September 19, 2015 – Day 3 – Iceland Trip
Our first day trip from Reykjavik!
We booked three separate bus trips during our stay. Car rentals are expensive, and we really didn’t need a car most of the time. At some point, we would love to go back, rent a car, and drive around the entire island. But for our first trip to Iceland, these excursions were perfect for us. We booked trips with several different tour companies, and all of them were great. For the Golden Circle Tour, we went with Reykjavik Excursions.
The tour bus picked us up from our hotel at 9 a.m. We were one of the last stops, so our eight hour tour began right away. We heard different stories on our trips about why the name “Golden Circle,” but it seems logical that the name comes from how efficient the route is to see several of Iceland’s most popular sites. During our more immature moments*, we liked to say we were going on the “Golden Shower” tour, but there was nothing urine-soaked about the incredible things we saw on this trip. It really was quite a jam-packed day.
*These moments amounted to pretty much all of them.
Stop #1: Friðheimar. Friðheimar is one of several family-owned greenhouse complexes in Iceland. This one grows tomatoes and cucumbers year-round. Other complexes grow different crops that support the country, including flowers, potatoes, strawberries, and bananas.
The owner, Knútur Friðheimar, explained how the greenhouses are operated. The glass that makes up each greenhouse is thin in order to maximize sunlight. Sunlight is at a premium during certain parts of the year, so this is very important for a good crop. Icelandic winters are harsh, so geothermal heat keeps the greenhouses nice and toasty. Bees are shipped in to pollinate, and only natural pest controls are used. Glacial melt is used not just for drinking water, but also to water the crops.
We snacked on some delicious homemade tomato soup and freshly baked bread. It was a bit early for us to drink, but other tour-goers said the Bloody Mary was also great.
The Friðheimar family also raises Icelandic horses. This was our chance to see them up close.
Stop #2: Geysir Hot Spring Area. This place was neat-o, and it really gives you a sense of the power within the Earth. I’ve never seen a geyser in-person. There are several in the immediate area, but the two main ones are Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir is so old, and so well-known, that it gave rise to the more generic “geyser” name. Geysir is currently dormant. Strokkur, on the other hand, is not – it goes crazy every 5-8 minutes. Luke spent quite a while trying to capture Strokkur’s eruption on film, but boy was it spectacular in person. The name of the active geyser didn’t sound nearly as dirty when pronounced with a thick Icelandic accent…
Stop #3: Gullfoss waterfall. Gullfoss translates to “golden waterfall” in English. We saw many waterfalls in Iceland, but this was the most impressive. We recommend viewing the waterfall from both the upper and lower paths.
Stop #4: Þingvellir National Park. It’s pronounced “Thing-vuh-leer.” This national park is an UNESCO World Heritage site, one of only two such sites in the entire country. In the year 930 (930!), the Icelandic Parliament (Alþingi) was formed here. This body continued to meet here until 1799. Also really cool about this park: the rift between the continental plates. Iceland sits on top of the split between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, hence all the volcanoes and earth quakes. Thingvellir is one of the best places to see the rift between the plates, though you are able to see it all across the island.
There has been a church in the area since the country made Christianity the official religion… in the year 1000! More on that in other posts. The church that stands there now was built in 1859, and boy is it ever picturesque.
When we returned to Reykjavik, we were hungry. What better way to end our day of looking at Iceland’s natural wonders than with some traditional Icelandic food? We decided on Íslenski Barinn (Icelandic Bar). We had hákarl (fermented shark), which caused Gordon Ramsay to puke and Anthony Bourdain to call it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing.” It didn’t cause us to do any of that. In fact, we finished it! Luke also liked the haddock skin. I did not; it tasted like a cross between fish and wet kitty litter.