Friday, August 24, 2007

Iceland, The Director's Cut - Day 3

We awoke in time for breakfast. Pretty standard continental option, except with herring, skyr, and Nutella (not together). Out we did head for the 1000 year-old town of Þingvellir (the Þ is pronounced like a "th"). It was here where the laws of Iceland were read aloud every year at the alþing, which was held from 930 to 1798. It was essentially the capitol for the original Icelandic settlers, when written language didn't exist in the country, and there wasn't a governmental organization like we know to day. The Lawspeaker was the most important person, for he had memorized the entire code of laws. The lawyers out there should like that. It was also the site where Iceland accepted Christianity as their national religion, and where the country regained independence in the 1940's.

Today, it's got a visitor center, a view, and a walk. It is yet another place where the continents drift apart, which has allowed for a pathway down the rift. There's also one heck of a view of Lake Þingvallavatn and its various islands. Glacial lakes and volcanoes meet many times in this country.

Not knowing where the path led, we opted to drive down the road from the visitor's center and check out the park. The first thing I noticed was the waterfall. Just a small one, but loud enough to be heard. Next came the crystal clear water you had to cross to walk to the Law Rock. Naturally people tossed coins in... because people are idiots. It's a creek people, not a fountain.

There isn't much of note on the short boardwalk to the rock, and in fact he rock itself is unimpressive save for its historical significance. You can, however, imagine throngs of people in the field below, listening to the laws and judgments being read.

From here we made our way across some mountains and vast empty lava fields to Geysir, yet another hot spot of geothermal activity. Here lay a field with numerous active geysers. The king of them was Geysir himself, yet he only went off when there was an Earthquake. Capable of reaching heights of 70-80m (for comparison, Old Faithful can reach 25-55m), you kind of wanted some seismic activity to see this. It was okay though, because nearby was Strokkur, a smaller geyser that went off every 5-10 minutes and reached as high as 25-35m. This was the one with the most attention, for obvious reasons. Watching the whole process, from the bubbling pool, to the rapid expansion as surface tension tries its best to hold back the steam, to the powerful explosion of steam and water to the final emptying of the pool which quickly fills back in.

There were other spots as well, a couple hot pools with small streams pouring out, and a few small geysers that did little more than bubble and spurt. It had been made into a rather big (for Iceland) tourist attraction.

Then it was off to Gullfoss - the Golden Falls. Up to this point, we'd only seen small falls from glacial streams. This one was something else. The river Hvítá runs down from the glacier Langjökull and becomes a rather impressive cascade. As you approach the falls, the entire bottom half is hidden. The thought is, "0h, that's a pretty waterfall," as it appears to just drop off into oblivion. Once you get closer, and descend a long staircase, you realize that they're much bigger, and FAR more impressive, with a second wide and tall cascade falling into a ravine below.

A recurring theme with the big falls in Iceland is how close you can get to them. In this case, there's a rocky outcropping that the falls roar right past, and dozens of people can be found standing on it. No guard rail, no warning signs (because you see, they don't assume people are as moronic as they do here... the fact there's a giant rushing torrent of water 12 inches away should be warning enough). All-in-all, an impressive sight.

Then we turned around and started heading back, with a brief stop at Kerið (again, pronounced like a "th" but a sharp one), a large volcanic crater and lake, with deep green water and a bunch of people trying to throw rocks in it (it wasn't as close as it appeared).

Still awake, we made our way to The Blue Lagoon to relax. This pool is constantly refreshed, with the water being completely changed every 40 minutes, keeping it nice and warm, and in some spots (especially near the artificial hot spring) damned hot. The floor is covered in silica mud and volcanic sand, and the whole place is just... relaxing. Stepping purposefully into the wall of steam from the spring, or just lying on your back and floating effortlessly is a calming experience for sure. Throw in a waterfall that offers one hell of a massage and it's a great way to end the day.

We left to see the sun setting, and made our way back to Reykjavik. It was late, so the possibility of finding an open restaurant on a Monday was slim. We settled for Domino's pizza, because it was convenient and open. After covering as much ground as we did, any food was welcome... and it was still a better option than McDonald's and its $15 Big Mac combo.

No comments: