The Golden Circle

Reykjavik Travel Blog

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Skalholt cathedral
Bright and early the next day, when the sky was still pitch dark, we crawled down for breakfast.  That was, in fact, the only time I made it down for breakfast that whole trip.  We spoke to the nice man on the desk about booking us on the golden circle tour and then went down to the bus station just in time for the coach. 

The first stop, because it was so dark, was a geothermal power plant.  Geothermal power plants are fascinating.  i never thought I would be that interested in a power plant, but actualy, what could be more interesting than sinking a bore hole into a volcano and using it to power most of your country, provide hot water, fuel greenhouses, and then pump water back so that it is renewable?  They only lose less than 2 degrees heath between the plant and Reykjavik, making it far more efficent than transmitting electricity then heating water in each home, and apparently there are whole tracts of the poorest parts of the world where you could use the same power source.
Iain and me
  They pipe the water over ground on zigzaggin pipes on rollers so that they are earthquake proof, and had a samurai helmet in the visitor centre.  Unexpectedly cool.

Afterthat, the dawn started to break.  We drove along the coast and the guide pointed out Heckla, the great volcano, and Surtsey, one of the newest islands in the world having erupted a few decades ago.  The next stop was the Skalholt cathedral.  There has been a cathedral on this site since Iceland was Christian, but the present one was built in the 1950s.  The art inside is very beautiful; the windows are wonderful (I am slightly obsessed with twentieth century stained glass windows, adn I don't care if that's a strange thing to be obsessed with!) and the alterpiece is stunning.
Gulfoss
The photos don't really do it justice at all.  The moon still hung over the mountains, but by now we were in full light.  The sun hadn't risen properly yet; it was just skimming the horizon.  But it was lovely. 

We drove past the geyser area to go to GUllfoss.  Gullfoss is a major waterfall in Iceland, with several falls and rapids.  It was almost turned into a hydroelectric plant and I am so glad it wasn't.  It was too icy to walk as close as you are normally allowed, but you can still walk above the falls up the stairs.  The falls were spectacular and the strange cairns in the area were cool.  As was the air; by now I was reasonably convinced I was going to get frostbite.
Frozen Geyser field
  Luckily, the tour allowed ebough time for us to go and buy traditional meat soup in the cafe. 

Traditional meat soup is a sort of thin stew, and very very nice.  The cafe had a large interesting shop to thaw out in, before we headed back to the icy falls.  Frost from teh falls had frozen in hexagonal crystals on the snow in the grass, and the whole place was lovely.  By now, it was 1pm, and the sun was just edging over the mountain.  Soon, it would set again.  The light in Iceland this time of year is like two hours of sunrise, an hour of day, and two hours of sunset, and it is extremely beautiful in its own right. 

Next stop was the geyser area, and Geysir adn Strokkur themselves.  The guide warned us that the water really did boil, and let us out to explore.
Strokur
 

Geysers are really, really cool.  Well, tehy are boiling, but you know what I mean.  A boiling pool gradually fills with water, which then starts to bubble and lap at the sides.  Then a dome of water rises in the pool and suddenly there is a jet of water, metres and metres into the air.  In winter, this instantly condenses to a cloud of water vapour, and a couple of times the water vapour turned into a tiny, short lived rain shower.  I have never seen anything quite like it.  What is happening is that superheated ground water, at higher than boiling point, is held down by cooler water from the surface. Eventually the pressure that the boiling water is under isn't enough to hold it back any more and it erupts.  Geysir itself is almost dormant now, but Strokkur blows up about once every 4-8 minutes and sometimes goes twice.
The chasm with the coins
  It's incredible.  The other geysers don't blow up very often, but still boil and bubble in the icefields.

WE took shelter in teh shop, and I gave in and bought some fleece lined icelandic mittens.  I would have loved to buy a jumper as well, but it was the equivalent of about £70 and I just couldn't afford that much. The mittens were £12 and I was so relieved to have blood back into my fingers it still seems like the best investment. 

Next stop was a return to Thinvellir, which we had been to in the moonlight. We drove along beside the clearest lakes, shining in te now setting sun.  Thingvellirvatr itself is apparently so clear that people get vertigo diving; it looks like you're falling out of the boat into the air.
Thingvellirvatr
  If I ever learn to drive, I desperately want to try that.  We got out of the coach and crossed a chasm where people toss coins for wishes.  it looks shallow, until you throw a coin in and watch it spinning and tumbling through the water, glinting as it edges into the light again.  It must take four or five seconds to hit the bottom.  It looks like something from Lord of the Rings.  Of course, Tolkein was a big fan of viking and anglo saxon mythology, so that isn't too mad a thing to say. 

Across teh chasm is the site of the Allthingi, the ancient parliament.  The guide told us fascinating things about the traditional laws and the fair that accompanied it, and about how the holiday homes at the other side of the valley belonged to the president and the prime minister, but were traditionally mostly empty because traditionally the two people can't stand each other and the last thing they want to do is spend their holidays as next door neighbours.
snow crystals on the grass
  I don't know if that's true ;).  Walking up between two great rocks, we realised we were at the bottom of the path we had started down in the moonlight before we turned back.  We were standing on the American plate, looking out over hundreds of metres of no-man's land into the European plate.  The lake fills the rift valley between the two continents.  And the sun was setting, the light was fading, and the world was an incredibly beautiful place.

As we drove back, a cloud rolled in and we knew we wouldn't see the Northern Lights this trip. Instead, we went to have dinner.  By the time we had thawed out and got ready, a lot of places were closing; this was a shame because there were a few fish places we wanted to try.  Next time! Instead, we went to Tabascos in the town centre and had a very nice meal.
Geysers (but not Geysir)
  i didn't enjoy it quite as much as the incredible food we had the other three nights, but I think that by that point I was just incredibly spoiled.  We had a few beers in the English Bar and headed to bed.
b33tlejuice says:
I really want to go here now, its so lovely! You are lucky to have such awesome photos!
Posted on: Jun 24, 2011
lauro says:
"It looks like something from Lord of the Rings."

my main reason to go to island - you nailed it!
Posted on: Jan 14, 2010
sarahelaine says:
You're welcome. It's such a beautiful place it would be hard to take bad pictures!
Posted on: Jan 12, 2010
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Skalholt cathedral
Skalholt cathedral
Iain and me
Iain and me
Gulfoss
Gulfoss
Frozen Geyser field
Frozen Geyser field
Strokur
Strokur
The chasm with the coins
The chasm with the coins
Thingvellirvatr
Thingvellirvatr
snow crystals on the grass
snow crystals on the grass
Geysers (but not Geysir)
Geysers (but not Geysir)
Strokur
Strokur
Geyser steam in the sunlight
Geyser steam in the sunlight
steam
steam
Strokur
Strokur
Strokur
Strokur
The ice forming on the safety ropes
The ice forming on the safety ropes
Really, really dont slip - the st…
Really, really don't slip - the s…
A boiling stream passing under the…
A boiling stream passing under th…
Geyser area
Geyser area
Littli Geysir
Littli Geysir
Little Geyser
Little Geyser
Strokkur, with Geysir behind him
Strokkur, with Geysir behind him
Geyser area
Geyser area
The tiny trees in teh foreground a…
The tiny trees in teh foreground …
View from teh road
View from teh road
Thinvellir national park
Thinvellir national park
Thingvellirvatr
Thingvellirvatr
Thingvellirvatr
Thingvellirvatr
Thingvellirvatr
Thingvellirvatr
coins
coins
Thingvellir
Thingvellir
Near the Allthingi
Near the Allthingi
The new church and the rift valley
The new church and the rift valley
Rift valley
Rift valley
Allthingu
Allthingu
Rift valley
Rift valley
Thats Euroipe, over there
That's Euroipe, over there
Geothermal power plant
Geothermal power plant
Ogre - the mother and father of th…
Ogre - the mother and father of t…
Geothermal power plant
Geothermal power plant
Sunrise
Sunrise
The greenhouses
The greenhouses
View from Skalholt
View from Skalholt
alterpiece
alterpiece
windows
windows
alterpiece
alterpiece
Near Skalholt; teh moon
Near Skalholt; teh moon
Site of historic school near Skalh…
Site of historic school near Skal…
Area around Skalholt
Area around Skalholt
little community
little community
Gulfoss
Gulfoss
Gulfoss
Gulfoss
Cairns near Gullfoss
Cairns near Gullfoss
Brrr
Brrr
Gullfoss
Gullfoss
Mini cairns
Mini cairns
brr!!
brr!!
Rapids above Gullfoss
Rapids above Gullfoss
Gulfoss
Gulfoss
This picture was taken at a little…
This picture was taken at a littl…
Visitor centre, Thingvellir
Visitor centre, Thingvellir
The plates leave the landscape fra…
The plates leave the landscape fr…
sunset
sunset
The holiday homes in the rift vall…
The holiday homes in the rift val…
The view from the cafe in Gullfoss
The view from the cafe in Gullfoss
Reykjavik Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Icelandic-Mexican
Tabascos is a Mexican-Icelandic restaurant in the centre of Rekjavik, not far from the lake and the old harbour. It is pleasantly decorated, has nice… read entire review
Reykjavik
photo by: MadeleineGL