Friday, February 28, 2014

Iceland Day 2 ~ The tour of the Golden Circle.

Travellogue: Iceland Day 2 ~ of tectonic plates, waterfall & geyser...

A breakfast of smoked Icelandic fish
Adrian did prime us prior to the trip that we really needn't wake up early for this trip, like
The man & his coffee.
the typical SgTrekker photography trips.  And this man kept his words. "8am breakfast, 9am checkout." became pretty much the standard arrangement.
But... I woke at 6am for a run around Rekjavik.. crazy lah, me.
My 5km run in Reykjavic

I forgot what Lai Peng was telling me here. But she
certainly looked quite tickled by what she was saying.
"Go get the smoke fish.
Both types. They are
very nice!" said Kai Sing.
I was surprised to find almost everybody down at the nice little dining area at 8am, many of whom had enjoyed the local smoked fish delight which I couldn't remember what they were called in Icelandic.  Upon Kai Sing, Carol & Acrux's urging, we took a little and really found them delicious.  The delightful lady had to refill that dish until she declared she ran out of fish.  Haha...

Set off for a most exhilarating day...
9am.  A small break for some fresh air, and we were all out on the pavement.
It was a nice, cool and clear morning.  A good start to a beginning of our tour.  Up till this morning, my mind was still a little confused, perhaps from a tad of jet lag, or maybe from the fact that I was still struggling to untie my tongue from too many attempts at pronouncing the Icelandic names.  Man, honestly, this trip is tougher than many of my previous in the nomenclature department.
Travelling is like this, you could only hope to fufill the stated destinations as completely as possible. Often, weather conditions, time factors and other variables would be that we'd had to forfeit some sights.  SgTrekker would always try to be flexible ~ a destination missed today would be attempted again the next day if possible.   Thus, we would always be surprised time and again.  This morning I got out of the hotel not exactly knowing where I would be heading towards.

Our bus driver Mr Porgrimur Isaksen (Adrian subsequently called him Mr Porgrimur, Kai Sing called him Thor, I still ended up calling him Isaksen, because he showed me his full name on his name tag) was a 61 year old veteran driver with a huge Icelandic sense of humour.
"Gon Dai Good morning!" he said to all. "Please fasten your seat belts.  And no cheating."
Alex very guai, buckled up on the bus.
Haha.. he must had known that many of us didn't click our belts in the day before. Yes, apparently in Iceland, seat belts are compulsory even for bus passengers. And it was not something that we were used to right from the beginning.  But as the days went by, we ALL automatically fasten our belts, for very obvious reasons that I would illustrate in the subsequent chapters.

The History of Iceland
Talking about Iceland, many of us from home would probably knew little about Icelandic history.
It was such a far-away place that it was only very recently that I found its exact location on the world map.
Being so remote, Iceland was not officially documented to be inhabited in the form of a permanent settlement until  874AD by a Viking chieftain (named Ingólfur Arnarson) from Norway, at the exact spot where the Capital now stood, which they named Reykjavik - Cove of smoke, from the steam rising from the thermal springs.  Over time, the Vikings brought many slaves of Celtic origin from the northern parts of Ireland over to Iceland, and the population of the land was almost half Celtic.
It was thus told to us by our guide that the current Icelandic language has a strong link to Irish.  Well, I couldn't tell. They all sounded the same to me.
Due to the very harsh nature of the landscape,  life was tough.  And the bubonic plague, and natural disasters hit the population again and again, leading to decline in the numbers.

From 930AD, the Icelandic Commonwealth was formed, and an assembly called Althing was established.  This was (believed to be) the oldest Parliament in the world (well, I guess in European history) and every year the assembly would convene at Thingvellir to pass laws and judgements.

It was interesting to note that the early settlers of Iceland worshipped pagan Norse deities.  And Christianity was not officially introduced until the year 1000AD when one of the Parliament representative was tasked to announce it as the official religion.
Some of us asked our guide/driver what denomination was Icelandic Christianity.  He answered Lutheran.  So the history went like this, the Catholic Bishops during early Icelandic settlement opposed the introduction of Lutheran Christianity by the Danish King in the 16th Century.  But their opposition were futile, and it ended up in the deportation of one and beheading of the other Catholic Bishops.  From thence, Icelanders became Lutherans, up till this day.  Well, now we know.

Coming back to the Icelandic parliament Althing.  This parliamentary systems wasn't perfect for there wasn't an elected executive committee that had absolute power.  And it was prone to conflicts between rival landlords which was what happened, as Iceland became torn between two powerful clans.  Civil war ensued, until sometime in the 13th century when finally Iceland became a vassal state under Norwegian rule because the winning clan was very close to the Norwegian Royalty.
Things didn't get better after the Norwegian took control, for during this period a Little Ice Age took place and the climate conditions turned harsher.  It became difficult to grow their staple barley crops and to raise livestock.  And many of the peasants took to fishing and production of dried cod fish.  This eventually became an important trade between Iceland and the rest of Europe.
When the Norwegian line of Royalty died with her last King in the 14th Century, Iceland became a subject of Denmark. Nothing much changed during the Danish rule.

In 1918, Iceland gained sovereignty - The Kingdom of Iceland.
In 1944, the Icelanders voted with majority vote to severe the union with the King of Denmark (at that point in time Denmark was still occupied by Germany during the second world war), and thus establishing an Independent State - The Republic of Iceland.

The decade of the 1990's saw Iceland's economy grew rapidly.  And Iceland became one of the wealthiest and most developed European countries during this period, with well reformed welfare structures. All went well until the year 2008, when a systemic failure of the Icelandic banks resulted in the collapse of the economy.  International Monetary Fund stepped in to prop up the Icelandic
Shooting relfections at Hellishedi power station
banking sector and salvaged it.  Many Icelanders emigrated to other parts of Europe during this crisis.
Today, the economy had stabilised.  And the Icelanders continued to happily shower with hot water and continued heating their houses with hot water piped in from the neighbourhood Geothermal springs.

The Power station of Hellishedi
Alex exploring the centre which was designed like
'the split in the tectonic plates' according to the guide.
Yes, indeed.  Believe it we must because the Icelanders derived 90% of their power requirements from renewable energy.  Iceland is a hot bed of thermal power sources as it sits smack right in the intersection of two tectonic plates.  And this morning the surprise visit that wasn't listedin the itinerary was to the power plant of Hellishedi.

Engineers in deeeeeeo concentration.
A very nice Icelandic young man called Kumi explained patiently to us how Geothermal energy was drawn from deep drilling underground, and how the steam was channelled and used and re-used to generate electricity, and how the heated water was delivered to the households in the country to warm up their showers, their heaters and such.  He quoted the cost of heating up a house a day as only 1 Euro (S$1.738). My, what a wonderfully cheap country to live in, in terms of electricity and heat supply!

Others played.
The engineers were all very drawn to the visual display showing how energy was derived and converted.  Sadly it made a little sense to me, but not a whole lot.  Thus I ended up taking photos of them and our members walking around, while some other people simply enjoyed the atmosphere and acted cute (again).  I still hadn't gotten any lingam yet.  So really could find no inspiration in my photos.

The Golden Circle
On this day our main objective was to tour the Golden Circle of Iceland.  What was the Golden Circle?  It comprised of several geographically spectacular destination, namely the Thingvellir National Park, the Kerid Crater, the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall and the famous Strokkur Geyser.  Fate had it that we had insufficient time for the Kerid Crater.  So that was deleted from our Itinerary.  But still, the other few destination more than made up for it.  Whatever it was, a visit to Iceland would never be complete without a trip to the Golden Circle. Well.. even 3/4 of a Golden Circle was good enough.
This is a illustrated map showing the Golden Circle.
This was the ACTUAL GPS track of our route for this day.  As could be seen, we hit Hellisheidi near the bottom, moved
a little more eastward and walked to the solar dial at Hrinsja (southern most tip of the red line), skirted Kerid Crater &
moved north to Thingvellir, and then to Gullfoss waterfall at extreme east before coming back to Strokkur Geyser.

The Sun dial at Hrings ja
Yilin & Eddy firing frantically away.
Up till this stage I must had been still asleep.  Even at 10:59am in the morning.  The local guide, a tall burly Ang Moh who was our guide for the day directed the bus to this delightful little out-pouching of a knoll over-looking some distant scenery which until today I didn't know what I was looking at. But what I found interesting
"Come, let's walk to the top there." instructed Adrian.  We just followed.  Serene and I, as always, trailed way behind. The rest were already there at the top shooting away.
"Hey see what ah?" I asked.
"Neh, this sun dial lor," someone replied.
was that we all walked down a snowy meadow along a track and made it up to the knoll.  And there was a sun dial right up there.  I never knew the significance of that solar dial.  But I thought it made for a nice photo. 
So I just took one shot. One single shot.
Walking to the sun dial.

"Ok let's go! Let's go!" gestured that Ang Moh guide from back near where the bus was.  And we all trudged back to the waiting vehicle.

The lonely sun dial.
Serene feeling the cold at Hrings Ja.
Thingvellir National Park
The guide finally started explaining a little more to us.  He described how Thingvellir National Park was such an important Unesco site because it was exactly where the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate intersected and how the plates were moving apart at 2.5cm annually. And as the bus drove, he pointed out the old lava cliffs that belonged to the Eurasian plate and a little further down, those lava cliff of the North American plate.  Honestly I couldn't tell which was which.  But certainly it was exciting simply knowing that the earth beneath me was moving apart, and being in between tectonic plates was an experience that I believed would not ever be repeated in this life of mine.

Looking cross to the Eurasian plate from where we were standing on
the North American plate.

"Now what is also historically important," added the guide. "is that here in Thingvellir National Park there is a pole that marks the exact location where the first Icelandic Parliament, the Althing, convened."
The lava walls on the side of the North American plate.

It was about 12:50pm.  Time was running a little short.
"What I want you all to do, is walk down from the North American Plate here, cross the valley and across to the Eurasian plate on the other side where our bus driver has very kindly agreed to wait for us.  We have about half an hour only and I need all of you to be at the other side by the time."
Well, he was the guide.  And we would just do what he said.
Actually we found the walk down pretty relaxing.  Basking in the sun of midday, we strolled leisurely down.  Taking snap shots of distant scenes, and of each other.

Here was a shot of Kai Sing, me and Serene by Eddy. Beautiful shot! Made us looked like some terrorist coming down to claim the land between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate..

Photo: Courtesy of Eddy Chung

The Korean tai tai doing her shopping here at Thingvellir.

Serene action liao liao at Thingvellir.

Adrian trying to do a quick draw here.  But he must
have been feeling rather cold.  A little too cold.

So we walked and looked around. Kai Sing was in front of us.  Yin Yin, Carol and Carren were also in front.  The rest were nowhere to be found.  These people really knew how to look for nooks and crannies for their award-winning shots. We came to the point where I looked across and saw the vast trough transected by meandering streams formed over the millions of years.

As we were about to leave the lava walls on the side of the North American plate, I looked back and saw to my delight, that singular pole which located the spot of the first historic Icelandic parliament.
"Man, I gotta take a shot of this!" I told myself.
The location of the first Icelandic
Parliament, the Althing.

Walking on the boardwalk, I looked back at North America and grabbed a shot of this.
Semi-frozen streams lined the bed of the valley between the two tectonic plates.

Serene looking back at North America...

Right at the end of the boardwalk was where our bus waited.  And where our frantically waving and calling guide waited eagerly for us to arrive.
"Hurry up! Hurry up!" shouted this local guide.  I was always a pretty chin chai person.  But somehow this local guide today kinda irked me a little bit. But well, luckily he was only with us for one day.
Even Adrian also hastened his footstep and we all boarded the bus.

Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss waterfall is a very popular tourist attraction.  History had it that it was slated for development for
Me and Eddy leaning hard into the wind...
electricity generation.  But this plan was eventually ditched.  Thankful for that because it gave us a chance to visit this magnificent waterfall.  On this day we arrived in the afternoon.
"Ok, it's 2:30pm now," said Adrian. "Let's go in a have lunch at the (touristy) restaurant inside.  Then we will start walking towards the waterfall. We will give ourselves 1 hour 45minutes at the waterfall."
Hmmm.. 1 hour 45 minutes? Well, let's see how.
After a lunch of S$25 worth of refillable lamb soup & orange juices, we stepped out of the restaurant, and right into the tearing wind that was grabbing at us.  It was so strong that we could lean forward and yet wouldn't fall.
Man! I knew one had to be aerodynamic in cycling.  But I didn't know even walking in Iceland we had to be aerodynamic and on this day, I will pulling the peloton in front with Serene, Lai Peng and Alex taking their breathers in the slipstream behind me.

Walking along this boardwalk didn't prepare us for
what was to come.
Frankly at this point in time, aside from the strong wind, we all didn't exactly knew what to expect.  What -foss? All these name made little sense to me.  I was sure people like Acrux, Teck Siang and Yilin would have done their research because in the huff of the wind they were gone, again searching for their angles.  Walking along the wooden walkway, Alex asked: "Which way ah?". 
"Where is Kai Sing? I didn't see him." said a  worried Alex.
"I think he is still in the restaurant." I replied.
At that moment the red outer shell appeared and waved at us.
The splendid overview of the Gullfoss waterfall.

I pointed to the left "Here, let's go up there." And we trodded up, Alex, Lai Peng, Serene and I. The vantage point up left of the boardwalk was a little disappointing. We were not close to the waterfall at all. But it allowed us a glimpse of the big picture. The wind was blowing everything haywire and I was too busy scrambling for my face cover. Adrian was beside us, Acrux came up and ask: "What is there to shoot here...?" But I didn't think I gave him a proper answer. Haha..
"Let's go down!" I shouted to Serene in the wind.
Uh oh!!! Path closed? But.. so many people
still walking through.

We came to this sign: "This path is temporarily closed due to unsafe conditions during wintertime."
Jiaklat.  As we straddled the chain, we saw Eddy & Michelle coming up from the opposite direction.
"It's very slippery!" said they.
"Yah, man..." Thankfully our shoe-studs were already prepared in our bags as from our previous experience we knew during wintery conditions, frozen ice could be encountered anytime anywhere.
So onto our shoes went the shoe-studs, like penguins we gingerly walked forward.
This was the only path into the vantage point for a close encounter with the waterfall. Thus, die die we also had to go in.  As we walked down the slopey path lined with frozen ice and some dirty snow and gravel, we saw people walking up and some others walking in a skating fashion behind us.  Luckily there was ropes at the side for us to hold on to. But still slippery was the only word to describe it.
Walking like a penguin...
"Be careful!" I shouted to Serene. "Hold on to the rope and walk on black black ground, not anything that looks white white."
Jiaklat. Tropical-dwellers like us always struggled when it came to grounds with frozen ice.
Slowly Serene ascended...
I was really not sure if it was going to worth all the slippery walking, but since so many people braved it, I thought it must be good.
I walked ahead and turned back to see Serene.  We were almost at the waterfall.  There were people lined up around the edge of the cliff right ahead.
... towards the vantage point.
... and she turned back and snapped a shot..

Although it was past 4pm in the afternoon, the wind was really chilly.  And I could remember my fingers all numbed despite being gloved.  On the right side, I could see our team mates setting up a whole row of tripods, all busy with their releases.  On the left was the platform for a long exposure of the water. I walked up to the platform.
A magnificent view of the water crashing
into the crevice.

Serene was unusually quiet, which meant that she was also suffering from the cold.
"Dar, let me set up the tripod, and also the GND filters.  I just need to take one shot.  One single shot and that's all." I said. "Ok, take your time." I didn't take too long.

This was my very first Long Exposure for the trip.  Through repeated taking off and putting on again and again of my gloves, through numerous adjusting upwards and downwards of my GND filters, I think I messed it up. 
Yupe. Only one single shot I took.  And I laugh as I looked at the shot.  Haiyah.. Just post it here for my own memory lah.

My long exposure of Gullfoss Waterfall.
"Ok Dar, I'm done!" I shouted through the howling wind. "Let's go down!"
"Ok let's go."
We walked past the guys.  Acrux, Yan Yan, Yilin, Norman, Teck Siang and Carol were all so focussed in their own LE (Long Exposure) that they hardly noticed us.  We made it back to the bus, and found Michelle in the bus already.  It must had been really cold for her too.

Strokkur Geysir
Soon everyone was on board the bus.
I waited patiently with my rangefinder &
50mm f/1.2 with this rock in the
foreground for the Geysir behind.
Adrian said: "Ok, we are very near Strokkur Geysir.  I wanted us to make our way to the Geysir at this time so that we can all shoot the sprouting geyser with the setting sun behind it."
We arrived at the geysir area at 4:30pm.  The sun was setting and it was getting colder.  Acrux and I walked up to a fenced off area.  There was a sign that warned against touching the stream as it may be burning hot.
Acrux and I gleefully put our fingers into the stream and we both screamed simultaneously, attracting the attention of all around us. 
"It's COLD!" I exclaimed, to the astonishment of everyone.
It said on the sign: 'Beware, hot water!"

"The geysir will erupt right on the dot every eight minutes," said the guide.   So that would be good.  If we missed a shot, we just needed to wait another 8 minutes.  Simple, right? No.
It was cold.  The wind was freezing.  And to be anticipating the eruption meant that we had to squat down, kneel down and kept the lenses trained upon the source, waiting with bated breath, finger on the shutter, for fear of missing the moment it erupted.

Adrian, Lai Peng & Serene letting go the moment
the Geysir sprouted out!
"Coming coming...." we would all called out to each other each time there appeared some gust of steam, but oft only to be disappointed as a few turned out to be false alarms.
And then abruptly, there appeared a swell of blue water and SHOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! the Geysir burst out of the earth!
It was really a new experience for many of us.  And despite the cold, frozen fingers, sore thighs, breathlessness (from holding our breaths for too long), we waited again and again for repeated eruptions, letting go of the shutter at high speed continuous modes.

Here was one of Serene's many shots that I found very interesting, not only because of the blue swell at the base, but also because of the shape of the water sprout.
Serene's blue Geysir

Here was a Time Lapse video made from a series of high speed captures by Serene.

Here is the Youtube version of this video: Timelapse Video of Serene's Geysir

Dinner at Golden Circle Apartments

A great shot by Eddy Chung of our Executive Chef Adrian and his Souz-chefs.

This exciting day ended with the whole group being ferried to a most wonderful service apartment called Golden Circle Apartments.  We were allocated two huge double-storey houses with very spacious rooms, each room with its own dining hall, living hall and kitchenette.
Adrian was really goot-lat.  Immediately after he dumped his stuffs, he took to the pots and pans, and several of the lady members very kindly assisted him in preparing a most hearty dinner of sandwiches with meat patties and chicken, and sausages.
A befitting end to a great day.

Sous chefs Lai Peng & Serene assisting
Executive Chef Adrian.

Carren must be happy with her burger.
Derek: "I am particular with my wine.
And I love my tea."
Yilin & Michelle just too happy to be back in the warmth, with warm food.

Norman must have had a fruitful day with his Canon 6D.
Don't know what Alex was talking about that amused Kai Sing.

Our stomachs filled, we all sat down on the sofa and chairs of Derek and Adrian's apartment, stoned and fatigued.  I believed everyone was as tired as myself.
And Adrian himself must have been really drained.  We all managed to shower with nice hot water and get into our warm beds in heated rooms for our well-deserved sleep.

Iceland Day 3 ~ Of famous volcano, full-rainbowed-Skogafoss, slippery Seljalandsfoss, and our first full-fledge Aurora...