Did you know that the famously stark landscape of Iceland was once mostly forested? I went for a drive on my first day here and my Pacific coast ecologist mind was puzzling over the lack of trees. Are the soils are too thin? The climate too harsh? In fact, it was the settlers in the 12th century. They razed the forests to pasture their animals, build and heat their homes. The rain then washed away about 40% of the topsoil, and, combined with the forces of earth, fire and water, I suppose a new tree-less equilibrium was set. I’ll have to read more about ecosystem restoration efforts and challenges. On the upside, I guess, the landscape makes for dramatic photos and backdrops for the likes of Game of Thrones.
Anyway, apart from the treelessness, my first impression of Reykjavik, driving into town in the pre-dawn darkness after a sleepless flight (admitedly a bit grumpy) was a faint rotten egg smell – sulphur from the hot springs – and the same old freeways, business parks, department stores, that seem to ring practically every city. Until getting into the heart of the old town with cute cobblestone streets and a much needed coffee that helped set the world straight. I went for a drive with the ostensible goal of finding a hot spring. The sun rose slowly in a hazy sky, reaching only about 20 degrees above the horizon. The subdued light and long shadows softened the sharp edges of bare rock mountain slopes looming over rolling heath and grasslands, dotted with sheep and small herds of Icelandic horses.
Eventually I found my way to a small spa called Krauma. Set amid farmland, with views of snow-dusted mountains, the outdoor pools overlook the natural spring, bubbling and churning out steam, that supplies the bathing pools.