Iceland 2014 – Day 2 – Golden Circle Tour

After an odd night of sleep in the hotel bed with an oddly soft pillow, it was an early start at 7am for hotel breakfast, which wasn’t really anything to write home about – the usual selection of hot and cold breakfast foods.

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The tour bus came to pick us up at 8am, a gigantic almost jeep like vehicle which should have been a reminder that we were going to venture back out into the endless fields of nothingness. The golden circle is apparently a pretty established tourist route in Iceland, to the point where it has its own wikipedia article. Our first stop was in Þingvellir national park,  a 40 minute walk or so above, through and around some cliffs, and then across a series of streams via bridge. It was an incredibly scenic route, with a particularly impressive overlook of the nearby lake and the mountains in the distance. Some of the pictures I took almost look fake because of the picturesque scenery in the distance.

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The final bridge overlooks a gorge part submerged in water, possibly due to the ridiculous clarity of the water, tourists now throw coins into it and it has become home to a glittering floor, the sunlight passing straight through the water and bouncing off the various currency at the bottom. Beautiful to see, and impossible to properly capture in a picture.

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After Þingvellir we moved on to Gulfoss Waterfall, which also apparently goes by the name ‘Golden waterfall’. The scale of this one was much more than I anticipated, I hadn’t done any research into the country prior and so I was expecting just a small single stream waterfall, what I got instead was a  behemoth some 20m wide with 3 actual falls to it. The water spray from the waterfall itself easily reached us even atop the cliff some distance away.

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After taking in the waterfall, and taking a fair few dozen photos of it, we headed to the nearby cafe, a lone building by the top of the waterfall. Here we had traditional icelandic lamb soup, a dish so popular that (according to my tour guide anyway) the icelandic government supposedly use it to estimate tourism figures for the country. it was very nice, and had an almost viking feel to it, maybe it’s just because of the recent episode of game of thrones, but I felt like brief step back in time as i plunged bread into the liquid stew of veg and lamb.

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Back on the bus again headed to the next stop, when suddenly the driver pulls over and our tour guide leads everyone out onto the side of the road. A pack of Icelandic horses literally runs towards us, completely unafraid. The horses line up side by side at the fence as our tour group pet them, this breed of horse look fluffier than the normal ones, and are smaller than regular breeds of horse, though not quite looking small enough to be a pony, they were very friendly though, or perhaps fearless is the word.

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Approximately 2pm as we arrive at ‘Haukadalur’, more commonly known as the Iceland geysers (pronounced Gay-zir apparently). The geyser site is littered with tons of smaller geothermal pools, each spewing out their own stack of steam. The main attraction is Strokkur, the actual active geyser – it explodes every 3-8 minutes or so, and waiting for it to erupt is both exciting and incredibly stressful, particularly if you are a photographer. The water in the pool begins to stir and bob, and then the steam will pick up slightly until eventually a giant bubble bursts forth from the pool, a flash of bluegreen light from beneath accompanying a loud boom as the geyser erupts into the sky, quickly followed by steam, lots and lots of steam, oh a smell of sulfur too.

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We spent a good hour walking around the geothermal valley, I personally spent probably 20 minutes trying to photograph the geyser erupting, a practice consisting of 5 minutes staring intently at a pool of water, followed by scratching your nose and missing your photo opportunity as the geyser erupts and laughs in your face.

Our coach took another unscheduled stop at waterfall Faxi, a small yet wide waterfall with some fantastic colour in the water, particularly where the falling water meets the river below. Of special note was the salmon ladder on the left, designed to let salmon more easily jump upstream. The only downside to this waterfall was the gigantic sheep pen upwind of the site, which gave the whole place a horrid livestock smell.

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We weren’t done yet of course, we also took short stops at Skálholt church, Kerið Volcanic crater (inactive volcano) and a geothermal power plant (though we didn’t enter this one properly due to time constraints).

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After this long and exhausting 8 hour tour of the countries sweet spots, we were dropped off at our hotel, where we were about ready to have dinner. We ended up eating at the hotel, as it had started raining outside and the 20 minute walk into downtown didn’t sound like the most fun idea in the world. Our hotel food was buffet style, and mostly consisted of fish, featuring about 4 or 5 different types of fish, No pictures of this one as it wasn’t particularly impressive to look at. Food was decent, though far from yesterdays amazing dinner. We retired for the night after eating. Gotta get some rest for tomorrow, even though tomorrow should be more relaxing than today as we are in the infamous blue lagoon.