Ugh… another grey and wet, wait… what? It’s sunny! Day 5 had absolutely gorgeous weather, and it couldn’t have been a better choice of day for the sky to be so blue. Shopping in a mundane commercial road doesn’t need sun, however preferable. Our plans for today needed it though, and we couldn’t have hoped for better.
The Golden Circle is the popular (read ‘shamelessly commercial’) name of an extremely popular route for tourists to take out of the city, and there are many different coach tour companies that will take you on that route and stopping by notable landmarks.
Upon seeing that TripAdvisor went nuts for GeoIceland, I chose them and I am very glad that I did. To start with, they pick up their customers from wherever they want in Reykjavik, and subsequently will take you back. I requested that we be picked up from the Reykjavik City Hostel, and returned to the Oddsson for one last night, just so we didn’t need to make the long walk along the coast again. The whole venture cost us 10900kr (the equivalent of about £80), and took roughly eight hours. As the coach was so small (it had a capacity I think of 18), it was applauded for its intimacy. I agreed.
At lunch time we stopped by Hveragerði, which is a small town which has fallen victim to earthquakes. This was the ‘earthquake simulator’ which cost 300kr (about £4) to have a go on. Basically, you stood in it, in darkness, and the floor shook for about twenty seconds. Underwhelming, but when referred to as an ‘earthquake simulator’ it sounds too badass to resist. The sign stated that it simulated a 6.3 earthquake. I don’t know how accurate it is considering I have yet to be on premises for a 6.3 earthquake.
The first waterfall that we visited was Faxi. This was where we realised that it was sometimes difficult to enjoy the beauty of the surroundings at your leisure, because we were constantly attacked by flies. The brilliant tour guide Sif heard me splutter and groan about the number of flies I had inhaled, on the way back into the coach and gave me some advice – “They’re full of protein. Just eat them.” No, thanks.
Next was the geothermal area of Haukadalur, home of Geysir – the geyser that all geysers get their name from. Unfortunately, Geysir has been inactive for years, besides being a hot pool with lots of steam coming off of it. While it was nice to see it, just to say that we did, another geyser was much more interesting – Strokkur. Just as we walked past, it shot about 20m into the air. It was humorously inconsistent. Loads of people stand with their cameras ready, hoping to get a good photo or video of the steam. As Iceland’s tourism industry is growing, it’s probably on its way to beating “holding up the leaning Tower of Pisa” as the most typical tourist photo. There would be a hiss for a second, only for there just to be an anticlimactic bubble. There were also a few signs besides them, requesting that people not throw money into it.
And onto Gullfoss, which battles with Skogafoss, to be the most recognised waterfall in Iceland. Not being able to visit Skogafoss was a real pity, especially as no one at the hostel would shut up about it. Even on the coach, there were two people unintentionally rubbing that in my face. Apparently “it’s not quite Skogafoss”. Shut it, you two. Gullfoss was monstrous and absolutely beautiful. I should have been content with this and not bothered going to see any more waterfalls today, but instead, I was attracted to them even more.
We briefly stopped by a farm so that we could admire the Icelandic horses. This is a pretty bold statement considering how 1. My indifference (at best) to animals, and 2. The fact that Kieran decided against leaving the coach at this stop. More than anything, I was really curious about why one can’t get very far through any guide to Iceland without it making mention of the hallowed Icelandic horses. Iceland has enforced a law for over 1000 years that no horses from abroad are allowed into Iceland, and enforced hard enough that Icelandic horses who leave Iceland, aren’t allowed back in. Iceland takes pride in its pure breed of horses that are abnormally small (by definition they are NOT ponies), yet hardy. Sif jokingly (I think…) told off a tour goer for referring to them as ponies, warning them that Icelandic people would be very upset and offended. The horse that I am stood next to in these photos had what appears to be ‘JO’ on its back. A little girl was happy to assume that “she’s called Jo!”. I pondered a little to loudly whether that really was her name, of whether it was just a code. Perhaps even “J-ZERO“. “Perhaps there’s a K2 in the stable.”. I was hushed by a man I assume was the girl’s father. Sorry.
Þingvellir National Park: The last stop was Þingvellir National Park – home of stunning lakes which are abnormally clear, and are an area at which there are fissures between the North America and Eurasia tectonic plates (“I am dropping you on the Eurasia side. I will meet you in the other car park in an hour. See you in America!” – Sif). This place was beautiful, and I could have spent all day here. The sad fault of the Golden Circle, which is no fault of GeoIceland, is that you don’t have all day. There was so much to explore here, and we only had an hour. Deciding to visit one last waterfall (Öxarárfoss, which knocks “Þingvellir” off its podium of the most irritating place name to type in these posts) and Kieran climbed rocks (which I maintain wasn’t safe at all) to look at the view (I’m sure it was pretty, but there was a huge viewing platform a short walk away) used up most of our time. However, for anyone who can actually drive, Þingvellir is only a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik. If you can do that, then you can have all day.
I also have to make an admission here – Sif pointed out “fissures” in the park, and I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. I was look out the window for fishers. Oops.
We were then dropped back at the hostel in time for more instant noodles, and to ponder over what to do with the rest of our evening. Back at the Oddsson, as we made no effort to go to any public baths (despite there being one next door to the other hostel), I couldn’t resist getting in the hot tub on the terrace. Don’t worry. There aren’t any pictures. Kieran and I were joined by new friend Sam Covey (a great travel photographer. Check out her stuff here. The “two brothers from the UK” are Kieran and I, and we can be spotted in a couple of her sunset photos. Quite the perfectionist, she told me off for my floppy shoulders as she tried to take those photos. More on those later. There was also a madly drunk American woman called Margaret, who arguably had started her 31st birthday drinking session a bit too early. There were also two Icelandic men from Akureyki, whose names were Adam, and… well, we didn’t know how to pronounce it. He went by the only syllable that we could understand – “Vid”. Adam and Vid didn’t like Reykjavik, and said they were only there for work.
After all of the eccentric pride of tour guides and screams about how awesome that Reykjavik is, it was interesting to hear two men perhaps truthfully groaning (unless we were being teased) about facades and corrupt Icelandic politics. That said, they gave in on one matter, and recommended that I return to Reykjavik for New Year. Gladly! Hopefully I will do so sooner rather than later.
At about 11PM, a couple of people in the hostel kitchen were discussing whether or not to go outside for the sunset, because of how beautiful it would be. As nice as the weather had been today, this hadn’t even crossed my mind. Now, I am so glad that I overheard this conversation. They hadn’t been lying. It was a spectacular view, only a one-minute walk across the road, from our hostel. What a way to end the most eventful day of the trip.
EDIT: Sam has since sent me the unpublished photos that she had taken of Kieran and I. They were amazing for all but one reason – I am in them. I look miserable, and had made no effort to look good (being blasted by sea breeze having just got out of the shower isn’t a pretty sight!). I looked as though I had been awake for a month. On the contrary, I think Kieran looked great! As a result, I look like I’m bombing his photos!
DAY 6: ONE LAST WANDER AROUND REYKJAVIK
With the little time that we had left before one last trip to the shops (where I wanted to buy a jacket, but left with a novelty souvenir bobble hat), we decided to visit one more museum – The Settlement Exhibition. Archeologists discovered a settlement that was presumably built years before previously relied on texts said that man had even set foot on Iceland. Obviously, this was a big surprise, and understandably a good museum was literally built around it. It displays many uncovered items from the early years of Iceland. I’m not sure how they could tell that a shard of glass was from a “drinking vessel” and that a hunk of wood might have been “a toy”. I believe them, but I can’t get my head around it nonetheless.
We had our one and only proper meal out at a nearby Fish & Chips shop. It was substantially more liberal with its portions than we are used to in the UK. We had two pieces of cod, a fish soup and a salad buffet. I was so stuffed by the first two, that I didn’t even make it to the salad bar. It was a great surprise, as the Comic Sans-style signs on the outside did resemble that of a grubby kebab place that one my stumble across at 3AM when overly intoxicated.
After hanging about the hostel one last time (where there was a hilarious debate as a rather misinformed, and presumably wealthy Swiss-American student who was on a months-long trip around the world, and lives on the Cayman Islands, tried to lecture my brother about over-reactions surrounding changes in exchange rates), we wandered through the rain to the BSI bus terminal.
While it wasn’t the most glamorous of closures to a holiday. Thanks to Kieran, without whom this trip could never have happened, and thanks to everyone who just about tolerated around Reykjavik!