Iceland Idyll – Further Travels of Gma and Lolly Girl

Iceland Idyll – Further Travels of Gma and Lolly Girl

Icelandic Sagas are enthralling. Dark and violent, vengeful. Myths and legends, or true stories of the Viking families who settled Iceland in the middle ages? They have been known as fiction, superstition and fantasy. It is said that truth can be found in the Sagas – that is Sagas were based on reality, but with mythical elements woven in to the stories.

Gma and Lolly Girl were idling about in London, Gma at Primrose Hill and Lolly Girl at Richmond. Iceland had been on our travel radar, and was far more accessible from London than from our antipodean homes. We were interested in the Sagas’, and were both reading a book written by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason “Saga Land – the island of stories at the edge of the world.” The discussions of the Sagas, Icelandic history and the travel by the authors described in this book had us very motivated to visit Iceland.

Lets do it we said – so we did. Our only regret is that a week is not enough to do more than explore Reykjavic and areas close enough to visit on a day trip from Reykjavic.

Gma had booked a serviced apartment in the centre of Reykjavic, and was somewhat startled to find the city mapper app seemed to be taking us in a different direction than anticipated. Turned out that what I thought I had booked was not actually what I booked. The apartment was shabby, in a basement, smelt of cigarette smoke, and was basically a shabby room with a corner bricked off to accommodate a bathroom. A hovel in fact.

Lolly Girl was very good humoured, and didn’t seem too bothered, so after a minor tantrum on my part, and a good spray of french perfume around the hovel by Lolly Girl, we congratulated ourselves on saving so much money on accommodation by staying in a hovel, and set off to explore Reykjavic.

The architecture is varied. The buildings are constructed with reinforced concrete, wood or corrugated iron. My preference was for the corrugated iron. I loved the houses and shops in the central part of the city – bright and cheerful, some even sporting a turf roof.

The Harpa Concert Hall, designed by Iceland artist, Olafur Eliasson sits on the waterfront – a vision splendid, looking like a huge crystal sculpture, with its coloured glass facade. Sipping champagne at the bar, watching the light dancing on the glass panels and changing colour in different lights made me feel as if I was in a giant kaleidoscope. So entrancing was the view, more champagne was required before we were ready to leave.

A big disadvantage of staying in a hovel, is that we didn’t want to spend any time in it even to eat, which meant we were out hunting and gathering quite early for breakfast. An early morning coffee was elusive, even in Laugavegur, the main Street of Reykjavic. One establishment took our order, then we were told they didn’t open for another hour. It was not amusing. For a brief moment, I had a vision of seeking vengeance, Saga style, but I didn’t have access to an axe.

If we had turned left into Laugavegur instead of right, we would have discovered the most perfect breakfast place two shops down.

The hovel was just down the hill from the Hallgrimskirkja Church, which made it easy to visit whenever we wished – and to frequent the hot dog stand nearby. Lutheran churches have always felt quite austere and grey to me. Hallgrimskirkja was no different, but with soaring ceilings, long slim beautifully proportioned windows and a huge organ, the simplistic minimalism created a serenity often absent from the more ornate cathedrals and churches. The building is said to echo the shapes of cooling lava, and inspired by the basalt columns at the black sand beach at Reynisfjara, on the south coast.

There are a lot of waterfalls in Iceland. We managed to visit a very small number on day trips around the Golden Circle and the South Coast. They were awesome.

Although both Lolly Girl and Gma have spent many happy hours in thermal pools in New Zealand, we thought we should experience an Icelandic thermal pool. The New Zealand experience did not quite prepare us for our visit to the secret lagoon – Gamla Laugin. Clearly not a secret anymore judging by the number of people frolicking in the warm soothing water.

No hot pool we had visited in NZ required us to shower, totally naked, in a communal area. Deep breath, suck in stomach and go for it.

Lolly Girl escapes the naked scene before Gma. Gma emerges and collects a couple of noodles from the box beside the pool. Lolly Girl has a noodle, and is in deep conversation with a male swimmer. Male swimmer melts into the background when Gma arrives with noodles. Turns out that Lolly Girl had not noticed the huge box of noodles by the pool, and had approached the male swimmer with the line “oh, I say, do you need both noodles”. He clearly thought he was on to a good thing till Gma arrived.

The area around the Golden Circle and the South Coast contain most beautiful landscapes and are quite surreal in parts. Mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, lakes, spectacular beaches, historical sites, geysirs and boiling mud pools, crater lakes, wildflowers and birds. There were even trees here and there.

On the south coast drive, the most easterly point we visited was Reynisfjara, a black sand beach, with lava rock columns in the sea, caves and basalt columns. The Atlantic looked quite benign, although I felt it was treacherous, benign looking or not. Having read about people getting washed out to sea, I only timidly put a foot in the water. I had been particularly spooked by a story of a tourist, posing on a large piece of ice, shaped like an armchair, who got washed off the beach, floating away on the ice armchair.

The glaciers, as with other glaciers around the world, are receding. It was quite sobering to see how far the Solheimajokull glacier has receded over the past ten years. Little icebergs were floating on the glacier lake, and looked beautiful reflected in the water. An astonishing number of plants were growing in the barren landscape. A glacier hike was in progress, and 4WD trips on the glacier are available. A huge glacier could be seen from the road, behind a range of mountains – it looked like a cloud bank, rather than a glacier.

One of the highlights for me on the Golden Circle trip, was the visit to Thingvellir National Park. Thingvellir was the place where the Althing was established in 930AD. The Althing is the National Parliament of Iceland and is one of the oldest parliaments in the world. At Thingvellir, the Althing was an open air assembly representing all of Iceland, and assemblies continued there until 1798

The Althing, at Thingvellir plays a role in many of the Sagas, where details of the Assemblies, laws and legal procedures are discussed, and I was very interested to see the landscape referred to in these Sagas.

Very little remains of the Althing. However the Thingvellir National park is an area of outstanding beauty, circled on three sides by mountains, and it was easy to imagine the characters in the Sagas riding through this landscape to attend the Althing.

The park contains a rift valley, where the Eurasian tectonic plate meets with the North American tectonic plate, providing the unique opportunity to walk between two continents. Dramatic fissures and cliffs, rocky rivers, waterfalls and a lake add to the natural beauty of the area.

On our final day in Reykjavic we decided to hunt for puffins. To do this we had to catch a small boat, which takes its passengers out of the harbour across to some small islands, where hundreds, if not thousands of puffins would be seen.

The boat trip was not for the faint hearted. Along with our tickets, we were given anti seasick tablets. The sea was very rough and it turned out that all trips after ours were cancelled. The boat was broadside to heavy swell, so we were rolling about rather alarmingly – thank goodness for the tablets.

The puffin lady was very passionate about puffins, and showed us numerous photos of these beautiful birds on our way to the islands. Luckily she did. The only puffins we saw were a few landing on the water some distance away. The puffins landing were fun to watch – they can’t glide due to body size and small wings, so they belly flop onto the water, but we couldn’t see them in great detail. There were large numbers of birds nesting on the island, none of which were puffins.

Above – The Christina was our boat. Below – the non puffins.

A final walk along the waterfront, champagne at the Harpa, and dinner involving lobster, Icelandic lamb – the very best lamb I have tasted – and wine, we ambled back to the hovel, well satisfied with our experiences in Iceland.

Iceland proved to be a most interesting and exciting place to visit. A return visit is necessary, to visit more remote places. The captain of the Christina told us that in the summer he slept for only four hours a night, whereas in winter he sleeps eighteen hours a day. I feel that to properly experience Iceland, I should visit in winter. Then it wouldn’t matter if my accommodation turned out to be a hovel.

Travels with Lolly Girl.

Travels with Lolly Girl.

New Zealand, Istanbul, Oslo, England, Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Australia


Lolly girl and gma go back a long way. Further than I care to think about. From child brides in a small parochial country at the end of the earth, to mature travellers. Having dispensed with the child grooms, and seen our children grow up and move on, we had no ties. The world was our oyster.

Lake Taupo, Mt Tongariro and Mt Ruapehi

Gma dispensed with the husband, and escaped the small parochial country fairly early in the piece. Lolly girl still lives in the small parochial country, but that country has matured, and is currently a far kinder place than the place to which gma escaped.

Lolly girl and I are not alike, but the differences make for a harmonious relationship. I am a relaxed traveller. Lolly girl, on the other hand, is a very anxious traveller. Her anxieties have occasionally saved us from disaster when my relaxed mode of operation would have had us stranded.

On a recent visit to Oslo, my city mapper took us to a wharf from which we were to depart on a trip around the fjords. Gma is happily sitting in the sun, relaxed and not bothering about the fact that there was no boat in sight, and no people. Lolly girl, getting anxious about no boat and no people indicates that she is going to “make enquiries”. Gma rolls her eyes, and continues to lounge in the sun. Turns out that we are on the wrong wharf, and only just had time to get to the correct wharf, where a queue of thousands were waiting for the boat. Last on, meant worst seats.

Early on we had travelled together to London, and around places nearby. Lolly girl was born in a south coast seaside town in Sussex, and had migrated with her family to the parochial country at the end of the world as a child. She was moderately comfortable travelling in the country of her birth, where the language was similar to that of the parochial country. She was less comfortable with the journey.

On one occasion the landing at Heathrow was aborted and our plane roared up into the fog covering London – an obstacle on the runway we were told. As we circled past Windsor Castle for the third time, Lolly Girl was extremely anxious. “What if we run out of fuel”. We won’t, we will go elsewhere to land”. “Nooo, we can’t X is waiting at Heathrow to meet us.”

Lolly Girl’s biggest challenge was joining Gma in Istanbul. Gma had been travelling in Eastern Turkey, and was returning to the antipodes from Istanbul. Lolly Girl was in London, and had to travel on her own, and get herself from the airport to the hotel in Istanbul. Neither Lolly Girl or Gma could believe it when she booked on line, and actually hit the “buy” button on the airline site.

There followed a few weeks of “oh my god, what have I done” from Lolly Girl, which ramped up when demonstrations began in Taksim Square. Our hotel was in Sultanahmet on Kennedy Cardesi, just down the hill from the Blue Mosque. Geographically we were a reasonable distance from Taksim Square, so after consulting the map, Lolly Girl relaxed – kind of.

Lolly Girl emerged, triumphant from the taxi at the hotel in Istanbul, ready to explore. She took everything in her stride. The incredible beauty of the mosques overcame any residual anxiety Lolly Girl had for her first encounter with Islam.

We were sitting on the terrace of our hotel, overlooking the Sea of Marmara one evening, when the relaxed mode moved abruptly to not relaxed. Plumes of smoke could be seen from Taksim Square, and what appeared to be a naval boat came chugging into view.

A glass of wine restored equilubrium, even though the smoke from Taksim Square was still billowing. The boat had disappeared from view.

After an epic fail of our GPS in Scotland – which instead of taking us north toward Ballater, took us up a road which became narrower and narrower and then turned into a track, ending at the grand gates of a mansion beyond, Lolly Girl decided we needed paper maps as a back up. Gma does further eye rolls, but Lolly girl was not daunted.

As it happened, it was as well that Lolly Girl had paper maps when we got to Ireland. The GPS was unable to cope with numerous places, and on several occasions took us up a roads which led nowhere near our destination. It was beyond the ability of the GPS to take us to a village in Kilkenny, where a part of my family had originated. Actually, it was also beyond the ability of Lolly Girl and her paper maps to get us there. We retired, hurt, to a pub for lunch. Lolly girl accosted a staff member for directions, and we finally made it to Galmoy.

Gma considers it a huge fail if directions have to be sought, and refuses to ever ask for assistance. It is very fortuitous for our travels that Lolly Girl is happy to ask for directions. If she wasn’t, we would be driving around in ever diminishing circles forever, never getting to our destination.

The distrust of the GPS can have some issues. On a trip to the Lake District, the GPS was working well. Lolly Girl nevertheless had the paper maps to hand. Approaching huge roundabouts, just as the GPS lady started instructing which exit to take, Lolly Girl would instruct me which exit she thought we should take, drowning out the GPS lady, and occasionally had the GPS lady hysterically yelling at us take a U turn. Finally we had to decide which of the GPS or Lolly Girl was excess to requirements.

Gma generally drives. One year Lolly Girl borrowed a car in London, which she had to drive. The car was a Porsche Boxter S.

Lolly Girl was anxious about the drive out of London, and most anxious about driving a Porsche. Our first journey was to York. We did all right under the circumstances. Going through a red light on a roundabout 5 minutes from home set the pace.

Driving up the M1 was memorable. Here we were in the Porsche crawling in the far left lane, with every other vehicle overtaking us, including big trucks and buses, the latter towering over us like a huge block of flats on wheels. Our windows seemed to be level with the top of their tyres.

We then journeyed south to visit the seaside town which Lolly Girl had come from, in Sussex. Lolly Girl was far more relaxed – the A roads suited her better than the M1. It had been snowing heavily, but the roads were cleared. Lolly Girl’s friends were not relaxed about a Porsche being parked in the street, so their car was unceremoniously moved onto the street to allow the Porsche to be locked into the garage.

It was rather fun emerging from the Porsche at country petrol stations. We whooshed into the forecourt – the young male attendants came rushing out. The looks on their faces when Lolly Girl and Gma unfolded themselves out of the car was priceless.

Gma is generally the travel agent and tour group leader. A more agreeable travelling companion than Lolly Girl would be hard to find. No matter how hideous the accommodation or travel turns out, she does not complain. Gma had booked a serviced apartment in Reykjavic. It looked very pleasant on its website, and was very close to everything. Emerging from the airport bus, Gma was quite suprised at the direction the city tripper was taking us. It certainly wasn’t the direction Gma thought it would be.

It turned out that the serviced apartment owners had several buildings, and put us in a different building than Gma had booked. The apartment was a hovel, for which we had paid non hovel prices. Lolly Girl was extremely kind about the hovel, and its smell, although she did produce a bottle of french perfume which was liberally sprayed around the hovel.

The act of travelling makes Lolly Girl anxious. We were catching a train from Copenhagen to Oslo, with a change at Gothenburg. On reaching the Copenhagen railway station, Lolly Girl zips off to ascertain which platform we were departing from. “Its not on the list of departures.” We were early, so sat down to wait, with Lolly Girl darting off to check departures. Anxiety sets in when trains later than ours are on the board.

Gma goes off to check the departures board, found the train and platform. Seems Lolly Girl was looking at the arrivals screen. When we arrived in Gothenburg, our train for Oslo was there, but locked. We did have about 45 minutes, but because it was not possible to reserve seats, people started standing in front of locked doors to make sure they got their seat of choice, and somewhere to stow their bags. Gma was consuming coffee and not inclined to move from her sunny spot to stand in a wind tunnel for 20 minutes. Lolly Girl put up with Gma’s indolence for fully 5 minutes, then moved off to stand behind the first person in the line at the locked door of choice.

Gma idly wondered if Lolly Girl had any idea of the scrum which eventuates when the doors open, and thought about warning her that coming in from the side was more effective if you were not the first person in the queue, and that using your suitcase as a weapon was required.

The doors open. Gma loses sight of Lolly Girl as the crowd surges forward, the side flanks moving in with precision. By the time Gma gets on the train, Lolly Girl has secured the 2 best seats in the carriage, and has obtained spots for the bags. Gma is duly grateful, and graciously declines the offer to sit at the window. Lolly girl is quite shaken by the experience of kill or be killed, although she most admirably was not killed, and reigned triumphant.

Some of Gmas happiest travel experiences have been with Lolly Girl. Getting drunk and disorderly with Lolly Girl around the world for the rest of Gma’s travelling life would be a joy.