby geyser, Sokkur, was much more active, spouting up about 20 metres every 10 minutes or so – but only for a minute. Burping, really. There were a few steaming pools nearby but the whole thing wasn’t a patch on Rotorua, truly. The thing that impressed me most about the whole shebang was how fast the queue for the women’s loos moved back at the visitor centre. Now that was remarkable.
I had my first Icelandic horse encounter, with four bored but long-suffering ponies in an enclosure patiently putting up with people patting them and posing for photos. Later on, we saw a herd being moved along beside the road, cantering past, which was fun – and also several groups of others being ridden. It was lovely to see they have such a presence here.
The most spectacular bit of today was the Goldfoss waterfall, which is the best water action I’ve seen since Iguassu: millions of litres of glacier water every second thundering non-stop over two high steps totalling 30 metres, with spray drifting above it. Well worth visiting and viewing from multiple angles. Also, it was quietly inspiring that the falls weren’t turned into a hydro-electricity project, mostly thanks to SigridĂșr TĂłmasdottĂ­r, who fought the idea in 1907 and is recognised now as Iceland’s first environmentalist.
Mountains – volcanoes, actually – were the literal backdrop to today’s drive, never quite clear of cloud but sometimes brightly lit in the distance, streaked with snow. One of them, Hekla, is so big that the whole of Reykjavik would fit in its crater, and another is the famous one with the unpronounceable name that caused so much trouble with its ash in 2010. Since we’re tucked underneath it for tonight, in a guesthouse way out in the country surrounded by fields where lapwings scolded us for having the temerity to walk along its drive, it would be pleasing if it stayed quiet. Which is more than I can say for the half-dozen 20-something Aussies of our Intrepid group who loudly braved the luke-warm spa out on the deck in the spitty rain and then spent the rest of the long, long evening busily bonding. Yeah, I know. Grinch.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Iceland 1 - Another bucket list tick. Yay!

Thank you to Intrepid Travel for the discount on this Iceland Express trip

Long day today! And it could have gone really badly – yet didn’t. Which is always good.

From London to Reykjavik - yes! Iceland! At last! - is a long way, so I got up early. Just as well, because having caught the train from Wandsworth to Victoria via Clapham Junction, all ready to take the Gatwick Express from there to the airport, it turned out the system was experiencing a "massive signal failure", trains including the GEx were being cancelled left, right and centre, and people were apparently even being encouraged to stay home from work. A bunch of us with trolley suitcases and anxious expressions were directed onto another train that took us back through Clapham Junction and eventually to the unexplored wilderness of East Croydon, where we got finally onto a train to Gatwick. I was SO glad I had heaps of time in hand, unlike some other travellers whose stress levels I really didn’t envy.

Now, I know the following is going to discredit me entirely as a travel writer with assumed experience and know-how: when I booked my Icelandair flights online, somehow, and entirely without noticing, my ticket for the flight there was business class. I know! This is me, I’ve never opted for business class in my life, when I’ve been paying (although, in fact it really didn't cost very much: only $345 return, which seemed reasonable even for economy). I couldn’t believe it when the tickets were issued – but, having done it, I thoroughly enjoyed the special security lane where they’re friendly and polite (lots of "my love" and "madam", plus smiles and pleasantries that are a million miles from the authoritarian hostility of LAX), and you’re whisked through in no time. And I also liked having access to the lounge with the food and wifi and the comfy chairs, and then with being called first onto the plane.
Turning left is always good, even on an older plane, and I enjoyed the service though it shouldn’t give Emirates any concerns. At least I got a decent meal with French wine – everyone down the back had to pay or go hungry, except for little kids. I was amused, incidentally, to read in the inflight magazine that "sheep are integral to life in Iceland" and that they take pride in there being a whole two sheep per head of population. Ha! But then, THE DISAPPOINTMENT! I checked out the movie channel, and it didn’t have ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ listed! It’s just so wrong. That movie is the whole reason I was going to Iceland at all.

Anyway. From the air England looked gorgeous, all mown hayfields and woods and hills; and Scotland was empty, with lots of lochs and edged with improbable bays of golden sand; and then Iceland was much flatter than I expected when we arrived just under 3 hours later.

At the airport I followed everyone else and found myself in the duty-free shop, where I was pleased to find a six-pack of promising white ale at what I (correctly) assumed would be the best price in Iceland. Then, naturally, I plumped for the cheaper shuttle into town, and equally naturally that turned out to be a mistake, since they played loud rap music for the whole hour-long drive into the city (“Dear passengers, there is traffic,” explained the driver) and then faffed around inexplicably at the end, driving round in a complete circle for no apparent reason. But eventually I got to my stop, by the unmistakable glacier-shaped church on the hill, and trailed along to the guesthouse chosen by Intrepid.
 
Yes, regular reader 😄 I am on another Intrepid tour, pretty soon after last year’s one to see the gorillas in Rwanda. This one too is Basix level, but thankfully without the tents – it’s to be shared rooms in guesthouses instead. We met up with our tour guide straight away. PĂ ll is low-key, experienced, 60ish and made us feel probably in good hands – though time, of course, will tell. He gave us the introductory talk and then took us on a walk around Reykjavik's old town, which looked bright and lively on this sunny evening. We heard that the last 60 days have been relentlessly grey and damp, not in the least bit summery, to the locals’ frustration and disappointment, so they were all out making the most of today’s mostly blue skies: walking, sitting, playing, parading through the narrow streets in an unlikely procession of 1950s American cars, eating and drinking inside and outside the many restaurants. We certainly felt happy to have lucked in, weather-wise.

Restaurants and souvenir/art shops seem to dominate Reykjavik, and puffins are very big, if you see what I mean. Tourism is huge here, as I knew already, and the streets were thronging with people from everywhere with cameras and phones in hand. As, of course, were we, as PĂ ll led us downhill along cobbled streets to a restaurant for dinner. The houses were pretty: two-storey, made of wood or corrugated iron or plaster, painted red, green, orange, yellow, blue with contrasting features and corner gables. Very Scandinavian.
 
After being shown a little caravan with a long queue of people waiting to order "the world's best hotdogs" (previous customers include Bill Clinton), we ate pizzas at an Italian restaurant, which seemed inappropriate, but acceptable to everyone: we’re a group of 12, all Australians apart from me, and another woman my age who’s from the US. Most of the others are in their 20s, just out of university, and busy travelling. Four of us are solos.

After dinner, which was cheerful and friendly, we scattered to do our own exploring, and I ended up down by the glossy harbour admiring the colourful boats, the large and modern glass convention centre, and wondering about the whaling tours (given that whales are hunted here). Everything looked bright and pretty in the golden light, the ambiance was cheerful and safe, there looked to be lots to enjoy, and it seemed a real shame to be, eventually, heading off to bed when the sun was still so high. But it had, truly, been a very long day.

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