Highlights of the Golden Circle in Iceland

Iceland 001  We arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland on Tuesday, July 9th. I had debated with myself whether we should rent a car or travel with one of the many travel excursion buses. There were pros and cons with both choices, but I realized that it would be 1) cheaper, 2) more convenient, and 3) enable greater freedom and flexibility if we rented a car. There are a few times in my life where I feel acutely about not being able to drive a stick shift and this was one of those times. Automatics are rarer and more costly in Europe. Anyway getting the car was quite easy. Someone met us with a sign from Sixt, drove us over (literally next door to the airport, not even five minutes away), and some minutes away I drove away guided by GPS. Throughout the whole trip I was grateful that I had GPS because I found map reading difficult in Iceland. I travel a lot and do many road trips. I feel that I’m quite facile with maps, but Icelandic maps stumped me. One of the difficulties of driving in Iceland is that the highways guide you by directing which way you need to go to the next town. It’s fine if you know the lay of the land and all the towns in between you and the town you want to go to. It’s less fine if you have no idea which town is on the way to your final destination.

Iceland 012On our first day I planned for us to do the highlights of the Golden Circle – Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. I was a bit worried about jetlag and fatigue with all the driving I had to do, but it turned out to be not a problem because I was so excited to be in Iceland at long last.

Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park. The drive was about an hour from Reykjavik. This area played an important role in the settlement of Iceland, as well as being an incredible geological site. In my photo, you can see the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates. Thingvellir is a World Heritage UNESCO site. We went on a leisurely walk through the main footpath in Thingvellir. Its breathtaking views were the perfect start to our trip.

Our next stop was Geysir, which is about 20 minutes away from Thingvellir. Geysers got its name from Geysir, which was the first one to ever be described to modern Europeans. The Great Geysir doesn’t erupt frequently, but Strokkur erupts about every ten minutes and puts on a spectacular show.

Iceland 039I noticed that there were a crowd of people on one side of Strokkur, but few on the other side. I discovered that the side with the crowd had a better view of the gurgling hot water. Although Strokkur erupts about every ten minutes, there is some variation. By carefully observing the water, you can predict when in the next couple of minutes it will erupt. And if it has a particularly big eruption, you’ll be showered in warm water.

Iceland 029If you walk around, you can see pools of exceedingly hot water. I liked this sign telling people that these hot pools of water are not wishing wells and you shouldn’t throw money in them.

The last stop of our day was Gullfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall, which is only 10 minutes away from Geysir. Gullfoss means “gold waterfall” in Icelandic. It got its name from its golden color given by the sediments in the water. Gullfoss still exists thanks to the heroic work of Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson (who was the original owner of Gullfoss). Tómasson had no interest in selling Gullfoss, but was forced to do it by the government. Investors wanted to build a hydroelectric powerplant, but Sigríður Tómasdóttir protested and fought against the building of the powerplant. Thanks to her dedication, everyone can still admire the beauty of Gullfoss.

Iceland 043As I walked along the trail and stood as close as we were allowed, I could feel the power and energy released by the falls. On one section of the trail, the spray from the waterfall came right back up higher than the falls and then rain over our heads. Unless you stand only at the farthest viewpoint, there’s no way to avoid getting wet here. I didn’t mind the spray. It was a bit like getting blessed by Iceland and Gullfoss. My mother and I oohed and ahhed over its majestic nature. Our emotions were swept away by the falls itself. My mom said, “This is what I thought Niagara Falls would be like.” My mom had heard so much about Niagara and she was eagerly anticipating seeing it some years ago. She found the experience rather disappointing.* The sheer size and raging nature of Gullfoss makes you stand in awe of it. No wonder Sigríður fought so hard to protect and preserve Gullfoss. I’m eternally grateful to her.

Our first day in Iceland was a fantastic day, even though I thought I lost my IPhone. When we arrived at the little apartment that we rented for our stay in Iceland (found the place through Airbnb), I couldn’t find my phone anywhere. I was a bit distraught because of all the lost photos and little video clips that I had that I hadn’t downloaded to my computer. So I learned a lesson to download and make back ups more frequently.

*This reminds me of an old joke that Niagara Falls is the second biggest disappointment one a bride’s wedding night.

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