Monday 29th July, 2013. Reykjavik, Iceland.
The northernmost capital in the world, Reykjavik lies in the south-west corner of an island whose very name sends shivers down our spines. For a truer picture of this marvelous place we think that Iceland and Greenland should swap names! Iceland is the second largest island in Europe (behind Britain). The island lies just below the Arctic Circle and has a coastline measuring 3,700 miles (much of this accounted for by the crablike pincers of the north-west peninsula known as the Westfjords). Iceland measures 300 miles from east to west and nearly 200 from north to south, with a total land area of about 40,000 sq miles.
We had decided to give Reykjavik a miss as we had already reserved a car with the Reykjavik Renta Car company based near the port and we wanted to do the Golden Circle Tour which is the most famous tourist route in Iceland. The rental car company provided us with an acceptable map and we set off.
We first headed for Thingvellir, The Parliamentary Plains, home of Alþingi which is the oldest parliament in the world. We parked the car and followed the crowds along
well marked and trodden paths. We found some boards which explaied in English the history of the site and how those attending the assembly dwelt in temporary camps during the session. The centre of the gathering was the Lögberg, or Law Rock, a rocky outcrop on which the Lawspeaker took his seat as the presiding official of the assembly. His responsibilities included reciting aloud the laws in effect at the time. It was his duty to proclaim the procedural law of Althing to those attending the assembly each year. This parliament met for the first time in 930 AD. From then until 1798, continuously for 868 years, Thingvellir was the nation's meeting place. The site was the place where a great number of the most remarkable events in Icelandic history occurred. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
We stood and looked over the overgrown traces of buildings on the site. The blurb explained that these remnants of booths (shelters) were where people stayed during the 2 week session of the Alþingi (General Assembly) every summer. Traces of some 50 booths have been found and new booths were typically built on top of the old
ones. We took a photo of Snorri's Booth which is one of the booths most clearly visible today. It was named after a chieftan called Snorri Porgrimsson. The next board told us that there were 5 courts of law one for each of the 4 quarters of the country and a fifth one which acted as the court of appeal for cases that could not be resolved at the local level. The quarter courts consisted of 36 farmers who were appointed by the chieftans. We continued on until we came to the Logberg or Law Rock which was marked with a flagpole.
Back in the car we headed east towards the Geysir Geothermal Field. This is located at the northern edge of the southern lowlands between 105 and 120 metres above sea level. The area is also known as Hverasandar and the hot springs are located just east of a small mountain called Laugafell. The geothermal field has a surface area of approximately 3 square kilometers but most of the springs are aligned along a 100 metre wide strip of land running in the same direction as the tectonic lines in the area (from south to south west). We
parked in the large car park and headed in the direction of the crowds and the steam. First we took some photos of Litli Geysir (Little Geysir). This was a small pool of steaming bubbling mud. There are around 30 of these smaller geysers and hot pools in the area. Next we came to the main attraction - Strokkur. This geyser erupts the most frequently - to around 30 metres every few minutes. We filmed it with the camcorder and took plenty of photos. As it erupts so frequently many photos of Strokkur are mislabelled as Geysir (aka Great Geysir) in guidebooks. We continued on to the Great Geysir which only erupts a couple of times a day. When it does erupt it can send boiling water up to 70 metres into the air. In the year 2000 it reached 122 metres high for 2 days, following an earthquake, making it one of the highest geysers in history after the Waimangu Geyser in New Zealand which reached 460 metres high but stopped erupting around the year 1900.
We jumped back in the car and continued our Golden Circle tour by heading towards the Sigridur Trail which leads to the
Gullfoss (Golden Falls) Waterfall. We passed a pretty impressive glacier on our way to the head of the trail. A board explained the 3 theories as to how Gullfoss came to be named. It stated that it is likely that Gullfoss was given its name because of the golden evening hue which often colours its glacial water. Another theory is that the falls are so named because of the rainbow which often appears when sunshine hits the spray thrown up by the waterfall but M's favourite was from Palsson's Travel Journel which tells how a rich farmer named Gygur threw a coffer containing all his gold into the waterfall to prevent anyone from inheriting it - and ever since it has been called Gullfoss.
We followed the trail to a lookout point. Gullfoss and the surrounding area were made a nature reserve in 1979. The area's ecosystem is protected as is the vegetation. We had to keep to the well marked paths so as to preserve this. Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in iceland. The wide Hvita flows southward and about 1 km above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down
into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruply plunges in two stages into a crevice 32 metres (105 ft) deep. An average of 140 cubic metres (4900cu ft) per second runs down the waterfall in sumer and 80 cubic metres in the wintre. As we approached the falls the edge was obscured from our view so it appeared that the river just vanished.
We returned to the car and headed for the Grimsnes area which is also on the Golden Circle tour. Here there is a crater lake called Kerið (occasionally Anglicized as Kerith or Kerid). We parked in the car park and climbed up to the crater rim which took about 5 minutes. The crater Kerið was formed about 6,500 years ago and lies at the northern end ofa row of craters known as Tjamarholar. It is oval, about 270 metres long, 170 metres wide and 55 metres deep. Vulcanologists used to class Kerið as an explosion crater. These are formed in explosive eruptions which sometimes leave deep craters. However, due to the lack of ash deposits it is now believed that Kerið was originally a large scoria crater. It is clear that as much as half
of the Tjaamarthoahraun lava flowed from this crater. It was stunningly beautiful with turquoise waters backdropped by a rim of red volcanic rocks. However it was very breezy and quite chilly. We took some photos and returned to the car.
The last stop on our itinerary was the Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa which is about 39 km from Reykjavik. We parked in the enormous car park (this is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland) and strolled over to the spa buildings. We looked at the prices for entry, but as we hadn't got our swimmies, decided it would be a waste of money. Instead we decided to follow the trail outside of the spar buildings which crossed over the beautiful blue lagoons outside of the complex. The water temperature averages 37 - 39 C (99-102F) and it is the minerals which give the lagoons their amazing azure blue colour. We returned to the car - only to find it wouldn't start! We were really pressed for time to make it back to the ship before "all aboard". We spotted a bus from the Oriana carrying a load of the crew who had been on a trip. Two
of the girls from the shop tried to start the car (as they had the same model) to no avail. In the end we got on their bus and abandoned the vehicle in the car park .D to the car hire company offices at the port and told them what had happened and gave them the car keys while M continued on with the crew to explain why D was late. Luckily the ship waited for him.
We watched the sailaway from Reykjavik and spent a pleasant evening onboard.
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