Geothermal Heat and Power

We just arrived at our hotel in the Westfjords area of Iceland – just outside the town of Holmavik. We had stopped at one of the two restaurants in Holmavik. Ours was a combination seafood restaurant, witchcraft museum and information centre in a relatively small building. We had seafood soup and a rhubarb cake – both very good. We skipped the witchcraft museum and couldn’t think of any questions to ask other than how she made the rhubarb cake (the rhubarb is at the bottom and you have to freeze the rhubarb first so that sponge cake doesn’t burn).

Like many of our hotels, the hot water source comes from a hot spring just outside the hotel and also like many of the hotels, the hotel is in the middle of nowhere in particular. In fact the location was probably chosen because of the hot springs. When you are taking a shower in some of these hotels, you get a whiff of sulfur from the hot water. It isn’t noticeable enough to be a problem but they often suggest that you run the cold for awhile (which is purified) before you drink it. The cold water in Iceland is very good water and very cold.

The hotel we are in now is very rustic but has a full-sized swimming pool outside. In the picture below, it is in the process of being filled from the hot spring. We were informed it would be ready for us by 6 pm. Unfortunately we aren’t ready for it. Not being Icelanders who wear their shorts when it gets above 5 degrees celsius, we don’t relish the trip to and from the pool with the temperature presently at 6 and 40 km/hr winds.

There are many hot spring pools around the country. There isn’t any chlorine in the pools. Before the bacteria get a chance to develop, the pools are emptied and re-filled – maybe once every 5 days or so. Water is plentiful here. In fact we decided to stop at a gas station that had some hand wash bays and clean a bit of mud off the car and when we asked the price – the response was that it was free – because water is free in Iceland. Of course, after a few dirt roads, the mud is back on the car again.

Reykjavik (the largest city with a population of 129k) is completely heated by geothermal heat. Besides sewage and water pipes going to every home, there is also a heat pipe. The main pipes coming into town appear to be insulated but the local ones aren’t so that snow rarely has to be cleared from the roads in the winter since the pipes heat the road surfaces as well and melt most of the snow.

Geothermal heat has been used in Iceland from as early as 1907 but only became important when oil prices sky-rocketed. Starting with a small project to heat the hospital, the city eventually decided to heat the entire city with geothermal heat.

Some of the electricity generation in Iceland is done with geothermal as well. There are six geothermal electricity generating plants in Iceland. The one below is near the Krafla volcano close to lake Myvatn.

The remainder of the electricity that is not generated using geothermal uses hydro.


It’s a 7 hour flight from Vancouver to Iceland and there is a 7 hour time difference. The flight left at 7 pm and arrived around 9 am the next day. We met our friends John and Nancy from Denver at the airport and headed to the hotel. We did a tour of the city and learned a few things a bit about the island and its people:

There are no indigenous people in Iceland. Iceland is a relatively new island and was never attached to any other continents so any people that arrived would have had to come by boat. Those people were the Vikings – with the first arrival around 870 AD.

With a population of 350,000, there are no armed forces, only 3 coast guard vessels whose main concern is illegal fishing within coastal waters.

There is also very little crime in Iceland. The homicide rate is around 1.8 for the entire population per year. There are only 200 prison ‘cells’ in Iceland with rehab rather than punishment being the main purpose. Because of the limited number of cells, there is a waiting list. Those on the waiting list are considered on probation and many never see the inside of a prison cell.

Literacy in Iceland is universal and more books are published and read in Iceland than in any other country in the world. School is mandatory up to age 16 and university is free to Icelanders.

Icelanders have two official languages: Icelandic and English. Icelandic is a language that evolved from 9th century Norwegian and is very different from Norwegian today.

For me of course it’s all about pictures – but I’m not including any in this post. The reason is that I can’t do the place justice using my iPad editor. I’m not even sure I can do the place justice without coming back sometime later with a tripod. The south of Iceland is amazing. 10% of the land mass is glacier and the impact of recent volcanic activity is everywhere. In a given day, if you haven’t seen 10 waterfalls, you havent travelled very far; black sandy beaches, hexagonal basalt columns; lagoons filled with icebergs; huge lava fields; multiple glaciers with the largest (Vatnajökull) covering 8000 square kilometres and up to 1000 meters thick. What I found most interesting though were the farms nestled under green mountains. If I come back, I will probably skip the waterfalls which number in the 1000’s and focus more on the homes and communities and the background within which they exist. So far we have covered the south of the island and are now in the east (East Fjordlands). We continue our journey north and eventually will cover the “ring road” around the island before returning home.

More Tennis

Actually I did bring my small camera – so a few more shots:

Andreescu and Bouchard before their match:

A couple of shots each of Andreescu and Bouchard:

Pliskova and Riske:

Finally – Halep:

We are off to Ottawa; it’s now all about grandchildren.


We’re now in Toronto watching the Rogers Cup Women’s Tennis. Today we watched two matches in the sweltering heat: Yastremska beat Konta 63 62 and Wozniaki beat Putintseva 64 62. I brought my sony point-and-shoot and took at few (thousand) pictures. It’s not my usual subject matter and I probably won’t bring the camera to any of the remaining matches but below are a few samples. For any camera geeks: the camera is a sony RX10M4, set to continuous focusing at 20 frames per second, aperture priority with maximum aperture (f4), autoISO with minimum shutter speed 1/2000th of a second (so it will raise the ISO to ensure the minimum shutter speed – a common feature on Sony cameras). The focus area is set to wide and the tennis player is in the middle of the frame. The camera will pick out the highest contrast subject closest to the camera and closest to the centre of the frame. Due to the wonders of modern technology all of the several thousand pictures are in focus (at least I haven’t found one out of focus yet). Professional photographers would not use such a camera, however, because it is only useful in good light (so their gear is typically 10 times more expensive – and an equivalent amount heavier). The reason, you see professional sports photographers with monopods is not because they need them to take a better picture; it’s because the lens on the camera is too heavy to hand hold for any longer than a few minutes.

First – a couple of shots of Konta:


Here’s Wozniaki with her Dad giving her a pep talk:

A couple of serving shots – Wozniaki and Putintseva:

A few more shots of each of Wozniaki and Putintseva:


We did stop and get a tour of the tidal power station in Annapolis – very interesting – except that it doesn’t work on a large scale (changes the water/silting such that the turbines would end up being buried); also the present station is offline, pending an evaluation of the cost to upgrade wiring – so potentially could be offline indefinitely.

Meanwhile off towards Wolfville – we went into Hall’s Habour. It demonstrates the extreme tidal changes of the Bay of Fundy. We normally don’t see wharfs sitting on the ground.

Along the way we came upon this church – in slight disrepair.

We stopped in Wolfville and had lunch – crepes and then headed out to Burncoat Head Park. It would have been a bit more interesting if the tide had been out – but it was high tide so you couldn’t go very far.

We also stopped at a lookout over the Annapolis Valley (a pano with a wider view to come later).

This morning (our last day) we went for a walk along the Dyke.

Then over to the Saturday market. Lots of activity there but I only took this one picture of a group playing outside.

From there we went over Acadia University and took a walk around the botanical gardens.

By that time it was lunch time so we went to our favourite (so far) restaurant in Wolfville – “The Naked Crepe Bistro” and had a crepe for lunch.

From there we took a trip over to the Luckette Vineyards Winery and had a walk around. They have a working red phone booth in the middle of the vineyards.

Tomorrow we head back to TO.

Last Day in Annapolis

Last night we went to the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens but were chased away by the mosquitoes.

Above – an Acadian house within the gardens.

Today we were going to go for a hike, but as we drove to the trailhead the paved road turned to a gravel road which then turned into something requiring a 4WD so we turned and fled – stopping at Port Royal Historic Site.

There were 3 Port Royals over time: Samuel de Champlain called the whole area Port Royal. Then in 1605, a settlement was created at Port Royal (its present location) for the purposes of the fur trade. However, an English expedition from Virginia attacked and burned the settlement to the ground. Later the settlement at what is now Annapolis Royal was called Port Royal – later named Annapolis Royal for Queen Anne.

I wooden shoes were called Sabots – almost identical to that worn by the Dutch.

Above- Annapolis Royal from the other side of the river.

By the time we finished touring Port Royal it was time for lunch so we returned to have lunch at the Fort Anne Cafe. We then headed out to Margaret’sville. On the way we stopped in Bridgetown.

Finally after a detour (road construction) we arrived at the lighthouse in Margaret’sville.

Margaret’sville had that apostrophe added a long time ago and some people are still not happy about it. The town had several earlier names – the most recent named after the wife of a justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Then they added the apostrophe and the controversy began.

The lighthouse in Margaret’sville was going to be left to fall apart but the townspeople have taken it over. It was open at the time and we went in; I almost bought the T-shirt but at least Kim did leave a donation.

Of course there are lots of stories. Apparently one of the earlier names for the place was Peter’s Point after a man who lived in the community and is believed to have caused a shipwreck and taken what he could get. Six seamen drowned as a result and Peter was ostracized for 20 years by the community. He died – fell off a cliff when he lost his way in a blinding snow storm.

Anyway – tomorrow we head off for Wolfville. Below – a few more shots taken this evening around town.

Annapolis Royal

Yesterday we drove to our new place in Annapolis Royal. On the way we stopped at the Grand Pre National Historic Site. The site is on a section of land that the Acadians had farmed after reclaiming the land using an ingenious dyke system that allowed the water to drain from the land while preventing any water from entering. I didn’t know that – nor the whole history of the Acadian deportation. The Acadians were really caught in the middle between the French and the British and managed to maintain their neutrality – except in the end the British wouldn’t believe them. Below is a church on the site – dedicated to the Acadians.

Annapolis Royal is tiny. Our place is on St George Street, above a business. It really is a nice place and looks over the Annapolis River Estuary.

After we settled in, we took a walk over to Fort Anne.

As Kim said some of the places are interesting/cute – in the setting of small town. In Toronto people would probably just think they were odd.

Then you will see things like the following where people are inviting you to sit on the chairs on the veradah of their house. I don’t know where else you would see that.

Today we went over to Digby.

Close to town is the Point Prim Lighthouse.

After wandering around there a bit we took a drive down the Digby Neck which is a peninsula between St Mary’s Bay and the Bay of Fundy.

We had planned to stop a Gulliver’s Head which is supposed to have some high cliffs and a beach but we took the wrong road and ended up Gulliver’s Cove. I didn’t bother taking any pictures but there was a sign explaining where the name came from. Apparently Gulliver was a pirate who worked out of the Cove and stored his treasure in that area. He was noted for being particularly vicious. However, he was outdone by his West Indian wife who wasn’t happy with the idea of continuing to live in Nova Scotia. In one of these arguments she is said to have stabbed him to death, taken over the ship and sailed to the West Indies. Once there she turned the ship over to the terrified crew. I’m sure there is a moral to that story but I can’t image what it might be.

From there we continued down the Neck and stopped in Sandy Cove. This was obviously a fishing port at one time with a huge concrete wharf that is gradually being reclaimed by the sea.

If you go much further on the Neck, you have to take a couple of ferries because two sections are islands – but we were hungry so started heading back to Digby. On the way we stopped at the beach at Rossway.

We had lunch in Digby and then headed home.