Part 7 - Reykjavik, Iceland - Golden Circle
Part 7 - Reykjavik, Iceland - Golden Circle
Our first day in Reykjavik was under the sign of the “Golden Circle”, probably Iceland’s most famous excursion route. Starting from Reykajvik, it takes you to Thingvellir National Park, Strokkur Geysir and Gulfoss, the “Golden Waterfall”.
When we arrived in Reykjavik that morning, the sun was already smiling at us. The weather meant well with us again.
Enthused, I was the first to leave the ship again to pick up our rental car. We had booked with Europcar again, and I was, again, deligthed with the perfect service. Europcar’s wooden hut was located directly next to the small harbor building and shop. The formalities were soon dealt with, and the car was parked directly in front of the ship. It was another Chrysler Town & Country – the same model with those comfortabel box seats that we had already much appreciated in Akureyri.
Without losing any time, we started our tour. From the port we left Reykjavik on the well developed road heading northeast.
After a leisurely drive of about 45 minutes, we reached our first highlight: Thingvellir National Park. Thingvellir is Iceland’s most important historical site. It was here that over 1000 years ago the Althing was held, one of the first parliamentary assemblies in history. From the year 930 on, 4000 people gathered in Thingvellir to discuss laws and resolve disputes.
But Thingvellir isn’t only of historical but also of geological importance. It is located right on a rift. Here, the North Amercian and the Eurasian tectonic plates are drifting so apart - so much that it is clearly visible to visitors from impressive cracks and faults traversing the area.
From a platform near the parking lot we got a first impression of this amazing natural phenomenon.
Obviously, we also wanted to see it from up close. We took the wooden walkway leading from the platform directly into the Almannagjá gorge.
Bizarre rock formations and steep walls lined the way. Both fascinated and in disbelief we imagined how we were actually walking between North America and Europe, which drift apart approximately 2 cm (1 inch) every year.
The Icelandic flag flies above Lögberg, or “Law Rock”. This is where the Lawspeaker is said to have had his seat over 1000 years ago and where he directed the assemblies.
From another platform behind the rocks we were presented with another great view of the plain. Where else can you look across two continents like this?
Near the end of the footpath you come across a waterfall which seems rather insignificant by Icelandic standards. Despite its inconspicuousness, its natural beauty covers a glance at the dark side of Iceland`s history. In the small pond at its base, judgements are said to have been enforced and women who were declared guilty of adultery drowned in the drowing pool.
Thieves, murderers and condemnded witches were befallen by an equally cruel death by hanging, decapitation by a blunt ax or incineration.
In order for the others not having to walk all the way back uphill towards the parking lot again, I returned to the car while they continued a little further on the path to a second parking lot at its end.
As I walked up the canyon, large hordes of visitors came towards me, following the familiar signs with tour numbers as a pack. I understand how some might find a certain security in group excursions, but at this sight I was grateful for our independence.
I rounded the park on the main road, and at the lower parking lot I picked up my fellow passengers again. From there, a small road took us through the plain and, just before we reached the main road, past a small tip of the lake Þingvallavatn.
Unlike in Thingvellir, where the voices of the many visitors from nations all over the globe had formed a key note hanging in the air like the buzzing of bumble bees around a flowering shrub in summer, this place was peaceful and quiet. All you could hear across the water was the chirping of birds and the quacking of some ducks.
As much as we were tempted to linger, we were also curious about our next destiantion, and so we drove on. We had about an hour’s drive ahead of us, which took us through interesting landscapes again. The changing scenery of green meadows, bizarre lava fields and small villages under mountains still tainted by snow let time go by quickly.
Rising vapor announced our arrival in the high temperature area of Haukadalur.
Here, the high temperatures in the bowels of the earth have caused gushers. The most famous among them is Geysir. Yes, it’s name really is Geysir. Its name has become the general term for all gushers.
In 1845, water fountains with heights of up to 170 m (558 ft.) were recorded here. Also, the regular bursts of up to 60 m (197 ft.) in height were surely nothing to sneeze at. Once possibly the largest of its kind, Geysir has been asleep since 1935. It only bursts rarely and irrgularly – and if so, it only sends up a water column of 10 m (33 ft.) in height.
In its place, Strokkur (churn) has taken on the job as tourist attraction. Reliably and regularly every 8 – 10 minutes, Strokkur fulfills its duty.
You couldn’t miss it. Cameras at hand and with joyful anticipation, hundreds of visitors stood in a large circle behind a rope that cordoned off the area.
Spellbound, everybody was staring at the center of the slightly steaming source. As Strokkur announced its next eruption with a gentle bubbling and when, just before, the water level seemed to sink a few inches, a murmur went through the crowd. Shortly afterwards, accompanied by excited shouts and the clicking of countless cameras, a dense water column hissed up into the air.
Seconds later, the water surface had calmed down again, and there was nothing to suggest the tremenous energy that had just been set free and that this spectacle would be reproduced in just a few minutes.
Until the next performance, we took a look at the surrounding hot springs.
Unmistakably, there were many guests of the German cruise ship Phoenix Artania, which had docked in front of us in Reykjavik. A tour guide, looking slightly rushed and annoyed, was running around with her sign held high and repeating at the top of her lungs “Artania Group 2, Artania Group 2, we are leaving!” Apparently, some of her guests had rather witnessed another eruption than catch their bus. The tour guide herself seemed about to erupt, and we were, once again, happy about taking our tours ourselves or only in small groups.
With all the calling, we almost forgot about him … Strokkur’s and Geysir’s little brother – Litli Geysir. Bubbling, seething and touting for attention, it gurgled away in Strokkur’s shadow directly by the wayside.
Before boarding our comfortable Chrysler again, we looked around in the big building, which hosted a restaurant and a souvenir shop.
Then we continued our tour to Gullfoss, our next destination, which we reached in less than 15 minutes.
Jokingly we mentioned looking at yet another waterfall. But in reality, we were looking forward to visiting one more of those thundering natural spectacles.
Gullfoss waterfall consists of two cascades forming a 90° angle. The upper cascade has a drops approximately 11 m (36 ft.), while the floods of the lower plunge 21 m (69 ft) into a 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long gorge.
We parked at the lower of two parking lots, from where a footpath led directly along the gorge to the upper cascade.
On a plateau at the end of the path we were very close to the thundering stream rushing past.
From the opposite side, level with the scarp, we could watch the water plunge into the depth of the gorge. As with the other waterfalls before, this was accompanied by a roar and thunder, and the air was damp from spray.
Many visitors had pulled up their hoods, as along the edge this already resembled a downpour.
We returned to the parking lot, from where we climbed steep wooden stairs leading directly to the upper car park and the visitor center. We joined the queue of visitors who had arrived up here to reach a wooden platform, from which we had a gorgeous view of the entire waterfall. We lingered a while and soaked up the sight.
When it was time to continue our journey, we set course for Reykjavik again. To get there, we chose a different route than on our way out, which actually made the entire tour appear like a circle. Considering everything we had already seen, it truly was a “golden circle” for us, and we were still enthusiastic about Iceland.
Heavy rain set in on our way back, and the monotonous patter seemed to have a slumberous effect on my fellow passengers in their comfortable seats. Half way back, we passed Kerid, a crater lake. I noticed it from parked buses and thought about stopping there, too. But considering the rain and after a look in the rear view mirror, which showed all passengers blissfully asleep, I decided to drive on.
In Reykjavik, we turned into a road heading southwest for the Blue Lagoon, which we reached after a total of about hours.
The famous Blue Lagoon is a thermal spa built on a lake. The lake itself originated as a waste product from a nearby geothermal power plant using geothermal energy of a volcanic system. In this powerhouse, a mix of seawater and freshwater with temperatures of approximately 240° C (464 F) is pumped to the surface from a depth of some 2,000 m (6,562 ft.), where it is used to produce electricity and the operation of a district heating grid. Afterwards, cooled down, it flows into the surrounding lava field. As a result, a saltwater lake had formed. Minerals and diatoms dissolved on the water’s way up to the surface make for a milky, blue and white color.
From the parking lot at the Blue Lagoon we reached the entrance of the modern spa at the same time as many guests of a few buses. Therefore, it took a while until I reached the reception desk of the swim and spa area and could ask for tickets for the pool. The staff at the desk gave me a skeptical look and asked if I had booked online. We hadn’t because we had wanted to keep our flexibility to decide as our day evolved whether we’d actually go to the Blue Lagoon or not.
Frowning, he typed away on his computer to finally tell me that the earliest availability he had for us was two hours later – at a rate of EUR 50.00 per person. Obviously, we didn’t want to wait 2 hours. In addition, I wasn’t sure whether we thought the bath would be worth EUR 50.00. Apparently, the staff could tell I had doubts and spoke to his colleague. Then he offered me immediate access as part of the luxury package – at EUR 195 per person... I declined politely...
There was a self-service cafeteria in the entrance area. Only large panoramic windows separated the tables there from the milky waters of the lagoon. That’s where we sat down, had coffee and a shake from Icelandic Skyr, and watched the bathers as they swam in the warm water and used the mineral deposits of the lake to rub themselves down or use it for facial masks.
In the end, this was perfect for all of us. We had seen this interesting bath and decided, without any regrets about the missed bathing opportunity, to return to Reykjavik after this break.
On our way back we talked about the many impressions of the day, and Hildegard and Helmut knew already that they’d spend the next day on board. Therefore, rather than returing to the port, I programmed the satnav for the Hallgrims Church instead.
Hallgrimskirkja with its 73 m (240 ft.) high tower impressively watches over Reykjavik from a hill in town.
Like the church in Akureyri, the Lutheran Hallgrims Church was designed by state architect Guðjón Samúelsson. His idea behind the design was to create a link between different recurring motives of Icelandic landscape and the architecture and to evoke the rugged mountains and glaciers as well as the country’s large, barren expanses and basalt columns.
Outside the church stands the statue of Leif Eriksson, who discovered America. The statue was given to the Icelandic people by the United States in 1930 on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of Althing.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go inside and see the famous organ, as the church was closed for recordings.
From the hill at the church we descended the road towards the cruise port. In the now golden evening light, we headed directly towards Sólfar (The Sun Voyager) on the waterfront.
Jón Gunnar Árnasons sculpture Sólfar is one of city’s most popular photo motives. In Árnasons’ work, light, sun, hope and freedom play a significant role. In his view, a work of art should always carry a meaning in itself, which is why for him this sculputure could never just have been a ship. Sólfar for him was a dream boat, an ode to the sun symbolising the promise of new, undiscovered land. It extends into the water as if the journey could begin any minute. It wasn’t primarily conceived as a Viking ship. But at the same time, the artist consciously worked with those forms that had shaped the history of Iceland.
For me, this was one of those unexpected moments that stay with me after a trip. The shiny metal structure reflected the rays of the setting sun in the most beautiful shades. They varied depending on the perspective, while the sky was mirrored in the smoothly polished marble surface underneath the ship. Without being able to explain why, the memory of this sculpture became my allegory of Iceland.
Not far from us in the bay of Reykjavik another dream boat had anchored – the futuristic yacht „A” of the Russian entrepreneur and billionaire Andrei Melnichenko.
We didnt’ have to be billionaires today to be rich. Sitting in the Sky Lounge, happy and content after a delicious dinner, watching the setting sun covering the surrounding land in a blazing red glow, like streams of lava carving their way into the sea, we tacitly agreed: we were rich today! Rich in impressions and rich in unforgettable moments that we were blessed to experience with loved ones. A wealth that nobody could take away from us.
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