The Golden Circle – Thingvellir

Linda Lou Burton posting from Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland – Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir. Are you up on your Icelandic? These are the names of sights you see on the Golden Circle bus tour. “Golden Circle” is the marketing term for a loop drive of 190 miles departing Reykjavik and circling back; it takes about six hours so is very popular for folks (like us) who only have a short time to stay. And it provides great exposure to the countryside with stops at three of Iceland’s most unique areas – Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir. There was an exhibit about Thingvellir in Perlan we saw yesterday, where its significance began to sink in.

Chieftains from across Iceland gather in Thingvellir to form Althing – the oldest parliament in the world. The rock formations at Thingvellir form a natural amphitheater.

The year was 930! From 930 AD until 1798, Thingvellir was the assembly site for the national parliament of Iceland, the Althing, from which Thingvellir (Assembly Plains) derives its name. The assembly was a forum to recite laws and make amendments, resolve conflicts and feuds, and make trade and marriage arrangements. The acoustics of the canyon walls helped speakers voices carry further. This spot is so important to Iceland’s history it is a protected national shrine. Legislation passed in 1928 created Thingvellir National Park.

The Park has been declared a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE not only for its historical significance but its geological uniqueness as well. The area lies directly on the mid-Atlantic ridge, where those North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly separating. Many enormous rifts and canyons are above water, but some of the fissures, such as Silfra, are now submerged. You can make arrangements (if you have proper diving credentials) to swim between these plates in the clearest water on earth — touch North America, then Europe!

We weren’t planning on that, though I have family members that I’d like to encourage to “swim at Silfra.” Justin? Hal? Come with me when I make a trip back to Iceland. I have to come back because, rats again, I wasn’t able to go on the tour with Rick today. Twenty-one non-stop travel days took their toll, so the photos below are courtesy of Rick, who bundled up in his brown fleece and braved the wind to add yet another world-famous national park to his repertoire. Thanks Rick! See the cliffs of Thingvellir, and note that tiny church in the valley.

The first church was built here in 1015 following a gift of timber and a bell from King Olaf of Norway. The current church was built in 1859 and serves a small congregation today. The three bells in the tower are historic: one from that first church, one dating from 1697, and one added June 17, 1944, when the Icelandic republic was established at Thingvellir. The house beside the church serves as the summerhouse for the Prime Minister of Iceland.

Golden Circle Tours

Thingvellir National Park

Diving at Silfra

Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland

Next Post: The Golden Circle – Geysir


The Flyover


Sky, Water And Life

Linda Lou Burton posting from Perlan, Reykjavik, Iceland – Florida and Iceland have a lot in common. Granted there aren’t any volcanoes in Florida, but when it comes to the Gulf Stream, the two are hand-holding partners. It seems almost illogical, a little bitty island far north in Arctic waters getting warmed by Gulf Stream waters, but it’s true. It all began back in the Cenozoic era, when the open waters between (what is now known as) North and South America closed up, redirecting the currents. Look at Perlan’s map, and explanation.

The Central American Seaway Closes. The closing of the Central American Seaway, after which the Isthmus of Panama links South and North America, stands as one of the most globally significant natural events of the Cenozoic era, driving profound transformations on land and in the sea. The cut-off of the inflow and outflow between the two oceans strengthens the Gulf Stream, rerouting warm, nutrient-rich currents from the Caribbean Sea toward Iceland. The warm, salty water releases more heat into the Arctic and northern European atmosphere. It also brings several new Pacific invertebrates, including molluscs, brachiopods, and echinoderms to Iceland.

Ocean Currents. Iceland sits where three powerful ocean currents meet. The Gulf Stream brings warm, salty water from the south. The fast-moving East Greenland Current transports less salty, cold water to the Icelandic coast. The East Iceland Current brings more cold water south from the polar region.

Perlan tells about Iceland’s fresh water too, with a Glacier Exhibit (more than a tenth of the country is covered in glaciers); a Water In Icelandic Nature exhibit, Underwater World, and even an Ice Cave to wander through. We wandered, looking up and looking down; sitting once in a while. The planetarium was my favorite; lots of sitting and IMAX surround featuring an incredible array of northern lights. I’m convinced now – Iceland isn’t gray at all! Its sky is colorful, its buildings are colorful, and there is a never-ending round of tours and activities waiting to show the country off.

More coming up in other posts about geysers spewing, rivers flowing, and water falling and splashing (you can count 10,000 waterfalls!). One last point about water here: the water flowing from springs is considered among the cleanest in the world – filtered through layers of lava and rocks for decades. And then there’s that rain coming down, that we’ve witnessed today. As to what lives and grows in such an abundantly watered environment – I will tell you two things that don’t. There are no mosquitos or snakes in Iceland! There are sheep and goats and the interesting and unusual Icelandic horse. Seals and whales to tell about later, and the cute arctic fox, which was actually the first land mammal on the island. Stay tuned.

The first two photos are from Perlan’s coverage of the Aurora Borealis which includes myths and stories about the showy skies. The last photo isn’t from Perlan but something I found online showing a favorite pastime for Icelanders – relaxing in a nice warm geothermal pool or hottub under the beautiful nighttime sky. Seriously!  See what I mean about color?


Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland

Next Post: The Flyover


Earth, Wind And Fire

Linda Lou Burton posting from Perlan, Reykjavik, Iceland – I am rendered speechless. Bet you thought you’d never hear me say that. But when it comes to volcanoes, the forces of nature can overwhelm. A volcano is the attention-getter in the room, the loud, showy extrovert that demands to be noticed. And Iceland is, pure and simple, a hunk of volcanic aftermath. Which keeps on growing. And going. Remember the Great Rift Valley in Africa, where we’ve been hanging out the last few weeks? Tectonic Plates, continental movement? The same thing is going on in Iceland — it straddles the North American and Eurasian plates, and they are moving apart. And below that rift/underwater crack is a magma hotspot (the Iceland Plume) that results in Iceland being one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. They have a volcanic eruption about every three years – one happened near Keflavik airport in August but calmed down just before we got here. There are about 30 active volcanic systems on this small island today. I won’t get into the details of types or activity (as I’m speechless about the whole thing), but Perlan’s exhibits can set you thinking. Here are the pictures I took and “what’s happening” in their own words and descriptions.


Dynamic Beauty

Iceland’s volcanoes, earthquakes, and glaciers keep it geologically young, active, and spectacularly beautiful. Land is created and destroyed here faster than anywhere else in the world. Straddling divergent tectonic plates, Iceland stretches by about two centimeters per year. The sea erodes the shore at about the same rate. Mountains, islands, lakes and gorges come, go, and transform. It’s a land whose story always seems to be starting a new chapter.

Iceland Becomes an Island

Continents drift. The ocean widens. The land bridge can no longer survive. The mantle plume props up the western arm of the land bridge, but it ultimately crumbles and tumbles into the ocean. Only Iceland endures, an island at last, riding the very forces that destroyed the land around it. Furious volcanoes, earthquakes, and glaciers continuously renew and reshape isolated Iceland, replenishing rock and soil as quickly as they are worn away.


Now let me switch floors in this beautiful building full of Iceland’s wonders so I can show you the aurora borealis (beautiful sky!), the story of water, and the life that exists in this splendor.


Next Post: Sky, Water and Life


Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland


Domed If We Do

Linda Lou Burton posting from Perlan, Reykjavik, Iceland – It was raining a goodly amount this morning; breakfast in the cozy basement of our hotel was splendid, tables piled with skyr (thicker than yogurt) and pylsur (sausage) and eggs and fruits and rich dark breads just waiting to be buttered. Steaming hot coffee, tall urn. But the windows upstairs framed rain. So what do you do when it rains a lot? Make your windows bigger, in fact, dome up so the entire sky above your head is visible in every direction. Add a motorized device to rotate you slowly over an hour so you can see every horizon, no matter what the weather. Soak it up! That’s what they’ve done in Reykjavik at Perlan’s domed restaurant, high on a hill above town, high atop a museum of such awesome natural wonders you have to keep going back (get an annual pass!); all of this high atop six tanks filled with water, which is, well, sort of what started the entire enterprise.

The “Pearl” as it is affectionately known, was designed by architect Ingimundi Sveinssson and opened in 1991. The first water tank, however, was built in 1939; high enough on the hill to provide ample pressure to serve the needs of the town. Tanks were added; today each of the six can hold over a million gallons of geothermal water. This hot water provides heating for homes, schools, municipal buildings, and, via a network of pipes under the pavement, keeps Reykjavik’s streets free of ice and snow in the winter. Building something on top of the tanks evolved from a 1930s idea to build a “temple” on that hill covered in mirror panels “so the northern lights could reach the people’s feet.” Function and beauty – ah! Johannes Kjarval, who was going for beauty, also proposed crystals on the roof and spotlights on the tanks so the building would respond both to the light of day and the symbols of night. The Pearl, which came about sixty years later, pretty much does all of that, and so much more.

Perlan was at the top of my list for Reykjavik “must-dos,” so we stepped out the hotel door to a waiting taxi and rode through blowing rain. We bought tickets for “the works” – The Wonders of Iceland, giving us access to the Planetarium, the exhibits, the observation deck, and above it all, the fabulous domed restaurant. There is no possible place better to spend a rainy day. Or a sunny one. I’ll tell you about the exhibits in upcoming posts (there is so much to tell!). As to the restaurant itself, we both had tasty fish and chips, very nice; but it was the dome that held our attention. Some of the following photos are mine; some I found to show how the world looks when you choose to love it rain or shine, day or night, as they seem to have decided to do on a little island called Iceland.



Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland

Next Post: Earth, Wind and Fire


But Then,

Linda Lou Burton posting from Central Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland – It’s dark and cold. We’re tired and hungry. We need to eat. “There’s no restaurant in the hotel,” we were advised at the front desk. “But they’re all around, just step outside the door.” Someone blew in off the street just then, zipped and wrapped, mittens and parka; he stopped at the sight of us. “You’re going to freeze out there!” he said. “You aren’t dressed for Iceland! How did you get here without a coat?” “We just left the Equator, and turned north,” we answered. He made a face at us, and next thing, we were all laughing, and exchanging travel routes. He was from Texas, as most of our safari gang had been. He pointed to a spot across the street, not thirty feet from the door of the hotel. “Go there,” he said. “It’s warm.” Truer words were never spoken.

Saeta Svinid, aka Sweet Pig, calls itself an Icelandic Gastropub; they not only had a Sweet Pig out front decked in lacy red stockings, they had a sign enticing you in with a 7-course Tasting Menu consisting of the following:

  • Shot of Icelandic Brennivin
  • Smoked Puffin w crowberry liqueur sauce
  • Minke Whale, smoky celeriac puree, malt sauce
  • Icelandic Flatkaka Lightly cured artic char, cream cheese, dill, lemon oil
  • Horse Carpaccio, dates, rucola-mayo, Jerusalem artichokes, Parmesan
  • Ling, mashed potatoes, caper flowers, Dijon-butter sauce
  • Icelandic Lamb Rump Steak, parma ham & herb crumble, mashed potatoes
  • Icelandic Crowberry Cheesecake

While there is controversy about eating Iceland’s treasured puffins, and whales; horse is considered okey-dokey (though we couldn’t bear the thought!). We had no qualms about the fish or lamb however, and the red-stockinged pig staring at us sealed the deal. There was nothing gray in the Saeta Svinid. Everybody was happy houring; eating and drinking and laughing; the liveliest place we’d been in since, well, we couldn’t remember when.

Rick ordered the Ling Cod and mashed potatoes; it came piled with asparagus and carrots. I ordered Gyoza –beef dumplings, hoisin sauce, pomegranate, spring onion, served on a hunk of slate. (It was so pretty I didn’t notice the gray.) The food was great, the ambiance was greater, but the real bonus for the evening came in a glass. It was ice! Due to Africa’s unpotable water, I hadn’t had an icy cold drink in two weeks. Iceland’s fresh clear spring water is delicious straight from the tap.

Bill paying time; our perky server handed me a receipt, the amount listed in Icelandic kronas. “I can’t read this,” I said to her. “And I need to figure your tip.” She laughed and shook her head. “There is no tipping in Iceland!” she said, and scooted off, to keep another customer smiling. The Sweet Pig was a mood lifter, no matter what you chose to eat. Or drink.

Back out in the cold, we took note of the square, directly across from the hotel. People were enjoying the evening. It was pretty. So this is Iceland, huh? If it’s gray turn on the lights. If its rainy, put on a coat. Gather with your friends. Eat scrumptiously. Paint your buildings red.


 Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland

Saeta Svinid Icelandic Gastropub

Next Post: Domed If We Do


Fifty Shades Of Gray

Linda Lou Burton posting from Central Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland – Walter was his  name. Walter welcomed us to Iceland. Actually, a young woman welcomed us first with the wheelchair, whisking us rapidly down to luggage. We’d checked our bags in Zanzibar, and luck was with us, they followed all the way to the Arctic Circle. She whisked us past Joe the cat, and his wise take on life – When nothing goes right…go left. – but no stopping for juice. She whisked us to the front of the terminal and said “Here you are.” Taxis were rowed a distance away, but I didn’t see the Reykjavik shuttle bus I’d read about. So I asked. “Yes, there is a bus,” she explained. “It goes to a terminal downtown, then you get a taxi to your hotel. Or walk. Or you can get a taxi from here.” I looked at Rick, hmmm, taxi now or taxi later? We decided on taxi now. Walter opened the doors to his rather large, luxurious van but didn’t speak. Walter drove us to Reykjavik, 31 miles on Highway 41, alongside gray waters that were part of the Atlantic Ocean. Or was it called the Sea of Greenland right there? Greenland was off in that direction. It was gray. The skies were gray. The pavement was gray.

And Walter seemed rather gray. He didn’t talk, at all. When we arrived at our hotel, he turned to look at us, credit card reader in hand. I handed him my card. He handed me a receipt. “I can take you back to the airport if you want to make an appointment,” he said, handing me his card. “I’ll let you know,” I replied. Walter set our bags on the sidewalk and drove away. It wasn’t just chilly, it was windy cold. It was gray. We jiggered our bags across the wet street; into the hotel, front desk. Our rooms were ready. That way. We jiggered our bags across the lobby, up the elevator. Two rooms. Peace and quiet. Black and white. Gray. The walls were gray. My window was foggy gray. I looked across the rooftops to the gray clouds beyond.


How do I know his name was Walter? It was printed on his card. So this is Iceland, huh?

Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland

Keflavik Airport, Reykjavik, Iceland

Next Post: But Then,


Goldfish For Lunch

Linda Lou Burton posting from Flight # LX8300, Edelweiss Airlines, Keflavik Airport, Iceland – Got your calculator? Here’s a math problem for you. If you leave Zanzibar at 10:30 PM Tuesday and land in Zurich at 6:10 AM Wednesday; then leave Zurich at 1 PM and arrive in Iceland at 2:55 PM; and you change time zones by 3 hours overall, what time do you eat lunch? The entire issue becomes irrelevant I suppose, when you fly Edelweiss. Because they give you Goldfish to munch on any time you please! I grabbed a handful of Goldfish bags the minute they were offered and stacked them greedily in my lap.

I was living in high country now; our seat row was just behind the curtain separating us from business class (a step up for sure, at least we’re breathing the same air!); I had adequate foot room, and I had a window seat! The flight time from Zurich to Reykjavik’s International Airport was under four hours, so much less daunting that the “getting into Africa” adventures had been. Rick and I both were excited, not quite sure how the climate change was going to hit us. And, for the first time, we were totally on our own. No Globus guides running interference for us or drivers aiming to honor all our whims and preferences. “Flying solo and eating Goldfish,” I laughed to Rick, looking out my window, hoping to see an Alp or two.

All I saw was green, the brilliant, well-tended green of well-watered farmland; houses neatly rowed in villages. No elephants, no zebras, no giraffes. We flew over the edges of Germany and France; we flew above Belgium, the Netherlands, Scotland. The North Sea. The Atlantic.

Now we’re in Icelandic territory (it’s part of Europe but you can’t get there by car!); the landscape has an unfamiliar look. The ground is a different shade of green; the houses lower; the skies grayer. There’s the airport. The attendant has collected all my empty Goldfish bags so I’m done eating now, and I can give you a surprising factoid about Reykjavik’s International Airport – Keflavik. It was built by the US military during WWII!

Think about that, and Iceland’s role during the war. Meanwhile, Rick and I will be hunting for a way to get to our hotel. Jackets on.

Zurich Airport

Keflavik Airport, Reykjavik, Iceland

Next Post: Fifty Shades of Gray


Einstein Missed

Linda Lou Burton posting from Family Services Lounge, Zurich Airport, Zurich, Switzerland – Yes, there was a reason for choosing a flight with a seven-hour layover. In Switzerland. The reason was the Café Odeon. Making the transition from East Africa’s equatorial region to Iceland’s watery grayness was challenge enough. Why not throw in a quick-flick of European history on the way? We had to stop somewhere in Europe, and when I read about the Odeon, I knew I’d found something so different it would do the trick. This little coffeehouse in downtown Zurich has been around over a hundred years, and its name-dropping list of customers would make any history lover blink.

Politicians, physicists, writers, musicians, dancers – hey, dancer Mata Hari performed in the cabaret there way back before she was convicted as a spy and executed. There was Benito Mussolini, and Lenin, and Trotsky. There was Somerset Maugham, Erich Maria Remarque, and James Joyce. Add Arturo Toscanini. Add Albert Einstein. Yes, he was there. Albert earned his PhD at the University of Zurich, and was living there in 1911 when Odeon opened its doors; they say he liked talking with a crowd of students there, hanging out over coffee. So that was my plan: just luck into the table where Einstein used to sit, and have a coffee (Viennese style), listening for voices from the past.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Einstein used to say. I imagined getting off the plane fresh as a daisy at 7 AM; catching the smashingly modern train that rolls right underneath the airport terminal and whisks you downtown in 10 short minutes; strolling along the Limmat River and reaching the Odeon in time for breakfast, served 8-11:30. I’d have a cappuccino with lots of foam and a plaited roll, maybe an omelet? Plenty of time to get back to the airport before our afternoon flight.

Did that happen? Are you kidding? My wheelchair was waiting as soon as we dragged ourselves off the plane to the ramp after a sitting-up-straight-trying-to-sleep night (and remember, I’m in my night-shirt due to the unfortunate sprite mishap). A kind person pushed me to the Family Services lounge, where Rick and I plopped down and stayed. Hot coffee and cool water right there. Restrooms right there. Peaceful, away from the crowd. Long benches for stretching out for a nap. A restaurant and bookstore just outside the door. My berry muffin was delicious. Rick had a hearty sandwich. No ghosts hovered near; the Euro-techno music kept them away and drove us back to the quiet. Look at the pictures – first what we DID see in the Zurich Airport, and last the Café Odeon, that we did not. Next time, Albert!


Odeon Café Breakfast Menu

Odeon Café History

Zurich Airport

Next Post: Goldfish For Lunch


Hot Water

Linda Lou Burton posting from Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania – If I haven’t said it yet, I’ll say it now. A cool, air conditioned van with cushy upholstered seats and a wide sliding door on the side beats a 4×4 for basic travel. No ladder step! No twisting and maneuvering my way to 3rd row back. Zanzibar’s roads were decently smooth too. And then there was Ali, the calmest driver I’ve ever ridden with (and that includes family, friends, and NY cabbies!). Plus he was reassuring. He arrived at the hotel on time; we arrived at the airport on time. He told us to wait as he went inside to make arrangements for my wheelchair. He pushed me quite a long distance into the terminal, introduced me to Mark, the gentleman who would get me all the way through the airport to my gate. And then, goodbye. The airport was sparkling clean with gleaming white tiles; employees were dressed in black. Mark looked immaculate in a black suit, white shirt, black tie. He pushed me (and led Rick) to the counter for checkin. The agent there, a woman also dressed in black (head covered, face not), stepped from behind the counter so she could speak with me eye-to-eye as I sat in my wheelchair. I explained that I’d need a wheelchair in Zurich and Reykjavik, but had not been able to include that in the reservation. She quietly processed everything and handed us our boarding passes, with a smile! Mark then pushed me through a series of check points and x-rays and scans and, yes, a standing-up pat-down by a gloved female. Then a chair right by the gate, with wheelchair waiting to get me all the way to the plane! Needless to say, that set the bar VERY HIGH for airport standards around the world.

Until. I asked for some water and a restroom. After my pat-down, I was considered a secured passenger. But alas, even though I was pushed in my wheelchair by airport staff to a restroom, pushed INTO the restroom by said staff, and locked in; even then; I had to go through another standing-up pat-down before returning to my chair. I managed to get a bottle of sprite for me and a fanta orange for Rick on this journey – we hadn’t eaten dinner. Yikes, I won’t move AGAIN, I thought, sipping my sprite in tiny swallows. I had a pain under my rib cage; it always hurts when I’m extremely tired or tense; and the more I thought about it, the worse it got. Eight hours of a tiny seat in coach ahead of me, aahh, I’ll take a Tylenol AND the pain pill my doctor had given me for the absolute worst emergencies. So I did. All my evening meds were in my Pill Minder; hmmm, I’ll take these now too, so I don’t forget. Gulp, gulp.

The crew arrived, spiffy in Edelweiss Airlines garb, so European in style! OH MY, I thought – are Friedrich and Frieda part of this crew? I clung to my sprite bottle, determined not to be deprived of something to drink EVER AGAIN. Next thing I know, I’m pushed to the door of the plane, assisted to my seat, and tucked into my 8-hour coach-prison. Rick squeezed into the seat beside; we buckled up. And then it happened. That sprite I’d been sipping on came back up. Just sprite, in two rapid upchucks (gross I know), spilling all down my shirt. I didn’t have time to reach for a Sickness Bag, just pow, there it was – I was soaking wet. Even Rick wasn’t aware of what had happened!

Sometimes an angel is one step ahead of us. When I zipped up fancy-schmancy in the hotel, things just didn’t fit, so my blue-knit night-shirt got crammed into my backpack. First time on the entire trip I’d put any clothing there. Awesome, I’m thinking, sitting there now soaking wet. I can go to the restroom with my backpack, get out my night-shirt, clean up, dry off, and nobody needs to know of my mishap. We were on the row right in front of the restrooms; just a swift step in. Blue-knit night-shirt looked like a tee shirt; I tucked up some of its length; good to go. Back to my seat. Buckled.

The flight attendants were busy getting everyone settled in. The pain under my rib cage continued, the stress building. At home, a Tylenol and my electric heating pad take care of that problem. No heating pads here. Then I remembered the lovely hot water bottles tucked into our bed in the tent camps, all cozily wrapped in flannel, so comforting! Ah, an idea; surely they’d have such a thing on airplanes too! I signaled to an attendant (no, she didn’t look anything like Freida). “Could you bring me a hot water bottle, please?” This fell into the realm of an answer on Jeopardy. “A hot water bottle? You want a bottle of hot water?” She looked genuinely puzzled. I explained about these strange bottles filled with hot water that one could place against ones body for warmth, or to ease pain.

“Pain?” she said, eyebrows raised. “You are in pain? Where is your pain?” Before I realized how my answer would affect the next moments, I replied “In my chest.” This set off a series of alarms and commotion befitting the arrival of a baby or something equally monumental. Suddenly a nurse appeared; the passenger across the aisle announced he was a doctor. Questions, questions, questions. “They are going to haul me off this plane,” I realized. “It’s my RIGHT side,” I said, as fast as I could think. “It’s a surgical scar! Sometimes it acts up!” What kind of surgery? How long ago? Ten minutes of questioning ensued before calm finally settled in. The aisle began to clear. Rick, and the passenger on the other side of me, each patted my shoulder. “Whew, that was close.”

And then, the nice non-Freida attendant was back. “I have a hot water bottle for you,” she said. “I hope this helps.” She had taken a two-liter sprite bottle, filled it with water, wrapped it in a towel, and microwaved it. The plane took off. I left Africa wearing a blue-knit night-shirt overlain by a bottle of hot water. Adventure 101, I passed.


 Fisherman’s Tours

Abeid Amani Karume International Airport

 Next Post: Einstein Missed