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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Golden Circle

Gullfoss Falls
Gate bearing Þingvellir National Park emblem

With just one day left for this trip we decided to hit the 'Golden Circle'. The circle is a popular tourist route that hits 3 popular spots: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. All three are an easy day's road trip from Reykjavik. So off we went!

FYI:  Þingvellir is pronounced, "Thing-vel-lear". There now we can all pronounce 1/35th of the Icelandic Alphabet.

First stop on the scenic drive was Þingvellir National Park. Not only is the park a UNESCO World Heritage Site but the whole park is seated in a valley that lies between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates - GAK!  We trusted the tectonic plates would behave for our visit.

Þingvellir Visitor Center under overcast sky
I'll remember the Þingvellir Visitor Center for two things. First the so cool metal disk (in glass shown on left). I have a mobile that has similar metal disks - never mind, long story.
But the main thing I will remember was the lovely young lady from Africa who handily took care of my purchases in English - as do it seems all Icelandic people - then turned to her Icelandic co-worker and spoke a blitz of Icelandic that made my head spin! I know. How silly of me not to expect an African to speak fluent Icelandic - but honestly it was so cool. If I'd had the nerve I'd have videotaped her.

In a nutshell, once upon a time, Þingvellir was a meeting place in the age before the first century, for Icelandics to gather from all over the island.. The area had grazing, water and handy routes that led the various old Icelandic peoples to hold their 'meet ups' the area.

On the right today's tourists travel a path over the lake that leads them to recent age buildings.

Buildings on the site of the old Icelandic Parliament at Þingvellir 

Loved the scenery of Þingvellir which included this old, solitary, presumably feral Icelandic sheep.

Next we headed for the Gullfoss, passing at least a couple of bathhouses featuring water from underground hot springs.
Along the road there were geothermal springs and whatever this thing is 
 Our second stop on the Golden Circle was the Geyser fields of Haukadalur. The Geysers are spread through a field with riverlets of hot, mineralized water crossing the plain.
Yellowstone? Nope, the Geysir field of Haukadalur
Hot water and poofs of steam

The Strokkur geysir is Iceland's retort to Yellowstone's Old Faithful. And whereas Old Faithful's geyser is slightly higher than Iceland's famous Strokkur, the later is far more regular, i.e., 'faithful' than the former, erupting every 8 to 10 minutes as opposed to every 30 to 100 minutes. You show 'em how its done Iceland!

Strokkur geysir erupting in the distance

Redwing exploring the geysir field.

Hiking around the geysir area was like visiting Babel, hearing a dozen languages being spoken by visiters from around the globe: Manderin, Italian, Russian and English (with both British or Southern accents).

The Visitor Center was immense, with restaurants with gourmet and snack foods, vast areas with all the souvenirs one can imagine.  But what was my favorite thing in the visitor center? Surprisingly it was not the vast area full of souvinirs - but I bought nothing - I must have been ill.

My favorite thing was the bathroom. What impressed me so much? Nope. Not the instructions on proper use of the toilets.
Like a budgie in a cage, I got the biggest kick out of the mirror, outlined as an Icelandic horse & rider. It is the first thing you see on leaving the ladies room.

The final stop on our 'Golden Circle' tour was the 3rd national treasure, Gullfoss. We hussled through the artistic Visitor Center.
The Gullfoss Visitor Center
... walking down the long wooden boardwalk for a view of the magnificent double waterfall.

Look how gorgeous a natural structure that is Gullfoss - 'Golden Waterfall'.  It is terraced and I can't imagine anyone traversing in a barrel and surviving both falls.

The Michelin Woman at Gullfoss
Gullfoss was quite the eye full. The whole area seems old, yet new as they are still building walkways and viewing areas such as the ones shown below.

Still under construction

Quick note, prior to this trip I watched several YouTube videos on 'what not to miss' and we took said advice to heart. Therefore before getting back on the highway to Reykjavik, we stopped to sample the following treats...

An Icelandic Lamb Hotdog with French (Icelandic?) Fries.

a WILDLY generous serving of chocolate dipped vanilla ice cream cone.

Well worth the hype.

What was my favorite view opt of such a lovely day? Not the falls or the geysirs? The ice cream cone larger than my head? Nope. It was the lovely little, hooved dudes & dude-ettes below.  We had stopped to see them when I veered off the little highway, so excited I was hyperventilating. There was a small farm in the distance, and a spot where these Iceland horses were lined up awaiting treats (first) and petting (second).
The friendly little line up of sweeties

Finally! I was going to be able to touch, and get close to those darling multi-colored horses! The owner of the horses was there, a six foot plus giant of a man. I bought a little cup of horse 'candy' from him, and when I excitedly fed the ponies, he kept coming over and giving me free cups to me.

I told the v. sweet giant, that I can't wait until I get my weight down enough so I can ride an Icelandic horse. He made my day by telling that he rides Icelandics and he certainly weighs more than I do. I was so happy to touch these touch-stones of the equine world that I was fighting back tears the whole time (Ah! I get sooo emotional when I get to do things I've only ever dreamed of getting to do).

I said he was a giant!
That's the Golden Circle, traversing from one enchanting site to the next, and all within an easy day's day's drive from Reykjavik. Tomorrow we have to stuff all our stuff and head back home to Sacramento. I am already feeling whiny about wanting to return to Iceland, next time with a goal of go for a ride on an Icelandic pony. I hear there are three horses on Iceland for every person, so I'm pretty sure I'll find one to accommodate me.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Reykjavik Redux

Not the first monument in the boonies we've seen this trip

Mated pair of elves

In Iceland Ila and I left no STONE un-turned in investigating the existence of the ever secretive Icelandic elves. True, we're BOULDER than most in presenting such cryptozoological evidence, but there you go!

A lone Bull Elf

No really. Whether you believe us ORE not, we saw these 3 elves right out in the open. These photos are absolute, ROCK solid proof of the existence of Elves on Iceland.

That's enough of that.

Today we completed the last of Iceland's Ring Road, which took us back to Reykjavik. We saw a lot on our way aside from wayward elves.

The weather was sunny today and it was a great birding day.

Barnacle & Pink Footed Geese
The Barnacle Geese are stunning birds
Pony-tailed Tufted Ducks and a couple of Slovian Grebes aka Eared Grebes at the rear
We passed a cute valley where there was a circular coral for sheep sorting on a ranch.
Sheep sorting pens in Réttir, a northern valley
North Atlantic scenery or Wyoming interior shot? You tell me!

Right around the time we viewed the elves crossing the roadway (or was I just sleepy and imagined it all?) a sign featuring a massive seal stood.

A Seal Center! Sounded like a 'must happen' side trip to me. So off we drove to the town of Hvammstangi.

Our time at the Seal Center was brief. There was a souvenir shop and Ila gave me a gift of a cool book on unusual foods of Iceland.

Then being eager to see the seal exhibit, I bought a 5 Krona ticket to it. I took one step into the show area and froze - could NOT force myself to move forward into exhibit that featured taxidermied seals. Sheepishly, I backed out. The ticket vendor lady told me I wasn't the first person to freeze, unable to enter the exhibit area. I've often heard people say they felt 'negative energy' and boy howdy, I now know what they mean. Talk about unexpected & discombobulating experiences.
Photo of stuffed, 'Claire-repellent' seals at the center (taken from center website)
 On our way back out of Hvammstangi we stopped a likely wool goodies target area.

It was the Kidka wool factory. There was a little shopping area up front with woolen garments and thingmabobs, and a HUGE wool factory in the rear or the building. We were welcomed to enter the factory work floor for a look around. 

Someone gave into temptation, buying the largest sized T-shirt they had, all about the volcano that erupted in 2010

The remainder of the trek to Reykjavik was fun, with continuing bouts of spectacular scenery.

We stopped for lunch as a nifty restaurant/hotel that raised its own veggies, cattle and piggies.
There, we enjoyed what is arguably the best hamburger I've ever eaten. They raise their own veggies and burgers on the hoof.

The same restaurant featured artwork by the entrance, on the numerous types of fairy tale/cryptic/indigenous beings of Iceland. I took photos of all the beings because they were too interesting/cute to ignore.

Here's one of the wee folk.There are many different species, living in hillocks, mounds and rocks. There are 6 different types of elf beings. They make use of physical matter to bond to the environment but appear on the mental plane.

Hermits are hairy, dwarf-like and appear to be ancient. The Hermit here at Hraunsnef is around 300 years old and he is this area's guardian. He is solitary and needs to be approached with respect and care as he does not like to be disturbed when he is immersed in his reading. But do try to have a quick peek into his abode.

Driving back to Reykjavik took us through the 2nd... 3rd? Long Massive tunnel with a tunnel fee of a whopping 10 Krona.

 Once in the tunnel, it seemed to go on forever. I joked that the fee was 'one Krona per mile'. After five minutes, I decided my joke was truth!
It took us 7 minutes to get through the tunnel
Following our 'tunnel' adventure, we made it back to Reykjvik. There we claimed our room at the 'City Park Hotel'. Checked in, we were off again for a stroll downtown.
Downtown Reykjavik
View towards the Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean
Old timey whimey view of downtown Reykjavik
There are many Murals
and lots of murals
The I DON'T SPEAK ICELANDIC souvenir Store
I love this poster in a store window
Wow. How often do you see Martin Luther toys?
This has been a long post, apropos for a long day - and we only have one more full day to enjoy here. We had dinner at a deli around the corner from our hotel. It served simple, local food, and we figured it was good food as there were several off duty Iceland policemen eating there, as well as many bachelors. I must say, we were the best looking women in the joint!