Today was my last full day in Iceland. I had saved it for a circuit of the “Golden Ring”, a circuit that includes three famous attractions near Reykjavik. Every visitor to Iceland “does” the Golden Ring, even those that arrive from cruise ships for just a day in the country. I left at 8am to try to avoid the tour groups and my first stop was at the Thingvellir National Park, a place strongly associated with Iceland’s identity. It was here that the Alpingi met – an assembly of all the early Viking settlers that took place once a year to agree new laws, resolve disputes and administer justice. The Alpingi dates from 930AD and gives Iceland a claim to have been the birthplace of the world’s first democracy. Fittingly, Iceland’s independence from Denmark in 1944 was also celebrated here.
The site of the ancient Alpingi also has great geological interest – it is one of the places where the rift, where the American and European tectonic plates are separating, is clearly visible. The rate of separation is only 1-2 cm per year, but it is still enough to cause noticeable changes in the scenery over time. I tried to imagine the scale of the force that could push two continents apart……and failed.
From Thingvellir park I followed the standard tourist circuit to Geysir – a place that gave its name to geysers across the world. The original Geysir is now dormant………
……….instead, there is a different geyser called Strokkur to see. It spouts every 5 to 10 minutes with a jet which is about 15m high, but to be honest I have seen more spectacular geysers on my travels elsewhere.
From Geysir I headed to Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls. These were my last waterfall on the trip and they did not disappoint – vying with Dynjandi for the title of the most impressive in Iceland.
From Gullfoss I left the tourist coaches behind, driving south to Iceland’s newest tourist attraction, the volcano of Geldingadalir, which started erupting in May of this year. The day before I had found a website explaining how to visit the area. It showed the different possible paths to the volcano and advised not to stand on the cooling, apparently solid lava flow – what looks to be solid rock might only be a thin crust covering 1000C lava. The site also advises every day whether poisonous volcanic gases might be a risk for visitors. The eruptions are sporadic, and you have to be lucky to see flowing lava. In my case I missed the last eruption by a few days and saw a big valley filled with steaming, cooling rock that had been molten lava a couple of days ago. Contrary to the advice they had been given, lots of people ventured up onto the rock for selfies, but nobody fell through.
There was a path leading up a steep hill to the place where you can see into the crater. The top of the hill was lost in fog, and the people coming down told me that you couldn’t see anything from the top, so I contented myself with admiring the view of the lava-filled valley from halfway up. My dream of seeing an active volcanic eruption remains on my “bucket list” but I was still pleased by my visit to Geldingadalir.
From there, it was back to Reykjavik (in about an hour). For my last night I treated myself to dinner in one of the city’s best venues – Fishmarkt – and had a blowout dinner with their exotic tasting menu. After two weeks of cooking for myself it was nice to visit a restaurant for a change; I finally discovered where all the interesting fish that live around off Iceland’s shores end up – in Reykjavik’s restaurants or exported. Sadly, they don’t make it to the rest of Iceland for purchase in local shops for self-catering tourists. The meal had around seven courses, and I struggled back up the hill to my hotel with some difficulty and slept really well.
Well, that’s it for this trip. Iceland was a great place to visit, even if it didn’t quite make it into my all time top ten. If I come back, it will probably be in winter to try to catch the northern lights and to try to explore some glacier caves. For now, it’s back to London to enjoy autumn in a city that exists on a rather different scale to little Reykjavik.