Iceland Day 2 – Monday, September 8, 2014
Golden Circle, Hveragerši, Raufarhólshellir, Seljalandsfoss



We slept great and managed to wake up at a normal human time of 7:30 a.m. this morning without an alarm. (Well, at least I did.) There's a four-hour time difference between here and home, where it was only 3:30 a.m., but as long as I didn't think about it, all was well. It was not only cold and rainy this morning, but also windy, not that that could keep us from our adventures.

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Helpful Iceland road sign

By 10:00 a.m. checkout time, we were on the road toward “The Golden Circle,” which is really an almost straight line connecting three popular sites easily reached on a day-trip from Reykjavik: Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. We got off the Ring Road almost as soon as we got on it, taking the very scenic Routes 435 and 360 through a hilly volcanic landscape and past Thingvallavatn, Iceland's largest lake, to Rt. 36 and the first site of The Golden Circle.

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Žingvallavatn Lake

Golden Circle Site 1: Thingvellir (Žingvellir) – A fissure-ridden rift valley where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia are separating and ripping the country in two. Thingvellir is also the site where the Vikings established the world's first democratic parliament, called Althing (Alžingi), in the year 930 A.D., and it is Iceland's first national park. There is a Drowning Pool at Thingvellir that was used during the time of Danish rule to execute women who had children out of wedlock and other women of loose morals. Not that men got off scot-free. They were sometimes hanged, beheaded, or burned at the stake. Nice.

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Žingvellir rift

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Žingvellir

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Drekkingarhylur (Drowning Pool)

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Öxarįrfoss

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Öxarį River

Golden Circle Site 2: Haukadalur geothermal field, home to Geysir (pronounced GAY-zeer), the famous water spout from which the term “geyser” was coined. Geysir these days is unpredictable in its eruptions, but right next to it is Strokkur, which erupts every 5 to 10 minutes We stayed long enough to watch it erupt four times, in spite of the pouring rain.

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Waiting in the rain at Strokkur

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Strokkur erupts!

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Steaming hot spring

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Random wrestlers outside Hótel Geysir

Golden Circle Site 3: Gullfoss - A HUGE, thundering waterfall, one of the top ten rated falls in the world. We admired it from the top but didn't hike down, because we were soaking wet and chilled to the bone by this point. We were happy to discover right after this that our tiny little almost-no-frills rental car had heated seats. Hooray!

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Gullfoss (Golden Falls)

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Gullfoss

They say in Iceland that there is no bad weather, only bad outfits. Yeah, right. However, I sure wish I'd worn my waterproof pants today along with the jacket. Nevertheless, despite the pouring rain for the majority of the day, we didn't skip a thing on our agenda. Our spirits will not be dampened! The worst part of the rain was trying to take photos without ruining my camera or having big rain spots on my lens. An umbrella helps, but not when it's raining sideways!

Leaving The Golden Circle, we traveled south to Hveragerdi, past what I'm sure was a lovely landscape, which we couldn't see much of with all the rain and fog. Then we backtracked west a few kilometers in order to visit the Hveragerdi Geothermal Park. We were surprised to learn there was an admission fee, as almost all nature sites in Iceland are free, but it was only 200 ISK each ($1.70), so we paid it and went on in, where we were again surprised to find that most of the geothermal pools here were dry! But in our minds, the park was saved by its entrance through a greenhouse containing tropical plants and lots of veggies. Tom and I covertly picked three tomatoes and a bit of broccoli, to make up for our otherwise wasted 3 bucks.

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Tom's big banana

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Hveragerši Geothermal Park

Getting Gas: Most gas stations in Iceland are pay-at-the-pump only, with no attendant on site. And most accept only the chip-and-pin credit cards, with just a few accepting the magnetic-stripe/swipe-and-sign credit cards we use in the U.S. I'd secured one of the chip-and-pin cards before traveling to Croatia last year, so we had no problems, but other U.S. travelers may need to look into this before their trip. We got gas for the first time in the town of Hveragerdi. Only $7.51 per gallon! (We thought it was going to be closer to 10 bucks.)

Raufarholshellir, near the intersection of Routes 38 and 39, is the third largest lava tube in Iceland, well over a kilometer long. You're welcome to explore the tube on your own, if you dare. A hardhat and leather gloves are recommended, and a flashlight is essential. We didn't follow the full tube but went far enough to get a good sense of the place. It was so foggy by this point in the day, late afternoon, that the roads were treacherous, and we were glad to stop for a while. This was an excellent detour. Very spooky!

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Tom in the Raufarhólshellir Lava Tube

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Foggy entrance

We drove along the south coast after visiting the lava tube. The fog was a little better by then. We could see the road but still couldn't see the scenery. (Seeing the road was more important!)

Returning to the Ring Road at the town of Selfoss, we continued east to the seductive Seljalandsfoss, an alluring outpouring of water tumbling off a rocky precipice. You can walk behind the falls, and we did. You get wet doing so, but we were of course wet anyway. The pics aren't great because the light was low due to the late hour.

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Seljalandsfoss

At 8:15, right after sunset, we arrived at our home for the night, the Welcome Edinborg Guesthouse, near Skogar, but far from services of any kind. There were no restaurants for miles, but we came prepared. There was an electric kettle in the common area upstairs, and we had ramen noodles and ham, salami, and Havarti cheese sandwiches. It was nice to have the common room, because the room itself was tiny.

Welcome Edinborg had the same humanless check-in as the place last night. We love the efficiency! The tiny room was quite comfy, except that it must have been at least 85 degrees in there. We turned off the radiator immediately and opened up a window so we could breathe! Also, this place was bring-your-own towel, and we had done so, but I didn't know we'd need them here. For $91 in super-expensive Iceland, it was a good value.

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Our tiny room at Welcome Edinborg



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