Friday, January 27, 2017, daytime
Two tours were included in the package we purchased from Icelandair, both scheduled for today. The daytime tour was of the Golden Circle, which includes three of the top attractions in Iceland: Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir by those of us who can’t fathom the Icelandic language), Gullfoss (Golden Falls), and Geysir, home of the erupting hot spring that gave all geysers their name worldwide.
The Icelandic language belongs to the Nordic branch of the Germanic languages. However, because Iceland was relatively isolated from the rest of Europe, it changed very little over the centuries. It is very close to Old Norse, and modern Icelanders can easily read Old Norse literary works created a millennium ago. It’s a difficult language to learn, consisting of 32 letters, fourteen of which are vowels.
The day started out very cloudy, and soon our bus was driving through heavy snow. The view was not unlike the opening scene of the movie “Fargo.” We Minnesotans are, of course, as used to this as the Icelanders are. One difference here is that the snow usually doesn’t last as long, due to the warmer temperatures here. One similarity is that drivers here are no less surprised to learn that the snowy roads are slippery, no matter how many years they have experienced it. We were forced to stop for a period of time while cars were being pulled out of the ditch.
The first stop was at Þingvellir, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and national park. This was the home of the Althing, the early parliament of Iceland, dating to 930 AD. The area was chosen for its accessibility from other populated parts of the nation. Þingvellir sits in a rift valley between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates, so you can easily move from one continent to the other in the valley.
We visited here in 2014, but during the spring, and it certainly looks different in winter. We didn’t venture as far as we did last time due to the weather. Still, it’s interesting to see in different seasons.
Then we visited Geysir, where a young couple was having wedding photos taken. Brrr…I felt sorry for that young bride. We watched the largest geyser blow (and it does blow about every 5 minutes,) took a few photos and scurried back to the warmth of the bus – not very hardy Minnesotans after all.
Our final stop during the day was at Gulfoss, easily the most impressive. It’s difficult to describe the power of those falls. The Hvita river drops in two stages (one of 36 feet and the other of 69 feet,) plunging into a 1.6 mile crevice. During the winter, the flow is about 2,800 cubic feet per second, as compared to 4,900 cubic feet in summer.
Here again was a young couple having wedding photos taken.
As we drove back to our hotel, we enjoyed the scenery along the way, including some Icelandic horses and an early sunset.
Having only seen photos of these spots during summer, it’s lovely to see the contrast brought about by winter. Those poor brides! You Minnesotans are hardy folk, indeed. This morning’s “cold spell” is 66 F, and sweaters are the order of the day.