So, I turned thirty in February. THIRTY years on this planet. My budding age crisis was, however, swiftly banished when my mother decided to gift me with a free trip to Iceland! There were only two conditions: 1) I would handle all travel arrangements based on a specific budget and 2) Mum would get to join me on the trip. Clearly an offer I couldn’t refuse.
On board Icelandair we saw the (unfortunately) only “northern lights” of the trip projected on the ceiling of the cabin. Such an amazing idea for the branding of the plane! Somebody please give this designer a biscuit or two. :)
On the first night we didn’t have much time for anything other than getting settled at our guesthouse (Sunna Guesthouse) and gawking at the exorbitant prices at the shops. Of course almost every article ever written on Iceland warns tourists of the high costs, but it is hard to fully appreciate just how high those prices can be until you’re already there, desperately clutching at your poor wallet. Even though this time I didn’t have to dip into my own pockets, I could still feel cold sweat running down my spine whenever I caught a glimpse of the price tags of our snacks. It might be a good idea for every Iceland traveller to bring their own paper bag in which to breathe, for all those times when panic sets in at the cash register.
The next morning we grabbed an excellent rental car from Thrifty and finally got to the point: there is a good reason why the Golden Circle is on nearly every tourist’s bucket list when they first visit Iceland. There are so many natural wonders and other sights by the ring road that it is virtually impossible to see them all in one day, so you have to pick and choose. Usually the route is driven clockwise as a full circle, but our itinerary looked more like a lasso on the map. We wanted to end the day with a soak at the Laugarvatn Fontana Spa, so it took some extra work to figure out the logistics. Special thanks to Google: couldn’t have done it without the offline maps!
1. Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir was once the centre of Iceland, and it is also where the country was declared independent in 1944. The national park is located where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet, and the bravest visitors are offered a chance to dive in the Silfra fissure between the plates. We were content with a leisurely walk on dry land – it was already challenging enough to avoid bumping into busloads of other tourists, even though our visit was still well outside high season. Entrance to the park is free, but parking next to the Tourist Info costs 500 ISK – free parking seemed to be possible a bit further away.
2. The Crater Lake Kerið
The most basic Golden Circle itinerary only contains the three giants: Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. But Kerið is not to be missed! For 450 ISK, you get to step right to the edge of the crater. Our first view of the lake was slightly disappointing: it looked like a sad, brown puddle from the viewpoint right next to the parking lot. Fortunately we had the good sense to walk around the whole crater: the lake changes colour based on weather and light conditions! The walk only took us a maximum of fifteen minutes, during which we got to experience dry weather, rain, a hail shower and sunshine. As Icelanders like to say: if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. Extremely accurate.
3. The Gentle Beasts
My whole adult life I’ve thought of horses as murderous beasts just waiting for a chance to strike me. Then I met these two sympathetic fellows who turned my world upside down. While driving the Golden Circle, you can see horses everywhere. I was only planning to snap a nice photo of them from a safe distance and quickly return to the car, but as soon as the horses saw me swinging my camera around, they came over to the fence to make a new friend. I plucked up all my courage and pet them on the nose, half expecting them to bite off my arm and neigh maliciously afterwards. I managed to avoid such horror scenarios and also rid myself of one phobia, at least momentarily.
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