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A friend and I spent a few days in Iceland in 2008: we hired a car and set off on the ‘Golden Circle’, a well-trodden tourist trail. First stop was Þingvellir (I returned and shot exactly the same scene in the midnight sun in June 2013)
Þingvellir is an extraordinary place even by Icelandic standards. Here you can see the river Öxará flowing over a cliff which marks the edge of the rift valley between the North American and Eurasian plates: you couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of continental drift if you tried. Apparently the valley gets wider by 2cm every year: I can empathise with this case of middle-aged spread.
Rather than facing the tribulations of a coach tour, we hired a car and drove through the increasing wild countryside before getting to the National Park, about 40km east of Reykjavik. I caught a glimpse of this waterfall as we arrived, and so we parked up to take a look. The car park was like a skating rink, and the path up the hillside to the cliffs was perilous, but the ensuing view of the falls was worth every gingerly-taken step there. Best of all, the place was deserted (Þingvellir is central to the Icelandic psyche and society, but a wet Sunday in November was obviously not the most popular time to visit) so we got to clamber about and take a load of photos of this extremely picturesque waterfall, before wandering under the brooding cliff face to view where the national assembly met for almost 1000 years. The clouds hung low and obscured the scale of the site somewhat, but there are few better ways to appreciate the raw beauty of this landscape than to see it swathed in snow and cloud.
Europe is generally agreed to be the birthplace of western culture, including such legendary innovations as the democratic nation-state, football and tomato sauce.The word Europe comes from the Greek goddess Europa, who was kidnapped by Zeus and plunked down on the island of Crete. Europa gradually changed from referring to mainland Greece until it extended finally to include Norway and Russia.Don't be confused that Europe is called a continent without looking like an island, the way the other continents do. It's okay. The Ural mountains have steadily been there to divide Europe from Asia for the last 250 million years. Russia technically inhabits "Eurasia".Europe is presently uniting into one political and economic zone with a common currency called the Euro. The European Union originated in 1993 and is now composed of 27 member states. Its headquarters is in Brussels, Belgium.Do not confuse the EU with the Council of Europe, which has 47 member states and dates to 1949. These two bodies share the same flag, national anthem, and mission of integrating Europe. The headquarters of the Council are located in Strasbourg, France, and it is most famous for its European Court of Human Rights. In spite of these two bodies, there is still no single Constitution or set of laws applying to all the countries of Europe. Debate rages over the role of the EU in regards to national sovereignty. As of January 2009, the Lisbon Treaty is the closest thing to a European Constitution, yet it has not been approved by all the EU states. Text by Steve Smith.