This Island wants to kill you
In a place where the sun never sets, the water is boiling, and the ground is a rocky mess, I understand why the first inhabitants believed in elves and trolls. I mean, it’s gorgeous here, but it takes a very strong, independent spirit to figure out how to survive it. Before Christianity, why not explain the northern lights as elves painting the sky? If I had the choice to tell my child that the ground might burn their skin off, or share a story about trolls… I might choose the trolls.
Either way, not a lot of people live here. The entire Island is about the population of Washtenaw County (300,000), with most people living near the capital city. Almost everyone in the city speaks English and drives cars, so it’s easy to understand why so many Americans visit here – and there’s over 1.7 million tourists per year!
We drove something called the Golden Circle tour, which is 6 stops in about 400 Kilometers round- trip. Took us all day, but we felt like astronauts or geologists by the time we got home!
Seltun Geothermal Area: The ground is literally boiling sulfur.
Karid Volcano Crater: This was somehow created by an explosion under the earth. Today, it’s just very full of bugs and ‘fresh’ water.
Gulfoss Waterfall: This is really beautiful, and the spray creates a lot of green grass.
Geysir: The one from which all other ‘geysers’ are named – really! This one is very irregular, spraying 20-40 meters about every 8-10 minutes. Nearby are boiling puddles.
As we drove around, we passed a lot of fields where sheep were grazing, and a lot of rocky areas that looked like the moon. Apparently, the early settlers liked the stability of the weather here – only about 30 degrees in winter and 60 degrees in summer. Just right for some vikings.
Christianity came to Iceland in 1000AD – just 130 years after the first Viking settlers & Gaelic slaves arrived. The cheiftans peacefully decided to all get baptized together in this warm lake, in order to maintain peace with King Olaf of Norway.
The adoption of Christianity had a great side effect – it brought written language to Iceland. The Protestant Reformation had a similar side effect – it kept the Icelandic language alive, during a time when they were a colony of Denmark. (The Catholics required literacy, and the Lutherans required worship in local languages.)
The Icelanders also had a Parliament from 930AD until 1798, which met for two weeks every June. They had chieftans from all over the Island come to visit, and commoners could watch all of the proceedings.
The location of the former Parliament is called Pingvellir, and now it’s a national park. The area is on the banks of the largest inland freshwater lake, and it was accessible from all areas of the Island (although, it took 17 days of walking for the chieftan from the east to get there.)
Visiting a country with such a long Christian history was really interesting – especially because the Christianization of the country hasn’t really impacted much of the history or modern lives of Icelanders. At least, not like Ireland or Poland or Italy – where being Catholic is synonymous with being patriotic. Maybe Lutherans are a little more relaxed in their expression of faith. Or maybe their history of Christianity highlights peace and democracy in a way that other countries haven’t experienced. Either way, it’s a great way to kick off a European vacation!