Posted by: nmancini04 | August 20, 2011

Day 2: The Golden Circle – Attack of the Waterfalls

So…I apologize for the bevy of errors from yesterday – typos, grammatical weirdness, factual inaccuracies, the reference to a video that was not uploaded. I could blame a lot of things: jetlag, lack of sleep, the crappy wireless connection in our hotel room…but really I’m just a fool. Tonight could be just as bad. It’s 11 pm local time, we just got back from dinner and I’m writing from the lobby of the Vík Edda Hotel in the town of Vík. It’ll be more pictures than text tonight. We had quite a full day.

The first snafu

I’m happy to say the first snafu was not ours, but our rental car company’s. When they brought us our car, they informed us that they would have to pick up the car and switch it for another one tomorrow. Apparently, the car we were supposed to get was not returned on time, so they gave us an older, crappier, but otherwise identical Suzuki Grand Vitara that they told us belongs to another rental company. Rental Guy would drive to wherever we’d end up staying overnight tomorrow morning and swap with us.

Odd, but with that out of the way, we hit the road (perhaps a little later than we’d hoped). We decided to spend the day driving around what is known as “the Golden Circle” of tourist sites, specifically Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. We headed north to Þingvellir first, the site of the Alþingi (see yesterday’s post), until the 19th century. What you soon learn when driving in Iceland is that “scenic” describes literally every second of the drive. Mildly. There are beautiful farmhouses and settlements scattered about with amazing vistas in every direction, often ending in majestic and imposing mountains. I tried to take some pictures from the car, but only a few came out decently.

A settlement on the drive to Þingvellir

Mountains on the drive to Þingvellir


Þingvellir is literally the site where Icelandic nationhood and culture was born, when the Alþingi was formed in about 930. It was where laws were passed and announced, judgments handed out and punishments enforced. It was the site of the adoption of Christianity in 1000. The first church in Þingvellir was built soon after. The current version of the church (below) was rebuilt in 1859.

The church at Þingvellir


In addition to being immensely historically significant, Þingvellir is physically astonishing. It sits right on the edge of the divide between the North American and European tectonic plates and the views are spectacular. There is a lookout point at the edge of the rift that looks out into the valley and over Þingvallahraun, Iceland’s largest lake. It’s breathtaking.

The valley at Þingvellir and Þingvallahraun


That fissure you see towards the bottom of the above picture has a trail running through it that Maggie and I went down for a short while. It’s full of brush vegetation and interesting rocks.

The rift trail

I admire the rift wall

Maggie emerges from the brush


From there we saw a deep and clear wishing pool, “the Drowning Pool,” where death sentences were handed out centuries ago, the Lögberg (“Lawrock,” where laws were read by the law givers) and then headed to the nearby waterfall, Öxaráfoss, which we had trouble finding only because we’re morons. It was at the end of the main path. Imagine that. We kept thinking we’d passed it. It is a small fall coming calmly over the rift and into a beautiful stream running right down a tight valley. When I say it was the worst waterfall we saw all day, believe that it’s not a criticism.

I catch some spray under Öxaráfoss



After a couple of hours at Þingvellir, we drove further north towards the Geysir park. Geysir, as you may assume, is the site of several geysers, including the big boy and park namesake, Geysir (meaning “the Gusher”) after which all other geysers are named. Geysir itself only erupts in the aftermaths of earthquakes, but it was pretty big and smelled like an eggy flatus. And I say that with all the affection I can muster for a large, eggy flatus.



It’s nearby cousin, Strokkur (“the Churn”), was more interesting, and every few minutes it would belch a 30m high spout of water and steam into the air. Between the two of us, Maggie and I managed to capture the stages of one of its eruptions pretty well.

Strokkur begins to bubble up...

...then erupts...


...then settles down again.



From Geysir it was a short drive to Gullfoss. And if you don’t know what Gullfoss is, well…


Gullfoss from afar


Gullfoss carves through the valley

Maggie and I pose in front of Gullfoss

Maggie gazes down into Gullfoss from the high lookout

This waterfall stuff is serious business...

So yeah. That was okay. If you like the whole jaw-dropping-examples-of-the-astonishing-raw-power-and-beauty-of-nature thing.



We thought we were done for the day, especially with waterfalls. We were incorrect. As we drove south and eventually on to Vík, where we would end up spending the night after three unsuccessful attempts to find lodging, we came upon Seljalandfoss, just off the Ring Road, near the foot of Eyjafjallajökull (which you may know as That Unpronounceable Icelandic Volcano That Fucked Up Everyone’s Travel Last Summer). It was…amazing.


After the sheer power of Gullfoss, this waterfall felt subtle and fragile, but equally beautiful. It also had the added bonus of a path that led behind and underneath the fall. We…may have taken a few pictures.


It was 7:30 and the sun was just starting to get low in the sky (and the rains hadn’t started yet), so the light was perfect and the whole experience felt pretty magical.


Behind Seljalandfoss


Maggie under Seljalandfoss

The view from the end of the Slejalandfoss trail

There was more, but it’s almost 12:30 and we’ve got an early start tomorrow, so with that I say, good night.




  1. […] rental people explained that we would be getting a replacement car the next day (as described in yesterday’s post), Rental Guy asked us where we’d be spending the night. We answered Vík and he asked if we […]

  2. Spectacular. You should consider editing the blogs together for a travel piece or perhaps submitting them to the Icelandic tourist office for their brochures. You could write off part of the trip.

  3. […] homestead site, our first visit to an historic site since Þingvellir, which was on our first day on the road. Grenjaðarstaður, now a museum, is the largest grouping of connected turf-roofed farmhouses in […]

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