Day 6. Sunday 19 May. Iceland.
We received sad news this morning of the death of a dear friend. John had coped with his cancers and associated conditions for several years, always stoic and accepting, and never losing his wry, subtle sense of humour, nor his compassion and quiet, questioning faith. He was a gentle, wise man – a husband and father, teacher, preacher, historian, author and cricketer (good enough to play in the Prime Minister’s Eleven) and a friend and mentor to many. Like many from SWUC who are travelling, we will miss his funeral, but will be there in spirit to farewell a lovely man and to offer our thoughts and prayers to his family.
T was totally disoriented on waking; the day looked bright and although there was some wind movement in the garden, and a weak sun just casting the shadow of the trees, the silence was extraordinary. We had gone to bed with light (10:30) and it had been light most of the night. D suggested a cup of tea and then announced that it was 0600!
After donning layer upon layer of merino, the down puffer jackets, beanies and gloves, we set out to locate and investigate the town. It was indeed cool, and even icy when the wind blew, but as we walked into Borgarnes we were ‘over toasty’.
There is a stillness here that is almost unnerving. We saw very few vehicles and just one jogger as we walked the couple of kilometres into the centre of town. The views were stunning –black mountains with snow streaks, a dark, cold sea, black sand and a range of different building types.
The little church commands the highpoint in town, there are a few hotels, a few supermarkets, a small hospital facility, pool & sauna (we’ll get to this later in the week) and the Red Cross Op-shop. Borgarnes is not really an island, being at the end of an isthmus connected to the mainland by a long causeway, but it certainly has an island feel.
At the camping area just out of town, at least one camper was ‘freeze’ camping rather than free campin
The cottage is very comfortable – and overly warm, thanks to the use of natural thermal heating which also provides electricity – we saw the steam from many fissures during a later drive.
Oh, to have this luxury at home! One downside: the hot water stinks of rotten gas. And no TV, not that we’ll miss that – only just noticed its absence at lunchtime!
Over breakfast D explained a way of very roughly estimating the Australian dollar equivalent of the Icelandic Krona (1 AS$ equals 84 K): divide by 100, then by 2, add the latter to the former and…..so T wrote it down and off we set to Netto, an IGA equivalent, to get food for the next couple of days. Total confusion about pricing, not helped by a plethora of labeling, none of which seemed to apply to the goods displayed, not to mention THAT formula (it works for D). Now there was a new way to calculate.…A helpful shop assistant showed us where the barcode scanner was so that we could check any item. She was then keen to discuss Eurovision, of which we had little idea except that an Australian singer was involved (Kate Miller-Heidtke, who was 9th). Somewhat dismayed by the high prices, albeit that some are roughly equivalent. The wedge of goat cheese bought in total ignorance yesterday, comes in at about $25 (we don’t even want to think of what that means per kilogram!) and later there was more pain when T chose a pack of 2 lamb shanks, figuring that she’d finally got the currency exchange sorted, and discovered at the checkout that they came to about $30!!!!! Generally the cost of essential consumables (based on our limited and non-scientific assessment) would seem to be up to twice, and in some cases three times, of those items in Australia. T wonders what kind of incomes the locals must have. We topped up fuel in the hire car this afternoon at a cost of roughly $2.80 per litre.
That being said, we knew that when planning the trip based on the excellent advice from the Fairies – not the bottom of the garden types but real ones, who are experienced Scandinavian travellers. If you read this H & K – thank you, you’ve been spot on so far.
So after that confronting reality moment, we simply had to go for a coffee and sweet treat (hang the budget) before heading out on a Sunday afternoon drive. First destination was Akranes, a bit south of Borgarnes, which had a history as a fishing and salted-cod-processing town. We’re not sure whether that industry continues, but the smell certainly suggests this. We stopped at a parking area short of the two lighthouses, the older of which ceased operating in 1947, when it was replaced by the newer one. A bunch of boys were being boys in the rock pools.
The bird life was fantastic, although much of it would have been missed without binoculars – identified were Eurasian Oyster Catchers, Arctic Terns, Sand Pipers, Elder Ducks and of course various gulls. And T saw a dolphin repeatedly cresting the surface. Magic. And at 12 degrees without wind, it was a glorious afternoon.
From there we opted to travel through the 6 kilometre underwater tunnel – D as always anticipating a cave in – to loop around an inlet named Hvalfjorour, which on the map looks to run about 40 kilometres inland. We stopped at a viewing site for no particular reason, to learn that it was where a significant military establishment had operated during WW II. It was set up by the Americans, with British forces involved in supplies and the anti-aircraft capability, to support the convoys sailing to and from Russia. There were a few signs of that time, primarily concrete bunkers and then a bit later there was a compound of Nissen huts in very good condition, so perhaps something military still happens here, or perhaps the locals, in the time honoured way, had simply ‘appropriated’ them. Amazingly, there were a few hardy cyclists on that part of the road, powering up the steep hill, but not acknowledging our waves of admiration and support.
We hit the main road north, but the traffic was heavy (and lots of caravans) fortunately heading back to Reykjavik but it was still uncomfortable enough for us to decide on a loop off Highway 1, taking in farming country and the occasional ‘steaming fields’. Farms are small holdings, super tidy, for small flocks of sheep, sometimes cattle…geese… and a couple of wild sheep wandering unconcernedly down the road.
T finds being a passenger in a little car quite disturbing, with the yellow road posts coming at her, feeling that D is too far over to the right (cliffside). Some of our friends agree that D is often too far to the right. They are all wrong. She will need to focus differently: D suggested she might get into the back, immediately behind the driver! And become a real back seat driver.