Monday, 19 April 2010

Iceland Part 2 - Enchanted Plains and the Language of Geysers

We set off on the famous Golden Circle Tour at 1pm, Steiner was our driver/guide once more.  We drove out of the city on a road that led us to the mountains.  Some parts were a bit like Cumbria, some like Scotland and some could only be Icelandic.  Sparsely inhabited, we could go for ages and until we saw a farm nestling in a hollow by a mountain.

Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park.  This a plain surrounded by mountains and fractured rocks and there is a large lake called Þingvallavatn.  The lake's water was co clear and still that the mountains were reflected perfectly onto its mirror-like surface.  It took my breath away, an alien, desolate landscape of immense beauty.  The photo I took that I've added here doesn't really do the place justice.  It was silent and the air pure, magical.

The first Icelandic parliament (Þingvellir means parliament plain), the Alþingi was set up here in 930 and the General Assembly continued to meet there until 1798 when the seat of government was moved to Reykjavik.   Iceland has the longest continually running parliament in the world.

Now for a lesson in plate tectonics - The Eurasian and North American plate boundaries run right through Iceland  that is why is a very geologically active area.  At Þingvellir, the two plates are pulling apart and the land between is subsiding. This is happening at the amazing rate of two centimetres a year!  We walked down by one of the fault lines, it looked so solid and permanent, yet this place is anything but!  I found it very awe inspiring to be in such a place.

Back on the bus we headed for Gullfoss (Golden Falls).    The animals we saw the most of were ponies, sturdy and tough with long coats, a bit like the fell ponies that roam around parts of Cumbria.  Part of the road to it was very poor and we were joggled about a bit.  The road had only recently re-opened after the winter.  

Gullfoss is situated on River Hvita, the water cascades down two steps that face in different directions, one is 11 meters high, and the other 22 meters, then the water roars into a very narrow canyon that is 70 meters deep.  Gullfoss is the biggest waterfall in Europe. It was very beautiful, some of the falls were still iced up forming strangely shaped mega-icicles.  Spray reached high into the air. 

It was getting quite cold now, so we went into the visitor's centre for refreshments.  I decided to go Icelandic and try their traditional meat soup, Kjötsúpa.  It is made with lamb and vegetable and was delicious, feeding and warming, just what I needed.

Then it was back to our bus for our last stop, Geysir, just a few miles along the road in the Haukadalur valley.  This is a very active geo-thermal area named after the biggest geyser there (our  "geyser" comes from Geysir).  Geysir erupts approximately once a day, the smaller Stokkur erupts roughly once every five minutes and we saw this happen, with little warning, a few times, sending boiling water and steam about 30 meters into the air with a huge whoosh, very spectacular.  

In a relatively small area there are about 30 geysers and bubbling pools, steam drifts in the air and there is a strong smell of sulphur.  It's like being on another planet, everything about it is so alien.  If you stand quietly you can hear the "language" of Geysir - bubbling, popping, hissing, gloopy thuds, deep gutteral moans, even high pitched whistle-like sounds, each geyser has it's own voice.  I found it absolutely fascinating.

No wonder the Golden Circle Tour is popular, in a few hours you see so many wonders of nature.  And seeing the fissures at Þingvellir and the boiling geysers and pools at Geysir made me realise that our earth is very active beneath the surface, and in places like Iceland even on the surface.  The power of nature in Iceland has recently shown itself once more with the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull sending ash into the atmosphere and grounding airlines all over Europe for days.  Sometimes Mother Nature is still in charge.....   

Then it was time to go back to Reykjavik, we came back another way so saw different scenery.  Every now and then by the roadside mounted on rocks were mangled cars - these were crashed cars, used as a warning to drive carefully, never seen anything like that before.

We ate at our hotel that night and it was delicious.  Then we went to Bedtime Stories, held every Thursday night at our hotel.  And there you listen to an actor reading Icelandic stories, old and new, whilst drinking hot chocolate.  You also can use pillows and blankets to snuggle into if you want.  I really enjoyed it and it has inspired me to buy one of the books.  Then it was off to bed, it had been a long, but enjoyable day.

1 comment:

  1. Have loved your stories of Iceland and the photos. What a fascinating place