Iceland: Stunning Waterfalls and a Giant Rift

  • Day 26, Voyage of the Vikings 2019
  • Saturday, Aug. 24, Reykjavik, Iceland

Finally Iceland delivered a beautiful day – mostly sunny, mild temperatures and stunning sights.

We took full advantage on the Golden Circle – a popular tour south and east of the capital city that includes stunning waterfalls, geysers and rifts and views of glaciers and mountains.

It’s hard to imagine that the roaring rivers that form these waterfalls are fed by melting snow and glaciers. I read that Iceland had just mourned the loss of one glacier not far from our route. Langjökull, or Long Glacier, looks huge in the distance, and it’s not the largest in this country. For that you would travel to the southeast region for Vatnajökull.

Back to the waterfalls: The most stunning is Gullfoss, which spills across an expanse of rocks into a deep canyon. The crowds were large but manageable along the wooden walkways, wide metal stairs leading to the overlooks and gravel path to gain closer access. Lots of selfie activity. And some interesting tour vehicles designed for the backcountry.

Earlier we stopped at Faxi, a falls with far fewer tourists. In retrospect Gullfoss overshadowed it, but at the time we were amazed by its beauty and size — and by the lack of safety barriers on the overlooks. They expect you to use common sense.

Iceland sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Deep within the earth magma pushes up and ever so slowly pushes these plates apart.

Today we saw evidence in the rift of the Þingvellir (or Thingvellir) National Park. In fact, we walked along the rift and in essence saw Eurasia on our left and North America to our right.

For anyone who has been to Yellowstone (as we have been several times), the geysers at Geysir are not as impressive. The occasional eruptions are more steam than water, but still give a good example of geothermal activity. We had time for lunch at this stop, where a number of food options and a large shop attract the crowds. Of course I had another Icelandic beer – Viking this time.

Because we were on an independent tour in a smaller 17-passenger bus, we were able to make some other quick stops. Ice cream ruled at a dairy farm.

The Icelandic horses were the attraction at another stop – and there was even one with my name! This breed is heavily protected – no other horses can come to Iceland and once an Icelandic horse leaves, it cannot come back.

Our driver Magnus treated us to what he described as a local treat – lamb and butter on rye bread. But it was so much more than that. The lamb is smoked hanging over wood and dried dung. So Magnus said it is called “Icelandic Rye Flatcake with Shit-Smoked Hanged Lamb.” It was delicious

Today was his last day as a tour guide (he is going to graduate school in Barcelona this fall), and he regaled us with stories of growing up in Iceland and life here.

Reykjavik’s downtown streets were closed to traffic today as a marathon wove throughout the area and a festival followed in the afternoon and evening. As we sailed away at 11 p.m., we enjoyed a fireworks display from the harbor. My friend Julie, who arrived in town this evening, sent me a photo of the Zuiderdam as we sailed away.

We arrived in Reykjavik around noon yesterday and stayed overnight, so we explored the harbor area yesterday afternoon. It is full of restaurants, bars and shops, with two interesting sailing vessels at the dock. I found time to sit and sketch a church on a small lake.

Apparently we are paying for today’s fine weather over our next two sea days, when we will pass near (not through, we hope) a storm system that could generate 23-foot seas. On Monday we are supposed to transit Prince Christian Sund again on our way back to Greenland, but we will see.

It’s only been a little over two weeks since we were last in Greenland, but who knew that we might be returning to a potentially 51st state? I’ll be curious to see what reception we get when we arrive in port on Tuesday.