europe,  iceland,  travel

Travel: Touring the Golden Circle

Full set of photos

I had rather foolishly spent the previous night in a YouTube spiral of viewing insanity and so had went to bed really late. For whatever reason, the five alarms I’d set also conspired against me and decided not to go off, so I woke up at 9 am. This would not normally be problematic when on vacation except the pick-up for the 5-day tour I’d booked was 8 am. Panicked, I threw my things together and ran the block to the pick-up site, trying to figure out how to call the company. Now, my original email had indicated that my pick-up time was 9 am, and a second confirmation had said 8 am. Miraculously, after waiting 10 minutes, the Arctic Adventures minibus came into view. The pick-up time had in fact been 8 am, but thankfully they assumed I might have been confused by the two times and had circled back around to see if I was there.

I’m not normally a tour person (in fact, I’ve never taken a multi-day tour). I’d booked a tour with Arctic Adventures in large part because I assumed it would be snowy and icy, and I wasn’t comfortable driving on my own in wintery weather conditions. However, it had been a shockingly warm winter in Iceland, and there wasn’t a snowflake to be found. Ah well! Our guide was François, a Belgian living in Iceland. We had a relatively eclectic mix of folk, 14 including myself, with pairs from Quebec, France, the US, China, and Wales. We were soon driving out of town, through the drizzly countryside, starting on the Golden Circle portion of the trip. I was undaunted by the weather and just eager to get my travel on—it’s felt like a lifetime since I’d really travelled.

Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. It lies in a rift valley that marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It was also the site of the national parliament of Iceland from 930 AD until the 18th century (hence its heritage status).

Þingvellir National Park

From there, we piled back in and drove to the Haukadalur valley geothermal area. Fun linguistic fact: geyser is an Icelandic word! Geysir, from which we get our word I believe, is actually currently dormant. Its neighbour, Strokkur, thankfully erupts every 5-10 minutes. I will say that even though you know it’s coming, staring at a smoking hole in the ground through a camera lens, it still gives you a bit of a start.

Geysir (from which we get our word)
Geysir (from which we get our word)

After an expensive but relatively tasty cheeseburger, we made the short drive to Gulfoss (“Golden Waterfall”)—a seriously impressive waterfall. The light rain in combination with the spray from the waterfall was making photo-taking a serious challenge. I was certainly glad to have brought Dad’s plastic camera bag with me, which is basically a plastic bag with a hole for a lens (and a drawstring to keep it in place), as I was able to keep the camera body from getting seriously wet. Though, nothing can really prevent spray covering the front of the lens. Who would’ve thought that a lens covered in water would be difficult to shoot through?

a rainy day at Gullfoss

Our last stop was Seljalandsfoss, a tall waterfall you can actually walk all the way behind. François first took us on a short walk, which involved wading through a shallow creek to get into narrow cavern which we shared with a waterfall. It was a crazy sensation to feel the power of a waterfall right next to you. Also, a very wet sensation. We headed over to the main waterfall and scampered around the rocks to stand behind it. It was wet and cold, and I was absolutely soaked at this point, but it was awesome (I happened to not be wearing my waterproof pants at the time, and discovered my parka and snow boots aren’t terribly waterproof). Thankfully, it was the last stop before the hotel.

behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall
behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Thankfully, I had a chance to shower and warm-up before dinner. As we were in a country hotel away from town, we ate at the hotel restaurant, and François made sure that we all had dinner together. I will say that a big plus for tour travel is having other people to talk to, especially at a meal. I have no qualms about eating alone, but it is always preferable to have a side of conversation with your entree. I sat next to François and learned about his background and living in Iceland. He was very warm and earnest, with a deep-seated respect for nature and its raw wildness (e.g., he would remind us to not climb over ropes that lined the paths in order to protect the flora of the area). He loves the laid-back nature of Iceland–apparently people really don’t make plans here, beyond a few days ahead. For instance, it would be an oddity to plan a party and send out Facebook invites a month in advance, as friends typically just show up to see if you want to hang out. As an obsessive planner, I think incorporating a pinch of Icelandic spontaneity into my life might be a good idea.

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