Iceland


The saga continues…day two of our fantastic trip to Iceland and Norway.

The Golden Circle Tour is very popular in Iceland. It covers some of the big highlights and every tourist company covers these hot spots and calls their tour, the Golden Circle Tour. It may be full of tourists but if you go to Iceland I do recommend it. Having said that, make sure to pick a tour company that is good—not the one we took.

So, day two we begin the day by waiting for the bus to pick us up at Inga’s. And then we wait and wait. They got the wrong address but after my call they finally came back around and we get on our way to the first stop at Thingvelir National Park. We were expecting to hear the driver talk about things we were passing or give us some history behind where we were going—maybe even an overview of the day’s schedule. That was not to happen. All day. Nothing.

Okay then. First stop was Thingvelir, the site of the world’s first parliament. Beginning in 930 AD, each year, the Icelanders would gather (at what was known as the Althing) to hammer out disagreements and vote on issues—one being if they would adopt Christianity or not and how that adoption would play out in their laws. It was very cool—lots of rock formations, a river, and mountains in the background. During the Althing, each family would dig in and stay in “booths.”

Coincidentally also at this site is a split in the earth—a place that the earth is actually forming and expanding the land mass of Iceland. The North American and Eurasian tectonic plates come together here and because of the unique nature of Iceland—being located over a hot spot where there is a massive lava plume coming up from inside the earth, the lava comes up and new land is formed and the earth seems to split apart. I watched an episode on the history or science channel about it and thought it was cool. Evidently I was the only one who thought it was cool. Anyway, we got back on the bus—amazingly we all found it because the driver did  not tell everyone where he would be—and went on to another site close by where we got some great shots of a huge and deep lake formed from glacial ice melting.

As the rain began, the tour continued to the erupting geyser. Guess what it was called. Don’t know? Geysir. Seems that our word for erupting water spouts comes from the old Viking term that means the same thing. This one was the “great geysir.” What I saw looked like an ice version of that sand monster in Star Wars—the one that Jabba the Hut tried to throw Luke into but he and Han and Leah and Lando all escaped. Anyway, it sort of bubbled up like it was blowing a water bubble or burping then BOOM! Didn’t see much at that point—just a lot of water on my camera lens. But it was pretty neat four minutes later when it erupted again.

So we passed up a cool gift shop and warm yummy food at the geysir because the tour driver said the next place was better. Turned out the line was huge, the food was not better and the gift shop was no good. Thanks dude—very helpful. After lunch we walked through the pounding wind and rain to see a gorgeous waterfall. It’s called Gulfoss (I think foss is the word for water fall). I hobbled down the stone path and was rewarded with a brilliant view of a tremendous and huge waterfall that cascaded down a wide river into a narrow gulf surrounded by luscious green hills. Magnificent. Truly breathtaking.

Back in the bus, we got to chatting with the other travelers. One young woman was on her own—originally from down under but working in London. So she had popped on over to Iceland for the long weekend. Must be nice. Another couple was from Seattle. Very nice people—we ended up seeing them again later on. I know we have photos of everyone somewhere and Amy surely has all their e-mail addresses. We got to know each other very well at the next stop—since we were there for about two hours more than is usually recommended for the tour. The Kerið volcano.

Kerið was a stunning crater volcano—with reds and greens and blues dotting the inside of the crater. The bottom of the crater was filled with brilliant blue water. Some young soul went swimming but we passed on that. Amy and Jen hiked to the bottom and got some great shots there. I spent a lot of time at the crater petting one of the cutest dogs I’ve ever seen. This poor thing looked abandoned and was greeting every single car as if it held its owner. Really friendly and cute! The reason we were there so long was that our tire blew out. Earlier I noticed the windshield wipers weren’t really working which troubled me considering how hard it was raining.

Once the tire was fixed we were on our way to some gift shop. The tour promoted it as a greenhouse. Okay, sure. Then on the way home we passed by a plant where they produce a lot of the energy that is used to heat the homes in Iceland. They all use geothermic energy so their bills are only a few dollars a month. Nice!

So, in conclusion—I give two thumbs up to the beautiful wonders of Iceland as well as their historic landmarks. But an absolute minus zero to the Time / Timi tour group. The driver did not speak more than about five words the entire time and they had a major equipment failure among other things.

After the tour we decided to reward ourselves with a trip to one of the geothermic pools. We soaked in the hot tubs and swam a few laps. These hot tubs are known to be a place where Icelanders gather to gossip and talk politics. We talked to a few people but mostly just soaked our bones. On the way back we had a nice conversation with our cab driver. He told us he was in love with a girl from the Miami area who had gotten in his cab one day. When I saw he was learning to speak Spanish I asked if she was Cuban and he was shocked that I would guess that. Dude—I’m pretty sure the only people who speak Spanish in Miami are Cuban decent. Anyway, I couldn’t pronounce the street we lived on but luckily Amy had taken a photo of it. Phew. But first—we wanted dinner and we wanted to try out the famous hot dog stand.

The driver knew where it was so we offered to buy him a dog if he would take us there first. Yes, the hot dogs were very yummy!! I think it had more to do with the toppings but we all would highly recommend the hot dogs at Bæjarins beztu pylsur. The name translates to “the best hot dog in town.” Brilliant. Another wonderful day in Iceland!

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

On our first full day in Iceland we toured the quaint and lovely city of Reykjavik (pronounced rake ee uh vik). It really seemed more like a town. Our apartment was only a few easy blocks away from the downtown area—close enough to walk, far enough not to hear the very late night partying. Before hopping on the hop on, hop off bus, we found to our amusement a U.S Coast Guard tall ship docked in the harbor. Okay, come thousands of miles to tour a Coast Guard ship that hails from Connecticut. But on to the local landmarks…

First stop, the Iceland National Museum. They have collections from waaaaay back when the Vikings landed and kicked the little Irish monks out. I was delighted to get some history lessons here as well as see the fascinating works of art they created. The Vikings called the monks, Papar.  Now I see where the words papist, pastor, father, etc. could possible have come from. There were cases full of weapons, jewelry, household goods, and more. But what really got me was the collection of horns. Some were drinking horns and others made to hold gunpowder. They were stunning—carved from wood and ivory in delicate, beautiful patterns. The Vikings also carved chests, door posts, chairs, and other items. There were also sections that covered how Christianity came to Iceland and seemingly spread fast and far. Some of that had to do to with the democratic society set up in ancient Iceland—but more of that later. In any event, the the Lutherans won out in the end. A great stop on our tour—the museum was two thumbs up!

So back to the hop on, hop off bus and our next stop, the Perlan. The Perlan is an observation deck, restaurant, and saga museum that of course—why not—sits on top of several very large water tanks high up on a hill with a view over the entire city. It was a sunny, perfect day to see the colors of the Lupin flowers (weed actually) laid out in front of the cityscape and ocean beyond. I dragged my fellow travelers into the saga museum which consisted of some interesting exhibits of various characters from real life Icelandic history as well as their epic sagas. Just in case you’re not sure what a saga is, it’s a fictional story about bigger-than-life characters from around the turn of the first millennium. These sagas were written about 700-800 years ago and are a chief source of pride for many Icelanders. I have read a few and while interesting, they aren’t quite as exciting as Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings (or even Beowulf for that matter). The style of the story telling is unique but it does give you a sense of the mind of an ancient Icelandic author telling an old tale. The museum was interesting enough. Kind of like the sagas—not quite Disney World but worth a trip (in my opinion).

So after the museums and scanning the city from far above, we ran to catch the bus. The bus driver lady was a bit put out by having to wait an extra 20 seconds while I hobbled my way to the door in my big ol’ ski boot (see previous post about bum leg). We all agreed that we didn’t think she liked her job too much.

Oh well, time for lunch and a chance to sample the menu at the highly recommended Icelandic Fish and Chips restaurant. The food was very tasty and the customer service was good (they were helpful about my leg—unlike a certain bus driver). My fish was a bit watery for me but good nonetheless (the sauces that came with it were good) and lots of people love it.

Now off to the Hallgrims church. First we had to wait for a funeral to end, but then we got to go in to explore and rode up to the top where there was an observation deck that kind of reminded me of the one in the Washington Monument. The views were fantastic of course and the church itself was a wonder of modern architecture. I’ve actually never seen a church that had windows in the front. It also had a huge pipe organ. Quite pretty.

From there we walked on home. While walking down our street, several cats came out to say hello. I wasn’t sure if they were feral and looking for a treat or just friendly like their human counterparts. One night when Amy and I came home I swear we were being seduced by a little “hooker” cat. She was standing on the corner and when she saw us, came right over and meowed. I patted her but Amy (smartly so) said with a smile, “I’m not touching that thing.” Little miss prostitute cat then ran ahead of us and proceeded to lie down and roll around showing us all her pretty parts like she was displaying her wares. Yup. Hooker cat.

We spent a relaxing night at the apartment laughing and having a dinner that was a tasty mix of cheese and fruit from the store—too tired to go out! Next up…the “magic bus” and the Golden Circle Tour.

 
 

Amy emerging from the Icelandic Fish and Chips restaurant

 
 
 

Butter and Jen do the sailor impression. Lots of fishermen in Iceland!

 

The street we lived on. Quaint sitting places dotted the area.

 

Hallsgrim Church. Some reseblance to the basalt rock formations off the coast.

 

The Perlan

 

The observation deck of the Perlan. The windows reflect the pretty sky.

 

The good ol hop on hop off double decker bus.

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