Iceland’s Golden Circle

Reykjavik and the Golden Circle, Iceland Day 3 – December 10th 2016

As part of our flight and hotel package with Iceland Air, we got a free day tour of Iceland’s infamous Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a route in the South of Iceland that includes stops at Thingvellir National Park, Eysir geothermal area to see the Strokkur geyser and Gulfoss waterfall.

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So lets break down the 6 hour bus tour. Thingvellir National Park is home to the Rift Valley which marks the divide between the North American and Eurasian techtonic plates. The landscape was interesting as the rift literally looks like the earths ground has split into two halves. I’m sure it was what inspired the graphics in Hollywood films such as “2012”. However, as the plates are drifting apart a whole 2 cm per year, the landscape was far less dramatic.

Next stop was Eysir geothermal park. The area is home to two famour geysir’s, the Stori-Geysir and the Strokkur Geysir. The Stori-Geysir last erupted in 1935 and has since stayed dorment. So waiting for that guy to erupt was not on the agenda. Strokkur Geysir however erupts every 10 minutes or so and can reach 30 meters high. The eruptions are quick so I didn’t even bother trying to get a photo. Instead mom and I sat on a bench and watched the tourists get soaked with semi boiling water
(80 to 100 degrees Celsius). The attraction was interesting but not going to lie, the hundreds (literally hundreds) or tourists at the site makes these natural treasures feel way less authentic and way more of a product placement to capitalize on. We weren’t even allowed to eat our packed lunches in the mess hall as it was for paying customers only.

On the tour, our tour guide was sharing some background on the tourism industry in Iceland. In 2008, along with the rest of the world, Iceland’s economy tanked (estimated to have experienced the largest collapse by any country in economic history). The Country started pouring money into tourism and after 2010 when Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted and stopped air traffic to and from Europe, the whole world became aware of Iceland and the tourism boom began. Last year approximately 1 million people visited Iceland. The countries entire population is just under 400,000. It’s estimated that 2017 will bring 1.7 million visitors to the island. This shift to tourism is very noticeable when you take these sights seeing tours.

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Every attraction we stopped at or drove passed had construction activities taking place. Usually new buildings for what I expect to be gift shops, rest rooms and accommodations. Other construction activities included enlarging walkways and pipe networks to service these new buildings. I was surprised by this amount of development and to be honest a bit disappointed. I’m positive if we rented a car and drove to locations further away from Reykjavik, we would have found the untouched, natural, true Iceland but if you don’t have a car when you arrive, your left to getting on these tour busses and experiencing the over capitalized versions of Iceland.

The last stop of the day was to Gullfoss waterfalls. The falls were beautiful. On the engineering front, 109 m3/s flows down the falls which is an insane amount of water. To put that into perspective, Edmonton’s estimated water consumption is 3.0 m3/s, and that’s a population of 800,000 people! Again there were more people looking at this waterfall than could be counted but with the sun setting over the grass lands around us and mom and I chatting away, it was a lovely way to end the day…oh wait, the day wasn’t over it was only 3 pm by then.

The bus ride home was beautiful. We drove West back to the city and meandered through small towns with light up green houses along grass lands and craters. The sun set was a deep red and extended across the horizon. Our tour bus driver told more stories about Iceland, one about the lack of trees on the island. Approximately 2% of the island is covered in trees. The island used to have about 25% of it’s surface covered in trees but due mainly to landuse and human activities, this rapidly declined. The tour guide told us the following joke, “What do you do when you get lost in an Icelandic forest?” The answer, “Stand up”!

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We got back to the city around 430 and had dinner at Glo, a new restaurant serving 10 different vegan salads and four main courses each day. Three of the four courses where vegan, on being raw vegan. I had the curry soup and beet salad and mom had a veggie wrap.

As we began to get our layers of clothing back on, everyone in the restaurant began to crowd around the windows to look down at the main street below. 5 Coca Cola trucks decorated in Christmas lights where driving down the narrow street with people on either side singing Christmas carols. The sight was of fascination because the trucks literally took up the entire width of the street.

We went back to the hotel and took a quick nap before making our way to the marina for an evening boat ride to check out the Northern Lights. Iceland is famous for having the best geographical location to view the lights. As such (and because it was free), we bundled up (in 5 layers) and got on the boat. We were out for about an hour when people slowly started going into the covered cabin. Mom and I were laying down on the benches staring at the stars waiting for the lights to appear. We got a few shots of the lights with our camera but they were never bright enough to see with the human eye. Last time mom saw the lights was 1983 and I say them in 2001. Maybe we’ll get a glimpse of them before we leave.

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