Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Iceland (Part 4 of 4)

[Kyle]Since our hotel was so near the center of Reykjavik, we only had to walk a block or so before we got into the pedestrianized tourist areas. After Maryanne grabbed a couple of crutches, we worked out a system where she would go at half speed while I darted back and forth taking photos as directed.

Reykjavik is a nice, clean city which would make for some pleasant strolling had the weather not been sleeting and a bit blustery. This is when the city's assortment of warm international cafés and toasty bakeries helped take the edge off. Also in abundance are lots of shops selling high-quality local woolens. We had no baggage space for all of that, although it did look nice, so we ended up basically eating our way across the city.

Maryanne made her way about town with her 'new' crutches

We walked along 'rainbow' street to the Cathderal and took the lift to the top for the views

After a brief non-food stop to go to the top of the spire at Hallgrimskirka, Reyjavik's distinctive cathedral, which was built to resemble the basalt columns of cooled lava in the mountains, we popped into Café Loki for a taste of some traditional Icelandic fare.

This is not for the faint-hearted, as Icelandic food is reputed to be an acquired taste. This was apparent as soon as we ducked inside out of the snow. There was something just a bit off about the smell. We perused the menu. Personally, I was hoping for a nice, strudel-like dessert or perhaps a tame cheese plate or something, but nothing like that seemed to be on offer. All of the items were way too pricey to be risking the cost for something we might not want to finish. The last of these was a sampler consisting of two dice-sized cubes of fermented (like for months) shark meat and a shot of the local spirit. This, we knew not to get. To quote one BBC presenter who had ordered that very item in this very restaurant, “That is awful! Both those things are awful!” Thus, it was a bit of a relief when the staff completely ignored us and two other patrons as we all waited for a table in the otherwise empty restaurant, despite Maryanne being front and center with her crutches. We made a hasty, if somewhat ungainly exit.

Instead, we went across the street for some of Iceland's unofficial food - hot dogs. Since restaurants are generally pretty expensive, the unassuming hot dog stand has become the eating-out option of choice for many Icelanders. They are numerous, inexpensive, and loaded with choices for toppings. Many also do soups with free refills.

Food and sightseeing

Maryanne said her ankle was still feeling tolerable, so we took the long way home via parks, ponds, and Christmas markets. The last of these was even held in a big, well-heated indoor convention area. Then it was a fuh-reezing walk back to the hotel via the wind blown waterfront.

A cute cat cafe was one of the many stops, and the christmas season was clearly underway with roasting chestnuts, yule characters in the street, and lots of christmas jumpers in the pub

We wandered all over town and ended at the waterfront and the Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre (with hand bell ringing and local fare to sample)

We ended the night with a trip to the nearby lighthouse for our last aurora

We were pretty sure we had done a pretty good job of seeing most of the touristy things in Reykjavik on the first day. Because of that and also a little bit to avoid daytime parking charges, we drove up into the mountains to see Geysir. This is the geological feature after which all of the others are named, so that's why this one gets to be a proper noun. There was a full-on blizzard going on there by the time we arrived. The blowing snow, icy path, and poor visibility made our visit there a bit shorter than it would have been on a nicer day.

We drove part of the 'Golden Circle' with it's Geysirs, and more waterfalls

Even though the blizzard was intensifying, we drove the extra few miles to Gullfoss. Gullfoss isn't Iceland's highest waterfall or the one with the most voluminous flow, but it is the most visited, since it is both impressive and not too far from Reykjavik.

Due to the recent precipitation, the flow was quite impressive today. Maryanne had decided to skip seeing the falls because the walk from the lot was both long and icy, so I did a tour of the overlooks myself. Once I did an about face to head back to Maryanne and the car, I couldn't help but notice a special, up-close parking lot for bus tours and people with mobility problems. I half walked, half skated back to Maryanne to give her the news that she wouldn't have to miss seeing it in person after all.

Worried the weather was going to close in on us, we bid a hasty retreat back to the city for a stint at the Perlan Museum.

The Perlan is built in the pentagonal space inside and between the five giant geothermal hot water tanks that supply and heat the city and surrounding areas. The museum has the usual interesting museum stuff. The three big highlights were a planetarium show with beautiful time-lapse photography of the Aurora Borealis from various locations in Iceland, an artificial ice cave, and a short large-format movie of the Fadragadsfjall eruption in 2021. The photography in that one was absolutely incredible. Also, we got to have a taste of licorice gelato, which I actually liked very much.

At the entrance to the ice cave was a copy of a memorial plaque that was laid atop Ok, one of the volcanoes visible from Reykjavik. It reads:

A Letter to the Future

Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path.
This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done.
Only you know if we did I it.

August 2019
Atmospheric CO2: 415ppm

The Perlan Museum enabled us to again get close to the ice (but this time in a giant freezer) - it had plenty of other exhibts also

The Perlan museum also has its own Aurora display (much better than we were capturing)

With one more day in Iceland, we decided to do a short trip to the Reykjanes peninsula to the geothermal areas west of the closed road to Grindavik. This area is admittedly less picturesque than some others, but it's proximity to Reykjavik/Keflavik was a bonus.

My main reason for wanting to go was a bit of a cheesy one: to walk over the Bridge Between Two Continents. Here, the edges of both the North American and the Eurasian Tectonic plates can clearly be seen on either side of the rift created as they part at a rate of 2cm/yr.

And on our last full day we visited the Viking Museum and the Reykjanes peninsula. There is obviously plenty of geological activity (even well outside of the closed areas), The last picture is one of the few places you can 'see' the American and European continent ripping apart (the Mid-Atlantic Rift)

We also went to the dramatic South Coast, where a touching memorial to the Great Auk that was hunted to extinction in the mid-nineteenth century now stands. The forlorn statue looks out across the sea to the rocky islands where the last one in Iceland perished.

Just a couple miles from the power station, the Gunnuhver Thermal area has a few features we were able to see. Of particular interest to as was that the main hot spring, which we had most frequently seen depicted as a steaming pool. Now it was a bubbling geyser billowing huge clouds of steam downwind.

For our last night in Iceland, we stayed in a significantly downgraded accommodation that at least had the benefit of being right at the Keflavik airport for our early flight. When we awoke at 3am, the big news was that the Sundhnúkagígar eruption, which had most recently been reducing in probability, had happened and that it was stronger than anticipated. A 3.5km fissure had opened up that was spewing lava. The eruption was localized and low enough in ash content that the airline was not anticipating any service disruptions.

On the drive to the airport, the jagged red line of lava was clearly visible. That explains the geyser yesterday. We were just over there ten hours ago!

Our view from the car, and the helicopter view on the news of the overnight eruption

At the terminal, lava could even be seen bubbling and spitting through the windows at the gate. We ended up on the wrong side of the plane to see it very well after takeoff, but the departure path did a long curve around the yellow-hot fissure as it climbed and turned toward the British Isles for a long overdue family visit.