Thursday, 15 October 2009

Iceland Day 2: Prayers Answered - Golden Circle Day Tour

Saturday in Iceland was an absolutely beautiful day, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, it was perfect for our 9-5pm Golden Circle day tour. All the prayers we said for better weather at Reykjavik cathedral and Hallsgrimskirkja the day before must have been heard after all ;-)

The alarm went off at 6.30am after a false alarm at 1:30am when the noise of a smattering of Runtur revellers leaving the hotel restaurant woke me and I was disoriented enough to think it was morning already. Reykjavik Excursions picked us up at 8:25am for the bus to the bus and at 9:10am we were off on our way with Dora the singing tour guide as our host. "Yah, for you" she would say to applause after every traditional Icelandic tune she sang to us in her mellifluous voice and it became something of a catchphrase for our vacation.

After travelling for about 45minutes on Iceland's wonderfully smooth and well maintained roads - New York City please pay attention to Iceland's roads. Interestingly there are no trains in Iceland, nope not a single one, but their roads are bloody marvellous - and through magnificant moss and snow covered fields of volcanic lava rocks - it's been said many times, but its true that there are areas of Iceland where you definitely feel as if you could be on the moon - we arrived at our first stop, Hellisheidi geothermal power plant - one of 6 such facilities in Iceland - where we learned a little something about geothermal energy, but not enough that I could repeat it here. There was something about high temperature areas where the water comes out of the ground at 250C per 1000 metres and then something else about low temperature areas like Reykjavik where the water temperature is less than 200C per 1000 metres and how pre-1930 coal was used for heating and hot water in Reykjavik, but after 1930 Reykjavik embraced geothermal power becoming one of - if not the - cleanest cities in the world. Got that? Marvellous!! According to the nice man at Hellisheidi the average water temperature in Reykjavik is 170C. Yowser!!

After about 45minutes we continued on our way toward Gullfoss Waterfall passing through scenic fields where holiday cabins dotted the landscape, chunky Icelandic horses grazed and pixie houses were painted on rocks.

Rumour has it that Icelanders are big believers in the "hidden people" (pixies, trolls, elves etc) and according to this entertaining Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis - which is a good read even if he does rather spitefully, and inaccurately in my book, describe the Icelandic people as "mousy-haired and lumpy." I found many Icelanders to be very attractive, especially the bespectacled cutie with the stylish hair who worked on reception at our hotel during the day - Alcoa had to “defer to a government expert to scour the enclosed plant site and certify that no elves were on or under it” when trying to develop an aluminium-smelting plant.


It was incredibly cold out by Gullfoss and icy enough underfoot to make me more than a little concerned about my lack of travel insurance nevertheless this didn't stop me from trying to walk out to the furthest part of the rocks overlooking the waterfall where hardy souls stood admiring the view. Never one to miss a photo opportunity I made it about half way out, however ice made it extremely slippery underfoot and even in sturdy hiking shoes I had visions of myself going arse over tit into the waterfall. Much better better to turn back I decided, although getting down presented it's own problem since it didn't look quite so straightforward now I knew how perilous the icy rocks really were and I sat down to take stock getting my bum wet in the process, put my camera in my inner coat pocket and drum up a bit of courage before elegantly shuffling my way back down to the relative safety of the path. I didn't hold out much hope for the foolhardy British guy who passed by me stumbling up the icy rocks in his Adidas Gazelles while his girlfriend looked on in her high heeled boots. Definitely not appropriate footwear for visiting freezing waterfalls and as I walked up the path to the viewing deck and the warmth of the cafe and souvenir store (fridge magnets!! Yay!!) I half expected to hear an "aaaaaiiiiiieeeeeeeee" as he tumbled into Gullfoss. Usually I am one for the cute high heels - I need all the height I can get at 5ft 1 - but I've never been so thankful for sensible shoes in my life.

Do you see those insane people on the circular rocky outcrop on the middle left of the photo at the end of the path? Yes, those tiny dots!!! I have no idea how they made it up there, since it was like walking on polished glass in slippers over those rocks.

Next stop the geysers.

The Strokkur Geyser goes off on one every 3-4minutes reaching heights of 25-35m. It erupted just as we were walking up to it and I was able to whip out my camera lickety split and capture the resulting steam cloud in the photo above. Apparently American tourists have a tendency to be less than impressed at the Icelandic geysers since Old Faithful reaches heights of 50m and the Steamboat geyser in Yellowstone National Park is the world's tallest currently active geyser with eruptions reaching a whopping 90-120m, although it's behaviour much less predictable.

Still the tourists on our day tour clustered vigilantly around the edge of Strokkur cameras at the ready. I mocked them, but moments later I went to join them ;-)

Waiting patiently....


After a $10ish fish burger lunch - oodles better than a MaccyD's filet-o-fish - at the snack bar and stopping to take a photo of the troll....

...the tour continued on to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park former home of the Alþing (assembly), Iceland's supreme legislative and judicial authority, which was held there from 930 until 1271, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Scenery en route...

There are no buildings at Þingvellir and Alþing attendees would live in temporary tent-like accommodations while attending the assembly. Major events in Iceland's history took place at Þingvellir and it's held in very high esteem by the Icelanders.

That little white house you see is the Icelandic President's summer home.

The flag shows where the
assembly was held.

Walking in the rift valley at Þingvellir where the North America and Eurasian continents meet.


Jonathan said...

Excellent photos... I've never seen a geyser - must be quite nervy, when you know it's about to blow.

Kitty said...

Mark and I have considered visiting Iceland. The topography looks so cool.

The walking around in nature sounds wonderful. What a blissful departure from the city?

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Thanks Jonathan, you are actually kept at a safe distance from the geysers - about 5feet - so no chance of being splattered with boiling hot water and there's not much of a heads up that it's going to blow, it just goes for it so no time to feel nervy. The only bad thing is the occasional whiff of rotten eggs :-)

Hi Kitty, Iceland is very cool and like very few other places on earth apparently. I definitely recommend it and it's a bit more of a bargain for us these days.

Amel's Realm said...

BREATHTAKING...I don't know anymore which pics I love the most in this post he he he...too many wonderful ones!!!

I also can't imagine how one can walk in high heels when the surface is that slippery. Oh dear...

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Thanks Amel, I am glad you enjoyed the photos :-) Have a lovely weekend.

spandrel studios said...

What beautiful scenery, Fish! Must have been nice to really be *away* in a place that's totally unlike your typical day-to-day experience--and not having to work is a bonus!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Spandrel, yes the trip was fantastic, I highly recommend Iceland!!