Circle the Arctic 2015

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ICELAND
June 27-29, 2015

Leaving the Svalbard Islands, we gained two hours and land at noon (really 10 a.m). Because the staff needs time to get the bags from the plane to our hotel rooms, we tour. This time it was around Iceland.

No trees. The Vikings used them all up centuries ago and apparently no one has thought to replant. So, there is lots of landscape – volcanic and covered with purple lupine interlaces with dandelion and buttercup yellow in between. Pretty.

The Americans had a base here up until a decade or so ago. They built their own suburban community which today is a boarding place for students.

Interestingly, the houses are built right in the area of past volcanic activity. They do not level the land around the structures so the yards are often interesting rock formations. California could use the style as a water strategy. Speaking of water, the water here is said to be the purest on earth. It is laced with natural minerals and bottled right from the tap (I have heard that this practice is done elsewhere but the Icelanders not only admit they do it but brag about it).

Reykjavik is incredibly environmentally friendly. It is heated and gets its electricity by geothermal or water power. It is very clean but has some traffic congestion at times, but certainly not the worst we've seen (that would be Ulaan Baator). There is public art everywhere. Almost half of the country's total population live in Reykjavik, the capital city. The population of Iceland is only 320,000. Unemployment is low and many people work more than one job.

We were taken to a tourist overlook and surveyed the whole city from that point. The city is, of course, on a large harbor. Many of the inhabitants make a living from fishing and the boats are everywhere. We ate lunch at a quaint restaurant right on the seashore – actually no shore, just working fishing ports. This was the third time we ate that day – they apparently feel we might starve to death if they did not serve us at least three four-course meals a day.

After lunch we went to an outdoor museum, really a place that the government and various preservationists moved the early houses which were in the way of the wrecking ball as Reykjavik grew. There are similar places around the world. Interestingly, because wood is so scarce here and early houses tend to have sod roofs, there is not a whole lot of "old" places left – remember this is the home of the Vikings since the 900's. They organized the country's first parliament in 930.

Finally, we went to the main cathedral in the city. Unbelievable. Even if you were not religious it is amazing and awe inspiring. There were chamber groups playing to good size crowds. The plan, after the short cathedral visit, was to be either to take the bus directly to the hotel from there or to walk. Unfortunately, walking meant that you lugged all of your carry-on luggage or leave it on the bus and let them get it to the hotel. My carry-on is filled with computers, electronics, and camera equipment. Not the kind of thing I am interested in letting out of my sight. Amusingly we ended up walking a distance to the hotel because the bus was too big to get to the city square where the hotel was.

The city center is positively alive. People are out everywhere. It helped that Reykjavik was experiencing the best weather they’d had this year. It was nearly 70 degrees and windless. Every restaurant spills into the street. Because of the gorgeous weather, and because it was Friday, people partied outside the hotel until 5 AM this morning, and this is not unusual. Maybe that’s why the hotel is locked at night.

We left to the countryside to tour Iceland's "Golden Circle". First stop was Thingvelllir National Park, the site of Iceland's first national parliament situated by the largest fresh water lake in the country. The lake is part of a mid-Atlantic geological rift. The rift is growing because the tectonic plates continue to move apart slowly. This fact is added to the fact that there an active magma layer just below the rift which causes the rifts to fill in with lava as the cracks occur. Some of the cracks remain unfilled and result in neat canyons.

Our next stop was at Gullfoss waterfall. I have a weakness for viewing waterfalls and this one was worth the trip.

We went from the falls to Geyser Geothermal Field. This geyser field was fairly small compared to others we have seen but are a good reminder of the huge geothermal fields underlying the area.

We ate at a nearby restaurant. It was a buffet and a single table served the whole restaurant – the only place around the geyser field for the bus tours to stop. A large Chinese group was in the line with us and they do not observe the "lining up etiquette" we're used to. It almost seemed like they were trying to take over the "Ugly American" Tourist label. That's fine with me. They are welcome to it.

Our ride home was part of the adventure. The buses we were in were all-terrain vehicles designed to run on a glacier or off-road in snow. They took us on an off-road trek thru streams and up and down a steep hill. One of us thought it was fun. (Carol's comment: Peter was in the middle of this monstrosity of a vehicle but I was in a seat on the back axle. For me, this "adventure" became an excruciatingly jarring, awful ride. Even worse, if that's possible, was that this all-terrain vehicle zoomed through the stream to intentionally get doused so it could then speed across stones and dust, turning the windows into sheets of mud. As I was being "axle tortured", I also could no longer see outside. It had started out as an off the road trip through some really lovely country.)

In the afternoon we were on our own and did what we really like doing when we travel. We did a self-guided wander around Reyjavik to the new art center which houses the opera, concerts, and ballet. Unique design with faceted and colored windows, a real marvel of engineering. During the long winter months, there is a light show using the windows as a screen and the effect, we are told, is a pretty good representation of the aurora borealis.

Carol was looking forward to the Blue Lagoon. One of her fondest memories growing up was family trips to Warner Hot Springs, a Southern California resort where the geyser water winds up in a very large swimming pool. The Blue Lagoon is a lot bigger than the Warner resort, more rustic, and had all sorts of spa amenities including massages and a beauty salon. When Carol got into the Blue Lagoon, she was handed a blue drink (maybe blue curacao). The next step was getting a 2-stage facial, first some white silica and then some green algae. Even the men did this treatment. Carol said the facial was fun and the hot geyser water was wonderful, helping to make up for the fact that the Warner Resort has been closed for several years. No matter what the curative powers of that 2-stage glop was, many people there needed more help than the thermal baths and facials could give them.


BOO

BOO




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