It’s ALL about nature in Iceland. You’re in it, it’s huge, it’s dangerous, and it’s everywhere you look.
The only real way to get about is to drive. We chose the smallest car in Iceland, a Nissan Micra. Some people here are driving things that make monster trucks look like Tonka toys. Tomorrow we’re going on a ‘super jeep’ expedition so I’m hoping that we get to go in something you need a ladder to get into and wheels taller than me.
In the last few days we’ve driven through such a variety of scenery it’s hard to put it all into words. One moment you’ll find yourself driving along highway that is edged by a cliff so high the top is lost in cloud, the next you’ll be driving across a plain of black volcanic sand. One of my favourites is the one we’ve dubbed ‘moon cheese’ – where huge lumpy rocks are all coated in a yellowy soft moss that looks like melted cheese. Then there’ll be steam shooting out of vents in the ground and around the next bend there’s a 100m waterfall pouring off a cliff.
Houses here are small dots on the landscape, with little around them – maybe a line of tiny trees – and not much else but a few tractors and bales of horse feed. We’ve seen almost no gardens outside the capital and all the trees look less than a few years old, giving the countryside a very spartan look. The houses are really plain too. There’s no gingerbread cottages here as there were in Slovakia. The outside of homes are sometimes brightly coloured but everything seems very functional.
But back to the landscape.
We spent most of our second full day driving the Golden Circle, which I had originally mistaken for the ring road that goes all the way around Iceland. Fortunately it’s much smaller than that and it’s a circuit that covers most of the major scenic attractions, not far from Reykjavik.
First stop for us was a volcanic crater with a lake inside it. We stopped for a few photos, read the information boards and moved on.
Next was Thingvellir. The most important landmark in Iceland as for many centuries it was the meeting point for all Icelandic people and the site of their government, the Althing. It is also a place where the meeting of the North American and European continental plates is at its most obvious and there’s a big rift in the valley. I neglected to take any photos here – distant, wide plains are quite difficult subjects for photography as there’s nothing to really focus on, you just end up with lots of sky. Nevertheless, as the site of the world’s longest-held democratic process it’s an interesting place to stand.
Third stop was Geysir and I’m sure you can guess what’s there. The place stank horrendously but the sight of the bubbling pools of water and the jet going off every 5 minutes was impressive. I was still sick and it was starting to rain so I let Luke hang around to get it on video 3 times. I spent the few minutes in the gift shop goggling at the price of everything then we moved on to Gulfoss.
Gulfoss is not the largest waterfall in Iceland but it’s definitely the best known and it certainly is impressive. Only slightly less wonderous in driving rain (hooray for waterproof trousers!) the noise and power of it are intense. Luke, I have discovered, absolutely loves waterfalls and so I got a few photos of him in front of it on his phone but I didn’t take my camera out because it was so wet.
The sky cleared as we headed towards the south coast and our next hotel, which was quite a bit further away than first calculated and since the sun was still well up in the sky we hadn’t really been paying attention to the fact that it was getting towards 6pm and we may have about 3 hours of driving left.
Fortunately we arrived around 9:30, while the sun was still above the horizon and the reception was still open. It was Friday night, the Summer solstice, and I was determined to stay up as late as I could. We unpacked then got back in the car and drove a little way back down the road to where we’d passed a waterfall. Taking the camera gear and some glasses and drinks, we followed a trail beside the stream and ended up on the pebbly beach in the half-dark. I took some long exposure shots and we toasted our travels. Another couple arrived just as we were leaving but it had been nice to have the place to ourselves for half an hour. While you may be picturing a very peaceful romantic scene in your head let me remind you that waterfalls are thunderingly loud – we did a small piece-to-camera after we left and it was still roaring in the background.
I think, after all that, I managed to stay awake til about 1am, which is when the sky was at its darkest – dark enough for headlights but not dark enough to need a torch or anything.
I still haven’t really seen the midnight sun as it’s been cloudy every night, but experiencing daylight that late has been interesting. Luke’s found it harder to sleep than I have, but at the same time I do feel more like staying awake later. My natural inclination as I get older is to go to sleep at about 9pm, so happily staying awake til 11 or 12 must be the result of all that light. I think, were I here in Winter, I’d sleep 18 hours a day!