Still about the water

Yesterday I was talking about waterfalls and geysers. But there are still other ways that water has a dramatic impact upon Iceland. Many of the largest volcanoes have glaciers sitting on top of them. This means that in addition to ash, cinders, gases and lava, water becomes a factor when a volcano becomes active.  Sometimes they blow right through their icy caps, other times they melt parts of it away. Either way there can be huge surges of meltwater flooding down from the mountains.

There are great out wash plains below the volcanoes- there is always meltwater rushing to the sea and the outwash will have streams and rivers that are present all year round. The bridges that cross them are engineered to resist a massive outpouring of water, and the approaches are designed so that the road beds can be quickly cut and allow the water to flow around the bridge – easier to fix the road than replace the bridge.
It was really amazing to drive across these vast expanses. Some are miles and miles of gravel. Others are farmed. Once upon a time masses of water swept across huge areas. Some have been untouched for millennia. When Eyafjallajokull went up in 2010 the world knew about the ash that grounded the airplanes. But after the planes flew again the water came down, as it always does. This time there was warning and people were evacuated.
It takes a special kind of people to live underneath a volcano!


Foss Foss, baby.

This is such a beautiful country. I’m a bit biased – I like huge open spaces with not much in them and vast tracts of lava don’t bother me. And this relatively small country contains some really vast expanses.

And water! Everywhere. Running across huge out wash plains. Rivers, streams. Hot springs. Water bubbling up from the ground. Water leaping out of the ground. And water falling from heights.
Seljalandfoss, the water fall you can walk behind.
Just like that.


Svartifoss, the black waterfall


And then there’s Gullfoss, the grand daddy of the waterfalls.

Not all the water goes down. While the ‘Grand Geyser’ only erupts occasionally now, it’s little cousin Strokkur puts on a show every 5 minutes or so:






No, I didn’t just sneeze on the keyboard.

How about this?
Yes, the famous Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down the air space over Europe. The name that broadcasters the world over had to learn.
I usually try to learn at least a few phrases of the language of countries that we visit. But Icelandic has defeated me.
Consider the list of places that we have visited or viewed so far:
Solheimajokull glacier
Myrdalsjokull ice cap
Svartifoss waterfall
Skaftafellsjokull glacier
Jokulsarlon lagoon
Ljotipollur lake
My spell checker is off whimpering in the corner.
It’s not all long words – we’ve learned thank you (takk takk) and goodbye (bless). And the grand dame of the volcanos – Hekla- shed her cloak of clouds for us when we passed by.


Visiting a new land

South of Iceland are the Westerman Islands. In the early 1960’s a new island rose from the sea in an eruption that lasted several years. When lava erupts under the sea the contact with the cold water causes it to shatter into cinder and pumice, which is ejected. Eventually enough of this material makes an island and the magma is no longer entering the water directly. Now it flows and hardens into basalt. The island of Surtsey was so formed and became the southernmost point of Iceland. Because it is mostly made of cinders the island has eroded significantly over the past 50 years, though it will take longer for the basalt core to wear away. 
The largest of the Westerman islands is Heimaey. I’m sure it was very exciting to have another island appear right next door, but nothing prepared the 5000 inhabitants for what happened on a January night in 1973. There was an earthquake and then people on one side of town saw a fissure tear open the earth and an eruption was underway. Bad weather had kept the fishing fleet in the harbour and everyone fled in the night with what they could carry and took to the boats. Everyone was successfully evacuated, but as the eruption proceeded through the cinder, gas and lava phases over 400 homes were destroyed. By the time it was all over in July there was a new mountain in town, a changed harbour entrance, a bigger island and a huge clean up ahead.
The new mountain of Eldfell is protected from the sea by its lava flow so it remains, just asking to be climbed. So of course we did.
View from the summit looking toward town.


Brave souls walking out to the very furthest point.
After having climbed 400m in the howling wind I decided that was a few steps too far.
Did I mention that it was really windy?



That was a long walk up!
In the town they have excavated one of the buried houses and built a remarkable little museum around it.
The house during the eruption – eventually it was completely buried in ash and cinders.


The house today, within the museum. You can look in and see beds and cupboards and the toilet.


The neighbours house is partly excavated.



Eating Icelandic


If you’ve been with us in our previous travels you know that we like to investigate the cuisine of places that we visit. Before we set off for Iceland I read a bit, and knew that we were in for lots of fish and lamb. Sounds good. I really didn’t think too much about how the constraints of life on a small remote island would influence the cuisine.

Immediately upon arrival we went to the Blue Lagoon for a swim and finished up with lunch at their restaurant, which is called Lava. It is a very fine restaurant, elegant in style and service. And food to match. The only mismatch was the clientele – many of whom were in spa bathrobes and most of the rest looking dampish and carrying their swimsuit in a plastic bag.
We chose the Icelandic menu, which started with smoked Arctic char, then rack of lamb finishing with ice cream and pastry. It was all very good and the lamb especially so – large pieces of tender lamb served with great lashings of béchamel sauce.
The next day in Reykjavik we went to a restaurant called Matur og Drykkur, which means Food and Drink. They take classic Icelandic cuisine and play with it. Fish with whey butter is a very traditional dish. Here it showed up as fish chips with whey butter and pickled seaweed. Unbelievably good – I was so tempted to lick the plate.


Apparently the traditional Christmas dinner is smoked leg of lamb served with bechamel and nutmeg. Which explains the sauce with the lamb yesterday. Today it was dried double smoked lamb with buttermilk. The lamb was sliced shatteringly thin and the buttermilk was thickened like a dip.
The Arctic char today was smoked over sheep dung (???) and served with charred flatbread and horseradish. You might think that it wasn’t very appealing but you’d be wrong! The smoke of the fish, the slight sharpness of the horseradish and a touch of bitterness from the bread- such an interesting combo.


By the time we got to crispy seaweed with lumpfish roe and then salted cod croquettes I was dizzy with new tastes.
The rest of our time in Reykjavik was filled with culinary adventures – often lamb twice a day. Once we joined our tour things were a little less adventurous. But there was one thing on the breakfast buffet in Hvolsvollur.


Yep, a bottle of cod liver oil.


Complete with instructions on how to take it without gagging.
And in four days I never saw anyone partake!

Another bathing experience

We have enjoyed the benefits of Japan’s geothermal blessings on our trips there. And now we’re in Iceland, where they also know how to harness those powers as well.

Flights from North America tend arrive between 5:00 and 7:00 in the morning, which means a traveler is likely  to have a long wait before being able to check into their hotel. A little investigation showed that the bus from the international airport to Reykjavik conveniently makes a stop at the Blue Lagoon – perfect!
The people of Iceland harness the volcano heated water beneath their island to produce electricity and hot water to heat their buildings. The water that comes from the earth is heavily mineralized, so rather than use it directly they use the super heated water to heat clean lake water, which then spins turbines or is piped to where it is needed. The mineralized water is then re-injected into the ground to complete the cycle.
Some of that hot mineralized water went into a small lake before being re-injected and soon enough people were coming for a swim. And soon after that someone thought ‘Hmmm’. And voila, the Blue Lagoon complex was born.
The water really is an amazing milky blue. The silica dissolved in the water precipitates out making a white rim around the lava edges – it feels slick like porcelain. Easier to sit on than the lava. A huge lagoon has been carved out of the lava, with little bays to explore. It’s not terribly deep – mostly we walked in the water at about chest depth with some swimming.
When we arrived it was 08:00, drizzling lightly with some very ominous skies.


In this picture (taken through the window)!you can see the geothermal plant (and steam) in the far distance with part of the swimming lagoon and change room area in the foreground.

We were there for several hours and got a tour of several seasons – light rain, wind strong enough to raise whitecaps, brilliant sunshine, rainbows- no snow, though. Price of admission included a drink at the swim up bar, so by 9:30 we had beer and cider and were lounging in the shallows out of the wind. The life guards were bundled up in parkas and woollies as they watched over us!
We took the opportunity to have an in water massage. In a separate little cove we reclined on what looked like a floating yoga mat. Once aboard we were covered with a blanket and for 30 minutes we floated in the lovely water and had the kinks of a 7 hour plane ride dealt with.
Before taking the bus on to Reykjavik we had a sumptuous lunch in the restaurant called Lava. Smoked Arctic char and incredible rack of lamb. Wilf took this picture of me as dessert arrived – jet lagged, waterlogged, dishevelled and happy!


Caramel mousse, vanilla ice cream and deep fried pastries. Urp.)