Iceland, Westbound.

Akureyri.

We arrived this morning in Akureyri, which is the largest city in the north of Iceland. It seemed to be a busy port, but we didn’t stay in the city at all. The itinerary for our excursion today was super – a raging waterfall, pseudo-craters, a lava labyrinth, and a geothermal hotspot. These are the natural wonders which Iceland is famous for. Basically, we toured in the region around Lake Myvatn. As we had been warned, flies did accompany us at every stop, but they weren’t terrible, like the ones we had encountered in the Outback of Australia.

We drove about 45 minutes to our first stop, which was Godafoss, the waterfall of the heathen gods. As we approached in the coach, we could see the mist rising before the waterfall came into view. The wide view of the area was of green hills, mountains in the distance, and low clouds clinging to the mountains. To get closer to the waterfall, we walked along well-managed pathways which allowed for different views of the falls and the river downstream. Being glacial melt, the water was cloudy/milky and seemed pretty deep where we were. The course of the river was through lava fields, so the sharp lava rocks were everywhere, and as usual, they were home to many different kinds of small plants. The tourist facilities at this stop were what we have come to expect: souvenir shopping, snacks, a café, and local handicrafts. Back on the bus, we drove to the Lake Myvatn area and spent the rest of our tour near there.

Our next stop was at the Skutustadir Craters, which are “pseudo-craters” formed because of some geological phenomenon which I cannot explain. We left the bus and spent 20-30 minutes walking among these craters, trying to understand how nature works. From the top of the crater space, we had a wide view of the surrounding highlands and of Lake Myvatn itself, which seems to be a favorite habitat of both ducks and swans, and probably lots of other types of birds as well. Grass and small plants covered most surfaces, but black soil (volcanic ash?) seemed to underlie the whole area.

After another short drive, we came upon the Dimmubogir lava labyrinth, a collection of lava formations and natural arches which we explored via pathways at their base. Locals view this phenomenon as the home of some of their mythical characters and come here with their children in the winter to reinforce their traditional ways of marking the Christmas season. This was my favorite stop of the day, and I would have loved to spend more time just wandering among the formations and enjoying their rugged beauty.

Our final stop was a geothermal hotspot with steam vents, boiling mudpots, and lots of sulfur smell. The mountainside behind the vents was completely bare of plants, as was the flat area surrounding the vents. The combination of the moisture in the air, the recent rain, and the dirt surfaces of the paths produced a prodigious amount of mud for the bottom of everyone’s shoes. When we all returned to the bus, we made a mess of its floor. This geothermal area, as well as everything else we visited today, was overrun with visitors, I suppose because it was Sunday. Maybe also because the weather wasn’t terrible.

After completing our drive around Lake Myvatn, we returned to Akureyri through more spectacular scenery. The predominant images here are green fields, some in cultivation and many not, distant mountains, some with patches of snow in the higher elevations, and lava fields which are more or less covered with vegetation. This is a starkly beautiful country.

Isafjordur.

Since Isafjordur is a small town, we decided to skip an excursion today and to see the sights on our own. We were not disappointed. Early in the afternoon, we left the ship and started walking towards the town. We walked along Mjosund, turned right onto Adalstraeti, and followed it to Solgata, where we turned around and started our return to the ship. Outward bound, we stopped at a bookstore, a gift shop, a knitting/fabric store, and a hardware store. On the way back, we found a grocery store (for chocolate, water, Icelandic yogurt) and a clothing store. Isafjordur seemed to have all of the services that one would require (a central plaza, banks, ATM, tourist information, gas station, fish processing plant, fishing boats, etc.). The sidewalks were all made of paving stones, rather than concrete, I assume because of the winter weather. This is a cute town, and the people were friendly enough, but we’re happy not to be living here, despite the incredible scenery which we can see in every direction: huge mountains with both green plants and snow-covered patches and calm water in the fjord. Being in such a remote location is almost surreal, especially when you think about where it is on a map of the world.

 

View of Akureyri from the Ship

View of Akureyri from the Ship

Typical Northern Icelandic Landscape

Typical Northern Icelandic Landscape

Godafoss Waterfall

Godafoss Waterfall

Pseudo-Craters and Lake Myvatn

Pseudo-Craters and Lake Myvatn

Dimmubogir Lava Labyrinth in Northern Iceland

Dimmubogir Lava Labyrinth in Northern Iceland

Geothermal Hotspot in Northern Iceland

Geothermal Hotspot in Northern Iceland

Geothermal Hotspot

Geothermal Hotspot

Rotterdam Docked in Isafjordur

Rotterdam Docked in Isafjordur

 

Iceland, Eastbound.

We had an overnight stop in Reykjavik and therefore got to have two full days of sightseeing in this amazing country. The first day, we took the Golden Circle tour, which includes the major tourist sites in Iceland. We could hardly believe our luck with the weather – another perfect day! Throughout our drive today, we were usually on gently rolling hills of farmland with mountains in the distance. Hay had already been harvested and was collected in round bales encased in white, green, pink, or black plastic. I didn’t see many other crops growing. We saw sheep often, horses sometimes, and a few cows once. Very occasionally there were pine forests, planted in rows, but aside from grass, the main vegetation seemed to be young trees. In several places, there were camp sites, with both tents and RVs occupying space in open fields. Everywhere we stopped on this drive, we found all facilities to be clean and well maintained – restaurants, gift shops, restrooms, and other accommodations for tourists.

Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, which interprets and preserves one of Iceland’s most important geological and historical sites. We walked on a gravel path along a massive geological fault to the place where Europe’s oldest national assembly, the Icelandic Althing, was established in 930 CE. The Althing convened here every summer for 800 years. We were on the North American tectonic plate for this walk but could see the European-Asian plate across the valley. The guide referred to the large lake and the valley floor in between as no man’s land. The wall of rock that we walked along looked like different sizes of building blocks that had been stacked on top of each other. Grass, bushes, and wildflowers were on both sides of the path.

As we were driving to our next stop, the guide pointed out a snow-topped mountain in the distance. This is a very active volcano which they expect to blow at any time, but don’t know when that will be. After a lunch stop at a roadside restaurant, we crossed the road and followed a boardwalk to visit a very popular geyser. It blew a couple of times while I was watching, although it’s a short-lived phenomenon, not a continuous blast.

Next, we drove to the Gullfoss Waterfall, which we had visited in December 2014. We remember from that trip how cold we were looking at the falls. Today, our weather was perfect and we could really appreciate the beauty of the site. From the parking lot, we walked along a boardwalk to viewpoints overlooking the falls, where churning glacial water was rushing down two levels of the river. We walked to the end of the boardwalk so we could see the action from every angle. There was a lower boardwalk as well, but the people down there looked like they were getting wet from the spray. And, besides, they didn’t have the view that we did across the valley to the glaciers on the distant horizon. Towards the end of the day, we drove through an area of lava fields. Here, we could see plumes of steam rising on distant mountainsides, indicating the ever-present geothermal activity.

Before heading back to the ship, we stopped at the same power plant we had visited in 2014. I don’t suppose it’s changed much since we were there last, but we like being reminded of the Icelandic commitment to the environment and to their country. It’s so interesting that a power plant can be regarded as a tourist attraction.

The next day we had an excursion which concentrated on the southwest corner of Iceland, the Reykjanes Peninsula. After driving through some smaller towns and then some open countryside, we made our first stop at Kleifarvatn Lake. This is a medium-sized lake set in a vast open space, with black beaches (black sand or volcanic ash?) and calm blue water. Very beautiful. We had a photo stop for everyone, but I was busy looking at the plants and the rocks and the vista. I later read that the water level of the lake corresponds to the water table in the area, for there are no springs or streams which feed into it. As usual, there were small plants trying to grow wherever they could, and the surrounding hills were covered in green.

Our next stop was Seltun Krysuvik, an extremely active geothermal area with hot springs, bubbling mud pools, multi-colored rock surfaces and cliffs, a strong sulfur smell, and steam issuing from holes in the ground. We followed a boardwalk and dirt path around the site and got to experience everything up close. The surrounding ground was covered in thick grass turf with flowers scattered about as well. From the high point on the trail, we had a lovely wide view of the surrounding area on one side and of the adjacent mountains on the other. Our drive continued through miles of lava fields, with every surface covered with what looked like a soft grey blanket. The guide said it’s a special kind of moss which attaches itself to the lava rocks, which are too barren to support other life forms.

Our next stop was the Viking World Museum, which houses a replica of a Viking longship. Our guide was on this ship when it sailed to the U.S. in 2000 to help mark the 1000th anniversary of the Viking landing in North America, so he gave us a little talk about the ship and his experience. The ship itself was made of wood and illustrated many of the features evidently common to these vessels, namely, oar holes, shields along the top railing, a rudder, a mast and the place to put it, a square sail, below-decks storage spaces, etc. The rest of the museum displayed some artifacts and information from the early Reykjanes Peninsula settlements. When we had seen enough, we walked outside to enjoy the ocean air and the views of distant mountains. On our way back to Reykjavik, we drove near Keflavik Airport. Our guide told us that during the cold war, the U.S. had a military base in the area and that when the war was over, the facilities on the base became the airport and a university. After a short drive through the center of Reykjavik, we returned to the ship.

As we were sailing away from Iceland, we talked about how much we have enjoyed being here (having perfect weather probably helped) and about how important it has been to us to experience many of the natural wonders which have drawn us to this country in the first place. Because of its natural beauty and its orderliness, we’re now saying that Iceland is one of our favorite countries to visit, right up there with Switzerland and Australia.

 

Land between North American and European-Asian Tectonic Plates

Land between North American and European-Asian Tectonic Plates

Icelandic Landscape

Icelandic Landscape

Pathway in Thingvellir National Park

Pathway in Thingvellir National Park

Us at Thingvellir National Park

Us at Thingvellir National Park

Geyser at Strokkur

Geyser at Strokkur

Steam Marking the Location of Fumaroles

Steam Marking the Location of Fumaroles

 

Beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall

Beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall

Icelandic Landscape, with Mountains and Flowers

Icelandic Landscape, with Mountains and Flowers

Another View of Gullfoss Waterfall

Another View of Gullfoss Waterfall

Geothermal Power Station - A Tourist Attraction

Geothermal Power Station – A Tourist Attraction

Kleifarvatn Lake with Black Beaches and Calm Water

Kleifarvatn Lake with Black Beaches and Calm Water

Seltun Krysuvik, Active Geothermal Area

Seltun Krysuvik, Active Geothermal Area

 

Another View of Seltun Krysuvik

Another View of Seltun Krysuvik

Beautiful Icelandic Landscape

Beautiful Icelandic Landscape

Geothermal Activity at the Surface

Geothermal Activity at the Surface

Replica of Viking Longship

Replica of Viking Longship

Viking World Museum

Viking World Museum

View from the Reykjanes Peninsula

View from the Reykjanes Peninsula

December 2014 – Iceland

At the beginning of December, we flew to Iceland for a few days, in hopes of seeing the northern lights. We accomplished that part of our goal and developed some others as well.

  • Putting ourselves into a position to see the northern lights was a little like going on a treasure hunt. Our bus would drive to what they thought was a likely location away from the city lights. Then we would all get out of the bus into the freezing cold night and stand around looking at the sky. This happened twice, and all we could see was a few stars. At the third stop, however, the guides were all excited and started pointing out to us where to look. Sure enough, we saw greenish blobs in the sky which gradually morphed into streamers and then into moving curtains. An amazing spectacle.
  • Our most sensual experience was swimming in the Blue Lagoon. This is a man-made lake which is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant. The warm water is a milky blue color because of the concentration of minerals and is a wonderful, even cozy experience. As we were bobbing around in the water, the air was freezing above us, and snow was covering our heads with white flakes. Getting in and out of the water was a little tricky, but we enjoyed the experience anyway.
  • Iceland is known for its geothermal activity and natural beauty, and we saw lots of both on a bus tour of a small part of the island. We
    Post-Dec-2014-Iceland-waterfall

    Gullfoss Waterfall

    Post-Dec-2014-Iceland-sky-trees

    Afternoon Sunshine with Trees in Iceland

    Post-Dec-2014-Iceland-lights

    Northern Lights in Iceland

    Post-Dec-2014-Iceland-lagoon

    The Blue Lagoon

    Post-Dec-2014-Iceland-geyser

    Strokkur Geyser in Southwest Iceland

    Post-Dec-2014-Iceland-at-lagoon

    Susan and Denise at the Entrance to the Blue Lagoon

    watched as the geyser Strokkur erupted spectacularly a few times. This is good for tourists, but there’s another geyser nearby which is less reliable now but even more significant. Its name is Geysir. It was the first geyser recorded in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans, thus giving its name to this geothermal phenomenon.

  • In addition, we spent a little time in Reykjavik, which seems to be a charming and modern city, but our activities there were severely hampered by raging winds and icy sidewalks, both of which made walking extremely challenging. Normally, we learn a city by walking its streets, so we were disappointed that our experience there was so limited.

As we were leaving Iceland to come home, we didn’t have to discuss whether to return. We definitely will – when the weather is better. The people are warm and friendly, they seem to have a civilized society, and the land has an abundance of the rugged and beautiful natural wonders which we love.