22 May 2018

2018 ICELAND Golden Circle 18 - History and Nature's Mystery

We had breakfast in our respective units and met for the drive to the Golden Ring at 09:45. Most folks sight see the Golden Ring on a big tour bus. Not us. We were venturing out on our own version of the tour. As driver of the day, I felt like I was vying for position on a race track with narrow lanes and fat buses in front, behind, and coming toward us.

The Golden Circle is not on the Ring Road, but kind of northeast of Reyk toward the interior. The circle is made up of three main stops in historic and natural areas of Iceland. They include Strokkur geysir, Pingvillir National Park (anglicized as Thingvellir), and the awesome Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall). The falls are furthest away, about 70 miles and an hour 40 minutes from Reyk.

On our way we drove along Pingvallavatn, a huge icy blue lake. It is the largest lake in Iceland and partially located in the Pingvillir National Park. The surface is 84 km sq (32 sq miles). Average depth is 34m (112 ft) and max depth is 114m (374 ft).
There were a few houses scattered about, but mostly pretty desolate. This shot is of the most dense spot we saw. I can't imagine people living here for beachy / swimming purposes, but it is quite lovely.
Nearby ice fields. What's water and what's ice!? Beautiful...

Our first stop was to be the site of the oldest parliament in the world beginning in the year 930. We got confused by the signage and finally stopped at a coffee shop for directions. It turned out to be a tourist info center. We were looking for a parliamentary building, but the info gal said that it was a "location" and that we had passed it a ways back.

We ordered hot chocolate and a sweet and talked it over. We decided to move forward and catch the site on our way home. So Strokkur (means churn) Geysir (geyser in English) was our first site to peruse. Here was a big visitor center--info about the area, lunchroom, and store with Icelandic products. We took a quick sweep through that and headed across the street to the geysir, which we could see from the road.
It sits in the middle of a hot springs area, among smaller geysirs and flowing streams and steam. A heavy sulfur odor permeated the air. Walkways guided us safely along the way because waters can be "too-hot-to-touch" up to "boil-you-alive-in-seconds." Signs warned of 80-100C (176-212F). I just wanted to test touch it, but came to my senses.
This looked like a house that had been claimed by the steamy hand of nature.

Up the trail is the grandaddy named Strokkur Geysir, which puts on a show every 8-10 minutes with an impressive burst of hot water and steam.
People surrounded the shallow "lake," cameras in ready position anticipating the blast. I think the people across the way got sprayed a bit from the wind direction going their way.

We waited patiently through several rounds, my sis and I trying to take the perfectly timed photo. Laur finally got a great shot on the third burst. A quick poof and then it was gone in the blink of an eye.
There are hiking paths around the whole area, but we decided to move on down the road. It is certainly a mystery why this geysir and Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone Park in the USA continue to burst on a regular basis. And I can certainly see why they call this the Land of Fire and Ice.

19 May 2018

2018 ICELAND Reykjavik 17 - Like Home in Reykjavik

I'm thinking we arrived about 17:00 to Reykjavik4You, an apartment hotel on Bergstadastraeti Street. It is located in the heart of Reyk, just two blocks from shopping and cafes and nearby to the famous Hallgrímskirja church and other walkable landmarks. Our condo neighbors Tom and Lisa had recommended it and we pass on that recommendation, for sure.

We checked in at the office, a cozy living room space with sofas and fireplace. There was a world map with pinpoints designating where visitors traveled from, so we added our pin to a very crowded Michigan.
Other travelers were seated on the sofa. Mike was wearing his Canada hat and another fellow had on a maize and blue University of Michigan t-shirt. Come to find out he was from Canada and we, of course, live near U of M. A little juxtaposition and a little laugh was had by all.

The receptionist fellow was fabulous. He explained that the developer of the complex originally had the idea to build and sell apartments. But that turned out to be right at the time of the bank crisis in Iceland, so nobody was buying. He re-evaluated the situation, continued to build, but turned the buildings into successful vacation rentals. There are studios and one- and two-bedroom units, each uniquely decorated.

We originally were booked on the fourth floor of one of the buildings, but no elevator!! He re-evaluated our situation and worked some magic. T&L ended up with a one-bedroom ground floor unit and we got a second-story studio. We were all happy with that arrangement. Parking was somewhat limited but we were able to find a spot near our units every time we arrived.

Our studio was perfect for two and decorated in vaguely African style, mostly wooden animal statues. There was a double door style vestibule. This must be common in Iceland. Maybe for cold and wet weather storage of clothes, boots, bikes, etc.
As you walked in, there was a small but fully-equipped kitchen on one side (including coffee, whitener, and sugar) and king bed on the other.

The only thing we thought was "different" was the bedding. It looked quite crinkly, but felt just fine once we hopped into bed. Even the pillows felt smooth under our heads.
There was a dining area with a quote on the wall. We often saw quotes in Iceland.
Ands we were doing it...traveling and exploring new areas.

In the relaxing area was a comfy lounger and chair and a French balcony.
The bathroom was large and linens were lush.
We even had two sets of robe and slippers to use during our stay.

Our view wasn't the greatest (more apartments), but the location was spectacular and made up for it. It actually felt good to be back in the city with its own set of amenities and views.

Mike still wasn't hungry, but T&L and I were. We headed out to find our dinner. In the same block as our apartment, there was a cat coffee cafe. We didn't have time on this visit to check it out, but we watched a minute or so every time we walked by. Here's one cutie cat.
We walked a bit checking out the restaurants, but ended up going to the first place we saw. I was still looking for lobster, but no such thing as the Maine style I craved for on these menus. Gave up on that one. This place was cozy (you know what that means), but the food was tasty. A place locals would go to for dinner.
We knew there was a grocery store nearby and I wanted to pick up some snacks for Mike after dinner. The waiter gave directions, but said they were closely shortly. We ordered, and Laur and I ran over for supplies. It was a Bonus Store with a pink piggy logo. We purchased bananas, oranges, Skyr (Iceland's version of a rich yogurt), crackers, and cream cheese--a nice variety for a snacks tonight and breakfast in the morning.

By the time we got back to the restaurant our order was ready. T&L both had the salted cod platter which they said was delish. I got the farmers veggie plate. It doesn't look like it would fill you up, but there were good grains and sauce underneath all the greens. It was also tasty.

Back at the apartment, Mike carved up a couple of oranges and other goodies. It was a good filler for him and a good dessert for me.
We spent three nights at Apt4You. It was a nice break not to have to unpack-pack-unpack for a few days.

17 May 2018

2018 ICELAND Ring Road 16 - In Hot Water

A little way down the Ring Road was the Geothermal Exhibition at the Hellisheidi Power Plant. The entrance price per person here was about $15 USD. You can easily spot the facility from the road because of the voluminous rising steam.
It is located on the Hengill volcano. This volcano is still active, as evidenced by numerous hot springs and fumaroles (openings where hot sulfurous gases emerge), but the last eruption occurred approximately 2,000 years ago. Here is the entrance (and far left above)
In some ways Iceland is lucky to have volcanoes. They can be "harnessed" to provide green energy for most of the island.

Currently, Hellisheidi is the third largest geothermal power plant in the world and the largest of five on this island. It powers about 30% of Iceland's total energy in the form of electricity and hot water, and virtually all the energy for the greater Reykjavik area. We saw tiny "personal" sized power plants occasionally along our drive in the outlying areas.

This exhibition was fascinating, although different than the Lava Center. By that I mean not so much show-and-tell or interactive-ness. Much of the info came from our guide or perusing colorful graphic displays. That took a little more time and effort to read.

We started with a guide who explained the geothermal process. Simply stated, it rains or snows and water soaks into the ground. The water is warmed by the internal heat of the earth's crust to between 225-400C (or 437-752F). Water is extracted through drilling. The hot water or steam energy is transported to places of use.
Transporting pipes are looped or zig-zagged to reduce the pressure of the steam or hot water and resist earthquake activity. BTW, all homes in Iceland are built to withstand a minimum 7.2 earthquake on the Richter Scale. Here are the looped pipes.
We saw these zig-zagged pipes in several places along the Ring Road. Transporting pipes run some 27 kilometers to Reykjavik and only loose about 2C degrees in the process. Collection pipes carry a steam and water mixture, while service pipes carry one or the other.
We saw part of the turbine processing area. We could feel the engine room vibrating under our feet.

Then we saw a short film reiterating the energy producing process and offering a little more history (plant constructed in 2006) and other facts. At full capacity the plant produces 303 megawatts of electricity and 134 megawatts of hot water. One megawatt can provide electricity for 1,000 people. 

After the movie we were on our own to absorb the rest of the display information. This one shows the progression of the use of geothermal activity.
There was also an Icelandic mineral collection and samples of tools used to harness the energy. These drill bits were huge, each of the three were maybe the size of a cantaloupe.

Here is a cross-cut of main power cables. They were about 9 inches wide.

Geothermal is used to generate electricity and heat buildings, including business, homes and a number of greenhouses we saw in our travels. We learned that ninety percent of houses in Iceland are heated this way. Many sidewalks in Reykjavik are heated by a snow melt system. People recycle hot "gray" water in their homes to melt snow in their driveways.

An aside: Mike and I talked about renewable energy today and did not remember seeing wind turbines in Iceland other than the small weather / earthquake monitors we saw along the Ring Road. So googled it and here's what we found:  https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=imgres&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwjh57r47IzbAhVG3IMKHSdsBDsQjxx6BAgBEAI&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DJzGnrtGGTw0&psig=AOvVaw1uT7PC88kXliNj8Pd0qjjZ&ust=1526650056121787.

14 May 2018

2018 ICELAND Ring Road 15 - Lava Land on the Road to Reykjavik

Mike woke up with a terrible upset stomach. We had intended to go to the Skógar Folk Museum before heading west, but decided to let him sleep in to help settle things down. We got on the road about 11:00. Our first stop was the Volcano and Earthquake Exhibition at the Lava Center. It is right off the Ring Road in Hvolsvöllur.
We lived in California for many years, so we're familiar with earthquakes. We went through several, but the worst was the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989. It occurred during the third game of the world series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants (both local teams). The magnitude was 6.9 on the Richter Scale and was centered near Loma Prieta Peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

We were both at work at the airport. Mike rode it out in the air freight building. Once it was over, he went outside and saw buildings collapsed around him. I was in the terminal in a classroom with six students. You never saw seven gals get so skinny so fast as to fit within a door frame. Lights went dark and computers went flying. The airport sprinkler system went off, drenching the airport. It took several days to pull out all the old carpeting and damaged wiring, before we could get back to work.

All in all Mike and I and our four cats were pretty lucky. We weren't hurt and our home had only minor damage. During 15 seconds, 3,000 people were injured, 67 lost their lives, and damages topped $5 billion. That included a 1.25-mile segment of I-880, a double-deck freeway that collapsed upon itself killing 42 people and closing the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland. This main thoroughfare finally reopened in 1997.

The only volcano experience we had was on the Big Island of Hawaii. On one of our visits Kilauea was spouting off. It looked gorgeous at night from our hotel window. Sadly she is active again in a big way and people's homes and lives are greatly disrupted.
OK, back to this trip. The Lava Center is an amazing place for information. Lots of hands-on learning. It includes a huge interactive display area, volcano cinema, restaurant, cafe, and gift shop. The price was around $25 USD per person, but way worth it.
The journey starts in a long corridor that walks you through a time travel display of Icelandic volcano eruptions since 1900. At each stop, you can push buttons to learn more about lava volume, time span of each eruption, etc. The hallway is dark, but lights up as you move along. Here are all the volcanoes described.

In the first room you come to a globe-like device which demonstrates the creation and growth of the island of Iceland. By manually moving a circular bar, the display shows the changing mantle plume, Mid-Atlantic Ridge magma upwelling, and tectonic plate forces evolving to "birth" and develop the island. All very scientific, but fascinating to watch in fast-mo.

Another room has a very large structure (from basement level to ceiling) offering a visual representation of the magma column beneath Iceland. It depicts Iceland's fiery heart in this land of fire and ice.

The next couple areas house nine interactive computer screens demonstrating various types of volcanoes, eruption debris, lava flow, aging, and geological processes. There are also matching "moving" dioramas displaying the information.

The last room is the best. Three walls offer graphics of major Icelandic volcanoes. If you stand in certain spots on the floor and point (not touch) with your finger to spots on the wall graphics, the volcanoes come to life or give info about that particular event.

Throughout the exhibit there are certain spots you step on to feel a little rumble like a mild earthquake or hear sounds of an eruption. We learned volcanic eruptions can occur without first having an earthquake. Many other interesting facts and figures are provided, plus info on how eruptions affect the environment.

The theater shows a 12-minute video from the latest volcanic activity on the island. It shows debris and ash flying, lava oozing, and smoke billowing, and how people and animal stock handled the situation. The theatre was quite cool, with huge lounging pillows on the floor among the chairs. Mostly kids plopped on them.
Back in the lobby we chatted with Helgi, who lived in this area his whole life. He was eleven during the last volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. His dog got hyper and paranoid several days before. Three to four inches of ash covered everything. No human was killed, but a few livestock did not make it. Volcanic ash and smoke halted air traffic, but by Iceland standards it was not very impressive.

Here are volcanic hot spots around the world, as well as tectonic plate divides. It takes a minute to figure out the divides, but notice the one going through Iceland. Will talk about it later.

We checked out the cafe and restaurant--both modern and pretty much the same menu we have seen along the way--but decided to eat later.

Before departure we browsed the gift shop stocked with all kinds of quality Icelandic products and mementos. Our only purchase was "volcanic salt." The bag looked pretty...mostly black salt with reddish salt sprinkled in. I wasn't thinking hot on the palate, but just how pretty the color combo was. Silly me! It was way too hot for me, but Mike and all my hot-tongued friends love it.