Today In Iceland I Learned That Viking Helmets Didn’t Have Horns And That Hobbit Houses Were Real
So day 3 started with… more rain. Turns out the beautiful valley we roamed around in the last post wasn’t quite ready to give up on the rain after all. Rain which didn’t let up all day. Like a constant downpour from the minute we left our cabin, through 8+ hours in the car – our longest driving day of the entire trip.
But we had no choice but to keep moving forward. Our destination for this day was Vik, and before that we had several stops.
After it quickly became clear that the rain wasn’t going to release us all day, we called an audible and shifted to indoor activities. But we couldn’t miss two key outdoor Golden Circle stops even if they were outside.
Our first stop was Geysir – a boiling cauldron of water which also included an actual geyser eruption. In fact – amazingly – the word geyser comes from “Geysir” which was discovered centuries before Ole Faithful and other more well-known vertical water cannons. I’ve been to Ole Faithful and when were in Rotarua, Ariel and I also visited a place that looked very similar to Geysir, and also had an actual geyser. It was pretty cool being at the namesake of this natural phenomenon. To be fair, the eruption itself (which happens every 8-10 minutes or so) was ok. It doesn’t last very long – it’s more like the ground just belches up a bunch of water every so often. But if you a) have never seen a geyser or b) have been to a LOT of geysers and want to see the “OG” geyser, this place is great. It’s also very accessible, the parking lot is right off the road and it’s really easy to just walk around and see the various steam vents.
Just a note – the “Geysir” itself is sadly dormant. The current eruption is in a newer vent right next to it.
From Geysir we took a quick stop at the Gullfoss waterfalls, one of the prime attractions in the Golden Circle of Iceland. In fact, “Gullfoss” means “golden falls” in Icelandic.
But it wasn’t looking very golden when we were there and the rain was coming down harder now so we couldn’t afford to linger.
We proceeded through the driving rain to the main tomato farm of Iceland, Friðheimar, in the town of Hella. Yes, that’s right Iceland can grow its own tomatoes – in a greenhouse of course – and the farm also includes a full-fledged restaurant. This is a must stop – perfect for lunch, especially after trudging through 50-degree rain for 36 hours. They make a truly amazing tomato soup, and bake some tremendous bread to go with it. The soup and bread are basically all-you-can-eat, but Ariel and I also ordered a burrata/tomato salad as well as ravioli. Jacob had pizza. All made with tomatoes grown on-site. In fact you even sit amongst the tomato vines, which is pretty great. As someone who grows tomatoes myself, I was impressed with their operation, even if I wasn’t as blown away by the tomatoes themselves. But that’s only because I grow my own! If you’ve never had a freshly picked tomato, or soup/sauce made from raw tomatoes this will blow you away. Even if you’re a literal tomato farmer this is a must stop for the soup and bread!
Oh and they also had a ton of other tomato-related items on the menu, including a tomato beer (yes that’s right!) that I tried and was really quite good! Seriously if you’re anywhere near Hella, you need to stop here. Just one critical thing to remember (especially if it’s pouring rain) if you’re going here, there are two parking lots. Ignore the first one even though there is a sign that says “Restaurant” – keep going down the hill to see if you can get a spot right out front.
At this point, the rain was punishing and we had to try to do something indoors, especially after drying off and heating up with the soup. After a miserable refueling stop, where in addition to being pelted by wind/rain (for some reason 90% of the Icelandic gas stations I stopped at did not have roofs!) I managed to get some gasoline in my mouth when the last few drops in the hose got blown into my face by the wind, we went to “Hella Caves” to see some…
Yes that’s right folks, I don’t know if hobbits were real, but hobbit HOUSES definitely were! In real life they’re called “turf houses” but like, come on! That’s Hobbiton!
Our tour guide led us into several man-made (hobbit-made?) underground caves that were basically carved into hillsides. There are hundreds of these places in Iceland apparently, and they were actually the original inspiration for JRR Tolkien’s idea of hobbit holes.
Aside from the mind-blowing experience of actually going INSIDE a real-live hobbit hole, the experience was so interesting and informative. We learned that it was very likely that there were actually Celts in Iceland PRIOR to the Viking settlement. Apparently native Icelander DNA is 50/50 Celtic/Norse, but also there was a lot of other circumstantial evidence that this was the case. For example there were carvings in the turf houses that were of Celtic names. And it was clear these structures pre-dated the Viking settlement. So…
Also an amazing fact I learned on this trip – Vikings did NOT have horns on their helmets! Apparently everywhere they’re buried, with their helmets, armor, and swords, there are NEVER horns on the helmets. Our guide explained that the horn legend apparently came from a medieval French painter who depicted them wearing horns. But this wasn’t really based on anything other than descriptions from Celtic monks who also described Vikings as having tails. So basically devils – which makes sense considering what Vikings were known for… but not really historically accurate! So when you go to Iceland or Norway or whatever, don’t buy anything that depicts Vikings wearing horns… that’s just for tourists!
When we were done with our tour, it was time to move on. With a full tank of gas, and nothing but rain outside, it was time to just gun it towards our final destination for the evening. I say “gun it” but really it was more like “trudge it” through the merciless, relentless downpour.
Eventually we got to our cabin, where we would be staying for two nights. It was a real relief to just unload and know we could somewhat relax and not have to pack up and go the next morning. And on our way home from dinner the rain finally… finally – FINALLY!!! – stopped, and would not resume for the rest of our trip.
That evening, after dinner, we got to go to the famous Vik black sand Reynisfjara beach and wow, was this place really something.
Really you could imagine this was the entrance to Moria or some other underground dungeon (see the image at the top of this post for what I mean). Just be very careful of the waves which are absolutely enormous and EXTREMELY dangerous. Seriously, people have died here.
After spending some time at the beach, we were all exhausted, and even though it wasn’t raining anymore, it was still really windy and pretty cold, so that was that for the day.
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