Thursday, 4 December 2008
Iceland, Day 3 - Reykjavik & the Blue Lagoon
No luck with the weather and in the morning there more overcast grey skies and a rather damp scene. After breakfast we walked into the city to see the bits we had missed on the first day. We had liked the Sólfar suncraft so much the first time that we made for the seafront again and made a second visit before we walked further along the promenade towards the docks until finding our progress barred by road works we abandoned this route and turned instead towards the city centre. There were some bright new recently constructed buildings that reflected the new wealth of Iceland but many of the older buildings and houses were utilitarian grey but enlivened by gay coloured aluminium cladding, not gentle pastel shades like those in eastern Europe but strong vibrant primaries, reds, yellows and blues that were presumably chosen deliberately to cheer up long cold winter days. Maintaining property must be a nightmare here and the timber must require constant attention as in many places the bony fingers of frost had picked away at peeling paintwork allowing the damp to penetrate the wood underneath with no doubt dire and irreversible consequences. I like to repaint the house every twenty years whether it needs it or not, I wouldn’t be surprised if they have to do this painful operation twice a year in Reykjavik at least!
There was a raw wind and steely weather with iron grey shafts of chill that meant that we really needed to have our coats buttoned up and hats pulled down over our ears as we walked around the administrative centre of the city and the country, the President’s house and the Parliament building, the main square and the hotel Borg and around the town pond that was cold and uninviting even for the sea birds that were congregating at the edge of the water in search of food handouts and looking rather sorry for themselves. Actually the weather was beginning to improve slightly and we returned to the hotel at about lunchtime, confident that the missing bag would surely have turned up by now! No such luck and Kim is definitely not amused anymore and now it is definitely my fault especially when I fail to agree that there might be something to be gained from driving to the airport to give someone a slap. She was in a mood now big time and we drove to the airport with an oppressive silence, a Lara Croft steely resolve and a racing certainty that someone would have to pay for this inconvenience.
While I parked the car she went into the airport and when she didn’t return after a few minutes I thought I had better go and find her and help mop up the blood. I searched the airport a couple of times and finally found her at the British airways check in desk with the bizarre news that the bag was in Glasgow with no realistic prospect of it turning up in Iceland today. Glasgow? What on earth was it doing in Glasgow? I tried to make comforting noises that I hoped wouldn’t be interpreted as being unhelpful or in any way confrontational and then we left the airport and drove to the Blue Lagoon in weather that was deteriorating quickly into a miserable gloom that matched Kim’s desperate mood perfectly. ‘Have mercy I’ve been wearing the same pants for three days”.
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The steamy waters are part of a landscape constructed by lava formation and the warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, which are used as a skin exfoliant and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help many people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages a very comfortable 40° centigrade all year round.
The lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant because in Iceland, renewable energy provides over 70% of the nation's primary energy and over 99% of the country's electricity is produced from hydropower and geothermal energy. At the Blue Lagoon as part of the process of power generation superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal hot water heating system and then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in and is changed every forty-eight hours.
The signs to the attraction were a bit confusing but as we approached we could see the plumes of steam rising into the atmosphere and finally it was impossible to miss the huge structure of the power station looking like a set from a James Bond movie and we turned off the road and into the car park, which today, probably on account of the wretched weather was virtually empty. Soon after the power plant was opened and the pools began to fill people started to bathe here and some made claims about magic healing properties so eventually the company seeing this as a commercially viable venture developed it as leisure centre/tourist attraction and now it costs £15 for a one hour swim. They market it in the promotional literature in this rather extravagant way:
‘Guests enjoy bathing and relaxing in Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater, known for its positive effects on the skin. A visit to the spa promotes harmony between body, mind and spirit, and enables one to soak away the stresses of modern life. The spa's guests rekindle their relationship with nature, soak up the scenic beauty and enjoy breathing the clean, fresh air.’
The Blue Lagoon has about four hundred thousand visitors a year but today there were no more than about twenty in the water so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. After changing and showering the only way to the open air pool was to leave the building and as the temperature was only slightly above freezing it was a short but brisk walk to the luxuriously blue water which was warm and welcoming and once in the water we made immediately for the hot spots. Soon these became too hot to sit around in and we had to swim off to explore.
The bottom of the pool was soft and silty with a pale brownish mud that you definitely wouldn’t want to slap on your face or anywhere else for that matter. A handful revealed a scoop of human air and it was unnerving to think that we were swimming about and walking in the dead psoriatic skin cells of nearly half a million visitors a year. Put this on your face and as the mud dries I can guarantee an unusual beard of multi coloured pubic miscellany that would not be terribly attractive to the opposite sex. Having made this unpleasant discovery we hastily left the soft silty bits and stayed for the rest of our visit in the parts with the rocky lava bottom.
We could have stayed longer but an hour or so was long enough in the lagoon so after we had showered and changed we left and drove to try and find somewhere for lunch. This was spectacularly unsuccessful and the only likely place that we found was closed. The weather was desperate and the road signs were unhelpful so after a couple of u-turns and having become snarled up in a funeral cortege we abandoned the planned coastline scenic route back and returned directly to Reykjavik where we found a diner opposite the hotel and warmed up with soup and a roll.
We had enjoyed last nights hospitable restaurant so we went there again tonight and because we had enjoyed last nights meal we had the same plate of pasta again and we definitely had the same bottle of wine and I know that for sure because it was the cheapest on the wine list. Tonight, as it was the last night. I also tried an Icelandic beer called Gull but which was pronounced Gough in a difficult Welsh throat full of phlegm sort of way so I stuck to Gull as in the seabird. We enjoyed a really nice meal in a reaxing and welcoming atmosphere but the effect of the wine and the beer was beginning to tell and for me the short walk back to the hotel was a bit of a chore as I was looking forward to the warm room and bed and a good nights sleep. Back at the hotel Kim washed out her only pair of knickers and I made reassuring noises about the bag surely turning up tomorrow (that’s called déjà vu by the way) and so is that!
It was a mid morning flight back to London so it was an early start and breakfast before setting out in the dark on the road back to the airport. There was a front headlight out on the car and it is the law in Iceland to drive always with headlights on I was nerous of attracting unwanted police attention but I needn’t have worried because we made it safely back to the airport, refuelled and returned the hire car and reported to the check in desk for our flight home. And there it was. The missing bag had arrived via Glasgow and an unnecessary second trip to Gatwick to arrive here in Reykjavik this morning just when it was no longer required. Never mind, Kim was happy… She sensibly declined to put the bag in the hold for the return journey though.