Sunday, 10 July 2011


With the generous hospitality of Margret and Gudjon, we were treated to the highlight of the trip so far. After an afternoon at the Blue Lagoon hot springs, we went on a two day trip though the mountains, glaciers, hot springs, hydro stations, geysers, waterfalls, historic sites and plains of south-west Iceland, with a stay at a beautiful summer house overnight. Absolutely awesome.

Iceland was settled in the ninth century, and received a major boost from people unhappy with the unification efforts of a certain King Olav of Norway in the 10th century. The first few hundred years are very well documented, with a huge cast of historical characters in the many Sagas, which were mainly written down in the thirteenth century.

They had a parliament system established by the 11th century with no head of state, which has continued for over a thousand years. We visited the site of the parliament at Thingvellir. This is also the site of the rift where the Pacific and the North American plates are separating. Remarkably little sign of recent movement, despite a 2cm per year plate divergence.

The parliament met once a year with clans coming from around the county and setting up camp for one or two weeks. The clan leaders formed the parliament which met in the open, and also acted as a court of law.

The country was under the control of Denmark for 300 years until WWII and the Ting continued to meet, with decisions having to be ratified by the King of Denmark. Towards the end of WWII the Icelanders seized the day and declared independence towards the end of the war while Denmark was still under occupation.
We visited the site of the first dioscesan church in the middle of the countryside, far from any towns, which was the base of the Iceland diocese from its conversion in the eleventh century. A plaque lists all the Bishops from around 1050 to the present and their period in office. Such continuity for over 1000 years was quite staggering. Of course they were on their 10th church on the site, with previous ones regularly burning down.

We visited Geyser, which is the site of the thermal vents from which all geysers get their name and there is one which erupts spectacularly every 10 minutes or so.

The waterfall Hvarnfoss, or Lava Falls has underground water cascading from halfway down a rock face to the river, along a distance of around 250 metres. We visited a hotsprings with around a dozen fountains of water boiling out of the rock, before going into a pumping station, piping it 74km to Arkranes for space heating.

We visited the small town where the writer Snorri Sturlurson recorded many of the oral historical sagas of the Icelanders in the thirteenth century, relating mainly to the first 120 years of settlement from 930 to 1050. Gudjon very kindly bought us two books of Sagas which we have been very much enjoying.

The whole journey was in sight of one of the glaciers, and Mount Hekla which is currently threatening to erupt. It has done so every 10 years last century, and is now 1.5 years overdue for an eruption. Being only 110km from Reykjevik, I would be worried, but the Icelanders, like the San Franciscans are philosophical. They have been living with volcanos for 1000 years.

The weekend was topped off by a glorious dinner at the Pearl, a revolving restaurant set on top of a ring of 5 massive tanks on a hilltop in Reykjevik, The tanks hold hot water for the district heating system for the city.

West Iceland we did by ourselves, exploring the Snaefelness Peninsula, with another glacier-topped volcano at its tip. The area has many sites from the sagas, and a monument to the first European woman to give birth in North America, an Icelandic woman who travelled extensively with the Viking ships in the 11th century. Her various journeys to Newfoundland, Greenland and European mainland are shown.

The mountain-top itself was covered all day in cloud, but we did drive up to the snowline and walked on the glacier. The singing cave was another highlight of this mountain. About 5 metres across and about the same high, but with a 1m high entrance, causes the wind to create notes. The wind was very strong when we were there, and the cave was pulsating, much like a doof-doof car sound system. One saga describes an early settler coming here and holding council with a group of dwarfs. He later disappeared on the glacier and became the spirit of the mountain.

Managed to find the café nearby reputed to serve the best fish soup on Iceland. A tiny building perched on the hillside above a rocky bay, and yes, the fish soup was absolutely beautiful. We learned how to make great fish soup at an earlier restaurant. The broth and the fish are cooked separately, each to their own perfection, and the broth is then poured over the fish pieces just before serving. Cannot wait to try it ourselves.

Did I mention the sculptures? Wow, what inspired sculptures everywhere here. I love it.

 And the boundless creativity of the church designs!

Thank you so much to Margret and Gudjon, and all the family for making us feel so welcome, including the use of the exquisite summerhouse.

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