Iceland Feb 15: Warm Baths and Cool Lights

Bonus of new blog over OffExploring blog, I can see if you’re reading it! Twelve people read it yesterday. Discounting the one I know is in the USA, that means eleven people I know read my blog. And 62 views is an unimaginable number. I know how it happened – every time anyone looked at a picture in my gallery it counted as a view. A couple of people looked at all eighteen and read the blog and racked up nineteen views each. But still, it’s very exciting to see the numbers. You can’t hide from me!

And now on to last night’s entertainment.

I was picked up at 5.30 on the dot for the Warm Baths and Cool Lights trip. I’ve done this before and there were only three of us so the fifteen packed into the minibus this evening. Siggi, our guide, chatted away and off we went, via Þingvellir, to Laugavatn. I said the weather was disappointing in Reykjavík; well, it’s certainly snowed elsewhere! Although it was pretty dark and the windows were smudged with dirt/rain/snow/ice, the world was unmistakably white once we’d left the city behind and although it was even harder to be sure, it looked like the road was nothing but ice. The roundabout when we came into Laugavatn was definitely a disc of ice several inches thick.

We were delivered to Laugavatn Fontana, where I entertained myself by feeling very cosmopolitan and superior by taking the obligatory naked shower, whereas most of my fellow travellers conveniently didn’t see the sign. Anyway, I know I went into the non-chlorinated water clean and shiny.

I don’t know what they’ve done to the pools at Laugavatn since I was last there. Sæla, the long shallow one, felt much warmer than usual. Viska, the raised hot pot, felt much cooler. Lauga, the mini swimming pool, felt warmer and the newest pool, the lava one that doesn’t seem to have a name, was painfully hot. I did fifty lengths in Lauga – less impressive if I tell you I estimate it to be somewhere between five and ten metres long. I sat on a rock doing a mermaid impression and trying not to boil in the lava pool, dipped into Viska a few times because it’s very weird for it not to be painful in there and spent most of my time lounging around in Sæla. There are some black stone sculptures in there. Some are good for lying against, one is nearly a circle and you can either curl up inside it or entertain yourself blocking one or two of the three jets that squirt out of it to see what happens to the others and there’s one shaped like a giant cup with a big fountain going into it. That one’s excellent for sitting in, even if the water sloshes over the edge when you do as if you’ve caused a huge tidal wave. Obviously I sat in it.

I even ventured into Ylur, the sauna (the wooden benches are too hot and the German boys sat in there with me) and then into Gufan, the three steam rooms. Those are fun! They sit directly over the hot spring so the heat and smell depend on what the Earth feels like doing. Today one of them was stone cold and the other two were really really hot. They’re also really dark for some reason. I don’t sit down for fear of getting lost and if you’ve ever tried inhaling sulphur, you’ll understand why I don’t go in Gufan very much.

As usual, the time was up far too quickly. Floating from one pool to another, trying not to touch the handrails as you climbed out of and into pools because they were so cold, it felt like I had forever and then suddenly it was 9 o’clock and I had to get out. There is a big red LED clock which also shows the humidity and the temperature. I watched the temperature climb from 6.3° to 7.5°.

They say that you need three things for the Northern Lights – cold, clear and crisp and we didn’t have any of them. Iceland is warmer than it is at home. You also need total darkness and aurora activity. Total darkness is easy enough – there are vast parts of Iceland with no street lights but aurora activity is very temperamental and if the sky is blanketed in clouds, there’s no chance. To quote Siggi: “You have to have clear skies. What we’ve got this instant – this is terrible” and “There are high clouds, low clouds and medium clouds. We’ve got a bit of everything”. He said it might be clearer down on the south coast so we drove south to where we met the Ring Road just west of Selfoss. Still very cloudy. We headed west, to Hveragerði. “We’re going to drive up the mountain to 450m. It’ll probably be foggy at the top but we’ll see what happens when we come down.” I, for one, was not fooled. I knew perfectly well that we were going back to Reykjavík and we were not aurora hunting. It had been cloudy and rainy all day, it was cloudy and rainy as we were driving around. There was no way we were going to see any lights. We did make a quick stop in the Bláfjall “I thought I saw a star! But it was just an aeroplane.” All the same, we stopped and got out to check that the sky was definitely still full of clouds. It definitely was.

I got home at 11.20, which is nice and early. The trouble was that at about 3.30am, someone started yelling and banging doors. Banging as if to get attention. At that time in the morning, you can jump to some odd conclusions and I began to think that this was a low-tech way of waking everyone for a fire alarm. But no, it was just a drunk person, who yelled and yelled and then started screaming. I have no idea what was happening but it was frightening at that time of night. And the busy road outside had gone silent. Presumably because no one’s heading to or from Keflavík at 3.30 in the morning but it seemed scary for the road to be silent and empty.

The result of all this was that I didn’t even wake up until ten to nine. Having looked out of the window and seen that it’s wet and cloudy and a tiny bit dark, I’m not quite ready to go out yet. I will need to – I have at least three bus journeys to use up, I plan to go swimming in one of the local geothermal pools and I may or may not have eaten absolutely everything I bought yesterday.

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