Day 2 of our Icelandic adventure saw us eating breakfast at Mokka Kaffi, which is one of the oldest cafés in Reykjavík, having opened in 1958. It was also the first to install an espresso machine, and introduced Iceland to espressos, cappuccinos, and lattes.
And then we were off!
This is Þingvallavatn (Thingvallavatn), the largest natural lake in all of Iceland. Since the water that flows into it has first been filtered by the surrounding lavafields, it is extraordinarily clean, which allows for more light to shine deeper down and a greater variety of plants to grow in the lake bed, which in turn affects the existing fauna. It also presented us with the perfect excuse to randomly start driving down a road because we wanted to get a better look at it. This is what traveling through Iceland is like. Google Maps may tell you that a drive will take you three hours, but don’t listen to it. Instead, be prepared to arrive at your destination after twice that much time has passed… and after having stopped a million times just to marvel at your surroundings.
And you especially have to stop whenever you see sheep. Or horses. Which means the ratio of driving to being stopped on the side of the road is much closer to 30/70. Make sure, though – and this is important – that you’re not parking on the side of the road if there isn’t a rest space for you to park at, as driving off-road is illegal. Same goes for simply stopping on the road (we saw people do this), regardless of how empty it seems to be.
Þingvellir National Park
While our original plan had us going to see Geysir and Gullfoss, we ended up deciding to go to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, instead. The reason for this being that, besides being on the UNESCO World Heritage List, it holds the original seat of the Alþingi (Althing), the oldest and longest-running national parliament in the world, founded in 930, and you just don’t see that every day.
Upon first arrival, you can go through the Hakið Visitor Center in order to learn more about the Alþingi before venturing outside to see everything the park has to offer. They have interactive exhibitions and also provide maps of the park with the major landmarks and info about them.
The Almannagjá is a gorge which marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates – the Mid-Atlantic Rift. In certain places, the rift is so wide that you can hike through it, and it even contains a waterfall, Öxaráfoss.
It is against this backdrop that the Lögberg (the Law Rock), is believed to sit, which is what this Icelandic flag is supposed to be marking.
The Lögberg marks the spot upon which a speaker of the Alþingi would stand annually in front of an audience, which could have numbered in the thousands, in order to read out the laws. It was also a chance to settle disputes, and for criminals to stand trial.
During the Alþingi of 1000, a momentous decision was made. After much debating, it was decided that Iceland and its citizens would adopt Christianity as their official religion and abandon the pagan worship of the Nordic gods, at least publicly. In order to commemorate this step away from so-called barbarism, King Olaf of Norway sent a bell and timber with which to build a church at Þingvellir. This, Þingvellirkirkja, is not that church, but it does sit on the same site of as the original building.
The Silfra fissure is also a result of the separation between the North American and Eurasian plates, which grows about 2 centimeters per year. Much like Þingvallavatn, it has filled with water filtered through the lava fields that dot the area, originating from the Langjökull Glacier, about 60 kilometers north from the fissure. As it can take the water a few hundred years to reach Silfra, the long filtration process makes the water extremely clear and so pure that it is perfectly drinkable.
It is a popular diving and snorkeling spot, since it’s so clear, but we were happy to simply sit on the steps leading down into the water for a bit.
This is another spot of the Almannagjá, close to Oxarárfoss, though we didn’t have time to go see the waterfall itself, as we were so distracted by Þingvellir that we were late for our appointed time at the Laugarvatn Fontana!
The Fontana sits beside a lake of the same name, and which you can jump into between soaks! I recommend you try their rye bread, which is baked on the shore of the lake using geothermal heat over a period of 24 hours. I unfortunately have no photos of the experience, but I think the Fontana is a good (and cheaper!) alternative to The Blue Lagoon, though not having been to the latter, this is mere speculation. At the very least, it’s a good option.
That night we stayed in a cabin in Sólheimar Eco-Village, founded in the 1930s and currently inhabited by about 100 people. After we arrived, we went out exploring and were stunned once again by the beauty of the midnight sun.