breakfast at 7:30 at the hotel. continental breakfast – meat platters, cheese, fruits, cereals, juice, instant coffee, bread, boiled eggs and pickled herring (icelandic addition). not a lot of choices, but ok to keep you filled up for a while.
we were picked up for the Golden Circle Tour after 8:30. We booked with Go Travel iceland. you get picked up at the hotel, if you’re staying in the centre. it’s an informal tour. guide was very friendly and informative. we travelled in a van, some 10+ people in a group. larger travel companies like the reykjavik excursions use a bus on popular tours.
first stop was the Geothermal Plant at Hellisheiði whilst waiting for daylight and the first toilets and tea/coffee stop for this tour. very informative tour about iceland’s most high tech geothermal plant, their volcanoes and earthquakes. electricity in iceland is very cheap compared to the rest of the world as they are not reliant on oil except to power the cars. But then, hydrogen and methane are already being used in hybrid cars. what’s even more impressive is that the plant is very efficiently run, needing only at least 2 people to run it (it’s a huge complex). heavy smell of sulfur in the air. they likened the smell of sulfur to a rotting egg.
next stop was a caldera lake (volcano crater filled with water). This is called Kerið in the Grímsnes area.
stopped to have a look at the icelandic horses. they are quite short and were told that they are direct descendants of mongolian horses brought by the vikings. they make very good riding horses. grows coats in the winter to protect them from the elements and sheds them in summer. very tame (though they are kept in the wild), curious creatures.
The grand Gullfoss waterfalls. Undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful places in iceland. got showered on and kept sliding across the semi-frozen viewing points. stopped for lunch at the viewing point on top of the icy stairs, where we had some really nice icelandic lamb soup and toasted sandwiches.
Geysir. there are several geysers in the area. but the most spectacular is the Strokkur which erupts at regular intervals every 7-10 mins. We were staring at it, cameras at the ready. the water starts to rise and fall, like it was breathing and then a blue bubble seems to burst and the geyser spouts water high up in the air (when you see the blue bubble, that’s the time to click!).
make sure that you know where the wind is all the time as the water can be boiling (and don’t check water temperature throughout the site as you can be badly burned). it wasn’t windy at all that day, but we still got rained on as the wind changed directions. the geyser can erupt 2x (or 3x) in a row. this is a childhood dream – i grew up viewing pictures of the geysers of the yellowstone national park, so it was quite amazing to observe one for real that I probably watched the eruptions more than 5x.
tossed a coin in this exceptionally clear fissure. divers clear the coins every year to donate to charity. if I ever dive here, I think i’ll just scoop up coins. it is said this is about 25m deep. (been reading up and the belief is that if you watch your coin reach the bottom, you can make a wish! we were only told to throw coins for good luck)
Þingvellir National Park. this is where the first parliaments of Iceland were established, with the ridges as backdrop and acting as a natural-ampitheatre. we’ve driven through no man’s land – the place where the north american and european continents divides. The mid-atlantic ridge is visible here and you can set foot in 2 continents in this area.
were back in the city around 4pm and had an early dinner at Rosso, an Italian restaurant in Laugavegur. more expensive than Tivoli, so we settled on 2 main courses (beef and lamb dishes) plus 2 glasses of red wine. Quite a disappointing meal as the dishes were still too salty and really nothing special. we booked a northern lights tour in the evening (still with GTI) and were picked up at 8:30pm from the hotel. wrapped up really warm (scarves, woolen hats, gloves, thermal layers, thick socks, fleece jumper plus 2-layered hooded jacket – the full works!). It was going to be a freezing night. we were back at the topmost viewing point in Þingvellir and gazed at the starlit skies for hours. there was a white-ish glow behind the stars that forms an arc across the sky stretching from the north to south. this was part of the aurora, but not yet the light show we were expecting. every now and then, a very faint green-ish glow shows behind the mountains. but, really, it doesn’t count. and i’m not sure if it was my imagination playing tricks now as i was tired and close to freezing.
there are several factors for seeing the northern lights: 1-it has to be a clear sky, 2-there has to be no moon, and 3-the strength of the sun activity. we only had the first 2, there was little sun activity that night. besides, they’re said to be seen more often in Sep-Oct and Mar-Apr. but it would have been quite magical to see them in these freezing arctic winter. This gives a forecast in Alaska. it was a 1 the night we were out (but was downgraded to 0 when i looked the next day). the aurora failed to make an appearance. and we accepted defeat at 11:30 and headed back to the city.