We were packed and ready to leave our hotel early this morning to start our drive around the ring road.. We are still waking up around 5.00 am thanks to some jet lag and this certainly helped us get going this morning. Breakfast at our hotel was very nice and we are already enjoying nordic breakfasts of thick rye bread, salmon, hard boiled eggs, cheese and the creamy Icelandic yoghurt (Skyr). There were some other quaint things about our hotel that we found interesting. The lift had doors on three sides. On different floors, a different door would open and the first few rides were a real surprise to see which way we should face. The shower in our room had an old fashioned (for us) 8 inch shower head. Obviously water is no problem here and it was a delight to luxuriate under a long hot shower without feeling guilty about using too much water.
We were picked up at 9.30 am and taken to the Europcar depot near the domestic airport on the edge of the city.. They gave us a detailed thick road guide and a map along with the car keys. The only problem is that the road guide is deigned to be read if you are travelling the ring road in a clockwise direction. We are going anti-clockwise so we need to start at Page 159 and then skip around a few pages to find the road on which we are travelling. It rained all day after the remains of a hurricane from the east coast of the USA crossed most of the island.
There are three outstanding sites along the Golden Circle and we managed to fit them all in despite the rain. I can’t believe how many more tourists there are travelling around here compared to the last tine we visited Iceland.. There are thousands of them! The size of parking areas has tripled, cafes have spring up at all of the main tourist sites and the whole place seems more crowded.
Out first stop was at he Pingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park. This was the site of Iceland’s first parliament. In fact, Iceland has the world’s longest active parliament. This site is located in the rift valley where two of the world’s tectonic plates meet. These drift apart by about 2 cm per year but enough magma from the hot spot on which Iceland is situated fills in the gap under the crust.
The settlement of Iceland began in AD 874 when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfr Arnarson became the first permanent Norwegian settler on the island. Over the next centuries, people of Norse and Celtic origin also settled here. Early on, district assemblies were formed, but as the population grew, there was a need for a general assembly to discuss laws and agree policies. Around that time, the owner of the land at Pingvellir was found guilty of murder. His land was then declared public, with a requirement that it be used for assembly proceedings. This included the building of temporary dwellings with the forest to be used for kindling and the grazing of horses. The Þingvellir area was chosen for this reason and for its accessibility to the most populous regions of the north, south and west. The longest journey a chieftain had to travel was 17 days, from the easternmost part of the country where mountains and glacial rivers proved bothersome obstacles.
The foundation of the Icelandic parliament is said to be the founding of the nation of Iceland, and the first parliamentary proceedings in the summer of 930 laid the ground for a common cultural heritage and national identity. Þingvellir played a central role in the history of the country, and its history runs almost parallel with the history of the Icelandic Commonwealth.
Along the escarpment there is a rather stunning waterfall. Because it is summer now, the area is abundant with wildflowers.
Further along the road is a thermal area called Geysir. This is the home of the original Geysir (the name now used for all these spouting water features originally comes from the Icelandic Language) The original geyser no longer spouts, either because the ground water level has changed, or perhaps, less likely, because of all he rocks and stones that tourists have thrown into its throat over the years. The area is full of boiling mud pits, hot pools, steam vents the lively Strokkur Geyser which spouts water 30 metres into the air every few minutes. It was pouring while I waited for the next eruption but I stuck it out.
Our final stop was at the Gullfoss waterfall – one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. The wide Hvítá river 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 – 11 metres into a crevice 32 metres deep. The average amount of water running down the waterfall is 140 cubic metres per second in summer and 80 cubic metres per second in the winter.
During the first half of the 20th century, and some years into the late 20th century, there was much speculation about using Gullfoss to generate electricity. During this period, the waterfall was rented indirectly by its private owners to foreign investors. However, the investors’ attempts to install a hydro plant were unsuccessful, partly due to lack of money. The waterfall was later sold to the state of Iceland, and is now protected.
A story is told about Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of one of the owners who was determined to preserve the waterfall’s condition and even threatened to throw herself down if the development went ahead. Although it is widely believed, the very popular story that Sigríður saved the waterfall from exploitation is untrue. She is reputed to have walked bare footed all the way to Reykjavik to bring attention to the situation.
By the time we had finished here it was about 3.30 pm and we were sick of the rain so we decided that our day of site seeing was over and it was time to head too our hotel and get dry.