Sunday, 26 May 2013

Grand Circle Tour Iceland (Updated May 29)

So my second day in Iceland was an adventure. I had pre-booked a so-called "Golden Circle Tour of the nearby sights and it turned out to be quite interesting. The women in the museum were a bit aghast I think when they found out how little I knew about Iceland and its history (for example, that I didn't know that they had never had a military), but I got a chance to redress some of this ignorance during the tour.


Our guide was Omar and unfortunately I forgot to get a picture of him, but he told us many interesting things about the country. There are 320,000  people in Iceland, 120,000 of which live in Reykjavik proper and over 200,000 of which live in the general Reykjavik area. It is for the most part a very sparsely populated country only 25% of which is arable.

First we drove around picking people up from various parts of the city, so I took a few pictures along the way. This is the harbor.


Here you can see the mountains around the city .

 On our way out we had a better view of these amazing flat topped mountains.

First we visited the location of greenhouses for growing vegetables (especially tomatoes and cucumbers, which seem to be a main staple of the Icelandic diet.  We had them for breakfast every morning on our Breakfast buffet.) The guide also joked with us that they experimented with many other kinds of crops including bananas and that they like to brag, that Iceland was the biggest banana producer in Europe. It is not a serious industry. They propagate bananas simply for the bragging rights.

Then it was off to the thermally active regions to see fissures and geyser activity.

Here in the floor you can see a fissure that developed underneath a shopping building. They glassed over the crack so you can look down and see the crack in the ground.


This was billed as a museum, but was more of a little tourist trap with lots of little boutiques selling Icelandic trinkets and sweaters. The woman in the picture below is named Holly and she was staying at the same hotel as I. I met her the morning I came in and we got to spend a little time together both on the tour and afterwards.

As we moved on to our net location we could see farms and ranches out the bus windows.

Iceland is famous for its Icelandic horses and they are also very popular both in Iceland and beyond.  There are 80,000 Icelandic horses in Iceland (That's one for every person that lives outside of Reykjavik!!!) There are many more outside of Iceland (a couple hundred thousand if I remember correctly.) These horses are collected and bred all over the world and have their own shows and competitions. Because there is no rabies and no major animal diseases in Iceland, once a horse leaves Iceland it is not allowed to return. These horses are very popular in Europe and in Germany (and in fact the man next to me on the plane to Frankfurt was an expert in these horses and was off to Germany to do some consulting about the Icelandic horses.)

Unfortunately  I didn't get very good pictures, but at least you can get an idea of what they look like.

The scraggly heath of Southern interior iceland is quite attractive in its own way.


We had overcast skies which intensified the starkness of the landscape.

 Our next stop was at a small but impressive waterfall.

All around us were the mountains.

Sometimes we passed fields of sheep or horses, but mostly the land was bleak and desolate.

The guide told us a lot about the thermal regions and a large crater that opened up and the people could figure out no reason why.

The guide told us a lot about the thermal regions and a large crater that opened up and the people could figure out no reason why. As in Yellowstone there was a bit of color associated with the crater pools (although the colors in Yellowstone are really unexcelled.)  

Many people in the area woke up to find new thermal spouts in the their yards or even lots their houses to these fissures.


Of course the big attraction was the geysers.The big Geyser (Geysir) has decided to go to sleep according to our guide, so now we all look forward to the   actions f Strokkor instead.  Strokkur is only a third as big, but still  a farily dependable guy erupting about every 8 minutes.

Here is a closer view of Strokkur.

There are other geysers in the area like Litli.

Here's a view of the restaurant amidst all the geysers.

I got my opportunity to have the famous Lamb soup for lunch (really more like stew). It was a little salty, but very good!

Evidently Icelanders are not immune to Monster trucks. This thing was outside the restaurant.

(I suppose the big tires might help in the snow. The guide said that in 1967 modernity came to iceland and they started building highways. They built a 50 kilometer stretch between Keflavik (where the airport now is) and Reykjavik. By the 1970s they had 150 km ofroads and now they have roads all over (although the guidebook suggests that many are impassable during the winter.))
Nearby this guy stood guard:

Pretty soon it was time to drive on, past more fields of horses and beautiful mountains.

We were headed to another waterfall, but on the way I was still enjoying the mountains.


Also it turned out we could see Iceland's second largest glacier.

Here's a closer up shot. (Modified a bit so that the glacier is prominent.)

Our next stop was Güllvoss falls, which is frequently equated with Niagara.

These falls are very wide and when there is sun are supposed to cast beautiful rainbows.

Wind blown and cold, this picture makes me look awful, but who wouldn't look bad next to the beauty of that waterfall? 

On our way to our next stop we passed the only privately owned church in Iceland. Our guide remarked that the guy was quite rich, but I wasn't really sure what he meant by that.

We saw more sheep:

Next we drove across the gap between the place where the tectonic plates from the East (called the European plate) meet with the American one.

You can see the lava and moss a little bit in the above picture. Below is the other side of the plates (The American side and also a flag in place to show the probable location of the first parliament of Iceland (and Europe in general.)

This was a lovely area with pool and huge rock structures that looked like they must have been built by humans (but which were not.)

It turns out they had rerouted a river and this is an artificial waterfall.

Here's a better picture of the moss and lava.

They have placed this flag, but really have no idea where the parliament building once stood. I think he said the Alþingi (parliament - but it means "all thing") was probably made of wood and long since decayed. I believe the date he gave was 930 AD. They call this place Þingvellir. The thorn (þ) is a th sound.

Our guide said that for Iceland this is a very sacred place.

I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves as some things don't translate well into words.

I love the visibility of the lava flow in this rock.

Our last stop was to a scenic overlook above the Allþingi site. (You can see the flag in the bottom right corner of the picture.)

In the evening after our return, Holly and I decided to walk around the town a bit. We saw several unique things.  There were a couple of drawings in the window of one house we saw - including this one. (It looks very Henry Darger-like. Ithink I remember seeing a series of these girls with the masks.)


 Other things that I saw around town, but haven't put in my blog are a good picture of the church with blue skies.

In the middle of town there was this area with brightly painted buildings.

And this was  sculpture garden full of  bronze sculptures, that I passed somewhere in Reykjavik.


This is another view form the top of the church. I went up a second time because it looked like the sun was coming out, but by the time I got up therethe sun was once again hidden.

This was one of our concierges, Adam who originally came from Poland. He had lived in Reykjavik for 7 years and originally came to work at a Kentucky Fried Chicken place, but now worked for Hotel Floki and really liked his job.  The shirt is a uniform and both he and Eugene wore them. (Eugene was our other concierge from Belo-Russ. Unfortunately I did not get a picture of him.)


Andhere is our breakfast room - a lovely place with a glass wall (behind me). As I waited to be picked up for the shuttle, Adam let me go in and get a cup of tea (since I had to be ready by 4AM). It was the last  bit of Reykjavik I saw before heading for the airport.

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