A final day in Iceland's capital, a few moments of blue sky and views large and small.
Iceland's 4,000 farmers produce enough meat, dairy and eggs to feed the country. They are an incredibly determined and hearty lot, taming the earth in small flat plots where the sea, glacial rivers and volcanic mountains meet.
Iceland’s deepest lake is formed by the melting of Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. In 1920, the edge of the glacier reached the ocean. Then it began shrinking. By 1935, there was a small lake made of glacial melt. Today, that lake is 900 feet deep. Icebergs are calved from the glacier nearly everyday. They drift across the lake until they melt or reach the surf. It is an unworldly sight.
Before your eyes, the pieces of the glacier disappear. The iceberg below was over two stories tall. The black stripes are volcanic ash laid down after eruptions and the stripes were horizontal until the berg tipped over.
These next images were taken only moments apart of the same piece of disappearing ice.
Some icebergs make it almost to the surf, only to be swept onto the black sand beach where they look like diamonds, if only for a few moments....
If you are a fan of the Game of Thrones, perhaps there is something familiar about this image. It is where "The Wall" was filmed. Before the 2010 eruption of the nearby volcano Eyjafjallajökull it was much whiter. Today it is striated with layers of volcanic ash from the explosion, as well as from collapsing mounds of volcanic earth that slide into the glacier as the ice walls retreat.
Armed with crampons, an axe and a delightful guide we took a two hour hike. Walking on a glacier requires that you keep your feet well separated and stamp down flat footed so all ten of the crampon spikes make contact with the ice. It is the bent knee gait of a stomping two year old mid-tantrum.
With only half a tank of gas we made it half way around Iceland. Our day began by the Labrador Sea, exploring a lighthouse atop a massive rock arch that had been carved by the sea. It was blustery, wind blowing at least 30 knots - the kind of breeze that kept us extra cautious near the edge of this stone monolith know as Dyrholey. But the hike in the wild gusts was absolutely worth it. A colony of puffins were taking cover and seemed quite used to friendly hikers. And the view, even in the grayness of the mist, was stunning. Bands of color: gray green sea, black sand beach, orange and yellow fields. And this was just the morning.
The south coast of Iceland is growing at a great clip. Over 2 miles of new landmass stretches out into the Labrador Sea- created by glacial melt and volcanic eruptions, it is almost all black sand. Some of it supports plant life, but much of it is truly a desert that meets the sea.
We drove for several hours in the rain, knowing that there were glaciers just to the left, but out of sight. Happily the the sun made an appearance – complete with a rainbow!
Day 2: Off to Thingvellir National Park – the original home Iceland’s democracy, a spectacular lake on the fissure where the European and North American plates meet. We were supposed to go snorkeling in that fissure where you can touch both continents at the same time. A scheduling snafu got in the way of that plan, but cairns, geysirs and waterfalls provided plenty of other entertainment.
Our Yellowstone geysers are named such, because of the one here in Iceland. Scientists have determined it has been active for over 10,000 years and shows up in recorded history as early as the 1200’s. It had been inactive for 70 years when seismic activity in 2000 caused them to spring back to life. It created a wonderful tourist attraction for Iceland’s burgeoning tourism trade. These performers don’t have the same color as the yellow and blue ones in the American West, but they put on a good show. My favorite part is the bubble that forms on the surface, just before the explosion upwards.
Nearby is Gullfloss, a waterfall that has a greater water flow than any waterfall in Europe or North America. The drop is in two parts and it is pretty spectacular, even on a dreary gray day.
When my daughter suggested Iceland as a place for a one-week mother-daughter trip I jumped at the opportunity. Prior to the word “Iceland” leaving her lips I don’t think I had ever considered visiting. But just like that – there is was –sitting up near the Arctic Circle beckoning.
Our flight from Boston to Iceland on Icelandic Air took less time than it does to fly to San Francisco. Flying on an airline that still allows passengers 2 checked bags with no fees was interesting. Without all the jockeying for overhead bin space loading a plane is faster, friendlier and more efficient. And imagine my surprise to find a pillow and blanket on every seat for the red-eye flight. The seating is still tight in coach, but the Icelandic's cushions are not so skimpily padded that they feel like metal stadium seats, like some other airlines.
The clincher of civility happened as we disembarked for the short walk to the terminal in the cool air. In front of me was a four year old wearing only the T-shirt he had on when he left Boston. The flight attendant quickly grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around the boy's shivering shoulders while smiling at his grateful mother. It harkens back to a day when air travel was still a pleasant experience.
But onto adventures in geology and volcanoes. Just before leaving the US vigorous seismic activity started under the country's biggest glacier. Fears of another airline shut down caused by volcanic ash hit the news cycle and friends started emailing asking if we were still going. The decision was an easy one. Iceland has a great information system and plans for dealing with volcanic activity. They respond to mother nature with science, common sense and respect - not Fox New 24/7 fear.
So, on our very first day here, Amelia and I went to meet a volcano up close and personal. We journeyed down 400 feet into the magma chamber of the Thrihnukagigur Volcano a half an hour outside of Reykjavik.
A special life that carries 5 people at a time lowers you down in to the chamber after you walk about 40 minutes across a lichen and moss covered lava field. The rig was designed by German engineers for a National Geographic special and then turned into a truly unique tourist site. Deep inside the magma chamber the basalt rock is a rainbow of reds, blues and orange tones caused by the bacteria that live on the rocks, not algae or lichens as I would have guessed. It is as close as one can get to living out Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.