Island

You say Iceland, and I say Island…let’s call the whole thing off.

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But we didn’t, and on cold drizzly summer night we landed at Keflavik airport in Iceland. We bought duty free alcohol and chocolates and went to our hotel near the airport. Keflavik was used as an air base and then a US naval air base from the second world war up to a decade ago and we stayed in a hotel that has been converted from base housing. When we stepped out of the cab, it was very very windy. A few minutes later Vivian, Evan and I stepped out of our hotel for a short walk and Evan was almost “blown away” by Iceland : – ). It was also not the slightest bit dark at 11pm. The only place open was a Domino’s Pizza so that was what’s for dinner. Then we pulled the blackout curtains close and turned in.

Morning came about four hours early for our bodies due to the change in time zones. That night and every night since, I’ve spent countless hours going down all kinds of rabbit holes on the internet reading about Iceland and things Icelandic. The thing is, there will be unintentional volcanic explosions of random Icelandic factoids in this blog, scattered among stories of our trip.

We picked up our rental car and fortified ourselves with good coffee and baked goods at the Kökulist bakari where a fat kitty cat found Evan. And then we caravanned for about 30 minutes to the Costco outside Reykjavik to stock up on car snacks for the next two weeks. And finally we are ready to sally forth and see Iceland!

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Jo had set up our day. And our hotels. And our itinerary. And the entire trip. Today we do the famous golden circle and end up in the town of Borgarnes. It’s about a four and half hour drive with four stops and three hundred and twenty five kilometers of amazing scenery. Our first stop is an off-the-beaten-path location called the Kerid crater. The crater is a visually striking contrast of three colors – the deep blue green of the lake, the brilliant red streaks of the crater walls, and the vivid green of the vegetation. It is still very windy but the light showers have stopped. Evan and Vivian go down the path to the crater lake and then we walk around the crater rim. Jo and Vivian are the rightmost human shapes along the rim in this photo.

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Our next stop is Gullfoss – one of Iceland’s many famous waterfalls. In the photograph below, you may be able to see a ledge and a few tiny figures above Vivian’s head where there is a viewing platform. Vivian and I walked out there to get a closer look and we were drenched by the spray.

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Then we went to Geysir – the grandfather of all geysers. But grandpa has been dormant for the last few years. No worries – Strokkur next door erupts every 6 to 10 minutes, according to the park literature. The people across from us are all holding something in their right hands. They are waiting with their phones out ready for Strokkur to do its thing. This is the biggest crowd we’ll see in Iceland over the next fourteen days. Iceland, even with the crush of tourists, is no Barcelona or Florence. It is the sparsest populated European country. Once you leave the city of Reykjavik, the roads display individual signs of family names for each farm along the way. I so want to buy a small sheep farm out somewhere just to have an official “CHATTERJEE-CLARK” sign of our own on the ring road.

Stop #3 of the day is Þingvellir National Park. When we get there it is drizzling and the wind is still blowing pretty hard. Pronounced in English approximately as Thingvellir, this area is described as the heart of Iceland. It is the place where the AlÞingi or parliament of Iceland met from about 930 AD up to 1798, and where modern Iceland got its independence in 1944. The AlÞingi is described as one of the world’s oldest surviving parliaments. In the commonwealth period before Iceland became a part of Norway and then Denmark, all the chieftains of Iceland and “at least one in nine” of his farmers met at Þingvellir once a year to sort out matters of common importance, decide on laws, and dole out justice. Even common free men could bring up any matter of importance. And somehow, unlike most of the world around them, especially their European brethren who are still intoxicated by their antique cartoonish kings and queens, Iceland, like a more recent Athens, was a beacon of representative government. Now, I can’t determine otherwise, but it is safe to assume that serfs, slaves, and women got the shaft even in this precocious and otherwise commendable parliament. But the spirit of Þingvellir lives on and Iceland continues to be a national and international supporter of rights for everyone today.

Behind Vivian and Evan is the Öxarárfoss – a waterfall on the Öxará river as it flows over some rifts where back in the day, the people attending the annual meetings in Þingvellir bathed and gathered.

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Speaking of rifts – Iceland is one of the few places in the world where the earth’s longest mountain chain peeks it’s head up over the oceans. This section of the mid-Atlantic ridge is where the north American continental plate is drifting away from the Eurasian plate at the rate of about an inch a year. The ridge cuts diagonally from the southwest of Iceland to the northeast and right through Þingvellir where the Öxará flows.

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The showers ended and we got a dazzling rainbow over our heads. Almost to the day we were here eight years ago. Here are some pictures of Evan and Vivian at Þingvellir and Gullfoss, almost exactly at the same spots!

Leaving Þingvellir, we returned to the ring road (Road No. 1), dug under the Hvalfjörður fjord through a six kilometer long tunnel, and reached our hotel in Borgarnes late in the afternoon. Onwards to the Snæfellsnes peninsula tomorrow. But first a nice soak in the hot tub and a few sips of Ólafsson gin and tonic.

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