Monday, July 25, 2011

Iceland Chronicles - Part XIV (Þingvellir and Blue Lagoon)

After the magnificent afternoon and evening yesterday, it was disappointing to wake up to the sound of rain. The sky was cloudy and dark. We braved the elements and went out to explore Pingviller. Immediately after we set out the sun came out and it was warm and so we packed the raincoats in the backpack and continued.

Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) is on a large valley created by the separation of the atlantic and american tectonic plates. The whole region is characterized by deep crevices caused by the work of these forces.

Against one of the bigger crevices is the area where the Icelandic chieftains had a yearly meeting where disputes were resolved, laws were agreed upon, and other social activities took place. This is also where the Icelandic Republic was officially declared in 1944 when they revoked the reign of the Danish King over them.

We started by walking to a waterfall of a small river that flows into the big crevice.

Then we continued to a pool formed when the river leaves the crevice onto the lower plain. The pool is known as the "drowning pool" for one of its uses in medieval times.

After a stop to overlook the plain, we continued along the river.

Many geese were lurking in the grass and didn't seem to mind human presence so close to them.

Going back on the other side of the river we passed a small church, which mark the location of one of the first churches in Iceland following the conversion to christianity. We then to some of the smaller crevices. They are filled by water from underground springs, and are famous for the clarity of the water inside.

After Þingvellir, we stopped for a soft icecream, and then drove back toward the coast. As we got closer to the coast the wind and rain intensified, and we were in a very nasty storm. We drove to the Blue Lagoon - a famous man-made pool of hot mineral water, which is considered a must see and one of the best SPA's in the world. Since it is very close to the airport, we planned to spend some time there and then return the car.

The way to the Lagoon was in extremely bad wind, and it was hard to keep the RV on track. The Lagoon sits in a large Lava Field with ragged looks. Getting from the parking lot to the main building required walking through a path between two walls of frozen lava. The wind was blowing into our face and it was quite an ordeal.

Once inside, we decided to be brave and take the plunge. The way to the dressing room as confusing. Although the whole design is very nice and functional, but very confusing to first time visitors. Given that it is a tourist destination, this is odd.

After switching to bathing suits and bathing, we had to go out of the building and into the pool. This was again a dash against the harsh wind but this time half naked. Once reaching the pool things improved.
The water was quite warm but not too warm, and with a striking blue-white colors. Aparently the hot springs pick up some minerals that give it the color. All the rocks around the pool were coated with white plaster like, which I guess was deposited by the water.

It turns out that in several points there are inlets where hotter water is injected every few minutes. This causes much hotter streams in the water. We tried to find the place where this was most often. Above the water the rain was mixed with hail and seemed to come at us almost horizontally.

After a bit more than half and hour we decided we had enough. Again we need to build the courage to run from the water into the building. Once inside, a hot shower was reviving.

We dressed and decided to move on. The way back to the car sufficed to get us half soaked.

We drove to Keflevik (the airport town) 20km away. We found a gas station with a car washing stand, and in pouring rain, I washed the car. In a country where water is abundant, the wash was with a long broom like hose that sprays water at high pressure while scrubbing the car. Standing downwind from the spray was deadly, but since the wind was shifting, I got splashed few times.

We then packed all our belonging, and had time to get dinner at a cheap american diner.

Getting to the airport we were pelted by heavy rain. It seemed like the whole sky is raging against us. Inside, we found a small but very nicely organized airport. When the time came, we walked from the waiting area (with all the dutyfree shops) to the gate area. Our flight was at Gate 10. However, there was no gate there. It took a while to realize that Gate 10 was a bunch of stairs leading down between Gates 9 and 11. To add to the confusion, Gate 9 was also a flight to Vienna, scheduled 5 minutes before ours by a different airline. We were told to wait upstairs and the whole corridor was crammed with people waiting for these two flights (while the rest of the airport was deserted).

It turned out that our gate was not a sleeve to the airplane (like the others) but rather a staircase leading to a door from which we walked to the airplane. And so we found ourselves running in the pelting rain on the tarmac to the plane. We, and many other passengers, already checked in our rain jackets and so it was an unpleasant departure at the end of a vacation.

And Thus Ends the Iceland Chronicles of the Friedman Family

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