We woke up, had breakfast and headed for the triangle of tourists sites in the area. This region, immediately east of Reykjavik, is popularly known as the “Golden Circle”. It’s the most visited part of Iceland as here you find the big three attractions, Gullfoss, (a wild and roaring waterfall), Geysir, (home to the original geyser), and Pingvellir (pronounced Fingvellir), the original site of the Icelandic parliament. All three sites are mobbed with tour buses which fortunately we haven’t had to deal with too much, but so what?
We went to Geysir first. This was the original spouting hot spring which all the others named after it. It first began spouting in the 14th century, blasting up to 80m into the air, but the spring became inactive in the 1960’s and now only goes off when there is an earthquake, most recently in 2000. So nothing for us which is good, because if it had spouted, we’d have been in an earthquake. There are some smaller geysirs next to it which go off every 10 minutes or so. It wasn’t anything great. Mobbed with people and too many flies. So we left after taking a few pictures.
Then it was on to Gullfoss, the giant waterfall. Again, impressive, but we’ve been so spoiled to see waterfalls where there haven’t been too many people. This one roars and on a clear warm day would be great. Today it is windy though and a bit cloudy so the spray blows right into your face. It tumbles 32 meters into a steep-sided canyon kicking up spray. The falls were almost destroyed in the 1920’s when a team of foreign investors suggested that the Hvita river should be dammed for a hydro-electric project. Luckily the land owner, Tomas Tomasson didn’t sell, but the developers went behind his back and got permission from the government. Tomas’s daughter walked all the way to Reykjavik and threatened to throw herself into the falls if the tribunal decided the falls were to be destroyed. The investors failed to pay the lease so the falls were saved anyways.
We left and made our way to Pingvellir, one of my most favorite places on the trip. It sits in the midst of lave flows 32 kilometers east of Reykjavik and is Iceland’s most historical site. The Icelandic parliament, the Alping, convened here for the first time in 930AD. The Vikings had a fairly, sophisticated parliamentary process for far-flung settlements that gathered here once a year to settle disputes and ratify laws. Even as the rest of us were still clubbing each other to death over issues like “your sheep wandered into my pasture”.
The landscape is stunning. The terrain is scarred by rocky fissures, streams flow between lava fields and waterfalls tumble into canyons. It was set aside in 1928 as the country’s first national park. There is only one touristy area and the rest is untouched.
Until 1271 every important decision affecting Iceland was argued out on the plain, from marriages to land contracts and the passing of new laws. Christianity was adopted as Iceland’s new religion (replacing paganism) overnight at this spot in 1000AD. It is now the setting of various festivals celebrating important events in Icelandic history. Probably the most impressive part of this area is the geographical beauty. At Pingvellir, you can see the 2.5-mile gap between the European and North America tectonic plates. The gap is widening by about two inches each year, as America and Europe drift away from each other tearing apart the heart of Iceland As a result, the plain is scarred by fissures including the great rift Almanagja. We loved it here and the weather was glorious and sunny.
On to Reykjavik only an hour away. We are ready to be out of the camper so are staying in the city for our last two nights. We pulled in to the SAS Radisson Saga hotel a 10 minute walk from the center of town. We got a room which was very hot due to the really warm days they’ve been having here. I’ve been warm a lot on this trip. None of the hotels bother having air conditioning as they really almost never need it. It was a hot night, but so what. Greg wanted lobster for dinner but after seeing the prices I talked him out of it and we went back to trendy Cafe Paris for dinner.
Tomorrow is our last full day in Reykjavik and we are planning on going to the Saga Museum at the Perlan Center which is meant to be great. I don’t want to go home and am glad I still have a bit of time here.