Into the Arctic with two minders
DEAR Diary, So here I am tucked up in Iceland with my minders, two grandsons, one a volunteer rural firefighter to cover the volcanoes and the other a surf lifesaver to deal with petulant hot springs. Can’t wait to explore Reykjavik tomorrow. The landscape is truly weird.
Our hotel sits above Reykjavik’s centre; it’s a hilly city. Setting out, charmed by bright-coloured houses and tumbling rose gardens, it is some time before I become uneasy. We are beside a lake, not a harbour, and the substantial city buildings seem to be getting smaller. I say a word: the lifesaver is the leader today. On the far side of the lake we come upon an elegant church. The lifesaver disappears, then reappears triumphant. From the battlemented rooftop, Reykjavik is laid out below.
At the Saga Museum, in metal masks and chain mail, the minders clash swords. At Volcano House, documentaries of Iceland’s earthquakes prep us for the following day’s landscapes. The wild exuberance of Icelandic pop artist Erro captivates us at Reykjavik Art Museum. We check out the strangely beautiful theatre complex Harpa, before the lifesaver, map in hand, leads off up the hill. Goodness. Any part of Reykjavik we have not covered in the morning we do in the afternoon. I stagger into the hotel and tell the grandsons I’ll see them at dinner.
The firefighter is in the lobby. While I have been napping, he has climbed the cathedral’s belltower. “No fires, great view,” he tells me. Busking in the forecourt, he had done well: “I brought my mandolin.” So that’s why his huge backpack checked in at only 13kg. But where is the lifesaver? A sweating body lurches through the front door. His 5km run has taken in the thermal pools.
The firefighter is already at breakfast when I go down. No sign of the lifesaver. Ten minutes before we are to be picked up for a Golden Circle tour, he stumbles in, covered in sweat, his calves seized up. The thermal pools aren’t filled until mid-morning, so he has been swimming in the sea. Ouch.
There are waterfalls, geothermal hothouses, drenching geysers, all pale against Thingvellir National Park where separating tectonic plates tear the earth’s surface apart. We look down deep, mysterious fissures into a twisting black abyss so strange one could believe almost anything supernatural dwelt there. This hyper-rational scientist is quite spooked.
Back in Reykjavik, the firefighter’s university results await. We go out to Sjavargrillid to celebrate. Firefighter orders the triumvirate of minke whale, puffin and shag (European cormorant). He is not convinced by the whale. The lifesaver chooses steak and langoustine, while I settle for langoustine, crispy pork and battered onion rings. If it weren’t so expensive we’d eat here every night.
Afterwards, the grandsons are too tired to make it to the downtown bars. Or was it the lethal cocktails they downed at Sjavargrillid?
Dear Diary, Now back in Reykjavik after a jolly three days in Greenland. I do love the dramatic Arctic landscape. We flew into Kulusuk, then in a helicopter to Tasiilaq. We walked the Valley of the Flowers, played with icebergs in Sermilik fjord. The lifesaver is sunburnt. Both minders are now at the pub watching soccer final.
Played with icebergs again yesterday, not the brilliant white of Greenland but rather grubby things dirtied by volcanic ash. The firefighter has lunched on the Icelandic specialty of half a sheep’s head. “Brains and cheek were delicious, but I couldn’t do the eye,” he advises. Went swimming in the Blue Lagoon hot springs today, too. I have booked the horribly expensive Sjavargrillid for a farewell dinner.
I hear the grandsons leave in the bright, white light of 4.30am. I feel bereft.
Heather Rossiter is a scientist who has lived and worked on three continents, including extensive travels through Iran. She is the author of Lady Spy, Gentleman Explorer: The Double Life of Herbert Dyce Murphy, and Mawson’s Forgotten Men. Her latest book, Sweet Boy Dear Wife: Jane Dieulafoy in Persia 1881-1886, will be published by Wakefield Press in July.
A view across Reykjavik, above; Blue Lagoon hot springs, above right