Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Fool's errands 1, Northern Lights 0

While we were sleeping it must have thawed, because the snowman’s head has fallen off. Lucky we took advantage of the snow last night. The sky is still heavy and when we leave the hotel we discover that it’s raining. But first, breakfast: make-yourself waffles is the highlight. While we eat, we check the routes to Gullfoss and the travel news. The route using primary roads is twice as far as retracing our steps from last night, and the conditions are reported as reasonable so we decide to go cross-country.

The drive is uneventful and we are among the first to arrive at Gullfoss; the snow on the path to the falls is unmarked. We can hear the falls long before we reach them, and they are truly magnificent. The water flows down a wide first drop, then some rapids and then a second drop into a deep gorge. Apparently the flow is sometimes so powerful that the water overflows the gorge. 

Visibility isn’t great and it’s raining still, but I take many photos while Alex and Simon build a snowman at one of the best viewpoints. It quickly becomes a tourist attraction of its own – people are photographing it before they have even finished building it.
After a brief – but expensive! – shopping stop, we set off for Reykjavik. Again we take the most direct route, past Geysir and along the fault at the edge of the Eurasian plate. As we pass the geysers the steam mingles with the low cloud. The road appears to be only wet but I discover it’s ice beneath when we power slide around a bend. In the national park there is a lot of snow on the road and the monster trucks throw it over the windscreen as they pass, blocking my visibility. It’s pretty scary.
Leaving the national park the road climbs higher towards a ski resort; there is more snow here and taller road markers. Then suddenly we are descending, the driving conditions improve and we reach Reykjavik at about 2.45. Arriving at the Hotel Klettur the receptionist kindly offers an early breakfast and Alex is happy to find the first “real” bed of the holiday.
We’re hungry but we decide to check out the cathedral before we eat, as it will begin to get dark soon.  Its design is inspired by the basalt columns we saw near Vik, and there is a statue of Leif Ericsson outside. We take the lift to the top of the tower, from which there are great views of the city and its colourful houses, the port and the surrounding mountains. Then Simon navigates to the old part of the city, beyond the lake, with a brief stop at a noodle shop on the way.
I don’t find Reykjavik a particularly attractive city. The newer houses are drab and grey, made of concrete and corrugated iron, and look institutional. The older buildings are more colourful but built from the same utilitarian materials. There are some impressive detached specimens along the lakeside, and the view is made more picturesque by the lights reflected in the wet roads and pavements. We find a restaurant for dinner and browse the shops, but it’s not particularly enjoyable walking in the rain so we head back to the hotel.
In reception, we notice that the Northern Lights tours are going ahead and the receptionist tells us that the area around the airport is expected to clear later. We check the weather and Aurora forecasts and, although the chances seem slim, we decide to drive out and take our chances. After “epic” burgers at Café 73 we pick up the car at the hotel and set off for the most westerly village on the peninsula, beyond the airport.
Looking for a dark corner, we park behind a church at the far end of the village. It continues to rain. We walk a little way along the track to check whether we can turn around at the end. It rains some more. It’s 10pm, Alex’s cold is worse, Simon doesn’t feel well either and the rain shows no signs of stopping – and we have to get up at 5am. We’re in the car debating our next move when a convoy of three tourist coaches passes on the main road. Wondering if they are Northern Lights tours, we decide we have nothing to lose by following them. Their destination turns out to be the airport. It’s still raining so we decide to drive back to the hotel and get some sleep

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