Saturday, May 7, 2011

Geysir is an Icelandic Word

The word 'geyser' came from Iceland - that, in fact, is the name of the Iceland's biggest geyser - Geysir.

There is a hot springs valley with pools of simmering or actively boiling water.

Among them is Geysir that shoots up about a dozen times an hour to a few stories' height. Quite an amazing sight. Too bad it was so overcast - it is harder to grasp the enormity of it.

This is the Geysir's pool. The darker area in the middle is the opening, that's where the water spits out from. The surrounding water is where it falls after shooting up. Just like in a fountain.

The weather was... well, Icelandic. It rained pretty much non-stop all day long. We were both soaking wet through and through, but who cares when you're surrounded by beauty such as this?

The land is smoking... grass is growing everywhere in the warmed-up soil... sands of iron... water of minerals...

However nice and blue the water seems, don't touch it: it's 80-100 degrees Celsius (near boiling).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Icelandic Weather: All Seasons in One Day

The weather in Iceland is quite crazy. You can experience all 4 seasons in one day. Sun, rain, snow, fog, winds... you name it. You can experience 2 seasons withing FIVE MINUTES. Look at these photos. I actually bothered to give you the exact time each photo was taken to illustrate the frequency and abruptness of the changes.

9:38 am (photo from the bus window on our way to the glacier):

12:38 pm: rain on the glacier:

3:28 pm: heavy snow:

3:31 pm - THREE MINUTES LATER (seriously) - sunny again:

4:20 pm: it's snowing again:

4:24 pm - FOUR MINUTES LATER - nice and sunny again

5:46 pm - more rain on the way back (no snow):

The Icelanders have a saying: "don't like the weather? Wait 5 minutes"
As I just proved it - it is true.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Glacier or Walking on the Ice

Iceland's glaciers are among the biggest in the world. Remember the last year's volcano eruption, the one that disrupted all the flights? Well, a volcano just next to it is well past due with an eruption, too - only that one's crater is hidden under a glacier and will provoke dangerous and unpredictable flooding.

Anyhow, glacier: such a fun experience! There's a glacier tongue that descends right to the ground level. From afar, it looks like dirty snow. Nothing to write home about.

We were given crampons,

...a harness (presumably so that they could pick up our bodies in case we fall into a crevasse)

...and an axe (presumably for photo-posing).

Shall we go?

We spent about 3 hours on the glacier. We walked this and that way. There were deep cauldrons and crevasses all over. On this picture below, it's just an opening, it keeps on going deeper and deeper into the glacier.

We learned how to spot disguised cauldrons - that innocently look like snow but are, in fact, dozens of meters deep. The snow isn't packed, so you'll fall right through. A mom and a daughter fell last year. Mom died instantaneously, they managed to rescue the daughter. Don't go there without a guide and proper equipment!

We saw an ice rose: when an under-the-surface water current gets blocked, the water moves up and forms a well. The edges of the well look somewhat like a rose. It is also dozens of meters deep.

We didn't see any crevasses that were truly deep, but stepping over them was still a bit spooky.

We even went through a cave. The unpleasant part was that the path leading to the cave's entrance was clearly located above some kind of a tunnel. I kept thinking we're about to fall through into the tunnel...

While we were there, we experienced sun, rain, and snow. That's the Icelandic weather for you.

The deep-blue color of the ice means it's very dense. There is more water and less oxygen.

Overall, this was a fun experience!

Maybe next time we'll do something more difficult. Like an opportunity to actually use the ax! 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

No Last Name For You in Iceland

Icelanders don`t have last names - in the way we know them. People`s last names are given in association with their fathers' names - and their own gender.

So, if your name is John, and your dad`s name is Mark, then your full name would be John Marksson.

And if your sister`s name is Maria, then her full name would be Maria Marksdottir.

And your dad`s name might be Mark Gustavsson. And your mom`s name might be Lisa Andreysdottir.

Now imagine if you and your sister were from different marriages.

Bottom line: everyone has their own last name. But somehow Icelanders make sense in all of this and moms don`t get questioned on their not-matching last name when they pick up their kids at schools.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Icelandic Horse

If they had to eat rotten sharks, then it must mean there isn't much of a fauna in Iceland. And it's true.

One of the truly Icelandic animals is the Icelandic horse. There was no interbreeding from any horses from anywhere around the world for a 1000 years since they were brought there. So they are direct descenders of vikings' horses.

Looking at them, one might wonder if vikings were, actually dwarfs? Maybe that`s how the dwarf stories were born. Just kidding.

Anyway. The fact that they were so isolated means that the horses are very vulnerable. They have no immunity against out-of-Iceland germs and viruses. So if anyone takes an Icelandic horse abroad for a competition, it has to be left behind. No horses are allowed to enter Iceland. Very sad.

An advice: NEVER call the Icelandic horse a pony in front of another Icelandic human being. They are noble steeds (makes me think of Shrek). Horses.

And lots of excursions can be found on their tiny back. We haven`t got the time to experience that, though.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Is So Hot In Iceland?

So what's so hot in Iceland? Well, other than the volcanoes that erupt and disrupt the whole western hemisphere's airline business, it's the hot water. The hot springs.

Iceland has an amazing quantity of geysers and hot springs. So much of it, in fact, that they use it to produce electricity, warm up their houses (it's really, really warm wherever you go - indoors), use it as tap hot water (it smells of sulfur really strongly), warm up green houses enough to grow tomatoes!

They even warm up the pavements to eliminate snow in winter! Although this last thing hasn't been introduced everywhere, not yet.
But wait, this isn't all: they pour hot spring water into a small roped-off marine lagoon to make sea bathing bearable! It's a very popular beach in summer, although most people still prefer a dip in a man-made swimming pool, where sea water is being heated up using the hot spring water. But some people (the brave ones) go right in the 15 degrees seawater.

I heard a lot about saunas being part of German social life, and of Japanese life, too - well, in Iceland the social life happens in outdoors swimming pools, year-round. Yes, outdoors. The water - you guessed it - is heated using the hot spring water. It takes a lot of courage to cross those couple of dozens of feet from the changing room to the hot pot and enjoy the heat (there are some as hot as 42 degrees - Celsius, that is) - see the pots on the left, each with their own temperature:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Roofs of Reykjavik

About 70% of Iceland's population (which, incidentally, totals 318,000 people) live in the capital, Reykjavik. I am not sure what we expected going to the infamous land of volcanoes, but we were surprised to find the view quite similar to those of Switzerland postcards: colourful houses with snow-capped mountains as the backdrop.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Huldufólk - "Hidden" Icelandic Population

People and sheep and Icelandic horse aren't the only inhabitants in Iceland. It's densely populated by elves, dwarfs, and trolls. Tolkien spent a lot of time in Iceland when writing his Lord of the Rings. And his elves - as tall as people - are the Icelandic elves.

We sure did feel like hobbits often enough hiking in the foggy mountain paths.

Icelanders shrug their shoulders and explain that the movie wasn't filmed in Iceland because of its lack of forests. I would say the ever-changing, completely unreliable weather played a role there, too.

Looking around at all the rocks and mountains and cliffs, you can't help but start seeing things. There, see? A troll turned into stone. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Icelandic Food: the Singed and the Rotten

A couple of years ago I did a presentation on the 10 most disgusting foods on earth for my Toastmasters club. Little did I know that a day will come and I try one of those!

Iceland is a very remote corner of the earth with harsh climate and little vegetation and fauna. Life was hard, winters were long, and people had to get really creative to have something that would pass as edible. As I read somewhere, they ate leather shoes and an odd manuscript to get by.

What made matters even worse, was lack and expensiveness of salt, making lots of food-preserving techniques unavailable for them. 

The food might be awful, but they sure know (nowadays) how to serve it:

So some of the icelandic foods are... drumroll, please... 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Iceland in April is Beautiful!

We just got back from a week-long vacation in Iceland. What can I say? It's such a beautiful country, I don't even know what to compare it to.

I was unsure just what Iceland looks like in spring - in April. I heard that in summer it's green, with sheep grazing everywhere, and field flowers colouring the landscape, but April? Was it going to be all bare earth, gray and brown? Was there going to be snow? Dirty snow? Last year's grass? Evergreen moss?

As it turns out, the right answer was "all of the above".

Iceland is a remarkable country - it has mountains, volcanoes, glaciers, ocean, hot springs, lakes, geysers, agriculture fields, waterfalls, lava fields, mountain rivers... Forest is the only thing, perhaps, that it lacks.

So the mountains are covered with ice caps, the glaciers are blue and white and gray, the lava fields are either black or green with moss (depending on how old the fields are), the geyser areas are red with iron and blue with minerals, and there are endless golden yellow fields of grass. 

The sightseeing is amazing. 
But there are also many things to do, like walking on a glacier, with crampons!