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The Golden Circle

Friday, 6pm
Centrehotel Plaza, Reykjavik

Thursday morning we bade a tearful farewell to the Myvatn horses and set off for our long drive back to Reykjavik. The weather was warm, but with patches of cloud. As we descended into Akureyri there was a thick bank of fog, but we cleared it as quickly as we entered it and by and large the weather was clear for most of the day.

We stopped at a gas station for a typical Icelandic road lunch: hot dogs and a drink. (Anne even went for the luxury hot dog — bacon-wrapped!). The terrain was as varied and beautiful as ever. North of Reykjavik we passed through a 6km toll tunnel under a fjord, and by 4 pm we were back in town.

Our first stop was to the Centerhotel Klöpp. We had some anticipation about staying there, as this would be our third and last attempt: both the first and second times, they had moved us to a sister hotel (Arnarvhol, very comfortable) instead. We arrived at Klöpp — and they had lost our reservation (despite the email confirmation I had received, which I was able to show them). So we were sent to the Centerhotel Plaza instead, right in the heart of the town by one of the main shopping squares. Oh Klöpp, how could you treat us so? The Plaza is ok, but not as nice as Arnarvhol and way noisier at night. Oh well, it’s only two nights…

Once we had dumped our stuff we dropped in at the tourist information centre (next door to the hotel, one plus) and got some advice for our Golden Circle tour on Friday. We also confirmed that the city’s Harborhüs Art Gallery was indeed open late on Thursdays. So after a pizza dinner (at Hornud, not bad) we went to the gallery.

Good: the price (free) and the building (modern conversion of a port storage facility). Bad: the art. We’ve enjoyed some Icelandic sculpture (e.g. in the gallery in Akureyri) but this museum had only three artists featured, and none of them did anything for us.

Friday morning, after a noisy and somewhat sweaty night in our un-airconditioned hotel, we breakfasted and headed out of town.

A short aside to describe the typical Icelandic hot breakfast: coffee (strong), meusli with sürmjolk (sort of like yogurt), and then bread (toasted or buns) with some combination of salami, fish, jam and cheese.

Back to the drive: heading west of the city on a gorgeous day, we drove to the ancient Icelandic parliament site, Thingvellir (Þingvellir). It’s a dramatic site, on the edge of Iceland’s biggest lake (Þingvallavatn), and right on the fault line dividing the North American and European plates. The site is bordered by some nice rocky crevasses, and has two downsides: (1) a lot of tourists, and (2) a lot of midges. Still, worth seeing.

From Thingvellir we continued on to the second Golden Circle site, Geysir. This area has a number of hot bubbling pools and two major geysirs: the “old” Geysir, and Strokkur, which nowadays gets all of the tourist attention despite its much smaller jet (only 30 metres, versus Geysir’s 70!) because it erupts dependably every 4-8 minutes, and some times even more often. (Geysir goes off a couple of times a day at boringly unpredictable times.)

We skipped the third stop on the tour, Gulfoss, which is a much smaller version of Niagara Falls, because, well, it’s a much smaller version of Niagara Falls. Instead, we drove back by a different route and stopped briefly at Kelið, one of several lava craters near Selfoss, south of Reykjavik. Refreshing lack of tour buses!

So then we drove back to Reykjavik for the last time this trip. We got back by 4 and after a recuperative coffee (with an excellent view of the local colour at the “see and be seen” bar opposite) we dropped some tourist dollars at the trendy North 66° store and ambled back to the hotel to fill in our tax refund forms and put our feet up for a bit.

Home tomorrow! We’ve had an amazing two weeks here. For me this is the second-best place I’ve ever been for natural beauty and outdoor activities (we both agree that New Zealand can’t be topped) and one of the best trips ever. We’re starting our list of things to see next time we visit! And of course, tomorrow we get Iceland’s famous spa, the Blue Lagoon, to send us off right!

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