Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Letters from Iceland: Day 4

Yesterday, we embarked on the Golden Circle tour run by Reykjavik Excursions. At 9800kr, it's not too expensive (about $75), especially when you consider that it is a full-day tour. They picked us up at our hotel at around 8:10am, and dropped us back off in downtown Reykjavik around 4:45pm. Between then, we saw some really amazing sights, and while I generally really don't enjoy tours (and did, on several occasions think, gee, this would be really great if there weren't 30 other people behind me), I do think it was worth it for this particular trip, because there's no other way to get to these places except renting a car, and our tourguide gave us an awful lot of information and history that we couldn't have gotten any other way.

Our first stop was Þingvellir, a national park and the spot of the first Icelandic Parliament in 930 CE. There isn't much in the way of the Parliament left to see, but our guide explained some of the first laws and to get to the site you walk between two cliff-edges, which were created by the separating of the American continental plate from the European plate. It was fairly dark (we arrived there around 9:30am), but started to brighten as we walked, which was lovely. It's dark a lot here, but not always pitch-black, and I enjoy seeing the light at different points. Dark mornings are really beautiful shades of blue, and the black rock is lovely against it.

We stopped a bit later at Skálholt to see the church there. Apparently the mural at the alter and the stained glass windows are the two most valuable pieces of art in Iceland, and they are very pretty. I like simple wood churches, and so this was right up my alley. Our tourguide gave us a not-so-brief history of religion in Iceland, and we saw the sod-and-stone passage that leads out of the church, as well as a really old coffin, in the basement.

While we were on the road, it started snowing, which was actually nice, since everyone kept telling us how cold and snowy it was going to be, and we hadn't seen any snow at all. We had to cut our visit at the Gullfoss short by a half hour, so we only had an hour to see the amazing waterfall and eat what is apparently the "best" meat-soup in Iceland. Still, it was icing out and so a little slippery to get to the waterfall and not exactly conducive to photography or thinking, so I didn't mind getting the full amount of time. The waterfall is enormous, and slightly more scenic than Niagara Falls, although not nearly as distinctive. The meat-soup was delicious, and although it had extremely good and tender lamb, I couldn't help but think it tasted like my grandmother's beef-barley soup, and that made me love it even more.
We loaded back onto the bus, soaked, and headed to Geysir to see the original Geysir (where the word for Old Faithful and all of those comes from), and it's more active brother, Strokkur. We saw Strokkur go off twice. I may need to stop here because of all the double-entendres I am seeing in this paragraph (and in the future of this paragraph if I don't stop). It was nice to see, especially because it was a little warmer and only raining, and I did keep thinking, imagine stumbling upon this in the wild. I am thinking a lot on this trip of what it was like for the first people to come here, or to any part of the New World. There's a poem in that somewhere...

Our tour-guide gave us a special surprise, and brought us to his favorite waterfall, the Fox Falls. It was nice to get the extra experience, and the falls had a salmon-letter, which I had never seen before. It's essentially a staircase for salmon so that they can swim up and down a waterfall without any problems. I am really, really into the idea, and see another poem in this. Of course, it was still raining and no one really wanted to be out in the cold for much time, so we all hung out for about ten minutes before getting on the bus again.
The sun came out again while we were driving, and we stopped at the largest and newest geothermal energy plant in Iceland (and second largest in the world) at Hellisheiði. Iceland uses mostly geothermal energy, which is a good thing, I think. I have to research more into it, because you can't get all your information from a power-plant itself and expect it to be accurate, but they made it seem pretty safe and environmentally friendly. We returned to Reykjavik and spent the evening relaxing, enjoying pizza from a nearby place in the room before getting some coffee at Kofi Tómasar Frænda, the artsy-coffee-place-heaven I never managed to find in Brooklyn. I love it.
And, once again, I've written too much. I'll update tomorrow night when I'm back home about today's adventures and my overall experience in Iceland.

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