Life is a journey and the people you love are your travel agents.
The last of the Iceland series.
Iceland day structure- in the summer there are only a few hours of darkness. Of course, this means that during the winter there are only a few hours of sunlight.
Iceland Topography: While Iceland is a rather big island, most of the human population is lined up around the coast. There is no road that goes through the island, but there is a ring road that goes around the entire island. The glaciers, mountains, earthquake fissure lines, and trolls are in the central part of the island.
Iceland Architecture : In the olden times, people lived in turf houses. These were homes where the foundation consisted of rocks, and then earth would be piled on top to create a house.
While this might seem quaint, haven’t you read “Little House by the River”? The mom constantly complained about her turf house, she wanted a ‘real’ plank house. Imagine trying to clean the dirt house. Ponder the kinds of visitors you might find tunneling into your earthen abode. Also, these turf houses do not stand up too long to the elements. Most of the structures in Iceland only date back to the 19th century, even though the island was colonized in the late 800s.
Nowadays, homes are built of reinforced concrete or aluminum siding. Nothing too tall, this country is prone to earthquakes. Also, nothing of brick- brick NOT good in an earthquake situation.
Remember, there are no forests in Iceland, all wood must be imported or found along the beach as driftwood. If you are building for harsh conditions and you have to import the materials anyway, may as well go with concrete and aluminum.
We flew into the Keflavik Airport and then took a but to Reykjavik. On the way to the city, we crossed through a former lava field. I’m not showing pictures from the bus because it was early morning, raining, and I don’t know how to work the flash on my camera so I only got photos of the window. Sigh.
Anyhow, imagine if you will black volcanic rocks with green moss growing on them, and off in the distance, tall mountains spiking up out of the mist.
At one point, the rocks were huge ovals with cracks on the top. It looked like huge domed bubbles which had cracked on top, only these things weren’t soap bubbles, they were ROCKS.
Later in our trip, we went to a volcanic site that is used as a geothermal power plant (the whole island gets its power from geothermal and hydroelectric sources. I think they could also put up a few windmills and get the wind power too, if they wanted). Anyhow, this gives you an idea of the scenery.
Nevertheless, despite all these pictures, I am having a hard time conveying the eerie mystery of Iceland. Maybe you just have to go there, but it is an extremely unusual place. I can see why a fanciful prince would think it might be the perfect place to find a bride who was as cool as ice on the outside and a lusty volcano on the inside. This is a description of Brunhilde, but it holds equally true for Eyjafjallajökul, the volcano which is UNDER a glacier, and when it exploded in 2010 it put miles of ash into the atmosphere and grounded many airline passengers in Europe.
Iceland actually used to have a lot more trees, but within 200 years the humans had deforested the place Lorax/Easter Island style. There are some trees, but they are small. I don’t think I saw any trees over 20 feet while I was there. It also doesn’t help when you pasture a lot of sheep. Sheep are very destructive to plants, eating everything down to the nubbins.
There are now ‘tree farmers’ in Iceland who are trying to re-grow the Iceland forest. They plant American aspens to act as windbreaks for the native Icelandic birch.
An Iceland joke:
Q: What do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?
A: Stand up.
The plaque doesn’t really explain the conflict over the Gullfoss waterfall. It tells of an old woman who was very fond of the waterfall. She was from a big family and she and her brothers and sisters would guide people to the waterfall back when it was a rather difficult and perilous trek to get to it. She never married, she was dedicated to the waterfall.
However, our tour guide has a different explanation for the origin of the memorial. The tour guide explained that this old woman, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who known for being difficult to get along with and rather prickly, had to take on Iceland’s Mr. Big poet laureate-religious bigwig-entrepreneur to save the waterfall.
Mr Big had big plans for the waterfall. He was going to lease the waterfall out to a British company to develop a hydro-electric plant. In ‘developing’ the energy usage, the waterfall would probably get somewhat
trashed modified and, of course, be closed to the public.
According to our tour guide, the crone didn’t like this plan. She organized a public relations campaign to stop the British electricity deal and make the land accessible to all- native Icelander as well as foreign tourist.
However, if you look at the Wikipedia page, they make it sound like the business deal with the British wasn’t working, and Mr. Big ‘generously’ sold off the land to the Iceland government. Perhaps he is rolling in his grave over all the tourist money he lost from the deal.
Seems to me we are witnessing the battle of the legacies. Why would a ‘waterfall admirer’ get her own plaque? Where is Mr. Big’s plaque? Who are we to believe? The oral tradition of the uppity crone or the Official Version of the bourgeois elite who decided to pass on an business opportunity?
It is a beautiful waterfall. I thought I would be disappointed because there was so much hype surrounding it, but Gullfoss is truly a lovely spot. The water thunders down, and since there is a rock wall nearby, a wall of mist is thrown up into the air. You feel like you are going through a veil as you get closer to the waterfall itself.
We were there in July, so the wildflowers were in full bloom.
Icelandic people are very sensible about advertising danger. As soon as you see those ropes, you know you had darned well better stay back. They aren’t worried about lawsuits, they figure natural selection will favor those people who can follow instructions.
Easy does it tourist types.
A short take on geyser activity, featuring our favorite 10 minute (or so) interval geyser, Strokkur.
Yes, they do name geysers, volcanoes, and waterfalls in Iceland.
Someone in Munich is a big Michael Jackson fan. They have established a huge memorial to the singer on site of a memorial statue to Orlande de Lassus (a Renaissance era, Flemish composer-songwriter to Bavarian Duke Albrecht V).
Check it out:
There may not be the quantity of fresh flowers there were a few years back, but the MJ Memorial is very well maintained.
The memorial is across from the swanky Bayerischer Hof, a five-star hotel which Mr. Jackson stayed in when visiting Munich. No, this is not the hotel where he dangled his kid out the balcony- that’s the famous Hotel Adlon in Berlin, not far from the Brandenburg Gate.
Someone misses Michael, as do we all on occasion, but the majority of us just build shrines in our mind.
Are you one of those people who doesn’t like the heat? You may be reluctant to admit this, but when everyone talks about lying out in the hot sun with their toes crunching silty sand, you have a tendency to grind your teeth.
If you prefer
- rocky beaches you can climb vs. sandy beaches you sink into
- outside air temperatures not to exceed 62° C, or if they do, there is a gusty wind blowing that nearly knocks you down
- brisk salt-infused air
- magnificent drinking water, with a freshwater spring pedigree
- sunlight until 10 pm or so at night
- thermal baths
- lava rocks
- English spoken with an interesting lilt
Then ICELAND is the place for you.
To boost the local tourism industry, Icelandic Air offered significantly discounted air fares to Europe + up to 7 days stopover in Reykjavik. Being bargain vultures, we swooped up the dealio and spent a few days in July (the hottest month) freezing our butts off in Iceland (until we soaked in the geothermal pool or bought a sweater). Now “freezing our butts off” is a relative term- we were coming off a heat wave in Chicago at 94°, then dropping down to 61° Iceland temp, that 30 degree difference does play with one’s adaptability parameters.
This will be a multi-parter, so let’s just start with a sunny, blustery (yes my hat got knocked off my head) day at Keflavik, a fishing village near the airport. Note, this peninsula is a lava field. Full disclosure, with 130 volcanoes, much of Iceland is a lava field. Actually, Iceland is the only landmass on the Atlantic which sits on the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates- hence the abundance of volcanoes, earthquakes, and geothermal activity.