Everyone loves The Italian Job, and there is one line that everyone quotes from it. It was only a matter of time till it got a good old sampling, and in 2003 that moment came. Here is a damn fine tune, a foot-tappin, head-noddin anthem. And it just so happens to have that immortal Michael Caine quote right in the middle.
Almost every tourist that goes to Iceland goes on a trip around the Golden Circle – an eight hour excursion from Reykjavík that takes in Geysír, Gullfoss falls and Þingvellir National Park. Half a million people a year climb on buses or into hire cars to see these sights, and I joined this number.
As soon as we drove beyond the sprawling outer suburbs of Reykjavík, it was clear that apart from a handful of towns and a couple of cities, Iceland is a country of tiny villages, or sometimes just clusters of farmhouses. The barren, beautiful landscape of vast plains punctuated by high mountains or meandering rivers spread out on all sides and I tried to capture as much of this as I could from the bus window as we drove towards our first stop. I knew it would be impossible, I knew that a camera shot can never represent the three-dimensional, almost infinite views from horizon to horizon, and I knew that trying to do so through the window of a speeding coach reduced my chances even further. But the majesty of the country, the continual change of my surroundings, meant my camera was in my hand for the whole journey, my finger poised over the shutter button. Each corner we turned, each hill we climbed or rounded, revealed another breath-taking view that I snapped happily. I know I looked like a rabid tourist, desperately taking pictures of everything, but I didn’t care. I love the country and I would have set the video setting to run permanently if I could.
And if the unending morphing of the terrain itself wasn’t fascinating enough, our guide occasionally pointed out a geo-thermal power station, or what looked to our ignorant human eyes like rocks but were in fact Elf Houses – a fact we knew to be true as our guide told us tales of Elves helping humans and being consulted on road building schemes.
We called in on a family-run tomato farm – enormous, climate-controlled greenhouses run on geothermal power from a plant in the next film – for a cup of tomato soup and fresh basil and then it was on to Geysír. This is the hot-water spring, bursting noisily and steamily from the ground at regular intervals, after which every Geyser in the world is named (albeit via a mispronunciation and misspelling). The ground steams, the smell of sulphur is all around, giving this spot an even more alien appearance than the already unique landscape around the rest of the country. Geysír itself no longer spouts – a subterranean rock movement some years ago closed off the route for the hot water jets – but Strokkur does still eject a jet of scalding hot water and steam every eight minutes or so, and this is where most people gather to take that iconic shot and capture this stunning natural phenomenon on video
And so on to Gullfoss. As with Geysír, this beautiful, humbling example of nature’s power sits in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The road passes it, there is a small visitor centre and gift shop, but for miles in every direction, there is nothing, no one. Just that same landscape. Gullfoss is an enormous waterfall. Not high, but wide and loud and deep and powerful and wet and cold. Viewing spots and steps have been built to allow us tourists the best access for the best sights and pictures, but as we approached I was increasingly aware of how insignificant human beings are, how something as simple as water running down from a mountain can carve these huge ruts through the rock, and if we stepped any closer we would be swept away and never found.
Coming soon in Day Five Part Two… the Golden Circle Tour continues to Þingvellir, and on my return to Reykjavík I watch Iceland play football.
It wasn’t the most exciting boxing match. Very little was happening when suddenly Red Corner swung a huge right hand, knocking Blue Corner to the floor. As Blue landed on his back, the referee started to count. Red paced and watched, Blue rolled and twitched.
“Eight, Nine, Ten,” the referee counted. The bell rang, Red raised his arms in triumph.
“Eleven, twelve, thirteen,” the referee went on, oblivious. Blue gathered himself and stood.
“Referee,” he said.
“Twenty one, twenty two,” the official went on, “sorry pardon?”
“The fight’s over,” Blue said, “you can stop counting me out now.”
“Counting you?” the referee replied, “no, I was counting my words. I need another seventy eight till my FriFic is finished.”
This is the prompt Rochelle sent us this week:
and I didn’t need to enter the ring to find 100 words in reply…
‘You have all this wine,’ Karen insisted, ‘and you only look at it.’
David sighed. ‘These are rare and valuable bottles.’
‘But you never drink any.’
‘It would have to be a very special occasion.’
‘It’s immoral. All the suffering and starving in the world and you spend hundreds on wine you won’t even open.’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘No, and I never will. I don’t feel I know you any more.’
‘You’ve changed. I think we need time apart.’
David watched her walk away. Her words stayed.
He pulled a bottle from the rack and reached for his corkscrew.
I was woken in the morning by the sound of incredibly heavy rain outside. Not what I wanted to hear, but it was more soothing then the sound of incredibly loud snoring by the Irish guy two beds down which been waking me regularly throughout the night.
The rain didn’t bother me though, as I had already planned a day of museums. This was the last day that my Welcome Card was valid – a card which gave me free access to many of the City’s museums – so I had to ensure I exploited it to its full potential.
But my first stop as I headed towards town was Hallgrímskirkja. I walked past the Reykjavík’s iconic church every day on my way to and from the town centre and I had taken a fair few pictures if it, inside and out, but I had yet to take the lift to the top of the tower. This was the day to put that right, so I paid my 700 kroner and pressed the number 8 button.
The tower is 240 feet tall. I’ll be honest, I don’t enjoy heights and was a bit wobbly even though I knew there was absolutely no danger whatsoever, but the views across the panorama of the City were stunning, even in the rain. Many postcards and pictures of Reykjavík show the view along Skólavörðustígur to the old harbour, and usually in those shots it is gloriously sunny. The day I took my pictures it was far from bright, but the beautiful contrast in the colours of the houses, the wonderful view out to the sea, the outstretching suburbs I hadn’t explored and was barely aware of, all fascinated me and I spent a good half hour just looking, enjoying being there.
I spent a pleasant morning being interested in and educated by the National Museum and the 871 Settlement Exhibition. As with the National Gallery, they were smaller than I was used to from visiting “National” institutions in England (NOTE: Iceland has only about 0.5% of Britain’s population but its museums are more than 0.5% of the size, so per capita they were bigger than the ones at home) so managed to tour these before a soup lunch at Garðurinn vegetarian café and a teeny bit more shopping. You will be pleased to hear that by Monday lunchtime I had bought all the gifts I needed to, so you won’t here about me frequenting Lundinn anymore.
After lunch, I headed back to the hostel (past Hallgrímskirkja again) to drop of my bags and then to Pearlan where there is a Viking exhibition I wanted to see (for free, thanks to the Welcome card) but I was so busy taking pictures of the view over Reykjavík from the observation deck
and petting the cat that was wandering around the car park, that I forgot to visit before I wandered back to town, this time taking a different route to explore some of the sights of Laugavegur and a church I happened upon and never discovered the name of.
After watching Björk’s film the night before, I had plans to watch Heima (a concert film by Sígur Rós) but before that I had an hour spare so nipped into a café and bought a “breakfast on the go” shake (with real granola on and in it) and then headed to the waterfront for pics of the famous Sólfar sculpture.
The film was brilliant – stunning tunes, beautiful landscapes, fascinating story behind the tour (watch it yourself, I’m not going to explain it here) and then back for the traditional few beers in the bar. I got chatting to a Canadian room mate, and she showed me some of her pictures from the trips she had been on. She had wonderful images of glaciers and the black sand beach at Vík and I expressed my jealousy that she had journeyed so far. “But you can go on day trips from Reykjavík,” she told me. I had no idea. I had wanted to see Vík but assumed it needed a hire car and a night away. No, she said, it’s a long day but you can do it. Right, that’s decided then, I am booking that tour. I checked on line and it wasn’t cheap, but hell, if you can’t spend a few quid when you are on a bucket list trip, then when can you? I would visit the bus depot in the morning and book up. Actually no, it would be the day after because in the morning I was off on the classic Tourist Trip to see Iceland’s most famous landmarks. I was signed up for The Golden Circle.
Who doesn’t like puffins? Anyone who says they dont is (a) lying and (b) not someone I want to be friends with. Puffins are the feathered equivalent of kittens – just sooooooooo damn cute!
Originally posted on An American in Iceland (and other places too):
In June, my mom and I drove several hours from Ísafjörður to Látrabjarg in order to see the puffins at this busy breeding spot. Atlantic puffins are the only puffins native to the Atlantic Ocean- wait….I just realized that if you say ‘puffin’ a lot, the word just gets cuter and cuter until your face is all scrunched up in a big ‘awwwww.’ Anyway, the Atlantic puffin breeds inIceland, Norway, Greenland, Newfoundland, and islands in the North Atlantic, going no farther south than Maine. They mainly fish from the sea by diving into the water, using their wings as underwater propulsion.
These adorable and incredible relatives of the auk spend the autumn and winter out at sea, flying along the water’s surface for easy hunting. However, other than “out to sea in the north,” we don’t really know where they go. It’s a delightful mystery. In the late spring and summer…
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I saw the film Chef last week, the latest offering from Jon Favreau (a man whose films I will always go to see because he is the genius that made Swingers). Thoroughly entertaining (even if the narrative arc was a little wayward and it kept redefining what sort of film it was and where it wanted to go) and well worth the admission money. But this isn’t a film blog (Note to self – TRG, you see shit loads of films, why not start a film blog? Surely nobody else has thought of that yet) this is a Choon Choosday post.
This track came up in the film and reminded me what a helluva song it is. It’s got everything – a nice sousaphone bass riff, bright shiny trumpet melody and a really funky hand-clapping breakdown vocal section. And it’s impossible not to sing and snap your fingers along with it. Go on, try and prove me wrong. You won’t, because this is a
or how about a live version:
I had already pre-planned that this would be the day I visited Viðey. This is an island in the bay which was once home to a fish processing plant and a small amount of farming at one point, but is now home to a café and some nice walks around the landscape.
But first I had to get there. I wandered down towards the ferry terminal – a fairly pleasant walk which took me an hour and gave me a chance to check where the football stadium was ahead of the game on tuesday and to take a few pics of parts of the city I hadn’t seen.
I arrived at the terminal just before the first ferry of the day, and helped myself to a free ticket thanks to the tourist Welcome Card I had invested in. A 5-minute trip across the 100 yards or so of water, and we were there. I say we – I shared the ferry with a Canadian couple, and as the ferry headed back we were the only people on the island. We set off in different directions to explore. I went West. On the way I passed Yoko Ono’s Peace Tower – an art installation with multi-language messages for peace inscribed on it and six beams of light that are illuminated around the date of John Lennon’s birthday. This wasn’t such a date, but it is a pretty structure anyway.
There was also a barbecue spot and cabin but beyond that, there was literally nothing, just grass and cliffs and cold wind and breath-taking views. I thoroughly enjoyed trudging along the path to the far end of the land, taking loads of pictures and enjoying the fact I was completely alone.
Annoyingly the rain which had been threatening since the day before arrived as I was part was round, and it wasn’t long before I discovered that my walking boots weren’t waterproof, and the extremely warm and cosy coat I had invested in wasn’t either. But it was pleasant enough walking. I had read in one of the guide books that birdlife and puffins roosted on some of the nearby islands, but the puffins migrate in august and the rest of the birds must have been indoors having a lie in or something. It was a rainy Sunday morning after all. Anyway, the circular walk took me back to the ferry jetty where the café sits, and I went in for a spot of lunch.
Food in Reykjavik is expensive. A main course of anything is generally around £15 a time in the cheapest places, which was a bit beyond my daily budget, particularly once you add in a drink or two, maybe a starter, and then double it for two meals a day. So I took to the “bread and cheese from the supermarket” approach for at least one meal a day, or as in this case, went for the soup option. I don’t eat a lot of soup at home, but I rediscovered a taste for it during the week. On this day, it was spinach and mushroom. Splendid.
Afterwards, a stroll East to where the old schoolhouse still stands and the village no longer does, before catching the ferry back.
Taking further advantage of my Welcome Card I took in the National Gallery and the Reykjavík Art Museum., both well worth a visit but not very large. But then neither is the population of Iceland. The Art Museum in particular was just my cup of tea, I like my art modern and most of the installations and pieces here fell into that category.
And then, off to the cinema. I had read online that Björk had released a concert film, and that it was showing in Bíó Paradís that week. So of course, being a huge fan of her work, I had to take this in. How could I go to Reykjavík and not see a Björk film?
At this point, three days in, it still almost seemed like a dream that I was in Iceland. There was a flag on Viðey and I stared at it, trying to convince myself it was true. Whenever anyone said Iceland or Reykjavík a bit of my brain said “oh of course, because that’s where you are”. Now I was watching Björk in a cinema in Iceland, and throughout the film that same part of my brain kept reminding me. And every time I remembered, a huge rush of excitement passed through me, another wave of delight that I was really here, fulfilling a life’s ambition.
So, after that, I went off in search of (a cheap) dinner and happened upon Café Babalú again. I’m not one for eating in the same place every day on holiday, I prefer to explore and sample a few different eateries, but it was very tasty there. And cheap. So Babalú it was.
Then back to the hostel for a few beers and to plan the next day. More rain was forecast – I hadn’t seen the sun since I arrived – so it was to be a day of museums and indoor activities.