A June 2005 trip
to Reykjavik by MichaelJM
Quote: This day trip took us through the whole range of Icelandic countryside. We'd hired a car so could go at our own pace, stopping at things took our fancy. This journal describes those pit stops.
We took the route from the car park and entered the geyser park, the odd vent of steam and then some spluttering from the one they affectionately call Litli-Geysir. And then, with an eruption to our right, we see the tale end of the spot. Initially, I’m disappointed, and then I remember that this geyser, Strokkur, erupts every 20 minutes or so. Despite the lousy weather, we can be patient and wait for the next performance. Cameras at the ready, we form an orderly queue, but take our eye off the geyser momentarily just at the very moment the things decides to erupt. After a time (Strokkur was performing more frequently than ever, as it was more like every 5 minutes), we sussed out the telltale signs. The water in the well hole would start to bubble, then be sucked into the hole before being blown out to form a significant dome on the well’s surface. Shortly after, a massive eruption would take place and a torrent of water and steam would be shot skyward before subsiding. Sometimes Strokkur would blow off two or three times in quick succession, and others just the once. As if to confuse the hoards of tourists gathered for the spectacle, Strokkur has no set frequency and sometimes will suck the water into the depths several times before going for the big one. It is a phenomenal sight and so impressive, you are guaranteed that a routine will be played out for your amusement.
A gentle tip – check out the wind direction before positioning yourself for a photo. We saw several visitors who failed to do the calculations – wind speed x height of eruption = trajectory + potential drenching. The resultant dousing can be significant! We didn’t explore the park too fully, as the weather was not too kind to us, but made our way back to the car park, not being able to resist a frequent look back over our shoulder to catch a further demonstration of Strokkur’s prowess.
Predictably, there’s a shop and café on site, and like countless others, we head for it. The prices seem ridiculously high, but the items are high quality and not outrageously more expensive than anywhere else in the island. Here you can buy clothing (protective and fashionable), coffee-table books, and a whole range of gifts and souvenirs. Remember, if you spend over 4000kr in one shop, you can claim the tax back as you leave the island, which makes the prices a little more reasonable.
It was a fascinating experience well worth the effort.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 9, 2005
Attraction | "Gullfoss"
Turning our attention back to the falls, now owned by the Icelandic Nature Conversation and permanently protected from an earlier threat to create a hydroelectric plant out of nature’s forces. The view from the top is amazing, but we were keen to get "up close and personal" with Gullfoss (golden falls). There’s a fairly steep staircase leading down to the lower car park, and from here you can feel the power of the falls. The spray from the water felt almost like "the skies had opened," and the roar of the water as it powered its way over the rocks was audible even this distance away from the source.
We headed towards the falls on an awkward trail with loose rocks, uneven slopes, and makeshift steps. At the time of our visit, it was wet and a little slippery, but in winter, I suspect extreme caution would be required. We enjoyed our gentle but careful walk to the actual falls, taking time to checks out a wide variety of plant life en route. As we got nearer to the falls, the path became drier and the heavy precipitation that we’d experienced from the scenic vantage point disappeared. Surprisingly, it was much drier, but the sensation of the falls was now much stronger. We climbed up a few strategically placed rocks to the plateau overlooking the falls, and now we were surrounded on three sides by the water that forms and is Gullfoss.
If you like the power of water - the sensation of the ultimate force created by gallons of water rushing over rocks - then you will love Gullfoss. Take time to view it from every angle, because each vision is perceivably different and clearly demonstrates the contrariness of nature: the still pool of water sitting at the top of the falls; the gentle flow over the rocks at the edge of drop; and whirlpools of swirling water; torrents of gushing power creating white waves as the forceful water pounds against static rocks, allowing clouds of mist to form and head as mini rain clouds to drop their precipitation over the unsuspecting tourists as they approach their first view of the falls.
Golden Falls (Gullfoss)
Attraction | "Oxararfoss"
We parked up and trekked off in the direction of the water. It’s not a difficult walk, but you do need sensible shoes; otherwise, you’ll struggle with your foot-holes. First off, there’s a bit of a steep incline, some uneven steps, and then a level wooden walkway. It was from here that we got our first view of the water as it poured from the top of the cliff. It was fairly gushing forth, mist rising upwards as the water surge bounced off the rocks in its way. It was not a massive drop, but as we got nearer to the base the full power could be appreciated. But it was short-lived, because once this powerful drop had occurred, the water rejoined a very sedate stream that bubbled and gurgled its way downhill. How the power of water can change over a few hundred feet! We picked our way over the rocks and around the water to grab a few camera shots for the video. The Oxararfoss is impressive, and I’d recommend you take the time to potter round and enjoy this natural feature. From up here, there are some superb views over the rift valley, with lush fields in the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the far distance.
By the time we walked back down to the car, a small crowd had started to form, and dancers were practicing in the meadow. We presumed it was in preparation for the longest day, which was imminent.
Back on the main road, we head for the church in Pingvellir. It’s a pretty wooden church, worth popping into, with a tremendous view of the surrounding countryside. Access the balcony at the back of the church--it’s a hairy ascent via a makeshift ladder, but it offers an interesting view of the church. My wife said I shouldn’t have gone up there, but she couldn’t resist a look! The graveyard offers a fascinating glimpse into Icelandic history with some interesting grave "furniture" – wrought iron carved crosses at jaunty angles suggestive that these people were in positions of great authority and had been given prime positions with views across the picturesque river.
As we left the church and crossed over the marsh land that meets with the River Oxara we paused to view the variety of water fowls, geese and birds that inhabit these watery lowlands. The river flows aimlessly along the flatlands, and we consider that only a mile or so back down the river, it was gushing relentlessly over the Almannagji Ridge.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 11, 2005
We walked from this historic site up a 100m track through a small canyon to the summit of Almannagja. It reminded us very much of the Golden Canyon in Death Valley in its stature and rock formation. From the top there is perhaps the best view over the valley, and as we stood on the edge of the North American Plate, we pondered the information given to us that the valley gets wider by 1.5 centimetres and deeper by 2 millimetres each year as the continental plates drift apart. We are overseeing the meanderings of the River Oxara as it makes its way to the Pingvallavatn Lake, and in the distance, two mighty mountains of Armannsfell and Hrafnabjorg stand regally as if protecting this national site.
There are loads of people up here, and we presume that a few busloads of tourists have just decanted. We’re surprised that they are just standing looking towards the bottom of the canyon and not enjoying the stupendous view that is available from the very edge of Almannagja. As we retrace our footsteps and head back down, we have to "fight our way" through the growing gathering and then find that we are in the middle of a procession. We hear music, people start singing, and as we walk through the canyon, we see that young "maidens" are standing on the ridge in period costume holding the national flag. An Icelandic news crew is televising the event, which turns out to be the annual celebration of Iceland’s independence (June 17, 1944). We can now "feel" the reverence that Icelanders give to this geographical site as they recall the "Dedication of the Republic" ceremony that took place on Pingvellir on the site of the Alpingi (Icelandic Parliament), a site referred to in earlier declarations as "the sacred sites of all Icelanders."
This important historic and geological site is well worth a visit, although we appreciated the views more than the geological significance. There are some great walks in the area, and if we’d have had more time, I’d have liked to explore a little more, and of course, there was the fresh, open view and bird life that we’d come to accept as "normal" on this superb island.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 16, 2005
Iceland's Rift Valley
Skalholt was a Bishopric for virtually seven decades from 1056 (confirmed by bishop’s mitre over the door) and the current church proudly stands in a prime site overlooking some incredible countryside. Make no bones about it; the views on a bright, crisp summer’s day are absolutely superb, as Skalholt, on a local hillock, offers great views on a full 360º panorama.
The straight, angular nature of the current cathedral, with its pure white walls, offers a befitting contrast to the lush surroundings. Although only 40 years old, it retains a traditional feel as the square tower with its arrow like apex points poignantly to the heavens. At the back of the cathedral, the first full Icelandic translation of the bible is proudly on show. It looks a fine tome with its original binding still in excellent condition.
The church itself is ultra-modern insofar as it boasts a minimalist approach to church furniture. The ceiling is beautifully created out of wood and the stained glass windows are bright and colourful in an abstract design. There’s a sensational mosaic of Jesus at the front of the church behind the altar, which initially has the impression of being a huge tapestry. Truly a work of art - although not to my taste. The scale of this church is vast considering the size of the community that it serves. It’s bright and a little bleak, but I suspect that the acoustics are supreme, and the music played and sung here will boom around the church for all to appreciate.
For a small fee, you can check out the foundations of the original church and view the sarcophagus of an influential parishioner of the original church. Crypts always make fascinating viewing, and the one at Skalholt is no exception.
Outside are the remains of the old church buildings – a school, dormitories, and the Bishop’s residence – which once formed the centre of the largest community on the island in the early 13th century. A simple map explaining the excavation helped us understand the site much better. Indeed, we speculated that if there had not been a devastating earthquake, which destroyed the very fabric of this prestigious community in the 18th century, perhaps this would have been Iceland’s major community rather than Reykjavik.
About 100m away from the cathedral is a crude monument commemorating Iceland’s last Catholic bishop who was beheaded in the mid-1500s following a "skirmish" with the Danish king, who wanted to ensure that Lutherism was the island’s only accepted religion. It was clearly tough standing up for your faith in those days.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 17, 2005