We had an overnight stop in Reykjavik and therefore got to have two full days of sightseeing in this amazing country. The first day, we took the Golden Circle tour, which includes the major tourist sites in Iceland. We could hardly believe our luck with the weather – another perfect day! Throughout our drive today, we were usually on gently rolling hills of farmland with mountains in the distance. Hay had already been harvested and was collected in round bales encased in white, green, pink, or black plastic. I didn’t see many other crops growing. We saw sheep often, horses sometimes, and a few cows once. Very occasionally there were pine forests, planted in rows, but aside from grass, the main vegetation seemed to be young trees. In several places, there were camp sites, with both tents and RVs occupying space in open fields. Everywhere we stopped on this drive, we found all facilities to be clean and well maintained – restaurants, gift shops, restrooms, and other accommodations for tourists.
Our first stop was Thingvellir National Park, which interprets and preserves one of Iceland’s most important geological and historical sites. We walked on a gravel path along a massive geological fault to the place where Europe’s oldest national assembly, the Icelandic Althing, was established in 930 CE. The Althing convened here every summer for 800 years. We were on the North American tectonic plate for this walk but could see the European-Asian plate across the valley. The guide referred to the large lake and the valley floor in between as no man’s land. The wall of rock that we walked along looked like different sizes of building blocks that had been stacked on top of each other. Grass, bushes, and wildflowers were on both sides of the path.
As we were driving to our next stop, the guide pointed out a snow-topped mountain in the distance. This is a very active volcano which they expect to blow at any time, but don’t know when that will be. After a lunch stop at a roadside restaurant, we crossed the road and followed a boardwalk to visit a very popular geyser. It blew a couple of times while I was watching, although it’s a short-lived phenomenon, not a continuous blast.
Next, we drove to the Gullfoss Waterfall, which we had visited in December 2014. We remember from that trip how cold we were looking at the falls. Today, our weather was perfect and we could really appreciate the beauty of the site. From the parking lot, we walked along a boardwalk to viewpoints overlooking the falls, where churning glacial water was rushing down two levels of the river. We walked to the end of the boardwalk so we could see the action from every angle. There was a lower boardwalk as well, but the people down there looked like they were getting wet from the spray. And, besides, they didn’t have the view that we did across the valley to the glaciers on the distant horizon. Towards the end of the day, we drove through an area of lava fields. Here, we could see plumes of steam rising on distant mountainsides, indicating the ever-present geothermal activity.
Before heading back to the ship, we stopped at the same power plant we had visited in 2014. I don’t suppose it’s changed much since we were there last, but we like being reminded of the Icelandic commitment to the environment and to their country. It’s so interesting that a power plant can be regarded as a tourist attraction.
The next day we had an excursion which concentrated on the southwest corner of Iceland, the Reykjanes Peninsula. After driving through some smaller towns and then some open countryside, we made our first stop at Kleifarvatn Lake. This is a medium-sized lake set in a vast open space, with black beaches (black sand or volcanic ash?) and calm blue water. Very beautiful. We had a photo stop for everyone, but I was busy looking at the plants and the rocks and the vista. I later read that the water level of the lake corresponds to the water table in the area, for there are no springs or streams which feed into it. As usual, there were small plants trying to grow wherever they could, and the surrounding hills were covered in green.
Our next stop was Seltun Krysuvik, an extremely active geothermal area with hot springs, bubbling mud pools, multi-colored rock surfaces and cliffs, a strong sulfur smell, and steam issuing from holes in the ground. We followed a boardwalk and dirt path around the site and got to experience everything up close. The surrounding ground was covered in thick grass turf with flowers scattered about as well. From the high point on the trail, we had a lovely wide view of the surrounding area on one side and of the adjacent mountains on the other. Our drive continued through miles of lava fields, with every surface covered with what looked like a soft grey blanket. The guide said it’s a special kind of moss which attaches itself to the lava rocks, which are too barren to support other life forms.
Our next stop was the Viking World Museum, which houses a replica of a Viking longship. Our guide was on this ship when it sailed to the U.S. in 2000 to help mark the 1000th anniversary of the Viking landing in North America, so he gave us a little talk about the ship and his experience. The ship itself was made of wood and illustrated many of the features evidently common to these vessels, namely, oar holes, shields along the top railing, a rudder, a mast and the place to put it, a square sail, below-decks storage spaces, etc. The rest of the museum displayed some artifacts and information from the early Reykjanes Peninsula settlements. When we had seen enough, we walked outside to enjoy the ocean air and the views of distant mountains. On our way back to Reykjavik, we drove near Keflavik Airport. Our guide told us that during the cold war, the U.S. had a military base in the area and that when the war was over, the facilities on the base became the airport and a university. After a short drive through the center of Reykjavik, we returned to the ship.
As we were sailing away from Iceland, we talked about how much we have enjoyed being here (having perfect weather probably helped) and about how important it has been to us to experience many of the natural wonders which have drawn us to this country in the first place. Because of its natural beauty and its orderliness, we’re now saying that Iceland is one of our favorite countries to visit, right up there with Switzerland and Australia.
Land between North American and European-Asian Tectonic Plates
Pathway in Thingvellir National Park
Us at Thingvellir National Park
Geyser at Strokkur
Steam Marking the Location of Fumaroles
Beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall
Icelandic Landscape, with Mountains and Flowers
Another View of Gullfoss Waterfall
Geothermal Power Station – A Tourist Attraction
Kleifarvatn Lake with Black Beaches and Calm Water
Seltun Krysuvik, Active Geothermal Area
Another View of Seltun Krysuvik
Beautiful Icelandic Landscape
Geothermal Activity at the Surface
Replica of Viking Longship
Viking World Museum
View from the Reykjanes Peninsula