The Icelandic Age of Settlement (principally by people from the Nordic Countries, seeking a better life from their increasingly overcrowded homelands) lasted from 874 to 930, at which point most of the uninhabited island had been claimed by new arrivals.
New arrivals, finding Iceland “too crowded”, or who were turned away by the earlier settlers, headed off to Greenland, with Erik the Red, seeking a better life there, but you already know that story from my Greenland Blog Posts.
Iceland is tiny compared to Greenland. Greenland is 21 times lager – 103,000 sq. km. vs 2,166,086 sq. km.
BUT Iceland’s population is much greater – 340,000 on the entire island (compared to 50,000 in Greenland), with 123,000 in the “greater Reykjavík” area.
There are quite a few cities and towns scattered about the country; the largest (other than Reykjavík) being Akureyri with 19,000 (just a bit larger than Greenland’s capital city of Nuuk, at 18,000).
The rest of Iceland is rural, mountainous (volcanoes) and glaciated.
Here’s a satellite image of Iceland today. The large glacier is Europe’s largest.
Iceland has one very unique geologic feature – two tectonic plates separate the country (hence the intense volcanic activity) – the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
These two plates are pulling away from each other at quite a rapid rate in geologic terms (1 inch per year), and the plate separation provided the platform for my first adventure on the island – snorkeling in a (very cold) sliver of water at a place called Silfra, that’s very deep, and has been created by the plate separation.
Here are the pictures (and that’s me – not a “generic snorkeler” – taken by PADI 5 Dive Master Stefano from DiveIceland.is who kept close tabs on me didn’t want anything to happen to the oldest client he’d ever steered through the channel).
The group was small, for safety and “easy management”. We were bundled up like little kids going out to play on a very cold winter day – our own thermal undergarments; a second underlayer provided by the PADI Dive Shop running the trip and then a DRY suit and thermal dry gloves to minimize the contact with the freezing-temperature water. It was a thrilling experience – beautiful – it varies by season – in the summer the Algae is bright green; not so for us in October.
It’s also possible to do a scuba dive there, but that requires even more specialized gear and a minimum of three dives in a dry-suit (quite different than the normal wet-suit dives).
After chilly Silfra (it was “cool” despite all the protective gear, I sought out the comfort of a nearby thermal pool, fed by two springs heated to (literally) boiling by the geothermal magic of Iceland.
The springs are a short distance from the pool, which is enough to cool them down to safe levels…. but when you approach the inlet points the temperature rises quite noticeably, but you can scoot away if it gets too hot.
That “warm-up” was followed by a wonderful lunch in a greenhouse which produces 1 Ton of Tomatoes daily and serves an extremely tasty tomato soup, warm bread and Bloody Mary’s.
End of Adventure Day One.
There’s a “Ring Road” that goes all around the island, with numerous detours and tour possibilities, which I then followed for a bit more than two weeks, through some pretty nasty weather, interspersed with days of sunshine, and a series of adventures, a few tricky roads where the 4WD rental car proved to have been a good choice. I won’t bore you with the day-by-day descriptions; I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but it was a lot of fun.
Geothermal energy (from all the volcanic activity) is the primary source of Iceland’s electric grid.
Nice town, but not nearly a colorful as Greenland towns
This is how they lived, in the “olden days”
And today – prosperity fueled by modern agricultural methods (and tourism)
Iceland has MANY waterfalls, and Icelanders (and tourists) are obsessed by them – crowds everywhere gazing at the falling waters (they ARE beautiful, but the obsession is mildly amusing).
On the next to last day my son Chris flew in (by prearrangement – hard to pull off a surprise like that) and we completed the Iceland circumnavigation together and then flew off to the Faroe Islands (next post).