The Golden Circle
Reykjavik Travel Blog› entry 4 of 9 › view all entries
January 3rd, 2010 – by: sarahelaine
The first stop, because it was so dark, was a geothermal power plant. Geothermal power plants are fascinating. i never thought I would be that interested in a power plant, but actualy, what could be more interesting than sinking a bore hole into a volcano and using it to power most of your country, provide hot water, fuel greenhouses, and then pump water back so that it is renewable? They only lose less than 2 degrees heath between the plant and Reykjavik, making it far more efficent than transmitting electricity then heating water in each home, and apparently there are whole tracts of the poorest parts of the world where you could use the same power source.
Afterthat, the dawn started to break. We drove along the coast and the guide pointed out Heckla, the great volcano, and Surtsey, one of the newest islands in the world having erupted a few decades ago. The next stop was the Skalholt cathedral. There has been a cathedral on this site since Iceland was Christian, but the present one was built in the 1950s. The art inside is very beautiful; the windows are wonderful (I am slightly obsessed with twentieth century stained glass windows, adn I don't care if that's a strange thing to be obsessed with!) and the alterpiece is stunning.
We drove past the geyser area to go to GUllfoss. Gullfoss is a major waterfall in Iceland, with several falls and rapids. It was almost turned into a hydroelectric plant and I am so glad it wasn't. It was too icy to walk as close as you are normally allowed, but you can still walk above the falls up the stairs. The falls were spectacular and the strange cairns in the area were cool. As was the air; by now I was reasonably convinced I was going to get frostbite.
Traditional meat soup is a sort of thin stew, and very very nice. The cafe had a large interesting shop to thaw out in, before we headed back to the icy falls. Frost from teh falls had frozen in hexagonal crystals on the snow in the grass, and the whole place was lovely. By now, it was 1pm, and the sun was just edging over the mountain. Soon, it would set again. The light in Iceland this time of year is like two hours of sunrise, an hour of day, and two hours of sunset, and it is extremely beautiful in its own right.
Next stop was the geyser area, and Geysir adn Strokkur themselves. The guide warned us that the water really did boil, and let us out to explore.
Geysers are really, really cool. Well, tehy are boiling, but you know what I mean. A boiling pool gradually fills with water, which then starts to bubble and lap at the sides. Then a dome of water rises in the pool and suddenly there is a jet of water, metres and metres into the air. In winter, this instantly condenses to a cloud of water vapour, and a couple of times the water vapour turned into a tiny, short lived rain shower. I have never seen anything quite like it. What is happening is that superheated ground water, at higher than boiling point, is held down by cooler water from the surface. Eventually the pressure that the boiling water is under isn't enough to hold it back any more and it erupts. Geysir itself is almost dormant now, but Strokkur blows up about once every 4-8 minutes and sometimes goes twice.
WE took shelter in teh shop, and I gave in and bought some fleece lined icelandic mittens. I would have loved to buy a jumper as well, but it was the equivalent of about £70 and I just couldn't afford that much. The mittens were £12 and I was so relieved to have blood back into my fingers it still seems like the best investment.
Next stop was a return to Thinvellir, which we had been to in the moonlight. We drove along beside the clearest lakes, shining in te now setting sun. Thingvellirvatr itself is apparently so clear that people get vertigo diving; it looks like you're falling out of the boat into the air.
Across teh chasm is the site of the Allthingi, the ancient parliament. The guide told us fascinating things about the traditional laws and the fair that accompanied it, and about how the holiday homes at the other side of the valley belonged to the president and the prime minister, but were traditionally mostly empty because traditionally the two people can't stand each other and the last thing they want to do is spend their holidays as next door neighbours.
As we drove back, a cloud rolled in and we knew we wouldn't see the Northern Lights this trip. Instead, we went to have dinner. By the time we had thawed out and got ready, a lot of places were closing; this was a shame because there were a few fish places we wanted to try. Next time! Instead, we went to Tabascos in the town centre and had a very nice meal.
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