I come from the land of the ice and snow..

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February 1st 2009
Published: February 2nd 2009
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1: Gulfoss 24 secs
... From the Midnight Sun where the Hot Springs Blow! Led Zeppelin definitely knew what they were talking about when they wrote that song. I had that chorus going through my head for the entire weekend! This is the first entry of the new year and new semester- thanks for keeping up! This semester is starting out beautifully courses are more challenging, flatmates are lovely, and more travels!

I left late afternoon on Thursday after Practical (lab) my professor was very understanding which is terrific because he comes across as a very grumpy/sarcastic sort, and he let me take a practical test early so that I could rush to catch a flight. I took the bus into the city center, where I got a taxi. Sometimes I just luck out with Taxi drivers, this one was nice to talk to and told me all kinds of things that I never would have known about Edinburgh and some of the towns we drove through on the way to the airport. The flights were all on time by some miracle, and I managed to somehow get from terminal 5 to terminal 1 in heathrow in just 20 minutes which is a miracle.

Once on the Icelandair flight I began to notice some differences- while everyone was able to speak english the majority of people on the flight were speaking a language that I could in no way understand. When it comes to French or Spanish I can understand bits and pieces, usually enough to figure out the gist of what people are saying, but this language is pure Scandinavian- even reading doesn't help because they use a different alphabet! I actually learned that Icelandic (Islenska) is the purest form of what the vikings spoke, so that people in Iceland can read the classic viking tales from hundreds of years ago as though they were modern stories. This would be like us being able to read Old English-Beowulf and the like. I landed in Reykjavik a little before midnight, and still had to catch a bus that would take me to the city center where I would have to take a taxi to where I was staying.

Where I was staying is a completely different story as well. Instead of staying in a Hostel or Hotel, my travel buddy Heather and I decided that we would try Couch Surfing for the first time. Couch surfing is a service where people essentially crash on people's couches in foreign countries or even different cities. It's free to stay there, but obviously you provide all toiletries, and food. It sounds like a stretch, and I was a bit nervous, but we were staying with a lovely woman named Gulla who is an anthropology lecturer and a teacher of Icelandic to foreigners. I arrived at 2 am and was very worried that I had the wrong house even though the taxi driver was sure that it was right. I walked upstairs to her flat (it's safe enough that she never locks her door) where I knocked nervously (and quietly) on the door and nearly had a heart attack of relief when Heather answered the door. She had arrived the day before, not having a test to do on thursday.

We slept well then woke up and walked around Reykjavik for a little while. (I realize that there are a lot of W's in that last sentence) Reykavik was founded by a viking lord that had essentially tossed a few carved poles into the sea and vowed to settle wherever they landed. They landed in Reykjavik where in addition to deep forests they found clouds of steam hanging over the area leading to the name Reykjavik which means "Steamy Bay." The steam was due to the natural geothermal pools in the area (more on those later). We had booked a tour with one of the companies and arranged to be picked up at a hotel downtown. The tour was amazing and took us to see all kinds of beautiful things. We ended up with a perfectly sunny day and little wind which all the Icelanders said was a miracle.

Our first stop was a UNESCO world heritage site- the parliament fields. Its the site of the first parliament in the world, where every summer chieftains from around Iceland would meet for two weeks and decide laws, hold meetings, match-make, and party like only vikings could. They had decided when they first settled the new land that there would be no king, but that the leaders of each area would have their own chieftain. Not quite a republic, but it was close enough.

It was amazing being there, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I'm a geologist, and the viking lords were after my heart when they chose this as their meeting place- it's the plain between the European and North American plates, so for a while we were walking over entirely new land! It's one of the few places that the mid-atlantic ridge peeks above the water line. It was also incredible politically because of what's going on in Iceland. Their government had collapsed days before I left (No, there was no way I was canceling, I thought the protests would be fun to see) and on the day we visited the parliament fields the interim government selected a new prime minister- the first openly gay person to ever hold the office in the world, and the first female PM in Iceland's history. Not something that the original parliamentarians would have approved of I'm sure!

After our short hike we got back on the bus and drove for a while- not a bad thing, as the scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We drove through valleys and fields that were absolutely covered in snow. Herds of Iceland's ponies wandered in the fields, and our guide pointed out mountains (some of which I knew to be active volcanos) ice caps, and geothermal plants.

We enjoyed the scenery for a while before arriving at Gulfoss. Foss is waterfall, and I'm assuming that Gul is golden because they were also referred to as the Golden Falls. They were absolutely stunning, glacial meltwater tumbling down over 75 meters into a steep ravine. Im sure in summer when the sun warms the ice it's even more torrential! It was absolutely gorgeous, especially with the setting sun. See the video at the top for an up close view! We also had a delicious Icelandic lamb soup and carrot cake- not being used to the money, we probably paid more than we should have but it was delicious and so worth it.

Then we went to Geysir (Pronounced Gay-Sear). Turns out we've been mispronouncing AND misspelling it! In english it's geyser and there were a ton of them in this one spot, a field of boiling water and mud that we got to have a pleasant stroll through! No really, we did. I was so excited I was almost giddy each time one exploded. One of our fellow tour bus passengers summed me up best "Everyone else screams and backs up when those things go off- you laugh and
Rift ValleyRift ValleyRift Valley

The foreground is North America, The background is Europe and in between is new continental crust.
run towards them!" What can I say? It's a combination of the pyromaniac and the geek, both buried not so deep inside me. I took a few great videos here too, but until I can figure out how to rotate them I'm afraid that you'd all have to crane your necks or set your computer screens on edge to watch them.

After we got back, having stopped off to pick up some food to cook on our way home, we found that Gulla had a pleasant surprise waiting for us. She and her son had just made dinner and had far too much for them alone to finish, so she offered it to us. It was delicious- fresh haddock in a curry sauce served over rice and topped with cheese. And when I say fresh... I mean fresh. Her son (who lived in a different flat) had just caught them that day. That's Fresh as you can get it- Iceland standards!

The next morning we went in search of a flea market that we'd read about near the Harbor in Reykjavik. It turned out to be a normal flea market plus fish- dried and salted using some mysterious icelandic methods. We thought about trying some, but no one was giving out samples so we decided against it. Then we explored the city a little more. Reykjavik is a small city by normal city standards. Not surprising in a country that has a population of only 300,000 people. What did surprise me is the fact that Reykjavik has approximately 60% of the population of the country. Their city hall is beautiful, and very modern looking. It has this incredible lake nearby where all kinds of waterfowl come to be fed. There were icelandic geese, mallard ducks, and even a few swans. It was fun watching the kids feed them with their loaves of bread.

After our small detour to the city center we headed to our main destination... the famous Blue Lagoon. Initially I had been skeptical. Anything that had so much publicity must be a tourist trap, but Heather showed be the glowing reviews in the brochures, and after so many native Icelandic people told me how beautiful it was, I gave in. The Blue Lagoon is essentially a spa, centered around the fact that they have harnessed the local hot water springs mixing them with cooler

Travel buddy!
freshwater to form a lovely lagoon situated far from everything in the middle of snow covered lava fields. Driving up to it you see this incredible pillar of steam rising from nothing. We had decided in advance that if we came we would pamper ourselves at least a little, and without stretching our budgets that much we managed to get 20 minute massages- in the lagoon. I truly do not know of anywhere else in the world you can have that done. We soaked in the mineral rich water for hours- a thrill in itself because outside it was freezing cold. In some places you could reach out of the pool and touch the snow on the nearby rocks. It was so relaxing, and just what we needed before a full day of travel.

That day of travel went fine too- we managed to get on an earlier flight and got back early so we only ended up traveling for 12 hours (door to door)- ugh. But the experience was so worth it! I've ended up bringing the ice and snow with me back to Edinburgh. We're not as paralyzed as London is, probably because the Scots have a

People would throw coins into the crevasses filled with water- these are several meters down.
tendency towards stubbornness that results in the fact that they will never stop for a bit of water from the sky- even if it is frozen and falling in what would be termed a white-out anywhere else in the world. But I'm ok with it. I guess I'm getting even more in touch with those scottish roots of mine! Mom's viking contribution to the gene pool must be influencing me somewhat too considering that I loved Iceland in the middle of winter... Which means that I will simply have to go back in the summer and explore more!

Hope all is well in your world, and thanks for reading!

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Gulfoss Gulfoss

The lower falls

3rd February 2009

oh. my. gosh. i am still so jealous of you it is insane. how many people do you know who tramp off to iceland for the weekend?? grr! but yay for their new prime minister - yay for gay!
4th February 2009

Let's see: She thinks it will be fun to witness anti-government protests; she runs TOWARD exploding mudballs; goes couch-surfing to save money for a massage in a snow-encircled hot spring...That's My Girl!
5th February 2009

Dear, delightfully curious Mary Beth, What a joy to read about your icy adventures! Do we (Mackies?) really have Viking roots? I have to wonder because I don't share your love of the COLD, but sure enjoy reading about your discoveries---Also glad to hear your classes are more challenging. Thanks so much for sharing your travels and passions with us! Much love, Wisty
6th February 2009

is that neat or what ?
Love the geyser and geological stuff. Blue lagoon looks amazing too. Glad you're exploring your mom's distant roots as well. I know when you get to Kirkwall it will be even more compelling since that's the vicinity of where your mum's kin first discovered the loveliness of Scotland and decided to stay for a long visit ( 5,000 years or so)....no hot springs there though, so Iceland may have it beat in that regard. Cool stuff. Thanks for sharing. Love Dad.
4th March 2009

Nice Blog
I'm planning a trip to Iceland now. Just letting you know your blog is inspiring, seeing how I'm trapped in the office right now!

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