Saturday, 3 December 2016
Today, got up early for my Golden Circle tour (via a 4-wheel drive vehicle) due to start in Reykjavik at 8:30 a.m. Was at bus stop at 7:00 a.m. for the 7:08 bus – then transferred to another bus to get me into Reykjavik. Met up with the driver at Hallgrimskirkja and then picked up two more passengers and headed for today’s tour.
The tour was to be:
“We travel in the comfort of our modified 4×4 trucks. The first destination is the stunning Thingvellir National Park, where Iceland’s first parliament, Althingi, was founded in the year 930 AD. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2004. We cross the mountain pass of Lyngdalsheiði to reach Lake Laugarvatn which is surrounded by geothermal activity. From there we carry on and admire Iceland’s most famous waterfall, Gullfoss Falls. We go seriously off-road on the mountain tracks to the imposing Glacier Langjökull. Driving on the glacier itself will depend on ice conditions. After that we discover the famous Geysir hot spring. You will see the geyser Strokkur erupt regularly every 4-8 minutes.”
Because it was still dark, the tour order was re-arranged, so left Althingi for later in the tour and think we couldn’t see the lake as scheduled because of the fog and darkness.
On the way out of the city, we saw some greenhouses (that we thought at first was the sun coming up in the horizon). They apparently grow various things (not cannabis) for consumption. Think we saw several along the way.
One of the first stops was Faxi waterfall. One of the passengers took my picture. Was still kind of dark outside when this picture was taken. Got a little, but not much, lighter during the day – given the time of year and the heavy cloud cover.
We stopped off and saw the Geysir hot springs and the geyser Stokkur which was interesting and brought back memories of Yellowstone Park. (I didn’t take any pictures.)
Next was Gulllfoss Waterfall and the Hvita River. Very dramatic! Took a number of pictures here from both the lower and upper level observation decks.
At this stop we had lunch and got to know the two guys (Martin and Will) from London. We had a number of common interests, like travel, and had a great time sharing stories before heading off to our next stop. On the way, we were to pick up two additional passengers who were left behind in Reykjavik. To add them to our tour, we needed to move to a larger SUV.
Our next stop was a trip to the glacier where the group (excluding me) had planned to ride the glacier on snowmobiles. I opted to stay with the driver and take a side trip up through the largest dessert region of Iceland, and perhaps Europe. I should have taken pictures, but was more interested in the conversation that I had with the tour driver who told me so much about Iceland and its people. To picture this region, it was fairly rugged with large boulders scattered around and the sight of it went on for miles. We stopped at a frozen creek, rather than try to cross, and decided to head back to pick up those who went on snowmobiles.
And then the rain started. By the time the other passengers got back to the base camp, they were drenched. Regardless of the rain, they seemed to have a great time on the snowmobiles. The new passengers were from the U.S. so we had to talk a little about the election – also, global warming was another topic brought up along the way.
We were not able to see everything planned on this tour, but think everyone had a great time nonetheless.
On the way back to Reykjavik (which we found out means “smokey bay”), it was fairly treacherous navigating through the dark, fog and rain. It took nearly two hours to get back to the city. I was dropped off at the bus terminal and left to figure out how to get back to Kelflavik. A person at the bus terminal directed me to the stop outside the terminal and I waited for the #1 bus to get me to the location where I was to meet the #55 that would return me to Kelflavik.
Fortunately, the wait for the #1 in Reykjavik was less than 10 minutes. At Fjörður, the wait was 30 minutes. While waiting at Fjörður, a man asked about the bus to the Kelflavik airport. He was asking on behalf of a traveler from Hong Kong. We agreed that the #55 bus that I was waiting for would get her to the airport. While waiting, we talked about Hong Kong, New York, banking, traveling to Iceland and the Northern Lights – which was one of the primary reasons she traveled to Iceland. As it turned out, the people sitting in front of us (who overheard us talking) said they were from Hong Kong too. When we got to Kelflavik, she had to get off the #55 bus to take a shuttle to the airport (not on the bus schedule). In any case, think all of us got to where we were headed.
Much thanks to Orri, our guide today. He was wonderfully patient with us today and made this tour great!
Was a long day and got inside the flat at around 8:30. Had some toast that was left by the Airbnb hosts and watched the last part of the movie, “Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus (2004)”. Time for bed.
Sunday, 4 December:
My tour driver, Guðný (aunt of my host) was to arrive at 11:30 a.m. this morning. So, after a couple of cups of coffee, a shower, and a light breakfast I was ready for another day of touring Iceland.
Our tour focused on the southwest (Reykjanes) peninsula of Iceland, surrounding the airport in Kelflavik. Our first stop were to see the lighthouses in Garður (Garden – at the upper tip of the peninsula).
Originally, the lighthouse near Garður was a cairn with a iron pole which was erected in 1847. Today there are two lighthouses. The older was built in 1894 was once regarded as the best lighthouse in Iceland because it stood low and therefore low-lying mist was not a problem, but the high surf during heavy storms made the lighthouse invisible. A new lighthouse was built in 1944 and is 28 meters high – the highest in Iceland.
The pictures below show the older lighthouse (with a small cafe at the base), the lighthouse of 1944, and a nearby statue of a fisherman’s wife looking off to the horizon to see if her husband’s boat could be seen. Guðný said her father was a fisherman until her grandmother asked, after the birth of their 3rd child, that he find a job on land, which he did at the nearby NATO base.
Next stop was the church at Hvalsnes. Hallgrímur Pétursson was a priest there and regarded as Iceland’s greatest religious poet – best known for his Hymns of Passion. The Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavík and the Hallgrímskirkja in Saurbæ are named after him.
At the nearby cemetery, got a closer look at the crosses that are found at graves in Iceland cemeteries during December, the same idea as putting flowers at a grave during Memorial Day. Not sure when this tradition started, but I was interested in this custom. From what I understand from my tour guide yesterday and today (who were not sure when this tradition started), almost all graves seems to have a lighted cross that is kept on day and night (due to the cheap power rates in Iceland). At this cemetery, there were several junction boxes that supply the power to each of the crosses. Maybe I’ll get a nighttime picture of a cross-lite cemetery.
Finally, as we got to our next stop, the sun broke through the clouds. A picture of the sunbreak and stark landscape is below.
We had arrived at the Bridge Between Continents. (See description below.) This is where the tectonic plates of Europe and North America meet.
According to the continental drift theory the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are continuously drifting apart with great forces under the gaping rifts. As the plates diverge, linear fractures, known as fissures form due to stresses created by the tension that builds up as the plates move away from each other. The Bridge between two continents at Sandvík is a small footbridge over a major fissure which provides clear evidence of the presence of a diverging plate margin. The bridge was built as a symbol for the connection between Europe and North America.”
The pictures below show the gap looking each direction from the bridge and a sign in the middle of the bridge. I forgot to get a picture of the bridge, so I added a picture that I googled. (The bridge, built in 2002, is 18 meters long and stretches across the canyon at a height of 6 meters.
The landscape in this area is very stark and barren. Guðný said the Apollo 11 astronauts used parts of Iceland, and around this area, as training for their moon landing.
As we got to the Seltun geothermal area, we saw the power and heating plants which are the biggest in Iceland.
When we got to Seltun, you could smell the sulfur. We walked up to the an opening where you could hear the steam coming up from one of the vents. After an earthquake in 2010, the steam from this vent increased dramatically. We agreed that the landscape looked like we were on a different world.
Our final stop before lunch were the cliffs near Eldey Island. Guðný said there have been commercials filmed here. Very dramatic views of the where the lava met the ocean. In the pictures below, the lava field has cracked as it meets the waves (where Guðný played as a child).
A video below shows the action and also the sound of the waves and wind.
At this location, there is a tribute to the extinction of the Great Auk. From Wiki: “On 3 July 1844, the last two confirmed specimens were killed on Eldey, off the coast of Iceland, which also eliminated the last known breeding attempt.” There is a nearby statue that honors this great bird that is no longer with us.
On the way back to the main road, we passed a lighthouse and the house of the lighthouse keeper below. Guðný’s grandfather was the lighthouse keeper for many years at this lighthouse and lived with his family in the house pictured.
At the place we had lunch, took a picture of a statue on the porch of the restaurant
After lunch we drove out to a grove of trees that are part of a reforestation effort on Iceland. Wonderful to see a large stand of trees in this part of Iceland.
Very interesting and informative tour today. Much thanks to my guide, Guðný!