Journal of a 23-day Icelandic road trip

Wednesday August 19

GEYSIR, GOLDEN CIRCLE

It was only 8 am when we arrived in the geyser park. The advantage of this was that the place was still deserted; the disadvantage was that the sky was overcast, and there was very little light.

To be completely honest with you, I’d given little importance to reading up on the very touristy Golden Circle, so arrived there a total novice. I stood proudly in front of Geysir, tripod planted firmly in the ground, shutter release cable in hand, and waited… and waited… and waited...

A man of a certain age had been watching me out of the corner of his eye for a little while. Then he approached and asked me in French (with a strong Belgian accent): “But Monsieur, you know that one’s off!”
I eyed him sheepishly: “Oh…really?”
“But of course, Monsieur!” He seemed appalled at my ignorance. “But haven’t you read the guide? You see, it’s off Monsieur, the guide says so!!”

It was a surreal scene. There I was, standing in front of a dormant geyser, with this guy (and his strong accent) scandalized I hadn’t read the guide.

Yet it was written on the sign I’d photographed: Geysir’s last eruption dates from the year 2000!

I fell back on the one that was “working”: Strokkur is its name, and it erupts every ten minutes.

Here’s a sequence:

The geyser reaches an average height of 30 meters (100 feet).

The most beautiful element of it is the water bubble that forms just before it erupts.

/

/

/

/

OK, one last water bubble for the road!

/

We stepped back a little way so as to observe it from a distance. There are lots of geothermal particularities to see in quite a small area, hence its popularity with tourists.

These tourists just can’t resist throwing coins into any pool they find. It’s a reflex that quite frankly exasperates me, dear reader, particularly when such pools are naturally formed, and therefore polluted by these coins. Of course there are signs everywhere prohibiting the practice, but it’s no use, for tourists appear to have conditioned reflexes they just can’t control.

Next on our itinerary was the majestic Gullfoss waterfall.

The sky was indeed low, but I quite liked this light and this contrast, which lent a moody atmosphere to this beautiful place.

The waterfall pours into a narrow canyon. You can get an idea of the size of the place from the few ghostly tourists on the above photograph.

I usually hate being in photographs, but the setting was so appropriate that I made an exception to the rule this time.

Gawking at monster trucks in the car park.

Anecdote: you have to realize that this place is simply full of hordes of tourists. Among them, a Chinese family, probably new millionaires.

Let me sketch you a portrait of them:

The older son was around 22 years old, dressed more for the fashion catwalk in a shiny parka and D&G sunglasses.

The younger son (the heir) was around eight years old, obese, and wearing corduroy trousers and slip-on shoes (quite useless in the mud, it goes without saying).

The little one stopped and screamed every time he reached a step that was more than 10 cm (4 inches) high. His older brother and his father (wearing a smart suit) would immediately rush over to take his hand and help him step down, screaming the both of them to encourage him to clear the imposing obstacle.

Once they’d completed their expedition to the waterfall, they returned to their waiting chauffeur in the Mercedes you can see below.

By a stroke of chance, they were parked next to us.

It was 2 pm, and high time we headed further west to Þingvellir, to complete the Golden Circle.

Perhaps I should explain: Þingvellir is an essential Icelandic site, for various reasons, chief of which is its importance to geologists. You see, the site is a depressed block of land, or graben, located at a key point of continental drift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. You can clearly see faults and fissures in the landscape (see the above photograph), creating natural tiers in the basalt rock. The heightened seismic activity causes quite frequent earthquakes, while volcanic activity results in occasional increases in the water temperature of the nearby river.

THINGVELLIR, GOLDEN CIRCLE

We arrived at Þingvellir, which lies in the Almannagjá fault. There’s a large Visitor Center, which was thronged with people, as expected! We walked along this fault overlooking the plain, in which the Icelandic Parliament (the oldest in the world) used to sit, from its establishment in 930 until 1798. Once a year, the Icelandic notables (or bœndr) gathered here to make all the important decisions (legal, economic, judicial, and also marriage permissions). Why here? There were several reasons, but the two main ones were that the cliff provided natural acoustic amplification, and that there was an abundance of food in the area, which was essential for these large assemblies.

If you look in the photograph below, you can see the River Öxará flowing alongside the fault. It was in this river that women condemned to death by the parliament were drowned.

The Althing met for two weeks each June and was the occasion for a veritable popular feast. There were games, dances, horse fights (hestavíg), poetry recitals, and readings of the sagas.

We also found a church built in 1859, with a magnificent interior. I made a decent effort of photographing it (at 2000 ISO).

And opposite the church, the cemetery.

I love these photographs where the raindrops are frozen in midair. It’s the most beautiful demonstration of an instant, a present forever past. It takes on even more meaning in a cemetery.

We got back on the road at 4.20 pm, our goal the Snaefellnes peninsula in Western Iceland, more specifically a campground near Eldborg volcano chosen at random. The weather was as awful as ever, but the road was still just as superb.

A little detour into Borgarnes to fill up.

We got to the campground around 6.30 pm. It was a relatively unattractive place, there was hardly anyone there, and the office was closed. We parked on the grass. The toilets and showers were not that great – for once. Indeed, we caused a real flood when we showered!

During that dark night, the car was shaken by a veritable tempest of wind and rain. Unfortunately for Emilie and I, we were seized by an irrepressible need for a pee. Must have been the beer!

Let me tell you, that stepping out half-dressed into the darkness, with the driving rain and 120 km (75 mph) wind, was rather like doing a spacewalk.

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