Sightseeing in Iceland

On this, the last day of our abortive trip to Iceland, we made it out of the hotel to tour some sights at last…

So finally we were out and about together to see three of the ‘must sees’ on offer in Iceland for tourists and the sun was shining in a blue, cloudless sky. Our guide for the day, Albert, kicked off with a few hackneyed jokes as we exited Reykjavik then we were away up into the snow clad countryside, following the route we’d returned on the previous day when I’d travelled alone.

It became clear that we’d be doing the trip in reverse this time, first to the Gulfoss waterfall. I was delighted to be seeing it again, not least because the huge falls were bathed in sunshine this time, the water sparkling as it tumbled down over the ledges and a rainbow visible in the spray. We looked from the top then moved down the steps to view it from the lower level. I was better pleased with my photos this time!

En route to our next stop- the geyser- the weather did an abrupt u-turn. A viscious wind sprang up and blew a blizzard across almost horizontally, so that when we pulled in at the car park for the thermal springs and pools and got out of the bus it felt like being cut in half, such was the ferocity of the gusts. We battled across the slippery road and up the path to the geyser, where we stood just long enough to see the spout fly up into the air in a wheezy plume and be blown sideways. Then we felt we’d had enough, although as we turned to head back several people in wheelchairs were arriving, pushed by brave and strong helpers, demonstrating a tenacious will to live life to the full!

There was time for a hot drink in the cafe before we left. By now the weather had deteriorated further but we’d still to visit the national park [first on the list the day before]. The weather had worsened again, rendering visibility a problem for our driver, who’d also to deal with the high wind, which made steering difficult. Albert asked us to move up to the front seats of the bus to help with stability- even so it was slow going and by the time we got to the National Park the light was fading and the cafe had shut. We spent a few minutes there, but crossing the two tectonic plates and seeing the fissures in the snow was still thrilling.

We headed back in the growing darkness, to the lights of Reykjavik and were dropped off near our hotel, thankfully. But rather than go up to our room we trudged round to the Food Hall- a large, blue building on the harbour where the walls are lined with all manner of food stalls and the center filled with long, trestle tables. You choose your cuisine, collect it when ready and can sit together to enjoy your meals. We followed with a hearty beer before returning to our hotel for a late drink in the bar, feeling, at last that we’d had a tiny taste of Iceland…

On our return to the UK the plague began to recede along with rules and regulations. Maybe ‘normal’ life was about to be resumed? But then, as we looked over our shoulders at the fading brute of the pandemic a much larger and more frightening monster was rearing up in front of us; unthinkable, unbelievable. War in Europe…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Iceland: The One Day Out…

Husband was finally free of our hotel room after 3 days isolation. With only one day left, we were set to make the best of it…

It was our last day in Iceland. And at last we could go down to the restaurant and have breakfast together, instead of me dining alone and parcelling up breakfast items for him. I wondered what our fellow diners would think of my appearance with a man- Had I picked him up somewhere during my lone travel escapade? Bonded on a bus or in a bar and shacked up together in the hotel room?

We’d one more task to complete for the return to the UK and I was determined to get it over and done with before our day out. We’d to fill out a ‘passenger locator form’ for each of us. I sat down with my laptop and found the form. To begin with it seemed simple and I began to congratulate myself [always a bad idea]. I got almost to the end, to the request for the serial numbers of our return-to-UK, lateral flow test kits, which were resting on a cupboard top in our house, ready for our return. Horrors! Who knew? I tried various numbers on forms, to no avail, gnashing my teeth and groaning. Then I had a brainwave. I could ring our neighbour to go in and look at the boxes in our house. Hooray! I rang her, and she, kind soul that she is, dropped everything and went upstairs in the house to look at the kits. She talked me through her search, a number here, a number there…I tried all the numbers. None of them was correct.

The time ticked away. Soon we’d need to be in the lobby to await our bus for the tour. In desperation, I turned to Monsieur Google for help and got an answer. The numbers would have been on the invoice email. I looked at my inbox, which yielded no correspondence from the company, Randox. I looked in the trash. There! There it was- an email with some serial numbers! I keyed them in and pressed submit, holding my breath. And it went. Phew. We had to do it all again, of course, for Husband, but then we were done.

We began donning layers for our day out. The outside temperature was set to drop to -9. I was glad of my thermal tops and fleecy walking trousers. We were ferrried to the bus station as I’d been the previous day and went to the counter to pay for the day’s tour. At this point things went in our favour. The fact that I’d already taken the tour alone and Husband had missed it was known to the ticket clark. She looked at me. ‘There’s no charge’ she said. ‘Forget it’. After all the trouble I felt tearful when faced with her kindness.

We boarded the bus- together this time- . Our tour guide was not the world-weary Johanna of the previous day but Albert, a mature, jovial character who began with his -clearly much practised] jokes as we swung out of the bus park. The day was bitterly cold but the sky was a sparkling blue and not a cloud in it. And we were out together…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Iceland Day 3- Tour and Test.

We were half way through our four day visit to Iceland but no nearer to achieving the freedom to explore as we wished. Scroll back to previous episodes for the full story…

Now it was Wednesday. I’d undertaken a solitary tour to not see the Northern Lights and was now preparing to join the next tour we’d booked, the ‘Golden Circle’ tour. Since the Icelandic authorities had come no further towards contacting Husband regarding his ‘inconclusive’ Covid test we determined that all he could do was walk out of city as far as he could get and try to see some countryside, perhaps. It was a sad state of affairs.

I went to breakfast, stopping off to order him a room service one. A woman I met in the dining room told me she and her husband had almost been caught the same way by ordering Randox test kits and then at the last moment had gone to a pharmacy and got tested there. Otherwise, she told me, they’d be in the same sorry boat as we were.

With a little time to spare before my tour I looked at covid.is website and engaged the ‘chatbot’, where I vented all my frustrations regarding Husband’s position.

You may wonder why we didn’t simply ignore the regulations regarding Covid in Iceland- after all, you may think, who would have known if we’d have just carried on regardless? But we figured that a] we’d no desire to be caught, fined and possibly quarantined for two weeks and b] no desire to be hypocritical and to behave like the members of our own, criminal and dishonest, UK government. https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2022/jan/14/how-no-10s-alleged-parties-took-place-as-uk-covid-death-toll-rose-interactive

For this next tour I’d ensured I’d be returned to my hotel, not wishing to be abandoned at the locked bus station at some ungodly hour again! Along with some others, we were ferried to the coach, where I sat alone once more. Our guide for the day, Johanna, began her narrative as we left the city, an informative commentary but delivered with a somewhat world-weary style as she huffed and puffed in between parts of her notes.

Rolling along in the bus, I remembered the hot dog van. Although we’d saved parts of breakfast for Husband’s day of walking, he’d be able to get something hot to eat without entering a cafe. Hooray! I texted him this thought, then he rang me back, just as Johanna was beginning another desultory morsel of information. Husband had good and bad news. He’d heard from the authorities. They would come to the hotel and do another test on him, but he’d need to wait in the hotel room for up to 4 hours, effectively obliterating his plan to walk.

The tour continued and we stopped for the national park, where a portly fellow passenger told me of yet another tourist he’d met who’d been thwarted by the Randox tests. Onwards, then to the waterfall, which was impressive. I made sure to photograph everything to show Husband, imprisoned and waiting for the medic. Lastly there was the geyser and the thermal springs, again, well worth a look. I went to the cafe afterwards and had tea. But while lone travel has advantages [described in previous posts] I was missing a chance to share those snippets and asides my companion provides.

Back in the hotel, Husband had not heard any results of the day’s test and had passed his incarceration by parcelling it up into different activities: internet/reading/stretching- but still been bored mindless. I went to order our meals and it was while I was talking to the waitress that he called me to say his result had come: negative…of course…

Having ordered the meal we were not able to go out to eat, but as soon as we’d finished we went out to find a bar and have a celebratory drink, the first outside of our hotel. We had one more day left. What could we do with it? …

Reykjavik Unravelling

In last week’s post I described how we’d arrived to Kevlavik Airport to have our Covid test certificates rejected, after which we went to our hotel to await results of the airport test...

We awoke on Tuesday morning, confident that we’d have our test results and be liberated for our first full day in Iceland. We’d been told ‘within 24 hours’ so when we’d heard nothing by breakfast time we used the hotel’s excellent ‘breakfast in bed’ service, although we’d have preferred to have joined everyone else in the restaurant.

As we were allowed to walk about outside, after breakfast we donned our thermal layers and set off to explore Reykjavik, taking great care on the icy pavements. It was an easy walk into the centre from our hotel, although as the day progressed intermittent snow blew into our faces.

We were in the penis museum when the pings on our phones heralded messages. We’d chanced a visit, mindful of the instruction to avoid crowded places, ‘like malls’. The tiny museum was very quiet. We’d been around a couple of times, though there is a limit to how many views of whale penises and lamps made from scrotum sacs you need or want- We’d wanted to make the most of our £15 entry fee whilst simultaneously enjoying some indoor warmth.

My test result was negative, said the text. Husband looked up from his phone, aghast. His result was ‘inconclusive’ and he was instructed to adhere to Covid rules until he received further information. Horrors! We left the museum and trudged on. There was no hint of when the ‘further information’ would come. This was day 2 of our 4 day trip.

By mid afternoon the weather was deteriorating, we’d seen Reykjavik’s beautiful Hallgrimskirkja church and its stunning opera house and had enough of stumbling along the slithery pavements. I’d rebooked our ‘Northern Lights’ tour for that night [it began at 21.00] but chances of our being able to go were diminishing. There was also the prospect of another meal in our tiny room. Since my test result was negative, Husband suggested I should go on the tour, a pragmatic but sad solution to the problem.

I descended to the hotel restaurant alone to eat, dining at a small table and remembering previous holidays I’d taken as a lone traveller. I ordered the same meal for Husband and having explained our predicament to the kind waitress, she had it prepared and packaged up for me to take to the room. Then I prepared for the tour and left him to the TV choices, the mini-bar and his book.

I went to the lobby, where others waited to be ferried to the bus station and in due course we were decanted on to a larger coach, one of about four going out to seek the aurora borealis. The weather did not look vastly promising but as we left the city to find darker skies we were assured by the Italian [!] tour guide there was every chance of seeing the lights. Sitting alone on the bus reminded me of my lone skiing trip [https://wordpress.com/post/gracelessageing.com/3225] – everyone paired or grouped, everyone bonding. But I had the double seat and the window to myself.

After about an hour we pulled into a car park next to the lava tunnel tourist attraction and duly piled out into the snow, which by now was quite deep. There was an incline up which we were encouraged to clamber, a lava field covered with snow. The only light came from the lava tunnel building [closed] and intermittent trucks on the road. We stood to await the spectacle, assured by the coach guides that only a break in the clouds was enough. I stumbled as far as I felt able and stood looking up. And stood. And stood. I felt immeasurably grateful for my warm layers and coat as we waited on in the dark. After an hour or so there were a few exclamations from the guides that the lights were beginning and while everyone craned their necks to see I couldn’t help but view all this as an ‘Emporer’s New Clothes’ situation.

A van turned up selling hot chocolate and snacks, which proved very popular. We moved around at the whims of the guides, who pointed out pale grey wisps of cloud to us. After another hour, my feet were cold, in spite of my thermal socks. A steady trickle of passengers was clambering back into the buses, although I’m proud to say I stuck it out to the end. It was late. The bus fired up and took us back to town, where it began to detour and drop people off. I’d booked a transfer to my hotel, not wishing to walk the icy, dark streets from the bus station after midnight.

There were just a handful of us left when the bus pulled in, the others melting away into the night. It was 1.00am. I climbed down from the bus and tried the bus station door. It was locked. I dashed back to the bus and collared the guide, who’d no clue about me. He disappeared around the building and made a call then returned to assure me somebody was coming. The bus went, leaving me alone at the locked station. I held my breath. At last a minibus caming careering into the car park and I was ferried back to the hotel in solitary splendour, cold and tired but extremely relieved!

In our room, Husband was in bed but awake after a solitary evening, but had not missed anything. That was Day 2, then. Half way through our trip. What would Wednesday bring? Who knew?…

How Reykjavik was Wrecked [Part 1]

Regular readers of Anecdotage will be familiar with my travel posts. They are, in the main, a devoted homage to travel in general- to seeing new places, meeting new people, sampling novel cuisines and experiencing different cultures. You could not fail to understand, in reading my posts, that Husband and I love to see parts of the world that are not our own.

I’ve described how we’ve kept travel within our own shores these last two years, and while a holiday rarely goes without a hitch, I can only think of a few in my life that can be said to be a total debacle. This one, though, this first foray into a foreign country since the Plague started, this trip is a complete fiasco.

Here then, not for the faint-hearted traveller, is the first chapter of a cautionary tale:

We prepared, as I’ve described in the last two posts. Thus armed and ready [or so we thought], we left our airport hotel and trundled through the airport procedures, including showing our barcodes, displayed on our phones, from Iceland Covid security, which denoted our vaccine status and that we were ‘fit-to-fly’. So far so good. It seemed remarkably easy and we went through security into departure, on to the gate and in due time, boarded the plane. From the tiny, porthole window a double rainbow was visible, perhaps signifying ‘good luck’ or ‘bon voyage’, I thought. Hooray! We were on our way. In spite of it being Easyjet, the flight was fine, a comfortable three and a half hours during which the clear weather turned cloudy and we descended down into a snowy Kevlavik Airport, where we disembarked into the building, had our passports stamped, picked up our suitcase and strode towards the exit.

Here, then was one last desk before the exit to the transfer buses. We’d need to show our barcodes again. The man and woman behind the counter looked at us. Could they see our PCR ‘fit-to-fly’ test result certificates? We’d been unable to upload these before leaving home but had the print-outs, which we showed them. They studied the certificates. ‘These are no good’ they said. ‘You’ll need to do a test here and follow covid rules while you wait for your results’. When we asked how long this would take we were told ‘up to 24 hours’. ‘But it could be sooner’ the man reassured us. ‘You might get your results by this evening’. 24 hours. 24 hours of missed time out of a 4 day trip. I asked what we could do about our Northern Lights tour, which was booked for that evening. He shrugged, ‘you may get the results before then’ was all he would say. We were told we could walk around outside, but were not to enter any crowded places such as shops, malls, restaurants or bars. Outside the building a raging blizzard was blowing across the tarmac.

With no options, we went to a small side booth, where medics in PPE gear waited with swab sticks in hand. We got swabbed. The euphoria from arrival had begun to ebb away as the realisation of our situation seeped in. I found our bus. I was not about to ask how we’d get to our hotel, 50 minutes away in the capital so we sat down and made the journey to the bus station, transferred to a minibus and onwards to the Grandi by Center.

We checked in, advising the hotel staff of our situation. We could get room service, they told us. At this point we weren’t too pessimistic. The Northern Lights tour had been cancelled due to bad weather conditions [the blizzard], so we’d be able to go the next night, after receiving our results. We’d have to eat dinner in our room and would not get to visit anywhere until the following day, but we could go for a walk around the vicinity and get our bearings, which we did. The Grandi was in a great area, with many lovely venues. In the fading twilight we strolled the pavements, taking great care as in many places they were pure, unadulterated sheet ice and lethal in their slipperiness.

Having perused the meagre and eye-wateringly priced meals available on the hotel’s room service I got online and found meal delivery services, resulting in our eating Domino’s pizzas; adequate, less pricy but not the sampling of local cuisines we’d hoped for. Also we were able to get BBC channels on the room TV. We’d cope tonight and be free to roam next day…or not…

The Travelling Sofa of 2020

We must not complain. It’s been my silent mantra this year. Be glad we are safe, well and adequately fed, live in a lovely home in a pleasant place. Nevertheless this has been the first year for almost thirty years we haven’t crossed the water to Europe and set off, meandering with no fixed plans and half an eye on the weather forecast.

We have, in fact holidayed during 2020. Way back in February, in what seems like a century ago we took the plunge and went off on our pre-booked, long-haul, winter sun trip to Thailand, to Koh Samui. We deliberated, yes, worried, yes, took advice, yes-and then went, carrying face masks, hand gel and all the paraphernalia we have subsequently become accustomed to. It was tricky; hot, suffocating queueing in Bankok airport wearing masks, but now I look back and am so glad we braved it. Our ten days was wonderful, with no virus on Koh Samui, everything relaxed and easy.

In the summer we were able to get away to UK destinations in our camper van, starting with a cautious outing locally, down the coast to Osmington near Weymouth. We became more confident and travelled to Suffolk for a couple of weeks, looking at a part of the UK we are unfamiliar with. Later on we stayed in Cornwall, the sites busy but safe so that the trip felt almost ‘normal’. All these trips are documented on Anecdotage in previous posts.

We have not planned any travel for 2021. Unlike many, I’m not expecting a miraculous transformation of our viral fortunes just because it’s a new year. We are consistently [and annoyingly] reminded that ‘the virus doesn’t recognise Christmas’ so why should it then recognise that the date has changed?

Instead I’ve daydreamed, ogled at and imagined all the places I’d still love to go, as yet unvisited or fond favourites we’ve returned to many times. Here then, in no particular order is my list.

New to us

* Canada. We went to Canada for a few hours, once, walking across the border at Niagara from the USA. Perhaps we’ve watched too many snowy landscaped serial killer thrillers [including the excellent ‘Cardinal’] during lockdown, but I feel myself drawn to those vast frozen expanses and opportunities to see bears and whales. A rail trip through the Rockies would make a wonderful addition to a visit, too!

*Likewise, Iceland. Without the polar bears and whales but with hot springs and a chance to see the Northern Lights, perhaps. Scandinavia has been another source of serial killer TV entertainment this year, with Iceland’s own, bleak contributions.

*Santorini. I’ve visited many of Greece’s gorgeous islands, but have still to set foot on Santorini, with its towering cliffs and nearby volcano. I believe it does suffer from heavy tourist footfall but this does not prevent me dreaming about standing and taking in those views with a stunning sunset.

*St Petersburg. I may be basing my desire to see St Petersburg on screenings of films like Dr Zivago, but portrayals of this iconic city look impossibly romantic.

*Rorke’s Drift. I’d like to visit this site, famous for a battle during the Zulu wars, for personal reasons. An uncle on my mother’s side of our family won the VC at the battle, for defending the place [which was a hospital and stores]. He is depicted in the film, ‘Zulu’. I’ve little interest in safari holidays, but this is a part of Africa that tempts me. I’d also be excited to go to the Victoria Falls, of course!

*In due course, the USA may become visitable again, now that a sensible choice of president has been made. I’d love to see southern states and also to explore more of the East Coast.

Old Favourites

*The Italian Lakes. In 2019 we made a late summer trip to Lakes Lugano, Como, Iseo, Garda and Maggiore. Every lake was sheer magic, each with its own character and features. Each lake was a wrench to leave-until we arrived at the next. The lakes are like a siren call, with their beguiling sunsets and abundance of art. Let me at them!

*Croatia. A stunning, unbeatable coastline and islands. And Dubrovnik is one of my favourite European cities. Then there is Plitvice-a world heritage lake site with astonishing waterfalls, an unforgettable experience.

*Romania. Strictly speaking it isn’t an old favourite, as we whisked through on our return from the Greek mainland, but the brief glimpses we got made me long to go back and explore properly. Transylvania next time!

*South West France. We’ve spent more holiday time here than anywhere else, so much that there is nowhere from Bordeaux to the Spanish border we havent been! But it is beautiful and feels like home each time we go.

There are countless more places-places I only visit on my travelling sofa. I can’t complain. Until we are set free again I’ll continue to sofa-travel-and maybe you, reader can achieve some sofa-trips of your own? Have a Happy New Year in whatever way you are able!