16th Welsh Physics Teachers Conference

A free day of presentations and workshops for teachers and technicians.

4th October 2017 9.15am – 4:15pm Christ College, Brecon, Powys. LD3 8AF

To register and for more information, go to https:// welshphysicsteachersconference2017.eventbrite.co.uk

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Iceland – day nine

We were up early at Grindavik so that we could sort out the campervan. Tim had hired a minibus and we needed to return the campervan, get taken to the airport and pick up the minibus. There was a little problem when we returned the campervan which resulted in us having to pay an extra £600. Be warned – if you damage the vans, even if it’s not your fault, you’ll end up paying a lot. Prices are three times UK prices and they want every last bit of expense covered. Having returned the van we picked up the minibus and jumped in and headed off to the Blue Lagoon to meet Dad and Sue.

It was great all being in the pool together. We were buying rounds of drinks but they were crushed ice drinks because the sun was out and the water was hot. Apparently we had very good weather for the time of year. We tried the face masks on, went in the steam rooms and saunas and wandered about in the mist.


After the Blue Lagoon we went for a drive round the end of the Reykjanes Peninsula. We stopped at Gardskagaviti and saw the lighthouse and watched a seal in the sea. We went to the Bridge Between Continents and while there read about Iceland’s biggest mud pot – but had no idea where it was. On our travels we passed a sign for it and head off down the gravel road to see it. Gunnuhver was awesome. It was like some sort of massive engine buried in the ground spewing out steam. All around were smaller vents and flashes of colour from minerals.


We headed off towards Grindavik where the boys had yet another massive cup of ice cream mixed with sweets and I almost bought James some tobacco that I’d thought was pretend tobacco that we had when I were a lad. The condoms next to them should have given me a hint. Then it was back to the airport to sleep in the minibus and get our flights home.

Iceland – day eight

I think that we went for a swim in yet another outdoor pool, Laugardalslaug, in the morning. It was right next to the campsite so an hours swim was easy. Then we went off to see the highlights of the Golden Circle tour. After packing up the tent the first stop was Thingvellir. This is where the American tectonic plate meets the European tectonic plate and they’re still moving apart. You can walk down between them and admire the cliffs, but there’s also a huge lake and rivers and streams that look very beautiful.


Next stop was Geysir. Strokkur is the geyser that still erupts and, while Geysir needs seismic activity to get going. Strokkur erupts every five or so minutes. It’s an amazing thing to watch, so difficult to convince yourself it isn’t living. The water shoots up to 10 metres or so and as the drops cool and fall a huge cloud of vapour drifts off.


Mighty Gullfoss was the turn around point. From the car park above the waterfall you can see the ice cap and a gravel road disappearing off towards it. As we watched a huge truck with massive tyres appeared. It looked like they’d just come back from a month away. In reality they’d probably hired the truck and been off for an hour beyond the tourist trail.
Gullfoss is the biggest waterfall in Europe.


When we got back we went to Actu Tactu. It’s a fast food place and last time I went they didn’t seem to have heard of health. This time it was a bit healthier, which was a shame. But I think we all still enjoyed it. The lads all tucked into massive ice creams with mixed in sweets, again.

We’d decided to drive to another campsite as the one in Reykjavik had room for improvement. We went to Grindavik as it looked like it would be quiet. It was a nice campsite and quite busy. We noticed other people who had had the same idea as us. Then it started…aurora! We were in quite a well lit area but we could see it clearly and it was amazing. You really have to see it, words or images just don’t do it justice. It was our last night camping and made for a great ending to a fantastic day.


Iceland – day seven

It was another quite early start as we needed to be on the road to get to Reykjavik to meet Dad and Sue and to have a short look at the capital. The first interesting thing we came to was the  Hvalfjordur Tunnel – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hvalfj%C3%B6r%C3%B0ur_Tunnel . It goes down and down and down, and then up and up and up, and there’s no flat bit at the bottom. We got to Reykjavik and went to the campsite. While it has some plus points, especially for us, I can’t say I rated it at all. If we’d have just had a tent it might have been better, but on the camper van front it seemed expensive and over loaded.


So it was quite a quick walk through the city: we started in the old town and by the lake, then up the main street, stopped at a bookshop, went up to the cathedral and as we’d driven past the opera house that was about it. We had a quick spin round the harbour too. We gave a miss to most of the “museums” as they’re interesting but don’t really mark Reykjavik out as a city, it’s the tin and wood houses in the middle of the streets that are distinctive.


Then it was back to the campsite for hammer time! Jacob had arranged to take part in an open throws event, or kastmet as they called it. Luckily the throwing area was right next to the campsite. So we arrived and then gradually so did everyone else. And there was some serious throwing. I lost track of who had been to what Olympics for what event but it was serious stuff and Jacob enjoyed it immensely. After the throwing we walked down to the hotel and met grumpy ass and his long suffering companion and then went off for noodles at a very nice and reasonably priced place called Wok On.


Iceland – day six

I was up early and went for a walk around the woods at the back of the campsite: http://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/view.do?id=11320671 . When I returned the others were stirring and we had breakfast, put the tent away and went for a swim. Hvammstangi isn’t very big but it still has it’s own outdoor heated pool. There was only the six of us and two Danish ladies in the pool. They told us that there had been whales in the fjord the day before and they might still be there. After the swim Tim, Sandra and I waited outside the pool for the lads and while we waited the Danish ladies pointed out the whales. We’d never have seen them without their help, we could see the plumes of water they blew up and then with binoculars we could see the whales tails.


After watching the whales from by the pool we went down to the harbour and continued watching them. There seemed to be a few different groups and they would spurt water up into the air then we’d see the tails come up and they appeared to be diving down and there wasn’t any trace of them, and then they’d eventually resurface.


We didn’t have a lot planned for the day, we’d decided to miss out part of the planned trip because we thought the roads might be much slower than we anticipated, so we dawdled along, had a nice lunch, and took some pictures of the ice caps. Then we arrived in Akranes where we spent the night. The campsite overlooked the sea and the sunset was fantastic. It seemed to last for hours and Jacob had two different sessions taking photos because the colours had changed so much.



Iceland – day five

At the campsite in Akureyri they wanted 300 ISK for a shower and there was only one shower and six of us. Instead of showering we decided to go to the public baths, which only cost about 600 ISK each and we could all go in at the same time. The pools in Iceland seem to be largely outdoors. And they’re heated. It was lovely. However, the changing rooms operate in a different way to the UK and you have to think things through carefully. In Iceland you put your clothes in a locker, take your towel and trunks, shower naked, and then put your kit on and go to the pool. When you come out it’s the reverse – when you get to your clothes you should be dry already. This is a bit strange because in Iceland there seems to be a lot of being naked chatting to other man in the changing rooms while you dry off. You soon get used to that. The main problem is making sure you have the right clothes at the right time. We all kept stopping before we went on to the next stage to check we’d got our towel to take with us and not left it in the locker. An attendant swoops down straight away if they see a wet body heading back into the locker area.

After we’d had fun in the pool we did a bit of shopping and then headed off to our next port of call Hvammstangi.


This wasn’t a long drive but we got back on route 1 then headed west and then turned north off route 1 a little way to get to Hvammstangi. The village is right next to a fjord and the campsite is higher up just above the village. We got there fairly early and it being a nice day, had a barbecue. We spent the evening wondering if we’d see the aurora but it eluded us.


The sun was shining, we’d had a relaxing day, the village was quiet and beautiful. We were on holiday.

Iceland – day four

I was up early I and went for a wonder around our campsite. It was quite strange as it looked out over the lake, Myvatn, and also a huge amount of cooled lava that had broken up and had gaping holes. It looked like a really badly tarmac job. Sandra and I went for a walk, walking over the rock and looking into the holes and hollows that had been left.

After getting back on route 1 the first stop was a bit of a detour to some pseudo-craters. These look like volcanic craters but apparently are cause by hot lava creating huge amounts of steam. I didn’t really see a good explanation of the mechanism. Maybe there isn’t one yet.


Godafoss was the next stop and wasn’t far away. Lots of folk seemed to have their wedding pictures taken here.


Next stop was Akureyri. We went exploring in the town and had fish and chips. The chips left a lot to be desired, but the fish was fantastic, possibly the best Cod I’ve ever tasted. The boys then went off “exploring”. But we found them about 3 minutes later in an ice cream bar where they were overdosing on sugar. In Iceland you can buy a huge drinks carton full of whippy ice cream. But because there might not be enough calories in half a litre of whippy ice cream they mix in sweets of all sorts, sauces and chocolate.

On the way back to the campsite there was music playing as part of the festival. We stayed and watched for a while as it was quite good, even if we didn’t know the words. We’d also seen part of a concert and some blacksmithing in the street, it was all very lively. As it was being broadcast live on Icelandic TV we ended up being on that too as they got us in shot as they showed the stage as we were at the back of the crowd!


(That’s not our picture, I nicked it from a website, but it looks like when we were there). I slept in the tent that tent. Rule of 5.


Iceland – day three

My brother Tim had done almost all the driving and day three was his biggest drive of the lot, I think we travelled for 11 hours in total. The idea was to get closer to Akureyri for the festival they were having. Jacob had found out about it when he planned the itinerary. So we left Hofn after doing some shopping and admiring the views, and stopped at Egilsstadir where we’d been advised to fill up on fuel. That’s because there wasn’t much after Egilsstadir for quite a long way.


We stopped to take in this view because there was a distinct lack of anything. The road disappears between the mountains and there’s nothing else. No houses. No trees. It was quite daunting. It wasn’t helped by the fact that in places route 1 had stopped being tarmac and had been gravel. It wasn’t for that long a stretch and it wasn’t too bad – but it did make you wonder what was ahead. Tim carried on driving, we needed to get to Dettifoss before dark.


James and I didn’t mind all the driving and being trapped in the camper van for hour after hour with almost nothing to look at out of the window. One of the reasons it didn’t bother us was because Ben was so talkative and entertaining. Keeping our spirits up with his friendly attitude.


Eventually we got to the turn for Dettifoss and turned off route 1. It was gravel. And bumpy. Really bumpy. Everything in the camper van was rattling. After half an hour we still had miles to go and had to stop. Then Tim tried driving faster, which worked really well. At speed we didn’t seem to drop into very bump, but it was tricky driving. We managed to get to Dettifoss just before dark.


After Dettifoss is was back down the bumpy road, but much faster. Then back onto route 1 and heading for Myvatn. It was dark by now and we think we drove past some thermal springs without seeing anything much but the vapour and picking up the sulphur smell. Eventually we arrived at Hlid Ferdathjonusta Ehf where we camped the night. It was a long day and Dettifoss was spectacular, even in the dark, but it was the other views that were amazing. Looking out to see from Hofn and the desolation later on, not to mention the sea and mountains, and it was all starting to feel more adventurous.

Iceland – day two

After a night of no sleep me and the people who had slept started the day. The “rule of 5” was evident throughout the trip. No cake for Gary, just the other 5; no sleep for Gary, just the other 5; no bed for Gary, just the other 5; no camper van for Gary, just the other 5.  I’m not bitter.

Breakfast was followed by a visit to the waterfall. We didn’t have to walk far as we’d been camped next to it. Skogafoss is pretty big. You can walk right up to the bottom of it and you can also climb steps at the side of it to get to a viewing platform at the top. The waterfalls in Iceland are a lot like the ones here in Wales in Waterfall Country (http://www.breconbeacons.org/waterfall-country-walking-trails) – but the Icelandic ones are about 3 times the size.


Jacob and Sandra spent ages taking pictures while the rest of us wandered about. Eventually is was back in the bus and off to the next stop which was going to be a trek originally but ended up being just a visit to a visitor centre because we were short of time. We had lunch at Skaftafell (http://www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is/english/operation/visitor-centre/skaftafellsstofa/) and then went on to the Ice Lagoon. Jacob had booked us on a trip on a zodiac inflatable boat to see icebergs and the glacier.


So the Ice Lagoon is next to the sea. It’s a big lake with an opening that goes into the ocean and you can drive across a bridge at that opening. The lake is glacier meltwater and the lagoon contains lots of icebergs that have broken off from the glacier. After putting on drysuits we jumped in the boats and were taken round lots of icebergs, saw seals basking on them, and then went right up the glacier. It was one of the many highlights of the trip and unforgettable. The pictures can’t really do it justice.


The picture above shows the end of the glacier and a seal bottom right.

Before and after the boat trip we spent ages watching the icebergs ramming into each other on the sandbar that protects the bridge. Chunks of ice would suddenly accelerate then crash into each other and as they did so you could see all the rest of the ice that was hidden under the water.

We spent the night at a place called Hofn which was very nice. I decided to try sleeping on the floor of the camper van because the bed had been too small. It wasn’t so great.



Iceland – day one

We flew from Bristol Airport with WOW Airlines on Wednesday 24th August as it seemed to be the best deal and as it turned out the flights and luggage were all fine. Luckily we met Tim and Ben in the airport car park, arriving at the same time. Onto the plane, we left on time and it was next stop Iceland. At Keflavik we had to wait for the person from the hire company to turn up but it wasn’t a long wait and was a quicker drive to get the camper van than expected.

Picking up the camper van was a slow process. First we had to watch a video, mostly irrelevant. Then we had to check the van over from head to foot and note any problems – we also took pictures. Then there was also all the paperwork. This took about 3 hours, so don’t envisage a handing over of keys in the airport car park.

After leaving the depot we headed for the supermarket. That was a real shocker. I think we had 3 or 4 carrier bags of food. Nothing particularly luxurious, it would be £30 to £40 in the UK. In Iceland it came to more like £120. So when everyone but me had had a nice cake from the bakery we set off. The first road was good. Then we turned off. Now on the map we were given this was just shown as a road. In fact it was just a gravel track. Long and bumpy with lots of loose gravel. We had to slow right down and it took ages. There is a much better map that we found later that shows exactly the type of road – it’s a cycling map and is free and available in lots of places.


We stopped for a break from the gravel road and Ben decided to investigate some rocks. Then we got back on route 1 and off we went to our first itinerary item Seljalandsfoss – a waterfall.

The waterfall is right next to the road so we parked up and went exploring. This is a waterfall that you can walk round the back of, so we all did. It was nearing sunset as we arrived so there were many people with cameras rushing around trying to get in position for the best picture with the falls and the sun going down.


You can just make out the little dots on the path in the background. When we’d got damp enough we headed back to the camper van then on to Skogafoss, another waterfall. By the time we arrived it was dark, but there was a campsite there so we decided to stay the night and see the waterfall in the morning. The van had six berths, if you had small children perhaps. Sandra and I ended up sharing the smallest double. I don’t think I got much sleep. It was a great start to the holiday and the scenery was amazing. Volcanic rocks everywhere and you had to rethink everything – it looks like sedimentary layers but you know it’s layers of lava. Quite breathtaking!

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