After watching the sunrise on the back of an Icelandic horse, we figured it was time to start exploring the beautiful sights of Iceland. Our first stop in the Golden Circle was at the famous Strokkur Geyser. I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t take the fattest nap of my life during our journey there. I awoke to tourists shoving past me to hop off the crowded bus. Though I wasn’t quite sure where the geyser was after missing our guide’s informational speech, I figured if I stuck with the group, they’d lead me right to it.
As I approached a long line for the restrooms, I realized I was sorely mistaken. Sighing, I grabbed the ultimate token of tourism: A Gift Shop Map. I stepped outside and crossed the road, following the fence line until it opened to a rocky path. Steam swirled toward me through the air, dropping the unmistakable stench of sulfur. As I rounded the corner, I spotted a handful of tourists circling a large, bubbling crater.
“This must be it,” I said, authoritatively.
No more than two minutes later, an enormous air bubble burst through the surface, sending a jet of water spewing fifteen feet into the sky. It was as if there was a whale beneath the ground that decided to make use of its blowhole. A chorus of shrieks and giggles accompanied pointing fingers as another explosion appeared, this time half the size.
“A double! You got a double!” a young man shouted eagerly to his girlfriend who posed in front of the show.
As he passed her iPhone back with the footage, I realized we had gotten lucky. The geyser didn’t normally give you a two-for-one special. My eyes followed the mist as it showered back from above, disintegrating into white clouds that floated down toward the gift shop. That explained the smell that met me on my way up.
I meandered further down the trail and came across a few more geysers. However, Strokkur was the only active geyser in the area, so unless you’re someone who finds pleasure in staring at a pool of steaming water, they weren’t too exciting.
Just 10 minutes up the road was our next stop: Gullfoss Waterfall. This time, I was awake and ready. However, the sight would’ve been pretty hard to miss anyway. As I tip-toed up the path leading to the edge, the wind began to pick up, much like it had on my snowmobiling adventure. The thing about weather in Iceland is that it’s extremely unpredictable. One moment you could be enjoying a beautiful hike, the next you could be stranded in a blizzard.
Thankfully, there was not any snowfall accompanying the wind, but the strength of that alone was enough to make a grown man cry. Another gust whipped by, snapping the band on my disposable mask right off. I grabbed the blue paper that was hanging on by the lobe of my ear and shoved in my pocket for safe keeping.
Peering over the edge of the fence, I let out an audible gasp. The river began on my left, descending like a wedding veil before meeting the rest below and continuing on with the flow. It reminded me of Niagara Falls, only much, much colder. Chunks of ice floated through the piercing blue water, while billowing white snowbanks dotted with seal-colored jutting rocks lined its edges. This was truly the definition of a winter wonderland.
A New Horizon At Gullfoss Waterfall
I followed the path backward and up the stairs to see Gullfoss Waterfall from a new angle. Up top, an older man sat, pulling the spikes off of his shoes. These were recommended for all those heading to Iceland (especially during the winter), however, I booked the trip just two days before and didn’t have much time for planning. Stepping onto the icy track in my AF1’s, I began shuffling my feet forward one by one to maintain my balance. However, Mother Nature wasn’t about it.
Getting hit with a gust of wind stronger than orange juice after toothpaste, I was blown away and not metaphorically. Standing in place on the path, the air current pressed against me until I was six feet further than my original destination. This wasn’t an uphill battle, it was a horizontal battle. Even so, I fought it to the death.
Once I arrived at the peak, I found a boulder to take cover behind from the wind. Up here, it really made you think about the term bird’s eye view. I could see not only the top of the falls from the left, but also the river meeting the bend on the right. It was absolutely magical. I pulled out my phone to snap a picture. Glancing at the time, I realized we needed to hurry back to the bus.
Shuffling over the icy path and back down the stairs, we ran toward our safe haven, making it back a few minutes before our time was up. As the doors opened up and we stepped onto the bus, I realized we were the last ones back. I suppose the icy wind was enough for everyone to just grab a quick peek, then sprint for cover.
Thingvellir National Park
Our last stop in the Golden Circle Day Tour was at Thingvellir National Park. This park is famous because you are able to walk between two continents. Long ago, the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia drifted apart, causing a fissure. You can now take a paved path over Almannagjá canyon through the area, which demonstrates this monstrous feat.
By the time we arrived, the sun was almost completely set. I guess four hours of daylight wasn’t enough for me today. Using my iPhone flashlight, I led the way through the canyon. Shining over the fence, I could see just how far I could fall into the abyss. Though I wasn’t able to truly capture the size of this park (because I couldn’t see more than 5 feet ahead of me), the further I walked, the more I was able to put the pieces together.
We crossed an icy bridge and tip-toed down the frozen stairs. Ducking under a tree branch, the foliage opened up, leaving what seemed to be a picnic area. My shoes crunched on the frozen grass as we crossed the lawn. On the opposite side, a small makeshift ramp led up to a boardwalk. Following the newly-built path, I felt as if I could walk forever. I found out later that I had ended up on the 6.5 mile loop, which explains that endless feeling.
A Day In The Golden Circle
Our day spent exploring the Golden Circle was short-lived. However, our memories of the beautiful natural wonders we had the privilege to take in will not be. As strange as it may seem, I always find places that I least expect to compare my past travels to. When I had an overpriced brunch in Iceland, I thought of my home in California. Now, when I see a whale spouting in California, I will think of Iceland. We, as humans, remember the moments that make an impact on us. This is how we learn. As travelers, we spend our lives chasing these impactful moments until one day, if we’re lucky enough, we become one.
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