09.12.2010 - 09.12.2010
We packed a lot into today, so I'll just get started with the first of our two bus tours:
The city tour.
We began with a stop at the most well-known landmark in Reykjavik: the Lutheran church. This is the tallest structure in the city and was built within the last 50 years. Outside is a statue of Leif Erickson, the famous Viking explorer; inside is a pipe organ with over 5200 pipes! We were lucky enough to hear an organist playing while we were there.
Our next stop was a little way out of town where we visited the president's home. In front of the house is a small church that we were able to tour. (The president of Iceland is not the actual head of government; the prime minister holds those duties.)
We visited "The Dome" next, which is a state-sponsored museum. We had time to look in briefly. From the upper ledge, you can get a dramatic view of the city. Then we stopped at a swimming pool. All Icelanders are required to learn to swim; they have lessons each year from ages 6 to 16. Throughout the city (and the country) are 100 pools that have wonderful facilities and best of all the pool water is naturally heated water so people swim outdoors all year round.
On out way around town, we drove through a modern neighborhood where the residents have built on one of the many lava beds that are part of the geography of the country. Their backyards incorporate the hills and ravines of black lava covered with a soft blanket of green moss.
Just before noon, we were returned to our starting point with one hour to eat lunch before catching the afternoon tour out into the countryside. We had time for a bowl of meatball soup at the Café Paris (where they played American music and served fish beer on tap!?).
The afternoon tour brought us first to a horse farm where we picked up a few more folks who had spent the morning riding. We got a good look at the Icelandic horses. They are small, almost pony-sized but very thick and muscular. We were told that this is a distinct breed and to keep it that way, no other horses are allowed to be brought into Iceland... and any Icelandic horses taken out of the country cannot return.
Our next destination for the afternoon was Gullfoss Falls, one of Iceland's most distinctive natural formations. To get there we had to cross the continental plates divide. This is where the North American continent meets the European/Asian continent. The two mega land masses are actually moving apart... about two centimeters per year. The actual area of division is a wide, low, flat area that contains a lake. We drove over one edge and down the North American continent, across the low area between, and then up and onto the Euro-Asian continent. From there it was a bit of a drive to the falls. Throughout the afternoon, it rained most of the time, so the five minute walk to the falls was enough to get quite wet. They allowed enough time to dry off and warm up with coffee and snacks and then we went on to our last stop: the geysirs. Steam and hot water bubble out of the ground all over the place, but the spot we stopped has several geysers and hot pools. Still raining, we took a fairly quick look and then headed for the bus.
At that point we were still two hours from home, quite a long bus ride past many farms and little "vacation" homes in the country used by city people for weekend getaways. The farms had lots of big round bales of hay wrapped in white plastic, and we saw many horses and quite a few sheep. There were few cows where we drove, but we were told that there are dairy farms in Iceland; and the farmers keep the cows indoors for the winter... seven months at a time.
Finally home, we ate dinner in the hotel and prepared for the fight home tomorrow. It was a big day.