Iceland: The only thing to fear is the new letters

Iceland at last! The land of the Vikings. No other place interested people more when we mentioned it was part of our trip. The isolated, misty isle where Journey to the Centre of the Earth begins through a volcanic passageway in Mount Snæfellsjökull. [Guess who wrote that bit.]

Iceland feels very much like many other Scandinavian countries and the capital city of Reykjavik was almost too pristine and organised. It’s as if the city was assembled from an Ikea kit…with no pieces missing in this kit. After paying approximately $17 US dollars for a cup of soup, we realised that we might abandon Reykjavik for the next day and go for a tour of the surrounding countryside. Even though they suffered a huge economic crisis some years ago, it was by far the most expensive country we visited. They seem to have recovered too well. While walking through a park in Reykjavik, we saw a council worker mowing the lawn with a remote control lawn mowing robot. Maybe that’s where the 90% government tax on spirits ends up.

Mushroom Graffiti
More Icelandic Street Art

What makes Reykjavik more interesting (according to Sean) is that fact that most of the city’s hot water comes directly from underground geothermal springs. They have so much hot water that they don’t know what to do with it. It is pumped through radiators to heat houses and in some areas it is pumped through the footpaths and roads to melt snow. The electricity is also produced geothermally which means the whole time we were there we were using totally guilt-free energy provided by gravity and good ol’ Mother Earth. Sean had the good luck of getting a tour guide who was doing a masters in geothermal energy and he grilled him for all the information he could get. The only downside is that the showers smelled strongly of sulphur due to the water coming from deep underground. Smelling like rotten eggs in the morning is a small price to pay for green energy…maybe.

Typical spotless street in Reykjavik

There is a really cool new concert hall on the coast in Reykjavik. At night the edge of each of those glass shapes lights up and forms amazing colourful patterns. Well, when we say night we actually mean slightly darker than the day because in the middle of the summer it never actually goes dark. It looks like early sunset for a few hours and then goes back to full brightness. Even with blinds over the window it messed with our sleeping patterns. We would go to bed at midnight but it felt like it was 5 pm and we would have trouble sleeping. If you accidentally peeked out the window before going to bed, it was hard to convince your body that it actually was time to sleep. We don’t know how the locals deal with it.

Harpa Concert Hall
Inside Harpa Concert Hall
The coast

Iceland is an amazing country with a very low crime and poverty rate. You could attribute this to their very low population size but, as the guide on our tour kept saying, per capita, Iceland leads the world on many, many things. This includes the highest Coca Cola consumption per capita along with the highest income per capita. It was a running joke on the tour that Iceland leads the world with many things if you only apply it per capita. They also have no standing army and, according to the Global Peace Index, Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world (source).

Not the ducklings!

We apologise for the gloomy photos, we somehow ended up arriving in a three day stretch of overcast days. Wandering around the city we found a nice lake with lots of ducks. We could have photos of more famous attractions such as the restaurant stationed in a ex-geothermal water storage station or the Blue Lagoon where you are pampered in geothermal springs but we could barely afford to buy lunch from the rest stop bain-marie so we made do.

Duck Lake

After one day in Reykjavik we started on the tour of the ‘Golden Circle’. The first stop was this impressive looking volcano crater called Kerið (Kerid). Bjork held a concert here once and the hills were covered with eager Icelandians watching the show.

Bjork Crater: Not actually called that but Bjork did actually play here or something.
Cute Icelandic Chick

We aren’t sure what this waterfall is, there were too many Icelandic words in one day to remember them all. Here, where people built a ladder so that the salmon could flop back up the river to spawn, was where we had a brief lesson in the Icelandic alphabet. For example the symbol ‘Þ’ is pronounced like a ‘th’ so ‘Þingvellir’ is pronounced ‘Thingvellir’. Due to it’s proximity to England and the fact that England was probably raided several times by the Vikings there are some English words that are influenced by Nordic languages. Like German and Dutch you sometimes come across a word that you recognise amongst all the words that you don’t. For example ‘bag’ is ‘baggin’ and ‘leg’ is ‘leggr’ (Source).

A real life SALMON ladder!

Another stop was Gullfoss or “Golden Falls”. It is an amazing waterfall but it resists any attempt at taking decent photos of it due to the spray that is blown up from the bottom obscuring everything and coating the camera lens. The statistics about the amount of water that flows through this waterfall every second was mind blowing, and our geothermal scientist guide gave us very specific data on the flow rate and potential energy output of this waterfall. This then led us on to another story about the how at the beginning of the 20th century the owners of the property were trying to pitch the idea of a hydroelectric dam to foreign investors (I think the guide might have said the King of Denmark but don’t quote me on that).  A local woman, daughter of the man who was trying to rent out the waterfall,  campaigned to prevent this waterfall from being used as a hydroelectric dam. She loved the waterfall so much that she threatened to throw herself into the river if a hydroelectric dam was built. Legend has it that she walked bare-foot from this waterfall to Reykjavik where she happened upon a lawyer who helped her win the case against building the dam. After checking Wikipedia this may not be the truth, but it did make a good story.

Gullfoss: Now that’s a big waterfall!

We also amde a quick stop to meet some horses. Around here we saw a lot of summer houses. It is very common for the people of Reykjavik to have houses out in the countryside where they go to relax in the summer months. There are even tiny private geothermal hot water plants that supply the summer houses with hot water and possibly electricity.

The horses of ICELAND!
Potentially acceptable dual-selfie?

The next stop was probably the most famous place in Iceland: Þingvellir. It literally means “place of parliament” as it was the location of an ancient parliament of local tribes from AD 930 until 1798. The formation of this parliament is considered to be the founding of the nation of Iceland. In the 9th century, when the land became available due to the previous owner being found guilty of murder, it was declared as public land and was found fit for a parliament to unite the various tribes of Iceland and keep their power in check. It was ideal being quite central in Iceland, the longest time for any chieftain to reach it was 17 days! In 1930, Iceland declared it to be their first national park to protect the pristine landscape and rich history.

The visitor centre or something
Waterfall Selfie!

In this park you can also see the rift between two tectonic plates, which is the reason that Iceland is so volcanic. In some areas of the world, the plates push against each other and push the land upwards. In Iceland, the plates pull apart which then causes magma to rise up and form new land. There is a rift valley where you can actually see where the plates have pulled the land apart and crystal clear blue water has filled in the gap. In some places it is so deep that people even dive down there, but how somebody could get into that ice cold water is anybody’s guess. Here in this rocky landscape, according to the tour guide, was one of the places where Game of Thrones was filmed.

This rift was caused by the tectonic plates pulling apart. People throw coins down there but it is hard to see.

Also there were geysers: “nature’s boring miracle”. The bubbling piles of boiling hot water occasionally burst with steam about every 10 minutes making everyone jump.

Geysir

Next stop: Summary of Europe as we don’t have many photos.

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