As a native of the more southern environments, light is a significant cue for me in determining the time of day. In Iceland, light becomes irrelevant in this quest. Instead it is more important to note things like the behavior of the animals or the height of the tide. On this our eighth day in Iceland, the animals provided me with my wake up call. Inside the guest house at Lambastadir, I was awoken to the bleating of sheep directly outside our window. We had left the window slightly open the night before and several sheep decided that the grass outside our window was a perfect place to start their grazing for the morning!
It is an unusual way to wake in the morning for those of us who spend our lives in the midst of American suburbia. Yet it is the way that most of the world still wakes and people throughout history have awoken. For this simple little experience I will be forever grateful as it felt like I come to know Iceland in a very in-depth and close way.
Staying in bed for a while, I lay there for a considerable time listening to the sheep and other animals – primarily a rooster who was making clear he was king of the roost. Slowly the sounds of the human part of the world began to creep into the picture. The sounds of cars passing on the road in the distance became more frequent and then the noise of other guests at Lambastadir started to fill the air. At that point I decided it was time to rise and get about the day.
Given the small size of the guesthouse, the morning “hotel breakfast” was an intimate affair with only 6 other people in attendance. The “mom” and “pop” that ran the guest house did a good job providing a relatively complete breakfast. We had home made waffles and fruit to get use started for the day. Our schedule and plan for the day were relatively incomplete so I didn’t know when or where we would be stopping for our next meal.
After packing up and getting everything in the car, Zack and I took a walking tour of the farm. We saw lots and lots of sheep, plenty of chickens, several ducks, a flock of geese, a bunch of horses and the one very big rabbit. As has been the norm in Iceland we did not see any cows. Throughout our entire trip so far we have only seen a small number of farms that have had cows. I don’t believe that the land in many places will support the raising of cows and hence the infrequent number of farms of cows.
After spending about 20 minutes wandering around the farm we were off in the car to points as of then unknown. Our next hotel was back in Reykjavik and that was only 1 hour away, so we had plenty of time to explore the countryside before we headed to Reykjavik.
(The noisy rooster at Lambastadir)
Looking at where we were in relationship to other major points of interest we decided to visit the two attractions on the Icelandic “Golden Circle” that we had not yet seen. The Icelandic “Golden Circle” are three of Iceland’s top attractions as they are all within a short distance of Reykjavik and are considered significant attractions. These three attractions are Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. The first – Thingvellir we had visited on our very first day in Iceland. This is a national park in which Iceland’s chieftains used to meet to decided Icelandic law. Additionally, the unique geology of the area is caused by the juncture point between the two continental plates – the North American tectonic plate and the EurAsian tectonic plate. The second attraction - Geysir was one of the first geysers discovered in the world. All other geysers take their name from this particular geyser. Unfortunately for this the original geyser it is now an inactive hot spring. This geyser’s inactivity is believed to have been caused by a series of volcanic eruptions that took place years ago. The last major attraction of the three – Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s beautiful waterfalls. This waterfall is not as dramatic as Dettifoss that we saw when we were in Husavik, but it is nonetheless a very impressive waterfall.
On our way to Geysir we stumbled across Skálholt – an area of great historical importance to Iceland. This place was where the first bishopric was established in Iceland almost a millennium ago in 1056 AD. Today a fabulous cathedral stands on the spot next to the excavated ruins of a much older religious community that once flourished there. Though Iceland is a small country and we as American’s don’t know a lot about Icelandic history, there is an extensive amount of historical background to this country. One really interesting aspect of Iceland’s history is how and when the country converted from paganism to Christianity and then from the Roman Catholic faith to the Lutheran faith. I personally don’t know much about it myself, but my interest has been piqued and I hope to do some significant reading on the subject of Icelandic history.
(The Cathedral at Skálholt.)
We only spent about 20 minutes at Skálholt and then we were back in the car on our way to Geyser. Long before we arrived at Geysir we could tell we were getting close as we could see the signs of the geothermal activity from far away. There were clouds of steam rising above the earth to highlight the presence of geysers and hot springs. As we got closer it became apparent this was a major tourist destination as there were loads and loads of excursion buses in the parking lot. Having pretty much circumnavigated the entire island of Iceland at this point, we had seen a lot of Icelandic attractions and this was by far the most crowded and busiest place we had seen.
(The geyser Strokker erupting near the site of Geyser.)
Find a parking spot was actually hard! We had never before experienced this kind of crowding during our journey. Once we parked we walked across the road to the area of geothermal activity. There were about 7 different places of significant steam that we could see. We walked around them all admiring this special unique beauty that occurs so rarely in the world. The namesake of all geysers, Geysir was its normal quiet self. To the disappointment of just about everyone Geysir has been in this dominate state since the early 1900’s. Occasionally earthquakes in the area will revive activity in Geysir for a period of time. The last time that Geysir erupted was in 2003. There is still one geyser – Strokker, at this site that is eruptive, but from what we could read it pales in comparison to the original Geyser. (Based upon what we read on the signage at the site, Geyser was the 3rd tallest geyser when it erupted. This was only behind Steamboat and Old Faithful at Yellowstone. In several circumstances other geysers have erupted to greater heights but they have been unusual eruptions.)
We grabbed some lunch in the café located there and also did some souvenir shopping. Up to this point with the exception of the small souvenirs we purchased in Djupivogur, we had really done no shopping. I figured we needed to do some for the folks back home!
Leaving Geyser we continued on the same road towards Gullfoss. The distance between Geyser and Gullfoss was relatively minor – only about 10 kilometers I believe and we were there before you knew it. Like Geyser Golfoss was teeming with buses and glacier jeeps.
The falls at Gullfoss were very impressive. The consisted of two different falls, the first being a set of smaller falls and then the second being a higher, more dramatic fall. There were numerous vantage points by which you could see the falls. The one further away from the parking lot was right at the edge of the upper falls. To get there you needed to walk through the water vapor that is continually churned into the air by the lower, steeper falls. Walking through this vapor cloud was like walking through an intense rain shower and we were mostly soaked by the time we completed our journey through it.
(Zack at Gullfoss. The volume of mist kicked up by these falls was immense!)
The name Gullfoss basically means golden falls in Icelandic. From what we read about these falls the name derives from one of two sources. The first source is that at times in the year the light of the sunset turns the falls and their spray a golden color. That is a perfectly reasonable but oh so boring explanation. Given this is Iceland there is a myth about how the name came to be. The myth states that there was a rich farmer (similar to the story about the gold under the church on Papey Island) who so loved his gold that the thought some one else would have it when he died bothered him greatly. As he aged he thought long and hard about what to do since he wasn’t getting any younger. When he reached a point where he thought his day of passing wouldn’t be too far in the future, he took all his gold and put it in a box. Not wanting anyone find it after he was dead, he took the box and threw it over the falls. Since that day, the falls have been known as the Golden Falls or Gullfoss.
I suppose the adventurous road for us could have ended at Gullfoss as it made sense to turn around and start the 100 kilometer journey back to Reykjavik. However we weren’t quite finished with adventure. Instead of turning around, we continued heading in the same direction on the road as far off in the distance we could see an ice cap clinging to the mountains to the east. Driving to the east and north it became apparent that we were off the “Golden Circle” as traffic diminished to nothing. Within 5 kilometers of leaving Gullfoss, the road once again became dirt and we began to climb high into the hills. We kept going for miles just soaking up the Icelandic landscape. At one point I stopped and attached my GoPro camera to the car mount I have and mounted it to the hood of the car. We managed to record a bit of the journey but somehow the camera’s battery had become uncharged and we only got a little footage before the battery died. Oh well – I haven’t looked at it yet but I am sure it is fabulous footage.
Our stopping point for this journey into the Icelandic wild was a beautiful glacial lake. We stopped here for several minutes and took some pictures but we were soon forced upon our way by the swarms of flies that were attacking us. Swarming flies have been a part of our journey since day one, but this was the worst swarm we had experienced on the entire trip.
(Glacial lake at the end of our drive. In the distance you can see the ice cap/glacier.)
Turning around we programmed the GPS for our hotel in Reykjavik and began the final long drive of our trip.
We arrived in Reykjavik around 5:30PM on Tuesday evening. Wednesday morning was going to come awfully early for us as we needed to be awake by 7:30AM to catch our bus to the horse riding center. Therefore we didn’t plan anything too radical for the evening. Driving around the city for a while we found a British Antarctica Research Survey Ship – The James Ross Clark was in port. It was an impressive, amazingly huge ship. By the looks of her she was definitely equipped to be ride out very heavy seas. We tried to get as close to her as possible but we were stopped due to the fact that she was in a restricted area under guard by Icelandic Coast Guard personnel.
Dinner that evening was an adventure as I was determined that we would eat as much Icelandic food while we were still there. To accomplish this we found a small little eatery on the main street of Reykjavik that offered traditional Icelandic fare. Being as inquisitive as I am about things I was very tempted to try the minke whale that was on the menu. However as I thought about it, I just could not bring myself to eat a part of one of these intelligent animals. Instead I went for the fish stew. Ordering the stew I firmly expected to receive a bowl with a soup-like dish. Instead when my meal was served I was presented with a plate of something that looked like mashed potatoes. Telling the waiter, “Oh no that can’t be mine I ordered the fish stew”, he looked at me like I was a dumb-assed tourist (which I was) and said “No sir, that IS the fish stew”. Talk about feeling stupid! Once I got over the appearance of the fish stew I dug in and found a very tasty dish. Essentially the fish stew is all kinds of fish cooked and boiled together with potatoes. As the water boils out of the ingredients the stew becomes like this mashed fished mess. It was great and I was very sorry they hadn’t offered this kind of fish stew in other restaurants in which we had eaten!
By the time we were done eating and shopping for a few more souvenirs it was past 9:30PM and we headed back to the hotel. As has been the case for all of our time in Iceland, if I hadn’t looked at my cell phone I would have never known it was that late in the day.
I am down to only 2 more days about which to write. These posts will most likely be written on Friday or Saturday. After that there is a lot that I want to write about concerning general impressions of Iceland and the journey that we have embarked upon when we started this vacation.
Hopefully these blog posts have been interesting and you all have found them enjoyable to read. Perhaps some of this writing and the pictures posted on the blog are inspiring some of you to consider a trip to Iceland.
For my friends on Facebook, I will be adding many more pictures to my photo albums once I go through the many hundreds of photos that we took and clean them up. I’d rather only post good stuff as opposed to crud.
Thanks so much for sharing this journey with us!
Thanks and peace to all! ~J.