Thursday, January 12, 2012

Golden Circle

I woke up bright and early to catch my tour bus to do what is called the Golden Circle tour; it is one of the must-sees here.  The tour guide was a funny retired schoolteacher who was filled with fun facts and stories.  There were about 9 of us and I was again, the only North American.  We drove inland through lava fields, the driver kept pointing out areas where there had been volcanic activities but since it was 9am and still pitch dark it wasn’t possible to see anything.  I did learn that although Reykjavik has a population a quarter the size of Barcelona, the city takes up the same amount of space.  The reason for this is because there are building regulations that don’t allow for high apartments to be built because of the high likelihood of earthquakes.  So, Reykjavik is known as a very big, small city.
We went through a town that had been nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 2008.  That town (don’t remember the name and couldn’t pronounce it even if I did), has high levels of thermal activities and their entire town of about 9’000 people use geothermal power to heat their infrastructure.  This highly usable heat source is used to power several greenhouses which are used to grow veggies that get distributed through Iceland as well as flowers which are imported to other Nordic countries as well as Holland.
We then drove to take some pictures near one of three large craters.  By this time it was about 10am and it was starting to get lighter out.  Our driver made a stop (that he wasn’t supposed to have made) at some beautiful waterfalls on the way to the more famous, Gulfoss falls.  Both the falls were absolutely gorgeous and serene, even, among the fields of snow-covered rocks.  There were horses EVERYWHERE on the drive.  These horses are very tiny, almost pony sized, but are still considered horses.  They are special because, in addition to the 3 regular “speeds” most horses can go, these Icelandic horses have an additional 2 speeds.  They are used mostly as farm horses.
We then stopped for lunch at an area where we saw geysers and hot springs.  There were signs everywhere saying that these springs were between 80-100deg C!!  We got to see one very large geyser spray about 40ft into the air!  It was awesome, I took a few pictures that Ill upload later.  I had lamb stew and coffee for lunch and sat with two Aussies.  One of them was a geologist and was fascinated by the phenomenal geological features in Iceland.
Our bus driver explained to us that Iceland has 3 tectonic plates.  One is the American plate, the other, European and one tiny one separating the two in the middle.  The mid-Atlantic ridge extends from outside of Antarctica to just east of Greenland, going right through Iceland and serves as the separation between the Eurasian and the North American plates.  We drove across all of them and essentially went from the continent of Europe to the continent of North America.  There is a 7km gap between the two (I forget what it is called) and this is where our bus got stuck in the snow. We were quite literally stuck between two continents.  It took about 15 minutes and lots of pushing but we made it through.
The next stop was at the start of the North American plate where the Parliamentary plains (Althing) are found.  This is the place were Iceland parliament was first formed and where the Icelandic commonwealth was born.  On the walk over, we passed a small river where it is customary to throw in change (it accepts any currency) in order to get a question answered.  If you throw in your change and you can see it when it hits the bottom then the answer to your question is yes.  The river was filled with change and it looked really pretty…someone had even thrown their credit card in!  Apparently in Icelanders misbehaved in the days where these parliamentary plains were still used (1600-1700), the men would be hung or beheaded and the woman would be put in a bag and thrown in the river.  A problem Icelanders had in the days where it was common to burn a “witch” at the stake was that Iceland has very few trees and therefore didn’t have enough wood to burn their witches.  Our guide seemed very serious when he told us this and said that is why there must be so many witches in Iceland today.
We spent time driving through Þingvellir National Park and stopped at a lookout to check out the largest natural lake in Iceland.  We then learned all about the mysticism that exists in Iceland to this day and were told to look out for invisible people.   
The blue line on the map above is the Golden Circle route, starting from Reykjavik which is the most northern coastal point.

 Now I am back at the hostel where I meet a new room mate who is a German physicist who works on Long Island, NY.  I’m going to scrounge up some food, buy you all some postcards (send me your mailing address if you haven’t already), do some last minute sightseeing (ill either climb to the top of the tall church of go with the girl from Hong Kong to the rotating restaurant to see the entirety of Reykjavik from up high), then pack up all my stuff and go to bed because I have to wake up at 4am to catch the 430am shuttle to get to the airport for my flight to Oslo!

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