Tag Archives: Travel

Gran Canaria Day 8 – Bandama Run

Friday March 11 2022 – The day started with the usual mixed feelings; sad to be leaving, but with a sneaky feeling that it might be nice to be home again after two splendid weeks away.  Read on to see whether that latter hope was actually realised.

We checked out of the hotel, having given the excellent Augustin at reception our feedback on the restaurant (which, by the way, he seemed to be in agreement with).  Then, since Jane hadn’t done the hike up Bandama, the local volcano, that I had enjoyed, and since there was a road available to its top, we thought we’d spend a few minutes driving up to take a look. It’s a drive with its own idiosyncrasies.

We made it without actually crashing in any significant way, and went right up to the mirador to look at the view.

In one direction, it’s a great panorama.

In the distance, towards the right of the photo above, you can see the island’s capital, Las Palmas, and the peninsula of La Isleta beyond it.

Walk round to the other side of the mirador, and this is what you see;

further proof, were it needed, that you can put a golf course on the side of a volcano. This is the same crater that I saw during my hike of a couple of days earlier.

Before wisdom prevailed and I forswore golf for the rest of my days, I had developed quite an astonishing slice; I think I would have been in real trouble right from the first tee, given that playing your ball from inside a volcanic crater is not easy.

That view was the last great piece of scenery of a great couple of weeks exploring two of the Canary Islands.  The rest of the day was spent in the relatively dull administrative side of getting home – returning the hire car, sitting on a delayed flight awaiting takeoff, stumbling through the dark and cold and rain from the taxi back in the UK, discovering that the boiler had broken down a week before and the house was freezing, that kind of thing.

That last item quite ruined our plans for a relaxing final glass of something cold in a post-vacational glow at home.  Instead, we put a drip tray under the apparently now-leaking boiler, made a cup of tea and climbed into pajamas to try to keep warm during the night, with a firm plan to try to get the boiler mending people out on the next day. This last plan was also kyboshed by Jane’s honesty in confessing that we’d been in The Foreign for a couple of weeks; now, it turns out, we have to do two Covid LFT tests, 24 and 48 hours after we landed in the UK, before (assuming they are negative) they’ll even consider looking in the appointment diary; so it may be several days before we’re warm again. The only consolation is that excess electricity provided by our very recently-installed solar panels has at least furnished us with hot water in our tank without actually collapsing our roof.

 

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(We’re also lucky in having a gas fire so we can at least keep warm whilst we check that we are not plague-ridden in order to receive the necessary service visit.)

And that’s about it for the holiday.  It’s now Saturday 12th March, and we have kept our spirits up by continuing what had become something of a habit during our time in the Canaries – a glass of something cold followed by a decent lunch (although we had to cook this one ourselves).

We’ve had a great couple of weeks, exploring two very different islands.  The weather was by and large wonderful, the scenery was superb and overall the experience was just what a holiday should be.  If you’ve been following the blog for the last couple of weeks, thank you for your company, and come back to these pages in a couple of months (all other things being equal)  to read about our next excursion, which should be a great deal more exotic.  See you then!

 

So, Iceland, eh? Final thoughts

Thursday 15th July 2021. We’ve been home a couple of days now and are gradually easing ourselves back into all the home-based routines that had dominated, well, the last 18 months, really. The number and intensity of the seriously unfamiliar sights we’ve been treated to for two weeks have overlaid the mundanity of our return to domestic routine with a patina of unreality.  Before this fades, I thought it would be an idea to pull together some thoughts into a sort of valediction whilst things are still reasonably fresh in our minds.  All of the following should be read in the context that we had an excellent holiday experience which it would be difficult to improve upon.

  1. Is Iceland expensive, as is reputed?  It’s certainly not cheap.  For lunch, dinner and a couple of drinks daily, the total cost for fifteen days ran out at over £2,000 for the two of us. A large gin & tonic could be around £12, for example, and a glass of wine with dinner around £10.  This may seem steep, but then again I don’t know how these compare with, say, London prices.  However, this was a holiday, and the exchange rate made it difficult to do the necessary mental arithmetic to establish how much things translated to in English money, so we firmly turned our face against worrying about it.
  2. The gin. There is a good variety of Icelandic gins.  We found that the flavour of many brands, such as Himbrimi, while tasting perfectly gin-like neat, seemed to disappear when tonic was added.  An exception to this is Icelandic Angelica gin, which we only really discovered on the flight home, but which was very nice in a G&T.
  3. The diet. As we travelled around in Iceland, it seemed that every restaurant menu featured the same items – cod and/or arctic char, lamb, beef, occasionally chicken. Of course Iceland  is an island and has more sheep than natives so the presence of fish and lamb is not a surprise. Generally, menus seemed to prioritise fish/meat and potatoes over vegetables; and the fruit typically available at breakfast tended (rather counter-intuitively) to be melon,  watermelon and pineapple.  But then the island’s climate isn’t really a fruit-growing one and its ecology isn’t particularly vegetable-friendly.  So, Friðheimar apart, many things have to be imported; Dagur told us that a large proportion of this is centrally-managed, hence the uniformity of produce across our travels.
  4. It’s very easy to pay in Iceland. Everywhere, absolutely everywhere, enabled contactless payment and we used our phones for this.  Terrifically convenient and well-organised. You don’t even need to be connected for Google Pay to work.
  5. Talking of which, Iceland’s connectivity is generally excellent.  There were a couple of remote places where the mobile signal didn’t reach, but I could almost always get online if I needed to; and – at the moment. at least – calls and data go against my UK quota, so I could do the utterly critical tasks, like Instagram, at any time. Such a relief, you can’t even guess.
  6. Iceland is a large island, certainly larger than we had realised.  To see what we saw round the island took 13 days of relentless tourism.  Even then, we really only skimmed the surface; the country would repay a deeper. slower visit; or, of course, several shorter ones. In our case, having a knowledgeable guide like Dagur was a key ingredient to the success of the holiday.
  7. And, of course, it’s vastly different between summer and winter.  We have only experienced the former, and certainly want to go back during the winter time to experience the difference.  While we spent a fortnight exploring the whole coastline during the summer, our guide reckoned that one can experience most of what Iceland has to offer in the winter  (ice caves, geothermal hot pools, northern lights) in just a few days whilst staying within striking distance of Reykjavik and thus avoiding having to travel in what might well be rather problematical road conditions.
  8. The light.  We travelled near midsummer, which meant that although the sun officially set (we were just below the arctic circle), it never got really dark.  A photo example can be found in an earlier post. For me the practical upshot was that I tended to lose track of time whilst writing the blog every evening since I didn’t have the cue of it going dark; so I sometimes looked up to find that it was after midnight.  All the hotels had blackout curtains, but all let in a certain amount of light. My advice to travellers that find it difficult to sleep in the light is to bring a sleep mask if your time there is in summer.  (Of course, at midwinter, it barely gets light, particularly in gloomy weather.)
  9. The weather. Ah, the weather!  As far as we could determine, the only predictable thing about the weather is that it will be windy (Chris Foster, Jane’s friend in Reykjavik, commented that Iceland is the fourth windiest place in the world – and no-one lives in the other three).  Anything else can change very rapidly. We packed for cold and rain but were lucky, by and large, to get cloudy or sunny weather. We should have packed sunscreen, but didn’t.
  10. The lupins. This is a contentious issue among Icelandic people; some appreciate their environmental benefits and some hate their invasiveness.  But one thing is certain: during their brief flowering period, around mid-June to mid-July, they are a colourful addition to the countryside.  For the rest of the year, they’re just green, apparently.
  11. The scenery. It’s anything from attractively scenic to jaw-dropping.  In a way, it’s a shame that so much good scenery is concentrated in a single island.  Pretty much every mile brings a fresh sight that, anywhere else, would have you stopping the car to take a photo; but in Iceland it’s commonplace and after a while, I wonder if one gets a bit inured to the passing landscape unless it’s a massive waterfall, a geothermal hotspot or a panorama over a fjord.
  12. The birdsong. It was a practically ubiquitous and continuous soundtrack to our holiday, with the drumming of snipe and calls of curlew, kittiwake and other birds ever-present. Jane said that it reminded her of her childhood in darkest Somerset, with a level of birdsong you rarely if ever hear today. The same idea applies to insects; Dagur had to clean the Land Rover’s windscreen of splatted invertebrates on several occasions, an activity that is no longer so common in England.
  13. The roads. The major roads are very well tarmacked; less major roads are hard and (largely) level, without a tarmac surface but easily navigable in a normal car; and below that are large numbers of very bumpy tracks which may be found on a map but which really require a serious 4×4, such as the Land Rover Defender that we were in, to be sure of getting along without problems; and the highland mass in the middle, with bridgeless river crossings and rough tracks, should be avoided unless you have serious overland capability, local knowledge and at least one backup car.
  14. Whilst on the topic of roads, the wildlife. Or, more accurately, the sheep.  They’re not strictly wild, but are free to roam wherever they want, which is quite often on the road.  The sensible ones know to get off the road as a car approaches, but they’re not always sensible, and ceaseless vigilance behind the wheel is necessary.
  15. The language.  It’s a bastard.  It has several of its own characters, plus a lot of diacritical marks so even the letters you recognise aren’t necessarily pronounced the way you might think.  Both Jane and I really struggled with understanding and pronouncing place names. I have a favourite sight, the canyon at Fjaðrárgljúfur, but I’m buggered if I can retain the name in my head for more than a few seconds at a time.
  16. The people.  All the Icelanders we met were very smiley, happy-looking, friendly people.  This may, of course, be a side effect of the long days of summer, and the reverse may be the case during the winter, but we left with a positive view of the natives.  Given that the population is about 350,000 and the tourist industry in a good year brings in two million visitors, it’s  unsurprising to find other nationalities at work in the hospitality industry as well. Generally, we got excellent service wherever we went.  In these post-Covid times, though, one has to be a little careful when out in the wilds of the Icelandic countryside to establish what’s open and what isn’t.

Should you visit? Unless you want a fly-and-flop, sunshine-and-beach holiday, the answer is yes. It’s an astonishing, remarkable, unique place. We feel very lucky that we have been able to visit and look forward to going again.

A departure from the unusual

Tuesday 13th July 2021. Today was departure day, with all of the old familiarities of international travel subsumed by the strangeness and uncertainties imposed by the pandemic. Our departure was not until 4pm, so at least we could do something we  are used to doing, which was to wander the streets of a town exploring as we went.  The area of Reykjavik around our hotel is full of lovely little architectural touches, as well as homicidal people on rented electric scooters, and it repays rambling around. In many places, the actual streets are decorated.

and there’s the longest hopscotch track [Jeremy Clarkson Voice ON] in the world [Jeremy Clarkson Voice OFF].

Many of the buildings have some quite extravagant art on them.

And the touches of colour are not only for the traditionally-architected buildings

but can also be found among the more modern ones.

At one stage we stopped for a coffee, in, as it happens, the bar out of which we got chucked at closing time yesterday.

At that point we were en route from the downtown area which contains both the Lutheran cathedral (which, while attractive enough, is, well, just a church really, and hardly Interesting at all)

and the Roman Catholic cathedral (the Church of Christ the King, an altogether much grander affair, unsurprisingly)

in our search for the final Interesting Church of the holiday, which we’d espied as we scurried to and from our Covid test.

This is Háteigskirkja, which as far as I can tell is a non-denominational church. Its website modestly refrains from conveying very much useful information about it, which is a shame, because it’s a striking building; and as the door was open (unusually in our experience of Iceland’s Interesting Churches) we ventured in to find some lovely mosaics inside.

Climbing the stairs to the gallery level we noticed yet more stairs continuing up… the place was deserted so of course we climbed them, eventually arriving at a final workman’s stair up to an open trapdoor… Well, what is a photographer to do when faced with an open trapdoor? Thus we clambered out into one of the bell towers.

When we did this, it was about five to midday and I wasn’t going to hang about trying for artistic images just in case these bells were attached to a clock – so we scarpered back the way we had come!

On the way back to our hotel, we caught a glimpse of the back end of Hallgrímskirkja, the “Space Shuttle” church.

I was quite glad to get that picture, as it’s very difficult to do it from near the church itself.

And that was the end of our wandering around Reykjavik, as it was time to collect our bags and hope that the taxi would arrive that Dagur had promised us would take us to the airport.  Arrive it did, bang on time, with a very large and friendly chap driving it. He whisked us off to the airport where we went through the various formalities of providing the necessary documentation to prove we weren’t currently plague-ridden.  As we approached the security check, I realised that I still had my penknife with me; I usually remember to pack it in my hold luggage, as the security bods don’t generally like people carrying them on to aeroplanes.  Since this was a Swiss Army knife – not a huge one, but even the small ones are ridiculously expensive to replace – I decided to ask the security chap if there was any way I could take it through.  Rather to my surprise, he said it was OK, which was nice of him.

Covid paperwork – and the necessity to wear a mask – aside, the departure process was exactly like it always was, though I suppose the airport was less crowded than it might have been.  After a mask-free fortnight, this was not particularly welcome, but it shows that care is still needed.

We treated ourselves to a coffee and a toastie, and boarded the plane, which was only a few minutes delayed. Much to my surprise, the WiFi on board was free, so I took the opportunity to update this blog as far as I had time to do (you’ll have inferred that this didn’t include today’s entry), and took advantage of some sustenance to fuel the creative juices.

(That wasn’t all me – Jane decided she had to provide moral support.)

Arrival at Heathrow was on the original schedule, and we took the usual half-mile walk to get to the border checks, wondering if there was a horror story about to unfold, having heard tales of six-hour delays and horrendous queues.  Much to our surprise, everything was very swift.  We had all the right paperwork, we whizzed through the border checks, our bags came out pretty fast and our taxi was very nearly awaiting us, we got through so quickly – Heathrow Terminal 2 was very, very quiet.  From touch down to getting the kettle on at home took barely over an hour and a quarter.

And so we reach the end of our adventure into a really unusual place.  Iceland is a remarkable destination, even if you only stay and do the tourist bit in the south; but having seen most of the accessible areas of the island, with, in Dagur, a guide who knows his way around and could make sure we saw things of interest to us, made our time there even more impactful. And we’ve covered a lot of ground:

The middle bit is only accessible with courage and a backup car, but looking at that summary I can understand why our brains were full of the sights, sounds and smells of the country.  It’s been a fantastic fortnight, and we’ve loved the place.  We Will Be Back, as it will be interesting to see what the place is like in Winter (apart from just cold, of course).  I’ll do a further blog post with some general summary-type thoughts about Iceland, and so maybe you’d like to come back in a couple of days to take a look; it will be our opportunity to round off what’s been an extraordinary holiday in a really unusual country.