First, we went to the area to the north-west of Reykjavík known as 'Golden Circle', where all the tourists go. By the roadside, we saw the first sandur (gravel plain desert) with cairns erected in gratitude for a successful crossing. Many have been built here over the centuries, as this was well-travelled all through history, leading to Thingvellír (please excuse me for not doing ethes and thorns correctly!), the meeting place of the allthing, or general assembly -- before they got under Norwegian rule in late medieval times, Iceland was one of these ancient Germanic democracies I have been harping in about for years in connection with the Ostrogoths and Teja.
The area around Thingvellír is seismically very active. Here, recent shifts of tectonic plates (Europe and America meet here, tectonically) have ruptured a footpath.
The little purple flowers were everywhere. A sheer cliff of basalt columns in the background.
The government guest house at Thingvellír, the only building there. Special official functions are still held there, and foreign dignitaries get to sleep there. Icelanders are still very proud of their democratic heritage.
My mother and sister, on the walk from the cliffs to those buildings.
Between the continents at Thingvellír.
On the upper part of the cliff, there is a ravine where the medieval Icelanders diverted a river to have water during the assembly. There were some serious mountaineers there, ready to abseil all over the place.
My mother and sister emerging from said ravine, at Oxaráfoss.
Gullfoss, the 'Golden Waterfall', part three of the Golden Circle. I didn't take pictures at Geysír because it was too steamy for me to risk my beloved Pentax. We walked down there where you see the little people, too, and I didn't take any pictures either, for the same reason -- wet spray and a valuable digital SLR don't mix.
And then we went to Skálholt, once seat of the first Christian bishop in Iceland, and not usually part of a touristy tour; but my mother had seen many objects from there in the National Museum in Reykjavík while my sister and I were whale-watching that morning, and wanted to go look. THe guide book said there was nothing old left there, but she still wanted to see. This is the modern church there.
What the guide-books didn't say: there was a reconstruction of an old turf-built church right beside the modern one. The first bishop's original cathedral in Skálholt may have looked a bit like this.
Inside, it was simple and lovely. The evening sun beautifully filled the windowless room.
My mother stepping inside. For this lovely building, going to Skálholt had been worth it. Oh, and the lack of other tourists, of course. Other tourists were a plague in some places. More of that later.
Next day: natural wonders on the southern coast. These are cliffs near Seljalandfoss. Foss means waterfall; it's the one word in Icelandic even the dumbest tourists learn.
Seljalandfoss is the waterfall where you can walk behind the curtain of spray. Here is my sister, behind the waterfall, in her Swedish raincoat, smirking at me in her typical Sphinx-like way.
View our from behind Seljalandfoss.
This is said dumbest tourist, the epitome of the plague I mentioned -- when I was going back down the slippery stairs at the wettest part, he came charging up, followed by a bevy of women, never looking left nor right. He nearly ogged me over, and I had to cling desperately to said slippery handrail. I was furious, and also very wet, as I had had to wait at the wettest point until these people (some sort of Brits, from their accents) had charged past. Later, when he came back down, I accosted him and vehemently told him off. I wasn't going to fume all day, so best put my anger where it belongs: the cause! In the background you see a nameless little unimportant foss, and my mother and sister photographing a fencepost and pretending not to know me. As a woman, you're not supposed to confront a stranger with your disapproval, especially not a man. It is just not done. Well, fuck that oppressive nonsense. And fuck this jerk.-
Seljalandfoss from the front. After I had properly let off steam at that dangerous jerk, I went on taking pictures.
The dreaded Eyjafjallajökull. North of it, there is the much larger Myrdalsjökull; and underneath that, there's the gigantic volcano known as Katla. When Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010, the true worry was that Katla might follow suit. In former eruptions of Katla, there had been so much volcanic ash that there was no summer in Iceland for three years, and a third of the population died. That was in the middle of the 18th century.
Skógafoss, a tall waterfall. Stairs with 400 steps lead up beside it towards a famous hiking path that leads to Fimvördurhals, a ledge between Eyjafjallajökull and Myrdalsjökull. My brother-in-law had hiked that trail two weeks earlier; we didn't go. It takes days, even for a well-trained hiker and runner like he is.
Skógar open air museum. Turf houses from the 18th century in the foreground, wood and corrugated iron farmhouses from the 19th century in the background. Due to the great eruption of Katla, the latter half of the 18th and the earlier half of the 19th were especially cold; people huddled in these little warm houses. Then, some decades later, they emerged again. Wood and corrugated iron together insulate excellently as well, because the warm air is trapped between them and keeps the cold out. We didn't goo inside that day but kept it for the journey back, for which bad weather was predicted.
That day, we went to Dyrhóley, a bird cliff with that typical washed-out gateway, by the coast.
View towards Reynisdrangar from Dyrhóley. Reynisdrangar, the three huge rocks in the sea, are said to be three trolls that turned to stone when the sun came up. Yes, those three trolls. Tolkien had an Icelandic nanny as a kid; so these are the original trolls.
View back to Dyrhóley from Reynisdrangar. Note the black beach. it is famous. I broght back a handful of that gravel, even though it is not, strictly speaking, permitted.
View towards two of the three trolls, from the same beach. Not the basalt wall.
The basalt forms a cave.
Some morons had to climb the basalt cliffs even though it is seriously forbidden because puffins breed there.
View back to the three trolls from the black beach at Vík.
The next day, we went for a little cruise on an amphibian boat on the Jökusarlon glacier lagoon. The black streaks in the blue-white icebergs is ash from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. No human soot and smog reaches that place; it's the furthest I have ever been from civilisation. The glacier is Vatnajökull, Iceland's largest.
The ice appears blue because the sunlight is refracted; small pieces are perfectly clear. We got some to taste.
It was wild and lonely there; nothing but the tourists and the boats.
Skaftafell, part of the Vatnajökull National Park. We went for a little hike there. When I was out there, having followed the trail to that glacier lake, I was the furthest from civilisation that I had ever been; walking by myself on the way back (my mother and sister had decided to go on over a bit of steep trail my vertigo made me shy away from), I finally found the definition of 'rude' that I had ruminated over for almost a week: not civilised! This place, with all its glorious nothingness, is the antithesis of civilisation and human society. It is very big, and humans are very small end ephemeral there. Mankind has built all these complicated things and tried to fill the world to overflowing, to escape the power of that.-
What plants there are in Skaftafell. Grass is virtually non-existent.
The next day: the three trolls, without mist. It was a cloudy, rainy day, and we moved back towards civilisation, farmland, grass. This is not untouched emptiness at all. It's positively busy.
Skógafoss again. My mother and sister went up those stairs, but I didn't, because of vertigo, and the hordes of tourists that I found scary and didn't want to meet on a narrow impossibly tall wet staircase, after my experience at Seljalandfoss with that idiot. How should I tell if there wasn't another one of those in the wyrm going up and down the stairs? So I stayed down there.
A grassy ridge with actual grass. There were even cows, not far. It all seemed so lush and rich, after the emptiness of the day before.
A big bronze ring in the Skógar museum, where we did go that day. It is said to come from a treasure chest hidden in the pool underneath Skógafoss that is protected by some elvish magic (Icelanders believe in elves, which are more like Irish little folk than the Tolkienian eldar); somebody fulfilled almost all the requirements for getting the treasure out of there, but one small thing was missing, so the ring broke loose, and the rest of the chest was lost forever.-
The little church in the open air museum; lovely and colourful.-
The third part, some bonus Norse myths, will follow tomorrow.-