Posts Tagged ‘fireworks’

Day 9 was worse.

The Galleri B&B was gorgeous.  Luxurious, in fact.  I highly recommend it.  It was a bit out of character on this trip, an extravagant exception to sleeping in tents, but it was necessary, especially since Derek’s cold could either get better or really bad at that point, so it was important to have a comfortable warm sleep.  We had long hot baths, drank lots of hot tea, and slept as long as possible.

In the morning, breakfast was served in the gift shop, a mixture of food that Icelanders eat and what they think Americans eat.  Very cute, and ample.  I had multiple waffles, still making up for lost time and perpetually hungry.  The gift shop was full of beautiful handmade things, lots of them made by the two beautiful (blonde) daughters of the proprietors, whom we saw flitting about and who’d let us into our room in the night.  We lingered there for awhile, bought a few things (made more mental notes), and reluctantly got on the road in the late morning.

I wanted to go to Geysir, because we were “this close”, Derek wanted to get into Reykjavík to catch some marathon day events.  For awhile we played both sides, darting across the road to stick out thumbs at any vehicle passing, either way.

This did not work out.

After finally committing to definitely going to Reykjavík, and then walking all the way out of town, we still waited, and waited, and waited…  We took pictures of the sheep grazing in the median, and laughed at them.  The sheep moved on.  We decided there was more traffic going off the split to Selfoss than the more direct way to the city, so we moved over to that arm of the roundabout.  And waited.  And waited.  What traffic there was appeared to be horse trailers going to þingvellir, to the pony show we’d heard about.  There was no bus, unless we got to Selfoss.

In the afternoon, we got a ride.  Partway to Selfoss.  It was starting to look dismal to get into Reykjavík in time for the evening fireworks.

Then the guy with the stuffed Komodo dragon in the backseat (some vague explanation involving a strip club) picked us up, and things started looking up.  He drove like a demon, and took us right into town.  We asked about a Pentax dealership, and he took us straight to an Elko, the equivalent of a Best Buy.  Unfortunately, they don’t deal in Pentax, but here’s the address of the place that does.

On the city transit to get to the campground (more waiting), and finally, to set up our tents and drop the packs we’ve been standing around wearing for hours.  On the bus again to find some food (more waiting) downtown.  Happily, we chanced upon this amazing quasi-Indian cuisine place with a mad salad and soup bar, all fantastic ingredients.  SO good, and the first time I got full in days, it seemed like.

We wandered along the crowded downtown Laugarvegur to take it all in, saw some good music (and some bad) and then I got the bright idea of taking advantage of the free Culture Day public transit, and going to pick up our suitcases from the BSÍ.  We went and got them, then got on a couple of the wrong buses going in the wrong direction, got yelled at by a power-tripping driver for standing too close to the door, and finally made it back to camp just after the more cautious couple who decided to wait for the right bus. note- two sweaters in the same picture, and that was an accident!

The buses were all off schedule, crowded, and unpredictable because of the holiday.  On the bright side, the BSÍ guy “remembered me”, remembered what luggage was ours (!), and then charged us for about half the time we’d left it there, with much winking.  I didn’t remember ever seeing him before, but I was grateful for the break in this expensive land, and happy.

Nearing dark, we headed back downtown for the fireworks.  Everyone was wearing Icelandic sweaters (a fashion statement that has no boundaries at all) and there were many handheld beers walking around.  Various street vendors and performance artists were doing their things.

One cooler art piece we noticed was spontaneously shed shoes and pants lying in little heaps in the street.  We didn’t see any pants actually being shed, but over and over, you could spot shucked clothes left behind.  We saw the rather talented blue ninjas tumbling and running through the street, and ran after them a ways to keep watching them, with several other kids.

Mainstage, in the heart of downtown, was blaring abominable music, but the hill above was the best place for the fireworks, so we joined the throng converging to wait and jockeyed for a place to set the tripod.  Children swarmed all over the sculpture of Ingolfur Arnarson and teenaged couples snuggled in the grass.

Icelanders even do fireworks differently.

In Canada, say, firework displays start tentatively, maybe with a bit of a teaser, then they escalate to the big stuff, with some pauses in between, with some attention to colour combinations, with some obvious planning of how two effects might overlap to best evoke ooh and aah, and then there’s a notable crescendo, culminating in an obvious finale- the big bang.  Then everyone knows it’s definitively over.

Well, Iceland fireworks aren’t like that.  They start cold, without warning, just as strong as they finish; just a full-on withering blast with no pauses, no crescendos, no altering in any way of pace, as though a small army of people is dashing around lighting fuses willy-nilly as fast as they possibly can, until they run out of explosives, at which point it all just stops dead.

It was possibly the most interesting display I’ve ever seen.  It was about as much TNT as three Parliament Hill Canada Day shows, all used up in an action-packed 15 minutes straight of constant explosions, just puking out fireworks until -pht- all over.   Derek and I look at each other like “WTF just happened?” then look around at everyone else, cheering and folding up the lawn chairs.   For them that’s normal.  The atrocious main stage act resumed belting it out, and the crowd started to disperse.

Wow.  Iceland.

This was the biggest party of the year in Iceland, but we just wandered slowly back to our camp, people-watching.  The streets were closed to vehicles; the crowds were as thick as a subway at rush hour; strollers were as thick on the ground as teenagers weaving among the crowd, and almost everyone suddenly had a can in hand.  It was like a family friendly folk festival, only with booze, blackouts, and an ambulance fighting through the crowds to reach an unconscious drunk.  Amazing.

It was a bit anti-climactic to make hot chocolate between our tents and go to sleep while a city-wide party raged, but Derek didn’t seem inclined to seek out a drunken good time, and I was more than happy to concur.

Yeah, boring.  Cities rattle me at the best of times, and crowds worked up to that pitch unsettle me big-time.  Even in this amazing place, I was emotionally exhausted by the whole thing; sad, shaken, tragic, overwhelmed with wanting and hunger to BE more.  I had a serious case of not enough; not pretty/young/successful/bold/talented/rich enough- a sure indication that I’ve let the city get to me.   I felt terrible too, guilty that my choices had screwed us up right and left, gotten us stuck and dragged us all over wrong turns for two days, and now my brother was sick and without a camera.  I went to sleep in my clothes, waking at 5am feeling like I hadn’t slept at all, resolved to surrender.  Surrender.  Surrender.

All night the wind chimes hung in the tree between our camp and the next sounded like cutlery clinking, and I dreamed our neighbouring campers were eating.


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Woke up to a windy, rainy day.  We packed the tents wet and got out of there to warm up in a morning bakarí.  I left Derek there handling some technology and went to the local pool – an excellent choice.  It was a small pool with a very hot steam bath.  The morning pool crowd was talkative and huddled into the hottest hot tub, as usual.

DSCF6100We drove out for the south edge of the Reykjanes peninsula but got stopped by the most unique art park ever.  There were IMGP6319these bizarre, colourful, creative installations, just set around in the grass, walking distance to each other.  A bristling group of birdhouses on tall skinny poles, hard bumps in primary colours, a rippled wall of steel with cogs and gears “settled” to the bottom.  It was a very surprising discovery.

Taking the 42 towards Grindavík, we knew there was a lot to take in on this small peninsula.  At Seltún there were sulphurous, boiling mud hot pots like Hverir, but on a hill, with boardwalk winding among the hot spots, red and blue swathes of colour on the ground everywhere.  These hot places in the crust are so alien.


A little farther up the road there’s Kleifarvatn, a moody, brooding lake surrounded by grey sand and black lava formations scooped and scoured by the wind.  Big chunks of strataed lava were marooned in the sand, everything around them eroded away.   That was an amazing place, even in the stormy weather.

DSCF6157Today the wind and rain dominated the story everywhere.  At Kleifarvatn we got to witness a trip of people struggle with a doomed attempt to use the wind.  They had a two line kite, but every time they lifted it, the wind either put it into a manic drilling corkscrew or just whipped it straight up and smashed it directly back down on the beach.  We were filming their antics from a distance when  the kite just broke off and got whipped into the bank.  I think it was too windy for kiting.

And people trying to fly kites wasn’t the most shocking spectacle we encountered on that road.  Milli Vanilli came on the radio (Bylgjan) – perhaps it was some kind of joke?, and even that was topped when we suddenly overtook a runner, all in black, jogging on the side of this packed gravel road in the middle of nowhere.  That was a surprise.  Someone out there at all, but in this weather?


Just after having a quick look at the ruins of the Krýsuvík church, we pulled in to park at the Krýsuvíkurberg bird cliffs.  DSCF6186The wind was kind of crazy now, here at the water.  The sea was crashing on the rocks in the water with big plumes of surf and mist was being blasted sideways.   Exploring any kind of cliffs was out of the question in the wind.  Could get bumped off in more ways than one doing something like that.

We meandered north to the Blue Lagoon and took pictures of the very photogenic blue water on jet black rock, and the power plant that created the Blue Lagoon spa destination.  We had a very indecisive debate about whether or not to go into the pools now, decided we would, and then, approaching the door, quailed at the 28€ fee, and beat a retreat.


IMGP6423Back to Grindavík.  Hoping for some wifi, we pulled into Lucky Luke’s hoping we’d get lucky with wifi, but no.  Got a big pizza and a cheeseburger, though, and played darts while we were waiting for our meal.

In Grindavík near the community center there was this interesting structure.  Very elaborate stonework, it must have taken forever – there were passages and a circular walkway.  None of it made sense and it was very small.  The tunnels would be comfortable only for a small child.  It was mystifying, but impressive.  Great stone working skills.



We carried on west, to the tip of the peninsula.  At Gunnuhver, another hot spot feature, the wind was ripping sideways, strong and steady, rolling away the steam from the hot spots.  We ran along the wet boardwalks, frozen by the knifing wind.  I could lean into the wind, literally, putting my center of balance backwards so far I could lift my toes, and as long as it didn’t gust, it would hold me.  I could do a few seconds at a time.  The wind was so loud we were yelling at each other and the mist and rain was soaking us, so we didn’t stay long.


This former viewpoint deck, totally swallowed by the changing hot crust was sobering.  It prompted Derek to remark “Hunh, extreme tourism.”

DSCF6203At Valahnúkur the weather was elemental, and the sun was going down.  Derek didn’t even get out of the car.  I walked out and could hardly keep my feet on the slick basalt rocks, flat and slippery.  I had to at least get a picture of the Great Auk memorial, a bronze bird standing motionless, sad and proud.  DSCF6200This place is disputed to be where the last Great Auk was had for lunch, a tragic reminder of the unique life being squandered and destroyed all over the planet.  The rocks here are beautiful, glistening black out of the grey foaming ocean, but it was just too wild.  I could barely risk peeking over the edge, the wind was flapping me around so much, so I scurried back to the car.

DSCF6216Miðlína, the “Bridge Between Two Continents”  (wooo, so exciting in capital letters), is totally gimmicky.  It’s not even a useful bridge, just a wooden bridge you can walk out on and say you’re standing between the North American and European plates.  One can stand between the plates all over in Iceland – the split goes through the whole country.  We were not impressed.  However, in the sandy floor of the ravine, lots of people had written messages with rocks and stones, like organic graffiti.  That was cool.

Now it was dark we went for Keflavík.  We went straight into the crowded town and slid straight into a parking place, like magic.  The hard part over, we walked to the park on the water, following the overall movement of people on foot.  It was Keflavík’s Ljósnótt, Night of Lights, a party with a big band stage and fireworks display.  Everywhere there were families, strollers, kids running around, grownups all with a beer in hand.

IMGP6468We walked through the outdoor tents jampacked with people jostling around the tables of artisans selling jewellery and crafts.  Icelanders have a bold, unique style in everything they make, and lots of these artisans have their work in stores around Reykjavík.  I’d seen it.

We wandered over to the water, as Derek wanted to get set up for the fireworks.  Children had swarmed the statues in the park, clustered all over the only vantage points.  On the rocks by the water, kids of all ages hopped around on the big rocks, and we chose our perch for the fireworks by a boy around ten who struck up conversation in stunningly perfect English.  He admired our tripod and excited, he told us the reason for the festival was that “Icelanders know how to PAR – TAY!”, in a sudden holler.IMGP6497

The fireworks were typical Iceland too, like in Reykjavík.  No slow intro, crescendos, pauses, or building finales.  It just came on in a fiery barrage, with the slightest hint of intensity (finale), just before the sudden, and complete end.  I don’t know why this approach to fireworks amuses me so much.  Just, full on.  The effects were cool – they had some water fireworks, and everything was reflected in the water between us.

After the clear but abrupt conclusion, the band started up and everyone gravitated to the field in front of the stage.  After a while, we quietly left, and drove out looking for a place to camp for the night.IMGP6562

Headed vaguely for Grindavík, where we’d seen a nice campground earlier, we drove on the quiet road crossing the peninsula.  I was drawn to turn up a random dirt road, which had these small signs posted that were very hard to read.  Finally, leaning out of the window and peering in the beam of a flashlight, we read “warning : Military firing range area…. any unexploded shells…” and had instructions for what to do and who to notify if you found undischarged ammo.  Okay then.  That sealed it for Derek, and he demanded to go to the campground.

IMGP6337I had a funny experience, though, as we drove away.  The compulsion that I should stay and not drive away burst up in me, and the feeling grew stronger and stronger the farther we got from the place.  By the time we reached the campground, I was nearly frantic with the certainty that I needed to go back to that road.

It was a pretty ridiculous desire though, devoid of logic, so I even set up my tent before I couldn’t stand it any longer.  Knowing I’d just lie awake if I didn’t go back, I finally brought it up to Derek, practically hopping with anxiety.  “So, how would you feel if I went back to that road we were at and came back in the morning for you?”

Derek let me know in no uncertain terms that he was now sure I’d completely lost my mind, saying “Well, that defies all logic,”, and “I can’t think of a worse place to spend the night.”  Finally he conceded “If you must”, and got all he needed out of the car for the night, shaking his head at me.  I almost left rubber in the parking lot.

I probably could have the road without headlights, the pull it was exerting on me was so strong.  It was a very short drive back to it, and I parked by the first warning sign.  The relief at being back was immense.  Grabbing my sleeping bag and mat, I started walking up the road, which seemed to head up a hill, but the feeling turned me around.  I felt like I a dowsing Goldilocks, walking back and forth in the total dark, looking for the place that felt just right.  It turned out to be a pile of cindery gravel on the shoulder of the road, right in front of the car’s bumper.  I threw my mat and sleeping bag out on the “ground” – it was pretty much a pile of big sharp lava rocks meeting a pile of gravel, and curled up in it with a sense of total perfection.

DSCF6137I can’t explain the “why” of any of this, but the feelings were clear and strong.  I had one of the best sleeps of my life that night.  I remember what it felt like and will always compare nights of incredible restfulness to that night.  In the morning I realized I hadn’t moved my body at all all night, and took a picture of the absurd place I’d lain, my body all bent around the rocks under me, head higher than my feet.  It makes no sense why I felt so strongly (very, very strongly) I had to sleep right there, and that I was so comfortable twisted up like that.  Record setting comfort.

Our days in Iceland were running out now, and we were both hoping that something would erupt, soon, so that we’d be grounded and forced to stay.

Alas, that happened only in my dreams.  That same night I had a vision in my sleep, the kind that you know has happened or will, with a different quality entirely from usual dreaming.  There was a mountain to the northeast of me, erupting in bright red lava.  I was just watching it, and there were no indications of time or era – past or future.  In the morning I immediately looked for the mountain I’d seen at night.  It’s not there.


More pictures from Reykjanes.  My conclusion – seems less traveled, although so close to Reyk and Kef, and crowded with worthwhile attractions.

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