Saturday, June 29, 2013

Day 13: The Golden Circle

Today we spent the day driving the Golden Circle. It was cold, and occasionally while driving we got dripped on, and we were tired by the end of the day, but it was glorious. We covered a lot of ground in the eight hours we were out.

First we drove past Þingvallavatn towards Þingvellir National Park, where Alþing, the general assembly of the national parliament, was established around 930 AD and continued to convene there until 1798. We saw the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that rises above sea level, where the North American plate meets the Eurasian plate; some of the lava rocks still had ocean wave patterns on it.

The most impressive area of the park was Lögberg (the law rock); during the Icelandic Commonwealth period (930 - 1262), this was the hub of the meeting.

We were also able to walk by the pools where women were drowned if they were convicted of serious crimes; the river Öxará; and Þingvallakirkja, one of Iceland's first churches. The original was consecrated in the 11th century, and inside thre are several bells from earlier churches, a 17th-century wooden pulpit, and a painted altarpiece from 1834.

Last night I had perused a website that discussed the THING Project, as well as other international THING sites, and coincidentally this afternoon I found a very interesting looking book in one of the Þingvellir visitor centers: Things in the Viking World, edited by Olwyn Owen; it discussed "things" - assembly sites that had spread across northwest Europe as the result of the Viking diaspora and Norse settlements in Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the Isle of Man, and three different locations in Scotland. It seems to be in very limited print, so I'm glad I had found a copy.

On we drove to Haukadalur, the geothermically active valley that includes the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, a fountain geyser. Walking up to the area where the geysers were located, we came across lots of steam rising, and the strong smell of sulphur.

Geysir itself currently doesn't erupt on a schedule (it had recently been inactive for decades) - at least, we didn't see it in action, but we were around for Strokkur's eruption, which happens every few minutes. And on our way out, we saw this little guy, which does nothing but bubble. (I had the urge to stick a tea bag in it and brew myself a cup. Full of mineral, sulphuric goodness!)

Not far away from the geysers we visited Gullfoss, a two-tiered waterfall, then were on our way to Skálholt church, where we went through a small museum in the basement that included rather impressive tombstones of various affiliated notable clergy, and the stone coffin of Páll Jónsson, an Icelandic Catholic priest who between 1195 and 1211 served as the seventh bishop of Iceland.

Our last stop of the day was Kerið, a volcanic crater lake, one of several in what's known as the Western Volcanic Zone; it's approximately 3,000 years old and the lake itself generally ranges in depth from about 23 to 46 feet deep.

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