Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Iceland: Geothermal Wonderland

Bathers at the mineral-rich Blue Lagoon, about 40 minutes outside Reykjavik.  Its waters can be almost uncomfortably hot -- up  to 102 degrees Fahrenheit -- in some spots, so you just move away.  The minerals are said to aid people with some skin problems.  The man-made lagoon is about 40 inches deep and well over an acre, with tubs of exfoliating mud to spread on your face and wade-up bars serving wine, beer and soft drinks.  Bathrobes and towels can be rented there, and one of its restaurants lets you eat in your robe.  Savvy travelers stop here on their way from the airport, where many arrivals are early morning, or on the way to the airport, where most departures seem to be in the afternoon.  
    On a late-spring vacation, Jane and I flew Iceland Air from Washington to Paris, with a three-night layover in Reykjavik on the way over and a two-hour layover on the way back.
        June is a great time to visit Iceland – it never gets dark, all the restaurants and tour companies are operating, and temperatures are relatively mild.  Bring an umbrella, a water-resistant jacket and a large line of credit.  Reykjavik is extremely expensive. Even a modest dinner for two can easily exceed $100, and most alcoholic drinks are $15 or more. 
        Iceland Air also operates hotels in Reykjavik. We chose the Marina Hotel, right on the harbor and only two or three blocks from the heart of town.  One day we took a Golden Circle tour – it’s a 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tour of three of Iceland’s most famous geological features – and the other day we visited the Blue Lagoon.  Anyone visiting Iceland should try for these two activities. If we’d had another day, we might have gone whale-watching, puffin-watching or toured the rugged south coast.
        Here are some snapshots from our time in Iceland.

The bathroom in our hotel room had odd, corner-opening doors. The wallpaper depicted all sorts of nautical knots. 
This is the view from our hotel room. People worked on this drydocked ship about eight hours a day.
Iceland is a unique country in that it was almost totally undeveloped until World War II.  Until then, its people survived by fishing and raising livestock.  Although Iceland belonged to Denmark, its people had little contact with the outside world.  That changed with post-war communications technology and, more importantly, the development of large factory fishing ships.  Finally, the teeming waters around Iceland could be fully exploited. Indeed, Iceland today is dealing with the effects of over-fishing.  Now its future seems to be in geothermal power, tapping its hot springs to create electricity. It's working on a seabed power line to Scotland to sell electricity. Geothermal activity can be seen at two of the places we visited, Geysir, the geyser for which all other geysers are named, and the steaming Blue Lagoon.
This is Geysir. Later I was standing where those people are when it went off, but I failed to get a photo.

This is Gulfoss waterfall.  It, Geysir and the Great Rift are the attractions on the Golden Circle tour.

This is the Great Rift.  The cliff is considered the eastern face of the North American tectonic plate.  A couple of hundred kilometers to the east is the west face of the European tectonic plate.  They separated, ripping apart the prehistoric continent of Pangea, about two hundred million years ago. They're still moving apart, a couple of centimeters every year. The flag marks the spot where, over a thousand years ago, speakers stood to address the Thingvellir, early Iceland's more or less democratic parliament, which chose this dramatic site for its meeting because it was convenient for most of the early communities.

Finally, here are a snapshot of Reykjavik, Iceland's surprisingly cosmopolitan capital, and a shot of the church from which the city photo was taken.