Touring the Land of Fire and Ice

Thursday, April 24, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Day 3:  Reykjavik, Iceland & the Golden Circle

Happy Sumardagurinn Fyrsti!  Today was a national holiday in Iceland.  Schools were closed, banks shuttered their doors, and the faceless bureaucrats in government offices enjoyed a day off in honor of the first day of summer.  Hearkening back to days gone by when Iceland followed the two-season Old Norse calendar, the country continues to  celebrate winter's annual demise on the first Thursday after April 18.

As we traveled around today, we didn't come across any festive parades or fireworks displays, but we did see enough locals acting like tourists to make this Thursday look more weekend than work day.  Avoiding the throngs of tour operators who long to lure us into their comfortable coaches for a day trip, we hopped in our rented Corolla and took off on our own version of the Golden Circle tour today.  A marketing strategy devised by the Iceland Tourism Board to enhance the appeal of local attractions, this popular tourist route encompasses three primary locations along a 150-mile drive from Reykjavik into central Iceland and back to the capital.  (The "gems" of northern Iceland are touted as the Diamond Circle.)

The first stop on our tour was Thingvellir National Park, a national shrine to the spot where the world's first parliament was founded around the year 930.  Sheltered in a 3.5-mile rift valley (pictured above) the Althing general assembly continued to convene there until 1798. Preserved mostly in its natural state, Thingvellir (spelled Þingvellir in Icelandic) continues to host major events in the history of Iceland.

Strokkur geyser
Continuing east from Thingvellir, we reached the second of the Golden Circle locations, Haukadalur Valley, an active geothermal area around the town of Geysir (guy-ZEER), which lent its name to any erupting hot springs.  The star of the geyser show in Geysir is Strokkur, from the Icelandic word for churn.  Fifty years after an earthquake blocked its conduit, Strokkur was given a deep cleaning by locals in 1963 and now erupts reliably every four to eight minutes.  Eruptions reach a height of 40 to 65 feet (about a third the height of Yellowstone's Old Faithful).

Just a few miles further east took us to the final attraction on the Golden Circle route—Gullfoss (Icelandic for Golden Falls).  A spectacular two-tiered waterfall, Gullfoss occurs where the Hvítá River plunges into a 100-ft. crevice.  Efforts to harness the falls' power for electrical generation were resisted, and the waterfall is now protected from such development.

A more southerly route back to Reykjavik turned this jaunt into a circle.  Driving conditions were better than we had expected, based on the Hertz warnings.  All roads were paved, and other drivers seemed very courteous.  New conveyances today:  rental car, stile.

Tomorrow we'll check out the sights of Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city.

The national holiday gave lots of locals the opportunity to go cycling today.
Found a letterbox at Thingvellir!
Öxará River in Thingvellir
Thingvellir Church
Huge pipe networks carry geothermal energy to power plants for transfer to the electrical grid.
A field of crosses memorializes persons who have died in traffic accidents on the road from Reykjavik to Selfoss.
Mispronunciation Opportunity of the Day