Today was really good. The weather was fine with a temperature of about 14c. I set off on the first of three one-day tours, this one to some of the stand-out attractions near Reykjvick. It also answered some of the questions that I had formulated from some of my observations.
Our first stop was at a thermal power station. All of Iceland’s power is thermal because the country is geologically active and a good part of the country is covered in ‘hotspots’. I am impressed with the engineering in these sort of places, but I don’t really find them fascinating – how excited can you really get over a power station?. However, it did answer a question. I have noticed that the hot water in the bathroom has a distinct sulphur smell. Now I understand why. The hot water for the city is piped into town from the thermal power station. People apparently don’t have their own hot water heaters – the whole city is heated thermally.
I also found out that the development of Icelandic towns follows a sequence that is virtually the opposite of most places. What happens here goes like this. The government decides that a school is necessary to educate the children of remote farmers. They look for a spot with a hot spring because then they have heating. The school attracts teachers and staff which in turn attracts shops which in turn attracts other people and so the town grows. In most other places, the school is built to service an existing population. Iceland grows most of its own vegetables and produce and most of these are grown in thermally heated hot houses.
When I was flying in yesterday, I noticed a number of fields that looked as if they were established to grow crops. I wondered what sort of crop would grow in this climate. The answer is grass, although some barley is grown here as a summer crop. Grass is the most prolifically grown crop as it can then be cut into hay and used to feed the animals over winter.
We continued on with the day crossing a landscape that was very volcanic. Some of the lava flows here are less than 1000 years old. There were lots of mountains that were clearly old volcanoes. I understand that this area around Reykjavik is the most farmed area of Iceland. Other parts are covered with an icecap up to 1 kilometre thick, or are too rocky for growing anything.
Our next stop was the Guilfoss Waterfall. This giant cascade is on a river that emanates at the foot of a glacier. The falls are one of the icons of Iceland. It was very hard to take a decent photo of the them as the wind was blowing spray into my face and the camera lens was constantly getting droplets of water all over it.
Our lunch was at a thermal area where the original Geyser is located. The word Geyser is the one Icelandic word that has become internationalised. It actually stands for a specific ‘spouter’ and is not the generic name for a geyser as we use it. The real Geyser has not blown for some years. Geysers increase, or sustain, their activity in conjunction with earthquakes. there hasn’t been an earthquake here for a few years now, and the one that occurred in 2006 (6.5 on the Richter Scale) apparently wasn’t big enough to rejuvenate old Geyser.
Following on from the geyser area, which looked , and smelled, just like Rotorua, we headed over a mountain to the site of Iceland’s ancient parliament. It is the oldest form of parliament in the world. One of the phenomena of Iceland is that it sits across two of two world’s tectonic plates – the European one and the North American one. The old parliament site is on the edge of a rift valley where these two plates join together. On either side of the valley, we could see fault lines with very clear fractures. One of the faults was discernable by a line of sheer basalt cliffs. Now, this is quite a new experience for me. I’ve stood on the border of two states as a young boy, and in Russia, I stood on a line that formed the boundary of two continents – Europe and Asia. Today’s border was a little too large to straddle, but we actually crossed from the European Plate onto the North America one.
At the site of Iceland’s first parliament. there were no foundations or building ruins, but there were a number of quite clear locations where the leaders met and made major decisions were made. The president had to recite one third of the book of laws each year of his three year term. This made sure that everyone knew the law, even though they couldn’t read. Icelanders have met at the same place whenever major decisions have been needed. For example it was the site of Iceland deciding to become a Christian nation over 1000 years ago. It’s also where the 1000th anniversary of this decision was held just recently.
I had the bus drop me off into the town centre and I walked around taking photos. I was back at the guest house by 5.30 pm, caught up with my email and then went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant just around the corner.
I was quite disappointed this afternoon to find that the main cathedral in Reykjavik is being restored. It has some superb architecture but it is all covered in scaffolding. I didn’t even bother to walk up the street too see it! What a shame – my once in a lifetime opportunity to see one of the world’s most unique church buildings.