Breakfast and depart from Vik at O-dark-thirty again (really can’t tell what time it is in these dark hours. But, we head inland to the north and the beautiful, but desolate highlands. As the sun starts to take its short daily peek at the world we can see we’ve been climbing toward and between snow caps and glaciers toward what they call the “Golden Circle”.
The sun teases the horizon for close to five hours this time of year and never gets more than a few degrees above. The dawning makes for spectacular light and views you can never see anywhere else.
As we move northward we come across a herd of Icelandic horses, who are just as curious about us. The horses are just a bit larger than ponies, but don’t ever call them that. They are bred for riding with their main job rounding up sheep in the fall. They live outside year round growing a thick coat and slow metabolism to fight off the cold. No other horses are imported into Iceland. If one leaves the country, it can’t come back – no outside diseases please. Their mortality is determined by their teeth. When they get bad and can’t eat, the horse is doomed. They do serve horse meat here, but maybe 10 % of all meat consumed. They have many color variants, and are bred for that and their unique gait.
Our first official stop of the day is at Geysir and Strokkur, a hot spring area that is supposed to afford spectacular eruptions. Although the day is clear and the temperature around 30, the 40-50 mile an hour winds put the wind chill in the teens. When we ask our guide, Oli, what the wind chill actually is he says that in Iceland they don’t use wind chill measures, instead, “when it’s cold, it’s cold”. I’ll go into some detail about the amazing geothermal aspects of Iceland in the next post as we travel to the end of the peninsula where many of the power generation stations are.
The wind is so strong that we really have difficulty walking. Even at our backs we literally get pushed along the icy path without moving our feet. A little scary. And…
…the Gyser, Strokkur, usually spouting 10 or 15 feet in the air gets unspectacularly sideways in the whipping wind.
An absolutely spectacular sight is Gulfoss (“Golden Falls”). Unfortunately, we almost don’t see it. It had snowed a bit recently and made the ground at the viewing sites like uneven skating rinks. We were offered crampons for our shoes and stupidly didn’t take them. When we finally made it to the overlook the wind-blown mist from the falls actually froze on my glasses and on the camera lenses. Very lucky to get just this shot (still through a frozen mist).
We continue our journey toward Thingvellir National Park where the Viking parliament met for centuries on the shores of Iceland’s largest lake. As we go we pass a geothermal “town” where greenhouses dominate the landscape (not in photo) – This particular one has cornered the Icelandic mushroom market. We’re passing through the largest chunk of unspoiled wilderness in Europe.
We are actually crossing the tectonic plates from Eurasia to the North American side. These plates are moving apart (an inch a year) creating “stretch marks” inbetween. These marks slowly fall and separate and make an active and spectacular looking divide.
As we walk through the park looking at geological aspects, Oli explains how this original Parliament area is looked upon as a sacred place by Icelanders. The flagpole (above) marks the spot where Oral laws were spoken and disputes settled around the birth of a united government from the previous independent clan society. It is still disputed that the actual place the laws were spoken was across the road.
The views between the plates are some of the most unique circumstances between tectonic plates anywhere in the world.
And, the sky ain’t bad either.
Even the moon wants to strut her stuff, far above the sun in the winter sky.
As darkness falls we head back to the City and end our day at a fantastic local restaurant Prir Frakkar run by a renowned local chef — recommended by Oli. Menu of notable local fare in a special modern take. The ladies have lip-smacking salmon, Bill a delicious mixed seafood dish (traditional dish with delicious modern improvements), and Jeff and I extend our adventure with whale steaks (Minke whales are not endangered thank you) that turns out to be great if you like the texture (and taste) of calve’s liver. apologies to our veggie friends.
Tomorrow is sadly our last full day (how time flies). We’ll be off to explore the furthest southwestern tip of Iceland where we’ll talk about the geothermal aspects of Iceland’s green and sustainable way of life. And a farewell dip in the molten lava heated Blue Lagoon.