Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Golden Circle

The so-called Golden Circle is route near Reykjavik that has three big sights to see. It is a very common day trip/bus tour. On Monday, everyone was still in town and several had rented cars. We decided to caravan on the Golden Circle.
We had 24 people in 6 cars and all of the cars were silver. Not only our half dozen cars, but seemingly ALL the cars on the road were silver. We had a little trouble staying together since we couldn't tell which silver cars were ours and which weren't!
So here are four or five cars' worth all out at the rest stop/vista point.
We were headed here for Þingvellir which is where the Icelandic parliament met from 930 AD onwards. It means Thing Valley. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps symbolically, it is also where the North American and European tectonic plates are breaking apart at a speed of about 1.5cm per year. Unless there's an earthquake. 
Þingvellir  looking back toward the mountains
and again, looking out toward the lake at its wider end.
Rob and I jogged up a trail to see this waterfall which was a great beginning.
We could see with such abundant and pristine water why this would make for a good place to hold a legislative campout for all the chieftains.
The flag marks the place where the head of the Parliament or Alþingi would read the law and open the session. I have to think that living in tents would help to level the playing field and give more equal representation. Perhaps I am deluded, and people just showed off by bringing more of their fine Icelandic horses and high tech medieval camping supplies.
A parliamentary goose. We wandered about for nearly an hour, visiting different pools and the remains of the booths where chieftains pitched their tents. The Icelanders met this way for parliament until 1789, when presumably it became more comfortable to meet inside at a more permanent location.
This is called the Wishing Pool and you might be able to see -- it's filled with money of all denominations to fulfill wishes.
This is the other end of the wishing pool. This also happens to be one of the top cold water dives in the world for scuba divers. As a claustrophobic California native who grew up essentially straddling the Hayward Fault line, just thinking about it gives me the heebee freaking jeebies. Gorgeous, though!
From  Þingvellir National Park we drove up to Geysir, which was like a little piece of Yellowstone in the middle of Icelandic farmland. I mean, all of Iceland is actually like Yellowstone, but it was showing its caldera here more than elsewhere. Geysir is actually the geyser after which all others geysers are named. Unfortunately, tourists for decades would throw rocks and objects into the original Geysir to get it to erupt. Eventually it got stopped up and wouldn't erupt at all. Our Icelandic host remembers seeing it go off as a child, when they were throwing in chemicals to make it blow. Fortunately there was an earthquake that shifted things around and it does erupt now occasionally. But more fortunately for us, right next to the original Geysir, is one called Stokkur which goes off every 8-10 minutes. Happy day for Icelandic tourism!
I was expecting it to be just like Old Faithful: blow straight up in the air for 90-120 seconds and be sure not to stand down wind. Instead, Stokkur had a very different personality -- water bubbled up and swirled and got sucked back in. And when it went off, it started like this, with a big bloat.
And then drained back in. I was captivated. I think I watched it go off at least four times, and the first time I was adjusting my camera and screamed when this watery beast rose out of the ground in front of me. What did I think was going to happen?!
See? Looks a lot like parts of Yellowstone.

It really only takes 2-3 seconds
Rob and the geyser. From Geysir we drove just up the road to Gullfoss. Gullfoss means "Golden Falls" and I only knew it was a waterfall. Frankly I'd gotten completely confused about which waterfall was which. 
Gullfoss is sometimes called the Niagara Falls of Iceland, though it isn't the largest waterfall. I was just floored by the size. I was expecting something on the order of Bridal Veil, I guess.
This is the second drop in the falls; about 20 meters.
And the upper drop.
This being Iceland, they let us walk all the way out into the middle of the thing with nothing more than a little rope about 12 inches high to keep us from plunging over the edge. Joss saw this picture and said "You shouldn't sit there. You'll fall in the water." Indeed!
There were actually plans to dam this up for hydroelectric power. 
There. You can kind of see one reason it's called Golden Falls.
And the weather was gorgeous, so we got to see lots of rainbows from the spray. From Gullfoss, we were driving back toward Reykjavik, but we made two more stops. The first was at Skalholt, site of the most important Icelandic church and the biggest settlement/town until there was an earthquake that flattened most of the buildings and they moved elsewhere.
Check out that list of Icelandic bishops dating all the way back to the 11th century! The church went from Catholic to Lutheran in 1550 when Denmark battled the Catholic bishop and won.

This is a reproduction, and it isn't even as big as some of the earlier iterations. As with almost all Icelandic buildings, they were built out of wood and many of them were destroyed by fire.
A reproduction of a typical house of the settlement. If you click on it you might be able to see the the sod that is used as insulation.

This was a secret tunnel out of the church, and as with most other things, they used sod to build it -- you can see it up at the top in kind of a herringbone pattern there.
Last of all we stopped at this pond created by a volcano. I was more impressed by all the things to see than I had expected. I would definitely go on the Golden Circle again! Now my children and my husband are all yelling at me to do chores. I've got some windows to wash and then I'll get back to posting more!

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