All That Glitters is Golden

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Day 13 started off with driving into a rainbow – a pretty good omen for the day.  We started off nice and early as we aimed to head out onto the Golden Circle for the day.  The Golden Circle is a circular road with optional stops that hits a lot of main sights right next to Reykjavik.  It can be done as a day trip although some travelers choose to turn it into a three-day road trip.  Clearly, since we fit the whole Ring Road into three days, we went for the one-day trip.

If you’re looking for more detailed instructions on driving the Golden Circle, I highly suggest checking out I Heart Reykjavik’s guide.  We based our itinerary off of this and it covers some cool places we didn’t manage to get to as well.

The first stop most people make on the Golden Circle is Þingvellir National Park (pronounced Thingvellir).  This is the location for the Alþingi (Althing), Iceland’s parliament and one of the oldest parliaments in the world.

Within Þingvellir, you can find the Flosagjá and Silfra fissures right next to each other.  Both are fissures between the North American and European tectonic plates at the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.  One of the most popular tourist activities in Iceland is actually diving or snorkeling inside the Silfra fissure where the water is crystal clear and drinkable.  At Flosagjá, you can see the bottom where many people have tossed all kinds of coins despite the sign that forbids it these days.  It’s said that if you toss in a coin and make a wish, your wish will come true, so of course we had to (let’s hope nobody of importance sees this).  Although there are a lot of other attractions in Þingvellir, we were trying to make it to a hot spring river in time (spoiler alert: didn’t happen), so we went on our merry way to our next destination:  lunch.

We finally got our Icelandic dairy farm experience for lunch at Efsti-Dalur II, an old barn that got converted into a restaurant and cafe when the family built a new farmhouse nearby.  We tried the sampler platter, where all of the meat and cheese came straight from the farm.

They also sell fresh ice cream, so I obviously dragged Li to the cafe to try some after we were done with lunch.  Best part – the cafe has windows into the barnhouse where you can see some of the cows as they eat.

The next stop on the list was Geysir, the first ever described geyser in the world and the source of the name.  Sadly, Geysir is no longer active, but one of the geysers right next to it, Strokkur, is.  We stood right in the sulfur-scented cloud to get a clearer view, but luckily the wind changed as it erupted and caught a giant group of bystanders who all ran off screaming.  Amusing moment of the day that Li managed to catch on video, too.

Our final stop on the Golden Circle for the day was Kerið crater, a large volcanic crater lake.  At this point in the season, signs were still up at the stairs descending down to the lake warning that it was slippery and unsafe to go down.  But hey, other people went down and much of the snow looked like it had melted off, so we went down anyway.  The colors surrounding the lake are spectacular, especially with the red sand that you walk on to go around the whole crater.  At the bottom, we found a mostly frozen lake with some cracks in it, so it looked almost like a cracked mirror.  Definitely worth my very, very slow trek as I tried not to slip on some ice and fall.

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And, of course, what’s a trip to Iceland without checking out the Blue Lagoon?  Fair word of warning: you really have to book your visit far in advance.  By the time we had figured out our plans, the only times left were evening hours (hence poor photos of the lagoon since it was freezing and I was too impatient to stand still with my mini tripod and camera).   While the lagoon is still nice at night, from what I can tell in photos, it is much more impressive during the day with its icy blue mineral waters.  At least the visit comes with free mud masks?  Overall, it’s nice for a single visit to spend an hour relaxing in a spa.  Still, if you don’t need that kind of luxury, I would recommend just jumping into the random swimming holes you can find around the rest of Iceland instead.

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