Thursday, October 3, 2013

Icelandic World of Ice and Fire

Witness the tectonic plates being slowly torn apart
     It’s easy to see why scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed in Iceland. The land is a spectacular backdrop for any film location and for any holiday adventure. Iceland is Europe without the dainty, without the Baroque, without the castles and without the touts and queues. What it does have is mind blowing scenery, big open spaces, empty roads and a fascinating history that is well documented and presented for your entertainment and information.
      Reykjavik serves as a perfect base from where to start your exploration of a land that lies on the tectonic plate, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. You can actually see where the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate are slowly separating at 2.5cm a year. How cool is that!
      Based in Reykjavic, you are nicely positioned to take day trips along the Golden Circle which takes in the national park of Pingvellir, Gullfloss waterfall and the sites of Geysir and Stokkur. Geysir must be where we learned the name of geyser which we have attributed to all sorts of water spouts. It comes from the Norse verb geysa, to gush. In fact, many of our words and customs stem from this Norse culture.
Geysir is not as strong a Stokkur which regularly bursts forth
Summer wildflowers brief appearance
      Did you know law is Norse as are the concepts of Commonwealth and Parliament. The site of the very first parliament or assembly, the Althing in Norse, established in 930, is in Pingvellir National Park and you too can stand on the rock where gatherings of lawmakers and clans set about keeping warring factions apart and ensuring all Icelanders had a share of the pie. The mediaeval Icelandic state had a unique judicial structure based on the principal of consensus, so way back then, they had a uniquely democratic structure of governance and law making.
      My visit is in summer, so I don’t see the Northern Lights, but the long, long days make up for that. During August it doesn’t really get dark at all, so you have extra time for sightseeing and road trips. Tour companies offer many pricey treats, but if you are a driver, it’s far better to hire your own car and do your own thing. Beware the speed limit though...just 90k. If you are caught speeding a hefty fine will arrive in the post a few weeks later. Highways tend to be single carriageways and there aren’t many freeways, but the bonus is, traffic is minimal.

Blue Lagoon bathing
      The Blue Lagoon thermal springs and spa are just about the most popular item on most tourist’s agenda. You won’t be alone in the warm bath of geothermal seawater, silica, algae and minerals but you will emerge feeling simultaneously calm and energized. There’s a mid-pool bar and plenty of silica to baste and exfoliate your skin. At 40 euros it’s not a cheap experience but it is a unique one for most.

Skogafoss wall of water

View Seljalandfoss from the road
Then there are the dozens of waterfalls across Iceland. From Reykjavic be sure to make the effort to reach Gullfoss, a spectacular force of nature and Skogafoss in the south, which is very easy to access. In fact you can walk right up to its thundering wall of water. Also in the south is Seljalandfoss which you can walk behind.

Gullfoss in winter
      If you visit in summer, you will understand why Game of Thrones took inspiration from such a unique environment and want to return in winter to enjoy the experience in a different season when glaciers grow every larger and rivers and falls are transformed into walls of ice. Or should that be Beyond the Wall.
Spectacular force of nature Gullfoss