Sunday, June 12 – Hot spring, Snorrastofa, waterfalls, lava cave, goat farm

Today started with a visit to the Deildartunguhver thermal spring.  On the way Tobba pointed out a house growing strawberries in a greenhouse heated with geothermal.  This is a way Icelanders can get access to fresh fruits and vegetables that they wouldn’t have otherwise.  Pairing geothermal energy with the long summer days seems like the perfect way to grow fresh food here, though I am not sure how it could be done in winter months.

As we pulled up to the hot spring, we could see steam coming out of the earth. We toured a spa facility called Krauma, or “boiling,” still under construction.  The owner told us his grandmother owned the hot spring, and that their house had been heated since 1930.  That was well before most homes in Iceland got their own heat, which occurred in the 50s.

All the walls of the spa were made of concrete, I am guessing to stand up to the winds of Iceland and hold in the heat. There was a series of large hot tubs under construction, each to be a slightly different temperature.  The owner told us that people will be able to lie in the hot tub and watch the northern lights.  There will also be a restaurant for 60 people.  This area of Iceland gets 200,000 tourists a year and growing. I asked the owner if he plans to build a hotel, and he laughed.  The spa and restaurant seem like enough.  He said he plans to open in July, but it looked like they still had a long way to go.


Snorrastofa in Reykholt, Iceland

Snorrastofa in Reykholt, Iceland

The next stop was Reykholt to see Snorrastofa, home of Snorri Sturluson, the 13th century poet and politician who wrote the Prose Edda and likely Egil’s Saga.  These are definitive works of mythology and Icelandic national identity.  The church and museum had a detailed display of Snorri’s life and several original editions of his books.

Geir Waage, a Lutheran priest in residence at Snorrastofa, told us the entire story of Snorri’s life, stopping periodically to snuff tobacco.  I didn’t get all of it, but did learn that Snorri married his first wife for money, dumped her but kept the money and had several mistresses. They had several children but only one survived. He traveled to Norway where his best friend was Earl Skuli Baardsson, who thought himself the most beautiful man on earth. An engraving of the earl depicts his long curly hair. The Norwegian King had the earl killed, so Snorri criticized the king in poetry, not directly but by portraying a previous Norwegian king badly.

A page from Snorri's "Egil's Saga"

A page from Snorri’s “Egil’s Saga”

Back in Iceland, Snorri fell in love with a noble woman named Hallveig Ormsdottir and had several children with her, but none survived. She died young and he was heartbroken.  Snorri also served as speaker of the Icelandic parliament for many years.  He held political discussions in his pool, which is still there today behind the house. He was assassinated in the closet near the pool on orders of the Norwegian king.  Waage said Snorri said “Do not strike” three times, quoting the 5th commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” but they killed him anyway.

Checking out Snorri's pool

Checking out Snorri’s pool

I am not sure whether Waage was playing a role or if he really thinks a lot of what he said, but his talk was like listening to someone who stepped out of a past era.  It was clear he idolizes Snorri, which is understandable.  But he made several fairly blatantly sexist statements. For example, it was fine for Snorri to marry for money, keep mistresses, dump the wife, and keep her money.  But it was not fine for women to have money of their own.  Waage made a couple of references to “women and money,” as if everyone knows that women can’t handle money and will spend it all on stupid things.

The other thing odd about the talk was the constant violence.  Everyone was killing everyone.  It sounded as if someone would kill someone as easily as look at them.  There were stories about running into someone on the road and slaying them on the spot.  Perhaps these sorts of encounters are what got memorialized in the sagas more than mundane activities, but it came across like a giant game of Dungeons and Dragons. I get the idea that Iceland of the old ages was extremely violent, and that women had no control over their lives.

Lava Falls and Children’s Falls

On the way to the next stop, we passed by a dairy farm that Tobba said is one of the largest in Iceland.  It has 150 cows which they milk robotically.  I wonder what they would think of an average dairy farm in the United States with hundreds of cows.

The next stop was an area of natural waterfalls — Lava Falls or Hraunfossar and Children’s Falls or Barnafoss. They are fed through the river Hvita, formed from glacial melt.  There’s another sad story associated with Barnafoss.  The falls were said to have once held a stone bridge, but the bridge was removed after a woman’s two children left the house while she was at Mass, slipped on the bridge, fell into the river and drowned.

We spent an hour at this site climbing around the lava rocks above Barnafoss and Hraunfossar.  There were also some good foot bridges and boardwalks to go across.  Lava Falls was amazing.  I have seen streams in Ohio that people have reconstructed to look natural, but no human could possibly construct something that looks like Lava Falls with the water coming out of the rocks and falling across a flat plate.

Lava cave

Entering the cave

Entering the cave

After lunch we then went to Víðgelmir, the largest lava tube cave in Iceland.  This is a cave formed by lava under a volcano.  This cave dates to 930 to 970 AD. Remains of an outlaw who lived there in the early 1000s were found, along with the fire pit where he had his last meal.

There was a large set of wooden steps going downtown a boardwalk that led 700 meters back into the cave.  Once we got our helmets and lights on, we set off. The light on my helmet turned out to be very dim, but the guides were excellent and helped me out at one point where the boardwalk stopped and I couldn’t see where to put my feet.  They guided me through and gave me some extra lights to hold.

Stalagmites in the cave

Stalagmites in the cave

We saw stalagmites and stalactites (which Icelanders had given some naughty names), and all kinds of different rock formations.  The cave had some lighting in most areas, but at the end we stopped in an area where the guides had everyone turn off their lamps, and we experienced total and complete blackness.  This was where they told a story about Icelandic zombies, which is the first I’ve heard of zombies in Iceland, but they are pretty much everywhere nowadays.

Going back up the steps to get out and get back to the visitors center was arduous, but I made it, and people were still waiting to use the bathroom when I got back to the visitors center, so my slowness didn’t hold anyone up.

Goat farm

Tobba's daughter holds a baby goat.

Tobba’s daughter holds a baby goat.

After the cave we headed to a much livelier destination at Háafell Goat Farm. The farm’s owner, Jóhanna Bergmann Þorvaldsdóttir, is on a mission to save the Icelandic goat, considered a rare breed, from extinction.  At one point there were less than 300 of these goats in existence, so Þorvaldsdóttir gave up a career in Reykjavik to start the farm where she breeds them.  We got to visit with some of the goats to pet and hold the babies. The farm’s shop sells cheese made from goat milk and other products.  We relaxed with some coffee, tea, and crackers before heading back to Hvanneyri for dinner.

Here are some more photos from the day. Click on any photo to enlarge it.



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