Monday, September 20, 2010

Hvalfjörður, Hraunfossar, Reykholt

One of the friendly folks in the choir I now sing in invited me to a spur-of-the-moment day trip around the countryside around Reykjavík. It was almost like a 'dry-run' to the week-long trip I'll be taking at the end of this week around the country, and only really going an hour and some out of the city. I'm glad I brought snacks, just for the novelty of eating an apple while looking at a glacier. The normal sights for tourists in this area are usually found on the Golden Circle, but this was like the "Silver Circle", and nearly devoid of tourists so it felt like we had the whole country to ourselves!

It's really amazing how many amazing sights and landscapes can be found within a short driving distance. Elisa, my soprano-voiced tour guide took me first around Hvalfjörður ('whale fjord') and we looked at an aluminum smelting plant, along with the bay that Americans would hide/store submarines during WWII, building bunkers containing unknown items. The Americans left a few years ago and now the bunkers are overgrown, but the fences remain. We Americans do love putting fences around anything and everything.

We passed a waterfall called Fossárrétt first and I had to stop and record its sound, you could get up very close to it. True to its name (something like 'sheep-rounding-up-waterfall') there are stones piled into room-like arrangements that sheep could be corralled into, though they might not currently use it for that purpose. Also in this little valley were beautiful grasses, blowing gently in the breeze. It was warm enough that it felt like a New England fall day.

Onto Borgarnes for lunch, a town on the coast of Iceland. We saw a Viking burial mound and checked out ('chuck' out? why isn't that a past tense) the coffeehouse situation here, which is situated beautifully on a shallow harbor. The water must be less than a foot deep, going out for a quarter mile you could still only have water up to your knees.

Driving a short distance, we ended up at one of the 'major' sights of the day, two waterfalls right next to one another: Hraunfossar and Barnafoss. Hraunfossar is of particular note as there is no river on the top of the earth that dumps over a cliff, like most waterfalls. This one comes straight out of the middle of the cliff! The whole mountain is basically a lava flow, and there are rivulets and underground streams buried in the rock; the water exits here into a real 'river'. There are small trees, berrybushes and plants hanging on for dear life to the sides of the rocks here, having carved up some shallow soil for themselves. And being a near fall-like day, the leaves were beginning to turn. Here in Iceland they don't get as dramatic as say, Massachusetts, but usually turn yellow and quickly fall. Still, it's a nice seasonal change and lends for quite pretty pictures.

Smack dab next to Hraunfossar is Barnafoss, or 'Children's waterfall', named because of a supposed folk tale. Legend has it there used to be a land bridge over the raging water here, and two children walked across it, having wandered away from their family one night; the landbridge fell and the children were never seen again. There is still a landbridge of sorts at the bottom of the rapids, but I'm sure the water will slowly carve its way through this one too. Total pāhoehoe here, by the way, for all you geology nerds, lots and lots of folded lava, with some rock piles marking the walking trails.

There was still more to see! Elisa stopped at Deitartunguhver, which is Europe's largest hot spring! You can see the steam from a distance and you know some geothermal action is at work. I'm still impressed at the fact that you can walk right up to a hot spring and look at boiling water being shot out of the ground of its own accord. I have a small fear that I am going to step on a fragile part of the earth and break through to something horrible below. But here it looked pleasantly safe, you can walk up to a little boardwalk thing and take photos, feel the steam, just you know, don't touch the 212-degree Fahrenheit water gushing out around 150 liters per second. Actually, that probably happens elsewhere, the hot springs that visitors see seem like offshoots of a main spring, which is tapped into with lots of pipes and a power-plant-type building, and carried off in large pipes to nearby towns. But what does come out is still intimidating.

We were nearing an old settlement of Iceland called Reykholt. Famous for being a site that Snorri Sturluson (writer and documentor of much of Iceland's historical texts) possibly bathed in, the landscape in the area is a giant archaeological paradise. There is an old church on-site, and a big new church, both beautiful in different ways. But the best part of this church was its harmonium! It looked very Victorian. And the colors of those walls, well, that will cheer up a dull grey winter day.

Quick stop in Húsafell, a 'forest' of sorts, a popular campsite for Icelanders, and views of two glaciers in the distance. Currently holding the Award for Best-Named Glacier: 'Ok'. Pronounced more like 'Awk' or 'Euch' and not like 'Okay'.

Our final stop on the way back around Hvalfjörður was to spontaneously say hi to some horses by the side of the road. I'm sorry, 'horsies'. Elisa said that they'd probably be friendly horses and think that we were bringing food (which we didn't have any, but we were indeed friendly) so I got to pet them. The Icelandic horse is much more my size and speed. Here is a horse that isn't twice my height, but still seems quite regal. The sun was low in the sky (as it is all the time here) but it lent itself to a very romantic light, watching these guys prance (I'm sorry, tölt, as these horses have five gaits as opposed to most horses normal three) and cavort around in the autumn sun. I too am enjoying the warm days while I can!


ECS said...

I think that waterfall must have had a different name actually. To be the "sheep-collection waterfall" the foss bit should be at the end, not the beginning.

so I'm pretty sure the name on that sign was referring to the sheep-collection pen, identified as being the one beside "waterfall-river" (fossá).

Midnight said...

Oh, and you were right about Gleymur (sp?), it was up that road we turned on and then turned around, but I read somewhere that it's still really far from there!

AvesMaria said...

It's so great reading these entries. I can't help but notice that in the photo of the Victorian-era church the altar is built right up against the wall for services with the clergyman's back to the congregation. I'd imagined that was just a thing in pre-Vatican II Catholic churches, but perhaps it was a tradition in other Christian sects as well (or was this a Catholic church? I'd assumed, perhaps foolishly, that every church you'd been seeing in Iceland was Lutheran).

Midnight said...

That's a good question! Every church I've seen here (maybe 6 or 7?) has had the altar up by the wall like this, but I've also only been in Lutheran Churches. Even the Lutheran church where my choir practices has this feature, and it was built in the '60's. There are a couple catholic churches that I should see at some point, but they're definitely the black sheep of the church population around here! :)

AvesMaria said...

hmmm! Very interesting. I'd always assumed Catholics were the only ones who did back-to-congregation services. Although, when you live on an island, local culture and religion can certainly take on its own distinct flavor, so I wouldn't be surprised to find that those altars are a peculiarity of Icelandic Lutheranism.