Iceland Feb 2015: Reykjavik & Laugardalslaug

Today, much to my surprise, it was snowing when I set out on my trek up the hill to the nearest bus stop eight miles away. Really thick snow, coming in horizontally and it looked like it was settling. As I stood at the bus stop, the snow stopped and the sky turned blue.

Ever since I first came to Iceland, I’ve heard the phrase “if you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes”. I’ve never believed it. It’s always been wet and grey and horrible for several days or hot and sunny for several days or whatever, for several days. Today I’ve seen it change from sunny to snowy within five minutes about twenty times.

Because I woke up late, I missed breakfast so I went and got some bread and cheese and other bits and pieces. I thought it would be nice to eat by the Tjörnin, watching the birds but then I decided tempting that many birds with bread would cause a riot so I didn’t. I really like the Tjörnin, especially in winter when most of it is frozen and hundreds of birds flock to the one corner where the warm water pours in. There are ducks and geese and swans that make a noise like a bike horn and some new ducks today – little black and white ones that dive. When I’d enjoyed the ducks long enough, I walked down the street to the seafront to enjoy Esja, looking all snowy among fluffy white clouds. It was very windy and cold but clear and pretty. It occurred to me that Harpa was the perfect place to eat. You see, there isn’t really anywhere in Reykjavík except possibly Hlemmur where you can get out your own bread and cheese and eat it unless you want to eat outside but Harpa is perfect. I ate my brunch and then spent a while taking photos – Harpa is such a weird place that it’s fun to take photos. Up the third floor I found myself looking north, at a patch of cloud where Esja had been not twenty minutes earlier and realised Reykjavík was under another snowstorm. By the time I got back outside, the sun was out again and by the time I’d crossed the road and was waiting at the bus stop, another snow cloud was coming over Esja. I’ve never seen anything like it – how quickly and dramatically the weather can change. The snowstorm hit the city as I waited for the bus up at Hlemmur and then another one as I got off the bus at the big pool, exc ept this wasn’t snow, this was razor-sharp hail. I’d picked up the latest Reykjavik Grapevine at Hlemmur and that made a good shield as I headed for the door.

Laugardalslaug, I think, is the biggest swimming centre in Iceland. It has a 50-metre indoor pool, split into two 25-metre pools when I went in. In the middle is a kind of bridge with those diving stool things. And when I got in, I noticed there are tracks along the sides of the pool – you can move that bridge back to open it up to full 50 metres! Outside there’s another 50-metre pool – warmish but if you’re there on a windy day, 50 metres is a very long way to swim against the wind. I did ten lengths, which is twenty in QE’s pool. Joined to it is another biggish pool, slightly cooler, for playing in. Alongside the lane pool are four hot pots – 38°, 42°, 40°, 44° – yes, I’d have put them in order too. At the end is a “saltwater spa” – a kind of hot pot full of salty water at a supposed 40° but actually much colder than the 40°pot. Behind them is the steam bath  – eighteen white plastic thrones with a white light above each one. Other than the steam, it looked just like the sort of capsule you’d put people into stasis in while you travelled across space. Next to the play pool was a shallow dish-shaped hot pot/pool and a larger hot pot, more like a kind of mini pool that you sit in, at 38°. Icelanders like to know precisely what temperature everything is. Showers don’t have red and blue. Showers have one knob that you turn to a temperature.

I stayed there for ages, trying out every pool and every pot. I didn’t go on any of the slides. Oh, Laugardalslaug, despite being just a local pool, has an electronic bracelet system just like at the Blue Lagoon, except you can’t buy food or drinks with it. You pick a locker at random, close the locker and hold your bracelet against the red light and it locks and the bracelet remembers which one it unlocks. In the event you don’t, there’s a special scanner in the middle of the changing room which will tell you which locker it currently operates. And they employ people specifically to make sure everyone has their naked shower before they go in the water.

I got the bus back to Hlemmur and then, since it was nice, I walked down Laugavegur, which is the main street in Reykjavík, stopping off in so many shops, looking wistfully at the Cintamani shop (this season’s colour is apparently orange) and of course, the weather being so Jekyll-and-Hyde today, it was snowing by the time I reached the end. There was no view over the bay and it was getting on for five o’clock, so I popped into 1011 to get more juice (“Did you look at them and think ‘I’ll try one of each’?” said Vala behind the till) and then got the bus back to Kringlan. I timed my walk back and downhill, without several stops for photos of snow, it took ten minutes. And in the other direction, the next bus stop must be at least an hour’s walk away.

Tonight I’m not doing anything except packing, going to bed early and hoping no one screams in the night. I’m being picked up to go to Snæfellsnes at 7.30am tomorrow.

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