We were supposed to get up early this morning to drive out into the countryside of Iceland. We got up a 9am and went to breakfast where we talked with some nice ladies from England and Ireland then we hustled out the door to get on the road going east toward the natural wonder attractions known as the Golden Circle. I am not sure why they call it the Golden Circle, because it is not a circle, nor is the land even close to golden – it is mostly a straight line east through barely populated countryside that you follow until Gullfoss then you turn around and come back.
We were just outside of town when we saw a group of cars pulled over to look at what appeared to be a major geological attraction. It turned out to be Helgafell (the remainder of a volcanic cone now grown over with grass) and ponies. Ponies happened to be on Jessica's Iceland bucket list so we parked, trudged up the hill and petted the nice big furry pony at the fence. Its fur was almost spongy it was so thick. It was very disappointed we did not have food for it as it first tried to eat my iphone and then satisfied itself by licking Jessica's hand.
Our next stop was Þingvellir, a national park featuring a giant inland glacier fed lake well populated with 4 subspecies of Arctic Char. The name Þingvellir literally means Parliament Fields as it is the location of the world's first democratic parliment, the Alþing, established by the Vikings in the fields of what is now the park in 930 AD. At the historic site pull-off our camera phone cameras were very small and unimpressive next to the fancy things being pulled out by every touris around us, but we pressed on and attempted our own form of camera magic to capture the setting.
Then we attempted to get ahead of the boatloads of tourists all on the same Golden Circle tour. One fellow, who we decided was British, was standing in the middle of the road with his tripod wearing black and white tempting fate attempting to get some type of perfect photograph. We decided not to run him over and instead flashed our headlights to warn him of the oncoming deluge of cars and busses behind us. We were off to the geyser and waterfall – but only after the national park visitor's center and some impulse shopping.
Snacks procured we pressed on as the picturesque Icelandic countryside rolled past our windows.
I was able to get this photo through the window of the Volkswagen Polo,
and this one after we pulled off onto a dirt road,
and this one at the Geysir visitor center,
and this one of the geysir Strokkur exploding all over the place.
Prior to walking up to the geyser we checked out the other boiling holes of water in the area. Meanwhile, slightly unintelligent and unsafe tourists ignored the danger ropes and walked across a field of hot, boiling, lava heated water to get to the main geyser path. One group was pushing a baby stroller with a toddler in it. I tried to take a video of the bubbling water and I succeeded, but I can't seem to upload it to this platform – so you will just have to believe me that there was bubbling boiling water coming up through the ground in multiple places.
In front of the geysir were multiple tourists poised and ready with selfie sticks and other forms of preparation to get selfies in front of the water hole blowing. It was obnoxious, so I used my crowd skills to inch to the front to get a shot of the water pre and post eruption. The photo below is of the pre-plume swirling of the water.
Interesting fact is that although this site is called Geysir, Geysir geysir is currently not very active due to the clogging caused by 1950s tourists throwing rocks in it. According to the guidebook earthquakes in 2000 helped dislodge some of these blocks but Geysir still erupts very infrequently. That has not stopped the Icelandic tourist industry boom however, and as you can see in the background of this photo progress continues as does the visitor center complex grow. The visitor center currently features a very large restaurant and a significant gift shop, one might even call a mini-mall. We did not buy anything however as we made a horriyfing discovery.
I was just looking around and that I saw a bin of rabbit fur slippers, then I looked down closely and saw a curious pelt tossed into the mix. I picked up the small and soft pelt and examined it. It had tiny holes on either side where little flipper arms should have been. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach as I reached for the tag, hoping with all my heart it would not read seal, but it did, and I almost screamed in horror at the unfortunate disaster held in my hands. Instead of screaming, I called Jessica over to witness the horror show with me. Besides it being a seal pelt, it was a baby seal pelt, and besides that it was discarded in a bin of slippers as if it were just a pair of socks. I gave the store a closer look after this and began to see seal pelt everywhere around me.
Then I saw the little baby seal stuffed animals at the front of the shop, stuffed seals to which proceeds of the purchase allegedly go to preservation efforts – the nerve! I decided that the gift shop was no longer a place for me after this moment and walked out. It had just begun to rain and we still had a large waterfall in our future. I decided it was time for coffee and got in line at the cafe.
I ordered a swiss mocha and it took forever. But it was a nice break from the road, albeit not the tourists, but it at least tasted good and staved off the hunger for a little while longer. Above is a photo of my mocha with the geyser in the background for artistic effect.
It started raining harder and we climbed back into the car and made our way to Gullfoss, the largest waterfall in Iceland and one of the island's special treausres. According to the guidebook the original owner of this land's daughter, Sigridur Tomasson, walked barefoot to Reykjavik in order protest of the falls being damed by a private investment group for hydroelectricity in the 1920s. The government did not listen to her plea, but luckily the business opportunists failed to pay the lease and the land reverted back to the family. Tomas Tomasson's family donated the land to Iceland as a nature reserve in 1975.
Standing next to the falls in the near pouring rain and wind in November was not a warm or pleasant experience. We braved it to get a couple nice photos and then decided it was time to return to Reykjavik for a warm and dry dinner.
Staying in theme I ordered a seafood soup, this time mussel soup at Mar, a Icelandic Mediterranean fusion establishment along the waterfront, featuring pickled carrot broth and slow cooked mussels. The soup was very tasty, but I had to argue with the menu as my soup featured only one single mussel.
We also ordered a plate of cured lamb and icelandic prosciutto, which was exactly what it said it was.
The cured lamb tasted of rich smoke straight out of the fire with that umami lamb flavor I lack words to describe. The soup was good but after three of the best seafood soups of my life in three days it had to be ranked fourth. I think I'm beginning to be spoiled by the seafood broth skills of Reykjavik. After dinner I convinced Jessica to come with me to try a venue of the music festival with me.
We walked into the Reykjavik Art Museum and heard the sounds of really bad hip hop being performed by very young white men and turned around immediately, crossed the street to enter Gaukurinn where we heard a saxophone solo accompanied by something remnicent of new wave. Way better.
I took another picture of the back of tall mens' heads. Somewhere in the middle was a man singing and playing saxophone accompanied by a drummer. The ensemble is called Toneron. It was highly enjoyable – something like Joy Division meets Men at Work meets Icelandic rock meets funky saxophone player not at all like Kenny G. Toneron was followed by a group called Dad Rocks! from Denmark, although the lead singer was originally from a very small town in the north of Iceland, he left when he was 12, just before everyone started doing drugs, according to him. Dad Rocks! resembled Bare Naked Ladies meets XTC meets They Might Be Giants meets Weezer. The lead singer looked a little like Jimmy Fallon and I thought the guitar player was a doppleganger of a guy from high school I had a huge crush on.
Jessica was ready to go to the spa and cozy in for the night – so I walked back to the hotel with her then headed back out into the night to catch a band called Great Mountain Fire at Gamla Bio. I became obsessed with their very bearded and dancing keyboard player. Here is a sequence of his keyboard dancing.
I ventured back to Gaukurinn to see a band called JoyCut from Italy after Great Mountain Fire, and managed to get right up the stage – they were a very electronic, percussion driven band, I think one might call them drum & bass but I'm not exactly sure. I liked them, but have no photo available thanks to the tall man right in front of me. I then made the mistake after JoyCut of leaving the venue to find it pouring rain outside with lines to get into every other venue in the area. I waited in line with two people from Minneapolis for over a half hour to get into Hurra to see FM Belfast, as the line passed a taco stand I was lured away by my hungry stomach no longer satiated by the bowl of one mussel soup.
I should have stayed in line for Hurra. It was a long wait for a very bad taco at the taco stand. I did order a taco in Reykjavik though – I don't know what I was thinking, I should have went for a hotdog or fish and chips. Defeated and super soaked to the bone after standing in the pouring rain for over an hour I walked home, dried off, and passed out into a dreamless sleep. It had been a long day in the land of fire and ice.