Sunday 18th: Frankfurt day 6 (Wiesbaden)

Yesterday I bought my ticket for Wiesbaden (technically a day pass for an extended zone of the local public transport) and so today I went to Wiesbaden. I took the S1 and it was a pleasant journey – not too busy and a lot of winter wonderland scenery along the way, although there was a lot of ugly industrial stuff too. Some nice fences, blue ombré and then green layer on.

I’d checked the Therme situation and the big famous one is closed to save energy. The other is open but its bubble bench and whirlpool are closed because it’s proving impossible to get replacement parts for them. But there’s an indoor pool and an outdoor pool and I thought I’d go for it.

I could have taken a bus because it’s three and a half kilometres from the Hbf but I wasn’t sure which bus or whether my day ticket was valid and anyway, I needed my 2km so I walked. I’m glad I did – once I was across the busy main road it was pretty much parks all the way, all white and frozen, with frozen lakes and weird unfamiliar geese. It took 55m to walk up to the Therme and I decided the walk alone had been worth coming here. Frankfurt is very nice but I haven’t had much opportunity to roam in crunchy snow in parks.

And the Therme! I saw it billowing steam from the other end of the park. There’s an indoor area linked to an outdoor area. The indoor one is mostly full of children and then you swim outside and it’s all green water and steam and half-frozen gardens and it was amazing. I did have to keep going back inside to defrost my nose but it was wonderful. Very worth the trip and the walk.

I came back through town. Not much in the way of Christmas market here but also, it was Sunday afternoon and the town was closed. I was delighted to discover my hair had frozen – frozen far more stiffly than it did that time in Longyearbyen. I don’t think Germany is colder than the High Arctic but it was a longer walk back to the station than it had been from the pool to the hotel in Svalbard. I detoured to see the current hot spring. It’s inside a fake stone building, locked away behind a chipboard door but there are manholes nearby and those are steaming adequately.

Now I’m on the S8 home. I looked up the timetable: 56 minutes back to Frankfurt Hbf so I thought I’d use the free wifi to write today’s blog.

Saturday 17th: Frankfurt day five

I went out pretty early this morning. The market was calling and it turned out there was a lot I hadn’t found, including the Pink Market. It’s pretty pink but it’s not so much a market as a square full of places to eat and drink – absolutely dead at 10.30am. Further on was the Red Market – or that was how I translated it. Nothing particularly red about it. The Pink Market was very pink. The Red Market was also dead at that hour but there was a Lindt shop behind it so I invested in some Lindor.

Then I went home to drop off my shopping and fetch my swimming stuff. If I was in Iceland I’d have been to the pool every day. Now I knew how it all worked. On the other hand, it’s Saturday so a lot more children. I knew they’d turned the temperature down 2 degrees but today I could feel it and I wasn’t entirely unhappy to get out. I took the tram route up and back – much quicker and quieter than the long journey on the U1.

I came home and warmed up in a hot shower, had some food, wrote yesterday’s blog etc and then went back to the market. I’ve seen it all and you can’t see anything in the evening because it’s just too busy but it calls me and so I went. Had a wander and a shove, a cup of hot chocolate, got a glimpse of fireworks which turned the misty sky bright red and came home. There was a concert on the roof overlooking Römerberg.

On the way back I discovered Wiesbaden is on Frankfurt’s S-bahn. So I bought a day ticket for tomorrow so I guess I’m going there, whether I swim or not.

Now I’m catching up on blogs and watching Netflix.

Friday 16th: Frankfurt day 4 (Cologne)

Today is Saturday but I haven’t written yesterday’s blog yet.

I woke up quite early, had my breakfast and was out not long after 9. I went to the station because I wanted to go to Cologne. Why didn’t I come here when Germany still had the 9 euro train tickets thing? Well, the cheapest way to get to Cologne was on a few haystack trains which would take three and a half hours each way. Not worth the effort. The second cheapest way was to book specific and non-flexible tickets. The 10:09 out and the 18:18 back.

The 10:09 was delayed but only by about seven minutes. It was packed until the airport and then a lot quieter – I got two seats to myself! The countryside was very pretty – snow in Germany appears to cling on where feet and wheels don’t disturb it. It snowed in Frankfurt on Wednesday morning and there’s still a car down the road with an inch of snow in it, although as more and more people write in it, it’s getting less and less. The countryside was the same. Fields and trees all grey and white and glittering and absolutely winter wonderland-perfect.

My train was to Cologne Messe and I decided I hated Cologne. How do you get to the Hauptbahnhof? I found the S-bahn but there was no way of buying tickets. I found the U-bahn. Also no way of buying tickets and no map. Ticket machines, luckily, were lurking right down on the platform and although there were still no helpful signs telling you which direction the train was going, I found a city-wide map and eventually figured out a) where I was b) where I was trying to get to c) what combination of trains I required for that d) which direction those trains needed to go. It shouldn’t be that difficult!

I planned to change trains so I bought a day ticket. But when we arrived at the change station, it was basically a tram stop, right in the middle of the street, and there was a Christmas market between me and the Dom. So a walk! Walk through the Christmas market!

This was the old-fashioned market. All the stalls had matching wooden fronts, half the stallholders had old-fashioned costumes on, there was an ice rink and the mugs were dark red with yellow insides and round bellies. I discovered eventually that the end of that market led on to the Dom Christmas Market and they had different mugs and their stalls were higher and brighter and marked with shooting stars. Lots of the same stalls, though. Lots of the same stalls as in Frankfurt.

And here was the Dom! It was free to go in and it was breathtaking. Soaring Perpendicular Gothic, so ornate on the outside, so simple on the inside and such glass! Every single window was stained, even the high ones where you need to zoom in with you camera to be sure that’s colour up there. The south aisle had windows full of yellow glass – this is a more recent innovation, which is why I’ve seen other cathedrals remark on it. Those turned proper gold with the midday sun coming straight through them. It was all incredible.

And then there’s the tower. It cost 6 euros to go up the South Tower and signs say “No lift. No joke”. It’s a lot of steps. It’s five hundred and something spiral stone stairs You get a brief respite at the belfry and then up you go again. When you think you’re there, there’s a metal staircase in the middle of a room and because they’re open, even though there’s only about ten of that going up and up, it’s somehow more terrifying than the 500+ stone stairs, and those were terrifying enough. There are windows on the south side, which help you keep track of how many circles you’ve done and lots of them have no glass in them. They’re less than six inches wide, you couldn’t fall out if you tried but it’s still scary that high up. At the very top, you walk around the top of the tower. It’s all confined by fences and wire and all the usual but it’s very high. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered it’s the highest double-spire church in the world and the third-highest church of any kind. I climbed that!

Back down, I now took some time to explore the markets. I got a cup of hot chocolate in the old-fashioned market and discovered there are at least three variants of that dark red round mug. I wandered down almost to the river through medieval streets that were deserted – leave the markets behind and there’s no one else in the city. I found a Catholic church with an overly large and ornate tower on an otherwise fairly non-descript church. I bought some things. I searched the city for a cloth badge, preferably with the towers on and found no such thing.

By now it was getting cold. A thick mist had descended and if you climbed the towers now, you wouldn’t even get a view for your efforts. It was cold. I took shelter inside the cathedral but who’d have thought: a massive stone medieval building is not warm! It was somewhere to sit down – my feet were tired, especilly after the long climb – but it wasn’t warm. No, for warmth I resorted to Burger King inside the Hauptbahnhof which is right next door and also where my train departed from. No time spent faffing around trying to figure out how to get back to Messe station. But I still had two hours to kill before I could use that non-flexible “cheap” train ticket. There’s nowhere really warm in Cologne Hbf. Cold air drifts down from hundreds of tracks above and it’s open at front and back. I popped into shops. I contemplated blue ceramic doorknobs and white boots like lace-up wellies and explored German scifi and fantasy books. Helpfully, when you buy a train ticket from a DB machine, you can print out your timetable. It’s useful to know exactly which train you’re allowed to get on but it’s really useful that it tells you the platforms. 4 A, B and C.

It was delayed! Only by about 10 minutes but the result was that the 18:27 to Frankfurt left before the 18:18 arrived and I couldn’t get on it. It was at platform 4 D-G which is normally fine but as it was still sitting there when my train was approaching, we had to move to platform 5. It was reasonably quiet. I guess anyone whose tickets had flexibility jumped on the 18:27.

I think we got into Frankfurt at 19:41 which meant home by 8. Quite a long day and the one with the most exercise. So I didn’t write my blog and I didn’t do my Finnish lesson either.

Thursday 15th: Frankfurt day three

I didn’t sleep very well last night. My watch beeped at 1am, which surprised me – I accidentally set it to go off at 8am a while back and so now it beeps at 9am. But it was too dark, surely, for it to be 9am? It was! It was in fact 1am. Then I woke up and smelled toast. Was the hotel on fire? Or is there something wrong with a receptor in my brain?

So I didn’t even stir until housekeeping came round at ten to nine. I had breakfast enthusiastically, although the breakfast room was so busy it was hard to find a seat. Then I had a slightly slow start to the day. I decided I was going to go to the pool today. There’s a hammam in Frankfurt, there are ordinary boring pools but I decided to go to Titus Therme, which is more of a waterpark.

It’s in north-west Frankfurt. I had the choice of taking U4 or U5 one stop to Willy-Brandt-Platz and then going virtually the entire length of the U1. Or I could take tram 16 to its terminus and then go two stops on either the U1 or the U9. I haven’t been on many trams and it also looked like that was the quicker way. So I bought my day ticket from the tram platform at the end of the road instead of under the Hauptbahnhof.

Titus Therme is right next to a fairly big shopping centre. It has a Primark and a Decathlon and the biggest supermarket I’ve ever seen in Germany. But I was trying to make my way out and up to the surface and find the pool. I stopped at the entrance to check the map. It’s past McDonald’s and Decathlon. Where are they? I’m at the red dot but what’s that thing off to the side? I can see McDonald’s but… there it is! I can see it!

I’ve really felt the fact that I don’t speak German the last couple of days. People either can’t speak much English here or they won’t. I speak other languages, I’m not an English monoglot, but I don’t speak German. So I had no real idea where was going on. I seemed to have paid 5.50 (still can’t figure out the euro symbol) for 90 minutes access to the pool, but I wasn’t entirely sure about that. Neither was I sure how to get to the changing rooms, or that I was in the right changing room and then I couldn’t find the pool. There aren’t enough signs and the few signs are in a language I don’t speak. And there it was at last!

It’s quite a big place. There’s a bubbling pool, two hotpots, a lane pool with a diving board, a huge play pool that has bubbles and a lazy river which turn on and off on a circuit of about 10-15 minutes each. Behind that is a quieter pool with three jets and a slide and a cave. Interestingly, the lights under the water in all the pools and pots are pink which makes the pool look purple. It also can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a proper pool with square white tyres or whether it wants to be a jungle oasis – it’s decorated with fake columns and arches and statues.

I got out after 90 minutes. I could have stayed in a lot longer. I’d done circuits of the lazy river and nearly drowned. I’d sat on bubble benches until I was completely boneless. I’d had my neck pummelled by a very powerful jet. But my 90 minutes had expired.

Yes, they had. German efficiency! I had a plastic card and when I scanned it at the exit, it told me I’d overstayed and needed to pay an extra 50c.

Once I’d escaped, I went in Decathlon. I didn’t particularly need anything but I always like to go and have a look. I popped into Primark too – my mittens are so nice and cosy but I can’t manage the camera with them so I bought a pair of thin gloves. Then I finally found the big Rewe, which is downstairs and technically over the road. One thing was astonishing me: it’s ok and entirely normal to smoke in the U-bahn station and in the shopping centre. It’s the tail end of 2022 and you can still smoke inside in public places??!!

Anyway, I did some shopping and took U1 home, via Willy-Brandt-Platz. I was correct to take the tram out this morning; most of the length of U1 was slow!

I came home and had lunch which became a long afternoon in the room. Then I went back out to the market. It’s manic by evening – it’s just people crowded into the square drinking hot wine and eating interesting things. I had a cup of hot orange juice (actually hot this time and I returned the cup and reclaimed my pfand) and took it across the road to the river to drink. Orange juice isn’t all that tasty when it’s hot but I wanted something clean and wet after my long lunch.

I rambled around the market until I’d done my 2km. I didn’t particularly want to do any shopping – it was my third visit and there’s probably not much more I want to buy but I like to have a look around. There are always stalls I have’t spotted, always things I want to take photo of. I wanted to check whether the tram that goes through the middle of the market would take me home. I’ve always taken the U-bahn so I wanted to see central Frankfurt by train, if I could.

There are three trams leaving from that stop. All three go to Hbf and two go to my local stop. Of course, the one I got on was the one that doesn’t, and its Hbf top is technically on the street next to the Hbf. That meant in the dark, with glasses steamed up over my mask, I didn’t realise that was where I was supposed to jump off. The next stop was further away than I expected so I got off, crossed the tracks and got on the 21 back in the other direction, back to my local stop.

And now I’m home! I’ve had a shower and washed the chlorine out of my hair with conditioner that smells amazing. No plans for tomorrow yet – Cologne? Wiesbaden? Something interesting around Frankfurt?

Wednesday 14th: Frankfurt day two

I started today lazily because yesterday started so early. I had breakfast downstairs: buttersemmel and orange juice although there was other bread available, and cheese and meat and little packets of jam and Nutella. Then I went to the market.

I remembered my mask this time! I’d calculated last night that a day ticket for general Franfurt use is cheaper than two singles so I bought my day ticket, got the U5 to Dom/Romer and emerged. It had snowed this morning and by now everything had a nice coating and it was falling thickly enough to see on camera. I roamed, starting at the Domkirche, which isn’t actually a cathedral. I think there was some kind of school service about to start in there; as I was leaving, they closed the gates across the nave but we’d been allowed to wander around until then. It’s a pink church, like the one in Neuchatel but perhaps more spectacular from the outside. It seems to function as a cathedral, it just doesn’t have someone of the right status attached to it to actually make it a cathedral. Very nice, anyway.

Then I wandered through the market again. It was still busy but there was at least room to move this morning. I had a cup of hot chocolate, not because I particularly wanted hot chocolate but because I wanted the red mug. On close inspection, it’s the same as yesterday’s black mug except the pictures are all in gold. Later I found them for sale in the various stalls that sell pottery and ceramics, four euros each. I have a Euro symbol on my keyboard but I can’t persuade it to appear. I just keep turning this paragraph into a heading. The pfand for a mug is three euros. So now I have both the official mugs. If I wanted to, there are at least three others I could collect but I won’t.

I found more of the market than last night. Well, I found it last night but I decided because it was cold and dark, I’d leave it for daylight. I did a bit more shopping. Yet again, I resisted spending a couple of thousand euros on a spectacular stable set that wouldn’t fit in hand luggage and settled for the cutest little wooden moose and a little snowflake with a nativity scene in the middle. I bought actual candy canes because what’s Christmassy about hanging them from the tree if you ignore the edible ones? And I found a badge for my blanket at the station on the way back.

It snowed quite spectacularly. The market looked so Christmassy with snow on the roofs and in people’s hair and the steam mugs of gluhwein made so much more sense – well, they do anyway but everything just looks so much more festive in the snow.

I came home for lunch, and also because I was a bit concerned about accidentally smashing the mug. Better to get it safely back to the hotel. That turned into a couple of hours of lounging about and then I decided to go to the Christmas Garden light trail. I have a pre-booked flexible ticket and tonight seemed a good night. The snow had stopped and the sky was absolutely clear but there was still snow on the ground. I looked up how to get there. The S Bahn seemed easiest, in that it’s a five minute walk to the Hauptbahnhof but then it’s apparently a 40 minute walk at the other end. So I had to find out where I could get tram 21. The end of my road, it turned out. Easy. You can’t miss Stadion either. It’s the end of the line.

I had a minor problem on arrival. I’d printed my payment confirmation, not my eticket. For some reason, I don’t have mobile data here. It’s constantly on E, which Quora describes as “direly slow data connection”. That meant I couldn’t get it from my emails. There are three wifi networks in the park but it wouldn’t let me register with the only free and open one because there had already been 100 API calls. ?. So I went off to the box office. The nice lady there found my booking and told me to tell the men on the gate that she’d said to let me through. Don’t worry, they’ve been briefed. No, they hadn’t. They let me through but succeeded in making me feel like I’d conned my way in. I had a ticket! Box office knew I had a ticket! I just couldn’t access the ticket!

Anyway, it’s a big light trail in the stadium park, which features the stadium itself as the biggest light canvas. There’s nothing more festive than colossal blue letters looming over everything proclaming DEUTSCHE BANK.

It was all very pretty. The rainbow path was good. The Polar Express was good. Itsy Bitsy Spider was good. Carillon was popular and made great photos. But my favourite was Miracles Happen. At first it’s just a fountain lit in blue. You glance at it, you move on. But I happened to realise that on the other side of the hedge was an empty and frozen swimming pool and that distracted me long enough to still be standing there when the miracle started. I felt a wave of heat, turned around and the blue fountain was on fire! Actual fire! It was quite incredible. Fire and water and blue light and no one else had seen it. Worth the price of admission alone, that.

It was getting on for 7 by the time I got back on the tram. Late enough to have been very dark for a long time, not so late that I felt like I was out and about on my own at night. And then I came home thawing out my poor frozen nose inside my mask and I might have a shower.

I looked up the price of a train ticket to Cologne today. 99 euros return or 78 each way! So, not to do that tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll have a swim, maybe, and see if I can get that price down by unselecting “‘allow ICE trains”.

Tuesday 13th: Frankfurt day one

Day one started at 4.30am with a drive to the airport that wasn’t as icy as expected – at least, not from the A31 onwards. I only got slightly lost once at Heathrow when three conjoined mini roundabouts spun me quicker than the satnav could cope with and I lost sight of the signs to the right car park.

Security was slow. Even in the summer, when it was at its worst I didn’t have to queue in eight or twelve lines just to approach security. Toast and apple juice, a 20-minute delay (which I think got stretched a little) and then off we went.

London and Kent were thick with snow and then we sailed above the clouds and saw nothing more until we started our descent to Frankfurt. No snow here!

I had a bit of an alarm when I finally found passport control and it told me to have my passport and vaccination status ready. Quick, connect to the airport wifi, check the app hasn’t unloaded itself, get the pass – and then they didn’t want it. Hardly even looked at me as he stamped my passport. Didn’t ask me to take my mask off so he could check I was the same person as the picture.

I took the S9 into town, nice and easy, just three stops and then five minutes to the hotel. I’ve done it again – this is definitely a very-slightly-rubbish-hotel-near-the-station but it’s nowhere near as bad as the one in Paris. My floor is straight and my door closes for a start and the room smells slightly of Lynx Africa.

First job, charge my phone. Second job, find the nearest supermarket. 3, go shopping. 4, eat the food. 5, discover the hotel has given me no cups. Well, I was going to get a Christmas market mug anyway but now it’s slightly more of a priority unless I want to keep drinking straight from the bottle.

So out I went. U4 or U5 to Römer/Dom but I forgot my mask. Frankfurt still has mask-wearing on public transport but it’s been so long since I used public transport that it’s not habit yet to check I have a mask before going out. I compromised by wrapping my scarf tightly around my head and felt so awkward that I’m guaranteed to never forget again.

The market is pretty in the dark! There were thousands of people gathered by the entrance to the station drinking glühwein. Why there, when there are so many other places? No idea. I got my mug. It contained hot orange juice – well, lukewarm. Got more orange juice-like as it cooled. I don’t think it’s the “proper” mug, which seems to be red and gold this year. I suspect, and I’ll look it up when I’ve finished this, that it’s the 2018 or 2019 mug. It’s black with a red inner and it commemorates a German Revolution of 1848/9, which is something else I’ll have to look up. I also bought a couple of bits. I’ll do the market properly during the day when it isn’t so rammed with people drinking wine and eating interesting things and have another go at getting a red mug. But for now, it’s 7.15pm and I’m home for the night because it’s been a long day.

Iceland 2022: days seven, eight and nine

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday

Tuesday was another bright, blue sky, sunny day. I had an evil little plan. I decided to head for Grandi, the area on the other side of the Old Harbour, to decide whether or not I wanted to go to FlyOver Iceland while I was there. I strolled along the seafront, same route as the night before, turned right at the new H&M and shopping redevelopment and popped out at the familiar bottom corner of the old harbour. Strolled out, past all the little green wooden buildings that are now cafes and seafood restaurants and found myself in the Grandi district. Some good museums here – the big Maritime Museum, Aurora Reykjavík, the Saga Museum, Whales of Iceland and FlyOver. I went past them all to the rocks at the end of that bit of peninsula. Good views from here, all the way across to Akranes and snowy mountains even further north.

I came back via a bit of a shopping trip along Laugavegur. Mostly postcards but I bought a pair of volcano socks while I was at it. Then home for a late lunch and a lazy afternoon.

Because my evil plan was to go back to the Sky Lagoon. I wanted to see it in the sun instead of a winter storm, I wanted to see the views across the fjord and I wanted, if it was possible, to see the sunset.

I got most of it. A big cloud came down ten minutes before I left, which was a bit before sunset and that ruined the colours a bit. I was getting the 9:41 bus back to Hamraborg and even that closer stop is 15 mins walk. There are two buses serving this peninsula – one clockwise and one anti-clockwise. I’d got the 35 out which takes 4 minutes but the 36 back, also taking 4 minutes, had finished an hour ago. I thought that meant I’d have to walk the 2.5km back to Hamraborg but I realised the 35, even though it meant going the long way round and taking 18 minutes, would get me back five minutes before the bus to Reykjavík. It would be a pain but more comfortable than walking.

So after a huge loop of Kópavogur I got back on my bus to Reykjavík and got home about 10:30 which is the latest I’ve been out all trip.

On Wednesday the demolition started at 8am. I went off to Vesturbærlaug on the bus, the last of the three local pools in central Reykjavík that I hadn’t visited yet. It’s ok. There’s no real reason to pick it over Sundhöllin (really close and convenient) or Laugardalslaug (further out but amazing pool). Then I went for my walk, back along Laugavegur heading downtown, stopped in a few shops, walked back along the seafront. The usual.

I had to pack. I couldn’t pack everything: my swimming things were still wet and I’d need them again in the morning. I still had food for breakfast and my electronics and whatnot. I’d considered doing the airport transfer via the Blue Lagoon which is a popular trip on the way home but decided against it. Pointless, really. I was being picked up at 12 which meant between 12 and 12.30 and getting to the airport at hour later. What could I do in Reykjavík for a couple of hours in the morning?


Or was it worth it? I needed to be out at 11 to dress, do my last shopping on the way home, pick up my luggage from the apartment’s storage room and be at bus stop 13 in time for 12. By the time I’d got up, had breakfast, finished packing and done my walk, it would hardly be worth it.

Until I found myself wide awake at 6.30 this morning, Scroll social media for an hour and a half until my alarm went off or get up and get going? By ten past seven I’d had breakfast and everything was packed. I went for my walk, taking in two things I’d noticed last night that I’d missed – the two-towered church at the top of my road and Cold War negotiation site Höfði. I’d put my big bag in the storage room and was sliding into the warm water of Sundhöllin by 8.30.

I did 50 lengths and sat in three hotpots. Then I got out, did my shopping, came home to retrieve my luggage… and discovered that whatever they said about luggage storage, checkout was at 11 and I was 12 minutes after that. My door code had expired and I couldn’t get back into the building to pick my bag up! That was a complication I hadn’t factored in. I pressed Call on the keypad but no one answered. Luckily two girls left at that moment and I grabbed the door and got in. That left me more than half an hour to rearrange my stuff, put my swimming stuff in the big bag and have lunch sitting on the pavement before the bus arrived. That was 25 minutes ago. We could be halfway to the airport but we’re waiting for nonexistent passengers at bus stop 5 outside Harpa right now. No, real passengers have finally just boarded, at least six of them who clearly didn’t get the “pickup starts at 12” memo. No… maybe 14 of them. Where on Earth have they been?? Can we go now?

And at last we’re at Kef. I’m in a queue to drop my baggage but at least I can kick it across the floor and don’t have to carry it.

Iceland 2022: day six

Today was a lazy day. I got up at 6.50 the last two days and not a lot later the day before.

The sun was out and the sky was blue! I’ll take it where I can get it but imagine horse & river day in the sun! Imagine seeing the volcano without a heavy mist hanging over it! It was a good thing it was warm, though, because my boots were still soaked although sitting them on the towel rail had made a big difference. I planned to go to the big pool at Laugardalslaug today but that could wait until later. Since it was nice, I was going to Nautholsvik, the geothermal beach.

I got on the wrong bus. It did say the wrong destination on the front but it was from the stand with the right timetable on it. For the first two or three stops I waited for the sharp right turn as it had headed off in what felt like the wrong direction. Yes, wrong bus. I got off at Artun B which is a kind of mini bus hub along Miklabraut, went under the big road to Artun A with the plan to get the 5 if possible but any bus back to Hlemmur would do, really, only for the 5 to arrive at the same moment I did. So off we went, back to Hlemmur and beyond, to the university next to the Domestic airport. That’s the nearest stop for Nautholsvik. The bus only comes this far at weekends, after 6.30pm during the week and on bank holidays. If I’d gone tomorrow I’d have had to walk a huge chunk of the way but it happened to be Easter Monday.

The beach is fairly small and made of imported golden sand. When the tide is in, the lagoon on the beach connects to the fjord and the hot pot on the sand is surrounded by water. Today the tide was low. I think that’s for the best – there’s no freezing fjord water flooding in and diluting the trickle of hot geothermal water. As it was, most of the lagoon was freezing but if you paddled in a straight line from the hot flow the water was pleasantly warm. Pleasantly hot in places. However, it only took literally two steps to go from hot to freezing. There’s a reason most of the sea swimmers are wearing neoprene gloves and boots and the kids are all in full waterproof snowsuit things. And then there’s me in my t-shirt and sandals.

The hot pot on the beach was empty at this time of year but there’s another at the beach club. Well, it’s not a beach club. It’s a building with changing rooms, showers and a steam room with an outdoor hot pot above the beach. That one was packed – far too packed for me to bother paying admission when I was going to a better pool later anyway. I suspect you can use it for free if you change on the beach but there was a freezing breeze, hence the snowsuits, and that didn’t make the pot any less packed. I walked back up to the university and got the bus back.

Having topped up my food supplies again, I had an extended lunch break before getting the bus to Laugardalslaug. Yes, mid-afternoon on a warm sunny bank holiday. Most of Reykjavík had had the same idea and although there are five hotpots here, they were all packed too. I tolerated it and eventually plopped into the 50m outdoor lane pool. Maybe it’s the better weather but it’s warmer than Sundhöllin’s outdoor lane pool.

I swam 32 lengths because that’s 64 lengths of QE and a mile is something like 63.333 QE lengths. Imagine how happy I was to discover that 1600m is only 0.994 miles! Always do one more insurance length just in case!

Anyway, because it’s Iceland and because I’m out of practice in casually swimming a mile, I did ten lengths at a time and then sat in the 40-degree sunken hotpot for a while before going back for the next ten. The sun was low but still up for several hours and I promised that once I’d done my 32 lengths I could swap my goggles for sunglasses and sit in whatever hotpot I wanted.

I’d been there more than four hours by the time I decided I’d better be getting the 7.55 bus. Mostly because I hadn’t actually done my walk and I wouldn’t want to do it much later. I didn’t want to do it then at all. The sun was about to set by the time I was adequately dressed and fed and going out and the breeze was up. I walked along the shore half-frozen and then turned left to downtown Reykjavík and walked back via Laugavegur which runs straight from the heart of the city to Hlemmur, at the bottom of my road. It’s sheltered there and I was positively hot by the time I got back.

Iceland 2022: days four and five

Today was an 8am pickup from my door and a minibus trip 45 minutes east along the Ring Road to Hveragerði for my horse trip and hot river hike.

We were dressed up in luminous orange rubbery waterproofs and riding helmets and then paired with horses. Mine was Vorboðar which means Bringer of Spring. He was brown, relatively tall and had quite a lot of grey in his mane. We were the beginner group, the “done it less than 20 times” group which was a step up from the most accurate box I was forced to tick when I booked, which was “never been on a horse”. The next step was something like “much experience” and although neither were the right answer, it’s better to underestimate for these things.

Off we went and five minutes later, just as we were getting comfortable, Molly announced that we were going to cross the river. Even on horseback, my feet were nearly in the water and I was petrified Vor was going to get swept off his hooves. Icelandic horses are very strong but they’re not very tall and this was a lot of water!

We walked nicely more or less in parallel with the Ring Road for a while then turned sharp left. We were going to try the tölt, the unique fifth gait that Icelandic horses have. It’s about trot speed but while it looks a bit crazy it’s supposed to be very smooth. With Íshestar, it’s the experienced riders who get to try the tölt, not the people like me who hardly know which end bites and which end kicks. And it was terrifying! I can hang on while Vor walks sedately but when he picks up the speed you realise actually there’s nothing to hang on to!

We covered nearly 9km and by the time I got back I seemed to be getting used to tölting. It is more comfortable than walking – my legs ached from being held in the stirrups but somehow they hurt less when we tölted and I found I didn’t need to hang on as tightly as I thought at first.

Soon realised what had been happening to my legs when I dismounted. Ouch. Hobble waddle hobble waddle. My boots were soaked through and squelching and my trousers were damp for reasons I still can’t figure out, except my orange rubber trousers clearly weren’t 100% waterproof. The enormous jacket had done its job though.

Once we were unchanged, we were sent into the canteen. The morning riders had coffee and cake and those of us hiking were sent across to the farm’s hotel for lunch (or to eat our packed lunches as discreetly as possible in the hotel). Over the course of that hour I began to suspect I was the only one doing the hike. Yep! I admit, if I’d been booking it on the day I wouldn’t have done it but I wasn’t expecting this kind of rain and fog three weeks ago. So we put on our own non-orange waterproofs and off we went. Yes, I don’t know my guide’s name. She’s young, German and from Bielefeld (which doesn’t exist, so she can’t be) but no idea what her name was.

The hot river is up the valley behind Hveragerði. It turns out “up” is the operative word. It’s the opposite of a valley. It’s an hour-long hike up a mountain. In the pouring rain with no view and boots that were sloshing before we began. Worst of all, we knew when we started that because of the rain, the river wouldn’t be warm enough to bathe in. I was fine with that when I was imagining three gentle kilometres through a valley. But an hour of trudging uphill to a fast-flowing ice-cold river?

I bought a t-shirt when I got back to Eldhestar. Everything in my bag and pockets was soaked. My boots were soaked. Since they were already so wet I’d splashed through a few streams instead of risking the slippery stepping stones. My sleeves were soaked. My gloves had got soaked on the horse so I’d pulled my sleeves down over my hands. My raincoat and heated coat were both wet but my t-shirt was reasonably dry and so was anything above the elbows of my thermal top. But I bought this t-shirt and sat in the canteen with my wet stuff scattered around me until the afternoon horse lot were finished and then I sat in the back corner of the minibus to gently steam all the way back to Reykjavík.

Back home I scattered my wet stuff everywhere. That’s everything from my waterproof coat to the spare camera battery I had in a bag in the belly of my backpack. There wasn’t space to put all the wet stuff. I had to spread some of it on the floor. I changed, I ate, and since it was earlier than I’d expected and I’d missed my dip and I’d checked the Easter opening hours, I went to Sundhöllin to properly warm up in the hot water.

Today was another 8am start, indecent when you’re supposed to be on holiday. Golden Circle plus Secret Lagoon. I’ve done the Golden Circle as a tour at least three times and I’ve driven bits of it or all of it even more times. It remains both fun and interesting.

Bára dropped us at the Þingvellir viewpoint and gave us 50 mins to walk down through Almannagjá to meet her at parking 2. I detoured through the park to see a cleft with clear blue water which meant wading through two fluddles. I was wearing my sandals. My coats had dried out and I had more clothes but my boots were still soaked. So I waded through those fluddles. I’ve paddled in cold things in Iceland and in cold things right here below the Drowning Pool in Þingvellir but this was cold.

Next stop: Gullfoss, possibly my least favourite of the Golden Circle’s Big Three. There’s a path out to a rock that sticks out into the middle of the waterfall, literally, with only knee-high ropes to stop you falling in. I’ve often wondered how that’s even allowed. Well, it isn’t anymore. There’s a gate and the path is closed. Maybe it opens when there isn’t ice on the path or when the flow is low or… I don’t know, maybe it’s not permanent but it was closed today. I walked along the cliff at the top to above that rock. Never seen Gullfoss from that angle.

Third was Geysir and our lunch stop. I always like Geysir. Explosions of boiling water don’t get old. This was where the group split. Those of us going to the Secret Lagoon had an hour and everyone else had nearly two hours because they had to wait for Bára to drop us off and return for them.

The Secret Lagoon is quite good! It’s very rustic compared to the Sky or Blue Lagoons – just a roughly rectangular pool 1.2m deep fed with water from the surrounding hot springs. The bottom is gravelly and the sides are furry with algae. They have crates of pool noodles so everyone’s floating around on a few. There’s no temperature regulation. Near the hot springs (which are separated from the pool in one place by just a rope) the water is painfully hot and it varies around the lagoon although as our time there zoomed to an end, the entire lagoon seemed to become painfully hot. I loved the first 50 minutes but five minutes later I was ready to escape.

Bára distributed Easter eggs. Pre-plague it was samples of Icelandic flatbread but that’s not allowed anymore. The eggs contained what I assume is quotes from Hávamál, the Old Norse classical poem that appears in the Poetic Edda. I haven’t opened or eaten mine yet but people did on the bus and then yelled their mál down to Bára to translate. As you might expect, what got yelled by non-Icelandics was usually incomprehensible and the piece of paper had to be passed down the bus to be read.

We made one bonus stop on the way back. I’m not allowed to say where it is but it’s a red scoria crater that’s being mined for gravel. Yes, a gravel pit – but a pretty one! Its walls are red in places and green and grey in places and almost tie-dyed in between. It’s not a standard Golden Circle stop – it’s an active gravel pit with mining machinery in it but it was very beautiful and there isn’t much left on a Golden Circle itinerary that’s new to me now.

We got back to Reykjavík quite early – 5, 5.30 maybe? I could have had another hour in the Secret Lagoon and got back by 6.30 but never mind. Today is Easter Sunday so the pools close early but at least I have a free evening to rearrange my damp stuff and catch up on the blog. Tick. Done that.

Tomorrow is a lazy day. I’m not getting out of bed until at least nine. I’m getting the bus to the big pool (I’ve checked the opening hours; I just have to check the bus times) and if the shops are open I’ll top up my food supplies. Mostly the bread.

Iceland 2022: day three

Volcano day! I walked down to BSI, Reykjavík’s main bus station if the bus in question belongs to Reykjavík Excursions, sat outside on a concrete bench and waited, as I’d given myself over an hour to walk 2km. I wonder why I didn’t opt for the customary pickup. Maybe I booked this as soon as possible, before I’d settled on accommodation and so didn’t know where my pickup would be?

There were more of us on this volcano hike/visit to the geothermal wonders of Reykjanes than I’d expected, given that the weather is pretty horrible (April & May are spring in Iceland, which means winter) and the eruption stopped six months ago. A full size coachload (well, 43 seats as best I could tell) with only one pair empty and the odd one here and there where solo travellers haven’t had to pair up.

We drove 45 minutes to Grindavík to borrow their campsite’s toilet facilities since there are none at the volcano and the usual stop is closed for Good Friday. Then onward to the volcano!

The group was too big to hike together and I’d managed to lose Halldor, our guide, by the time I’d got off the bus. Fine. Follow the track up onto the ridge in front of us and the lava is on the other side.

Oh yes, it is. A valley filled with black lava, steaming and smoking in a thousand places, all of it rippling in a violent wind that made hot but solid rock look like the sea. It was incredible. We had two hours to explore. Climbing the mountain to see the original crater from the top was an option was it was cloudy and a long way up and I decided I’d rather see the lava up close. We were told not to walk on and especially not where it’s steaming because it’s still hot and there might be thin patches of crust which can break and drop you, or at least your feet, into the molten rock underneath but tourists will tourist because they’re stupid and there were plenty of them just marching out across the steaming lava. I stood on a nice cool solid-looking edge for a photo and felt guilty enough about that.

Two hours was plenty. I could have spent longer looking at this amazing thing but it was so windy. So so windy. I walked back down from the ridge leaning forwards which isn’t a thing you do when walking downhill in normal weather.

Two of the group were late so most people had eaten most of their lunch by the time we departed. First to Grindavík again for a lunch break at Cafe Bryggjan where almost everyone disembarked despite me watching them eating their lunches twenty minutes earlier.

Message from the Dark Side there is! said Yoda’s voice suddenly into the silence as we waited for the last few cafe-goers to return and the entire front half of the bus burst out laughing.

Next we had to experience the wonders of Reykjanes, which I’ve seen before in equally revolting weather. I was expecting to go straight from the volcano to the Blue Lagoon so I had no enthusiasm for this waste of three and a half hours anyway but on and off the bus every fifteen minutes in howling wind and rain to look at something grey when the entire world was grey… well, it was eating into my Blue Lagoon time.

We visited a bit of cliff with a blowhole (actually just curved concave cliffs that throw violent waves upwards. Ok, that was quite fun when one of the waves splattered the viewpoint), Gunnuhver (hot spring area consisting of one massive steam vent and lots of hot reddish mud, plus the remains of the old boardwalk twisted and broken under the steam vent – a ghost did it), the bird cliffs at the tip of Reykjanes (more black gravel car park and violent waves than birds) and the Bridge Between the Continents (bridge, yes. Between the continents, no. Between two low cliffs over a sandy hollow that you can walk down to from both sides in ten steps and a hop if you’re feeling adventurous).

And at last, at nearly 5pm, we made it to the Blue Lagoon. I thought this was a combined volcano & Blue Lagoon tour but somehow 25 of the ~30 of us were just doing the volcano. So Halldor dropped the five of us in the car park and everyone else went home v

A few small changes since I was last there. Now they don’t give you towels at reception – there’s a man with a little booth just inside the lagoon door who gives you a towel when you’re ready to return to the changing rooms. The face masks are now ladled out by a person in a little box instead of kept in a plastic tub under a grating for you to scoop up with a long spoon. And the in-water bar has moved. The new corner was open last time I was here.

Oh, and you check out at the self-service machine. Scan your bracelet, pay off anything you spent in the water and then use it to open the exit gates, which swallows the bracelet as it opens.

Anyway. The wind howled. It was cold enough for huge clouds of steam to come off the lagoon which the wind then whipped up into a low dense mist. I went out with my glasses on but they were permanently steamed up and I got fed up with having to push them down my nose and look over them, leaving me half-blind in an unusual horizontal way. I got a towel and returned them to my locker (you’re not allowed in the changing areas while wet).

Anything out of the water froze while the water itself ranged from scalding hot in one place via pleasantly hot to pleasantly warm to “how is there cold water swirling around here???”. I went in the steam bath and my nose began to throb in an alarming way. Was it about to fall off? Did it have frostbite? I’d worn my mask outside for the last couple of stops just to keep my face warm; my nose shouldn’t be so frozen but I guess it had been out in the fresh air for quite a while as I bobbed around the warm lagoon.

I got the last bus home, far too early. 8.15. That only gave me about two and a half hours and for all I’d decided the Sky Lagoon is better and I like it more, it felt too soon to be getting out. I’d managed my free (it’s not technically free, it’s prepaid) drink of blue ice and my face mask and already it was time to go.

I got the bus. The driver said he wasn’t stopping at bus stop 13, which is my local, but could give me bus stop 10, “which is the same place”. It turned out to be Hlemmur, right opposite the supermarket. 10 and 13 are therefore so close that I wonder why they bothered creating two of them. Anyway. Home, food, unpacking, charging and bed. Pickup tomorrow is 8am but at least it’s at my own door