Thursday, June 26, 2003

Well after two days of telling myself I was imagining it I had to admit that the car was making a funny noise. A loud grating when I turned a corner. In fact not a funny noise at all.

So I took the car into the Mercedes garage, and explained that the car was making an odd noise. The mechanic decided he would give it a test drive, then when he saw it was right-hand-drive decided I would drive and he would be the passenger. Of course now a perfect, quiet ride, with not a grate to be heard. Finally as I wrenched the steering wheel to take a turn too fast it grated.

The mechanic ruled out suspension trouble - suspension of a Mercedes does 200,000kms on Iceland's gravel roads before there are problems. And it wasn't steering either. He rather thought maybe a tyre problem, but the tyres are still virtually new and look just great. Finally he found a piece of the under-plate detached and clipping a tyre on sharp turns.

Problem solved in 5 minutes. And as I'm told this counts as a design fault on the C180 - apparently this happens a lot on Iceland's roads with the C class - so my car with 6 years and 108,000 miles on the clock is judged to be covered by the manufacturer's guarantee, and there is no charge.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003


Called in at the Icelandic National Art Gallery. But otherwise very much a working day.


Starting with an hour´s walk on Helgafell, just outside Reykjavik, but otherwise work.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Monday morning

An early morning visit to the Blue Lagoon has been a good start to the day. Now back to reality in the University library.

Saturday evening

Full up with Pepperoni and Claret (a combination that works!) and watching the Icelandic evening news. Iceland in theory has a number of channels, but the reality in a suburb of Reykjavik is one and a ghost of two others – and the one transmits evening only. After one international story (on Iran) the news switched abruptly to Icelandic news. The big story is something about a Keflavik company that is marketing Harlequin Duck eggs for the discerning Reykjavik pallet. Then a story about Sellafield, with a map showing the spread of pollution to Iceland. Basically the story is that Britain has polluted Iceland. A follow-up showed what looked like Pontefract power station and focused on Britain causing acid rain in Norway. Then Harry Potter, with the new novel released today. I’ve been surprised at the prominence that JKR gets in the bookshops – after all this is a children’s book written in English. Perhaps the reality is that Icelandic children can read English as easily as Icelandic.

I’ve not spent much time out of Reykjavik, and certainly nothing that counts as a bird-watching trip. But without trying I’ve seen the following:

Shag (quite a rarity in Iceland)
Whimbrel (at Thingvellirvatn)
Arctric Tern (these are everywhere, and aggressive)
Black-headed Gull
Arctic Skua (along the southern sands, another aggressive bird)
Harlequin Duck (at Jokulsarlon)
Whooper Swan
Greylag Goose
Tufted Duck (lots on the Tjarn in Reykjavik)
Eider Duck
Redwing (they are in every garden in Reykjavik)
Wagtail (another garden bird)

DRIVING style in Iceland is unique. Generally speeds are slow, and Icelanders are law-abiding – for example they don’t jump lights. This should make for sedate and safe driving. But I have the impression that it must be very easy to pass a driving test here, as there are a great many idiots on the road doing idiotic things at slow speeds. Things like parking at the top of a blind summit (to admire the view perhaps?), parked cars flinging doors open in front of passing cars, wandering between lanes and across the carriageway – plus a sense in Reykjavik that just everyone has done the present journey 1001 times and knows exactly where the potholes are and how late they can leave it before cutting someone up to take an exit. Indicators are infrequently used.


Reykholt. This is where Snorri Sturluson lived and was murdered (1241), and a trip to see the exhibition was a must – and it’s very good. Snorri’s bath-tub is still there – a stone lined pool fed by a longish channel from a hot spring. The water temperature strikes me as on the hot side, but apparently people do still use it to bathe. A curious link to the thirteenth century. What surprised me is the quality of the mediaeval studies library there (and which they opened up for me). This is a serious research library, and situated literally in the middle of nowhere. I’ll be back. I suppose Reykholt could be compared with Iona as a church retreat plus study centre out in the wilds – but with the key difference that there has been a continuous tradition of study at Reykholt, while Iona is a modern resurrection. The Prose Edda, Heimskringla and Egil’s Saga were all written here, and much else. We have a very Mediterranean based cultural world picture, in which the idea of Iceland as a centre of learning really doesn’t fit.

On from Reykholt to Hraumfossa. My guidebook gives just a couple of lines to this remarkable waterfall. A sizeable river – the Hvita - gushes from under the lava to fall in a series of torrents approaching half a mile in length into a gorge. The cumulative experience really is quite something.

Iceland grades its roads as follows:
Suitable for Reliable Cars and 4WD
4WD only
Modified 4WD Only (ie caterpillar tracks)

Tried a road in the third category. After 7 miles turned back. The surface was no surface at all, and the grades were getting mighty steep. Even the unmettaled roads are tough going. In Britain we’re used to bouncing over a few yards of gravel and stones in a rough car-park and that’s it. In Iceland there’s miles and miles of the stuff – even it seems hundreds of miles’ stretches in the north. My car rattles (from the first few miles from Seydisfjordur). There are some new stone chips in the paintwork. But Mercedes make them tough!

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