On our second day in Reykjavik we got up to enjoy a very good hotel breakfast (at least the Radisson Blu got that right!), then we set off for a full day excursion. We had to take our luggage on the bus for this segment because we’d be traveling to the northwest part of the island for our next few tours. This meant we had to check into another hotel in that area. We didn’t like it much, but it’s the only way to see as much of the huge island’s beauty as possible in a short time. We were happy to get out of the Radisson and hoped for something better!
During the long drives we learned many surprising facts about Iceland and discovered our imaginations were way off. First, the island is not covered with ice as its name would imply. Instead, it’s a beautiful green volcanic island with many active volcanoes generating earthquakes of various sizes on a daily basis.
This island is much greener than Greenland, in fact Greenland is mostly white because of the ice!
Icelandic horses are pure-bred direct descendants of Viking horses. They are protected so that any of them that leave the island cannot return. This is to ensure no diseases are brought back.
There are no forests in Iceland and very few trees. They were abundant hundreds of years ago, but when the Vikings arrived they deforested the crap out of the island, cutting down almost all native trees. We saw only a fews clumps of trees, the current attempt at reforestation.
The first part of our excursion took us along many miles of Geothermal pipes that serve as a source of hot water and electricity for much of Iceland, an impressive 25% of electricity. It’s a huge and complex system with many facilities pulling hot water out of the volcanic tundra and routing it to individual homes and businesses many miles away. The fact that it’s environmentally friendly with an unlimited supply makes it the only way to go here. The guide told us that the water is just over 200º at the source, and due to the highly efficient piping used it loses only 2-3 degrees every 50 miles or so.
We made a couple of stops for pictures of the complex “plumbing”, but wish we’d had time to take a tour of one of the facilities that actually generates all of that power.
One user of a bunch of that geothermal power and water was our next stop at Friðheimar Tomato Farm. It’s a massive hydroponic farm with 10,000 tomato plants in 5 varieties, grown within several huge environmentally-controlled greenhouses. It’s an amazing family-owned operation that sends out over a ton of freshly-picked tomatoes per day to mostly local markets. They grow tomatoes year-round, even during the harsh winters.
We enjoyed learning how they plant, water, heat and control the carbon dioxide levels, and how the use of imported bumble bees is crucial to their operation. After the tour we were allowed to taste various Bloody Mary’s, beers and soup made with their tomatoes.
Our next stop was a visit to Thingvellier National Park, a UNESCO site situated amid lava rocks and exposed tectonic plates. The seat of the first Icelandic Parliament, also known as the Althing, was established here in 930 AD and continued to convene until 1798, making it the oldest surviving parliament in the world.
Another cool thing we experienced here was standing where fissures occurred when tectonic plates moved in opposite directions on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The faults and fissures are a result of movement between the Eurasian and North-American plates that run through the country.
Next up we stopped at Haukadalur Valley, which held a plethora of hot springs and geysers like a “mini Yellowstone”. We learned that the word “geyser” originated from the word “Geysir” used in this area.
Finally, the waterfall of all Iceland waterfalls – Gullfoss Waterfall doesn’t need explanation!
After a long day of touring we checked into a new – and much nicer – hotel, where we’ll stay for the next two nights.
Since our arrival it’s been mostly overcast with some rain and only a bit of sun, temps in the 50’s during the day. A welcome respite from the 105º+ temps we left in Arizona! The sun is up for about 19 hours per day, and even after that it never gets completely dark. Very strange, it reminds us of our summer in Alaska at about the same time of the year. The downside for folks living here is that during winter months they get only about 3-4 hours of daylight, with full darkness and extreme cold the rest of the time. How awful is that?
Next up: Final Days in Iceland