The year is 2009. At that time, unlike now, I used to take the London Underground regularly, as I used to live in Lambeth North and had to commute to Canary Wharf daily for work. 2009 was also the year when Europe was in a recession, with Iceland being one of the big casualties. With the collapse of the banking sector leading to the systematic failure of Iceland’s economy, they had to start bringing money into the country through some sector outside of banking. Well, that’s my interpretation anyway, of why there were so many posters in the underground advertising the Golden Circle Tour package that year!
I eventually relented and booked myself in for what turned out to be a great package deal. Airfare, airport transfer, hotel accommodation and the Golden Circle package, were all included for a price less than £300. Iceland turned out to be one of the best travel destinations I have ever visited.
We spent the first day walking around exploring the Reykjavik city centre. We weren’t expecting much, considering Iceland’s population only numbers just over 320,000 and Reykjavik’s just under 120,000 of that. I remember walking through neat, clean streets lined with little shops, galleries and a few cafes and restaurants. The fact that it was a cold and cloudy winter’s day, in the middle of one of the country’s worst recessions didn’t show the city in its best light, but I still found a lot to marvel at and distinctly remember thinking to myself that I must come back and visit during summertime.
No visit to Reykjavik would be complete without visiting the Hallgrímskirkja Church, with its beautiful symmetrical lines and a view of the colourful city from the top of the church.
That’s Leif Eriksson the explorer, just outside Hallgrímskirkja Church if you’re wondering. Here’s a close-up of Leifur Eiríksson as he’s known in his homeland.
Golden Circle Tour: Þingvellir
We set off bright and early the following morning with the Golden Circle tour group. The Golden Circle in Iceland is a particularly popular full day tour route, which starts off from Reykjavik and goes one full circle through the centre of Iceland.
The first stop was Þingvellir, the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge – in simple terms, you see very deep, long chasms in the ground due to the slowly diverging North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. 😉
Also rather interestingly, Þingvellir was the site where Icelandic Parliament was founded in 930 (making it the oldest functioning parliament in the world), and where it remained up to 1798. What’s left of Parliament there is now protected by the Þingvellir National Park.
Golden Circle Tour: Gullfoss
Gullfoss translates into “golden falls”. If this is what the entire Golden Circle tour is named after, you know you’re in for something spectacular. Now, I’ve not been to very many of the great waterfalls of the world, so I don’t know how the Gullfoss compares to others, but this was spectacular. From the visitor’s viewpoint, the river flows through two two tiers in quick succession before rushing down into a crevice which runs perpendicular to the waterfall. If you’re there on a good day and you’ve got a bit of luck on your side, you’ll be able to see rainbows arching over the falls.
Golden Circle tour: Geysir and Strokkur
Following on from Gullfoss, we were taken to the Haukadalur geothermal area, famed for the sprouting hot springs Geysir and Strokkur. Mmhmm, The Great Geysir (as it is sometimes known) is the mother of all geysers from which the english word geyser is derived! The name Geysir itself is derived from the Icelandic word meaning “to gush”. Although Geysir is the more famed of the two, it erupts a lot less frequently than Strokkur, who tends to blow her (his?) top every few minutes.
The one other stop we made on the Golden Circle Tour was the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant. It was surprisingly entertaining – but that may just be the hidden chemical engineer in me coming out.
One of the highlights of Iceland, and a major tourist attraction, the Blue Lagoon is a huge geothermal spa, with a large open air area. We decided to go at night and it happened to be snowing lightly while we were there. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting – there was something distinctly comfortable about sitting in 39°C mineral rich waters, looking up into the open sky, snow falling all around, with my face covered in a mud pack.
A Long Drive to Nowhere
For our last day in Iceland, we rented a car and headed off on our own. We had no specific plans, and just drove to where we felt like going at that moment. The weather was cold and the winds were strong, with snow falling harder and harder as the afternoon went on. Instead of acting as a deterrent, the relatively harsh weather conditions just added to the raw wildness that I have come to associate with Iceland. We were surrounded by gorgeous landscapes and everything was white, clean and beautiful. Gorgeous.
We hardly came across other cars and / or people on our drive, though we did chance by a group of Icelandic horses as the sun was setting. It was a pretty magical memory to take away with us from Iceland.
We’re definitely coming back for another visit, this time during summer.