Latvia 2017: Nov 5th

Today started late and lazy because it’s Sunday and I’m on holiday and I had no train or bus or plane to catch. I had breakfast, I got on a tram to a further north part of Rīga than I’ve seen so far in search of the Art Nouveau architecture- went too far but did find St Gertrude’s Church. It turns out the Art Nouveau stuff is right by the Esplanade and there are only two or three buildings that I saw or recognised or which stood out – not quite enough to merit a signpost pointing to “Art Nouveau Quarter”. It was also deserted. It’s not really a touristy part of town and the locals aren’t out on a Sunday either – a bit like walking through the City of London at the weekend. So I headed back to the Old Town, walked along the river to the castle, discovered that I hopped off a tram just round the corner on Friday, took a tram back to the Esplanade and then another one right out into the suburbs on the other side of the river, where I made a stop in a big hyper market full of things I neither recognise nor can identify. I think I bought some plastic cheese slices but until I eat them, I’m not certain. And they have no nice fresh bread rolls. 

Armed with food, I came home for my now-traditional late afternoon meal before going out in the dark again. I’m less apprehensive about Rīga in the dark already. I didn’t stay out long – there was packing to do and it was dark and chilly. Not cold. Other than when I’ve sat on concrete steps to eat or wait, it hasn’t been really cold. Not twenty-miles-from-the-Baltic-in-November cold. 

I have packed, I have eaten as much as I can. I’ve set my alarm. I’m just about ready to go. I have liked Latvia. 

Latvia 2017: Nov 4th

The day didn’t start brilliantly with me not opening my eyes until an hour later than I’d planned. Trains to Sigulda go at 7.54 (far too early) or 10.38 and I’d anticipated hanging around town for a while. Nope. Up, fling stuff in bag, run for bus, hurl myself across town, buy ticket with 20 minutes to spare (in which to top up my picnic collection) and off I went. 

Sigulda is a popular little town 30 miles north east of Rīga and it takes nearly an hour and a quarter on the train. That’s an average of just 24mph. A lot of Latvia between Rīga and Sigulda is just forest – pine and birch mostly, I think, with bits of bog in between to break up the monotony and the occasional tiny town built around a factory. 

Sigulda was easy enough to spot – I’d spent over an hour deciphering the announcements so I could understand when it was time to jump off (not doing a Predeal here, not again) and also, it was the first time I’d seen mown grass, real tarmac roads and buildings that looked like they’d survive a brisk wind since Rīga. And even so, the guidebook wasn’t wrong when it described Sigulda as looking more like a park with apartments scattered gently over it. 

I walked through the trees to the playground, past Key Square, called in at the Lutheran Church and then found the castle complex. Sigulda itself has two. The new (18th century) one is a manor house with a slightly ridiculous crenellated tower on top, the old one is the ruins of a medieval Livonian Order castle. It cost €2 to go in and it was worth every penny. 

It’s a ruin. They’ve restored part of the gatehouse & south wall and they’ve stuck a wobbly wooden top on the north tower and there’s a big stage in the courtyard for the annual open air opera festival. And there’s a view over the Gauja valley – possibly not at its best in November, all grey trees with no leaves, cloudy sky but a view to Krimulda Manor on the other side and the red brick Turaida Castle. And the cable car! My guidebook said that had already stopped for winter but there it was! I walked back up to the church, across the road, which dives down into the valley here, you have to cross it at the top, and down to the cable car station. I arrived just as it was leaving so I had to wait half an hour for it to return and prepare to go again and in that time I saw two people go zip lining on the cables. They hang from each side of a big red canopy, slide down the cable and stop in the middle, hanging high above the valley for at least five minutes. I couldn’t figure out how they get back up the wire. What happens is the cable car comes along, with a sort of spring-loaded lance and pushes them back as it returns to Sigulda. And yes, I thought about doing the zip line. 

I crossed the valley. It takes just under ten minutes and it’s not a valley like anything I’ve ever seen before. And yet it’s not quite a gorge. It’s wide and deep. 

Krimulda is the creepiest place I’ve ever been. The ruins of the old castle in the woods next to the station are good. I opted not to follow the two mile Serpentine Road to Turaida – not along a deeply forested ridge on my own with the dark barely two hours away. A shame because Turaida Castle looks nice. And Krimulda is not. It’s basically the mouldering remains of a manor house and its surrounding buildings. But it’s all deserted and crumbling and hidden in the wood. There’s a crumbling but once good-looking wooden Swiss house. A lady came over on the cable car, prowled around, looked at the remains of the back garden, tried the side door – and then went inside! Oh no. No no no. 

The Manor itself may be a rehab centre. But I think that was a project and an idea that never worked. I don’t think anyone’s there now. I fled very quickly back to the safety of the cable car and back to the real world in Sigulda. It seems it actually functions as a hotel/hostel these days and had good reviews on booking.com. If I’d accidentally booked it, no way would I have even gone up to the door. I’d have been back to Sigulda, on the train back to Rīga and home as quick as possible. The place is pure nightmare fuel. 

I bought a walking stick. Only a miniature one. Walking sticks are a thing in Sigulda. I think they used to make them and walkers visiting the national park would buy them and now it’s such a favourite souvenir that they constructed a walking stick park. My stick is thin as bamboo and only about a foot long but it’s got the traditional red and green decorations and it’s very pretty. 

It had been drizzly over in Latvian Horror Land but as I walked back through Sigulda to the station, the sun came out. I sat and watched the train arrive, waited for the back to become the front and for the Sigulda lights to become Rīga lights and headed home. The train was a lot quieter than it was this morning. Still very slow. 

I came home on the trolleybus, ate and headed out to see Rīga by night. Well, not true night. It was ten past six. And there were already quite a lot of severely drunk people. Rīga, for some reason, has more emergency vehicles with lights and sirens than anywhere I’ve ever been but now it was dark they felt a bit more sinister. So did everything. There’s no real reason to be nervous but it occurred to me that I was apprehensive about being in this city in the dark in a way I don’t remember being anywhere else. Does it feel too Stereotypical Scary Russian? In a way, maybe. By the way, when you get off a bus or buy a ticket or get a door held for you, you say thank you in Russian, not Latvian here. Or sometimes French for no reason I can fathom (Well, unless it’s the Russian aristocracy thing). So I went down to the stop by the river and took the tram across the bridge. Tomorrow I really must walk it, just once, but I have a bus pass and it’s so easy to hop on a bus or a tram. 

Now I shall go to sleep and have nightmares about Krimulda. 

Latvia 2017: Nov 3rd

I woke up at 8am despite it being 6am at home, got up lazily and went for breakfast. I’m not going to any other morning because I can’t eat enough breakfast to make it worthwhile but on the first morning in a strange city when you don’t know where the shops are yet, you haven’t eaten anything substantial in 24 hours and you have nothing in the room to drink, you have to do it. 

It was a good breakfast! They had everything imaginable – oranges you dropped in a juicer, morning Marys (no sign of vodka but all the sauces & vegetables to drop in the tomato juice), bread of all shapes, sizes and colours, fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish, traditional Latvian foods, muesli, porridge, four kinds of jam, toast… so much food. So good breakfast. Wow. I piled my plate with little bread rolls, failed to spot the miniature glasses next to the juices (they’re see-through!) and made do with a coffee cup instead. And then I found the little croissants so I had one of them too, with the brightest red raspberry jam I’ve ever eaten. And when I got upstairs – you’ll never guess what. Somehow four rolls & three packs of butter had fallen into my bag. Well, that would do nicely for lunch. 

I’d sort of planned to go to Sigulda today but the station was harder to find than I’d expected, considering I thought all trams from the National Library (my local stop) stopped there. Instead I ended up at the Central Market which I thought was housed in the old station – but no, those arched buildings are converted zeppelin hangers. I walked up to the station, which wasn’t quite where it seemed on Google Maps last week. I got on a trolley bus – just a random bus which dumped me off at the university. I spied a nice gold onion-domed church (which turned out to be the Cathedral of the Nativity) and a nice park (the Esplanade) and then I spied a tower I recognised from the inflight magazine – the Freedom Monument. And I recognised its Modern architectural style – because it looks just like Helsinki Central Station. Now I could finally find myself on my map. I was beside the City Park, which is so pretty. 

There were little wooden boats on the canal in the middle of the park so I went for a ride. The canal is actually the remains of the moat around the medieval walled city. We sailed east as far as the Opera House, then west, through the park, through the city and onto the river. It had got cold. The mouth of the river is less than twenty miles away and the Baltic, which it opens onto, is famously cold. A mist had descended. I gave in and got a blanket. I’d been wondering why there was a pile of blankets and now I knew. We got as far east down the river as the National Library before we turned back. It’s supposed to be a loop. I don’t know what’s on the canal between the Opera House and the National Library that we couldn’t go up there. It soon got warmer back on the canal. 

I went home for lunch – having first walked all the way back to the Central Market, which was the only place I could find a tram stop in the right direction. 

After lunch it was sightseeing time in the Old Town. It’s a bit of a warren – I went round in circles a few times, missed the House of the Blackheads twice and when I did eventually find it, most of it was under scaffolding! The town is also, unsurprisingly, packed with amber shops. 

When it started to get dark I went to the station, where I’d spied a supermarket earlier and with my arms full, I got on a bendy bus to go home. It was too early really but it was dark, I was too hot, I’d crossed off a dozen Important Sights To See and I wasn’t going to see much more in the dark. 

Back home I looked up those important train times for my trip to Sigulda tomorrow – as long as it’s not pouring with rain. 

Latvia 2017: Nov 2nd

My flight was at 11am so I wanted to be at Gatwick by 9. Add extra time for traffic & trouble (and fog) and I need to leave about 5am. So I got up at 4 and was out the door by 4.30. It was foggy in places – between Salisbury & Winchester was particularly bad – but it had more or less cleared up by Gatwick. So I thought. 

At the car park, I stood waiting for the bus. A plane roared overhead but I couldn’t see it. And then it appeared from the cloud, hardly any higher than the lampposts, as if it had appeared from thin air. 

I had some breakfast, updated Facebook and settled in to kill three and a half hours at the airport. 

My gate was due to be announced just twenty-five minutes before the plane was due to take off. Gate 1, nice and easy. Except when I got to Gate 1, there was a Norwegian plane waiting to go to Oslo. I checked Gates 2 & 3 and then rejoined the confused crowd at 1. We definitely hadn’t all misread it. After five minutes or so, the sign changed to Air Baltic to Rīga. Good. But we milled around more and then we’re told to go to Gate 38, which is the other end of the airport – and it’s now less than fifteen minutes before I’m supposed to depart. At Gate 38 there was an Air Baltic plane but we were told to sit down as it would be a while. 

It wasn’t too bad. I boarded at 11.10 – only to be told when I presented my boarding pass “Oh, they’ve changed your seat.” They will regret this. The plane was nice and light – all white plastic & leather, Baltic-green rope lights under the overhead lockers, miniature overhead screens showing the route & flight data. It’s exactly the same map Icelandair uses. 

We flew. We were an hour late taking off, we were about an hour late arriving. Within ten minutes of my boots touching Latvian soil I was at the bus stop with a yellow bus ticket loaded with an unlimited five day pass. Five minutes later I was on the correct bus & half an hour later I was crossing four lanes of traffic and two tramlines outside the Latvian National Library. 

I checked into my riverfront hotel. I’d read reviews. I’d be put at the back but offered a room and view update for a price. I declined it. The reviews also said the staff are “surly” but that wasn’t in evidence at all. 

The room is fine. Yes, it’s at the back but it’s on the 9th floor so it has a view literally over the Rīga rooftops. It’s plenty big enough, huge shower, sockets in convenient places – no complaints about the room other than that it may turn out to be too hot. 

The pool is currently occupied but I’m going back at 8 and tomorrow I shall see Latvia in daylight – Rīga if it’s wet, Sigulda if it’s not. 

The pool, it turns out, is not only freezing but you have to sign in at a desk so the receptionist knows if you run away after five minutes. 

Iceland 2017: Sept 30

I slept in thermals last night. I don’t know why it took until the last night in the van for me to think of that. Not only was I toasty for the first time this week but I also started to take layers off – I even took off my hat!

In the morning I got up, packed the van, put all my stuff away in my big bag, emptied all the rubbish out of the van and then wandered the campsite in the hope of catching Morris again so I could take a photo of him. No luck. So off I went, past the smiley-face traffic lights, past the local pool (I knew it existed!!) and up to Hveragerdi where I popped into the N1 petrol station for breakfast of apple juice and star crisps. It’s clearly a popular place to be. I accidentally bought half a loaf of out of date bread.

On the Ring Road, I stopped right up at the top of the Blue Mountains by the geothermal power station, did not get lost in Kopavogur, did get lost in Hafnarfjordur, made a quick trip into the Cintamani outlet (I love Cintamani but it’s so expensive!) and then into Ikea – I went in with a plan, I knew what I was after, I knew roughly where it was and I was in and out in under fifteen minutes, despite struggling with the payment machine at the end. I am now the owner of two European-plug 3-USB chargers. I dropped the van off precisely on time, got dropped off at the bus stop round the corner (so close it really wasn’t worth the van company getting out a car to drop me off) and hopped off the bus at Landspitalinn. On my walk up to the hostel, I met some people with a map and a bus number who wanted my help to get to a hospital I didn’t know existed. The best I could manage was to figure out which way the map was supposed to go and pointed out that they needed the bus stop on the other side of the road and then I shambled up to my own front door. Fortunately, despite it only being about 12.30, my room was ready so I dropped off my luggage, got my phone charge – although only at a precise angle and went to enjoy Reykjavik in the sun.

Sun! I’d gone to Iceland a week early! I had a much-needed lunch of hamburgerbraud and cheese and tropical juice by the pond, ran away from a wasp, came home to warm up, read, had a nap and then went out later just to wander and restock my food supplies. As I walked back, I noticed minibuses picking up for Northern Lights tours. The sky was a bit cloudy. I looked at my watch. Twenty-four hours ago I’d been standing outside at Akranes watching the Lights fade away and tonight they hadn’t even gone out.

I returned to my warm bed, with a ceiling and a real bathroom and was very glad I was out of the campervan.

Iceland 2017: Sept 29

Rain again! I got up, washed, dressed, did the washing up at last, emptied the van and went for a swim at Akranes. Well, to float around its hotpots. It was too wet and cold to go in the main pool. Icelandic pools may be geothermally heated but they can still be a bit chilly in 4-6 degree weather. I got out at 12.30 and drove down to Selfoss via Thingvellir, although I didn’t stop in the park itself. I parked in the car park up by Oxarafoss for lunch. I stopped at Selfoss just to check if the campsite was open and available and nice and then I went down to Stokksbakki and Eyrarbakki, across the big river and the iron bridge, past the big black beach. Next I went up to Hveragerdi. There’s a hot river up in the mountains behind the town and now there’s a car park at the start of the hike and a café in a hut. And lots of cars. So many cars. Parked along the road as well as in the car park. However, the footpath starts across a horrifyingly icy river (I stuck my feet in it to test) which rushes far too quickly and looks a bit deep for me to try wading across. There’s a bridge but it’s just a tree trunk and it’s very rickety. I chickened out.

Back at Selfoss, I parked my campervan and went to pay and then I met Morris – resident campsite dog, retired search & rescue dog. He’s collie-like but a bit fluffier. He’s very friendly but he’s also well-trained. He knows he’s not allowed to jump on people but he stares appealingly until they invite him by saying his name or holding out their hands and then he leaps. He’s a lovely lovely dog!

And as well as the dog, there’s indoor space. There’s a big common room/kitchen with heat and light and tables and a strong smell of supernoodles and lots of campers charging their phones and cameras and laptops. It’s cloudy and windy and damp so it’s nice to be inside for once.

Everybody in this room has exactly the same plastic Ikea cups and plates, exactly the same as the ones in the back of my campervan. Are they all renting their vans from the same company or do all the companies just go to Ikea and choose exactly the same mint-green plastic plates?

My Kindle has been plugged in all day but hasn’t charged. Maybe it’s the wire then? Maybe my phone will come to life when I get home and plug in a working wire.

There’s a campsite cat too. It came into the common room – mostly black, white face and legs and apparently either friendly or keen on trying to beg supernoodles.

 

Iceland 2017: Sept 28

More idiots. Only one other van was left when I got up and they’d locked the toilet block from the inside. Not the individual cubicle but the whole block. I tried the door and got a mumble from within. Ten minutes later, I did everything short of smashing the door down. Communal space! Warmth! Water! Toilets! Not your personal whatever-you-think-you’re-doing-in-there-for-so-long! I was so angry I drove off to Snaefellsnes without basic morning jobs like washing up my plate & knife, brushing my teeth or even getting properly dressed.

It was less rainy than it had been and eventually the sun came out. I did the usual itinerary – Bjarnarfoss, Radfelgja, Arnarstapi, Hellnar, Djupalonssandur, then I climbed Saxholl, a crater I promised two or three years ago to come back to. 486 red iron steps up to the top (or possibly 388 – I counted both going up and coming down and was out by a whole hundred between the two numbers) or a perfect crunchy red pumice volcano.

Give or take photo stops, it was straight down to Akranes. I caught the red sunset reflecting on the mountains behind Borgarnes and I finally got Snaefellsjokull silhouetted against an orange sunset by the time I was on the road into Akranes, after it had been sitting under a cloud for the whole day as I drove round it.

The campsite at Akranes is right opposite Snaefellsnes – well, it’s on the other side of the bay. I parked up, paid, spied a sign with the wifi password so I got out the Kindle to try out the Experimental Browser, after several days with no phone. As I stood outside the office, I glanced up while waiting for it to connect and spotted a pale green streak right across the sky above my head. Northern Lights! Within five minutes they’d turned to huge swooshes of white and green and pink, so close, so rippling, so amazing, more vivid than anything I’ve ever seen before. I caught them on camera, although for once they looked better in real life (which is the opposite of what usually happens). I’ve never seen the Northern Lights without a foot of snow, temperatures in the many minuses and I’ve never ever seen them while wearing sandals. However, it wasn’t too warm and when the Lights had faded away, I returned to my campervan, to my Kindle and internet, and book and went to sleep.

Iceland 2017: Sept 27

It rained overnight. Again. I splashed across the field in my sandals, washed up yet again and headed out to the wonders of the west. Barnarfoss and Hraunfossr first, then five minutes up the road to Husafell, the end of civilisation. It’s the pickup point for trips up onto Langjokull but it’s also somewhere between a village and a small resort, with a bistro and little shop, a country hotel and golf club, outdoor geothermal pool and a surprising amount of shrubbery. Barnarfoss is a proper active river, still in the process of carving out a small canyon from the rock. It’s all autumn colours and although it was grey and wet and miserable, the green and orange and yellow leaves were bright and vivid. Hraunfossar is fifty or so yards further west down the river, where water flowing through the lava field tumbles out of the riverbank and down into the river, although there’s no river on the surface for it to fall from.

Next I went to Reykholt. Snorri Sturlusson is an important figure in Icelandic history, not least because he wrote Egil’s Saga, one of the Eddas and Heimkringsla. However, I’ve never managed to be very interested in his museum. The interesting thing about Reykholt is Snorralaug, Snorri’s pool. It’s a fairly small shallow pool, better for sitting on the edge and putting your feet in than sitting in and of course, it’s geothermal and warm. Across the field/garden, down by the road, is something that looks like a normal duckpond but it steams. I did not go and stick my hand in the water I know nothing about. If you stick your hand in the steaming water back at Geysir, you’re likely to end up with serious burns. I picnicked again in the back of my van in the car park.

Deildartunguhver is having some work done – walkways and fences being built, mostly, to protect tourists from violently bubbling very hot water. It’s always hard to see what’s going on at Deildartunuhver because it generates a lot of steam but at the moment, you can’t see much of it behind fencing and machinery. The dog was still there – it lives nearby and it spends most of its life seeking attention in the Deildartunguhver car park. It’s getting a bit old now, its fur is quite matted in places and it’s starting to limp – it nearly got “rescued” by a tourist earlier in the year.

What next? Grabrok, the little crater at Bifrost. I don’t think I really went there to climb it but of course, I ended up climbing it. I climbed it in 2014 and I’d forgotten how many steps there are up to it – for this is a crater with a set of wooden steps up to the rim and a gravel walk around the top. It rained. It’s quite a spectacular little crater, overlooking a second crater and there’s also the ruined outline of what may or may not have once been a longhouse.

On the way back to Hverinn, I stopped at Borgarnes. I wanted to see if I could get a phone of some kind at the biggest settlement in the west (I couldn’t). I sat in the roadhouse with a hot chocolate I didn’t really want so that I could borrow their electricity and try to charge my phone. It had charged on Monday but then refused to ever since. Maybe there was something about the campervan it didn’t like. Whatever it was, it didn’t like it about the roadhouse either.  Since I like Borgarnes, I went down to the headland, near where I usually stay when I don’t have a van. It’s pretty down there.

By 8pm I was back at Hverinn, reading. At 9.30, I noticed the van parked next to me – right next to me – had been sitting with its engine running and its lights on for a long time. Much later, when they hadn’t turned either off and I wanted to go to sleep, I resorted to flashing my headtorch at them. It worked. They stopped it. Half an hour later, when they thought I’d forgotten, it all went back on. Engine rumbling, lights on. Enraged, I wrote them a message on my misted-up window. There’s not a lot of space so it had to be short, pointed words, easy to write in mirror letters. English, fortunately, has some excellent words for this purpose. They didn’t notice. I flashed my torch again.

At 5.45, I woke up cold and realised the engine was rumbling again and the lights were on. They’d been slamming the doors all night – at one point, I’d heard the side door open and close three times in under three seconds (yes, really!) and now they were doing it again. I’d spent part of the night fantasising about how I could destroy them – sugar in the fuel tank, was my knife sharp enough to slash the tyres, was there some way I could blow up the entire van with what I had in the back? – so in a blind fury, I climbed into the front seat, started the engine, put on the main beams and turned round keeping those lights on them as much as was humanly possible before driving to the other end of the campsite. I climbed back into the back and lay down. This end of the site was much lighter than where I’d been. In fact, it was brighter than those annoying lights switched on next to me. It took nearly fifteen minutes for it to dawn on me that my headlights are not automatic and I hadn’t thought to switch them off. I climbed back into the front again and tried to go back to sleep.

Iceland 2017: Sept 26

Tuesday’s blog starts Monday night, in a campervan, listening to the wind wailing. I’ve stayed on this campsite before: in the height of summer, there seems to be no one running it – I never found anyone to pay. There only appear to be two or three other vans here tonight. I would rather be at Þingvellir or Selfoss with their non-freaky campsites but I’ve been to Fontana & it’s gone 10pm and I don’t fancy a drive tonight.

I made a friend in the hot tub – Kathleen, from St Petersburg, Florida. She’s here on her own, driving around, making it up as she goes along. Next she’s off to Finnish Lapland.

At Geysir today – yesterday? – we all learnt why we don’t stand downwind of an erupting geyser. Because the wind will blow a very heavy shower of near-boiling rain straight at you! That said, the people who got soaked found it hilarious. And so did everyone watching.

My campervan is just a mattress in the back of a Davis Docker (d-something; I’m not going out to look now). There’s a sort of wooden cupboard arrangement above it which is very handy but reduces getting into sleeping bag wiggle room down to zero. Gets you warm, struggling to get into bed. To lie there at 10.30, not sleepy yet, listening to the wind wailing.

I woke up to find the campsite at Laugarvatn less weird than I had in the dark last night. It was a campsite. Toilet block with showers, washing up sinks, bins, children’s playground, hot water throughout – as you’d expect from a place whose hot springs literally appear in the stories of the Settlement of the country. These hot springs were where the ever-practical Vikings decided to be baptised, following conversion at Þingvellir in the summer of 1000AS. The water is cold at Þingvellir. I know, I’ve paddled in it. The only thing that’s weird about Laugarvatn’s campsite is that it’s unstaffed apparently all year round so there’s no one to pay and no notice up telling you to pay at a nearby amenity.

I made Þingvellir, just half an hour away across a high, desolate heath road, my first stop. It’s not at its most charming in the mist, cloud & rain. They’re now introduced parking charges – 500kr for a day, valid in all the assorted car parks. It’s an entrance fee, really. Even in the less than six years since I fist went there, it’s changed a lot. More car parks, more toilets, more facilities, more foothpaths. A lot more toilets.

After I’d wandered Þingvellir and made my first visit to Öxarárfoss, I went to Borgarnes via the WHale Ford. Partly because I didn’t want, at this early stage, to hand over 1000kr to use the tunnel but mostly because it was too early to go straight to Borgarnes. It’s a long way round the whole Whale Fjord. I stopped on the south shore and climbed into the back for lunch before driving on.

I was in the pool at Borgarnes by 3.30. For five minutes I had it all to myself, then other people arrived. I made a quick trip into the lane pool but although it’s geothermally heated, it’s not all that warm so mostly I just drited in the 37° hotpot. The 39° pot is ok but the 41° is far too hot.

I got out. I went to the campsite at the top of the fjord and got settled in. It was a bit early so I thought I’d have something to eat. First I had to wash my plate and knife from lunch. No washing up place. Toilets and showers locked. I rained fury and rage down on Borgarnes, my favourite place in the whole country and consulted my Guide to West Iceland. Unless I wanted to go back to Akranes, on the other side of the Whale Fjord, there was only one campsite likely to be open within two hours, near Reykholt, a place I know because it’s Snorri’ Sturlusson’s home. The campsite is actually in the next hamlet to Reykholt, attached to a little country café/bar/restaurant – which I’m also familiar with. I paid, was given my sticker and invited to “stay as long as you like”.

Instantly I revised my woolly plans. This was an interesting part of the countryside. Deildartunguhver, the biggest hot spring in Europe, was just across the fields, the steam literally visible from the campsite. Reykholt was two miles away, two spectacular waterfalls half an hour away. That was Wednesday’s itinerary then.

I walked down the road to take photos of the scenery, since it had now stopped raining. I made friends with three dogs, who followed me along the road and refused to go home. When I got back, I finally washed my plate and knife and had a chat with another visitor at the campsite. He was also washing up and while we discussed the insane price he’d paid for his Range Rover 4×4 converted campervan, he was holding a knife with a blade a foot long. We have a very similar knife at work; I know it’s nowhere near as sharp or dangerous as it looked. And besides, I had a knife in my hand too. The blade is hardly longer than my longest finger but it’s frighteningly sharp so overall, I seemed to be at the advantage if he decided to stop chatting and start attacking. Which he didn’t, and which I didn’t think he would anyway.

I got into bed at ten to eight and put down my book to have what turned out to be an extended nap at nine. There’s not a lot else to do in a dark campervan in the middle of the countryside in the rain.

Iceland 2017: Sept 25

This blog is literally coming to you from a hot tub. It’s 7.30pm & I’m in the raised pot at Laugavatn Fontana, which I’ve always found too hot but is apparently a great temperature for blogging. The phone is safe in a waterproof case and according to the LCD clock, it’s 11° at the moment. Warmer than Reykjavik and it’s hardly rained today.

Day started with early breakfast because I knew I had to pack. After I packed, I sat & killed some time because I wasn’t picking the car up in Hafnarfjörður until 12 and I wasn’t going to carry my luggage any further than necessary. Then the finger on the bottom corner of my phone felt hot. The phone felt hot. I pulled out the cable – smoking, black and melting. Fortunately, it didn’t quite kill the phone – or me.

I took the bus down to Hafnarfjörður, picked up my van & asked where I could get a new cable. Elko. Just Elko. They’re entirely in the metropolitan area I intended to avoid. I guess if you live somewhere like Egilsstaðir, you make a special multi-day road trip or a cross-country flight for a new cable. Or never use your phone again, I guess. I decided fate would find me one and off I went.

I wanted to get onto the Ring Road without driving through Reykjavik. Too much traffic, too many lanes, too many junctions. I’d looked up a suitable alternative on Google Maps. An hour to Selfoss.

Three hours to Hveragerði, which is ten minutes west of Selfoss. I got horribly, horribly lost in the suburbs. I did stumble across Elko & get a new wire, though. It’s Icelandic PC World – literally. Same layout, same signage, same KnowHow. Just a green frontage & a new name.

I did some shopping while I was lost, so lunch was in the car park at Hveragerði, in the back of the van.

I went to Geysir, watched at least a dozen Strokkur eruptions. Went to Gulfoss. Realised I didn’t fancy a long dark evening in the van so here I am at Fontana, blogging from a hot tub covered in fairylights. No wifi, though, so I don’t know when you’ll get to read this