A few of us packed breakfast food and carried it to Iceland in our luggage. This was a helpful tip for deferring the high cost of food here. We foraged for breakfast amid the granola bars, dried fruits and bagels piled onto the little kitchen table. Then we bundled up in our cold-weather gear and piled into the two rental cars, driven by Dad and Mike, that would carry us about the country. Even with just one bathroom for the eight of us, we managed to be out the door by about 9:30 a.m.GMT.
Jenna kindly mapped out our tour of the Golden Circle, a popular tourist rout in southern Iceland. Our first stop was the gas station for fuel of the automobile (gas) and human (coffee) kind. The self-service stations are quirky in that, if you wish to use a card to buy gas, it must be a card with a PIN, and you have to pre-select how much you want to spend. Estimation is a handy skill to have here - tricky when you are switching from USD to Icelandic Króna, and from gallons to liters.
Our little caravan headed off through the wide-open countryside, beautiful snow-capped mountains in the distance. Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park (the "th" looks like þ,so people want to say "Pingvellir.") This park is a UNESCO world heritage site, significant because this is where the Icelandic parliament was founded in 930 AD, and where independence from Denmark was declared in 1944. It is a huge rift valley created by the drifting apart of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. They are drifting apart at the rate of about 0.8 inches a year. We walked through a relatively young gorge and climbed up a small stone lookout. We wandered along some trails - some went to check out a scenic little white church at the side of a stream. We saw several people in wet suits and wondered if it was some kind of training session. (I learned later that Silfra Frissure is the only place in the world where you can snorkle directly in a crack between two tectonic plates.) Ted and Mike jogged back to get the cars so Tim could rest his broken foot. Driving from one parking lot to another was a much longer drive than expected, so we had lots of time to relax while we waited.
|A marked example of the rift between tectonic plates|
Back on the road, this time we headed for the raw, wild beauty of the Gullfoss Waterfall, located in the canyon of the Hvitá River. Visitors can walk along the top of the canyon to view the multi-level cascading falls, or hike down to a lower lever for a closer up view. We all walked along the stunning rim, the roar of the water in our ears and the icy spray in our faces. An attention-grabbing rainbow posed for pictures at one side of the falls. The kids hiked down closer to the falls while the "old folks" went back to wait in the warmth of the welcome center. Tim grabbed some food, and I sat at one of the big windows so I could see our group when they came up. The center was big, with multiple entrances, and a big shopping area, so it was a bit tricky to get everyone back in one place. Once that was accomplished, we maneuvered our way through the crazy traffic in the parking area, making our way to our next destination.
|Now that's a tour bus!|
Several of our group had read about the tasty, and fairly inexpensive lamb hot dogs that are available at gas stations in the area - an affordable alternative to the ubiquitous pricey fare. We'd been keeping an eye out for one such place. Jenna was using her GPS to try to guide us, and it took us along some very back roads. We saw some interesting sights hidden from the main highways, and finally found what we were looking for. An old, yellow-brick, two-story building with a gas tank in the lot. The proprietor of the establishment was a bit taken aback when we said we wanted eight hot dogs. But he lifted the lid of the boxy metal cooker behind the counter, and said he could do it. The place was much like a convenience store, with aisles of tasty snacks, and we all loaded up with chips, candy and drinks while we waited for the dogs to be ready. The guy made a killing on us! We sat at some little metal tables and chairs in one corner of the shop, and ate like Americans. The dogs were quite good.
The last stop of our tour was the startling Kerid Crater. Traffic backed up into the highway, and it took us quite a while to get into the lot. Weaving through cars, we made our way to the ticket counter, then followed the paved walkway to some seats along the rim of the crater. A dark, circular lake sits at the bottom of the red-rock caldera, formed as land moved over a localized hot spot in the earth. Tim and I watched as our younger counterparts made their way around the upper rim of the crater, becoming barely recognizable dots in the distance. Some tourists braved the climb down to the bottom of the crater, splashing in the water.
Our Golden Tour complete, we returned to our house. Some of us napped, while others went out shopping. We all met at Brew Dog, a microbrewery at the corner of our street, for drinks and grub. The food was yummy, especially the Mars Bar Wellington dessert! The servers didn't seem too fond of Americans, but kindly asked if we wanted them to take a selfie - someone handed them a camera, and got a picture of the servers!
|Mars Bar Wellington - yummm|
Crashed for a bit, then up at 10:30 p.m. to search for the Northern Lights. We drove to a peninsula not about fifteen minutes away, where a lighthouse stood guard over the sea. We shivered in the cold as we gazed up at the heavens, and saw whitish wisps that appeared and faded again and again. We saw four tremendously bright shooting stars as a bonus. Some of us walked back to the the cars around 12:30 a.m. to escape the cold, and saw some of the most brilliant green s-shaped ribbons in the sky through the rear window as we waited for the others to return. We dodged late-night partiers weaving across the streets as we returned once more to our little Reykjavik house for a quick nap before our 3:30 a.m. departure.