Ah, Iceland! Where there is ice,
certainly, but plenty of pleasantly green land along the coast and in
the lowlands between peaks and ice fields.
We started our trip as I imagine most people do: in Reykjavik, the
beautiful capital city. This is the view from a church on a high hill
This guy, the 244 feet high Hallgrimskirkja. It has quickly become the symbol of this city.
The stair-stepping concrete forms are meant to look like the basalt lava flows in many places in Iceland
Here is an odd building called Perlan
(the Pearl). The large things that look like water towers are water
towers; actually, HOT water towers, used to store the geothermal water
that much of Iceland uses to heat their homes year round. The middle
has exhibition space and an interesting museum of Iceland history.
Here is Paul (Angela's father) and I looking at the spiral staircase in
our hotel. Note, the bald spot on top of my head is just airbrushed in
After getting a feel for Reykjavik, we headed out into the countryside
to what's called the Golden Circle. There are three major stops on this
circuit that takes you a few hours outside Reykjavik, and this is
certainly one of them: Gullfoss, the prettiest waterfall on the island.
It feels like finding Niagra falls in the middle of nowhere - with a
few hundred fellow tourist, of course, but still the middle of nowhere.
It is a magnificent sight, and well worth visiting Iceland for all by
itself. But wait, there's more!
Nearby is a geyser called Geysir. Yes, this is the one that all the
others are named after (sort of like Xerox and Kleenex in our
commercial age). Alas, this isn't geysir; it's slightly out of the
frame on the right and does not erupt regularly these days. This more
energetic fellow is called Strokkur, which let's the folks see what an
erupting geyser looks like.
And yes, I did say three attractions, all on the same little stretch of
highway. This is the most historically significant, the gathering place
where Iceland's first government met once a year to deal with the
issues of the day. Called Thingvellir (though in Icelandic it starts
with a P-looking letter, this is an approximate pronunciation), it also
has the distinction of sitting right atop the place where the North
American Tectonic Plate and the European Tectonic Plate are pulling
away from one another. So, you have the history of man, history of
government, history of religion and the history of history (aka
geology) all in one place.
As a bonus, on the way back to Reykjavik we stopped at a Geothermal
Plant that used to have a a nice little museum about Geothermal power.
And, luckily, it had instructions on where the museum is now located
(not far away in a different geothermal plant), so we went and looked
at that one, too.
Another fun use of Geothermal energy (besides providing electricity and heat to the entire country) is going and sitting in it.
This place is called the Blue Lagoon, outside Reykjavik and near the
international airport. This place goes on for a long way, and many
people were slathering the mud from the bottom of the pool on their
skin. We didn't go in for that, but enjoyed the pools and the sauna.
Near the Blue Lagoon is another fine
example of the area opened up when one tectonic plate decides it's had
enough of another plate. This chasm is the result.
Now we're out and driving a lap around
the country. We started in West Iceland, which features beautiful
cliff-side scenery (see the basalt flows in the center of the picture?
It should remind you of the church in Reykjavik. Go ahead and scroll
back to that, I can wait) and...
Mt. Snaefellsjokull, featured as the
entrance point for the grand adventure in Jules Verne's "Journey to the
Center of the Earth".
We then took a ferry from West Iceland
to the West Fjord of Iceland (different regions). This church is in the
town of Stykkisholmur (the port we departed from). Churches with wildly
modern architecture are a thing in Iceland; very cool and, despite
seeing so many of them, still surprising in each small town we visited
or drove through.
Now, just to give you a feel for the
midnight sun, these puffin pictures were taken at about 11 pm or so.
There was plenty of light.
This cliff that so many puffins call home is at the end of a fairly
bumpy gravel road, and this evening (and I imagine every evening of
puffin season) there were dozens of people there to photograph them,
including several people with the long telephoto lenses you see on the
sidelines of the Super Bowl. It was a great place to see these little
guys, that's for sure.
One in focus puffin, one out-of-focus. If you think the more distant one is the one in focus, it may be time for new glasses.
Angela, checking out the puffins with Mr. Snaefellsjokull in the distance.
This is one of the western fjords. We drove around many, many fjords and saw wonderful waterfalls and cliffs everywhere.
Angela often remarked that the whole country feels like a national park, and that's both very accurate and a high complement.
This is the ship we went whale and
puffin watching on. We did see a few whales and dolphins, but nothing
spectacular (like a whale breaching over the top of the boat, for
example, though that's not necessarily a good thing). It was COLD out
on the water, but the company is used to that and puts every tourist
into a set of insulated coveralls.
We tried to stop for lunch in this town, but couldn't find anywhere open. We did see these kids.
They'd just finished being cute and entertaining for one set of bus
tours, and were starting their break until the next bus was due.
We're now in the Eastern Fjords.
Here, the scenery was a bit more gentle and the fjords more open, like being in Valdez, Alaska. very beautiful, in its own way.
Now we start to see who put the "ice" in Iceland. This glacier is running down from a huge ice field. HUGE!
The lagoon in the foreground is open to the sea, resulting in the tides melting / breaking ice off this glacier at a rapid pace.
And so, lots of icebergs, year-round. If this place looks familiar, it
was used in the James Bond film, "Die Another Day", when the movie
production company built a dam to temporarily separate the lagoon from
the sea. That allowed it to freeze over so they could drive
exceptionally expensive cars on the ice, between the stuck bergs.
When the ice is first exposed to the air (when the iceberg turns over),
it has that stunning blue color you see in the foreground here.
This guy was turning over while we were waiting to take an amphibious truck tour of the lagoon.
And now, for the serious part of our story. While we were in the West
Fjords, there was enough volcanic activity underneath one of the
glaciers in the southern part of the country to cause a flood, complete
with big chunks of ice, and it all went flowing down this river in a
hurry and washed out the bridge on the main ring road, near the town of
Vik. So, that stopped traffic in that part of the country until they
implemented a scheme where a large truck would haul the cars across,
and the people would cross the river in a bus with enormous tires. So,
we continued on around, hoping we'd be able to cross this way. Well,
literally the last trip before we would have gotten on the bus, it got
stuck in the mud returning to our side (the eastern side) of the river.
The people in the bus had to break windows and climb out on the roof,
to be rescued by one of the trucks. So, that shut down that operation
for the rest of the day. Now, I'm not sure, but I think they started
hauling people again the next day; by that time, we'd already started
the long journey back around Iceland again, returning the way we'd
come. So, please now scroll back up through all the pictures again to
return to Reykjavik.