Technology fails, long-maned ponies, many sheep, the ominous sisters, a tectonic Parliament, Icelandic Yellowstone (not really), splendid Gulfoss, monster trucks, and a blue lagoon in a volcanic wasteland

First, a technical announcement: Before this trip, we bought brand-new 64 GB memory cards for our Canon cameras. We took some great photos in Reykjavik and many more on our incredibly scenic tour today. Tonight, Steve began the process of downloading the photos and could not get the camera connection kit to work on either his of my iPad or on his iPad mini. So we will not be able to upload any Iceland photos to the blog until we get home. Grrrrrrr!! Apparently, the SDXC cards require special formatting to work with the iPads. We have switched to older memory cards for the rest of the trip and tested them so you will not be bored out of your minds with my written blathering alone but will also have some images to enjoy (starting tomorrow). This SNAFU comes on the heels of a major malfunction of Steve’s iPhone (it refuses to boot up), so we made sure my phone was activated for international call roaming and Steve will use my iPhone for panorama photos and other fun techniques. By the way, the use of these new cards falls under the timeless Aerospace requirement of “test like you fly”. A quick test of the cards with a camera and photo upload at home would have detected the problem. Darn, I can’t get away from work.

Our second day in Iceland was a nearly perfect day. We had a long night’s sleep, a nice breakfast buffet at the hotel, and checked out to hit the road by about 9:30 am. The beginning of our tour took us north of Reykjavik and we turned east on the northern loop of the famous Golden Circle. We had not traveled far out of the city when we found ourselves in the splendid countryside. We enjoyed seeing the bucolic farms (many farmers working on harvesting and wrapping hay) and were thrilled to see Icelandic horses and the local fuzzy Icelandic sheep (many ewes and lambs), some grazing right by the road. The Icelandic horses are pony-sized, with long manes and short legs and what appears to be feisty dispositions.

As we traveled further east, the scenery became more and more dramatic, and in the distance we glimpsed huge glaciers and jagged peaks in the rugged interior, plus had our first view to the south of the huge volcanoes, also clad in massive glaciers, that cluster together in the southwest corner of Iceland. These are not the only volcanoes in Iceland, but the huge “sisters” (Hekla and Katla) and their obnoxious neighbor Eyjafjallajökull, also known as E+15 (15 unpronounceable letters after the “E” and often referred to as the travel demon of 2010) are very closely watched. E+15 erupted in April 2010, spreading ash and particles far and wide across European airspace and disrupting thousands of flights. We actually changed our return travel from a Baltic cruise in June 2010 to add a transatlantic passage on the QM2 so we were assured of getting back to North America once we got over here. The big fear is that eruptions of E+15 normally trigger much, much bigger eruptions of nearby Katla. In reading about the volcanoes of Iceland, one realizes that travel disruptions are minor first-world issues, compared to the famine and destruction that ravaged Europe after a huge eruption of Laki in 1783-1784, when millions lost their lives due to the loss of crops and livestock, with effects as far away as India. Ironically, our Icelandair 757 on Sunday was nicknamed “Hekla”, complete with a large plaque on the outside of the plane near the door and pictures of this volcanic monstrosity. Sort of like naming your ship after big icebergs (if they had names).

Speaking of plate tectonics, our first destination on the Golden Circle was the National Park of Thingvellir, the home of the first Icelandic parliament, founded in 930 A.D. (The “th” at the beginning of the word is a rough translation, pronounced like a “t”, of an Icelandic letter that is not available on a standard keyboard optional letter menu, but it looks like a small p with a longer spine). This parliament location is in a rift valley that is located right on the crest of the mid-Atlantic ridge. The area is full of fissures and holes in the valley floor, with sparkling clear and deep water and is also the site of the largest natural lake in Iceland.

Our next stop was at Geysir (the Icelandic spelling), primarily a tourist trap anchored by a small field of bubbling geysers and a fairly regular large geyser timed to blow about every ten minutes. It was interesting, but it was not Yellowstone. I did get a new knit cap with a puffin on it in the massive crapola emporium, since I could not find a warm hat before the cruise (where, O where is my 2002 SLC Olympics hat?).

The final scenic wonder on the Golden Circle tour is Gulfoss, a spectacular glacial river waterfall that plunges noisily down two levels and into a narrow gorge, disappearing out of view. We saw it from two vantage points and obviously took many photos (sorry – those will be posted when we get home 🙁 – love that new technology insertion that wasn’t properly tested) .

At all of these stops on our tour, we had to laugh at the huge (I’m talking monster truck size) off-road vehicles we saw, many of them taxi or tour services. The interior of Iceland has roads known as “F” class or “no foreign morons allowed”. If we tried to drive our tiny Kia rental car onto any of these roads, the fines would be enormous and we might end up paying for the entire vehicle. The back country of Iceland is pure wilderness and we don’t see 4WD vehicles this big in Colorado. No Smart cars here, that’s for sure (not very smart anywhere north or west of Italy and they get poor gas mileage, too).

The final part of our day was a drive along the southern route of the Golden Circle through more beautiful farms. At Selfoss (a larger town southeast of Reykjavik), we took a road to the south and went west along the southern coast of the Keflavik peninsula. This turned out to be an amazing drive, full of bizarre volcanic landscapes and very few people on the road or in the land. We found our way to the famous Blue Lagoon, opened in 1992 and not far from the airport. A nearby geothermal plant supplies this facility with clean waste water (hot, hot, hot) and people flock here for the healing waters and mud. We decided not to wreck our swimsuits before flying on to London tomorrow morning, so we bought a visitors pass and enjoyed a late lunch watching the fools in the milk-blue water. The facility is gorgeous and should not be missed.

We are now sitting in the empty lounge of the Keflavik Icelandair hotel, a mere ten minutes from the airport. The car has been refueled and we must be at the airport at 5:40 am for a 7:40 departure to London. So off to bed shortly (even though the sun is still brightly shining) and we will update from merry old England soon. Oh, a weather report: It was quite chilly and party cloudy today with a stiff breeze, but no rain. The only rain we have had so far was during our nap yesterday (great timing).

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