After leaving Grundarfjörður we drove back towards Reykjavik, stopping at the town of Bogarnes to see The Settlement Center, which contains two exhibits, one on the settlement of Iceland and the other on the saga of Egil. This “museum” has no historical artifacts, but instead provides two audio guide led tours through a series of rooms with artistic and informational displays; the first walk is about the settlement of the country in the 9th Century and goes on to explain how Iceland has the world’s oldest parliament, over 1,000 years old. The other one is about one of its most famous historical stories, the saga of Egil, which took place in the vicinity of the museum.
They made very creative use of recycled materials, for instance making mannequins from 2×4 offcuts and old bicycle parts. Unfortunately they did not permit any photos, but a few days later we came across the photo above, which looks to have been made by the same artist. The cost to visit The Settlement Center was about US$25 per person. While fun and informative, the place was clearly designed for fewer visitors than they get today. The space is pretty tight and in order for people to watch say, item 6 in the rooms, they had to stand in front of items 4 and 5, meaning if you were right behind you had to be prepared to pause your tour for a while until you could get a clear view.
After leaving Bogarnes, we drove the ubiquitous (for visitors to Iceland) Golden Triangle, but it was a yucky, cold, rainy day. The Golden Triangle is a drive that takes in three principle sights that can easily be seen in a day trip from Reykjavik. They are: Þingvellir, the ancient parliament area, Gullfoss, a large waterfall, and Geysir, a geothermal site.
We actually ended up having pretty poor weather all week – at best it wasn’t raining, but still had full cloud cover. At worst, it was raining, cold, and blowing hard. Pretty crummy weather for photography! Talking to one of the natives, they told me that up until about five years ago, this was the typical weather for Iceland in the summer, but during the last few years they have had nice bright, warm sunny days at this time of year, which is what people have come to expect. What we experienced was apparently what people used to experience all the time.
And so, in the middle of summer in Central Iceland, weather was about the same as winter turning to spring in the West of Ireland – cold, wet, and very windy. At times I would estimate we had wind gusts of 30-40MPH. Good thing we came prepared.
Our first major stop on the Golden Triangle was Þingvellir, and we were there just before a free English tour was due to start. We hurried to park our car, which is in a pay and display parking lot. The machine wasn’t working, so we never figured out how much it should have cost. Disappointingly the English tour didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know and it only took us to a few areas of the site. Honestly, we would have been better just to walk the site on our own, which might explain why we were the only ones on the tour although there we lots of people at the site.
This was the site of the first parliament in the world that met here from 930CE to 1798. Early Icelanders chose not to have a king, but instead divided the country up into chiefdoms. Each year the leaders and their deputies came together for a parliament session where the existing laws were read and new laws created. The site was chosen as it was convenient for everyone coming from the west, north and south, and was located right next to a lake full of fish. Furthermore, the cliff walls, caused by an old seismic rift, acted as a sort of natural amplification so everyone could hear. In fact, this spot is the meeting of the North American and European tectonic plates.
Later on, some of the other sites in the area were associated with various incidents, such as a drowning pool used for those convicted of witchcraft, a river bottom studded with coins after the King of Denmark tossed a coin in on a visit and later visitors followed suit, etc.
Overall Þingvellir was pretty interesting, but after an hour out in the rain, we were getting wet, despite having good waterproofs.
So, we drove on to Geysir. After which all geysers are named. In some ways it was a bit similar to Yellowstone, which we visited last year. Entrance is currently free, as is the parking nearby. The geyser named Geysir now goes off infrequently, but the adjacent Strokkur geyser is Iceland’s “old faithful” and erupts every few minutes with an impress gush of water. We watched it go off a few times – sometimes there was a single, large eruption, and other times that was followed immediately by a second, smaller gush. We even saw a triple eruption.
Geysir has changed hands a few times. Around the late 1800s, it was owned by Lord Craigavon from Northern Ireland who fenced the area off and charged people to view the geysers. It is now back in Icelandic hands and currently free again.
In Yellowstone you are kept off the geothermal areas – both for your own safety and to protect the environment. At Geysir there are also fences keeping you away from the geothermal features, but they are much closer and you are allowed to walk over their outflow areas, which surprised me a bit as I would have thought they would want to protect the area a bit better.
The last of the three major sites on the Golden Triangle is Gulfoss, a large waterfall – really a series of waterfalls as the water cascades down to a mid level and then drops steeply off into a deep chasm. You can’t see the bottom of the waterfall due to the terrain. Clearly a huge amount of water flows through this area and given the rainfall we experienced in our time in Iceland, there is clearly plenty of H2O to power it.
We’ve been fortunate to travel to many places around the globe and it is hard not to compare one waterfall to another, such as Iguazu Falls on the Argentina/Brazil border or Livingstone Falls in Zambia, which is unfair. Gullfoss is much shorter, although quite wide, powerful and very beautifully located. The best thing is to try to enjoy each site on its own merits.
For dinner we had our one ethnic meal in Iceland at an Ethiopian restaurant in Fluðir. This is a cuisine we like and since it has lots of vegetarian dishes it is a good choice for us. The price, while more expensive than we pay back home, was less than most other restaurants we visited in the country, which was a nice change.
This evening we are staying at a guesthouse in Selfoss which turns out to be a camping site that also has fully equipped cabins. The place was pretty comfortable, had a good radiator (which we used to dry out our clothes) and was equipped with the best WiFi we had in Iceland!