Thursday, 31 December 2015

Iceland: Bits and Pieces

          I wish now to hurry on with this Icelandic saga. So far the journey has been one of largish, discrete chunks of experience from the "Blue Lagoon" to the "Northern Lights," "Horse Riding" and "Water Birds." Although the last big event was the Golden Circle tour (still to be posted by Lucy), the rest of our stay seemed to be more like a series of small, but interesting observations. For example:-
1.       Many of the buildings were covered in corrugated iron, and painted. This often gave the impression of buildings made from Royal Icing, a not unpleasant sight.

2.       The lake which I mentioned in my post, "Iceland: Arrival," was about 150 metres deep, 90% of its water being fed from underground sources, and so clear that scuba divers often suffer from vertigo when swimming in the lake.

3.       On two evenings, we dined at the same very pleasant restaurant, good food and wine, finished off with a glass of Schnapps.

4.       On the way to our eating place, we stopped to watch the children enjoying themselves - and some of them were very good indeed.

5.       Under the floor of a local town, hit by an earthquake in the not too distant past, can be seen (not too clearly) the divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The divide can be seen more clearly out in the countryside.

The Eurasian Edge
The North American Edge (on the far side of the lake)
6.       At no time did the sun rise very high above the horizon, our daylight time being approximately from 11am-ish to about 4.30pm-ish. During those hours, the sun slipped along just above the horizon. And there was still a week to go to the winter solstice.

7.       We kept well clear of the Rock Trolls but saw no elves, although one knew where their cities were because the road was obliged to go round, not through, them.

8.       In the far distance we saw the volcano that famously erupted in 2010, and

9.       The geyser, close up, that erupts every four minutes or so.

10.     Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.......except that we knew that all good things must come to an end.......but not yet!

Monday, 28 December 2015

Hot Springs and Northern Lights

          On the following day, our first full day in Iceland, off we went to visit the Blue Lagoon. We set off in a state of relative darkness, the sun not fully up, at about 10.30 am GMT. Shops do not normally open much before 10 am to 11 am in the winter.) On arrival at the 'spa,' a project under considerable development, Lucy offed and changed to do her 'spa thing' whilst I did a tour of the surrounding area, before relaxing with my Kindle in the cafeteria. I should perhaps explain that, although I did rather fancy sampling the 'waters,' I was still struggling with the tag end of bronchitis, and didn't fancy risking yet another cough.
          As with much of the country we saw, the rock was black and of a very porous nature, reminiscent of large lumps of cinder. Bearing in mind its origin below the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, I suppose its appearance was not surprising. Here and there were great upthrusts of basalt and granite which formed the mountains of Iceland. It seems odd to think of Iceland having mountains as Iceland itself is just the top of a mountain sitting on the mid-Atlantic Ridge. The other thing of note, besides the cold, was the relative absence of noise and the sense of calm and serenity which depicted the mood of the bathers and the waters. It was as if an inner search had ended only to discover that that for which one had searched had been present all the time. Here was my first intimation of my inner world being projected onto the outer, material world. And the awareness of this link was to develop as time passed.

Like Large Lumps of Cinder

Black and Porous

With Upthrusts of Basalt and Granite

          Inevitably the time arrived when, having lunched on sushi, we had to leave and return to our apartment in preparation for the evening's trip out to the middle of nowhere to see the northern lights. On the way I noticed that the coach's outside thermometer was reading -6 deg.C.  When we finally arrived at our destination, there was a cold wind blowing which produced a sizeable wind chill. It was definitely not a mild evening, but one which needed to be guarded against. To begin with, the temperature seemed very manageable. It was only after having removed my gloves for about a minute, to take (as best as I was able with a hand-held camera) three pictures of the lights, that I found my fingers painfully cold. A further two pictures, and that was enough! The quality of the photographs is not of the best, but all things considered......





And a Fiery Finale

Whilst we were there, our driver took some photographs of his passengers, as shown. He used a technique that required his setting up his camera on a tripod - the camera set to a suitable exposure time - then at some point 'swiping' us with the light from a torch.

"Stuffed Owls That Had Died From Hypothermia!"
          We moved on a little further to another stopping point. For a while there appeared nothing that was particularly different from our previous sightings. Then our driver/guide said, "Look straight up!" Now what I saw was not a staggeringly beautiful sight, but one which nevertheless had a deep effect on me. It was as if quite faint streaky lights were arrowing in to a point immediately above (remembering that the North Star, Polaris is higher in the sky than in countries further south than Iceland, the northern coast of Iceland touching the Arctic Circle). The display gave the impression that I was standing at the bottom of a tube that reached up to infinity. I was also very aware that in this in-between place, fearsome energies were apparent as charged particles from the solar wind were drawn down into our space. There are times when it feels healthily good to be made to feel small. The only thing that prevents the eradication of life on this beautiful planet, and protects our atmosphere, is the electromagnetic shield which surrounds us, and that field is generated by the planet's core. If there had been nothing else that evening that filled me with a sense of awe, that would have been enough.
          So there I stood, atop a mountain which itself sat on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, looking up into the infinity of space and surrounded by immense energies streaming out from the sun. And all the while, the cold sat and waited....... Who could not feel moved by all that?

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Iceland: Arrival

          After a three-hour flight from England we approached Keflavik airport which is situated some 40-50 km west(ish) of Reykjavik, about an hour's journey by airport coach. It was late afternoon as we approached Keflavik but it appeared to be a rather surreal early evening. At first, very little could be seen of habitation, except a bright orange rectangle in the midst of what appeared to be a white, irregular ice cap floating in the ocean. (The picture below I have borrowed from Lucy's photograph collection. I didn't take any pictures at this stage having chosen not to take the window seat.) I later discovered that the bright orange rectangle, not shown on the photograph, was a very large greenhouse.

Approaching Iceland

Food is relatively expensive, a fair amount of it needing to be imported. Their animal feed, however, must be grown locally because of the risk of imported disease, and that presumably reduces their ability to grow other foodstuffs. One other feature stood out as we came into land, and that was a large, darkening lake, but more of that in a later post.
          Only some three or so days prior to our arrival, "Storm Desmond" had swept across Iceland. The local people were still clearing the roads the day before we arrived. Thus it was that Iceland presented a snowy, cold and bleak aspect to a traveller. As we were transported to the capital where we were to stay for our three-day break, it appeared as though the buildings were huddling close to the ground, gripping on for dear life, and not daring to raise themselves against the chilly wind. Gradually, as we approached the gently undulating suburbs of Reykjavik, the buildings seemed to begin to find courage and raise themselves up. And whereas closer to the airport, lights seemed to be struggling to climb any available piece of sloping land, closer to the city the lights seemed to cascade down the slopes as if joyful defiance of the of the rural winter.
          Our apartment was situated behind a church, and although close to a frozen, snow-covered lake, was very comfortable and warm.

Church Betwixt Apartment and Lake

Our Ground Floor Apartment

One of the many joys of Iceland is its wealth of thermal energy which supplies the central heating and other hot (and I mean hot!) water needs. Now I was unable to check directly, but I swear our shower room sat atop its own private, mini-volcano. It was beautifully warm underfoot. However, rest and relaxation was not our highest priority at that moment. First we needed to find a supermarket, and then a restaurant.
          We found the first after wandering around feeling vacantly lost, being rescued by a couple of locals. We had previously been advised to "go to the square," a location that was similar in size to our living room at home. Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but you get my point I hope. Having stocked up with the necessary provisions, we then set off to find a place to eat an evening meal. Eventually, we happened upon a tall, barn-like building which served the best fish 'n chips in the world. Well that's what the restaurant said, and they should know! Shouldn't they? Anyway, we entered this rather uncompromising place which seemed to hail from an earlier era, when life might have been a little harder. The range of food on the menu certainly surprised me. What surprised me even more was the excellent, fresh quality of the cod and chips, washed down with a couple of glasses of excellent white wine.
          Finally, we arrived back at our apartment, duly fed and watered,

Shopped, Fed and Watered

and prepared for our first night of comfortable sleep. The wintry countryside seemed a very long way away by then, and we drifted off thinking about what the morrow might bring at the "Blue Lagoon." But that was to be another day.
          And all the while there was a not quite, almost indefinable sense of the liminal.........

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Iceland: An Introduction

           This is the saga of Thomas-Thomas'-son and Lucy-Henry's-daughter and their journey to the Land of Ice in the frozen, far north. Actually, this is only an introduction to set the scene for a recent, short holiday in Iceland. I must say straight away that Lucy is also posting on "Box Elder" her account of that holiday. I wish to do two things here. One is to be the WD40, so to speak, that lubricates and fills in certain details of her account, the other is to try to describe my feelings about Iceland, feelings that opened up for me a quite illuminating experience.
           To begin with, we decided to take this short, three-full-day break to celebrate her birthday. Readers here will perhaps remember that we tend to stretch our birthday celebrations over three days, whilst I, at the same time, usually try to ignore the fact that it is my birthday at the September break. Now it will not, I'm sure, take any stretch of the imagination to see that our visit took place in winter conditions, at around the middle of December.
           It has been very mild here in France, as it has in other areas more accustomed to chilly conditions at this time of year. One consequence of the mild weather is that the blood-sucking bugs are still doing their level best to make life uncomfortable. To escape to a cold country free of pests, whilst may not be the most desired location for sun-loving Arizonans, came as a welcome relief. To feel cold was an unexpected joy. "Heavens, I really am alive!" I thought. A circumstance that added much to our contentment was that five friends, two human and three canine, offered to house-sit in our absence.
           Well I guess that will have to do as an introduction. Now comes the trawling through, and ordering of, the many photographs that we took. One must also beware of wasting time, mooning about a possible return to the Land of Ice.