Iceland autumn 2012: The Golden Circle

I got up late today – well, I was awake at 6.30 again – to find my horseriding blog is OffExploring’s Travel Blog of the Day! That happened last time I was here too, I forget what I’d done that day. Since I didn’t have a crack of dawn pickup, I took my time going down to breakfast. I thought I’d add cereal to my usual bread and butter as there were Honey Loops or Cheerios or something. Something that turned out to have the approximate taste and texture of cardboard. I won’t be making that mistake again.

First stop was at the eastern end of Laugavegur to take a few photos of the petrol station from Næturvaktin – at least I’m fairly sure it’s the one. The arrangements of pumps looks different and the inside is definitely different but that’s allowed. And yes, I know the petrol station from an Icelandic comedy series is a weird thing to be excited about. I am weird. Then I turned left and went down to the seafront, where I watched some seabirds and spotted a seal – right there in the seafront in the middle of the city!

As I walked along, heading for downtown Reykjavík, it started to rain and the fog came in until I couldn’t even see downtown Reykjavík. I was wearing my waterproofs but it was really wet, I could feel the rain starting to soak in through my trousers and my glasses were not only coated in water, they were also steamed up so I was more or less blind. The rain let up enough for me to take a photo or two at the Viking ship, and to borrow someone to take a photo of me with it, as is apparently the tradition, then I turned left and went straight up Frakkastígur, to Hallgrímskirkja and took shelter in Café Loki. I was soaked, I was ridiculously hot and I was exhausted and all I could manage was to get to the counter and ask for a “hot chocolate without… hot chocolate without…?” I knew what I meant but I’d completely forgotten how to say it. Cream, that was what I meant. No cream. The girl brought me a cup of very hot hot chocolate, with chocolate dust in the froth and I sat there and stirred it for ages until I’d cooled down and it had cooled down, enjoying the fact that I could see Leifur Eiriksson framed in the glass in the door and Hallgrímskirkja framed in the window. It was good hot chocolate.

I retreated back down Skólavörðustígur and had a look in the interesting arty design shop. Why have I never been in there before?! I could have bought half the shop! It’s only things like novelty ice moulds and bookends and keyholders but some of them are so brilliant and so funny! Stopped off in the smaller Puffin next and then Eymundsson, the bookshop. Last time I came in here (July) Fifty Shades of Grey was number 1. Today it was number 2 and Fifty Shades Darker was number 1. I deduce that Icelanders are quite slow readers but they all want to carry on beyond the first book in the trilogy.

Last stop was the bigger Eymundsson down on the main street before going back to the IE offices to pick up my ticket and get on my bus. Foolishly, I’d assumed autumn was low tourist season and that most people who wanted to do the Golden Circle would do the full day one. No. Packed coachload. Our driver talked the whole way. His English is not quite as fluent as most people’s here and the sound system on the coach isn’t wonderful. He didn’t say very much that I didn’t already know but at least I was listening – just about everyone I could see was sleeping.

We went to Þingvellir where it was cold and rainy and although we could see the plains and the cliffs, we couldn’t see much view. Down to the Wishing Well where I learnt that the beginning of the custom of throwing coins into it came from the Danish king, who came to visit Iceland (which was at the time a Danish colony) for Iceland’s 1000th birthday in 1874, wanted to know how deep this particular gorge was and threw a coin in to see, much to the horror of the Icelanders who witnessed it. These days, everyone throws money in and I was told there are at least two credit cards in there too. Even on a wet grey day, the water was crystal clear.

Next we headed up to Gullfoss. This has always been my least favourite stop on the Golden Circle – it’s a very nice waterfall but it really isn’t nice enough to merit such a long stop, even if it does have a café at the top. But today – today, Gullfoss looked beautiful. It was all powder blue, set in a golden-brown autumn landscape, frozen around the edges but still flowing fiercely and for the first time, it really looked beautiful and special. We only had forty-five minutes here today, which was actually only just enough time to get right down and then up to the middle of it, take a few photos, take a few videos, come back up and crash into everyone in the shop because my glasses misted up inside.

Then we were off to the hot springs, where I still don’t think we get enough time. Strokkur provided us with a show, as usual, which is always fun and I got a few videos of her, but I spent most of the time with one eye on Strokkur and the other on the smaller frothy pots further down, which are just as entertaining but tend to get rushed past. I have a particular soft spot for Litli Geysir, which just sloshes around violently. It was chilly enough that as well as the steam that generally comes out of the springs, there was the extra vapour that happens when it’s cold, so the whole place was in a low-level mist, except when Strokkur went off, and then there was high mist as well. It’s very pretty there – perpetually green, or greenish because the hot steam keeps the place warm and damp and the mountains up the back are streaked with red.

We did a couple of unofficial stops on the way back. Faxi, which is a waterfall with a salmon ladder up the side. The guide told us we were doing a stop that you won’t find on any itinerary, which is a pity because it’s very interesting and it’s right beside the road “and except that it’s called Faxi, which I’ve just told you, you don’t even know what it is.” I actually said out loud “I do!” because that was really the first sight I ever saw in Iceland – my guide decided to stop there when it was all frozen up last winter. Our other unofficial stop was Kerið. It was getting dark by then, so harder to take photos of but still nice to see. Last I heard, there was potential access trouble, as it had been bought by three brothers who didn’t want tourists looking at it but there was no sign of any of that today, and I do hope there never is, because it’s a very nice crater.

We drove back to Reykjavík after that. It was dark, the sky had occasional clear patches but was mostly cloudy and it rained. We drove back through Hveragerði, where the guide talked about earthquakes and earthquake-proofing houses. I’ve been here three full days, driven through Hvergerði three times and no one has mentioned Icelandic bananas! What is wrong with this country?! If I’d actually made Iceland Fact Bingo, I’d be losing badly because I expect Icelandic bananas! to come up, or at least Icelandic roses (both grown in the massive geothermally heated greenhouses in Hveragerði). Neither has anyone mentioned hot springs unexpectedly spouting in the middle of people’s houses or even the more horrifying one about having to be careful where bodies are buried because they can be thrown out of the ground and into the air by newborn hot spouts.

I’d planned to get off in the town centre but when the bus stopped on the corner of my street and Laugavegur, I though I’d hop off there instead, to save myself the walk in the drizzle. It also meant that I was right by the shop, for more bread and chocolate.

I got back to my hotel to find a note under my door – my superjeep trip to Þórsmörk tomorrow is cancelled because there aren’t enough people on it. I’m not entirely surprised. I was wondering about that. So I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow. Iceland has more than enough on offer to keep me busy, just have to pick something to do. I could walk up to the Pearl, see the view from the revolving restaurant and go to the Viking Saga museum and then the geothermal beach and just spend a day wandering the city instead of rushing around like a mad person. I probably won’t try climbing Esja, although I’d like to. I could find a Rekjanes tour or go to whichever museum contains the ancient manuscripts of the sagas. I wish I’d brought my Sagas of Icelanders with me, because I see it in all the bookshops (and believe me, I go in every bookshop I see) and I want to finish the Saga of the People of Laxardal. But it’s a big heavy book so I left it behind. Or I could find out where the cinemas are and maybe see Bond with Icelandic subtitles. Or go to the Volcano House and watch their Eyjafjalljökull/Eldfell films. I saw a chunk of the Eldfell film in the café on Heimaey over the summer. Watching it is a tiny bit traumatic. Decisions, decisions. First up, how do I get home from Heathrow on Monday? This is a little detail I still haven’t worked out.

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