Golden Circle - Sunday - 2/26/12

Sunday morning we got up early and stopped at  a small yummy bakery before getting on the road to the "Golden Circle." The Golden Circle is one of the most popular routes in Iceland. It encompasses the major attractions in the southwest corner of the country and loops you back to Reykjavik. It is around 300km or so they say. They also say it takes between 10 and 15 hours to do it, so a full day. I am not really sure where this estimate comes from, maybe if you do it with a tour in the summer because of traffic, but we did it in a nice solid 8 and 1/2. I guess just depends how long you spend each place. I do think the season had a lot to do with it though. Because of the wild weather, our walks did not turn into full blown hikes. The weather on Sunday can only be described as freakishly crazy yet awesome to watch.

Our first stop was Pingvellir, which the P is not really a P its a P with a top tail in Icelandic. It translates to Thingvellir. It is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is beautiful land surrounded by mountains and Thingvellirvatn, a gigantic lake. It was home to a sort of town-ish place called Althing. It was an open air assembly area when Iceland's first settlers made their settlement and settle disputes. There is a gigantic natural rock wall that lines the area. I mean a huge expansive wall running the whole length of the area. It was impressive and i'm not going to lie kind of reminded me of "the wall" in Game of Thrones.
A waterfall was running over a few spots in the wall and then another in a lower section of the area.

It started to rain while we were there and then the sun came out five minutes later to reveal more of the stunning lake and its surrounding mountains. We walked down the the old church that still stands there and then down the road back to the car. Along the way we saw a number of little water inlet areas surrounded by what can only be described as mars rocks with green  moss on them. It was truly unique. This phenomena would show up in a other place along the way and then out to the blue lagoon on Monday. You  just feel like you are on another planet when surrounded by that stuff. It is so interesting.

While in this area, we realize that we have missed a view point from atop the wall. It was so foggy and rainy on the way in that we had completely missed it. It turns out that this was also where the visitor center we were told to stop at was. So we went  back up the road for five minutes to find it. It was quite visible since the fog had lifted. Inside the visitor center there is a brass plate on the floor that shows you how far Iceland has drifted away from North America in the last 1,000 years. By eye it looks to be about 15 feet. I guess it doesn't sound like much, but when you think about it to have a whole country drifting is pretty fascinating.
The view from outside on the platform is expansive. You can see a large portion of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The sun came out and started shinning rays in certain areas making for some great pictures. I love rays shooting through the clouds like it is trying to bless the land it falls on. This type of awesomeness happened throughout the day and there are so so many pictures of it. Usually you can walk up from the bottom of the wall up to this center but the road was closed. I thought it was because of the snow and ice, but we were told by the visitor center that in fact a new fault had opened up. She said it so  nonchalantly like it was no big deal and happened all the time, haha.

The next stop for us was about 40km away, Geysir. On the way is Laugarvatn, another lake, where a lot of people stop to do the hot springs thing and hang out. We decided not to and drove on straight to Geysir. This route is pretty easy to drive, there are not that many roads to get messed up with. It is basically straight and is very well signed. Since our map left a lot to be desired, this was a good thing for us.

Geysir is a now dormant geyser. The story goes that during an earthquake Geysir closed up and the smaller Strokkur opened up just down the hill from it. Geysir is said to be much bigger and the eruptions used the be bigger, but Strokkur looked pretty big to me. Strokkur goes off every 5-10 minutes, so while we were there, we were able to see it three or four times. On the way up the hill steam is being let out of a lot of holes in the earth and creates a nice scenic mist over the whole area. There are a few mini bubbling geysers, I am sure they have a different name, but it basically looks like water boiling in a pot except it is in a hole in the ground.

Geysir, now that it is dormant looks like a  natural pool in the ground. It is gently moves with the wind. You can tell just by looking at it though that it must have been pretty powerful. Just up the hill from Strokkur is one with a huge hole inside a hole. You can look inside the steaming water and see a deep blue hole leading down in the earth. I have never seen anything like it. The colors that exist in this area alone make it worth the trip. Sometimes you can't believe those colors actually exist naturally.

From Geysir we were off to Gullfoss (Golden Falls), one of the most famous places in Iceland. It is a massive and I mean massive waterfall. It was the biggest one we saw while in Iceland, all others pale in comparison. The thundering falls can be heard as soon as you step out of your car. You can hear them but you can't see them. It was cloudy but nothing too serious when we stepped out of the car. You walk down a little boardwalk to the edge and then there is a split. There are stairs down to a lower area, which also has a parking lot, and then there is an upper boardwalk to your left with a view from above. Both very appealing. By the time we got to this split, less than a five minute walk, it had started to drizzle. We decided to do the upper part first. By the time we walked the one minute to the edge to the left it had started to rain. I was looking at the falls and taking pictures and then it started to pour and the wind started. Then it go so bad that I had to put my camera in my jacket and start walking back. When we got to the split my Dad went to head for the stairs down and I flagged him down and waved him off towards the lodge/gift shop/food place. As we were walking being pelted by rain we realized it had in fact turned into hail. For the rest of the walk up I had my hood pulled down over my face so the hail would stop hitting me in the face. We finally made it into the building, soaked to the bone. We sat down and got some food to warm us up. I took off my jacket and looked down to see and feel that my pants were completely drenched up to mid thigh. My feet and torso were dry thanks to my awesome water proof boots and my new rain jacket. (Both are going to get awesome online reviews sometime this week. ) We sat looking out the window at the rest of the drenched souls walking up the boardwalk. While we ate, the hail turned into snow, back into rain and then stopped altogether and the sun started moving across the plain. The sun came out just as our meal was finished and we all looked at each other and said lets go, hoping we could get the bottom viewing point in while the sun was out. We got in the car and drove down, just in case there was another storm and we had to get in quick. The view from the bottom area was just as good if not better than the upper. You could really get the full expanse of it and the cliffs all around. There were a number of people around marveling at it and a few professional looking photographers too. I can only guess they were professional based on their gear. I had lens envy. They were set up like they were staying for the day. 

Still soaking wet, we got back in the car as it started to drizzle again. We plotted the rest of our route. Skaholt was next on our list and took all of five minutes. It was a super quick stop. It was a church and a nice view. The church did have lovely stained glass and a nice mosaic Jesus behind the alter. Skaholt used to be one of the religious centers of the area and they had some famous bishops I believe. After that we took the beautiful drive to Sellfoss, stopping often for me to take pictures of the sun rays coming through the clouds and the general beauty of the area. We realized when we entered Sellfoss that we had been there the day before, so it was another quick stop and then we headed back to Reykjavik. It was a lovely drive back filled with stunning scenery and rain, sun and clouds. The best part is that the sun always looks like its setting even though it is in the same place all day, so it makes for great light for pictures.

We got back, had some food and planned our last day in Iceland. We were all sad about it. We later learned that we missed the crater on this journey mostly because I couldn't find it on our horrible map. Two women were also on the same schedule and traveling route as us, they were on our tour and then we saw them at every stop on the Golden Circle. One of them was even in my row on the way back to Boston. It was hilarious and became a running joke. It was like we were the only ones touring Iceland that weekend, which of course we weren't because there were tons, but we just kept seeing them. Pretty funny.