Our third day in Iceland got off to an inauspicious start. Where we’d had rather roomy mini-buses — and a few empty seats — for our excursions up until then, the one that picked us up on Sunday morning for a tour of The Golden Circle had been built for school children. I’m only 5’6″, so this typically isn’t the biggest issue for me. But Cara is a little taller. And everyone in this micro bus was wearing two or three additional layers of clothing and carrying a backpack of some sort. There were no empty seats.
I found this a little odd since The Golden Circle is the most touristy of the tours and a fairly long one. A roomy ride would have seemed in order. Then again, it didn’t require equipment like crampons or dry suits and fins (more on that in the next post). We ended up weaseling our way into the front seats with a little more leg room, but I did wonder if this was the one trip we could have gone with one of the bigger tour companies and just settled for a bus.
(Click on photos for slightly larger versions.)
That feeling was at its strongest at the Geysir area, where hundreds upon hundreds of tourists milled around waiting for water to shoot out of the earth. Yes. I was one of those people. No. I’m not judging the others. I’m simply pointing out that there were a ton of people, including a guy in a New Englands Patriots hats and a large number of those old people who get really cranky around lunch time. The Geysir and its friends were adequately geysir-y. We were impressed.
The second-most tourist-ridden spot that day was Gullfoss Waterfall — and appropriately so.
By this point, we’d seen a number of fairly impressive waterfalls in Iceland. Waterfalls are like pizza and rainbows — if you don’t like them, there’s something wrong with you. But Gullfoss was an order of magnitude bigger than the others. Okay. Maybe it wasn’t an order of magnitude bigger. I’m not sure what that means. It likely has a very precise meaning that I’m getting wrong at the moment, driving someone with knowledge of science as crazy as I get when someone mixes up then/than. Now you see how it feels.
At any rate, Gullfoss was a sight to behold. And we didn’t really feel hemmed in by tourists.
Besides, the folks at Extreme Iceland did take us a few other places that weren’t over-run — or at least timed the trip so we weren’t seeing things at the same time as others. I know I didn’t have to look at a stupid Patriots hat again that day.
We were the only people checking out the Kerid Crater in the morning.
And our driver even pulled over and let us pet a few Icelandic horses.
A few fun facts about Icelandic horses:
- They are a very pure breed. No other horse breeds are allowed into Iceland.
- They spend all year outside. While cows and sheep get to go live it up in the barn for part of the winter, the horses are stuck out of doors.
- That doesn’t save them from the butcher. People eat horse in Iceland.
We also went to a geothermal plant and a dairy farm, where we had some delicious ice cream right in front of the cows who produced it.
The day ended with a visit to Thingvellir National Park and Oxararfoss Waterfall. Oxararfoss was interesting not only because it was a waterfall but because there was a Russian woman trying to conduct some kind of modeling shoot on the rocks. She was attractive, sure, but most of us were watching in anticipation that she’d slip off the clearly icy rock and ruin the many pieces of fur-lined nonsense she was wearing.
Thingvellir is interesting from both a geological and historical perspective. I could blow through an entire blog post about it, but the highlights:
- It’s where the North American and Eurasian continental plates drift apart.
- So that means you’re standing on neither continent, which is kind of cool.
- It’s where the first Icelandic parliament was formed in 930 AD and where subsequent parliaments met afterwards, creating laws and administering justice.
- It provides for some jaw-dropping panoramic scenery. (Most of Iceland does, but even after a few days of it, you’re still just kind of like: I can’t quite take in what I’m seeing.)
Eventually, we were deposited back at the Iceland Air Marina hotel, where we decided to have a meal at the much-hyped Slippbarinn restaurant. As I said in the original post, it was perfectly adequate — and it was certainly a scene on Friday night and Saturday night — but the cocktails and the food weren’t anything I’d write home about. There were a lot of things you could call “ambitious” — and someone else possibly thought they were “edgy” or “experimental.” But a lot of it — including the cocktails — ended up being a whole lot of ingredients that didn’t necessarily come together. The gratinated cheese (Icelandic queso) was delicious, so stick to the simple things here.
Next up? Hot springs and snorkeling.