Posted by: lindsaygoes | August 15, 2012

Incredible Iceland

 

After a day of travelling we arrived in Reykjavik, the runway suddenly appearing below us through the clouds just before we landed, weather conditions which would have caused the airport to close in many countries. There were quite a few people on our flight from our tour, so we got to do some early introductions. When we arrived at our hotel the rest of the group had started the group meeting, so we quickly forgot each others names and after a short break headed to dinner. I decided to have the traditional Icelandic fish stew, which owing to some confusion in translation, is actually a rather solid affair, more like a potato and fish mash, but very tasty. After that we had a short stroll around the city before bedtime.

 

Our first full day in Iceland began with a brief city tour around Reykjavik, seeing some statues and other stuff before getting a panoramic view of the city from Perlan, an interesting building on top of some water storage tanks, with a very expensive restaurant at the top (we just went to the free viewing deck). From Reykjavik we went to Þingvellir , which is apparently home to the world’s oldest parliament (although they seemed to say that in the Isle of Man as well, maybe that was the world’s longest continually running parliament or something – I’m sure a couple of you will wikipedia this to check). As well as the political history it is the sight of a rift valley separating the North American and European tectonic plates, and is full of cliffs, cracks and crevasses in the ground. We also saw our firstIcelandic waterfall. It was also rainy. Next we visited Gullfoss (the Golden Waterfall), which when the sun comes out has a beautiful rainbow over it. We didn’t see the rainbow, but it was still lovely. Our next stop was Geysir, where we saw the original Geysir that coined the name Geyser, although it no longer spouts. However the Strokkur geyser does and we got to see it spout several times, as well as some hot springs in the area. There were also some interesting statues in the area included what we assumed were some wrestlers in action, as well as an anatomically correct troll. Although apparently not an Icelandic troll (they are more like giants). Then we saw another waterfall (Laxifoss – it means horse mane), before visiting the original bishopry of Iceland at Skálholt where we also saw a traditional turf house. That was our final stop for the day before we had a meal of Icelandiclamb, which is arguably (argued by Icelanders) the best lamb in the world. Admittedly it was quite nice. And then we settled down to rest in the shadow of the volcano which caused all the air traffic disruption a few years ago.

 

First stop the next day was Seljarlandfoss, another waterfall which you could walk behind, getting rather wet in the process, before we went to Skogarfoss, another waterfall which you could walk to the top of. That was a bit of a steep walk, but had a lovely view at the end of it. We also went to the Skogar folk museum, which was based on a collection of Icelandicartefacts started by one man when he was young. He is now 95, and still comes in and out of the museum. We were lucky enough to see him play one of the pianos during our visit. Some of the handicrafts, just made by farmers were incredible with the level of detail in them. They also had an outdoor museum with traditional Icelandic houses (turf based, so they were small, dark and didn’t tend to have fireplaces due to the lack of wood – I suspect it would have been cold). Then we went to the Sólheimajökull Glacier Tongue, of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, and got to walk on the glacier. It was amazing, like visiting another planet. As if all that excitement wasn’t enough for the day we then then to Dyrhólaey, which means ‘Door-hill-island’ because one of the cliffs has a big hole in it. As well as the big hole we also saw puffins, which was very exciting. My puffin photos are rubbish, so you’ll have to take my word for it rather than any pictorial evidence. We then saw some basalt rock formations, similar to that at the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland, except that I hung around looking at these ones for a bit longer because it wasn’t raining (it was pouring when I was in Ireland). We also saw some more puffins. They’re pretty cool – but I still didn’t get any decent photos. Then we headed for the metropolis of Vik (population 300) where it was very windy.

 

The next morning it was still windy, and raining, so it seemed we were in for a promising day. One guy on our bus bet our guide 1000 Kr that the weather would remain like that for the planned one and a half hour hike. Thankfully for all of us the weather improved and we even saw a bit of sunshine. Our first stop was some lava fields from several hundred years ago (the eruption is thought to have been involved in the little Ice age and has been linked to various famines and possibly was one of the underlying causes of the French revolution). The fields were wonderfully textured, undulating hills covered in soft waves of cooled lava covered in mosses, with the occasional stunted tree (Iceland doesn’t really do trees). Then we saw a basalt formation which had been created by a volcano and then flattened by a glacier, which earlier Icelanders had thought was the floor of an ancient church because of the way the pentagonal columns fitted together. After that we had our first look of Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull and saw some of the torn and twisted metal from one of the bridges which had been ripped down when a volcano melted some of the glacier in 1996 and caused flooding. Next we went to Skaftafell National Park and had a walk to another waterfall (Svartifoss) which was surrounded by basalt formations, and also watched a video watching the 1996 flooding and the strength of the water flow. After a short drive we got a bit closer to the glacier for another photo stop and then left the shelter of the mountains to get back into the wind and the rain before we arrived at Jökulsárlón, the glacier lagoon. Even though it was raining we went on an amphibious vehicle into the lagoon which began with instructions to hold onto the icy cold metal bars as we jolted over the dirt track before entering the lagoon. Even though it was freezing and drizzling it was fantastic seeing the icebergs, varying in colour from black from lava, white, blue and crystal clear. The shapes the icebergs had been carved into were fascinating, full of curves and ripples. We also saw a couple of seals in the water – it must have been cold, and got to try a piece of thousand year old ice.  One of the best parts was the warming hot chocolate I had after we got back.

 

Today we drove along the coast line, visiting a couple of unnamed waterfalls along the way. We also visited a stone museum, which has thousands of stones collected by one woman from the area. It also has small collections of pens, handkerchiefs and matchboxes. I took lots of photos of the flowers, which were also quite nice. Dinner was next to some stables full of bulls, but turned out to be quite a fancy location. 

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