Moss covered 11th century lava field near Krusivik
I always imagined Iceland as some kind of semi-mythical place, somewhere I dreamed of visiting but never imagined actually going to. I learnt so much about it in physical geography class at school - Iceland was the case study par excellence for many of the phenomena that we studied, vulcanicity, plate tectonics and lava formations, not to mention spontaneously generated islands.
Icelandic pony near Geysir
Iceland is one of the weirdest and most wonderful places that we've visited. It's very easy to go overboard with cliches and superlatives when describing Iceland, though they are perfectly accurate, for there is no place like it for juxtaposing the fantastically surreal with the serenely mundane. I would love to visit again and explore in more detail.
It's not a place to be taken at face value. The sheep and rolling green hills seem reminiscent of Wales, only on closer inspection you're likely to notice steam rising from one of the hills, or black volcanic rock in bizarre formations protruding through this otherwise pastoral landscape. To some extent it's this combination of the most ordinary with the truly strange that makes Iceland's scenery so interesting.
Take for example the area around Geysir,the place that gave it's name to the English word geyser. It looks like many other parts of northern Europe, green meadows with ponies grazing in them and pretty farm houses. Then you come to a field full of boiling mud pots, geysers and hot bottomless bright blue pools descending into the bowels of the earth which bring to mind Jules Verne. In between these hellish phenomena are patches of perfectly ordinary looking green grass.
Other areas simply look like pure science fiction, black and grey lava fields stretching as far as the eye can see, and in the middle a lake that is bright azure blue, despite the fact that the sky is overcast and almost as black as the lava and the wind is so strong that the driving rain is feels like it's coming down in horizontal sheets. At Krusivik Dante's Inferno comes to mind, areas of cracked mud and earth, stained grey, white, orange and red by various natural chemicals, and here and there pits of bubbling mud, streams of boiling water and the odd geysir spewing high into the air belching out blasts of steam. Not far from there are rugged black cliffs with beaches of red sand.
Iceland isn't all just weird scenery, it also has scenes of more conventional scenery which are almost as dramatic, take for example the spectacular Gulfoss Waterfall, one of the largest in Europe, or the various glaciers, which would be impressive in most other countries, but alongside the more unique natural wonders of Iceland somehow pale by comparison.
There are smaller wonders too, such as turning on the hot water tap in your room and getting geothermally heated water pumped straight out of the ground and smelling strongly of sulfur. Bring along nice smelling soap and shampoo or you might come out of the shower smelling of rotten eggs.
It's an interesting town and a very walkable one too, unless it's raining heavily, which tends to happen a lot. It feels like a frontier town with brightly coloured corregated aluminium buildings and a sleepy atmosphere, save on weekends when the local youth hit the pubs.
In general though the town is characterised by quiet, well, for that matter we found the most local people were very quiet, when we spoke normally we felt as though we were shouting. No, it isn't just because Americans and Brits are loud, we compared notes with friends from Norway and Canada and they agree that most Icelanders just speak really quietly.
In one sentence - if you have a chance to visit Iceland, go. And don't forget to bring me
back some of that fantastic smoked salmon from the duty free (complete with OU hekhsher).
I think that it's one of those places that photographs can't fully convey, and perhaps I was too awed by the excitement of it all to really concentrate on taking good photos, but here are some more favourites which I think do manage to display something of this most bizarre country.
|Blue Lagoon||Geyser at Krusivik|
|Strokkur geyser at Geysir||Mudpot at Geysir|
Copyright 2004 by Leiah Elbaum. Text and photographs on this page are by Leiah Elbaum. Last updated 5 September 2004.
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