Shrewsbury School

Geography trip to Iceland: An insider's view by Christopher Papaioannou (PH V)

Tuesday 17 April 2012

23rd March 2012
We left from school at 6:00 in the morning, barely awake but still braced for the 4 ½ hour snail ride to Heathrow in a coach. After spending nearly two hours in various baggage areas and departure lounges, wondering if such a prompt start had indeed been necessary, we eventually found ourselves boarding the plane. The interior of the plane looked like a Soviet era relic, but we were relieved to find that small screens had been inserted into the back of the seats, with a reasonable selection of films to watch. After having experienced firsthand from the air steward the awful Icelandic sense of humour, I decided to recover by watching a film.

1½ films later, we arrived at Keflavik airport. The outlook was bleak; the land flat and desolate. We headed straight for the Blue Lagoon. Before the lake came into sight, the smell of sulphur hit us. However, by the time we left the coach our noses had become impervious to the smell. After spending about an hour in the warm water, which really is almost as blue as it looks in the photos, we left to go to our unpronounceable place of residence, the hotel Hafnarfjörður. The hotel is, in essence, a red cube. It is easy to see how Lego was invented in Scandinavia, if Danish architecture bears any resemblance to its Icelandic counterpart.

The Blue Lagoon, quiet after closing time
 The Blue Lagoon, quiet after closing time

24th March 2012
After a continental breakfast we headed on a long drive to the south of Iceland. The scenery here changes from completely flat plains to mountainous regions, with no in-between, making mountains and ridges look all the more impressive. We eventually reached the now extinct volcano of Stóra-Dímon. The volcano is little more than a mound when compared to the mountains on the horizon, most notably Eyjafjallajökull, but still looks imposing due to the way it sticks up from a flat plain. Not at all put off by the steep sides of this mound, Tom Rowe boasted that it would take him two minutes to reach the top. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at the summit, completely out of breath, and feeling cheated by the mound’s deceptive double peak. Then again, we should have guessed that the steep ascent would not be easy, due to the fact that Mr. Morris decided it were best he stay with the bus.

Eyjafjallajökull and ash-filled glacial river, Krossá, as viewed from summit of Stóra-Dímon
Eyjafjallajökull and ash-filled glacial river, Krossá, as viewed from summit of Stóra-Dímon

After half running, half sliding to the bottom of the hill, we set off again to see Seljalandsfoss, a waterfall. You can walk all the way behind the waterfall, although it is very muddy. The bus driver told us to take off our boots when we got back on the coach, although most of us managed to evade him. Charlie Bibby however, was forced to remove his trousers too, as he was covered in mud up to his waist. We then drove on to Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that caused the troubles with flights a few years ago. We watched a short documentary about the volcano before stuffing our pockets with ash to take home as a souvenir.

We next visited another waterfall, named Skógafoss, where you can climb to a viewing platform above the waterfall. This was followed by a visit to a bridge that was swept away by the floods that followed the eruption a few years ago. Naturally, our attention was not on the bridge but on a small patch of un-melted snow that lay nearby. Soon snowballs were being hurled through the air, despite Mr. Morris’ empty threats of grievous repercussions. Finally we stopped at a black beach before going to our new hotel, Hotel Dyrhólaey, where we participated in a pub quiz. The questions, being the product of Mr. Morris’ great general knowledge and Dr. Oakley’s cryptic genius, were bordering on impossible.

25th March 2012
The beach at Reynishverfi was our first stop. There are basalt columns much like the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, although on a much smaller scale. After seeing other coastal features such as arches, stacks and stumps, we returned to the coach. We then prepared to go walking on a glacier, Sólheimajökull, and were given crampons and an ice-axe. Naturally, the first thing to do with an ice-axe is either to swing it around your head or stick it in the ground. Our supervisors told us to do neither, so we promptly did both. They showed us the correct way to hold our equipment, but before long everybody seemed to be hacking out a chunk of perfectly see-through, super-compressed ice for themselves. Once on the bus, we discovered how to turn the tour guide’s microphone off. Word of our discovery soon spread and before long the bus became silent. Thus, I was able to catch some well deserved sleep before we arrived back at Hafnarfjordur, rejoicing as we picked up phone signals again. That night we ate fish at a restaurant called Tilveran, which was very good.

26th March 2012

Gullfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall 

Gullfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall

Our destination that morning was Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Station, the 2nd largest in the world, to find out how Iceland generates its power and obtains its hot water. We went to a building that had been built on top of a fissure. The floor was made of glass so you could look down into it. Afterwards we moved on to see yet another waterfall, Gullfoss. The waterfall is two tiered and impressively wide. Later we visited the geyser Strokkur, which erupts every four to eight minutes. The coach then took us to Þingvellir, the old location of the Icelandic Parliament, situated on the plate boundary between Europe and North America. That night we went to the Viking-themed Fjörukráin restaurant, where we ate the traditional Viking dish known in the west as burger and chips.

Strokkur, half way through erupting

Strokkur, half way through erupting

27th March 2012
On the last day we toured Reykjavik by bus. We saw the Chinese embassy and the Icelandic Houses of Parliament, where there was a to-scale 3D map of Iceland. We were left only twenty minutes to look around the city by ourselves. We had one goal: we were starving and had to find a Subway. Fifteen minutes later, when hope was nearly lost and with only five minutes to return to the bus, we chanced upon a place called Hlölla bátar. And I am glad that we found it, for it was just like Subway, only about ten times better. We then hurried to our final port of call, Perlan, the building where most of the hot water intended for use in Reykjavik is stored. Next we had to make our way to the airport, taking a detour en route to see the Bridge between the Continents. Thus, we left Iceland, inspired by the spectacular sights we had seen and reassessing the definition of a truly wild landscape, for the most part untouched by civilisation.

Christopher Papaioannou

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