"" Writer's Wanderings: Iceland - The Golden Circle

Friday, September 23, 2016

Iceland - The Golden Circle

Our second day in Iceland began with a nice breakfast at the Lambastadir Guesthouse. One of the other guests had his camera handy to show his pictures of the Northern Lights. Please tell me you didn't take that last night, I said. The answer was not what I wanted to hear. He'd taken them during the night, around 11:30. I remembered waking a few times during the night. I'd left the curtains open (our room looked out into a field of cows) but I guess I didn't wake at the right time or I didn't look in the right direction or I was just too tired to get out of bed. I vowed to be more diligent. Hopefully the night would be clear and the lights dancing in the sky again.

As we ate breakfast we saw the morning welcome team arrive. Greylag geese. They were no strangers to the guesthouse and soon we saw why. There were a couple of waffles tossed out and the half dozen feathered beggars tore them apart and downed them quickly. When we went out to the car they followed us hoping for more treats, I'm sure. They weren't camera shy either.

In the more touristy part of Iceland, the southern area near Reykjavik, there is a route called the Golden Circle with lots of interesting stops along the way. The plan was to take the day to drive the circle. It would include several waterfalls. If you love waterfalls, Iceland is the place to be. The falls that have been labeled as stops of interest each have their own notoriety. Our first, Urridafoss (foss being the word for waterfall) is known as the most voluminous falls. While there was an immense amount of water running over it, I didn't think it was as pretty as others we saw along the way.

Christianity was made the national religion in the year 1000. About fifty years later, Skalholt became the bishopric of the Catholic church and stayed so until the middle of the 16th century when under Danish rule, the national religion became Lutheran. Skalholt continued to be the central bishopric but now for the Lutheran bishops. There have been several churches and cathedrals built there. The last one still standing was consecrated in 1963.

There is a school on the grounds of the former farm of Skalholt and an archaeological dig was going on during our visit. It was a cold and tedious job but they were unearthing more foundations from some of the other structures that had once been there. Those already discovered show that there was a small settlement there at one time.

In our research to find a place where we might experience a nature bath as the Icelanders call them, we had looked at the Secret Lagoon. It is much smaller than the Blue Lagoon but not as expensive. Our GPS led us astray and we ended up at a greenhouse on the opposite side of the river from the lagoon. We managed to correct the mistake and find our way before we got in trouble for trespassing.

The Secret Lagoon was a nice stop along our way but we weren't ready to partake yet. For one thing, I wasn't ready for a trip back down memory lane to a junior high gym shower. A shower, naked as they tell you, is required before entering the lagoon. We did get a cup of coffee and enjoyed it outside while we watched others enjoying drinks and crackers and cheese as they lounged in the steamy waters.

After a walk around the lagoon, we left for our next stop, trusting that our GPS would not lead us astray again. Just in case, I kept the old fashioned map in my lap and traced our progress with my finger until we arrived at the Faxi Waterfall. The waterfall had a different name at first but in 1917 an Icelandic poet visiting the falls said it deserved a better name and since it reminded him of the mane of a horse (Fax in Icelandic), he said it should be called Faxi. The name stuck.

To the side of the falls is a fish ladder so there must be a time when salmon fill the river finding their way to some breeding grounds. Maybe it was the beautiful sunshine but this was one of the prettiest spots of the day. I could have lingered but we were only half way around the circle and Bob was promising an even bigger waterfall to come.

Fish ladder.
And there was--a bigger falls. Bigger is not necessarily prettier but it was two tiered and impressive. The Gullfoss or Golden Falls has several stories for where its name comes from but the one I liked was that the farmer who lived in the area years ago had acquired a lot of gold but when he felt his life was coming to an end, he couldn't bear the thought of someone else having his gold so he threw it all into the falls, thus the name Golden Falls.

There was no picnic table or bench where we could sit and enjoy our Subway sandwich we'd purchased the night before so we cleared a spot in the hatchback and sat with our legs dangling out and watched the crowds of people come and go as we ate. As I said, the southern part of Iceland is the bigger tourist area and the Golden Circle a popular tour out of Reykjavik. Lots of tour buses and vans.

We've seen a lot of geysers, even Old Faithful in Yellowstone, but the geyser, appropriately called Geysir was the most accommodating I've ever visited. It went off every 3-5 minutes. Of course some eruptions were bigger than others but it never took more than five minutes for it to recharge. Each time it did a big bubble and a burp was followd by a stream of water shooting into the air. We explored some of the hot pools and climbed up a hill for an overall view of the hot pools. After one more look at the Geysir, we left for our next stop.

The Thingvellir National Park features large lava fissures. We parked and after a little hassling with the automated ticket machine to get our parking permit for the park, we started off on a short trail that took us inside one of the fissures and led to a pretty waterfall. Yes, another waterfall and I'm not even mentioning how many others we passed along the way during the day. There is no denying that Iceland was definitely formed from volcanic action and this was just another piece of evidence. It was impressive.

While we were a little concerned that it was getting late and we still had a ways to go, I talked Bob into taking the long way around the largest lake in Iceland, Lake ├×ingvallavatn. What I didn't know was that it would take us on our first gravel road. The views were well worth the trip but it did slow us down. Remember we had that low clearance on the Renault so we took it slowly where necessary but for the most part, the road was almost like a paved surface with loose gravel on it.

The Kerid Crater was a must-see on Bob's list. We stopped and paid 400 ISK (about $3.50 USD) each for this and were a bit disappointed. But if you want to see a volcano crater this is a nice one to look at. We walked part way around it and then decided we'd seen enough.

After a short stop to freshen up at our guesthouse, we drove into Selfoss for a dinner of weiner schnitzel. It was just as expensive as the night before. Food prices we soon discovered were going to be high. We walked around town a bit wishing we could find dicaf coffee but realized it was fairly non-existent. The evening was not as cold as the day before. We returned to the guesthouse hoping for clear skies and lights in the night with sunshine in the morning.

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