Saturday, August 8, 2015

Iceland Part IV: The Golden Circle, and some great stops along the way!

We woke up to a very windy and rainy morning. Vik is the rainiest place in all of Iceland and we were pretty fortunate to have sunny skies here the past two days... and that we were leaving that morning!

We were about two minutes into our rainy drive back towards the west when we saw a woman on the side of the road with a huge backpack and a sign that said, "Reykjavik". Now before anybody says anything like "I hope they didn't pick her up", Iceland is hugely known for it's hitchhiking tourists and it's actually encouraged! All along Ring Road you will see men and women with signs asking for rides to various places. There are no crimes associated with this and people from all over the country help each other out, though Americans usually don't since it's illegal here and we have some crazies in our country that makes us jaded. Given the bad weather and excitement we had that we could do something that is pretty normal in Iceland, we asked her where she needed to go. She needed to get to Keflavik airport, but since we weren't going all the way there we told her we'd drop her off in Sulfoss, which got her pretty close and was about 1.5 hours away from Vik. She was so grateful to get out of the cold and we felt pretty good about ourselves helping out a fellow tourist. She was from Estonia and left her daughter and husband to travel around Iceland for a week (solely on the use of hitchhiking!) She actually had been to the base in Naples, Italy and in Hawaii since she her best friend is married to a guy in the Navy- what a small world!

We stopped for a nice picture

Well, sorry to disturb you! 
After we dropped off our hitchhiker we started our drive on the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a really popular tourist route in Iceland and can be done in a day trip. There are three main sights that people see: Gulfoss Waterfall, Geysir Hot Springs, and Thingvellir National Park. We knew this day was going to be our "crowded" day with hundreds of people in tour buses flooding the sights, and while we were looking forward to seeing some cool stuff, we were not looking forward to the hoards of people. The good thing was that we were going around the Circle in the opposite direction, we were getting a later start due to coming from Vik, and we were stopping at other places in between that were off the beaten path.

Our first stop was to Kerid Crater, which is a volcanic crater lake. Surprisingly, this was the ONLY outdoor place in all of the stops we went to that charged an entrance fee (and it was only around $3). Every national park, waterfall, and geysir area has free entrance, which was hard to get used to, but very welcomed!

The crater lake is very colorful and unique! Bjork actually held a concert in the middle of the lake a few years back.

We drove a little bit north and went to Gulfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is on the Hvita River, which is fed by Iceland's second biggest glacier, Langjokull. It was pretty crowded when we arrived here, but we could easily see why. The falls are very powerful and were rampaging over the sides.

We went out to different view points, all in an attempt to try to get away from the mobs of people, but it was hard to do. It's a great stop to have on the tour bus route, but if you're like us you much prefer the quieter tour bus free areas. But just like the Colosseum in Rome, or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, this is one of Iceland's top sights to see so it's a necessary evil. We did very much enjoy looking the intense waterfall though!

The next stop was only five minutes away, the Geysir Hot Spring Area. Because we went to the waterfall first (we passed the hot spring area on the way) we were able to park in a small empty parking lot across from the tour bus area. The Hot Spring Area is a large open area that has more than a dozen hot water blow holes and has been active for more than 1,000 years.


Beyond boiling water

Geysir is the original hot water-spout after which all other geysirs are named. Unfortunately the original geysir no longer spews water into the air, but Strokkur is a very reliable geysir within the same area that shoots water 50-100 feet every 5-10 minutes. We watched Strokkur blast some hot water into the air a few times in order to get the perfect picture!

We continued counter-clockwise on the Golden Circle and made a planned stop in Laugarvatn. The small town of Laugarvatn is known for it's geothermal baths (Fontana) and we wanted to experience them. We stopped off for a quick bite to eat and then headed to the baths. The Fontana is a small and intimate area consisting of several choices of shallow and deeper baths, each marked with a temperature rating. You can also go into the lake (with a sign that says, "Dangerous Nature!"). And if you've had enough of the baths you can go into the sauna that's fed by a naturally occurring geyser-like vent below. This was a really nice place to go and unwind after our long day of driving and sightseeing. The temperature outside was in the 50s and it was nice to sit outside in the hot water and check out the scenery. We also ventured into the lake a little bit, though we didn't get too far since the bottom was a bit rocky and it was pretty cold!

Moving on from Laugarvatn, we drove to our last stop of the day, Thingvellir National Park. Because we arrived later in the day and due to the park's size, we were able to avoid the masses and explore this park in peace. The park has a lot of historical significance as the Vikings established the world's first democratic parliament here in 930 (Thingvellir means "Parliament Plains). Now it is a protected national shrine. The national park is also located on the two tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and it's possible to stand (and snorkel) in between the two plates.

There was so much beauty in this park! There were a lot of trails, paths and other walkable areas for us to explore, as well as a beautiful lookout area that had a stunning view of the park and surrounding area.

What a tiring, but great day we had! We still needed to drive an hour to our house that would be our home for the next three nights, but more on the amazing house in the next post! Next up, a day in Greenland and some time in Reykjavik!

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