Reykjavik and the Golden Circle

04Sep11

I remember being furious as I sat on the bus from Kevflavík airport to Reykjavik, Iceland. The barren, rocky landscape was a stark contrast to the lush beauty of Kent, where Esteban and I had just spent a week.

Esteban had been to Iceland before and he’d extolled the virtues of this small island nation. And while the view from the plane had been promising …

… on the ground, the landscape had seemed drab. I couldn’t believe that I’d voluntarily left Britain for this gray place.

I would later learn that Iceland is a beautiful country, full of wonderful and unexpected contradictions. But first, some handy traveler’s facts:

1. Don’t bother trying to learn Icelandic. It’s an impenetrable language (waaaay more troublesome than German). Plus, most Icelanders speak impeccable English. A few pleasantries will do.

2. Don’t bother renting a car. Unless you plan to venture into the hinterlands, you can get by just fine on foot, by bicycle, or through one of the well-organized tours.

3. Bring your cash. Although Iceland’s economy has been struggling, food and lodging are still comparatively expensive. (Your best food bet: Fill up at the hotel’s breakfast buffet and then try to hold out until dinner.)

4. Bring your charm. Next to the Swedes, Icelanders may be among the most attractive people on the planet.

5. Bring your camera. Reykjavik is a beautiful city. Better to show than tell on this last point:

But — maybe not surprisingly — the countryside is even more lovely. Esteban and I spent a king’s ransom on the Golden Circle Tour, with no regrets.

Our day started with a horseback stroll through the mountains. (More to come on the Icelandic ponies; they more than merit their own post.)

Then we visited a breathtaking waterfall …

… a super-punctual geyser ….

… a sulphurous river …

… a volcanic crevasse …

… the coastline …

… a receding glacier …

… and a dormant crater.

And along the way, we also managed to hike to the top of The Pearl

… and watch the daily flights come in from the mainland.

But of all the things we saw and experienced, Esteban is still waxing poetic over the Blue Lagoon. (Who knew that a geothermal power plant could be so relaxing?)

As for me, I’m still waxing poetic over the changing of Iceland’s seasons. The frost on the leaves reminded me of my home in Minnesota …

… and the vast, open spaces reminded me of my childhood in Peru.

Maybe the saying is true that you can’t go home again. But, as foreign as Iceland may have seemed at first, it came pretty close to capturing all of the homes I’ve ever known.

I hope to go back soon.

This post is dedicated to my friends dancingbeastie and knotrune. Thanks for being such faithful readers — and for encouraging me to keep writing!


25 Responses to “Reykjavik and the Golden Circle”

  1. Wow H, beautiful photos. It looks so stunning and so bleak at the same time, what a strange paradox. x

    • 2 hmunro

      Hello, Darling! (Forgive me … I just *love* greeting you that way!) Thanks for your kind words — and for your apt description of Iceland as a strange paradox. Reyjavik is in the middle of nowhere, yet it’s über-cosmopolitan. It’s a fascinating place, and unfortunately no blog post could ever do it justice. Glad you liked the photos, though! x 🙂

  2. Thanks 🙂 Loved this, gorgeous pix and it really makes me want to go to Iceland even more than I did! Looking forward to the post on Icelandic horses now 🙂 I rode one in Sweden and it was brilliant – did you tolt? They told us the horses were scared of the trees when they first came over because Iceland has hardly any trees and we were in a forest in Sweden, but they soon got used to them.

    • 4 hmunro

      Poor scared ponies! I can see how they would shy from trees, though, as they are indeed rare in Iceland. (In fact, I’m told that if you see a tree it’s likely that someone planted it.) And I’m sorry to report that I didn’t get to tolt because the trail ride catered to beginner riders. But if ever I have a chance to go back, a few days on horseback are definitely on the itinerary. (Did *you* get to tolt during your ride in Sweden? I’m dying to know that that gait feels like. 🙂

      • Yes, I did tolt! It was so cool and weird! It was kind of hard to get the horse started doing it, because the aids are odd (trying to remember, but something like kicking the horse on while also pulling the reins? So not how I’ve been taught to ride!) but once we got started it was amazing 🙂 Very level, they say you can carry a glass of water without spilling it and I can see why they say that (once you’re used to it) but sways side to side a lot, but you absorb that with your hips so your head doesn’t move much. And quite fast, but not scary.

        My dream holiday would be a horse riding holiday in Iceland riding between saga sights and gorgeous scenery. But I’ll probably never do it, it would be most likely too hard on my arthritis and husband is not a horse person. Also the price 🙂 But one day I hope to at least visit!

        • 6 hmunro

          Sounds like we have similar ideas of a dream vacation! 🙂 Though, judging from your description, I’m not sure my hips (or my back!) could take the tolt. Still, it would be fun to at least experience. A girl can dream, right?

          • 7 dancingbeastie

            Ooh, please can I join the fantasy vacation?! My pelvis (knackered by a previous riding accident) probably couldn’t take it for real either, but in my dreams that sounds idyllic. Especially if we could get to sit around a log fire in the evening and listen to re-tellings from the Elder Edda. 🙂

            • 8 hmunro

              What a merry band of beat-up beauties we’d make, with our knackered knees and pelvises! But I’m absolutely enchanted by your vision of sitting around a fire, listening to the old lore. (If I close my eyes, I can almost smell the wood smoke and hear the drum-like cadence of “The First Lay of Helgi the Hunding-Slayer.”) Thank you for that welcome escape from reality. 🙂

          • At least we could rest our poor deteriorating and saddle sore bods in the wonderful hot springs! And I definitely agree about the fireside sagas 🙂 Fantasy holidays are possibly better than the real thing. No lumpy beds, no dodgy food (and Iceland is notorious for that! I hope you managed to avoid sheep’s head and that rotted shark meat stuff!)

            • 10 hmunro

              Ooooh! Hot springs! This fantasy holiday just keeps getting better and better!! (And no worries … no sheep’s head or rotted shark in sight. Unless we get to rinse it down with Dom Perignon, I suppose …) Grin!

          • I don’t care what it gets washed down with! Have you seen that sheep’s head? It’s grey. And it comes with an eyeball. I saw it on the film ‘Jar City’ and it grossed me out to see the detective eating that far more than the rotting corpse they dug up later! Ewwww!

  3. Wow! These photos are beautiful! Love the natural parts such as the crater, the volcanic crevasse. The geo-thermal power plant looks… (jealousy) really nice… (I WANT TO BE THERE!). Interesting place! Love the panoramas!
    -Edible

    • 13 hmunro

      Salut, Monsieur Edible ! 🙂 Would you believe that my photos don’t really do Iceland justice? I highly recommend a visit, even if you only have three or four days to spend. Icelandair flies out of CDG pretty inexpensively, too. Merci beaucoup pour ton commentaire.

  4. Thanks for the marvelous journey.

    • 15 hmunro

      And thank *you* for your kind words — and especially for being such a faithful reader!

  5. Stunning!! Thanks for sharing!! ** 🙂

    • 17 hmunro

      Thanks so much for your kind words! And please check back in a couple of days for part 2: Icelandic ponies! 🙂

  6. 18 XpatScot

    Thank you for taking us on tour with you. You certainly get around. From the images, Iceland reminds me a lot of the North Island of New Zealand which, for us is closer, cheaper and also very beautiful. Maybe someday you’ll venture to this corner of the world and then you can judge for yourself. 🙂

    • 19 hmunro

      I don’t think I’ve traveled *nearly* as much as you, but I’ll keep trying! And I very much hope to venture to your corner of the world someday, Xpat … Australia and New Zealand look absolutely gorgeous. By the way: it’s Fathers Day in Australia today, isn’t it? Happy Dad’s Day to ya!

  7. 20 dancingbeastie

    I am SO GLAD that you have been to Iceland for me and shown me how heart-stoppingly beautiful it can be. I love, love your photography. Until now I had never been convinced by Iceland, despite having one or two good friends from there, but now it’s on my list! (Also – that cathedral with the Viking king outside – surely it’s straight from Gondor?! Actually no, of course it was the other way around – Tolkien took his inspiration from the sagas of Finland and Iceland.)

    Anyway, I was feeling quite choked up by the end of this beautiful post, and *then* I saw the dedication. Sniff. Thank you. And thank you for continuing to write, to photograph and to share the results with the rest of us, your appreciative and admiring readers. x

    • 21 hmunro

      Sometimes I find myself wondering whether blogging is worth the trouble, dancingbeastie. You have just answered my question with a resounding YES. Thank you *so* much for your kind words. You’ve made my entire month. x

      PS: You’re so right about the church that looks like it’s straight out of Gondor. That’s another reason I like Iceland: Some of the landscapes seem to be plucked straight out of Tolkien’s imagination. Or vice-versa. 🙂

  8. Thanks for this wonderful series on Iceland!

    • 23 hmunro

      Nice to hear from you, J. A.! You know what’s funny? I’d actually kind of*forgotten* about Iceland until I started looking through the photos. Now I can’t wait to get back. 🙂

  9. Wow, how breathtakingly beautiful!
    Thanks for sharing, H!

    • 25 hmunro

      Have you ever been to Iceland, Marcia? If not, I highly recommend it. A globetrotter such as yourself would especially appreciate the complexity of its culture, I think!


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