Saturday, 31 May 2014

Iceland 28: The Golden Circle (part 3)

The final leg on our "Golden Triangle" tour was Gullfoss, one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland.  Again the car park was absolutely heaving, so we decided not to spend too much time here.

The falls were, indeed, very impressive; but the gift shop was something else.  In addition to the inevitable "Ice-Tat" which we'd found absolutely everywhere, there were also fox-pelts plus seal and reindeer skins.  It reminded me rather of the bearskin coat and fox stole which used to be my grandmother's pride and joy.  The window display showed what the well-dressed Icelandic woman is wearing (although, presumably, it gets a bit nippy in the Winter).

Eventually we'd had enough and headed away from the falls and back towards Hveragerdi.  Rather than going straight to the hotel we explored the town a bit, driving up to the golf course which had steam vents as natural hazards.  We then went to the information centre and earthquake "museum" (closing and closed, respectively) and a handicraft shop (also closed).  By this point we couldn't face visiting the "Bonus Pig" supermarket, so went back to the hotel to download pictures.

Having effectively missed lunch we were getting hungry so went to the "Kjot & Kunst" which specialised in cooking all its food in geothermal ovens.  The earth bread was excellent (shaped like a muffin) and both our fish dishes were very good indeed.  It was staggeringly expensive for what it was, though - the most expensive meal of our entire stay in Iceland.  Still, like the thermal baths in Myvatn, we just had to do it.

The final highlight of the day was "Futtock Jumping" (actually called "tussock jumping" in the guide book).  At this particular attraction it was possible to leap from one artificial and brightly coloured mole hill to another in what looked like a children's play area.  A bit of innocent fun, though, and I have the pictures to prove it!

By the way, the final picture is my one and only "selfie" from the trip...

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Iceland 27: The Golden Circle (part two)

We left the park and followed the signposts to Geysir - the eponymous location which has given its name to all areas which spout boiling water into the air.  On the way we stopped at a service station, but decided not to sample the "traditional" Icelandic fare on offer.

The rain came and went, but by the time we arrived at Geysir it was dry again.  The car park was absolutely full, as this is one of the main tourist attractions in the area.  For the first time since we arrived in Iceland it was also clear that there were plenty of English voices to be heard.  The boiling pools and spouting geyser were absolutely stunning, although there were lots of people milling around them the entire time.

Lots of people (including us) spent several minutes waiting around with increasingly aching arms (from holding cameras) while waiting for Geysir to spout.  It was fairly chaotic in both its timing and its magnitude, but that made it more interesting.  There wasn't very much in the way of "health & safety" either, as it was possible to stand very close to the huge spout of boiling water - so close, in fact, that those downwind got drenched.

I took a series of pictures during one of the eruptions, and made a video slideshow which demonstrates what it looks like approximately in real time.  YouTube doesn't appear to have support for "portrait" videos, unfortunately, so the thumbnail it shows is rubbish.  Hopefully the video sequence itself is worth seeing, however.

The picture below demonstrates the almost complete lack of Health & Safety on the site.  Good for the Icelanders, that's what I say, as an equivalent attraction in the UK would be completely roped off.  In addition we'd be charged an arm and a leg to visit it; natural features, in Iceland, are always free.

There were other pools as well with more vivid colours, but the overriding memory will be of the excitement generated by attempting to anticipate the "main event".

Away from the boiling water there was plenty of plant life too, which made a change from the hundreds of irritating tourists with their banal conversations.  Bah, humbug...

It was clear that, having visited Thingvellir and Geysir, we needed to "collect the set" and go to Gullfoss.  Brace yourselves for the next thrilling episode.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Iceland 26: The Golden Circle (part 1)

We slept late this morning, but as soon as we opened the curtains it was clear that the weather forecast had been correct.  It was raining heavily, and there were very low clouds over the town and up into the hills.

We picked up coats and cameras from the room, and then embarked on "The Golden Triangle" - our homage to the Golden Circle from the Icelandic guidebooks.  We needed to decide which place to visit first - Thingvellir, Geysir or Gullfoss - but since the weather was so shitty we decided to tackle the longer and slower part of the journey in the morning.

Next stop was an Information Centre in the Thingvellir National Park, which had an all-important loo and a bookshop.  It was still raining, unfortunately, and we'd rather hoped there would be an exhibition about the Park which we could spend some time reading.  As there wasn't, we assumed it couldn't possibly the principal Information Centre.  Well, it soon became clear that it was the principal Information Centre, and we eventually found a signpost to the main attraction.

The car park was heaving, which was a foretaste of things to come for the rest of the day, unfortunately.  The rain had almost stopped, though, so we donned our waterproofs and started to walk towards the "great crack" where an earthquake had split open the basalt which formed the main rift.  The whole area is a rift valley, caused by the separation of the North American and Asiatic plates, and Thingvallavatn (the lake) was created as part of the rift when the outlet was blocked.  As well as the rift, there were lots of examples of fairly recent volcanic and tectonic activity in the area.

We walked along the crack, which formed a natural amphitheatre that was was used by the Icelanders for their annual "Althing" (a kind of parliament).  There was a stone on which anyone was allowed to stand and speak during the annual meeting, which sounds remarkably like the system used by the Ancient Greeks.  It wasn't all civilisation, though, as there was a rather macabre plaque about how women were drowned in a pool there as a punishment for assorted misdemeanors.  Time to look at some of the abundant flora instead.

We then carried on walking through the flat area below the rift, heading out towards the church.  Again, lots of tourists milling around, and plenty of idiots who were ignoring the "don't throw coins into the water" instructions.  Stupid people.

Look out for part two of our exciting trip around the Golden Circle: Geysir.