The land of fire and ice – “The second son of Odin is Baldr, and […] light shines from him”*

“The second son of Odin is Baldr, and good things are to be said of him. He is best, and all praise him; he is so fair of feature, and so bright, that light shines from him”*

Well the light was certainly shining from him on Friday. A beautiful day for The Golden Circle, the must-do tourist tour of Iceland in a nutshell. Around 300km of Geysers, waterfalls, volcanic landscapes, tectonic plates, geothermal pools. Hits! Hits! Hits!

The trip was taken in a small mini-bus with about 15 like-minded and very amenable souls and our, frankly hilarious, driver/guide Hugi (he was once banged up in Reykjavik’s tiny prison for 12 days for producing hookey hooch. He was supposed to be inside for 2 months, but the warder decided that it was a bit silly and sent him home!).

Hugi’s temporary accommodation.

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Our first stop was at a viewpoint for Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. With a surface area of 84 km²  and a depth, at its greatest, of 114 m, it’s pretty impressive.

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Obviously we only got a view of it. Doing anything else could easily take up a whole day, and the rest, but it was nice to see it. All around the viewpoint there are these mini-cairns.

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This seems to have become a tourist craze. The more of them there are, the more that people want to build. I suspect that the council will begin carting them away at some point when it all gets too ridiculous.

We then drove on into the Þingvellir National Park, famous for being the place where the meeting of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates is the most visible. You can see ridges of rock running up through the centre of the image above, evidence of where the plates are tearing gradually apart.

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We took a walk down the canyon between the plates. This is actually quite thrilling as, even though we can’t actually see this happening, these plates are moving inexorably apart, by about 2cm per year. Every now and then there’s a noticeable shift and the local authority has to close off the area until it’s safe again.

North American on the left, Eurasian on the right (this is the highly simplified version of plate tectonics).

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This is also the site of the world’s oldest extant Parliament, Alþingi, established in 930CE.

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As the gully meets Þingvallavatn, divers come here from all over the world to actually dive between the tectonic plates. I’m told that it’s very beautiful down there but very very cold.

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Horses! Driving around Iceland, you see these study looking beasts all over the place. They’re a particular Icelandic breed and very very healthy. There are strict laws about bringing horses from outside into the country because of the risk of infection with conditions/illnesses, such as horse flu, to which these horses have no resistance.

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They all have long indie-boy fringes or shaggy manes a la Whitesnake.

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We had brought the horses some titbits, bread and apples. Hugi said that the young ‘uns didn’t come to the fence as they were too shy, but this little guy came over with his mother for  look and a little piece of apple. Aww 😀

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And so onward to the geothermal fields of Haukadalur. Danger!

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This is the home of the Geysir after which all geysers are named. Alas, that geyser no longer erupts due, I was informed, to stupid tourists throwing things into it and clogging it up, but just nearby there is another geyser called Strokkur which erupts about every 4-5 minutes.

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When it goes, it goes very suddenly, sometimes twice in quick succession, so you’re on tenterhooks all the time waiting for it to blow. Watching this thing go, and trying to get good photos of the waters jets becomes a little obsessive.

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In the end I had to drag myself away.

Across this whole area, the ground is practically boiling and there are several smaller geothermal pools and geysers nearby too.

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Onward, ever onward to the, frankly gorgeous, waterfall of Gullfoss. It’s magnificent and beautiful; terrifying in its power but hypnotic to watch.

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It’s actually a series of falls on the Hvítá river, with several steps down culminating in a drop into a 32m deep crevice.

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It’s possible to take the path right down to the edge of one of these drops where the water thundering by creates a spray which douses everyone.

Our second waterfall was the smaller Faxi (or Vatnsleysufoss) waterfall, on the Tungufljót river. It’s still a pretty good sized waterfall, but only a few metres high.

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I managed to get quite close to this one.

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This is a salmon river and by the side of the waterfall is a helping hand for salmon making their way upstream to spawn.

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It’s a fish ladder!

The last main stop on our tour was to take a relaxing dip in one of Iceland’s many geothermal pools. No, not the Blue Lagoon, but a less frequented, smaller and more natural pool near Flúðir called The Secret Lagoon.

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This is situated in an area where the geothermal activity is very close to the surface and it was originally opened as a bathing pool in the late 19th century. It had long ago fallen into disuse but it was reopened only about a year ago.

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It was just lovely. It’s not particularly developed, with just a hut with changing rooms and tiny cafe, and a deck to sit out on.

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The water is pretty warm with particularly hot areas and plenty of steam, so it feels like a sauna as well as a hot tub. It’s small and not at all crowded, so it feels very chilled out.

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You can have a swim or a paddle (it’s only about 3ft deep). We all just lolled around for a while, then I took a walk around the duckboards to see what I could see.

The actual pool is only a small part of the wider geothermally active area and there are hot spots and even mini-geysers around the pool.

So cool 😀

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And so, warm and a little drowsy we made our way back towards Reykjavic, with just a couple of little stop-offs to have a look at a geothermal power plant and the famous moss that covers large areas of the lava beds.

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Due to the long day on the Golden Circle, I only arrived at Ásbrú in time to see about half of Mudhoney‘s set. I used to go and see Mudhoney many moons ago, but I haven’t seen them in years.

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As soon as I walked into the Atlantic Studios I remembered how much fun Mudhoney were. Going to a Mudhoney concert is a bit like seeing the Muppets live. In a good way.

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They were playing In And Out Of Grace, which is no bad thing.

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I just have to share this Mudhoney-at-ATP-related tweet with you

https://twitter.com/brianconey/status/617082905878208512

After Mudhoney, I had a little mooch about and got a cuppa and then I wanted to see Drive Like Jehu as a FB friend is pretty into them. Alas, I was just not feeling them. I mean, they seemed to be playing pretty well but I was just not into it. Looking at the guitarist had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of Bruce Springsteen. Now, I don’t actually hate Bruce Springsteen but, still, I found it very distracting. Anyway, I decided  to cut my losses and go off to the Andrews Theatre to see what I could see. That almost turned out to be nothing at all because place was completely packed. I was also pitch dark so I couldn’t even see if there were any seats vacant (it’s an all seated venue). Anyway, I stood by the back doors and saw a bit of Valgeir Sigurdsson with Liam Byrne. 

They presented an electronica-meets-cello soundscape which was pretty entrancing. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was going, or if, indeed, it was going anywhere, but it provided an absorbing, and contrasting, interlude after Mudhoney/Drive Like Jehu and before my next stop and my last band of the night, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

I stayed for about an hour and a half of their set (they were scheduled for two and a half hours) before catching the bus back to Reykjavic. Precious little sleep again, obviously. That midnight sun really messes you up!

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*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baldr

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