Our third and last wake-up in Iceland

Overnight we continued to sail in a counterclockwise direction around Iceland ending in Reykjavik, the northernmost capital city in the world. We chose to spend our time outside the city, so we saw very little of it but from the bus it looked to be thriving and well kept. We passed the location where the 1986 arms controls negotiations between the U.S. and Russia took place as well as the location where Bobby Fisher, an American, won the 1972 world chess championship.

Our tour took us out to 9,000 year old lava fields where we enjoyed amazing views of beautiful landscapes and vistas, small glacial rivers and lakes, and mile after mile of open space covered with a variety of low growing vegetation and more than a couple explosive craters. Trees were not plentiful. We passed, lucky us, the mountain where the Christmas family lives: Mother Christmas, Father Christmas, and all 13 of their naughty sons. Iceland is famous for its sturdy, sure footed horses and we passed hundreds of them. A treat for the day was abruptly coming upon hundreds of sheep being driven down the mountain by dogs and men and women on horseback. There was a riding path alongside the road and the sheep were being driven down this narrow space, so we had a birds eye view from the bus.

Our first stop of the day was Thingvellir National Park, established in 1930. Here’s the deal: two tectonic plates meet in Iceland, the American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. Fascinating, right? I read your mind? Often when plates meet, they collide, overlap, and disrupt the ground by forming taller and taller mountains. These two plates have decided to astound the viewing public and do the opposite; they separate. For real. A whopping two centimeters a year (2.54 centimeters = 1 inch). This continental rift, or ‘New Iceland’ varies in width from 18 to 30+ kilometers and continues to grow. The national park is comprised of this new land. The guide pointed out the end of one plate, which was very easy to see … then New Iceland … and then other plate. We strolled through two walls of lava rock down into this new, beautiful valley. We went past a pool where, back in the good old days, women found guilty of certain crimes were drowned after being put in a cloth sack. It is aptly named the drowning pool. From a distance we saw where guilty men were beheaded for their offenses.

We drove past moss covered rocks, wild blueberries, mushrooms, and loads of sheep to get to our second stop: Gullfoss Waterfall, a spectacular tiered fall with a final plunge into a deep ravine. It was worth the 110 steps down (and back up) to get as close as possible.

Strokkur, a geothermal hot spot, was our next stop. We had seen loads of small puffs of steam rising from the ground over the course of the last three days, but this area was a veritable mine field of these outlets where the earth literally lets off steam. It was nestled in a barren, brown, ugly moonscape with, of all things, a glacier in view a short distance off. Talk about contrast. It was a bit like the mud pots we had seen earlier but clear water was boiling here, not mud. One particular geyser gets most of the attention since it explodes steaming hot water into the air whenever it’s in the mood. Sometimes 60 feet up. We were treated to one huge burst and a few medium sized ones. The other geysers just boil and burble.

The last stop of the day should have been a yawner by virtue of the fact that it was a geothermal power plant, Hellisheioarvirkjun, but we were intrigued and very much enjoyed the short film and brief tour that explained how Iceland has learned to harness this wonderful, free resource. In 2008 volcanic activity was utilized to heat over 90% of the buildings in Iceland, so they kinda have this figured out. Hot water is produced on one side of the plant and electricity on the other. They have learned that earthquakes can result from doing this wrong.

Fun facts

1) By law all Icelandic children must know how to swim, so heated outdoor pools are the norm in even small communities.
2) One quarter of Iceland is in an active volcanic zone with an eruption, on average, every four years. There are 130 volcanoes.
3) The pipelines that take the hot water from one place to the next are always curved. Something about bursting under the pressure if they were to be run in straight lines.
4) Before good roads, children living remotely had to go to boarding schools in the closest larger community.
5) Literacy was the law from the very beginning. The translated Bible was the first textbook.
6) Irish monks saw to the translation of the Bible and recorded Icelandic grammar for the first time. Because of the isolation of Iceland over the centuries, the grammar has not changed.
7) There are 11 glaciers.
8) No wars have been fought here but there is a history of some world class family feuds.
9) Elves are to be taken seriously! They go back as far as Adam and Eve and are believed to be their other (besides Cain and Able) children. They reside in stones called elf stones. Still today you can see large stones decorated with small doors and windows so the elves will forever feel welcome.
10) Five wild animals live in Iceland: mice, rats, reindeer, mink, and arctic fox. Only the arctic fox is native. There are no snakes. Woo hoo.
11) Iceland was named the most peaceful country in the world in 2013 and 2014. Running a close race are Denmark and New Zealand.

We headed back to the ship after our satisfying day wondering what the others had seen. We swapped stories over a delicious meal at our preferred table with our favorite wait staff of two: Tamas, the waiter from Hungary, and Ivan, his #2 from Serbia. We always request the same table in their station and look forward each evening to seeing them and riddling them with our questions. They are usually one step ahead of us and already remember that Walter does not eat dairy and likes his tea before dessert; Dan and I drink decaf and usually eat fish; Hettie and Ronnie drink high octane coffee and love beef; and Cleone loves ice cream more than life itself and does not drink hot beverages after dinner.

Ken Block, a comedic impressionist, had us laughing for 45 minutes straight before we set our clocks back an hour and turned off the lights.

Galley believe it or nots…

  • Average daily consumption of
    • coffee: 470 gallons
    • Coffee creamer: 62 gallons
    • Sugar: 400 pounds

3 thoughts on “Our third and last wake-up in Iceland

  1. Not sure if I have ever been in a Lava Field—super cool

    Matt Mongeon | Senior Business Analyst
    PMP, ITIL Foundation, RCV, OSA, SOA
    Technology Team – Cox California
    5159 Federal Blvd., San Diego, CA 92105
    • 619.266.5675 (ex. 55675) |( 619.822.4661 | • matt.mongeon@cox.com


  2. So impressed with the challenging city names…I know you are not cheating on spell check! It really sounds like you are on the moon..hope the food and wine are good:-)


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