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.

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?…

India 1998: Ladakh. The Donkey and the Dzo-

To undergo a trek in a remote region with a group of strangers can be an interesting and sometimes challenging experience. In our group of a dozen or so, most people were amenable, adaptable types-as you would expect for anyone choosing to take a hike in some of the most inhospitable landscapes the world has to offer. Added to this, our two guides, Adrian and Sonam were both amiable and fun.

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But a small group holiday is ideal for singletons and while most of us were in couples there were also some singles; a rather unfit guy, a youngish woman, a teenage boy [with parents] and two older women. One of these older women, Anna, a widow, was pleasant, open and friendly and made for a good, conversational walking companion, as I often found when falling into step with her [the two of us frequently bringing up the rear]. The other woman, let’s call her Margaret, was a bit frosty and possessed of little sense of humour, also perhaps somewhat unworldly in certain areas.

We were walking down a slope into a valley one afternoon, the bare, rocky terrain giving way to vegetation as the path flattened, when we came across some donkeys grazing. The animals were friendly, happy to be stroked as we stopped to greet them. Margaret became unusually animated by the encounter, though not as animated as the donkey, whose excitement on gazing at Margaret was expressed in an immediate erection. This reaction went unnoticed or unrealised by Margaret, who exclaimed ‘The donkey likes me!’ but was nevertheless witnessed and enjoyed by all of the rest of the group, so that most of us found it necessary to impose self control over the general hilarity that ensued.

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On another occasion we reached the top of a climb to meet a family dressed in their Sunday best, on their way to a festival in the Gonpa [monastery] at the next village-the next village being many miles away across a mountain pass. They were carrying all the essentials for a picnic-including a well-used teapot!

On our descent into Ang village we were to see the wondrous beast of burden that is a ‘Dzo’, an odd mixture of yak and cow. But sometimes our very presence at a village was as of much interest to the locals as they were to us!

At Thimmisgamm village we made our last camp, where we had to bid farewell to our lovely crew and goodbye to this beautiful place. The next day we walked back to Leh and our delightful hotel where we had one more day to get a last explore before we were to travel back towards Delhi-by coach this time-to ride over the second highest road pass in the world, among other notable experiences!

India 1998: Ladakh

Before I ever experienced altitude sickness I’d assumed it meant breathlessness, struggling to inhale and chest problems. How wrong can you be? I first suffered mountain sickness on a trip to Peru and Bolivia, succumbing to a debilitating headache and accompanying nausea, so I knew when the tell-tale signs grew that I was heading for another bout there in Leh.

As we travelled back to our hotel, following our visits to some local Gonpas my headache became worse and I needed to exert some strict control over the nausea that overwhelmed my system. Once back in our room I began throwing up and continued to do so throughout the night, kneeling on the concrete floor of our little shower room, grateful for this small luxury, at least.

Our tour guide, Adrian was aware of my problem. As we were due to go rafting on the River Indus the next morning he explained that I’d have to miss out on it, which did nothing to lighten my mood. Worse still, if I didn’t improve there’d be no trekking either. The walking would be hard, with some steep climbs and long days at altitude. I missed out on dinner and tried to sleep. Maybe I’d have rallied by the morning.

I did manage to sleep, waking next day and feeling wrung out but much improved. When I begged to go on the river trip Adrian relented but instructed me to ‘sit at the back and do NO work’, meaning I wasn’t to take an oar but was allowed to do some light baling, using a plastic bucket. In the event the rafting was quite tame, the rapids mild and we all survived intact. The Indus here was monochrome, sepia, without vegetation and flanked by steep, rocky peaks.

As I’d no ill effects and seemed to be acclimatising it was decided I’d be ok to trek. We gathered to meet Sonam, the Ladakhi guide who was to accompany us, a slim young man about Adrian’s age with a charming smile. We’d be visiting his parents’ home along the way.

We were to carry day-packs, small rucksacks packed with our water [minimum 2 litres], small items we’d need, and our picnic lunch, made for us firstly by the hotel and thereafter by our crew. The crew consisted of three guys and a string of small, hardy ponies who were to carry our main luggage as well as the tents, the cooking gear and all of the food we’d need for the next few days while we were tramping around in the foothills of the Himalayas. These brilliant guys went ahead of us, taking our luggage, pitching our tents and preparing our evening meal whilst we trudged up and down mountains and hills experiencing some of the most extraordinary scenery the world has to offer.

 

 

India 1998. Part 1.

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Following a successful and eventful trip to New York in 1997, Husband [though not Husband at that time] and I must have decided we could endure one another’s company for long enough to make a substantial visit to India. Pre he-who-was-to-become Husband’s entry into my life I’d been planning to visit a friend who had taken a teaching job in Indonesia, but it wasn’t going to work out for dates over the summer, so we plunged into booking two, back-to-back tours in India with the travel company, ‘Explore’.

We chose a ‘golden triangle’ tour [Delhi/Jaipur/Agra] followed by a trekking exploration of Ladakh, in the north.

On this occasion I did not keep a travel journal, so my memories must rely on photographic prompts, but at the time I was in the habit of collecting all manner of holiday-related items such as tickets, labels, maps and menus and constructing elaborate albums on my return that included all this collected junk. Nowadays of course photo albums have become virtual and keepsakes have shrunk to one sought after artefact per trip for our naff shelf [of which I have written].

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I can see that we flew out from Heathrow to Bahrain, initially and then on to Delhi. I also have the itinerary for the first tour, called ‘Moghul Highlights’. This time, rather than blundering along following our own, hopelessly inadequate plans, we’d have the benefits of a tour guide and all planned ahead. This is a regime that many people enjoy, but experience has demonstrated [as it did on this occasion] that tour guides can be double-edged swords. We were to discover the drawbacks quite early in the adventure.

We arrived into Delhi early on a Saturday morning, feeling the effects of time differences compounded by long flights, together with that shock of heat and fumes that you get when stepping out of a plane into a hot climate. Then we were gathered up as a group and ushered on to a tour bus to our hotel. By the time we arrived we were in need of first, rehydration and second, sleep, neither of which was forthcoming! We had a few minutes to deposit bags and must assemble for a lecture, followed by a day’s sightseeing.

Too feeble to protest we duly gathered for the talk, delivered by our guide, a proud Indian lady who was champing at the bit, wanting to get started on showing us her city. So, no water, no sleep, no time to waste-and no currency either, as I’d hoped; we could have sneaked a purchase of a bottle or two en route.

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In retrospect it was madness to comply. We should have collectively protested. We’d all had long, dehydrating flights and were now embarking on a day’s sightseeing in unaccustomed, searing heat. The guide was lucky that none of us needed to be hospitalised!

Despite the deprivations of that first day I was able to follow, listen, look and photograph as we took in the major sights of Delhi, the huge Jami Mosque, the Red Fort, the Ghandi Memorial and cremation site. At this early point in the tour we did not yet realise that our guide’s insistence on strict adherence to discipline was to become a problem but it was not too long before a minor rebellion in the ranks began to germinate…