Wednesday, 23 October  2019 – Day 4 of Tour   –  Golden Circle, Geothermal Taste and Icelandic Horses.

Happy Birthday to Me!!!!  After breakfast, we left the Hotel Hamer and it was onto our faithful coach and through the tunnel. Our first stop today was another Icelandic Wool outlet and then we continued on inland to the PINGVELLIR (Icelandic anglicised as Thingvellir) NATIONAL PARK. We went to the viewing platform and had a magnificent view down the valley.

Pingvellir is the site of the first annual parliament of Iceland from 930AD to 1798AD, and then the parliament moved indoors to the Althing in Reykjavik. Þingvellir is now a national park in the municipality of Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, about 40 km northeast of Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. The park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates  There is a widening fissure in the ground where the planet is literally opening up. To its south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930, marking the 1000th anniversary of the Althing. The park was later expanded to protect the diverse and natural phenomena in the surrounding area, and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004.

We then travelled onto Geysir and the geothermal fields and see the steam rising. The original geyser is now dormant and has been replaced by Strokkur – “the Churn” which is a fountain-type geyser located in a geothermal area beside the Hvítá River in Iceland in the southwest part of the country, east of Reykjavík. It typically erupts every 6–10 minutes. Its usual height is 15–20 metres, although it can sometimes erupt up to 40 metres high.  The chef of the Restaurant Geysir invited us to taste freshly baked hot spring bread served with Icelandic butter, boiled eggs and herring and served with a small glass of Geysir Schnappes. 

We now travelled south towards REYKHOLT to visit the Fridheimar Horses and Tomato Farm Complexes.  Nestled away off the beaten tracks of Selfoss, a family orientated, tomato greenhouse and horse complex thrive.

Horticulture using natural hot water had commenced at Friðheimar in 1946 and in 1995 Knútur and Helena bought Friðheimar, with the aim of combining their horses and horticulture knowledge. From 1995-2001 they successfully built a 1,174 m² greenhouse while also continuing to run the farm as before. From 2002-2006 they started growing tomatoes all year round, installed lighting, and built a new 1,000 m² greenhouse.

Friðheimar isn’t just famous for growing tomatoes. Horse shows and horse breeding are another key venture for the farm, with the aim to breed willing, good-looking horses with good neck and shoulders and a good disposition. Seven horses have been shown at breeding evaluations, and three received first prize. During the summer months, Friðheimar holds its own horse show: ‘A Meeting with the Icelandic Horse’. The show provides an insight into the history of the horse breed, brought to Iceland by the first Scandinavian settlers from around 900 AD.

We visited the Horse stables first and our hostess informed us about the Icelandic Horses. We were allowed to pat and talk to the horses there.

Horses in the stables

The Icelandic horse has been a trusted companion for Icelanders throughout history. Its origins can be traced back to the Vikings, who arrived in Iceland more than a thousand years ago, bringing their small Nordic horses with them. Due to isolation and strict rules, the breed has remained pure and has maintained its unique characteristics. Despite its small size, the Icelandic horse is well known for being strong and hardy, with great stamina and speed. It is surefooted enough to handle the rough Icelandic terrain and is renowned for its five gaits and the unique “tolt” a four beat gait with light flowing movement, which is easy and comfortable to ride. The other gaits are walk, trot, gallop and flying pace. The Icelandic horse has a wide colour palette, varying from black to palomino, to silver dappled and a range of colours in between. It is intelligent, faithful and a friendly companion that is able to carry riders across grassy plains, up and down rocky slopes, through rivers and over fields of rough lava. After being in the stables, our hostess then saddled up on her horse and went through the different gaits of the horse. It was very interesting when she filled up a glass with beer and then raced around, not spilling a drop.

It was farewell to more horses out in the yard and had a short walk to the adjoining Fridheimar Tomato Farm

While the weather outside may be bitter cold, wet, windy or snowing, inside Friðheimar tomatoes grow all year round, under artificial lights replicating Mediterranean conditions. The farm has abundant supplies of geothermal water, which provides heat to the greenhouses. The borehole is 200 m from the greenhouses and the water flows into them at about 95°C / 203°F. The greenhouse makes use of modern technology and green energy, each greenhouse is equipped with a climate-control computer system for temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and lighting. The horticultural facilities total about 5,000m² under glass, of which about 4,200m² are used for cultivation.  Friðheimar has about 10,000 plants in its greenhouses, needing trimming and picking weekly.  Tomato plants are pollinated by the famous Friðheimar bumble bees that live and work within the greenhouse! 

Some of the 10,000 tomato plants

After hearing about the growing of the tomatoes in the fabulous greenhouse, we were invited to go into the restaurant.

With an annual harvest of 370 tons and a daily crop yield of over a ton, Friðheimar defies the odds of the Icelandic winters and invites customers in for a hearty bowl of tomato soup, tomato beer, or if you’re feeling it, tomato ice cream! They certainly have been very innovative in how to use tomatoes.  Before sitting down in the restaurant, Susan and I had some taste samples of tomato salsa and tomato jam. We finally got to the restaurant and I ordered a nice Bloody Mary.

Tomatoes are the key ingredient in every dish and the backbone to the attraction. 

The Fridheimars are to be congratulated on the success of both their businesses.  I enjoyed this visit very much and what I also enjoyed was where the bus parked!!  We did not have to be blown from the bus to the venue and this would have been the most calmest of days – no horrendous winds! After a very relaxing time at the Fridheimars we boarded our coach and headed for our accommodation in Hverageroi about 15 kms away.  For some reason, our group was required to be divided into 2 different hotels – 17 were staying at the Hotel Eldhester and the remaining 14 of us were booked into the very upmarket Hotel Ork – extensions were added on in May 2018 so I was fortunate to be in this luxurious room.

I think Erik worked it out so Susan (birthday yesterday), Bob and Lila  (Bob’s birthday today) and mine were in the same hotel. Was it our birthday present?  In the evening, Susan, Jennifer and Dianne, Jayne and Rodney joined me in the top class Hver Restaurant to help me celebrate my birthday dinner.  I ordered the Salmon Salat – delicious – and a Tia Maria.   

Di, Susan, Jenny, Rod, me and Jenny

I will remember this birthday as it was a very interesting and informative day and topped off by a lovely evening.  Thankyou to the above people who helped me enjoy my birthday. As it had been quite a long day, we all said goodnight and headed to our rooms. It was good to go to bed earlier than our other nights up to now.                Travelled 240 kms approximately

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