We eventually got ourselves up and packed and checked out of the hotel about 11.45 am. This left just enough time to rush to the Culture House and see their exhibition: Surtsey – Genesis. It explained how the island of Surtsey came into existence suddenly on 14th November 1963, how it has changed in shape since, and how it became colonised by plants and animals.
The volcanic eruption which formed Surtsey was the longest in Iceland's history, lasting four years. A total of four islands were formed, but three of them disappeared back under the sea within months. Surtsey itself has decreased in size from 1967 to the present day, due to erosion and rising sea levels.
Initially, 70% of Surtsey was made of tephra (balsaltic lava, with some very small pebbles and grains). Tephra changes slowly over the years to what the Icelanders call tuff (pronounced TOOF), a harder and more regularly-ordered rock. There is also ropy lava (pahoehoe – from the Polynesian) and the iron-rich lava (aa). Some of the igneous rock has inclusions of sedimentary rocks that were forced up from the seabed during the eruption – these are called xenoliths.
Surtsey was colonised initially by autotrophs, organisms that can make their own food from sunlight and inorganic materials. Bacteria can be carried in many ways and were possibly washed up from the sea during the eruption. The range of bacteria included cyanobacteria, one variety of which is unique to Surtsey. Birds flew to Surtsey as soon as it cooled, and brought seeds for plants in their droppings. Other plants and small winged insects blew over the sea, while invertebrates such as earthworms and snails were brought in birds' feathers. Some grasses and their sods plus invertebrates such as ticks and mites were carried by seawater. Currently there are 130 endemic species on the island. (I didn't make notes as I went round due to lack of time, so I'm not sure whether this means 130 types of animal or 130 organisms in general.)
The exhibition was extremely interesting and well-presented, with photos, text displays in Icelandic and English, videos, displays of physical objects and multimedia. Many of the rocks were in open cases so you could handle them. There was also wind-blown and water-carried sand so you could see the difference in particle size. (Wind-blown is much more irregular with a larger range in the sizes.) Downstairs were a number of books and publications in both Icelandic and English to support the exhibition.
I do not have any photos because you aren't allowed to photograph anything in the Culture House. I wanted to buy one of the books but unfortunately they were out of stock in English and I didn't think it would be sensible to buy it in Icelandic! If we'd had more time, I would have checked out the many bookshops until I found one that had it. (Reykjavik is absolutely full of bookshops. Apparently Iceland has the largest number of books published per capita of any county in the world, and it's clear that reading is very important to them from the vast number of bookshops and libraries.)
We also went briefly into the Eddas and Sagas exhibition to see the medieval manuscripts. Due to lack of time we basically ran through it, but there was a lot of information about literacy in Iceland, how the Roman alphabet and Nordic runes were used in parallel for several centuries, the life of a scribe and the role of the Church in education. A blackboard, probably used as a children's educational activity, gave translations between the modern Icelandic alphabet and runes. The vellum manuscripts themselves were in very dark rooms with a couple of pages open. Their history was described in Icelandic, Danish and English. Some had gone missing and been rebought a few times, while some had been restored.
After the Culture House, Ludy went back to the Icelandic Handknitting Association shop, where she bought a quantity of wool that would cost £50 at home and was around £15 here. She would like certain people (e.g. oilrig) to be informed that she only spent 8 minutes in the shop and would have been 2 minutes faster if not for the confused Dutch people in front of her! Meanwhile I went back to Á Næstu Grösum and bought some more cauliflower and peanut soup to take away, and to Kaffi Garðurinn where I obtained the dish of the day, a Moroccan chickpea casserole with couscous. Then we ran downhill to the hotel to catch our taxi. We were planning to get a taxi to the BSI Bus Terminal then get the bus to the airport, but there turned out to be a flat rate to the airport which was only around 1500 kr more. We figured that the reduced hassle and spoon conservation more than compensated for the extra expense.
I ate my food at the airport (delicious), we obtained hot drinks in Kaffitar, stood in an endless queue to check in, went through security (MUCH less paranoid than in the UK), got our VAT refund (Iceland isn't part of the EU, so we got 10% of the purchase price back on all purchases over 4000 kr. The remaining 5% goes in administration and into the government earthquake and volcanic activity insurance.) then RAN to the departure gate, because it was gate 30, about as far from the entrance as it's possible to get, and there hadn't been audible announcements to tell us the flight was closing. Now we're sitting on the plane spodding or drowsing. As we ascended Alexa noticed Surtsey out of the window – we were lucky to see it, because it was only visible from the right-hand side.
All in all, I think this has been an excellent trip.
P.S. Back home now :(