This was our final stop on our Golden Cirle tour before heading back to the hotel. Thingvellir has two claims to fame. First, it was the location of the parliament meetings. By the way, Iceland boasts the oldest parliament which dates back to 930 A.D.. Today, there is a pole to identify the original meeting place.
A small geology lesson is necessary to understand the second claim to fame of Thingvellir. I'll give it my best shot. Plate tectonics theory describes the continents of the earth as attached to large slabs or plates that float very slowly on earth's magma pool. Sometimes these plates collide and result in an earthquake. Other times, these plates drift apart and form a rift. The mid-Atlantic Ridge separates the North American plate and the European plate. This ridge contains rift zones that are mainly under the Atlantic Ocean. These rift zones appear on land in only one place. You guessed it - Iceland. To sum this whole thing up, we saw the rift between the North American and European plates at Thingvellir. It looked like two jagged walls of earth. We took a few pictures and then headed back to the bus. The wind chill was brutal at this place.
rift between the North American and European plates
For dinner, Traci and I decided to try some Icelandic cuisine. We stayed pretty conservative with this because the literature I read about some of the traditional Icelandic delicacies sounded like something from the show Fear Factor - boiled sheep's head, dry rotten shark meat, and sheep testicles to name a few. However, the literature also said do not leave Iceland without trying the fresh seafood and lamb. I could deal with this as long as I knew it wasn't any of the parts mentioned above.
During the Golden Circle tour earlier that day, I had asked Kristine which restaurants she recommended. She rattled off a list of them all located in the downtown area. The hotel lobby had a booklet containing the menus for many of the downtown restaurants. We thumbed through the booklet and checked out the menus of some of Kristine's recommendations. All of the restaurants served fish, lamb, and other meats; however, I was surprised to find whale meat on one of the menus.
Traci and I chose Cafe Opera. It was about a 10 minute bus ride from our hotel. Several other people from our tour group had the same idea for dinner that evening. We ran into them at Cafe Opera.
Dining out in Iceland seems to be a whole evening event. With the exception of Pizza Hut, we spent at least 2.5 hours eating dinner each time we went out to dinner. There seemed to be long periods of time between appetizers, entrees, and desserts. We had an 8:15 dinner reservation but by the time we ate and waited for the next bus it was 11:30 before we got back the hotel.
The meal was excellent. Traci had monk fish and I had Icelandic mountain lamb with wild Icelandic herbs. I asked the waiter to describe the wild Icelandic herbs. He smiled and told me that there isn't much that grows wild on the island. I definitely believed him after all the barren land we saw on the tour that day.
I missed out on a nice photo opportunity while at Cafe Opera. Before bringing me my Icelandic lamb dish, the waiter told me that they normally bring out a hot rock on which the customer seasons and cooks the lamb. I have no cooking skills whatsoever. I had visions of me burning up my $40 lamb meal. I declined and had the chef cook it in the kitchen. The chef did an outstanding job. I regret that I didn't give the hot rock a try. I saw others in the restaurant who ordered the lamb. The wait staff came out and put an apron and a chef's hat on them and then brought them the sizzling rock. I spoke to a few of our group members who had tried this and they said it was good.
Paying for the meal was a little awkward. I mentioned before that the cost of living in Iceland is high. This meal was no exception. The appetizers, entrees, and desserts for the two of us came to a total of 9750 ISK ($122). Traci and I do not drink alcohol but I'm sure the bill would have shot up exponentially if we did. However, the price was not the awkward part because it was expected. What was not expected was that the waiter brought me my credit card slip which had a line for tip amount on it. I was sure I had read that tipping for meals is not a custom in Iceland. The waiter was standing there waiting for me to sign, so I asked him was the tip included. He told me no and that I could enter the tip amount in the space provided. He was a decent waiter so I tipped him. After consulting my guide books again and other group members, I found out that indeed tipping is not a custom in Iceland; although, a tip will not be refused if you give one. Oh well, he was a good waiter.
The Blue Lagoon was an optional tour. It was an additional $40 per person and was pre-paid before we came to Iceland. I think just about all 45 of us signed up for this one. The tour included a trip to the Blue Lagoon, discounted lunch coupons, and a tour of the Reykjanes peninsula. As an added treat, we stopped to take pictures of the home of Iceland's president on the way to the Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon in the middle of a lava field. The water comes from a natural hot spring a mile below the surface. The water is used to generate electricity and to heat fresh water before being pumped out over the lava field. Because the water comes from a natural hot spring, it has a slight sulfur smell to it. Additionally, the minerals in the water give it its blue color.
We took a dip in the Blue Lagoon and it felt wonderful. It was like taking a warm bath. The air temperature was in the mid 30's but the water temperature was around 100. Some spots were hotter than that. You are required to take a shower before getting into the lagoon. This serves two purposes. One, it helps keep the water clean and two, it warms your body to reduce the shock of stepping out into 30 degree weather in your bathing suit. You can also enter the lagoon from a wading area inside the building and then wade through a door that leads to the outside area. Traci and I wimped out and waded from the inside instead of entering the lagoon from the outside.
We relaxed in the Blue Lagoon for about a half hour. Each of us took turns getting out, running to grab the camera to take pictures, and getting back in before the cold wind got us.
After getting out of the lagoon, we got dressed, checked out the souvenir shop, and used our discount coupon at the restaurant (the fish was excellent - almond-crusted haddock for Traci and curry trout for me). The waters of the Blue Lagoon are supposed to be good for the skin, so naturally the souvenir shop was selling all types of cosmetic and skin care products made from the water and minerals of the lagoon.
We took some time to take pictures from the overlook area of the Blue Lagoon. While we were up there, we saw a man in nothing but his swimming trunks taking pictures of the lagoon and the surrounding lava field. Traci and I were dressed and had on our winter jackets, but still got a little chilly when the wind blew. We could not believe this man was standing out in this cold weather for so long. There he stood for at least 15 minutes taking pictures, without even a shiver. Unbelievable! continue...
Welcome to the Blue Lagoon
Steam rising from the Blue Lagoon