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Golden Circle June 20th

Sorry for the long break in between entries. I've been in Akureyri for over a week now and have been in class every day from 9-4, plus my internet at the homestay is a little sketchy and doesn't hold a signal well so not much time for a full update. I'll continue on from where I left off.

We left Solheimar about 9 in the morning for one of the longest days on the trip. Iceland's famous tourist route, the Golden Circle, is a collection of several historical and geologically significant landmarks in an area of southern Iceland. You really can't be a tourist in Iceland without hitting several of the larger stops including Nesjavellir geothermal power plant, Þingvellir National Park, Haukadular, and Gullfoss.

First up on the docket was Nesjavellir. Really, in most cases once you see one power plant of it's particular type (geothermal, hydro, micro hydro so far on this trip), you've seen them all. There is only so much that can be shown in a working power plant as working mechanisms are not visible from the outside of the machine. However, power plants in Iceland- especially geothermal power due to its unique nature- are special. Nesjavellir had a new, modern visitor's center complete with a tour guide and a large observation deck of the plant's interior. Lining the observation deck were posters, mostly in Icelandic, depicting each part and what it does. Each were matched with numbers to their corresponding part in the plant, so it really illustrated the inner workings of the geothermal plant.

And the plant is located on a  fault so it's built to pull apart.


Ok. I'm done.

From there, we drove to
Þingvellir National Park which, beyond just being a gorgeous geological area, it's also the site of the first Viking parliament and the summer home of the Icelandic prime minister Geir Haarde who is a Brandeis alum. There was the clearest spring I have ever seen in my entire life running near where the bus was parked. It must have been about 10 feet deep in places but it was the clearest prism of blues. Too bad it was also freezing or I might have jumped in! We had a guided tour complete with Icelandic storytelling, which is of legendary proportions let me tell you. Only to be tied with Icelandic humor. ;) Basically, we walked down a trail in a fault with high craigy rock walls around us. It looked like the next earthquake could take the whole wall down. This past earthquake didn't do much damage there, but one about 6 years ago tore a whole new fault into the land.

From there we drove to Haukadular valley where Geysir- the origin of our word geyser- and Strokkur are located. Geysir doesn't really spurt anymore, though sometimes adding soap will act as a laxative. I was told this, didn't test it out (but I thought about it...). Strokkur goes off every 5 minutes or so. We watched Strokkur go off a few times until finally it went off twice in a short succession. I questioned if this might be a sign of an impending geothermal event? We left. :P Since there were those earthquakes a few weeks ago (which I missed out on by about a week), we're all very sensitive to the possibility of some other event.

I also got my first legal beer at the gift shop across the street. $6 for a big can of Gull. :P

What was interesting is that when I went to Yellowstone, all of the hot springs and geothermal spots were blocked off by fences, ropes, and signs screaming DANGER! In Iceland, no such luck. There were people wandering around the hot pots like it was nothing. It's actually something I like about about the country- people are given a whole lot more personal responsibility. If a small child falls through the earth because their parents weren't watching them and making sure they stayed on the path, Icelanders wouldn't sue either- it's their own fault. If the same happened in Yellowstone, there would be 15 foot high plexiglass wall and a 5 million dollar settlement. Really at all of the sites in Iceland, it's an "at your own risk" deal. There are no guardrails on the roads (unless it's REALLY bad.... quoting Lukas- "Hey Dave? Do they mark their dead with crosses on the side of the road here?"), no fences around cliffs, and full access to areas that we would never be allowed to get near in the US.

From there, we drove a little farther on to Gullfoss (Goo-tl-foss.. means gold falls). The waterfall is gorgeous and has a perpetual rainbow stretching across it. At one point, there was a proposal to build a hydropower plant on the falls. However, this was protested so deeply by the people of Iceland that the proposal was dropped and the land returned to the state of Iceland. Now it's a small park and tourist stop.

From there, we went on to
Kjölur- a rough dirt road through the uninhabited interior highlands of Iceland- to Karlingerfjoll and Hveravellir (more about those later). ;)



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