October 9-10, 2012
Our second day in Iceland started with a “Golden Circle” Tour. Our Icelandic driver picked us up and took about 8 for us on a drive east-ward out of Reykjavik. Our tour guide was awesome, very knowledgeable about his country, with a dry sense of humor, and willing to answer all of our questions.
As we drove further and further out of the city it became obvious why Iceland is referred to as the “Land of Fire and Ice”, the landscape is absolutely defined by magma/volcanoes and glaciers. The island of Iceland is largely covered by glaciers, whose melting dictates the levels and shapes of the country’s rivers and bodies of water. Much of the landscape is dried lava, as the island’s location on the tectonic (along the “Mid-Atlantic Ridge” which is the border of the North American plate and the European plate) has resulted in its formation via molten rock (magma) that wells up through the rifts along the ridge. Along this ridge the plates continue to spread apart, volcanoes continue to erupt, allowing Iceland to widen by about one inch per year.
Stolen from the web:
Over one third of Iceland’s 40,000 square miles is volcanically active and loaded with lava fields. Elsewhere, magma too far below the surface to create volcanoes heats the rock above, sending the heated groundwater percolating to the surface in the form of “hot springs.” Iceland is far enough north so that it should be entirely covered by ice and snow, like Greenland to the west. The heat generated by the ridge, however, keeps the country in a constant state of thaw, distinguishing it as the Land of Fire and Ice.
Throughout the tour we were able to see evidence of this landscape through countless craters, waterfalls, mountains scarred with lava flow and tumbling boulders, and steam holes (I suppose there is a more scientific name for them, but this is literally what they were).
Across the landscape you can see spouts of steam coming out of the ground- it’s the release of geo-thermal heat. As our guide explained it- when the underground magma is close to the top of ground (creating a magma pocket), and water seeps into a crack in the ground, the water heats up from the magma and the resulting steam is released. These steam-holes pop up just about anywhere, sometimes in people’s kitchen (supposedly).
The Icelanders do a good job on “boxing in” some of these steam holes to contain the output, though not nearly all of them. We saw a landmine of these steam holes near the Geyser (where the English term originated), and Strokurr (the newer more active “geyser”). Even from a distance you can smell the sulfur and hear the ground rumbling as water bubbles up through the geysers.
Remember those tectonic plates I mentioned before? Well we literally saw the EDGE of the North American plate. As the North American and European plate move away from each other, the ground in between these two plates make some sort of minor plate. Since this minor plate is sinking the border between it and the North American plate is very distinctive and looks like a large rock cliff. You learn about these tectonic plates in school, but who thought you could actually SEE one?
Some other tidbits we picked up about Iceland:
- 93% of all Icelanders use geo-thermal heat (from drilling into thin areas of the earth’s crust to get heat from magma pockets)
- Iceland currently has 50 to 60 active volcanoes
- Iceland has a 2% homeless population. Which equates to 20 homeless people. In the whole country. Total.
- The Viking “religion” is seeing a revival (much to Eric’s delight)
- Tolkien knew the old Norse (or Viking) language
Wednesday we went to Blue Lagoon, which is pool made up of natural geo-thermal source. It’s not just a pool, it’s a massive, natural, super-blue, hot tub-like lake. There was a spa set up built around it, and of course it was contained by man-made boundaries around the perimeter, but otherwise it was outside (no shelter from the Icelandic cold temperatures and winds!) amongst the natural rocks with the natural mineral-rich spring waters flowing in. Supposedly the minerals in the water is great for your skin, and they had buckets of the sulfur-rich mud they collected out of the lagoon for patrons to apply on their face for a facial mask while they bobbed around the lagoon. Overall it was a great way to relax and warm up before our trip to the airport and beyond.
Day 2 of our Iceland adventure involved a day-long trip to the “Golden Circle.” Our driver gave me an understanding of how much pride Icelanders have. While ranting and raving about Iceland, he also found time to hate on the bankers who drove Iceland’s economy into the ground.
One other tidbit that I thoroughly enjoyed, was he informed me that the Norse religion, also known as the Viking religion is making a comeback. This religion consists of, “Eating, drinking, singing, and fighting.” Sounds like many of my old rugby drink-ups back at Fairfield University. I am not particularly religious, but the Viking religion sounds very enticing.
When you leave Reykjavik, there is not much going on in Iceland. Over 60% of the Iceland population resides in the greater Reykjavik area. Once outside the city you will not see much except for mountains, hot springs, and huts. Icelanders instead of owning vacation homes own huts. You do not need to buy a piece of land, you can just put your huts wherever you would like. Many of the huts look like ice fishing huts that you may have seen before, except just a little bigger. Just enough room to do the important things such as sleep, drink, and eat.
After our tour I went out for a run around Reykjavik. Please hold your laughter. I followed that up with a nutritious meal of a hot dog. This was not just any hot dog- this hot dog was from the most famous restaurant in Iceland, Baejarins Beztu (seriously, it says so in the guidebooks). For those of you not fluent in Icelandic, that stands for hot-dog van. You are supposed to have the hot-dog, “Eina med ollu,” which means one with everything. This consists of onions, fried onions, hot dog, hot-dog bun, ketchup, and brown mustard sauce. It’s not comparable to say a Coney Island or Super Duper Weenie hot dog, but it was mighty tasty.
I tried two new beers this evening, Egils Maltextrakt and Egils Jolaol Applesin. The Maltextrakt was GROSS- too syrupy thick and sweet, while the Jolaol Applesin reminded me of a cider. I could drink about 1-2, but would have to switch to something lighter after that.
Day 3 was all about the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a spa set in a massive black lava field, about 35-40 miles outside of Reykjavik. We did this as our last thing in Iceland, which I think is a good time to do it. You are about 15 minutes from the airport, and you can store your luggage on your tour bus or at the Blue Lagoon. This place is not cheap, but is well worth the price of admission. The warm water is supposed to be very good for your skin and is very relaxing. The pool area is outside so despite the fact that it may be very cold outside, you can be in the water staying warm. Relaxing in this natural hot spring is a great way to relax before heading off to the airport. Other options which I didn’t take advantage of were the bar you can swim up to as well as the massages. I didn’t take advantage of the bar mainly because we went in the morning. While I am unemployed and technically on vacation, there is no need to be drinking in the AM, plus did we mention Iceland was expensive?
From there it was off to the airport to leave for London.
Overall Iceland Experience (1 to 10 scale): 7
Great scenery, interesting history, amazing landscape, great Golden Circle Tour weather. Cold, expensive, where were all the Icelanders?
Check out our Picasso album for more Iceland pictures