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The Church at Skálholt

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Standing in front of the church at Skálholt, my mind wasn’t occupied by the magnificent natural scenery of the location, but rather by its quiet solitude. This was once the largest town in Iceland? Unbelievable. And so I asked my question again, this time aloud, in a thunderous voice. Why not? It’s not as though anyone was around to hear me.

Church at Skálholt

Following Iceland’s embrace of Catholicism, Skálholt became home to the country’s biggest cathedral and developed into a thriving town. Its influence waned as Iceland embraced the Reformation, and it was in Skálholt that the country brought a final, bloody end to its relationship with the Catholic Church. The last bishop in Iceland, Jón Arason, was beheaded here along with his two sons.

Today, Skálholt makes for a pleasant detour en route from Þingvellir to Geysir on the Golden Circle. Nothing remains of the original 12th century cathedral, but the replacement built in the 1950s is lovely. The location is serene, overlooking a lake and large hill. In front of the church, excavation work has been done, unearthing some of the original foundations for display.

It’s not one of the region’s must-see sights, but for those with extra time, offers a nice opportunity to escape the throngs clogging Geysir and Gullfoss.

We toured the Golden Circle with a car from SADcars, located near the BSÍ bus station. They’ve got some of the cheapest rentals available in Iceland.

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Church at Skálholt Iceland
Church at Skálholt Iceland
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August 15, 2013 at 5:21 pm Comments (0)

The Mighty Waterfall of Gullfoss

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Arguably the most impressive sight along Iceland’s Golden Circle is the enormously powerful double-stepped waterfall known as Gullfoss (Golden Falls). Here, the Hývtá River’s journey through the highlands comes to a magnificent end as it drops over 100 feet into the canyon below.

Rainbow Gullfoss

From afar, the breadth and force of Gullfoss are awe-inspiring enough, but it isn’t until reaching the ledge of the viewing platform that you can see the full scale of the waterfall. After the initial descent of 36 feet, the river takes a sharp right and immediately crashes down another 69 feet. This secondary waterfall is obscured from view until you’re close up, and turns Gullfoss into something extraordinary.

Normally, we tend to thank celestial powers for magnificent natural wonders, but in Gullfoss’s case, we can extend at least part of our gratitude to a fellow human. Sigríður Tómasdóttir was raised on a nearby farm, and loved the waterfall as she would a family member. In the early 20th century, foreign investors discovered Gullfoss and won permission to construct a dam on it. But they found a stubborn and bitter opponent in Sigríður. In order to raise awareness of the threat to the waterfall, she walked barefoot from Gullfoss to Reykjavík and even threatened to commit suicide by throwing herself into the churning water. Thanks largely to her persistence, the investors eventually backed away from the project.

In truth, she sounds like a nutter, but we should all be appreciative of Sigríður’s reckless selflessness. Gullfoss is an amazing display of nature’s power, and it would have been a shame to have lost it.

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We toured the Golden Circle with a car from SADcars, located near the BSÍ bus station. They’ve got some of the cheapest rentals available in Iceland.

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Gullfoss Waterfall
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Regenbogen Gullfoss
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August 15, 2013 at 11:53 am Comments (5)

Geysir – The World’s Original

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The Haukadalur Valley, found along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge just northeast of Þingvellir, is an especially restless area of geothermal activity. Along with other bubbling pools of rotten-smelling sulfur, it’s here that you can find Geysir. This is the original — the geyser which lends its name to all others.


Geologically speaking, Geysir isn’t the world’s “original” geyser, but it was the first encountered by Europeans, and the first to enter the lexicons of Western language. Geysir has always been fickle and heavily affected by the region’s frequent earthquakes. During its heyday, it was exploding as dependably as Old Faithful, but quieted down in the 20th century. In the 1990s, impatient visitors were triggering spectacular eruptions by throwing stones into the crater, and even adding soap.

Today, Geysir is completely asleep, and will likely stay so until the next round of earthquakes awaken it. Luckily for tourists, its little brother Strokkur isn’t ready for bed. At irregular intervals of around fifteen minutes, Strokkur shoots water 100 feet (30m) in the air, less than half the height reached by Geysir in its prime, but enough to impress.

Haukadalur is one of the standard stops on the Golden Circle tour, between Þingvellir and Gulfoss. Besides Geysir and Strokkur, there are a number of other, smaller geysers to check out, each with its own personality. There’s foul-tempered Litli-Geysir (Little Geyser), constantly bubbling and spewing forth its sulfuric stench. Strange Blesi consists of two pools: one of the most beautiful blue water, and another which looks like mud. And the less said about ugly, semi-active Óþerrishola (Wet Hole), the better.

In fact, I think I’d better stop describing these geysers entirely. Erupting, foul-smelling spouts with names like Strokkur and Wet Hole… the profane jokes are just too easy. Honestly, who names anything “Wet Hole”?! But I will take the high road, Iceland, and stop here.

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Geyser Iceland
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Original Geyser
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August 14, 2013 at 6:37 pm Comments (5)

Þingvellir – The Historic Heart of Iceland

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Reykjavík may be the capital, but the rift valley of Þingvellir (pronounced “thing-vet-lir”) is the true heart of Iceland. Over a thousand years ago, the country’s first parliaments were convened here, adding historical significance to an area of unbelievable natural beauty.

Nomansland Iceland

Þingvellir lies right along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and European continental plates are pulling apart from each other. It’s unlikely that the 10th-century Icelandic councilmen understood tectonic theory when they selected Þingvellir for their yearly assembly, the Alþing, but they couldn’t have chosen a more impressive setting, nor one more symbolic. This is, after all, the spot where Iceland is literally growing.

Our short walk through the park began at the lookout near the visitor center, where we had a great view over the valley. Not far off, we saw the Þingvallavatn Lake (Iceland’s largest), lava cliffs, and narrow rifts like scars scratched across the earth. As the plates drift apart, the rifts are becoming bigger and, standing here, you can almost see the growth happening. It leaves you with a very vivid sense of the earth’s instability.

From the lookout, a path leads down into the Almannagjá gorge, marking the eastern edge of the North American continental plate. We walked along the canyon wall until reaching the Öxaráfoss waterfall. During the days of the Vikings, the Öxará river was redirected here, so that it would splash down into the canyon near the Alþing and provide drinking water for participants.

Þingvellir Waterfall

From Öxaráfoss, we left the cliff and went further into the valley until our progress was blocked by the fissures which have opened in the earth. With amazingly clear blue water filtered through miles of lavastone, you want to jump right in… and in fact, you can. It was inside one of these fissures that we had recently been snorkeling.

Our path now led to the Þingvallakirkja Church. Although the present wooden building was only erected in 1859, this has always been one of Iceland’s oldest and most important churches. While there’s not much to see inside, the front yard is occupied by a lovely cemetery and, around back, you’ll find an elevated, circular grave which houses the bones of two of the country’s favorite poets.

Þingvellir is the first stop on the “Golden Circle” tour and we left the park immediately after visiting the church, in order to have time for Geysir and Gullfoss. Þingvellir has a lot to reward a longer stay, with plenty of hiking trails and opportunities to fish, dive or go horseback riding. It’s fascinating for both its unique geology and its history. And on top of that, it’s simply a beautiful place.

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We booked our rental car from SADcars for this trip!

Þingvallavatn Lake
Bigggest Lake Iceland
Iceland 2012
Þingvellir Viewing Spot
Iceland Blog
Iceland Great Photos
Þingvellir Blog
American and European continental plate
Þingvellir Blog
Iceladn Pulling Apart
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Iceland Nature
Þingvellir Waterfall
Öxaráfoss waterfall
Þingvellir Church
Þingvellir Fissure
Iceladn Fissure
Continental Plates Iceland
Wishing Well Iceland
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August 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm Comments (5)
The Church at Sklholt Standing in front of the church at Skálholt, my mind wasn't occupied by the magnificent natural scenery of the location, but rather by its quiet solitude. This was once the largest town in Iceland? Unbelievable. And so I asked my question again, this time aloud, in a thunderous voice. Why not? It's not as though anyone was around to hear me.
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