Sunday, March 16, 2014

Land of Ice and Fire? More like land of Ice, Wind, Hot Water and oh, more Ice.

On our second day of tours, our driver -Jon (that's Jon with a y, like yawn, if you were wondering..) picked us up in a totally normal SUV. He explained that Steinir had taken us to most the things in the area that we would need a big jeep for, so no Super Jeep for us today. He was right, our first stop was a famous church. It is a very old Lutheran church, and the sight of the last beheading of a Catholic Bishop by the Lutherans. Because evidently that happened, more than once, this just happened to be the last place. 
The Church at Skahlholt

  In the basement of the church was a passageway underground out to a little hillside. Jon said it was a common thing to find secret escape tunnels in the old buildings. He also said that when he was a boy, this church is where parents would send their children for a week before confirmation. The boys would sleep in one building and girls in another. They were told that if they tried to sneak out at night, there were guard dogs that would get them. He laughed and said it didn't detour them. I have a feeling it was like telling them the grounds were "impassable" - pretty much an invitation to Icelandic boys.

After the church, we had a little time to kill and took a detour to Jon's family friend's mushroom factory.

He proudly gave us a  tour and cut us mushrooms to eat. The were growing mostly white button mushrooms but also grew a few crimini mushrooms. He said they were much harder to grow so they didn't grow very many. The little factory supplies most of the mushrooms for Iceland and business was good, he added, because tourists like mushrooms.

Next we were off to Gulfoss, a famous waterfall. Jon had the forethought to bring us some crampons for our shoes which came in very, very handy!
The path down to the waterfall was a steep sheet of ice and "impassable" with normal footwear. The view from the vista was fine, but we really wanted a better view. 
From the Vista
Dad and Jon on the path down. 
 Jon didn't even bother putting on a coat each time we got out of the car. He (like Steinir) just wore the classic Icelandic sweater and put on a hat if he thought he needed it. Jon practically ran down the path, explaining that the way to walk in crampons was like being a cowboy - like John Wayne he said. Then he did a little impression of a cowboy with a knees out swagger. I must say, the sight of a giant ginger viking looking guy walking like John Wayne is a hilarious sight. Even while you are being pushed and pulled by the wind along a jagged ice slip and slide of death, it's enough to make you "teehehehehee" into your scarf.
We celebrated not dying at Gulfoss by eating lunch at our next stop - the Haukadalur area, specifically - Strokkur geyser. On the drive there you could see steam coming from little crevices beside hills. The area is famous for all it's geysers. Of course in Icelandic it's pronounced "gay sirs" and the 10 year old in me kept thinking of flamboyantly dressed noblemen every time they said it. But Strokkur geyser was pretty neat, kind of like mini old faithful that goes off every 8-10 minutes. 
Before eruption!
By this time we were a little tired and a little cold and what did we happen to drive by? Oh, the Fontana hot springs complete with pools, saunas, and they also bake bread underground there too. Of course we went in, we're not dopes. The facility was on the shore of a large lake called Laugurvatn.
Taken from inside, after we were already done.
I totally forgot to take pics while we were in the facility because Cold! Ice! Hot Water! Run!!!!
The water was great, even if the weather was turning into rain/sleet with bouts of snow. It's hard to care about snow while you are in comfortably hot steamy water... until you try to get out of the water that is. Then it's your utmost concern. The three of us had all the pools and the saunas to ourselves. We tried all of them but eventually came back to the warmest and deepest ones. Dad and Jon talked about yoga and I closed my eyes and floated along. Just as we were done and coming out of the changing area, they were pulling the bread out of the ground. 
 It's a moist, sweet molasses-y tasting bread and very good. Jon kept saying I needed more butter, even though I had already slathered it on. I was starting to really like these Icelanders. 

Warm and with full bellies we headed off to our last stop. Jon asked if we were up for a little hike and I groaned a little on the inside. I wasn't going to say no because I didn't want to miss out on anything but it was raining, mixed with gobs of wet snow and .. and ...hiking?! We had just gotten warm and dry. I was now having mixed feelings about these Icelanders. But when we arrived at the parking lot for Thingvellir I got out of the car anyways. Jon was saying something about trolls and a king hitting one in the hip with an axe or something... something about why the Icelanders decided this would be the sight of the first parliament. It was also area where the North American Plate and Eurasian Plates meet and are drifting apart at a rate of 2 cm a year.

Thingvellir National Park
There isn't much going on in this picture except for the fact that you can see how big Jon is.
My dad is 6"..Jon looks like a sasquatch!
The park has hiking trails and we took the one around the small auditorium and then along the "rift zone". The trail goes between two stone walls - one huge and the other just really tall.

The really big wall was actually used in the filming of Game of Thrones. The used it for "The Wall", which in the show is 700 ft tall. In real like it was more like 50, but it was instantly recognizable.
Walking along "The Wall"

There is also a waterfall flowing over the wall. This time of year it is almost completely frozen.

We were pretty soaked by the time we got back to the car but it was a great day. 
We ate dinner at the main house again that night and had a snowball fight on our walk back to our house. It was snowing huge flakes and there was just enough wind to stir them up. 

It didn't stop us from enjoying the hot tub on our last night though!
Next stop - Reykjavik!