Friday Postcards from Thingvellir (Þingvellir) in Iceland
It was shaping up to be quite a day. We’d seen the majestic Gullfoss waterfall. Dek and I had both experienced our very first geysir. Our Golden Circle Tour was proving to be worth every penny, even if it was a long day for the boys.
But wait. Now they wanted to bring us to the old parliament. All I could think was: “Oh great. Some old building that we will have to drag the boys through and all I want to do is look at the pretty scenery I’ve been seeing out of the bus window.”
I was in for a pleasant surprise.
We were not headed toward some stodgy parliament building with four walls and a roof. Oh no, we were going into a national park to the original seat of parliament set up in 930 A.D. Yes my friends, that is over a thousand years ago!
Thingvellir (written out as Þingvellir in Icelandic) was where Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, was originally set up. The island’s chieftains gathered every year for two weeks to settle disputes, decide on laws, and as our tour guide told it, more than a few marriages were arranged there as well. The Althing gathering occurred here until 1798. Thingvellir National Park was set up around 1930 to protect this historic site where so much of Iceland’s history occurred.
I was lucky enough to see where the old booths made of turf and stone had been set up for members to sit, argue and debate the latest happenings in their land. Thingvellir is set on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, giving the assembly quite a nice view while they discussed politics. This is where I got the photographs I had been waiting for all day. The frozen lake was a sheet of white with black mountains poking up behind. It was a place where at least one movie (Faust) was filmed, but many more should be headed that way.
Not only does Thingvellir have historical significance, it also has geological importance. This is the sight of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. In other words, this is where the North American and Eurasian plates come together, or not, as you can see from the cracks and faults that are across the island. Even through the snow you could see great fissures and stones jutting out from the ground as if the earth can’t decide if it is coming or going.
As the boys slept on the bus with Mike, I hiked to the Althing to see the old seat of parliament, something I had scoffed at earlier in the day because I didn’t realize what it was we were about to see (just goes to show you should always do your research before a trip!). Even with our tour group from the bus plodding along it was eerily quiet in this snow-filled landscape that had been trod upon for centuries by the Icelandic people. Snow began to fall and I finally took a moment to really look around. I put my camera down (you know it must be serious than), and took a long deep breath.
Nothing could prepare me for the beauty I was seeing. Nothing in my travels could have ever prepared me for this stark, yet stunning terrain. Right then and there I made a promise to myself. We would come back here one day. When the boys are a few years older we will rent a car and explore more of this country than we could in four days with jet lag and nap times to worry about. We would see the glaciers, pet some hairy horses and avoid the can tours. This was my promise to my boys and myself. Iceland is worth savoring, and I mean to do it with these tips in mind.
Read more in our Reykjavik Destination Guide