17 June 2018

2018 Iceland 21 - Pearl and Ice

On the way home we noticed maybe 50 white crosses grouped together along the highway. It is a constant and sobering reminder to drive safely. Each cross represents a traffic death on this road.

Also, skies were beautiful but turning a bit threatening. So far, all our days had been sunny. Maybe tomorrow would be different.


On the way back home, we made a last minute decision to explore the Perlan (Pearl) Center, a landmark building in Reykjavik. This is a model of the complex constructed to store geothermally heated water for the city. It was built in 1988 on the highest hill in Reyk.
As far as I can tell, today it is no longer part of the water storage system, but is converted to a visitor center. It is 25.7 meters (84.3 feet) tall. There are six connected water storage tanks. Each held 4 million liters (1 million gallons) of hot water.




Here is a peek from the inside of the structure.
On the fourth floor, we browsed a great gift shop with high quality Icelandic products. I loved this kid's puffin hat. Wish we knew a little one to give it to. They also had traditional Icelandic design sweaters, soft sheep pelts, glassware, art, and much more.

Outside of the gift shop, we enjoyed a 360 degree observation deck situated atop the storage tanks. It was now gray skies, but we still had a fabulous view of the city and surrounding areas. Sixteen panorama signs around the deck explain what we are looking at off in the distance, including locations of a nearby glacier and volcano.
From this highest elevation in Reykjavik, views were stunning. Lots of colorful red roofs to cheer up this drab afternoon.

It was easy to get our bearings once we found the Hallgrímskirja Church. Our apartment was only a few blocks from there. 
Scattered around the deck, we found examples and descriptions of Icelandic rocks and minerals.





Back inside we went up to the fifth floor to check out the revolving, fine-dining restaurant. I bet the view at night is spectacular.










Previously we had made dinner reservations to eat here that evening. Although it receives excellent reviews, the menu seemed limited (not much for veg-heads) and prices a bit high. And no lobster!

As stuffed as we were after our great tomato escapade, we were not sure we would fully enjoy a second extravagant meal. And wondered if we would have the enthusiasm to return later that evening after a long day. We ended up cancelling.

We do regret not having a cocktail under this "green" wall and with the great view outside. I was the only one in the place when peeking in and figured they were closed, but I should have double checked.

The big attraction, however, was the glacial ice cave simulation located in one of the big tanks. It opened in July 2017. Instead of a ribbon cutting, they had an ice log cutting with a chainsaw. It is the first man-made ice cave in the world. It is 100 meters (329 feet) long (not in a straight line) and built with over 350 tons of snow from the Blue Mountains (southeast of Reykjavik).

While we waited our turn, we viewed a display of fabulous photos of glaciers, volcanoes, and other local nature scenes. Our guide suggested we bundle up in coats, hats, and gloves. If you didn't have "layers," there were jackets with hoods to borrow. Temperatures in the cave are maintained at 10C degrees (14F) and there is a slight wind chill due to air circulation.

It was maybe a 20-minute guided walk through the cave, with occasional stops to learn more about ice caves, glaciers, and volcanoes. Some side tunnels ended with a photo of what actually might be seen in the field.
Horizontal lines in the ice, indicate at what point in time a volcano erupted and left a layer of ash in the ice.
Here is a close-up of what those striations looked like.

Other shots as we moved along the tour. At one point we had to crouch down to get through a passage, although there was a bypass if someone needed it.

Although not the real ice cave we expected to see in Jökulsárlón, it was better than none at all. I was able to touch a "glacier" after all.
At the end of the cave tour there was an education room to give more info on glaciers and their bleak future from the effects of global warming. Glaciers have sculpted the mountains and valleys of the earth and are located on every continent except Australia. There was also info on unusual life forms that live on glaciers.

On our way out we noticed this mystery item. It is either a piece of water art or a drinking fountain. Not such which and there was no one there at the moment to ask. We didn't drink from it!!
From there we headed back to our abodes.
In the near future more attractions will be added to this complex, including a lava/volcano/geothermal display and a planetarium.

09 June 2018

2018 Iceland 20 - Tomato Land Plus

Today was a leisurely get up. It was a gray day, but no precipitation. Breakfast was on our own. Mike and I enjoyed oranges and cream cheese on toasted naan bread. We had no plans til a noon lunch reservation at the "tomato farm."

Notes: Meal reservations are recommended here. And, lots of photos on this one, as this place was trés fascinating, but most pix appear yellow-ish because of lighting in the greenhouse.

We left the apartment near 10:00. Destination today was Fridheimar Greenhouse near Reykholt. Their greenhouse is about the size of a football field (50,000 square feet).


They grow mainly tomatoes, but also some cucumbers, basil, and a few flowers for personal use by the owner. Lunch is served right in the greenhouse.

Outside was clear but chilly. Inside was comfortably warm from the geothermal energy used in the heating system. It allows growth of tomatoes year-round. It is also used to sterilize the soil mixture. 

The bore hole for the water well is about 200m (219 feet) away. Water temp is 95c (203f) when it comes to them. They use about 100,000 tons of water per year. The electricity consumed here is equivalent to use in 3,000 houses.

We arrived a little early, but they seated us fo, maybe a preserved tomato vine.
There were also lines of tables set up for the tour bus groups. Lucky us, just four.







We had a very nice waitress named Natalia from Moldavia. She wore cute little cat ears. How did she know at least two of us were cat people. Natalia gave us a quick description of the operation. Wish I would have had a recorder to collect all the details.
As you can see we were surrounded by tall organic grown tomato plants. They grow mainly four varieties from cherry to Big Boy size. Guys worked adjusting lights and skeins of plastic "string" (white cylinder-looking things).

They moved around on lifts or a rail system between rows with seats (so they did not have too bend over so much) or baskets for gathering.



Because of its geographic and isolated location, there are fewer pests and diseases. Bumble bees (not honey bees) are imported from Amsterdam to pollinate the plants. Bumbles are less aggressive. There are about 600 bees at a time and they visit up to 2,000 flowers a day.



The heating system is connected to an Internet weather station, so temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide (used in photosynthesis and plant growth), and lighting are automatically controlled. Additional computerization for watering and fertilizer blending makes every day the perfect day to grow a tomato.
Here is what the potting systems looks like. Volcanic materials are used in the growing medium.Main stems were maybe two inches wide. 


We were surrounded by tomato plants, as far as the eye could see.



Eighteen percent of the island's tomatoes are grown here and every one is perfect.

OK, now for the delicious food and lovely presentation. Each item on the menu had tomato incorporated somewhere in the recipe, including 
dessert and sipping water (cherry tomatoes in carafe and glasses). Here are the drink and food menus. 

We started with a Bloody Mary. Natalia warned us that it would be on the sweet side because their tomatoes were sooooo sweet. And she was right. It was a little too sweet for my taste.

Then they invited us to the soup stand, for a helping of their famous tomato soup. It was self-serve and all you could slurp.
On each table was a huge basil plant and multi-bladed herb scissors. You could pick a few leaves and shear them up to top the soup.
As soon as we got home, Mike ordered a pair for us. He got the deluxe model with four blades on each side and a little cleaner tool.
On the soup table was an all-you-can-eat bread stand. This is the most spectacular display of bread we have ever seen (that includes Italy). There were at least five kinds--plain, green olive, pepper, fennel, pumpkin seed, and maybe more. All big beautiful loaves. My favorite was the olive. We had several infused oils for dipping at our table.















Bakers from the back room continually passed by our table with new loaves of freshly-baked warm bread wafting yeast aromas into the air. Our mouths were watering, but our tummies were full.


Mike and I were going to order a "tortilla" for each of us, but Natalia said to share. She was absolutely right. We took half to go after stuffing ourselves with soup and bread.

After the meal we waddled our way down an aisle that let us see all the tomato rows. There were lots of signs to education us on the operation. At one point we ran across the owner giving a description to a bus group. We could have listened, but instead continued on our own.




At the check-out was a variety of tomato products you could purchase, as well as fresh tomatoes. With our very full bellies, we just couldn't think of buying more food in any form.








In the stables out back, we had the opportunity to see more Icelandic horses up close. Just can never get enough of them. Two were nuzzling, one was taking a dirt bath, and one was getting a taste off a salt lick. Just too cute! In the summer they offer horse shows in 14 languages, but we were happy to observe and give a few pets.