First Day in Iceland – The Golden Circle

We woke about four hours after we fell asleep from the night before. As expected, the sun was out and shining brightly. While we were in Iceland, the sun set around 11pm and rose again around 3am. Because the sun set so late and rose so early, there were only a few hours of darkness and it never truly got dark. There were several hours of dusk and that was about it.

Expensive Breakfast

So back to my main point, we woke up, it was bright. We walked down the quaint little streets of downtown Reykjavik. Across the street we stopped in to a little bakery and got some pastries and coffee for breakfast. The meal was absurdly expensive, like $30 for two croissants and two coffees. Everything in Iceland was expensive as we soon learned. However, the taste almost justified the cost. The cup of coffee was one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had. The pastries were light and fluffy and delicious. I certainly got the value of a $10 pastry, although I would have been happy with the value and flavor of a $5 pastry instead.

Getting Lost and GPS

After breakfast we hopped in our rental car and began our drive along the Golden Circle. Not ten minutes into our trip though, we got lost, horribly lost. I stopped and asked for directions to the nearest phone store and bought a SIM card. It was the greatest investment I made while in Iceland. We used the GPS to navigate all over country, starting with Þingvellir, the first stop on the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle

A field of Cairns
A field of Cairns

The Golden Circle is a famous route through southern Iceland that passes by some of Iceland’s most famous natural wonders including Geysir, Gullfoss waterfall, and Þingvellir. [divider_flat]

Þingvellir

Þingvellir is the oldest parliament in the world. It was founded in 930AD and originally it was just a rock in the middle of nowhere, literally. There was a Lögberg, or law rock, where the lawspeaker presided over during his 3 year term. Þingvellir was founded at its location because of its central location for most of Iceland’s first inhabitants. I read a lot of the signage around Þingvellir. It was really impressive. For example, before the laws were written down, the lawspeaker had to recite all the laws from memory as part of his job. Þingvellir is also home to an impressive waterfall, quaint brook, and some scare ducks (pictures below).

Next Stop Geysir and Strokkur

From Þingvellir we drove another 40 minutes to Geysir hot spring area. Geysir is the name of a famous geyser. In fact, the name geyser is derived from Geysir. Geysir began erupting as early as 10,000 years ago. However, it has all but stopped now. Occasionally earthquakes reawaken it but usually only for a few days before it falls dormant again. Strokkur, another geyser nearby, erupts every few minutes to a height of 30m.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Our third stop of the day was at Gullfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s a giant waterfall on the river Hvítá. The river flows over a 3 step staircase formation and then down two separate drops. We parked and walked down a wooden boardwalk to the waterfall. You can get pretty close to the actual waterfall and the closer you get the wetter you get. Standing at the end of the boardwalk is like standing in perpetual rain.

Kerið

Kerið, an extinct volcano, was our last stop for the day. We’d spent the day seeing all manner of wondrous sights. In fact, we never even planned on visiting Kerið. It wasn’t on our list of things to see, but rather it just popped up on the roadside on our ride back to Reykjavik. It was also the only attraction we had to pay for. Literally everything else we saw today was free. Our only expenses so far were our breakfast and the gas to drive our rental car around. That being said, Kerið was only about $3. From the road Kerið looked like a modest hill with a small white shack in front. When we paid we were really taking a gamble since we couldn’t really see anything from the little shack where we paid. However, once we walked up the edge of Kerið and looked down inside of it and realized our money was well spent. The volcano is impressively deep as well as colorful. Just like in India, so many of the attractions we visited were completely open for the public to explore every inch of. Nicole and I walked down inside of the volcano and I got some incredible pics from the experience.

Whale Steaks for Dinner

Salmon, Mackerel, and Lamb in Jars
Salmon, Mackerel, and Lamb in Jars

Nicole and I headed back to Reykjavik after our day of sightseeing. We had a short rest in the AirBnB before heading out to dinner and the part of this paragraph that you’re probably most interested in, eating whale steak. We dressed for dinner and walked down the same quaint Icelandic street in search of some sort of delicious meal. I found a little place off the main road on the first floor. It looked like a little tavern complete with squat little windows and tiny curtains. Inside it was dimly lit and there was an old man playing piano. It was straight out of a movie. The restaurant offered appetizers of various meat mixed with berries and or vegestables served in small jars. We ordered a round of three jars and a minke whale steak to split. The jars were fantastic. We had pickled mackerel, smoked salmon, and lamb. The whale steak was even better. It was a dark purple and similar to steak in flavor, but quite different in texture. The meat was a bit chewier and didn’t quite have that red meat texture, despite having a similar flavor.

The Day in a Nutshell

What a day. Iceland is incredible. After being here only a day I already love it and would love to move here. The people are incredibly friendly. The food is unbelievable. The scenery looks like its straight out of a painting. I don’t think I could take a bad picture if I tried. Looking forward to what tomorrow brings!