From Seattle, Iceland is only a bit more than 7 hours away. Being of Viking ancestry, I had always wanted to see this island nation that boasts of great views of the Northern Lights. When we saw a special deal on Iceland Air, we jumped at the opportunity to spend three nights and days there at a very reasonable price. Our whirlwind adventure started with the first night on the plane! If you can sleep on the plane, as Larry can, that's not so bad. If you're more like me, the excitement will make up for lack of sleep.
We arrived just before sunrise, seeing only rocky terrain dusted with a light blanket of snow. After a 45 minute ride to Reykjavik, we found that even Iceland (with a total population of slightly over 300,000) has congested traffic during the morning commute.
Our hotel room was tiny and Spartan, but immaculately clean. Cleanliness seems to be an Icelandic trait. Hot water is a commodity that they have lots of, as we would find.
We immediately set out on foot to explore the town.
The strikingly tall Lutheran church that can be seen from practically any point in town features a statue (given to Iceland by the United States) of Leif Erickson, who purportly sailed to North America almost 500 years before Columbus. After a short rest and a good dinner at the hotel, we took off on our search for a sighting of the elusive Northern Lights.
The moon was brilliant (which didn't help our chances), but we traveled far enough from the city lights that it didn't matter. With our cameras at the ready,we braved the icy cold night air for a couple hours. After everyone was almost consoled to the disappointment of failure.....
Someone yelled "there!" and everyone rushed to look northward into the sky. I finally figured out that it takes a good camera with a long time exposure to get those fantastic pictures that you see in books. Larry got a couple shots to prove that we indeed saw something, but there were a lot of black pictures taken that night. At least I can now say that I have seen the light.
After a good, but short, night's sleep, we set out on an all day tour of the Thingvellir National Park. This tour is termed the Golden Circle and is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland. It includes a visit to the location where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates intersect and move apart from each other at the rate of about one inch each year. You walk along the American plate and look out over the expanse that has been created toward the Eurasian side. The geologic upheaval and continental divide is awe inspiring and hard to imagine.
The park also contains the first site of Iceland's parliament, which is the oldest existing parliament in the world. Iceland's largest natural lake is at this location as well as deep crevices of crystal clear water and the magnificently huge Gullfoss waterfall.
Next on the tour was a stop at the Geysir hot spring area. This is where our English word "geyser" originated and a great example of why Iceland is called the country of fire and ice.
Strokkur, this accommodating geyser, spouts hot water over 100 feet in the air approximately every five minutes, with a smaller burst shortly thereafter - much to the appreciation of us tourists.
We got the opportunity to see a purebred Icelander when we stopped to visit with a few horses grazing by the road. As you can see, they are more the size of a pony. Stocky, hardy and long-lived, they are direct descendants of horses originally brought from Norway back in the ninth century. One of their unique traits is that they exhibit two more natural gaits than other horses.
The last stop on the Golden Circle tour was at a geothermal energy plant.
The impressively contemporary building houses an excellent animated mural that explains how superheated water from deep within the earth is used to create electricity as well as clean water. A guide also was on hand to further clarify the eco-friendly procedure that manages to heat over 80% of Iceland's homes and provide enough hot water for the city of Reykjavik.
In Reykjavik, water is stored in large tanks that encircle a building called The Pearl. It sits atop a hill and also houses several restaurants, shops and a museum.
Before leaving Iceland the next day, we spent four wonderful hours at the Blue Lagoon. What a marvelous way to end the trip! Set amidst mounds of volcanic rock is this oasis of steaming water in which we soaked, wandered, swam and floated. There is a steam room, sauna, a thundering waterfall that can massage your back and head and cold mini sprays that awaken your senses. The naturally soft and curative silica is readily available to create your own personal facial beauty mask. It also covers the rocky floor of the huge outdoor pool. The adjoining building is spotlessly clean and houses restaurants, a spa, locker rooms and a sales room for Blue Lagoon products that are supposed to have special curative powers.
Now, we figure that we need to visit Iceland again - next time in the Spring or Fall - to see the land in bloom as well as sprinkled with snow. We covered only a tiny speck of the island's enchantments, staying fairly close to Reykjavik, it's largest city, containing over half of the country's total population.
"Who's that crazy tourist taking all those pictures?!!"