Wednesday, 6 June 2012

QE - Who?

This weekend, as London went bananas for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, we made a break for it. Saturday evening we hopped a plane and took off for Reykjavik, Iceland. Ooooh. How exotic. How exciting. Yes, yes it was. We had a fantastic long weekend and I, in no way, feel like I missed out by not seeing the floating security show of the Queen's flotilla.

In full disclosure, I must admit that Union Jack bunting hung from our balcony this weekend. Oh, the shame. A very enthusiastic woman came to the door one evening when I was out and convinced my laid back husband to let her hang it. Why on earth he let an unknown royalist into our home is beyond me, but being new to the neighbourhood and out of town for the festivities I decided to take a deep breath and let it go. Never did I think I would face a dilemma of whether to keep unsolicited Union Jack bunting on display. But I did and I think I may have failed that nationalist test. I flew the flag of my homeland's former occupiers. Perhaps I should fly the Irish flag from now on in an act of patriotic penitence. I did take great pleasure in throwing the bunting in the trash today, though, so perhaps that redeems me somewhat. When in Rome and all that crap.

I found Iceland less rife with moral and political quandaries.
The original geyser, Geysir
Known as the land of "fire and ice", Iceland is on of the most dramatic landscapes I've ever encountered. Reykjavik sits on lava fields in a sweeping bay, surrounded by snow capped mountains. Beautiful is an understatement and nature in Iceland is always making a statement.

We landed just after midnight to a slowly setting sun and enjoyed its striking colours for the entire 45 minute ride from Keflavik, where the airport is, to the Reykjavik city centre. It was hard to know whether to be exhausted or not, but with some good blackout curtains we collapsed into bed and slept solidly until 7am.

Given that we only had two and a half days in Iceland we went against every independent traveler instinct we have and booked a bus tour for day one. We have to say, Reykjavik Excursions, well done. It was by far the best bus tour we've ever been on. Our tour guide, Dara, was informative and entertaining, even singing (passably well) several traditional Icelandic songs for us, despite only receiving a smattering of applause after each performance. The bus was comfortable and didn't make any horrible stops at tourist trap shops.
Gullfoss

We hit all the major attractions on the Golden Circle. Gullfoss waterfall, which is impressive, even to those of us who have seen Niagara, Iguazu and Victoria Falls. Usually, on a bus tour, they stop and troop everyone down a well worn path to a trickle of water falling off a stone, but, like everything in Iceland, Gullfoss does not disappoint. It had the added value of employing Victoria Falls style safety standards, i.e. not very much. At the top of the falls were gently sloping rocks, perfect for walking directly into the rushing torrent of water. Where a person would actually plunge directly to their watery death, the security was somewhat increased: they had a mid-calf high rope strung between tourists and their doom. Perfect tripping height.

Safety didn't seem to be the main focus at the geysers either, where we had to do a runner to get out from under the spray when it erupted on a couple of occasions. So much for the watch out this water is scorching and you shouldn't touch it under any circumstances signs everywhere. Fortunately for the other half, who got a bit wet, the water wasn't that hot, so no permanent disfigurements, just a bit of a fright.

Of course, the big thing with the geysers is the original one. I can imagine your quizzical glances, but fear not, reader, I am not leading you astray. Have you ever wondered where the name "geyser" came from? From Iceland and from the geyser named Geysir to be precise. Unfortunately, Geysir doesn't erupt with regularity so we didn't get to see its 200ft spout. But Strokkur, just next to it is pretty impressive at 100ft every couple of minutes - and once 3 times in a row, each progressively higher. We enjoyed the marvelous sunny weather, sitting back watching plate tectonics in action.

The tour was rounded out with stops at an Icelandic horse show, a tomato producer and the seat of the world's first parliament. The horse show was fairly dull and painfully staged, but it was interesting to learn that Icelandic horses actually have 5 gaits compared to horses the rest of the world over who generally have 4. Their fifth gate, called tolt, is somewhere near the intersection of jogging, walking and a high stepping dressage trot. For those of you who are horsey, it is a four beat gate that can range from a slow trot pace to what they call the "flying tolt" which is quite quick, close to gallop speed. The show said it was and it definitely looked comfortable for the rider. So while it was stagy and the speaker read from a dog eared script as the horses walked and tolted in a circle around her, it was still interesting. Highlight? When we were all invited to "come up and clap a horse" before we left. Most people settled for patting the horses instead.

The tomato greenhouse was, well, a greenhouse filled with tomato plants. Yep, that's about it. They are red, they grow on vines and they are harvested year round, because they're grown in a greenhouse.
Not a bad shot of Strokkur given that I was running away


Our final stop was Thingvellir, where the first parliament was held in 930AD. Today it's a bit marshier than it was a thousand years ago so it's probably good they've moved the political machinations of the country indoors. Thingvellir is located at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. It was neat to think that we crossed over the plates and also it makes a beautiful landscape. You can imagine that the cliffs, mountains and plains by the side of lake Thingvallavatn would have inspired early Icelandic leaders. Surely there was a poet or two amongst them.

Truly, Iceland is a country of poetry. Soaring mountains, glaciers, the power of the earth beneath and expansive plains are all part of everyday life.

I suspect that this Iceland trip will take several days days to capture so prepare yourselves. Tune in tomorrow for Icelandic food and drink, Reykjavik and the truth about the Blue Lagoon. Shocking revelations promised.

4 comments:

  1. wonderful! and better than a weekend catering a wedding.

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  2. Sounds like you've left CCV for the dusts of New Mexico? Exciting. Can't wait to read about it! When can we expect the debut book?

    Readers, Kate has a brill blog at http://patagonianride.blogspot.com/
    Check her out and show a fellow MFA-er some love!

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  3. It sounds wonderful. So jealous!

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  4. If you want to strike a balance between royalist and nationalist camps, i say confuse the hell out of them all, and display a red sox flag!! P.S. The trip sounds absolutely amazing, far superior to any flotilla!!

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