After my horseback excursion, I returned to the hotel to find that most of our fellow travelers had arrived during the day. Jim & I joined them at the welcome happy hour and dinner. We enjoyed meeting our expedition staff and fellow travelers. There was even a couple we knew from a previous trip to northern Russia. We clearly have a common interest in the Arctic! The next morning we packed, took our suitcases down to be picked up & taken to the ship, and loaded onto one of three buses for our "Golden Circle" tour.


Fissure

Our first stop was Þingvellir (Thingvellir). It is the site of the ancient Icelandic "parliament," which was the first representative government in Europe. It was called the Alþingi (Althing) and was inaugurated in the 10th century. It ruled until the 14th century when Iceland came under the control of Norway. After that time it served as the judiciary until 1798.

This rift valley was perfect for gathering the various clans to review the laws, settle disputes, make decisions, and generally hob-nob. There was ample space for people to congregate, fresh water from the nearby lake, grazing for livestock, and firewood.


Thingvillir

The nearby lake, Þingvallavatn, is the largest natural lake in Iceland.

The water channels shown here were formed due to subsidence of the land over the centuries. It is believed to be twelve feet lower than at the time of the first assembly in 930.


Church

It was at the Alþingi in 1000 that the Icelandic leaders decided to abandon the old Norse religion and convert to Christianity. Ironically the chieftain delegated to consider the matter and decide, was himself pagan.

The original church was built shortly after that decision with wood contributed by the King of Norway. The current church was constructed in 1859. The building adjacent to it was built in 1930 to celebrate the millennium of the Alþingi.


Fissure

The route we are taking to the location of the Þingvellir is down a fissure that has greatly enlarged since 2011. At that time there was a gravel pathway down into the valley, but it was soon destroyed. The current walkway is wooden and raised above what is now a much deeper canyon.

The flat rock face towering over the path on the left is the location of the Alþingi debates. The configuration of the rocks makes for wonderful acoustics. Our guide took the opportunity to recite a selection from the sagas to illustrate how easy it is to be heard.


Birch

On the way down we were introduced to the two native Icelandic trees. This is a willow. It never grows much bigger than this, which is about two feet tall. We would be walking through similar willow "forests" later in our visits to Greenland.


Willow

The other native tree is the birch. It is able to grow this large only in a protected place.

It's not just the cold that stunts the trees, it is also the fierce winds and the short growing season.


Waterfall

The pool associated with this waterfall was used in criminal justice cases. When someone was pronounced guilty of a crime and the crime was minor, a fine might be levied. A more serious offence resulted in the guilty party being exiled, either for a specified time or permanently. Capital punishment was rather rare, but beginning in the 13th century, it could be executed by drowning in this pond or elsewhere.

If an individual was exiled, he was given a specified amount of time to leave the island. If he exceeded his allotment, he became an outlaw and could be killed by any citizen if caught.

Erik the Red made his way to Iceland on account of a criminal sentence of exile from Norway. His son Leif Eriksson made his way to Greenland on account of a similar sentence.


Colors presentation

After visiting Þingvellir, I got another horsy fix at Fridheimar where we enjoyed an equestrian demonstration and lunch. Iceland is my kind of place. We were told that there are 300,000 inhabitants and 100,000 horses! The horses have been maintained in isolation for over 1000 years as have the local sheep and cattle. No livestock are allowed to be imported and any animals that leave the country may not return.

This color guard presented the Icelandic flag. The modern version of the flag is red, white & blue as shown here. An older version lacks the red cross. Both versions are accepted.

These horses are performing the tölt. It is a lateral gait with two feet on the ground at all times.


Canter

This horse is cantering. At this point of the stride there are two feet on the ground, but usually there is only one. There is also a point of suspension in the stride in which no feet are on the ground. This makes the canter a bounding gait. See how both the horse's mane and tail float as well at the rider's hair.

The gallop is simply a faster canter.


Smooth ride

This is the fast tölt, a gait that covers as much ground at the canter. In this picture you can clearly see how there is one foot on the ground. It is the lack of suspension that makes the gait so smooth.

The abundant mane is one of the distinctive and attractive characteristics of the Icelandic breed.


Beer

The demonstrators carried filled beer mugs as the horses showed off their gaits. This horse must not have been quite as smooth as the chestnut because a bit of the beer did get spilled.


Demonstrators

The demonstrators taking their final bow. As we migrated to the greenhouse for lunch the young girl on the left was standing atop her horse wishing everyone a good meal. The horse never moved a muscle.


Greenhouse

This family has more than its share of entrepreneur genes. In addition to the horse demonstration and dinners, they also have a huge tomato greenhouse. The vines grow up to nine feet on supporting wires and produce all year round. In the dark months lights keep the plants happy. I forget how many tons of fruit they sell.

Since the plants are in an enclosed space, they have imported bumblebees to pollinate them.

We were not surprised that the luncheon featured tomatoes in many different guises -- including tomato jam. Nothing was better than my Cherokee Purples, though!


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