Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A chilly adventure in Iceland

Kirsty and I are just back from an all-too-short trip to Iceland.
Hallgrimskirkje in the rain

On Friday we explored Reykjavik, famous landmarks,  cafes, eclectic architecture, shops and galleries, restaurants.

Domkirkje - the cathedral

Althingi - the parliament

Ingolfstorg - geothermal steam vents in the city centre

Art nouveau till among ultramodern design in the Kraum centre

Posthausstraeti and the Domkirkje

New concert hall


mmmm.... lemon marinaded salmon

Skolavorthustigur and Hallgrimskirkje
After dinner we found the Volcano Show, and had a private viewing (just us) of film of volcanoes taken over about 50 years by Villi Knudsen. Not quite home movies, but definitely a home-made cinema, hosted by the film-maker himself.

Saturday morning saw us out and about before sunrise
Mount Esja over the bay
- but then it didn't really rise until nearly 11!
Andrea the whale watching boat in harbour
We made our way to the harbour and booked a whale watching tour for the afternoon.

Then we explored a pretty residential area
before winding our way to the 'pond' - Tjornin.
Sunrise over Tjorin - about 10.45 a.m.

Radhaus - the town hall


looking west over Tjorin

a small area is kept ice-free for the birds, the rest was frozen over

After that we needed to warm up with a hot chocolate.

We put on our warmest clothes before going aboard the whale watching boat Andrea....

... but once out of the harbour we all needed the warm overalls they provided.
glamorous as always!

Even at 1pm the sun wasn't very high,
but the views over the bay were beautiful. We could just make out Snaefells on the horizon (not in these photos, it was just too faint)
looking towards Hvalfjordur (whale fjiord)

looking for whales

It was almost time to head back when another boat passed word that they had sighted a whale. We joined them and were rewarded with several sightings of a beautiful Minke whale. I was too busy watching it to take any photos!


At about 3.45 the sun  was setting over the Reykjanes peninsula, and it was fully dark by the time we returned to the harbour at 5.

On Sunday we set off even earlier, on the Golden Circle tour. Our first stop was Nesjavellir,
The architecture represents Iceland pushing up between the continental plates
a geothermal energy plant wreathed in sulphurous (very smelly) steam at the foot of the Hengill volcano.
eerie landscape with sulphurous steam and mist over lava fields
As well as taking an informative tour we met two very strange characters,

they are the parents of the Jolasveinarnir - the 13 Yule lads who place small gifts in the shoes of good children in the days before Christmas. (Bad children just get a potato).

From Nesjavellir we travelled through snowy landscapes and across the mid-oceanic ridge which passes through Iceland.
Looking over Hveragardi, from one mid-atlantic ridge, the other can be seen in the distance. The bright lights are greenhouses
The little town of Hveragardi (hot springs gardens) is in the rift valley, using heat from hot springs to heat greenhouses. We had learned at the energy plant that heat and electricity are very cheap in Iceland.

We passed lots of herds of Icelandic horses (not ponies, we were told, they are big enough to carry a man without him 'loosing his manhood'!).

The waterfalls at Gulfoss are stupendous
- even in winter when the flow of water from the glacier has stopped and only spring water is feeding the river.
Well worth slithering over the treacherously icy paths. Our reward was a bowl of hot and tasty traditional Icelandic mutton soup (and a big piece of cheesecake!)

Not far from Gulfoss is the hot spring area of Geysir.
The original Geysir (which gave its name to the phenomenon) is no longer active but we watched several eruptions of its little brother Strokkur.
Strokkur erupting
It was bitterly cold and the paths were slick with ice as the water vapour from the eruptions freezes on contact with the ground. 

There were a number of hot springs, streams and steam vents and in some places the ground was clear of ice and snow as it was too hot.

Also the odd Viking at Geysir!
a very odd viking

From Geysir we headed towards Thingvellir,

spotting a sheep farm on the way.
And driving over the mid-oceanic ridge

on increasingly icy roads, and down into the fissured area between the ridges, now over 5 km apart.

We saw volcanoes which had pushed up under the ice cap during the last ice age

Thingvellir is in one of the largest fissure systems where the two continental plates are pulling apart.
We walked along the fissure and past the Law Rock

It is the site of the first ever parliament (Althingi) and a very important place for Icelanders.

The river was flowing quite fast although much of it was under ice.

Back in Reykjavik we had a last stroll up Laugavegur,
where I couldn't resist buying some Icelandic wool yarn!

Our taster trip to Iceland has left us with lots of things still to see and do there - our Northern Lights evening tour was cancelled as the conditions were not right, and we didn't have time to try one of the geothermal pools. So I'm booking my next trip to Iceland (for summertime) right now!