Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Golden Circle and Varying Ways of Finding Happiness Abroad

After a couple days walking around Reykjavik and taking a bus to the Blue Lagoon, we were ready to see more of Iceland--and on our own timetable.  So we rented a car and set out on the pretty typical tourist route, the Golden Circle.

Tyler's required photo with rental car, on Grettisgata, across from our apartment

And the newly required rockstar photo.  Otto will get it one of these days!

Our first stop was a place called Thingvellir.  (In Icelandic, it looks more like 'Pingvellir" with this consonant that looks more like a "p".)  I knew it was the site of the first Icelandic Althing, or General Assembly, but it wasn't until our drive out that I fully realized that this first assembly was in 930 AD, which is actually pretty impressive.  Representatives from the 36 regional tribes would get together for court, lawmaking and the like.  And it's also the site where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are pulling apart about 1.5 cm per year, which is also pretty interesting.  (I also thought it was pretty cool that these two things happened at the same place when surely in 930 they didn't know about continental plates, which probably just means something interesting about the energy of this particular spot.)

Unfortunately, the historical and geological wonders were a bit lost on the kids.  Stella was  mostly cold;  Otto mostly liked seeing the random geese hanging around the place.

This is how much of our vacation looks from my vantage point:  Tyler and Stella strolling ahead as I walk more slowly behind with Otto (Otto vociferously voiced choice).  But you can see the North American wall to the left and Eurasia to the right!
Otto happily walking on a boardwalk, humoring me briefly with a photo before insisting to be on the other side of the lens
A beautiful waterfall on the site
After we got a bit tired of the complaints about being cold and realizing it wasn't going to be much fun for us to haul the kids around further, we got back in the car to head to our next stop (and a $50 dollar lunch of hamburgers at a rest stop--have we mentioned it's a bit expensive here?):  the original Geysir, after which all others are named.

This is what much of the drive was like--beautiful shrubby land colored in rust, lichen green, grey volcanic rock, grey clouds, snow-covered mountains in the distance, with the occasional bunch of Icelandic horses thrown in for good measure.  Beautiful, and amazingly unpopulated.

The geysirs and other hot pools were fascinating--steaming, bubbling, multicolored.  And watching the Strokkur geyser go off a few times was fun for all of us.  I'd read that you would see the water 'dome' shortly before it blew, so the first time we watched, I was sure it was about to go many times, but once I saw it once, I knew what to expect--the water would heave a bit, almost like breathing, then a bright blue big dome of water would rise and it would blast.  Good fun!

In front of some of the steaming action--yes, it smelled like sulfur.  Yes, Stella is holding her nose.

Our first look at Strokkur going off!
The original Geysir--it stopped going off some time ago, and does now only very sporadically.  But it's the original!

Watching another time with Otto.  Stella, true to form, is standing back a few feet at a distance she deemed "safer".

After the geysirs, we were on to our final stop, some supposedly impressive waterfalls.  And impressive they were, with two sets of cataracts and intermittent rainbows from the spray.

We're not sure why this is the pose du jour, but here is Stella in front of Selfoss.  This is also as close as she'd get.

Otto found the rocks most fascinating.  Also, that rock ledge way back there?  And those dots?  Those are people, to give you a sense of proportion.  These were big.

Selfoss rainbow

And then it was time to head back, while everyone was in relatively good humor.  The kids crashed for the ride home, and Tyler and I had a rare moment together.  That's probably one downside of our trip--it mostly feels like we are travelling with one or both of the kids rather than each other, as they tend to take most of our focus and energy.

Back home we rested up a bit then headed out for some dinner.  We originally tried to hit a place known for Icelandic home cooking, but it appeared to have gone out of business, so we went to a place our friend had recommended as kid friendly.  We had our entire meal before Tyler went down to the bathroom, and it turned out the basement had a huge play area.  The kids were in heaven.



Otto trying to decide which car-like toy to play with first



Stella in a book nook

 So, there you have it.  In my world, I would have spent *way* more time hiking around Thingvellir, soaking up the history and the scenery.  The kids were thrilled to have toys or time like this at the apartment:



But while this trip would definitely be different (and busier and more widely travelled) had we come pre-kids, I'm also noticing new and different things and appreciating the city and country in a very different way.  The other high point, for which we have no photos, is that the whole family loves going for a swim.  If we even mention "swim" to Otto, he races for his swimshorts and tries to insist on putting them on immediately.  The geothermal heat means there are warm pools, hot pools and lukewarm pools that are of a depth that Stella can stand in on her own.  Some of my favorite moments of the trip have been in some of Reykjavik's public pools where we all relax and have a good time.  And I definitely wouldn't have treated myself as regularly to such a simple delight if left to my own devices.

Our time in Reykjavik has passed quickly--we have one more day here tomorrow (my birthday!), then we head to Paris.  I find myself a little sad to be leaving already.  But realistically, though it's expensive, Iceland is close enough that I'm sure we'll return when the kids are a bit older and we can go farther to the north and east.  Glacial lagoons!  Lava cliffs!  All kinds of stuff we won't hit this trip.

And while the kids are doing really well overall, there's probably also the risk of whitewashing everything, here and in our memory.  After leaving the playroom in the restroom, Otto threw himself on the ground and screamed for blocks when I needed a break from carrying him and insisted that he go with Tyler.  And Stella has her moments of just losing it unreasonably.  And, until tonight, bedtime has been late and a good hour+ of songs, re-adjusting blankets, and generally seeing the kids having a hard time winding down.

But, even with all that, I wouldn't have it any other way.  I know Otto won't remember this and Stella may only a bit, but I hope we can help to nurture and encourage their sense of adventure, respect for and interest in other cultures and new experiences and build up our family as we go through all this together, the good, the mediocre, the tedious and the occasional bad.  Next post from Paris!

A rare full family shot!

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