The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route looping from Reykjavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. The three primary stops are the geothermal area in Haukadalur which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, the Gullfoss waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park.


With our reunion plans temporarily delayed (and John and I functionally useless without a driver), we opted to take one of Iceland’s many guided tours on our second day; and so began our exploration of The Golden Circle. I’ve had less-than-stellar experiences of tours before; Japan, in particular, being somewhat egregious for the “follow the pom-pom, don’t stray from the group, 5 minutes for photos ok on we go” style of smothering. Thankfully that wasn’t the case here, and their hands-off approach of driving you to each location then telling you to be back at an appointed time was much more in line with my sensibilities. Indeed, my only complaint about Reykjavik Excursions as a company would be the slightly racist tour guide whose fun facts quickly went from “red and white farmhouses symbolise fire and ice: the two elements that forged our country” (Oh!) to “Iceland shares no land borders with any other countries so we don’t have the problems with immigrants that the rest of you do and we’re very proud of that.” (Oh.) Alas, while the transport was otherwise smooth sailing, the one thing you can’t count on in a tour group is the people you’ve been lumped with.

Our first stop was one of the less advertised destinations on the tour: the Friðheimar greenhouse cultivation centre, where one can learn about the “magic behind growing delicious, pesticide-free tomatoes and cucumbers with the aid of the geothermal heat that Iceland has in abundance.”

If nothing else, it broke up the journey, gave me a chance to pee, and I got to meet some adorable bumble bees.

Unfortunately, it also led to our first (of three) incidents perpetrated by American tourists on the bus. (I don’t mean to generalise, but that’s a fairly comprehensive cross-section.) John’s and my hotel having been the last one to be picked up from that morning, we arrived later than the other members of our group to the central bus station, and were made later still when the tour guide asked us to head into the office and get a printed version of our e-booking (which rather defeats the point of sending a paperless QR code but who were we to argue?). By the time we got on the bus, therefore, there were no available seats together (this despite numerous single travellers on the bus sitting in single file with their bags occupying the seat beside them without an offer to double up), leading to our separation for the first leg of the journey.

Given that this was to be an 8 or 9-hour tour, however, I didn’t fancy the remainder of it being as taciturn as the beginning, and when it came time to return to the bus after the horticultural centre, we left a little early in order to find two seats together. Not 30 seconds later, a big, brusque American woman marched up to and foghorned, “YOU’RE IN OUR SEATS.”

“Oh, I dont think it’s assigned seating,” I replied, scanning the 40 other available seats around us which looked about as serviceable as the ones we were presently occupying.

“WELL, MY HUSBAND AND I WERE SITTING THERE AND MY KIDS WERE SITTING THERE,” she bellowed, gesturing to the seats across the aisle.

“Well, we were separated before as well but there are plenty of other seats available now,” I reasoned.

“OH! OH?! SO WHAT?! I HAVE TO BE SEPARATED FROM MY KIDS SO YOU CAN SIT TOGETHER?! NOT COOL, GUYS. NOT COOL.”

Now it’s important to note that – had she approached us with a modicum of civility when explaining her situation – I would happily have vacated the seats and moved down; to say nothing of the fact that her kids were probably going to be safe from abduction sitting 5 metres behind her in a moving vehicle (or, heaven forfend, that each parent could have sat with each child if they were THAT concerned with their protection). By this point, however, I could tell that John – who is on the opposite end of the argumentative spectrum from myself – was becoming wildly uncomfortable, and since there were, as I mentioned, a plethora of other seats available, I reasoned (unlike our American friend) that it made no earthly difference whether we sat in these particular seats or the ones 2 rows ahead of them.

“Well,” I answered, “If it’s that important to you, we’ll move, but you could have been more pleasant about it.”

“Oh, I thought I was,” she muttered as we passed her in the aisle.

“No,” I said, turning to face her, “Trust me: ‘THAT’S NOT COOL GUYS!!!’ is not pleasant.”

Given that she had, regardless, gotten her own way, I figured that would be an end to this fuckery. That is until her aforementioned “kids” took their seats: two boys, of around 15 and 17 respectively. Which is to say that the defenseless children she was so worried about being separated from for the duration of a bus journey had the combined years of MY. FUCKING. AGE…and were about as mortified at their mother’s behaviour as I was dumbfounded.

Undaunted, we powered on to the first of the three primary stops on the Golden Circle: the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur (of which this is the latter).

Sometimes known as The Great Geysir, this was the first geyser known to modern Europeans and the one from which the English word derives. Though it’s been mostly dormant for many years now…

…Strokkur continues to erupt every 5–10 minutes in impressive displays like these! (Note the people in the background for scale!)

Geysers erupts when superheated groundwater, confined at depth, becomes hot enough to blast its way to the surface.

This is a view into their internal plumbing.

After watching the geysers erupt a couple of times, and with a fair whack of time left before we had to be back at the bus, John and I opted to climb the nearby mountain to get a view over into the next valley over.

What we didn’t know was that the recent rainfall had turned the red clay that makes up the area into a boggy vacuum determined to drag us down into its sanguine depths. Or, at the very least, to steal a shoe or two.

Haukadalsvegur, featuring a dramatically windswept John.

The view back down to the geysers. Shortly after our descent, strike 2 occurred among the tour group when two stragglers boarded 15 minutes after our scheduled departure time (cutting 15 minutes off our next destination) without so much as an apology. Nevertheless, we did eventually make it to…

…the second of the famous Golden Circle sights: the Gullfoss waterfall!

Located in the canyon of the Hvítá river, Gullfoss translates to the “Golden Falls” and is where the Golden Circle derives its name. Sadly the weather that day wasn’t compliant in allowing us to see exactly why!

The wide Hvítá rushes southward, and about a kilometre above the falls it turns sharply to the right and flows down into a wide curved three-step “staircase” and then abruptly plunges in two stages into a crevice.

As one first approaches the falls, the edge is obscured from view, so that it appears that the river simply vanishes into the earth.

Which, to be fair, is still sort of how it looks from above.

Fosselfie! First of many.

John’s Macabre Gadget ring somehow felt perfectly in keeping with the rest of the landscape.

En route to our third and final stop.

My already limited patience waning, strike 3 would, thus, have been the end of me – if it hadn’t been for the most satisfying plot twist of the day which was about to unfold. Prior to our final destination, we branched off into two separate groups, with half finishing off at a health spa out in the mountains while the rest of us proceeded onwards to Þingvellir National Park. It was on arrival at the spa, however, that a girl who was in our group decided to take an unscheduled toilet break.

“Oh, we’re only stopping here for a minute,” our guide informed her, “You’ll have a chance to go very soon when we arrive at our destination.”

“Um, I need to go to the bathroom,” she replied; her tone suggesting that this was quite obviously the case.

“You really can’t wait?” he asked. “We’re already behind schedule and we don’t have time to wait for you.”

“UM, no. I need to go the bathroom,“ she repeated with an eyeroll, before marching across the parking lot towards the health spa.

Which is exactly where he left her, because it was at that exact moment that the driver officially lost all patience and drove off without her! Here’s hoping she took the 2 hours before the next tour bus showed up to reflect on the value of other people’s time, and not pissing off the one person who can leave you stranded in the Icelandic countryside.

Thingvellir National Park lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

The Althing (the national parliament of Iceland) was established at Þingvellir in the year 930, and held its sessions there until 1798.

Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930, marking the one-thousandth anniversary of the Althing.

Traversing the tectonic plates between continents.

Back in Reykjavik that evening, dinner at the Italian restaurant Rossopomodoro.

Quattro formaggi plus one slice of John’s.

He 100% bought this because it looks like Maleficent’s.

#candid

“WHAAAYYYY, MINK!” Thoroughly amusing if you’re Scottish; less so, I would imagine, to anyone else.

With John thoroughly exhausted from our 9-hour tour, I made a solo expedition to the Harpa Concert Hall in the city’s harbour.

At night, the colourful geometric windows glimmer like fish scales.

Insider tip: should you find yourself in Iceland in November, Björk is performing here on the 5th.

The geometric design continues into the interior, like a colossal beehive.

Our accommodation for the evening: Apartment K. Cool place, though be warned that the walls are so paper thin that when our neighbour’s phone alarm went off the following morning, I genuinely thought it was coming from inside our room.

Mark Liddell 2016 | Facebook | Flick | Instagram | Twitter

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