Monday, December 20, 2010

Iceland In December

Recently, on a flight from NYC to Paris, we took a three day layover in Iceland. I feel compelled to share my experience on this underpopulated moonlike island and describe the amazing landscapes we saw. The sun comes up around noon and ducks back down around 4. But really the sun never comes up very far. It stays pretty close to the horizon casting a slanted light onto the land and a sense of sunrise or sunset throughout the day. The history of Iceland is marked with several volcanic explosions which have destroyed much of the old buildings we would have liked to see. Apparently, the island used to be lush with birch trees but now there were hardly any to speak of. Erosion is a serious problem and establishing new trees is challenging with such thin soil. But a layer of moss covered up much of the rocky black earth intermixed with low growing heather, saxifrage, and alpine flowers and grasses. One tall plant which caught my attention is the Angelica Herb that grows indigenously throughout the island. Even though the plant had gone dormant long ago, it's attractive seed head and tall stalk was left to silhouette against the sky and decorate the landscape.

But now to our adventure. Firstly, we stopped at a spa called The Blue Lagoon. This is a naturally occurring bay of blue geothermally warmed water. The mud on the bottom of the lake is white with Silica, which you can put on your face and body for 10 minutes and after words come out like a movie star! Or so they say. But one thing is for sure, the lagoon is one of the most relaxing experiences I have ever had. The temperature of the water is around 90 deg. F and the air is about 30. The water did feel healing and the experience is pretty magical and looks a bit apocalyptic.

The second day we explored Reykjavik, which turned out to be pretty dull, except for the fishing docks and the view of the mountains one could see from there. Also, of interest is the National Museum, which was fascinating, and we got to try on viking outfits!

We ate an excellent meal of fishy things and then traveled in the dark afternoon onto ├×ingvellir National Park and stayed in a hotel where we were the only occupants. The sky was completely clear and that evening and the air was freezing. The hotel had an outdoor hot tub which was a dramatic change from the air. We enjoyed "Gull" the Icelandic beer and saw a shooting star! The next day we explored what's called "The Golden Circle". This consists of a beautiful valley where the first Icelanders met to create a Parliament, a Geyser, and waterfalls (Gullfuss). The parliament valley is very picturesque and I could easily imagine viking-like men wearing fur vests on horseback galloping between the fjords.

The geyser we saw was very active-it erupted three times in a row for us! The waterfalls are huge and partly frozen and the chasm they fall through seemed to have no bottom.

After that we headed back towards the airport, and enjoyed the last hours of sunlight from the car. We saw fields full of small horses that huddled together in the cold, and a rare house here and there. After three days we really felt like we had seen a lot, but one thing is for sure, we're going to come back in summer!

(didn't take horse picture!)

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010