Saturday 30 May 2015

Iceland Day 2: The Golden Circle

Our first full day in Iceland and we had some pretty exciting things planned…

First of all, breakfast time at the hotel!  Most days I like oatmeal, toast or maybe some egg with a bagel and avocado on the weekend but I am secretly a fan of the "nordic" style breakfasts - rye bread, cold meats, cheese (even fish paste/fish roe when I visited Stockholm)…

Right!  Time to hit the road!  One of the main reasons we chose to rent a car was to drive around the "Golden Circle".  There are tours available but we wanted to take it at our own pace and be able to stop to see things when we wanted to plus it worked out a lot cheaper to rent a car than to pay for tours and transport to and from the airport.

Within about 20 minutes of driving we were out in the countryside and what a place it was!  Even though we were driving on one of the main roads in the area, Route 36, it was still only two lanes wide.  The horizon was dotted with snowy peaks and there were still patches of snow on the windswept grasses at the side of the road.  Quick note - if you are driving, make sure you check the weather and road conditions - driving in this place is something to take seriously!  Most of the major roads are paved but take one wrong turning and you might find yourself on a snow covered gravel road.

Our first unscheduled stop was very last minute because out of the corner of my eye I spotted huskies pulling a sled.  It's something I've only ever seen on TV and was excited to see it in person, albeit from a distance.  I'll just point out a common theme that started at this point and happened every time we got out of the car for the rest of the day - it was cold, it was windy and we desperately needed gloves.  Like, REALLY needed gloves!  And if you try to buy gloves anywhere, you'll end up forking out something like £20 for a pair so remember to pack some gloves!

The next stop was also not on the agenda but I spied some crazy piles of rocks very close to the lake we were due to stop at.

We were treated to not only a great view of the Þingvallavatn (aka lake Thingvallavatn) but also a field full of piles of blanaced stones.  It seemed to be the "thing" to have a wander round and stack some rocks of your own…

If you are visiting Þingvellir National Park be sure to stop off to look at the piles of balancing stones, steinvarða or cairns!

If you are visiting Þingvellir National Park be sure to stop off to look at the piles of balancing stones, steinvarða or cairns!

The sign by the parking space gave us information about the lake and Þingvellir National Park but no mention of the stones….what the heck were they and what were they there for?!  After a little snooping around the internet it seems as though they are called "steinvarða" or "cairns" in English and were pretty handy back in the day before maps or satnav or a Hansel and Gretal type breadcrumb trail - they were placed to mark trails or as signposts. I have a feeling the many we found were no longer used in this way but it was pretty spectacular to see!

Our next stop was a scheduled stop - the geysers!  Just before we rounded the corner to get to the car park and visitor centre I spied a plume of steam erupt over the hills in front of us - looking back, I think this was a lucky spot as it was more than likely the bigger one of the geysers that only erupts around 3 times a day.

If you still want some geyser action, don't worry about having to hang around for hours to see the massive one - there is still the smaller one, "Stroker", which goes off about every 10 minutes and various steamy pools.

It's still worth popping by the Great Geyser just to have a look at the big bubbling crater.  Oh and by the way - it all stinks.  Literally stinks.  Think egg.

After being thoroughly frozen (gloves desperately needed by this point!) we headed to the visitor centre for a spot of lunch.  The building is really beautiful inside - high ceilings, small tree trunks used as room dividers and massive windows that give you a great view of the geysers.

Lunch was particularly lovely, mostly because it was warm but also because it was really my only taste of an Icelandic dish the whole time I was in the country.  Kjötsúpa.  Meat soup.  A simple broth with pieces of lamb, carrots and swede - it looked watery and not like the thicker soups that I've had, but was packed with flavour and perfect for warming me up.  I think this is something I need to try to make in my own kitchen…

Feeling full and warm we hit the road again to see Gullfoss, the waterfall.  I've been to Niagara Falls and although Gullfoss isn't anywhere near as massive as Niagara, in my opinion it's much more beautiful and unfortunately my pictures don't do it justice whatsoever!  Sadly this was the most cold and windy place we had visited and after walking down the stairs to the viewing platform, standing there for a minute or two being blown about like crazy and feeling like our noses/ears were going to fall off we had to head back up the stairs and defrost in the car.

Rather than taking the same route back to Reykjavik we took the road around the bottom of Þingvallavatn on Route 36 then Route 1 to the city.  Again, there was more amazing scenery, the best being when we climbed up and around a hill while we were on Route 1 that overlooked a completely flat basin surrounded by mountains and volcanoes (according to Mr Jones because being in the driving seat, I had to keep my eyes on the narrow and winding road!).

We didn't have big plans for the evening as we didn't know how long we would take on the Golden Circle.  We also didn't plan ahead…after researching places to eat that have Icelandic food on the menu and a recommendation from one of Mr Jones' twitter buddies we were keen to go to Grillmarkaðurinn, Grill Market.  I was excited to try the locally sourced food as well as giving the whale, puffin and lingoustine mini burgers for a starter.  Alas, they were fully booked for Friday night.  And Saturday.  Doh!  The lesson here is that if you want to go for dinner somewhere, book it!  If anyone has been there, I'd love to hear what I missed!

We ended up going to Brooklyn Bar & Bistro in the town centre where I had my second Icelandic burger.  It was pretty damn tasty!

We ordered from the "light bites" part of the menu thinking we were ordering appetisers…wrong!  I ordered ribs and got a small bucket full with a portion of fries, Mr Jones ordered onion rings - more than enough on top of the delicious burgers we also had and a couple of pints of Icelandic beer!

Bellies full it was time to head back to the hotel but not forgetting a stop at one of the many 10-11 supermarkets for a few sweet treats…one of my favourite things to do in different countries is to try the native sweets and chocolates.

I love that we felt we saw a lot of amazing things and felt like we covered quite a large area of countryside…

Compare our route to the rest of the country…I think we might have to go back to cover a little more ground!

Day 1: Arriving in Iceland
Day 3 (pt 1): The Blue Lagoon
Day 3 (pt 2): Exploring Reykjavik

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