The Golden Circle tour is Iceland’s bestselling tour, created in mind for those who want a quick summary of the country (if that is even possible) and is pretty much known as the tourist’s abbreviated version of Iceland. It’s essentially a 300km loop around the south of Iceland, a well-trodden day excursion that is the staple of many tour companies.
This time, I chose to do it with Iceland Horizons and done, to my surprised delight, by David himself who happens to be the owner of the business. We found him articulate, wry, interesting and an absolute brilliant guide who answered all of our questions more thoughtfully than his own prime minister could have done. Iceland’s economic miracle, according to him, was in part, due to the fishing industry and technology, both commodities which transformed the country into one of the most prosperous in the world. It all collapsed after the 2008 crisis but David’s optimistic about the potential and yet untapped geothermal resource that all countries are starting to hanker after.
Hauled out of bed and onto the street at 8.30am, we were bundled up into a small van and driven to the Nesjavellir power plant, a geothermal area situated in Lake Þingvallavatn – staffed only by 7-8 members but powers the whole of Reykjavik. It was bloody cold; temperatures hovered between -1 and -7 degrees throughout the day.
Iceland’s increasing self-reliance is evident in the number of greenhouses in the Hveragerði greenhouse village – quite the enterprising lot of people they are, after the millennium of long boats and troll stories. In between petting horses that are essentially cute, tiny Icelandic pure breeds that behaved like dogs vying for attention and getting licked in an alarming manner (TC got slobbered in the armpit by an insistent one), visiting an old crater, we finally hit the lunch hour at Gullfoss.
Gulfoss was our first major stop, which, in winter, is not merely a massive waterfall, but an exercise in braving the elements and getting the hang of not slipping in treacherous ice. I’m hugely impressed but more with my own ability to have fallen on my arse only once.
Just 10km down the road were the spouting hot springs Geysir and Strokkur – heated water, sulphur and fabled spa properties aside, the most infantile pleasure I got was to laugh at several fools who posed in a stupid fashion expecting the geysir to erupt, only to get tired and stop – and with a smack of cosmic timing, would the spring then go off.
Þingvellir National Park is well-known as a location where the Icelandic parliament Alþingi was founded in 930 AD (which makes it the oldest known functioning parliament in the world), but perhaps, more geographically famous as where the American and the European plates sort of meet. In the landfall area – I’m quite tickled by how they didn’t know they held their meetings in the rift valley – there must have been good ol’ Viking fun – ax throwing games, slave trading, clan meetings and in all probably, a great deal of mead and wenching.