Monday, 4 August 2014

Doing the Thing thing

Another early start, to complete the Golden Circle with a visit to Thingvellir. We begin at the visitor centre where a friendly – and enormous – raven peers down from the top of the information board while we plan our visit. We grab a hot drink before setting off to walk along the rift valley where the two tectonic plates are drifting apart at a rate of 1.5cm per year.
There are few people in the northern portion of the valley, but there are plenty at the waterfall which Mel observes we are unfortunately visiting too early for lunch. We continue up to the top portion of the site, then over the rift and down to the valley floor to visit the church and the mansion house. There’s a pool nearby which is so clear you can see how the bottom falls away at the edge of the rift. We have a chat about what we’ve got planned for the last 24 hours and Mel says she would have liked to have seen a turf house but a quick bit of research doesn’t reveal any historic ones within striking distance. We decide to keep our eyes peeled and hope to see on en route.

We continue around the lake and find the southern portion is a dirt track with a gravelly surface which makes it rather like a rally stage – you need enough speed to skim the top of the corrugated ruts but not so much that you skid on the gravel. It’s fun but requires a lot of concentration and I’m relieved to hit asphalt again. We find ourselves on another dirt track as we approach Keriđ, although this one is less gravelly I am amazed at what our little car has had to put up with.
Unfortunately Mel has to put up with a view of a volcanic crater for lunch today – not quite a waterfall but still quintessentially Icelandic. The bench we sat on during our previous visit was surrounded by water this time, apparently an indication that the water table is fuller.

From here it’s a relatively short drive to Hveragerđi and we check in at Frost and Fire before deciding whether to go out and find some more things to see. The receptionist shows us around – thermal pool, thermal hot tubs by the river, relaxation room … unsurprisingly, Mel opts for not going out. We book a table for dinner at Varma restaurant – a new addition since I stayed here before. There are more bedrooms, too – apparently it has changed hands and is undergoing an ambitious expansion.
We make some tea and sit outside for a while, then decide to explore the hillside on the other side of the river, which is steaming in several places. The footbridge is next to the hotel, and we begin by walking towards the biggest cloud of steam which turns out to be coming from a broken pipe which is supposed to carry thermally heated water to the town. Walking in the other direction we find many natural thermal springs and signs warning of thermal mud pools. We decide to take a route from the map provided by the hotel which takes us past the university’s horticulture department, some thermal baths and a strange wooden tripod that has a smaller sibling on the other side of the river. We speculate that it might be the support for some kind of pulley system for getting cargo across the river.

 We find another waterfall and take a footbridge back to the town side of the river which ends up in a public garden. From there we find our way to the town’s geothermal park which had just closed for the night. Looking through the fence we see numerous sources of steam, many of which seem to have been “tamed” by the construction of concrete surrounds. Hveragerđi is famous for its hot springs which made it the horticultural capital of Iceland due to the ready source of heat and water. The River Varma runs hot further upstream (its name means “warm”).
Adapting the route, which would have taken us through the now-closed geothermal park, we double back past the former domestic science college, the old dairy and the oldest house in the town, now offered as a residence for artists and writers from Iceland and beyond. We’re delighted to find a turf house, which Mel had been hoping to see. We’ve been fortunate this holiday because things seem to have a habit of turning up when we want them.

Back at Frost and Fire we use the pool and the hot tubs and marvel at the forces that are at work just below the surface of the earth. We shower, dress for dinner and start to pack before dinner. The restaurant looks lovely and has a large conservatory overlooking the gently steaming hillside.

The menu has more choice then I’m used to in Iceland, although neither of us can bring ourselves to order foal (even though we never hesitate over lamb). Mel opts for the arctic char and I choose the fish stew with rye bread cooked in the hot spring. Before our main courses the waitress brings an appetiser, which is rye bread pudding with dandelion syrup – unusual to have a sweet appetiser, but it’s delicious. Our main courses are excellent and the presentation makes them seem better value than other meals I’ve had in Iceland. Everything is so expensive compared to the UK that it often feels like you’re paying fine dining prices for canteen food. 

Dessert is just as good; Mel has a selection of local ice creams and I have skyr mousse, blueberry sorbet and dandelion syrup. It’s all gorgeous. We finish dinner, make tea and take it to the candle-lit relaxation room which we have to ourselves. This has been a lovely way to spend the last evening of our trip.

No comments:

Post a Comment