Day Two In Iceland!

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Friday, October 23, 2009

10.23.09               Blue Lagoon, Pingvellir, Gullfoss, Geysir – Iceland

I stayed up late last night working on the travel blog site with the Slowest.  Internet.  Connection.  Ever.  Not very pretty.  I do realize now that this "blogging" will take some time and work.  I don't yet know if I’m up for the challenge, but let’s see how far my good intentions get me, shall we?  (And, as you were forewarned, don’t expect my recounting to be anything but utterly fascinating…  Snort.)  I’m writing most of this down first by hand in a journal (thanks again, Michelle, for the lovely travel journal!) and adding it to the blog site later, so at least that should help allay my short-term memory issues.

Last night at Guesthouse Sunna before heading to bed, we booked an all-day tour for today.  Good opportunity to get out of Reykjavik and get a sense of the rest of Iceland.  (Interesting note: Iceland’s total population is about 320,000 people – 187,000 of which live within Reykjavik or a 50km radius of it.)  I didn’t sleep well last night at all, and was up earlier than needed for our tour pick-up.  Don’t ask me why (don’t think the whole “we’re on an 11-week holiday thing has hit me yet).  After another delicious breakfast at Sunna, the Iceland Excursions shuttle picked us up, brought us to their HQ, and then we caught another bus to our first destination – The Blue Lagoon.

During the drive there, we saw unbelievable Icelandic countryside – jagged ocean coastline with moss-covered black lava rocks; several inland pools; the ocean spray crashing over the coastal rock formations.  Some of the most gorgeous coastline I’ve ever seen!  (Of course, given how tired I was, it was hard to keep my eyes open – so I did take a little cat nap or two on the bus.  Cat-napping would become my theme of the day – I think that every time we got back on the tour bus, I feel asleep, at least for a short time… Hahaha.)

But, I digress.  Back to our first destination.  “They” say that The Blue Lagoon is to Iceland as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, etc. – a must-see stop on any Icelandic tour.  So, what IS The Blue Lagoon, you ask?  A classic 80s movie about two good-looking teenagers growing up together on a deserted island?  NO.  (Well, yes, but not this time…)  Situated about 50km outside of Reykjavik (and an English family sitting behind us on the tour bus coughing the ENTIRE way there), The Blue Lagoon is an area of pools of milky-blue water that are fed from the futuristic-looking Svartsengi geothermal plant!  The super-heated sea water is rich in blue-green algae, mineral salts, and fine silica mud – apparently, all excellent for conditioning and exfoliating the skin (and for an all-around serene and relaxing bathe).  

The pools are surrounded by more mounds of towering, jagged black Icelandic lava rocks, and clouds of rolling steam and mist sweep over the bathers as they swim.  The Icelandic Government also has installed numerous decks, bridges, and swimming platforms throughout the bathing area to accommodate all the swimmers.  Bathers pop in and out of the pools (mostly in, as it is chilly in Iceland in October and the water is kept at a perfect 108 degrees!) and smear the blue-white silica mud over their bodies.  Ok – so unfortunately, and for a variety of reasons, we chose not to swim – but we did tour the grounds and feel the water, and it felt lovely.  Hahaha.  Plus, it wasn’t all sulfury-smelly as some naturally-heated pools are.  Bonus!  (Instead, we hung in the lovely café, I journaled, and we managed to send off a few postcards – impressive feat, I thought, as we are NOT postcard people…)

[Noteworthy: on our day trip were two very nice Norwegian women with whom I had some nice chats.  They were excited about my Scandinavian background and quizzed me on such delights as lefse, lutefisk, and krummekake.  I passed all tests.  Go, Norwegian Lutheran me, go!]

[OK – I need to speed up the writing here, no?]

From The Blue Lagoon we traveled back to Reykjavik and then on to “The Golden Circle” in Southwest Iceland (otherwise known as Iceland’s major tourist sites) – Pingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir.

Our first stop was Pingvellir, a geologically remarkable place where the Icelandic parliament Alpingi was founded in the year 930 AD.  Pingvellir is a beautiful, lonely park – plains, mossy lava rocks, a huge clear lake (some of the best diving in the world, as it is so clear for hundreds of meters down that divers have experienced a fear of heights while diving!), surrounded by snow-capped mountains and several “rift valleys” caused by the separating North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. 

But maybe I’m sounding like Wikipedia here.  Pingvellir was interesting, but after some minutes of walking around, I was cold and incredibly hungry (no food in sight).  Back on the bus, I chewed through three Trader Joe’s dried fruit bars and still was hungry!  Fortunately for me and my hunger, I slept most of the way to the next destination, Gullfoss.

We got to Gullfoss about 4pm.  Gullfoss, roughly “golden falls”, drops 32 meters before thundering down another narrow ravine.  However, as soon as we exited the tour bus to view these beautiful falls, we were BLASTED by freezing, hair-raising cold air and icy mist shooting off the falls. It was so icy cold, and windy, and loud – our hands and ears froze immediately.  I haven’t been that cold in a long, long time – and I’m originally from the upper Midwest!  Uff da.  The falls are really neat, but we took super quick pictures and then turned around and RAN for the long staircase that winds up the mountainside to the café and Visitor Center!  (We did manage to stop our slow death from hypothermia and frostbite long enough to take a very quick look at the upper lookout area, too.  Don’t know how we did it…)

I was ravenous at that point – no food since breakfast except those darn fruit bars – so the world-famous lamb stew at the café was a real treat!  After lunch, more quick snaps of the glacier Lanjokull (umlaut over the “o”), which could be seen in the distance opposite the falls.  The glacier was really interesting and beautiful – glowing white, gently wound between mountains before sloping downward to the land below.

From Gullfoss we headed to our final destination of the day – Geysir (pronounced “Gay-seer”).  (Apparently, Geysir is the original hot water spout after which all other geysers in the world are named!!!)  The great Geysir itself used to gush water upwards of 80 meters into the air 3-4x/day, but get this – in the 1950s, some dingbat tourists clogged it up when they threw rocks into it in an attempt to set it off.  Doh.  (PS – Murray would guess these tourists were Kiwis…)  Anyway, now poor old Geysir (get it?) only spouts about once every 24 hours, and not nearly as high as before.

Lucky for us, the much more reliable Strokkur geyser is right next door, and it goes off every 5-6 minutes!  Right before sprouting, the water swirls and vanishes down what looks like an enormous plughole, before bursting upward of 15-30 meters!  It was very cool to see – I hadn’t seen a geyser since I was a kid (Old Faithful at Yellowstone, I do believe).  Strokkur was framed by a gorgeous Icelandic sunset, so I also got some good pictures of that, too.

It was dark by the time we returned to Reykjavik (no surprise, as Icelandic days are short by October!).  Went back to a downtown shop we saw yesterday to buy a beautiful hand-woven Icelandic wool wrap sweater.  Afterward, we grabbed dinner at a highly recommended pizza joint named… Pizzuverksmidjan.  (LOVE the Icelandic language!)  Had a few drinks at an Irish-Icelandic pub on the way back to Guesthouse Sunna, and met some very interesting characters there (an entry in and of itself). 

In the end, a very long but great day.  Hard to believe we’re only on day TWO of this holiday.  Feels like we’ve been on the road for weeks already – but in a good way.  Haha.  Early departure tomorrow – Lisbon via London!
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