Thursday, August 13, 2009

ICELAND SAGA: Arriving in Reykjavik and Touring The Golden Circle

By the time we arrived in Reykjavik I felt pretty much over the loss of our luggage, having just spent two hours in The Blue Lagoon and taking a 30 minute nap on the bus ride to the city. Reykjavik is fairly small, and most of our activities would be around the city's center, which is very easy to navigate with a map.  We were able to quickly find our hotel, The Salvation Army Guesthouse.  After we checked in we decided to walk around the city and see what we could find.  Reykjavik is built on a hillside (mountainside?), and it immediately reminded me of a mini San Francisco.  Some of the streets went pretty steep.  The weather was a mild 55 degrees, or so, and it was sunny, but I was glad to be wearing a cardigan over my tshirt when the breeze blew.  After eating lunch at an exclusively vegetarian restaurant (delicious!!) we quickly ran into Reykjavik's largest Lutheran church, Hallgrimskirkja.  Definitely check out the pictures in that link, because this is what we saw:

Total bummer that the church was so heavily scaffolded.  It sits at one of the highest points of the city, and we could see it almost anywhere we went--a constant reminder that Hallgrimskirkja looked more like the Chrysler Building than a church.  Hallgrimskirkja is named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrimur Petursson.  (Side note:  I love the way Icelanders form their last names.  It is always composed using the individual's father's first name + whether he or she is a son (son) or daughter (dottir).  So Hallgrimur is the son of Petur.  I would be Julie Davidssdottir, but my brother would be Jeffrey Davidsson.  Joe would be Joseph Williamsson.  Now you try!  Interestingly, since 1925 an Icelander can only create a family name if he explicitly has a legal right to do so through inheritance, at least according to Wikipedia.)  Hallgrimskirkja was designed by the architect Gudjon Samuelsson, and it took 38 years to build, from 1945-86.  I don't know what was up the building being renovated if it was completed only 23 years ago, but whatever.  In front of the church is this really awesomely large statue of Lief Erikson, who, as you may know, was the actual first European to have landed in North America--not that Columbus fellow.  

The monument was a gift from the U.S. in 1930 for the Althing Millennial Festival, which marked the 1000th anniversary of Iceland's parliament.  Hallgrimskirkja is the tallest building in Iceland.  I guess they built it so tall so they could fit this huge organ inside of it.  

The organ was built in Germany in 1992, and it includes a 50-foot-tall case and 5,275 pipes.  It was really cool to see in person, but didn't quite make up for the scaffold entombed exterior. Perhaps a trip up the tower of the church, which we were told was still open, would make up for it?  Seeing a bird's eye view of the city sounded great.  We paid our 400 kroner (a little more than $3) and took the elevator ride up.  We emerged to a room half sided with caging, and half with wooden boards blocking our view from the city.  On the wall that held, presumably, the most spectacular view of the city hung a large picture, nay, drawing, of the view we
would have seen if that huge board wasn't in the way.  I did manage to stick my lens past a part of the caging on another wall for a picture.  Here, enjoy this photograph of a suburb of Reykjavik. 

That sign stating
The church tower is still open!  should have at least had something in fine print that stated But you can't see anything out of it.  

One of the musts we read about things to do in Iceland was touring The Golden Circle, which consists of the prairie land at Pingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss, and the "original" geyser Geysir (of which all geysers are now named after).  Normally the tour is taken by bus during the day, lasting 9 hours, and you're surrounded by 100 other tourists.  Here is a map of The Golden Circle (you can see where everything is in relation to Reykjavik, and you can see how far from the city The Blue Lagoon and the airport are).  We were advised to take the tour at sunset, as there would be far fewer people and it would only last 5 hours, which is plenty of time on a bus for me.  With the setting sun, I was getting increasingly worried about being cold on the tour.  I feared that my discomfort would distract me from all the cool stuff we were about to see, so I considered buying another layer.  However, the only choices I could find were $200 jackets from 66 Degrees North (like our The North Face) or a $50 hooded sweatshirt from a tourist shop that said in Icelandic I don't speak Icelandic.  I would have felt like a real boob traipsing around in that get up, and I would hate to have spent so much money on a jacket, especially if our luggage came within the next couple days.  I decided to suck it up. 

We got picked up from our hotel (nice service!) by our stud bus driver at 6:30.  I wish I knew his name.  He was a lanky middle-aged guy who was quite good-humored and talked about random Icelandic facts, but didn't talk too much.  Example fact:  Apparently there is a hot dog stand that Bill Clinton enjoyed eating at (once? several times? I don't know.) while in Iceland, and the bus driver hears that if you go there and order a "Bill Clinton" they put mustard on your dog.  He also talked about the belief in "hidden people" by the Icelanders--at least, no one dares admit that they don't exist.  The first stop was Pingvellir (Ping translates into "parliament" and vellir into "meadows").  Parliament was established here in 930 A.D. and remained until 1789.  I'm kind of disappointed in the pictures I took of it, because they're not nearly as captivating as actually being there.  I tried, though.  Sorry, I don't know how to get my panoramics bigger.  If you click on them you can view them larger in a different window.

After Pingvellir, we took a very bumpy hour long drive to Gullfoss, which means "Golden Falls."  The falls were positioned in the shade.  It would have been neat to see it sparkle in direct sunlight, but nonetheless, it was pretty amazing to see.  It's just huge.  The crevice itself is about 60 feet wide.

It was admittedly quite chilly when we were standing to the side of the waterfall (that top left cliff in this picture).  To stand in front of the waterfall, as we are here, is freezing.  The mist from
Gullfoss was unavoidable.  Poor Joe in his short sleeves.  All of the people around us were in heavy coats or fancy warm jackets and hats, so I know we looked like a couple schmucks.  We snapped this picture quickly, as we were quite cold, then ran to the bus to thaw.  

Our final stop on The Golden Circle tour was Geysir (pronounced "gay-ZEER"), which is apparently the oldest known geyser.  Since the English translation is pretty clear, I'll tell you that the name Geysir is derived from the Icelandic word gjosa, meaning to erupt.  The panormic below is of the inactive Geysir, which is all we saw of it. 

 In 1910 it erupted every 30 minutes, but gradually slowed to a stop.  Random earthquakes throughout the 20th century have revived the geyser, and now it erupts about 3 times a day.  We did, however, watch the geyser Strokkur erupt several times, as it goes off every 4 minutes or so.  I used the motor drive on my camera to capture its sequence.

And here it is backlit.

We were dropped back off at our hotel around 11:30.  The sun was still out enough to see by (think 8:30 p.m. St. Louis time in the summer), which intrigued us, and we wanted to take advantage of the long days.  We decided to go out to a cafe/bar called Cafe Paris.  When we tried to order a Danish beer called Tuborg (it was the first one I saw that I was sure of on pronunciation, so that's why I ordered it), the bartender told us that if we were going to visit Iceland we need to drink Icelandic beer.  He gave us each a Gull, as in seagull, and I'm telling you that was some skunky beer.  We sat at the bar sipping on the drinks and pretty soon the bartender started doing tricks, a la Cocktail.  It was like a young Tom Cruise was standing right in front of us flipping bottles and throwing ice into the air to catch the pieces in a glass before cooly pouring a sweet liquor over them.  After making a particularly sassy looking cocktail the bartender dipped a straw in the drink and, after taking a taste, proceeded to double dip the straw back in and take another drink.  I think my jaw fell open.  I guess that's cool in Iceland, though.  When I asked him what the drink was he replied, "A cocktail."  Oh, ok, thanks.


  1. The mighty STROKKUR! I love that name. Jackie got a nice video of it exploding.

  2. These pictures remind me of Montana's geology in Yellowstone Park and...Mammoth Hot Springs, I think. Your next trip MUST be there! I will go with you, too. Montana is amazingly beautiful.

  3. BREATHTAKING...I also can't imagine how one can walk in high heels when the surface is that slippery. Oh dear...

    golden circle tours