Published on November 2nd, 2016 | by Guest Contributor
Iceland, an Extraordinary Exploration.
If you have not ventured to Iceland yet, then it’s time you put it on your ‘To see’ list. Sherry Brown, from the CAA Travel team was recently there on an Extraordinary Explorations package that also included a Baltic Sea cruise, and she was captivated by the beauty of this little gem. She also enjoyed learning about the country’s fascinating history and geology on the included excursions to the Golden Circle and the South Shore.
Here she shares some of her highlights…
For over a thousand years, Icelanders have celebrated important events in the area now encompassed by Thingvellir National Park – this is where the pagans adopted Christianity around 1000 AD and the Icelandic Republic was formed in 1944. The Althingi, the world’s oldest parliament, assembled here from the 10th – 13th centuries and then a court of law remained until the 18th century. This photo shows one of the drowning pools, the method of corporal punishment once assigned to women found guilty of being adulterers or witches.
Iceland is the only place where you can drive, or hike, from North America to Europe! Iceland is located on the divide of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are pulling apart by a couple of centimetres a year, leaving an ever expanding ‘no man’s land’ or rift valley in between. Icelanders joke that they are slowly but surely taking over the world!
Iceland’s location in an active volcanic zone leads to exciting displays of geothermal activity, including geysers. While the original Geysir only blows off major steam sporadically, it can be a spectacular eruption as high as 250 meters. Luckily, the nearby Strokkur reliably spouts boiling water up 20 metres every 4 – 8 minutes on average.
Iceland’s beautiful scenery features many stunning waterfalls, such as the giant Gullfoss – these ‘Golden Falls’ are Europe’s largest. At Seljalandfoss, visitors can walk behind the 60-metre-high falls for a unique, although damp, perspective. Remember to pack sturdy footwear and a rain coat (good advice for Iceland in general)!
Volcanoes are the natural wonders Iceland is probably most famous for, thanks in part to Eyjafjallajökull disturbing air traffic throughout Europe in 2010. Iceland’s south coast is dotted with volcanoes that might be the next big thing, such as Hekla. After her massive eruption in 1104, Hekla was known throughout Europe as the ‘Gateway to Hell’ as the lava flows made it look like the earth had opened up – birds flying around the crater were said to be souls entering the underworld.
Walking to a glacier is another exhilarating experience Iceland has to offer. After a gentle 15-minute hike along a rocky path from the parking lot, the Solheimajökull Glacier appears. It is an unsteady area, so a sign discourages unprepared visitors from walking directly on to the glacier, although there are guided glacier walk excursions that utilize the recommended safety equipment.
A visit to the Skӧgar Museum provides an interesting insight on Iceland’s seafaring past, with artifacts dating back to the Viking Age when the island was first discovered by the Norse. It also features an open air museum with rebuilt turf houses, complete with short beds – they slept in a semi seated position, as lying flat was too corpselike and they feared they would pass away in their sleep.
Although many Icelandic sagas depict a brutal past, Icelanders pride themselves on being a peaceful people, having never participated in any major war. There are no armed guards at the Prime Minister’s office in Reykjavik, an indication of the low crime rate. The capital city has a relaxed, artistic atmosphere, with many funky statues. After a day of touring, a stroll on its main shopping street called Laugavegur offers a selection of souvenirs and restaurants serving everything from pizza and pad thai to whale and puffin!
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