Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
The otherworldly volcanic landscape of Iceland

Click on title to view photo in large format: With razor-sharp, tortured lava formations everywhere, the volcanic landscape of Iceland felt otherworldly to me. Iceland has the dubious honor of having more active volcanoes and volcanic activity than anywhere else on the planet. The mid-Atlantic ridge rises from the ocean floor to split the island in two. The eastern half of the country lies atop the Eurasian tectonic plate, while the western portion rides on the American plate. Deep beneath the mantle, a volcanic hot spot lies between the two plates, which are spreading apart at a rate of approximately two centimeters (about .8 inch) per year. Volcanic lava wells up from below, continually creating new landmass as the island expands.

I was struck by how Icelanders live in a landscape that, to most of us, would seem uninhabitable. For miles, nothing but black lava, white ice, and blue skies are visible. Then, suddenly, a small village would appear, with houses built on whatever small patch of flat black rock was available. Often, these structures were completely surrounded and dwarfed by lava formations as high as the roofs. Remarkably, in the desolate, barren volcanic landscape of Iceland, where the only thing that grows are moss and lichen, Icelanders have figured out a way not only to exist, but to thrive.

Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik, Iceland

Click on title to view photo in large format: Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik is the sixth tallest and most impressive man-made structure in Iceland. The 244-foot tall tower took more than 40 years to complete and the design reflects the geologic formations that result when basalt lava cools slowly. Since it is visible from almost anywhere within the capital city, I used it as a landmark. My rental apartment was just down the street from the church, thus I could always find my way home without Read More

Reykjavik City Hall juts out into The Pond

Click on title to view photo in large format: I wandered into the Reykjavik City Hall almost by mistake. I’d been walking along the shore of the Tjornin, a shallow body of water that everyone calls “The Pond,” when I came to a long bridge. On the other side sat a building that was the epitome of architectural minimalism, if not downright Brutalism. Curious, I stepped inside and discovered I was in the Reykjavik City Hall. Despite being the seat of government, there were no guards in sight, no checkpoints, no Read More

I stood under a hot shower until I finally stopped shivering from battling Iceland’s frigid winds all day. Normally, I would have felt guilty about wasting so much water, but during my Golden Circle Tour with Sterna Travel, I learned that long hot showers in Iceland are guilt-free.

The Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station produces 95% of the electricity and hot water for the capital city of Reykjavik, using a completely renewable source of energy. The plant sits atop a tectonic hot spot, beneath which lies reservoirs of molten magma that are super-heated by underlying volcanoes. This liquid, composed of water, gasses, and dissolved minerals, is tapped by wells that range from 2-3 kilometers (1.2-1.8 miles) deep. At the surface, the molten liquid is turned into steam, which powers turbines and creates electricity.

Highlight of my Golden Circle Tour in Iceland was a visit to the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station, where a guide explained how their renewable energy technology works

Highlight of my Golden Circle Tour in Iceland was a visit to the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Station, where a guide explained how their renewable energy technology works

On another side of the plant, heat from the molten liquid is transferred to cold water that is pumped from shallower wells. The resultant hot water is piped into every home in Reykjavik, providing an endless renewable source of hot-water and heating. Hot water is even piped beneath the city’s streets, keeping them snow and ice-free during the long winters. At the other end of the closed-loop system, recaptured water is pumped back into the ground to guard against depletion of the aquifers and ground subsidence. Read More

View over harbor and city of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja Church

Click on title to view photo in large format: While visiting Iceland, I saw a spectacular photo of Reykjavik, shot from a high position. I knew I had to figure out how to take a similar photo. Fortunately, the solution was just a block away from my rental apartment. On a clear, sunny day, I was able to capture this view of Reykjavik from Hallgrimskirkja Church spire, the tallest building in the capital city. One of the surprising things about Iceland Read More

Strokkur Geyser at Geysir Hot Springs in Iceland

Click on title to view photo in large format: Strokkur Geyser at Geysir Hot Springs in Iceland is the most active geyser in the park, erupting every few minutes. Occasionally it reaches heights of 120 feet, but on average the height of the spout ranges from 30-60 feet. It was bitterly cold on the day I visited, with high winds ragind down from the north, where a North Atlantic storm was raging. Without mittens, I could only stay out long enough to capture one shot of it erupting. For 15 minutes I watched the bluish water being sucked in and out of the mouth of the geyser as it bubbled and rumbled. I wasn’t prepared for the eruption, which came with a giant roar, throwing the boiling hot water into the air in a cascade that sent me running for safety. I counted myself lucky for having the presence of mind to snap this sole photo, then fled for the warmth of the visitor center.