A Pedacito Of The Golden Circle, Iceland
Updated: Jun 19
We had breakfast at my crazy expensive Reykjavik hotel and Gudrun went over her list one more time, the final point being the village of Hof (not to be confused with the nearby Hofn) and the Vatnajokull glacier where she worked at an adventure outing station and restaurant.
She had already told me there was an extra shipping container I could stay in ( at the time I thought this was a translation issue, but would later find out “shipping container” was exactly what she meant). And just like that, we parted ways.
First up on the road was the very spot I had been interested in seeing since I was about 13 when I first read about it, þingvellir national park (that first letter is a th sound, not a P sound). This is the famed spot where the Icelandic parliament met for 1000 years. Incidentally, it is also the only place on earth where the rift between the North American and European tectonic plates meets the land. I don’t think the Vikings knew this.
The park is located inside what they call The Golden Circle. This is a loop of tourist-worthy sights all within a quick driving distance of Reykjavik. Cue the tour buses. So. Many. Tour buses.
After a massive volcanic eruption and economic meltdown, Iceland staked its economy on having a strategic layover airport and using it to promote tourism. As a result, massive hordes of tourists spend 24-48 layovers and what they see is the golden circle.
Pulling into the parking lot, I couldn’t have been happier to have my own rental car. In all directions were tour buses and groups walking around in the parking lot reminiscent of an amusement park.
As such, I hate to admit my experience was a bit marred by this, but indeed it was. I found it impossible to take in the beauty and grandeur as I felt like I was at the San Diego zoo complete with Teenagers yelling at each other and running around.
I did my best to look around, tried to picture Vikings arguing about legal matters for a minute, and jumped back in the car. I just couldn’t do it any longer. There was much more to explore, but I decided I’d come back another time.
As the road began to stretch past the golden circle, I could feel the masses of tour buses subsiding, everything began to open up. It was lovely. Tourists were still everywhere to be seen, but it was a different class of tourists. The adventure types.
Working down Gudrun‘s list, I took in the scenery and vast open space, mostly consisting of volcanic rock sheets. At some point I looked around and had the thought “ ok, this isn’t so unique, it kind of looks like parts of northern Arizona” and almost as if on cue, I saw my next destination and immediately ate my words.
The waterfalls seem to come from nowhere, I’ve never seen anything like it. And I dare say there is nothing like it. I parked along with the other small number of tourists and followed the crowd.
After walking behind the falls and getting decently wet, I somehow found it hard to leave (maybe the first Viking settlers felt this too). I wandered down the pathway where you can find some smaller waterfalls, and they‘re cool too, but they certainly pale in comparison.
The next destination had been Gudrun’s top pick of the list. She assured me this one was in no guidebooks and only locals knew of it. Construction had been started years back to build a public pool using a natural hot spring( as they do), seemingly in the middle of nowhere, but had been halted for some reason. What was left had turned into a destination; If you don’t mind the hike.
Immediately upon arrival, I realized that she had not been altogether correct. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot and I didn’t hear anyone speaking Icelandic. Word had gotten out about this spot. That said, there were no tour buses. Score on that.
I grabbed my bathing suit and towel but I wasn’t immediately clear on how to get there on foot. I was able to locate a hiking trail that only went in one direction and started up it. About halfway through the journey, the trail did split and I had to make a choice. Fortunately, much like Indiana Jones with the Holy Grail, I chose wisely.
After another 10 minutes of hiking, I reached my destination; it wasn’t crowded per se, but it certainly wasn’t empty. What a unique spot though. There were maybe 10 other people but I could hear languages and accents of all kinds. Russian, Norweigan, British, American.
I emerged in my suit and took a dip. The water was really warm, especially near the pipe feeding the natural hot spring to the pool. I swam around for a few minutes, zoning out and really enjoying myself...till I heard
"Excuse me, excuse me”. Pulled out of my daze, I looked to my left to see a young lady striking a pose in a bikini and her boyfriend on dry land with a camera fixed on her. Ah, insta-boyfriends.
This was one of those behind curtain moments. “ Oh, you need me to move?” I asked. They nodded, “ Just Tag me in it,” I said jokingly as I swam away.
I’m sure the photo would have made it look like they had the place to themselves. Only thanks to me and my agreeable nature.
I felt like this was my cue to leave. After all, I had another destination to hit before dark. Throwing my pants back on, I followed some Norwegians back to the parking lot.
I was now on my way to the last stop before my final destination, the black sand beach, Reynisfjara.
This turned out to be another tour bus spot, albeit a very beautiful one. The beach itself is spectacular to see but seemed to be not much more than one small cove.
Had it not been both extremely windy and crawling with tourists from buses, I still don’t know what I would have done for more than a few minutes there.
It was getting dark anyhow, so after grabbing a quick bite to eat at the very touristy restaurant, I was off into the sunset with the Glacier now in my constant view. Next stop, Gudrun, Hof, and the Glacier…
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