Into the Arc­tic with two min­ders

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HEATHER ROS­SITER

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

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