1. Keflavík-Borgarnes

Keflavík to Borgarnes_travel notes 1

August 10th

Total distance covered: 260 km  | 161 miles



After a short night on the plane, we turned our clocks ahead 4 hours. Despite our lack of sleep, our anticipation and adrenalin was running high. We had barley slept, but we were ready for our first day’s adventure!

We picked up our 16-year old rental car from SAD Cars (by far the cheapest rental around), hoping that I had made the right decision to pinch pennies. SAD Cars wasn’t kidding when they said, “Our cars have experience, but are very well maintained.” In this case: experience = age.

We saw our first Icelandic lava field as we drove from the Keflavik Airport towards Reykjavik. My response: GREY. Not much vegetation. Incredible texture. Rugged. STARK. lots of ROCK, dark hardened lava with a grey lichen coating. This condition was unlike anything I have seen before. Steam clouds billowed from the southwest in the direction of the Svartsengi Power Plant and the Blue Lagoon. It all felt very otherworldly…


Geologically, historically, and culturally Þingvellir is a location of great national importance. Listed as a World Heritage Site, Þingvellir is physically stunning, geologically remarkable, and an important convergence place for Icelandic people. It is incredible to me that in the year 930 A.D., the first parliament (Alþingi) commenced at this very site – this site, where two tectonic plates (the North American & the Eurasian) are separating along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In choosing this location for the annual assembly, Iceland people, early on exhibited their strong ties to this unique ground. Stunning basalt walls tower above as you descend into the gap between these two plates. I found it impossible not to consider my own size in comparison to this enormous, growing landscape. From 930 A.D. to 1798 A.D., Icelandic people, including all of the all Chieftains, would journey a few days or a few weeks, for the annual two-week assembly. Here they would discuss issues of national politics and law. In the large panorama below, the flag indicates where the  Lögberg (Law Rock) was located. This natural rock platform was the focal point of the assembly. In 1930 A.D, Þingvellir became a National park. Today, important events are still held in this space. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in how Iceland continues to make National history at this National Park.

There is much more to discuss on this site – I will get back to this topic in the near future.


Nesjavellir Power Plant is located in the Hengill volcanic area (a high temperature region), adjacent to þinvallavatn (Iceland’s largest natural lake). While no tour or information was provided at the plant, I poked around as much as I felt comfortable. I saw two men diligently going about their work, both completely focused on the task at hand. I felt neither welcomed nor discouraged.

Transmission lines and huge pipes were transporting energy from this station. Nesjavellir is a combination heat and power plant (CHP). This means it produces both electricity and hot water.The pipes themselves were stunning: shiny metallic lines standing out on the tree-less horizon. This station formally commencing operation in 1990. There are 26 bore holes, not all of which are in use. Something I find particularly fascinating is the depth at which these holes are drilled: between 3,280 ft to 7,218 ft (whoa!).

A great resource is the Nesjavellier Power Plant brochure:  http://www.or.is/media/PDF/Nesjavellir_Enska.pdf


After our visit to the plant we headed for Borjarnes, where we were due to spend the night. Along the way, we discovered a waterfall, called ðrufuss. Next to the waterfall, we were pleasantly surprised to find blueberries and another blacker berry. Could this be edible? At Fossarrett, another small waterfall, we came across remnants of old stone walls. These old walls served as a reminder of times past and currently provid a starting point for numerous hikes.  In addition to the walls we also observed large metal pipelines running alongside the major roadway (Route 1 / The Ring Rd.).

After a meal at the Heritage Center of wolf fish (a delicate tasting whitefish), we were more than ready for sleep.


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Thvottalaugar (Washing pools): a historical “hot spot” of Reykjavik

 (source: Torfbæjum inn i Taækniöld, Annð Bindi)

Even before Iceland’s geothermal waters were harnessed to produce energy, geothermal water was recognized for its important contribution to a community. Iceland’s Ancient records indicate that geothermal springs were used for washing and bathing. Cleanliness was considered an important factor in Nordic life. Carrying baskets of laundry was not a light task. If the distance to hot water was far from the homestead it was a great burden. Women gathered at nearby hot springs or hot streams to use the already heated water for washing. Laundering was hard, steamy, work, but it also served as time for ladies to socialize.

Norse poetic literature emphasized the importance of grooming and cleanliness. This example is from Reginsmal (The Ballad of Regin):

“Combed and washed | shall the wise man go, And a meal at mom shall take;

For unknown it is | where at eve he may be; It is ill thy luck to lose.”

(source: Torfbæjum inn i Taækniöld, Annð Bindi)

In towns with larger populations, laundering was an even larger communal event for the ladies and their children. Because there were many homesteads in these areas, washing often required walking a further distance.Thvottalaugar (washing pools) was a busy locale set to the east in Reykjavik. The road which led from the heart of the city to Thvottalaugar was named Laugavegur (washing road). This road was well worn by women carrying baskets and workers carting loads of wash.

Contemporary Laugavegur is the “major shopping” road of downtown Reykjavik. Traveling east along this road, travelers will find Laugardalur Park where Thvottalaugar remains today (although dry). Along with the gorgeous old infrastructure a structure and signage exist to describe the history of this site.

Thvottalaugar in its Laugardalur Park environs (photographs in October 2011)One of the first trial wells for geothermal water was sunk at Thvottalaugar between 1755, and 1756 by Eggert Olafsson and Bjarni Palsson. Between 1928 and 1930, more wells were sunk in the Thvottalaugar vicinity in pursuit of hot water for space heating. In 1930 enough geothermal water was recovered from these wells to heat Austurbackjarskili, a school in Reykjavik. The school was the first building in the city to be heated by geothermal water. Shortly after the school, the hospital, public pool and approximately 60 residential houses were connected to and utilized hot water from the geothermal pipeline originating at Thvottalaugar.

Vatnavinir Friends of Water recognize the importance of Thvottalaugar and have created a very interesting proposal for the area.


“The washing springs in Laugardalur lie at the centre of the history and development of the City of Reykjavík. Here, maids washed heavy loads of clothes, people and animals bathed, boys and girls learnt their first swimming strokes, experiements were made with cheesemaking and drilling for hot water for heating and electricity.

But steam no longer soars towards the skies and there is little to remind of old times other than stone walls by the dried up stream and grass covered washing tubs now long disconnected.

Vatnavinir propose the creation of a Geothermal Centre to honour the important history of water use in a vibrant way, e.g. by bringing to life the spirit of the old springs – the white linen blowing in the wind, the outlines of people in the steam, the smell of hot water and coffee.

Hot water may again be supplied to the springs and the stream (Laugalækur), now contained within an underground pipe, allowed to flow again along a part of its old channel linking the Botanical Garden and the old washing springs.

   (source: Vatnavinir)

The baths themselves are an education centre around hot water in a historical and geological context and are underground. Guests relax in hot pools while they learn about utilisation and origin of the hot water and geothermal heat through multimedia. In the evenings silence reigns – all screens are turned off and the bath house only used for bathing – but there could be occasional events in the evenings – story and poetry evenings, film screenings, concerts or even naming of children.

A public laundromat is also to be found here where guests and passers-by can wash their clothes. The laundromat is a historical museum on washing utensils and appliances but open to public use. Guests could choose between washing clothes on a washboard in a tub or in a washing machine from 1950. Simple refreshments, reminescent of the food washing women and travellers ate in times past, will be on sale – hot spring coffee and baked bread, fish, potatoes and meat. Paddling pools for children are in old washing tubs. The largest pool is open to the sky but beneath the present surface and white linen blows in the wind on lines above it creating a play of light and shadow in the pool.

   (source: Vatnavinir)

It is also proposed that a small steam power station be erected, which would supply the area with electricity. Thus the project – once upon a time began but never finished – would be brought full circle to its conclusion and the area thereby also made self-sustainable in terms of electricity.” (source: Vatnavinir)

Daylighting the stream and allowing geothermal heat/energy to stimulate this area, as it did in the past, is an extremely exciting prospect. I also see another important aspect to this historical rejuvenation as linking this steamy location back to Laugavegur, the main shopping street. Not only is this path a historical reference, but it would draw people from the center of the city to this lesser known area. I believe Thvottalaugar has huge potential!

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