Our second port was in southwestern Iceland near Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The area where the ship docked was industrial and not at all attractive.
The city of Reykjavik was about two miles from the port. Usually visiting a capital city is high on our list, but today we booked an excursion into the countryside to explore why Iceland is called “the Land of Fire and Ice”.
The popular eight hour “Golden Circle” excursion began with cold, windy weather and pouring rain. At times I wondered how the bus driver could see between the fog and driving rain. We really couldn’t see much of anything out the bus windows, but our guide entertained us with facts and stories about her home country of Iceland.
By the time we arrived at our first destination, the Haukadalur Geothermal Valley (Geysir, the Icelandic spelling of geyser) Hot Spring Area, the rain had let up enough that we could get off the bus without getting drenched. Geologists estimate this geothermal field has a surface area of about 1.1 square miles. The area became active more than a thousand years ago and consists of boiling mud pots and more than a dozen hot water blow holes, with the oldest dating back to 1294.
Earthquakes in southern Iceland have caused changes in the geothermal area, creating new hot springs. The most famous and active geyser is Strokkur which spouts water 100 feet into the air every few minutes.
We walked around the area and waited for the geyser to spout. It felt very similar to what we saw at Yellowstone National Park and the geothermal areas in New Zealand. It was so cold and windy!! But since the rain had let up, we had hope for better weather the rest of the day.
Next up we traveled to Gullfoss Falls for lunch. We were at 66 degrees north of the equator.
The closest we had been to the Arctic Circle was at our last port of Isafjordur. When we found the geocaches there, that was the furthest north we had ever found a geocache. For lunch, the hot tomato soup was most welcome followed by fresh salmon on a bed of rice and vegetables. Since I don’t eat seafood, lunch was not the greatest for me. After lunch we were supposed to walk down to the waterfall. By now the rain was coming down in sheets blowing sideways in the wind. Even with rain gear there was no way to walk there and not get drenched. Our pants below the knees were wet just walking from the bus into the restaurant. We watched people coming back completely drenched and freezing from the cold wind and rain. Our guide said she would walk down to the waterfall with anyone who wanted to go. Some brave souls, or crazy people depending on how you look at it, wanted to go. Bill and I decided we had seen a lot of waterfalls over the years and this one was just not worth it. We knew there was no way to keep from getting soaking wet and we would then have to sit the rest of the day with cold, wet clothes. I was proud of us for making a wise decision. Sure didn’t want another bout of bronchitis.
Those who walked to the waterfall came back to the bus with wet coats, umbrellas, hats etc and no place to hang them to dry. I noticed our guide sat on a plastic bag because her pants were so wet.
After that ordeal we had one more stop which turned out to be the most enjoyable of the day. The skies began to clear and the sun actually made an appearance. This stop was at Pingvollum National Park.
The region is part of the Atlantic ridge that runs through Iceland.
You can see the consequences of the sliding of the earth’s crust in the cracks and fissures of the area. We walked along a path where we could see the huge walls where the earth had cracked. The sun was out but it was deceiving. With the strong wind, it was really cold.
Our guide did a great job keeping us motivated and happy regardless of the weather. When we were walking along the path where the earth had cracked, she said she could remember walking on that same path with her father and how happy her father was because Iceland had just achieved its independence in 1944.
I would guess her age at somewhere in her 80’s. She certainly was energetic and spry in all that rainy, cold weather. I guess doing all those tours and getting so much exercise keeps her young. The Icelandic people must be a hearty people to deal with all that cold weather!
We found a waterfall crossing under the path.
As for us, we’ll take Florida!
Some Iceland facts courtesy of our guide :
- Reykjavik, Iceland is the northernmost capital in the world
- Iceland is one of the youngest countries on the earth, if not the youngest, because it was formed from relatively recent earthquake activity
- Where we were riding on the bus was the ocean floor 10,000 years ago
- 5.8% of Iceland is uninhabitable
- At the turn of the century, 90% people farmed and fished. Today 7%. Tourism has overtaken the fishing industry
- Icelanders are Scandinavian and Irish. Their language is from Nordic and Celtic origin
- Women are 65% Celtic bloodline and 35% Scandinavian, Men are 65% Scandinavian and 35% Celtic
- Most houses are heated with geothermal water
- In 2008 all the banks went bankrupt
- In 1989 it became legal to drink alcoholic beer
- There is a waiting list to get into prison because they have small prisons
- Crime rate is increasing due to more gangs but it is still a relatively safe country
- 87% of their energy is renewable
- Most of the oil is used for fishing boats
- There are lots of greenhouses and Iceland has the biggest banana plantation in Europe
- Because of earthquakes there are strict building codes
- In towns with geothermal activity, there are no basements and cemeteries because of what is hot underground. People are buried in nearby towns.
- Iceland was ruled by Denmark for a long time. In 1918 they became sovereign and in 1944 became a republic.
- In 1986 they elected their first woman president
- The national parliament of Iceland is the oldest legislature in the world that has been abolished and subsequently re-established. founded in 930.
Next up: Alesund, Norway