I hadn’t slept much on the flight from New York to Iceland. I knew the forecast for my four days in the country called for a clear (if not a little cold) day on my first day, followed by two days of rain, with the fourth day being the best of the bunch (clear skies and above average temps).
With this knowledge, upon picking up my cute, small, fuel-efficient rental car, headed for the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most popular tourist circuit. I had done the Golden Circle on my previous visit to Iceland in 1998, and was excited to see the route’s sites on my own pace in my own private car.
The weather was crisp and clear when I left Keflivak International Airport with my rental car around 7 A.M. I was thankful to be out on the road, but this ended up being more complicated than I had thought. Shortly after passing through Reykjavik’s southern suburbs, I began to encounter roads that were wet and a little icy from the snow they had received overnight. Being from Michigan, I have plenty of experience driving in wintry conditions, but I was driving a light car which was also a manual transmission.
My nerves were a bit frazzled so I stopped and took a short break at a road side turn off. There were some information boards and a memorial consisting of a bunch of crosses. The memorial was dedicated to all of those people who had died in auto accidents on the road between Reykjavik and Selfoss. This didn’t exactly calm my nerves.
Just before Selfoss I turned north and headed inland, following the Ölfusá River valley. It felt so much later in the day than it actually was due to the sun being so high in the sky. My first two stops on the circut were the volcanic crater of Kerið and the historical sight of Skálholt. By the time I made it into the parking lot at my third stop, the geothermally active Haukadalur valley, I was having trouble staying awake while driving, so I took a half hour nap in the car before heading out to see the areas features.
The next stop on the Golden Circle is the dramatic Gulfoss waterfall. When I had visited here back in 1988, it had been raining so hard that our bus stopped just long enough for us to snap some pictures from the plateau above the waterfall. This day’s weather was so nice that I was able to walk down to get a closer look at the falls.
I was struggling to stay awake again by the time I made it to Þingvellir National Park, the site of Iceland’s first government and the place where the North American and Asian tectonic plates come together. After another short nap in the car, I explored the site. It was a strange feeling- It felt familiar, as it should have since I had been there before, but the dramatic difference in weather also made it a new experience.
I’d intended to stay longer at Þingvellir that I did, but I was worried staying awake on the hour long drive to my hotel in Reykjavik. I arrived just before 530 PM, and although I knew it went against my normal plan for dealing with jet-lag (stay up as late as possible), I took a much needed nap. It was still light outside when I left the hotel and drove to downtown Reykjavik for a short walk and to find some dinner.
The city was pretty quiet on this Thursday night. Friday and Saturday nights have a pretty raucous reputation, but I didn’t see any of that this evening. I walked around the city’s cute little downtown area, and by the centrally located pond called Tjörnin. It was such a peaceful setting, with people feeding the ducks the congregated near to shore, and swans floating peacefully around.
I walked up the hill and got a look at the massive Hallgrimskirkja, which I was intending to visit on the morrow.
I was still tired from they journey over, so I went in search of one of the famous Icelandic hot dog, called a pylsur. I found one just down the street and a small convenience store. It was just as delicious as I remembered from 13 years previous.
Despite being tired, I was so glad I’d taken advantage of the beautiful clear day to experience the Golden Circle. I knew the forecast the next few days was less than advantageous, but I was going to make the best of this return visit to one of my favorite countries in the world.