Iceland Day 1: A Road Trip through Land of Ice and Fire
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
“Deliver us O Lord! from the fury of Northmen”, Europeans would pray when Viking hordes used to descend upon the mainland for loot and plunder. Warriors known as “Berserkers”, in a trance like fury would butcher people like grass falls in front of a scythe. These ferocious raiders would not wear any armour as they dreamt of dying gloriously in the battlefield, only to be carried by Valkyries to Valhalla; in Odin’s mythical hall of the heroes, where they could feast and fight along with gods till eternity. But that was more than a thousand years ago. Now Scandinavian countries along with Iceland, Greenland and Faroe islands are the most peaceful countries in an otherwise burning planet. So, we decided to visit Iceland once to experience its famed beauty.
At 1 o clock in the night, a gibbous moon was hung low in sky, white and cool, when we came out of the car rental with keys. On threshold of a new adventure, we stood. But a smooth beginning wasn’t to be. Prior to this, I had only driven Maruti 800 and Swift. Nissan Qushqai felt like a truck when we sat in. This was our first experience with left steering wheel and I totally struggled. As I turned on the ignition, multitude of control lights blinked at us ominously. Most of them were red. After much struggling with various buttons and levers, I could finally bring the car out of parking lot.
A more demanding challenge now lay ahead of us. How to reach our homestay driving on the right side. Vehicles were zooming past us like missiles. After an agonizing 45 mins we finally reached our guesthouse. I had by now developed serious doubts about finishing this road trip.
At 8.00 clock in the morning I peeped through the blinds to check the weather. While the sun knowingly waited behind a large cloud, a streak of light illuminated the car standing defiantly in the front of the house, like an untamed stallion. I had no idea about driving rules in Iceland apart from the fact that fines for driving offences in Iceland can easily exceed 200 USD. As a first time driver in a foreign land, I did not want to err even slightly. Although an Indian driving licence in English is valid in most countries of Europe, to be on safer side I had got an International driving permit made. This trouble was declared unnecessary by the good lady at Geysir Car rental. Indian licence or any license in English language was indeed valid.
With fingers crossed we loaded our suitcases fattened with ready to eat/ easy to cook foods brought from India. Iceland is an expensive country and for vegetarian or “born again” vegetarians, eating options are limited. Plus it can save a lot of dough. After taking note of all the controls of the car we headed out for the golden circle tour.
As soon as we were out of Rejkyavik, we were greeted by peerless landscapes of Icelandic countryside. Verdant meadows stretched on all sides enveloped by flat topped mountains. Intermittent clouds blocked sunshine and chequered the whole landscape into patches of light and dark. The scenery was redolent of Ladakh minus the green. Our journey had now begun in true sense.
Saying Hello to Hringvegur or ring road
We were now on the famed Hringvegur or Route 1 as it is popularly known. Running along the circumference of Iceland for 1332 Kms, it allows access to most popular tourist destinations of Iceland. A smorgasbord of natural wonders awaited us.
1) Thingvellir National Park.
Thingvellir national park is of tremendous historical, cultural and geographic importance to Icelanders. Mid atlantic ridge is a tectonic boundary between American and Eurasian continental plate. 650000 million years ago magma beneath Norway and Greenland erupted. It took 50000 million years for it to cool. As a result Iceland was formed, The youngest country in Europe with only 24 million years of age!.
Speaking in Norse mythological terms, in the beginning, there were only two worlds. In north was Niflheim, the dark world of mist and to south was Muspelheim, the bright world of fire. Between these world was a void called Ginnungagap. When the ice and frost met and thanks to toils of gods Odin, Vili and Ve, Midgard (where humans dwell) was created. Think of Iceland as Midgard. No wonder it is called the Land of Ice and Fire.
Mid Atlantic ridge passes right through Thingvellir. Faults and fissures created by are clearly visible as Iceland is now being torn apart imperceptibly by the same invisible forces of astronomical magnitudes that created it in the first place. But that day is far away. Norse mythology calls it Ragnarok, the end of days, when Gods and Anti God creatures will fight the ultimate battle, that will kill all and life will begin anew.These very Geological forces give Iceland its element of mystery and dread. More than 130 active volcanoes are densely concentrated in this small island.
For centuries its inhospitable and unpredictable climate along with its remoteness kept visitors at bay. Icelandic literature tells the story of one Ingolfur Arnarson, who after getting involved in a blood feud in Norway took flight with his brother and sister. His hopes were aroused after listening to stories from other sailors who had circumnavigated an island in North Atlantic. After he sighted the island, he threw wooden log into the ocean and decided to settle where they would land. He finally spotted them in a small bay where he saw white steam coming out. He christened the place Reykjavik (Smoky Bay) and became the first permanent settler of Iceland in 874 AD.
Þingvellir means assembly field. On one of the rocks in this park, first chieftains converged in 930 AD and laid down the first laws of land. This Alpingi (assembly) made Iceland one of the first democratic countries in the world.
Sometimes, I guess there just aren't enough rocks: Forrest Gump
Þingvellir National Park
Ymir's brains floating too close for comfort
2) Geysir Geothermal Area:
A thick sulphuric odour and apocalyptic wisps of white steam rising from ground, greeted us as we entered the geysir area. It was a true manifestation of invisible forces at play beneath the ground of this beautiful country. A good part of Icelandic energy requirements are met through geothermal energy. It is the only country in the world to be run almost totally on renewable energy. Any cravings to dip a finger in the water are rightly precluded by hissing bubbles which form and explode in temperatures of 80-100 degrees Celsius. We headed to the star of the show Strokkur, the biggest of all geysirs there which has been spouting jets of boiling water in a time honoured tradition every 7-10 minutes. But the main hotspring that popularized name geysir all over the world, has not been spouting water after the turn on 20th century. Its shaft is cleared from time to time for it to erupt temporarily. Once in 1981 for an icelandic film or for royal visitors. But that has stopped now. Now it resembles the mysterious well of wisdom of the giant Mimir. Odin gouged out one his eyes so that he could take one cup from it.
Boiled by fires of Muspelheim
Hot spring that popularized name Geysir is now dormant
Sorry to burst your bubble
3) Gullfoss waterfall:
The story goes that at closing of 19th century, this waterfall was in the farm of one Sigridur Tomasdottir’s (Icelandic names are patronymic. Hence Tomasdottir means daughter of Tomas) parents. Foreign investors soon got attracted to its awesome power and wanted to utilize it to generate hydroelectricity. They were successful in obtaining a contract to this end. Horrified at the prospect of seeing her beloved waterfall die, Sigridur fought hard against powerful people in Iceland and outside and eventually was able to revoke the contract. She at one point threatened to jump in the waterfall. Considered as one of the very first female nature conservationists, she is widely credited to be the saviour of this waterfall. The noble lawyer Sveinn Bjornsson (son of Bjorn) who helped sigridur went on to become first President on independent iceland in 1944.
The waters of Hvítá river plunge 32 meters down in a narrow canyon reminiscent of rivers from whirlpool Hvergelmir that fell into Ginnungagap at the dawn of ages.
A beautiful Bifrost showing the way to Asgard
Similar to waters of whirlpool Hvergelmir falling into Ginnungagap at the dawn of ages.
An interesting cone on the way to Hvolsvollur
After spending an hour or so at Gullfoss we decided to head back our stop for the night at a farmhouse in Hvolsvollur. It was Rakhi that day and we wanted to reach before sunset. The route offered some more interesting sights such as this volcanic cone.Our Guesthouse was right under the nose of Eyjafjallajokull volcano. Our guesthouse was right under the nose of Eyjafjallajokull volcano. It erupted in 2010 and caused disruption in European air traffic for months.
Rakhi In Hvolsvollur