Archive for March, 2008

Iceland – Day 3

As we got back pretty late in the early AMs from the Northern Lights hunt, we slept in a little on the third day. Anyway, the forecast for that Sunday was snow, which was accurate. So our plans to either drive east to see the Jökulsárlón lagoon, or to drive North to Snaefellsnes peninsular had to be scraped since it would be a long drive and the snowy conditions would make our progress slow and potentially dangerous.

Instead, we decided to wander around the capital of Reykjavik then head to the Blue Lagoon in the afternoon. Reykjavik is small compared to other European capitals. We went to see Tjörn, which is a large lake in the heart of the old part of the city. It was mostly frozen over except for one corner, as a result, all the ducks, geese, swans, and other water fowl congregated in that corner. It was so noisy!

The City Hall stood by the lake, and in it was housed a 3D model of Iceland. It’s a huge model that took 4 people 4 years to make. I thought it was nice to catch a glimpse of the landscape that we wouldn’t get to see in the rest of Iceland. And what I saw made me want to come back to Iceland again to see the rest of the magnificant landscape. In our short 4 days (actually only 3 days if you count by 24hr periods), we’d cover only a small portion of what Iceland has to offer!

The rest of the town was quaint and cosy. And it felt very safe. We felt no need for heightened alertness to danger, much like when we are in Singapore. We could walk about freely with peace of mind.

After wandering through the Sunday Kolaportio flea market (more on this in the food section), we started to make our way to the Blue Lagoon, a popular geothermally heated pool. The wind was strong and it was blowing snow across the roads, making visibility poor. If we thought the highway was bad, the smaller roads were much worse! It was covered in snow, and at one point we experienced a near-whiteout situation! We couldn’t see the road, and we could barely see the road markers! The wind was blowing very strongly and all around was snow. We went slowly and carefully because we didn’t want to end up off the road and onto the lava fields – not terrain that you can drive on with a regular car. In that snowy condition, we got stuck in the snow twice! But Jon was the hero and immediately got out of the car to push it out of the snow! :)

What a drive! On hindsight really exciting, but during the drive itself was a situation that required one’s full concentration, lots of patience and perseverance! I’m glad we went through that it, but I hope we won’t have to go through that again!

In contrast to our adventure on the way to the Blue Lagoon, the Blue Lagoon itself was like a paradise of calm and serenity. Everyone who was already there was totally oblivious to the strong wind and poor road conditions outside. They were just enjoying the dip in the blue waters.

It’s an amazing place, sounded by snowy mountains. Steam rises from where the water enters the lagoon. The bottom of the lagoon is covered at some parts with black lava sand, and at others with soft silica mud. Some purer silica mud (probably taken from another pool, not the blue lagoon itself) is set aside for patrons to use as face masks. Apparently the silica mud is really good for the skin, so you’ll see men and women alike swimming around the lagoon with silica mud on their face :)

And the water is so wonderfully hot! The air is 0 degrees Celsius, and water temperature ranges from 38-41 degrees Celsius! We took the brave route and ran in the open to get to the warm water :) There is the more tame way of entering the water from the indoor pool, then wading out into the open. It’s lovely to be in hot water out in the open. The only problem is that your ears get soooo cold if you don’t dip your head in every now and then. I tried not to dip my whole head in cos the water is supposed to really dry out your hair. So every so often when my ears start to freeze, I’d dip my head side ways :) It was so cold that ice crystals even started forming on Jon’s eyelashes!

We spent almost three hours just enjoying the water there, and emerged relaxed and having really smooth skin! :)

We were so glad that the road has been plowed so that the drive out was much more manageable. Got back to our warm room safe and sound :) Such an eventful day!

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Iceland – Day 2

On the second day we decided to do the Golden Circle, a route which covers some of Iceland’s main attractions. We first headed for Þingvellir National Park, where the Alþingi – Iceland’s national assembly (also the world’s first) – was first instituted in AD 930. It’s apparently still a place regarded with reverance by Icelanders. It’s set on the lava plains lying between the European and American tectonic plates, two plates which are constantly moving apart! The Alþingi itself was held at the foot of the Almmannagjá – just one of many large fissures. The place, like everywhere else, was beautifully covered in snow except for the rivers and ponds that hadn’t frozen over. It’s always nice to see fresh snow that hasn’t been trampled on. Some bushes looked like marshmallows or frost covered muffins :) I also loved how the snow glittered luxuriously under the bright sunshine.

Our next stop was to Geysir, the original water spout that lent it’s name to all other water spouts around the world. The road we wanted to take was snowed over and impassable, so we had to take a longer route to get there. But that was fine as we got to drive along Iceland’s largest lake Þingvallavatn. Some parts were frozen over, but at sections the bright blue water appeared and contrasted beautifully with the white snow.

We also had the bonus of seeing the Kerið crater. There was actually a lake in the middle, but it was frozen. We met a Polish guy there who was on his third trip to Iceland. He thought that Iceland though beautiful in winter is at its best in spring and encouraged us to try to visit Iceland again during that season.

We also saw Icelandic horses grazing in the fields :) It was a lovely sight! Horses of various colours contrasting beautifully against the white mountains the fields.

It was a long detour, and eventually we got to Geysir. Geysir itself has stopped having regular activity for years. The nearby geysir called Strokkur has taken over as the key attraction. It consistently blows up a spout of water every five minutes or so to a height of around 20 metres. Before the geysir blows you can see the water level drop significantly, then it starts to swell, then it suddenly bursts!

The entire Geysir area is just gorgeous. Because of the warm ground temperature, some of the snow melts away revealing the colourful moss that lay hidden elsewhere. Again, the snow-covered mountains provided a lovely contrast and brought out the colour even more :)

We saw Strokkur spout three times :) So being satisfied, we moved on to check out Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s best known waterfalls. It’s a stunning, jaw-dropping sight that will stop you in your tracks. As you walk towards the path that leads to the waterfall you can’t see anything because you’re on a ridge. Then as you step to the edge of the ridge onto the staircase leading down to the falls you are hit by the wonder of the sight. Photos don’t quite capture it. The waterfalls tumble down a series of cascades, onto a lower level, then tumbles again down into a narrow ravine.

The wind was also incredibly strong…and cold! Already it was a -5 day, add the wind and the spray from the waterfall, it was even colder! I was so thankful for the jacket, raincoat and beanie I borrowed from Shan! Even through all the layers it was cold!

We walked down a path that leads right to the next of the waterfalls. I was a little worried when I was walking down the path cos it was slippery due to the ice. The path was narrow, and next to it was a rather steep fall down…so clumsy me made my way slloowwllyy and carefully down the path. But the walk down was well worth it! Surprisingly it was not that windy down by the waterfall, so it was a little relief from the cold :) But eventually we had to walk back up into the wind and cold.

We had to head back to the hotel cos we were going for the Northern Lights hunt! We got back in good time, and found that the tour was not cancelled, meaning that there was still a possibility for us to see the Northern Lights!! I was really excited! But was also psyching myself up for the possibility that we wouldn’t see the lights. You need really clear skies and good auroral activity to see the lights, but the though the afternoon had clear blue skies, the clouds had come in! Ahhh!!

We drove out of Reykjavik to escape the bright city lights, and to try and find a patch of clear sky. Along the way, in the dark of night, and away from some of the clouds, we saw a faint but distinctive green light glimmer in the sky!! It had to be the Northern Lights cos there was no large city around the area, meaning it wasn’t the reflection of the city lights on the clouds. It stretched lengthwise with a slight curve. I can still remember it clearly in my mind, even though it was faint, and nothing like the beautiful postcards you see. But it’s a haunting image, and the green is just so distinctive. I was hoping that we’d step off the bus to see the lights, but the tour leader thought we might get a better view of it further up the bay, so on we drove. The light remained in the sky, but by the time we got to the location he wanted, it had faded away! :(

So we went on north again to find another patch of clear sky. Again I saw the glimmer of the green light in the sky! I was hoping it would get brighter and more spectacular, but the clouds were getting thicker above us. We got off the bus and saw some of the green stretch further across the sky, but eventually the clouds came in and obscured the colours. Without the clouds it’d probably look something like this.

Anyway, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see the full spectacle of the Northern Lights, but some of the others on the tour with us didn’t manage to catch the lights at all! And others who’ve gone to Iceland before have not seen even a glimmer of it either. So I’m really happy that I got to see at least a shimmer of the haunting green :)

[Again..the photo uploader is wonky…. photos akan datang].

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Iceland – Day 1

What a wonderful opportunity! We’re so close to Iceland, and Icelandair had a flight/hotel offer. We had to grab it! The package included a Northern Lights hunt!!! I’ve always always always wanted to see the Northern Lights!

I was filled with excitement at the thought of going to Iceland! Never thought I’d ever set my foot in that country! And oh, how beautiful the place is. Although what we saw was great, it looks like Iceland will be all the more gorgeous in spring/summer. We hope to head back there again someday!

We took a day flight, which was fantastic because we got to look over the snow-covered landscape of Southeast Iceland. Jon and I were really awed by what we saw. It was literally jaw-dropping! That’s how Iceland is – it bewitches you even before you reach it!

Anyway I saw something funny on the plane. Under the “Golden Oldies” category of songs I saw U2’s “With or Without You”, and Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” ;) Poor U2 and Maddie!

I have been wishing it would snow in London, but it hasn’t. It’s snowed almost everywhere else in UK. But God answered my prayers in a big way. It was snowing in Iceland! And apparently it hardly snows in Reykjavik :) The wind was so strong the snow was blowing horizontally! All that snow made driving a new and exciting challenge for me. Think I won’t forget the drives in Iceland any time soon!

Unfortunately because it was cloudly that night, the weather was not ideal for viewing the Northern Lights. So we decided to go catch the Volcano Show. It was a series of two films on Iceland’s recent eruptions, filmed by Villi Knudsen – a man with a passion for the volcanic activity in Iceland. He’s filmed eruptions up close and personal, tracking the changes in activity as long as the eruptions continue. The films gave fascinating portraits of the formation of Surtsey (Iceland’s newest island) and the activity at Heimaey. He also covered the eruptions at Lake Myvatn and at Vatnajokull. We thought that the films really have perspective to the still-changing land of Iceland, and gave us insights to better appreciate the landscape. The footage was excellent, though we found the soundtrack to be highly amusing. It was a collection of random noises and space-age sounds, much like the type of soundtrack they used for sci-fi movies long ago. There were “UFO” sounds, crashes, knocks, etc. At points Jon and I couldn’t help laughing because it was really quite hilarious watching volcanic lava flow to such a soundtrack :)

It was only after watching the first film that we started to suspect that the guy who was showing us the film was Villi Knudsen himself! The films were quite old, and the man who appeared occasionally in the film resembled the man at the theatre, only much younger. We got confirmation after the second film that indeed, the man at the theatre was Knudsen himself! How amazing to meet the man who’s been so close to the eruptions. He was a lot older now, but he was still very interested in volcanoes and their activity. He told us about some of the places they are monitoring for potential volcanic eruptions. He also told us that he had been to Singapore too, although it was quite a while back :) He was a very nice man, and it really did feel like an honour to meet him.

Well it was just a short first day since we arrived in the afternoon. But there’s a lot more to come!

[Hmm…Something’s wrong with my photo uploader, so I’ll put up the photos another day]

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