May 3, 2011
Iceland Day 5: Golden Circle tour
We got up early again, about 7ish, and had tasty breakfast as usual at the hostel. I then rushed off about 8:25 to wait in line at Kaffismiðja Íslands, a famous Blue-Bottle-ish coffee shop in Reykjavik, just down the road from our hostel. Surprisingly, there were quite a few locals waiting for it to open as well! It opened in time and I rushed in there to by a drip coffee. It was super good. Apparently some Icelandic celebrities hang out here, so I figured if there was any chance of seeing Bjork or Jonsi, now was the time. :)
Unfortunately there were no Jonsi sightings but the drip coffee was fantastic. I quickly walked back to the hostel, grabbed my camera and the bus came to pick us up. The British tour guide, David, is awesome and the TripAdvisor reviews said he offered an interesting perspective on life in Iceland, being an immigrant to Iceland. He started with lots of recent Icelandic history on the way out of town.
It was very interesting to hear his opinions, being an outsider-turned-local. He said he was surprised with the style of work vs. play on arrival in Iceland - he found that at work, it was "all business", and that there was not a lot of casual discussions and chillin' out at work like you see in other western countries. He told us stories of when he arrived and was in his 20's, there was often a new never-before-seen item arriving in Iceland, which quickly became the fad of the week: Levis jeans, Brussel sprouts... Iceland was getting little peeks into external culture through these imports.
We stopped by a Geothermal Powerstation and it was awesome. David described the exciting possibilities for Iceland's future given their goldmine of geothermal (renewable/green) energy. We stopped by a greenhouse and I chatted with a girl from Portland who was on our bus. David said that no homes in Reykjavik have a water heater - the water comes to the tap both hot and pressurized! In fact, energy is so cheap that most people leave the heating on and the doors open. I had noticed that a few times at the hostel and thought it was incredibly strange and wasteful - in fact it's so affordable and green that everyone does it. It is a truly renewable source of energy and is extremely cheap. Water runs through insulated pipes downhill to Reykjavik and so they use gravity to pressurize the water. Amazing!
We then arrived at Gulfoss waterfall. It was HUGE!!! There were multi-steps of water there and it was very cool. I liked the mist the most, as it looked a bit like the Northern lights, in mist. :) We grabbed some lunch there at Gulfoss and I tried some traditional Icelandic lamb stew which was tasty, and also bought a huge Blueberry cheesecake.
Off we went to Geysir, where the word for geysers comes from. There were several geysers there, "Geysir" itself last erupted in 2000. Nearby, "Strokkur" erupts every 4.5 minutes on average so we sat patiently on the hill waiting for it. It was super cool and I took lots of photos, and got a video of it too (see next post).
After Geysir, we headed on to Þingvellir National Park. I'd been pronouncing it "Ping-vell-ear", and apparently the real pronunciation is more like "Thing-vek-chlear" :) Whew, still working on my Icelandic. :) Here we saw the "Continental Divide" which David mentioned is only partly true. It is the edge of the Eurasia plate, though. We then saw the pole which signifies the location of the "law stone", where Chieftains gathered after getting details from essentially their constituents and took these comments to a yearly meeting. Details were combined and a new law would be proclaimed from the law stone. This happened for about 1000 years and is a close representation of modern democracy. The view was beautiful from there and they had some crazy bathrooms there like in the N'Seoul Tower in Seoul, South Korea - with HUGE clear glass windows looking out on the amazing scenery... from the bathroom :)
After another glorious day of exploring, we headed back to Reykjavik. I went out for dinner with Norm to Sólon, the place I went to a few days before. I got lamb marinated with ginger and Norm got grilled salmon. I also tried Brennivin the liquor, in honour of Brennivin the cat!! It is cardamon-based and was not too bad, but the cat is more awesome though! :)