Golden Circle

I left the pub after 11, a little before rúntur got started. I had wondered if Icelanders dress up for Halloween – either Reykjavik teens really top rave fashion, or the answer is “yes, on the closest weekend.” But I didn’t stay to find out more; I had a Golden Circle tour booked for 8 am pickup Saturday, and didn’t want to miss the bus. So I was in bed by midnight.

A slamming door woke me at 3 am. At 3:30, I got up and went to the kitchen for a drink of water. Then I tossed and turned for a long time. I thought to myself, I’ll just check the time, and if it’s after 4:30, I’ll get up. It was 5:15. So I got up, wrote up some notes, ate a big breakfast, and caught my bus promptly at 8 am.

I took a tour on Saturday.

The first stop was the geothermal town of Hveragerði, where geothermally-heated greenhouses make domestic bananas a possibility in Iceland. Unfortunately, we didn’t actually get to look in the greenhouses or talk to a horticulturist. We just stopped at a little mall that was meant to be an office tower; during construction they discovered an underground rift that limited the building height to one story. They built the floor of glass and put strings of lights in the rift for visiters to see. There was also a display about the disastrous 2008 earthquake that measured 5.0 on the Richter scale and harmed no one but did require dozens of outbuildings to be torn down. Posters with photos of townspeople described their frightening experiences during the earthquake. It was very cute, but I would have been more interested in bananas.

Next stop was a volcano cone that collapsed 6500 years ago. It was pretty, and I got some good pictures. But I couldn’t help feeling these stops were really just to break up the long drive to the real sights.

The Faxi waterfall was next. The tour guide described it as “not very big, but very pretty.” True. Also, so icy that we couldn’t walk down the path and had to take photos from the parking lot. I decided not to rent a car on Monday. A “ditched” pickup truck confirmed my decision shortly thereafter.

Ditched Truck

One of the real Golden Circle destinations is the geysir (pronounced geezer). The original geysir no longer spouts, but nearby Strokkur goes off every few minutes. Despite the giggle-worthy puns, it was really impressive to see boiling water bubbling up in snow covered fields, and Strokkur, ahem, really does perform.

Little Geysir hot pot

Strokkur Performs

After the fire, we visit the ice. Gulfoss is the most famous waterfall in Iceland, and it is truly stunning. Or at least, it would be if the path wasn’t a frozen sheet of ice and you could safely look up without falling to your death. I found myself looking for patches of gravel to walk on because the rocks offered more sure footing. Down closer to the waterfall, there was no more gravel, and people were literally pulling themselves along the barrier rope to keep from sliding back down the trail. It was hard not to think of Skarphedin sliding across the Markarflot in the big battle scene in Njal’s Saga; at least, when I wasn’t thinking about sliding to my death in the falls, that is.


Finally, we headed to Thingvellir; in my opinion, the main attraction. But I’m going to give that a separate post. So I’ll skip ahead to dinner at KEX hostel,which has a restaurant that specializes in local food. I had a delicious salted cod with caramelized onions, a side of root vegetables with fennel, a local pale ale, fresh bread with locally made butter. Lots of butter. For dessert, chocolate cake with fresh whipped cream and rum-soaked cherries, and coffee.

During dinner, I went online to order a book for the girls. I had read about an Icelandic children’s author who sounded interesting. But I couldn’t remember the name, and nothing came up on google. I asked the waitress if she knew who it was (I was hoping it would be like asking a Finn who wrote Moomintroll) but alas, she had no idea.

A few minutes later, she came by and said, “It’s not Thorgrim Thráinsson, is it? I just thought of him because he writes books for older children, and he’s sitting at the bar.” It wasn’t him, as his books are not yet translated into English (she asked) and he couldn’t identify the mystery author either. But it was pretty cool to have a published children’s author handy.

[For the record, I looked it up in my travel book later, and the author I was thinking of was Jon Sveinsson, who went by the nickname Nonni and he mostly wrote in German – which is probably why the Icelanders couldn’t think of him.]


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