Road Trip Through Iceland: Day 2 - The Golden Circle (Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss)

The Kerid crater
The Kerid crater. Don't miss it!
This was the official first day. We did a quick packing and preparing in our room and headed downstairs. Breakfast time, and we were amused to find a bunch of Spanish hiking tourists, with a Spanish guide. Had a wonderful breakfast with some tips from the guide: Beware of falling over the side of the road. Why? Because you can be easily distracted by the landscape! And we felt like this when we passed the Jokulsarlón in our 4th (I think) day. A small van picked us in our guest house and drove to the car dealer where we had our car waiting. One small disappointment: we had to pay 40€ to get a second driver. No big deal, but we thought it was included. I thought I may drive a little... but Icelandic roads would prove me wrong. We turned down on the scratch insurance. Unless you scratch it really badly, they won't complain: Icelandic roads are expected to scratch your car a little.

As we started to get out of the outskirts of Reykjavik we realised that a lot of Icelandic cars were "one eyed". One of their headlights was significantly dimmer than the other. We thought it had something to do with gravel smashing the glass. But we didn't really find out. Any ideas?

According to our road guide and what we saw yesterday, we decided to visit Mosfellsbær to buy a blanket, a small town north of Reykjavik where they have the best wool. Sadly, we got lost and then we realised it was Sunday. No point in looking for a shop that would probably be closed.

Horses in Iceland

On our way, we passed by the Laxness farm, where the Halldór Laxness museum is located. Halldór Laxness was an Icelandic writer, Nobel prize in literature in 1955. We saw from afar Laxness' white Jaguar (I thought it was a Rolls Royce, my fault) parked in front of it. En route, we saw lots of horses and lambs in farms. It was nothing for what we would see in our remaining weeks.

Also of note is the lack of trees. It is a very odd feeling, because everything is really green, but without trees. It turns out that in the settlement times, Iceland was green and Greenland was ice. The island was covered with trees, but it was deforested to use as fuel and timber, but trees grew very slowly in this volcanic soil and didn't take off. Currently there is an ongoing process of reforestation, with mixed feelings from the people in Iceland, because some think it is not the way Iceland is and others think it is what Iceland should be.

First stop:  / 64.25806; -21.125Thingvellir (Þingvellir)

Thingvellir is the place where the government of Iceland started, where the chieftains of the island started to meet, starting 930AC. The government took the name Alþingi. A very special place, in short. Our first stop was a plain filled with tourist-made small stone structures.

Thingvellir Rocks Thingvellir, Iceland Thingvellir Canyon, Iceland Thingvellir flagpole, Iceland
The  / 64.25806; -21.125Thingvellir canyon, separating America from Europe

Then we headed toward the real place, where we took some pictures. Also of importance, the Þingvellir area is where the tectonic plates of America and Europe are separating, forming some cracks, fissures and even a canyon. We were standing in the middle of two continents!

After a leisurely walk, we looked at our map what we would do now. A nice route to follow was through the Kerið crater / 64.040; -20.888. It was our first contact with Icelandic volcanoes (and non-mainstream tourist attractions) and it was terrific. There was no-one around, and the outlandish red sands and blue water was mesmerising. We walked to the bottom of the crater (a pretty easy walk) and touched the cold water in the bottom. Also picked a handful of rocks of the region (something which would get increasingly common... we have a lot of Icelandic rocks...).

Kerid Crater Bottom, Iceland Kerid Crater, Iceland
The Kerid crater. Not publicised strongly enough!

Next stop was expected to be relaxing: baths in Laugarvatn. But the only thing we saw where we could take a bath was a sulfurous kind of sauna, very unnappealing. We gave up and headed for the next stop in The Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is the name of the most famous (and close to Reykjavik) landmarks:  / 64.25806; -21.125Þingvellir,  / 64.3166806; -20.2999Geysir and  / 64.32611; -20.12111Gullfoss.

Second stop: The Great Geyser Area

We saw the first water eruption from afar, and once there, a lot of close ups. The original geiser, which is of course named  / 64.3166806; -20.2999Geysir (factoid: the word geiser comes from this place, and að geysa, an Icelandic verb, means to gush) is quite inactive, but its close cousin (just something like 15m away),  / 64.31306; -20.30056Strokkur, erupts every 6 minutes or so. We could take some pretty good close-ups, sadly the sky was gray and they don't look that good. In person, it was impressive. After enjoying the Geysir area and walking around, we ate a little in the tourist centre in front of it. We were hungry and needed some coffee very badly. A perfect carrot cake, with drykkur (drinkable skyr) and coffee, and a hiatus in our journey. In the gift shop I had my first contact with a game I currently love: hnefatafl (a post about the rules is coming), also known as tablut or generically, tafl. I don't know why it was abandoned in the early 1600, it is a fun game.
Strokkur geiser, Iceland Geysir Volcanic Area, Iceland

I even took a quick series of 4 pictures of it erupting (but had to move ahead to catch the eruption properly!):

Strokkur Geiser Erupting, IcelandStrokkur Geiser Erupting, IcelandStrokkur Geiser Erupting, IcelandStrokkur Geiser Erupting, Iceland
The Strokkur geyser.

Third stop:  / 64.32611; -20.12111Gullfoss

The  / 64.32611; -20.12111Gullfoss waterfall is plain impressive (factoid 2: foss is Icelandic for waterfall). The feeling of the thunderous waterfall is like being in a huge, noisy factory where they are building earthquakes. You can feel the ground moving as the water falls. Took a lot of pictures and walked around. There is almost nothing to see except for the waterfall and a hotel. We had a coffee there, and took advantage of the free wifi to check email and this kind of things.

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland
Gullfoss is impressive

End of the Day: Hotel

On our way to the hotel found a lot of interesting landscapes. Of course, they were interesting then. Now they look almost "normal", after what we saw after this. Our hotel, Leirubakki, was in front of Mt. Hekla (1.491 m), which according to middle age Icelanders is the local hell's entrance. The views were fantastic, and the hotel was the place where an old farm from the Saga's time had been. We had no wifi, but we were to tired to care. We walked a little outside and discovered a very odd bird which made some... well, odd noises. It was almost like an alien invasion.

Mount Hekla, Iceland: Gate of Hell
Mount Hekla, the gate to hell

If you are curious, in this first day we drove for 251.3 km.

Icelandic bible
An Icelandic bible!

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« Road Trip Through Iceland, Day 1: Reykjavik - the city I'd like to live
» Road Trip Through Iceland: Day 3 - Waterfalls and Glaciers

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Written by Ruben Berenguel