Yen's Blog

Lens, Wheels, Skates, Keyboard

The Golden Circle

Our destination on our last day in Iceland was the Golden Circle, or at least the Gullfoss part of it. When we were about to embark on the road, we found that the car was covered in 2 inches of ice and snow. Now we’ve seen everything! We had a late start so we could finally see what the landscape on the South Ring Road heading out from Reykjavík‎. Covered in white powder, the volcanic rocks ands soil looked more than a little like cookies & cream. The landscape looked hauntingly beautiful. The wind was fierce when it came, rocking the car as if it were a toy. We saw several steam vents among the hills. Lots of power lines crisscross this area, many of which probably connecting nearby Nesjavellir geothermal power station. We stopped at the top of the pass before descending down to the coast.

As soon as we descended the pass, everything cleared and there are virtually no snow anywhere. We exit the Ring Road onto Highway 35 just before Selfoss. As if we had crossed an invisible line, the snow appeared everywhere, again. The wintry landscape, with a coat of fresh powder, was stunning.

We pulled over by the side of the road to check out a volcanic crater. I was informed that Björk once performed in the crater, on a raft. They must go to extreme lengths to avoid disturbing the neighbors here.

We took a detour to Skálholt. This is the monument to the 16th-century Catholic archbishop of Iceland, also the last Catholic archbishop of any Nordic country. He was beheaded by Denmark for leading a revolt against the forced conversion to Lutheranism.

A Lutheran church now stands on the site, amid some archaelogical excavations. It’s hard to believe that the Icelandic people have been here for more than a thousand years. At one point Skálholt was the largest and most prominent town in Iceland, population 200.

To keep up the equine tradition, here are some horse faces.

A Skálholt, we could see the wells in the southern horizon. Soon the sky darkened and the squalls began to pelt us with icy pellets. We drove away as fast as we could with the front chasing us. It almost felt like outracing the sandstorm in The Mummy. We took a chance and stopped at the Faxi waterfalls.

Just as we were done, the storm caught up and off we went in a hurry. Tired of this cat and mouse game, we decided to bypass Geysir and headed straight for Gullfoss. It felt as if we were driving in the winter wonderland.

Gullfoss is Iceland’s most popular waterfalls. That says a lot given the number of spectacular waterfalls here. But this iconic falls deserved every bit of its reputation.

The multi-levelred falls dropped into a steep canyon, whose dark, rocky walls were adorned with a thick white crown. Icicle-encrusted branches overhung the snowly path down to the top of the falls. Icy spray swirled above, covering hair, clothes, camera, turning into ice in short order.

When we were done, we found out that if we left immediately, we would make it back to the airport just in time for our flight! Remarkably, it was a clear winter day as we drove back. There was no sign of the storm. We stopped several times to get a shot from the open window, a drive-by shooting, so to speak.

We filled gas at another N1 station just before the airport. Our terminal is occupied on one end by the duty-free shop, made to resemble a pyramid. The bathroom is gorgeous with some really cool Dyson faucets-hand dryer combos. Again, we ask, why don’t we have them here?

Our trip to Iceland has been thoroughly enjoyable, despite the short daylight hours and less than ideal weather. That said, whenever we did enjoy daylight, it was like sunrise and sunset because the sun sat so low in the horizon. The light was soft, golden or pink, and gorgeous. The people that we interacted with were unfailingly friendly. This may be true for islanders in general, but is especially impressive here where it’s cold and dark for a large part of the year. Icelanders seem to spend a lot of time in the gym. There’s a gym next to a store where we shopped for food and it always seemed packed. It may come as no surprise that Iceland holds the second most number of World’s Strongest Man titles. So while the country has no army, navy or air force, anyone who’s thinking about a one-person invading army had best beware, just saying.

Last visit: December 2, 2013