I think I am in love!! What a wonderful country it is, and the people are as beautiful as the landscape is rugged.
It is probably not easy living here. I think the weather would take some getting used to and I didn’t experience winter. Just a few beautiful fall days with a temperature around 10 degrees celsius and every type of weather except snow. It was rainy. It was cloudy. It was sunny and all the while the beautiful landscape changes depending on what ‘weather’ you are standing in at the moment. They say you can get all four seasons in one day and I believe it.
The population of Iceland is 370,000 and its largest city is Reykjavik with a population around 128,000. It is modern and has very clean architecture. Probably the Scandinavian influence. But it is very pleasing to the eye. They have lots of shops, and restaurants and a beautiful new Art Centre. Reykjavik, as does the whole country, uses the geothermal water to heat their homes.
There are miles and miles of pipeline filled with hot – 100 degree – thermal water – which accommodates homes, businesses, hospitals etc. Their state-of-the-art Geothermal Power Plant is an example to other countries with access to this type of energy. It is abundant, cheap and good for the environment. The pipes are insulated and the water normally loses only one or two degrees. So lots of hot water for showers and hot tubs. Hot tubs are popular, while very few people have swimming pools because public pools are abundant throughout the area and again heated with the thermal waters. Children here start learning to “swim” at about three months of age. They also have plentiful access to hydro electricity here.
The Golden Circle is probably the most popular tour in the country with visits to Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir.
So off we went to to Thingvellir National Park, now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here they have two major tectonic plates that are pulling away from one another forming huge cracks and fissures in the ground with a lake in the middle. They are the Eurasian and North American plates. Historically, and more important for Icelanders, it is the site where people first settled as the nation of Iceland and formed its first parliament, Althing, in AD930. It was decided here that Iceland would be a commonwealth, and not a kingdom. They met once a year and it is where some of Iceland’s biggest decisions were made, like standardized language, customs and culture.
This changed after 1273 when Icelanders became subjects to the King of Norway. It altered the function of the Althing, but did not affect the spirit of the annual meeting, which continued for another 500 years until 1798. It was re-established in 1848 and moved to Reykjavik in 1874. Then on June 17, 1944 thousands of Icelanders again came to Thingvellir to declare the Independent Republic of Iceland.
At Geysir, (pronounced geezer), one of the first tourist attractions in Iceland, you will find geysers shooting boiling hot water 20 plus meters up into the air. They can stop and start, but tend to be most active following an earthquake. Also, Iceland is one of the most volcanically active places on earth with more than 30 volcanoes. But I must say I did not feel anything during the time I was here.
Gullfoss means golden waterfall and they say it is where the Golden Circle tour got its name. It is a magnificent waterfall and is unique in its shape and form as it tumbles over several separate levels into a deep gorge. It’s a place for rainbows and getting soaking wet by the mist if you don’t keep an eye on the wind.
Back in Reykjavik, I had the pleasure of meeting a friend who coincidentally was in town at the same time as I. We went to a wonderful restaurant called Grillmarket for dinner, and there we elected to have the Icelandic Tasting menu. Many courses and copious amounts of champagne later, we had eaten our way through arctic mountain char, a lovely creative salad, then whale – very dark, somewhat chewy and slightly fishy, lamb – delicious, horse tenderloin – surprisingly delicious, puffin, yes the cute little bird – very dark meat, almost purple, and I didn’t think it had so much flavour. But I swallowed it so fast that maybe it didn’t have time to register!! We also had langoustine tempura – Iceland’s lobster, cod, and a delicious duck salad. Ice cream was the finale to this excellent and memorable “walk through nature”.
The next day we boarded our ship, Oceania’s Riviera and it was lovely to see many familiar faces from my Around the World 2018 – both crew and passengers. It’s like coming home to old friends and family. A special feeling that is hard to explain. My tour from the ship was a trip to the Blue Lagoon. The milky blue waters are very warm and they say healing, and I want to believe this. Well, actually I was hoping for the fountain of youth, but my crepey skin was still crepey and now it also looked like one big prune for being in the water for so long. We also got a handful of white muck to put on our faces – very attractive – not – but even the men were doing it, and we got to have a glass or two of prosecco whilst ‘floating’ around in the water. Absolutely delightful. I couldn’t take my camera in, so the photos below are both from the entrance to the Blue Lagoon.
On our way to and from the Blue Lagoon we passed landscape made up mostly of lava from various times throughout their history. The oldest is covered in a beautiful green moss that is over a thousand years old and no one is allowed to pick it. As it is autumn here, there is some colour with small flowers blooming out of the moss in yellows and reds. The youngest lava is closer to the airport and is more spikey. They seem to have a significant eruption approximately every 10 years. The last one was in 2010 when it spewed ash all over Europe and halted air traffic, so they are expecting something soon again. On the positive side, it is a great fertilizer, and it put Iceland on the map. Tourism began to really pick up after that last eruption.
The country is lovely and has a grace about it. It is safe. People don’t lock their doors and the police are not armed. There is no military and they have never really been involved in a war. In real contrast, we heard from our guide that Mike Pence – US Vice President – visited here just a short while before I arrived. He came in on Air Force One. He had a convoy of armoured cars and armed guards. At the US request there were snipers on roofs all along his route from the airport. Locals were warned to stay away from the route. And he was here only for several hours. The residents here were not impressed to say the least, and I can’t imagine the cost to the American taxpayer. In contrast, the Prime Minister of India was also here recently. No armoured cars, no armed guards, no snipers. No fanfare. Just a quiet visit with local heads of state in a beautiful, safe city. They had two murders last year.
NOTE: When travelling to Reykjavik you can buy your duty free in the airport after you deplane and before you go through customs. This eliminates lugging duty free onto the plane with you back home before you depart. I can’t believe all airports aren’t doing this.
So far – no northern lights!!