The Golden Circle, Iceland

Ok, so I’m hanging out in England right now (working hard on the Podcast), but I want to continue my trend of updating on past trips, so I have the memories written down!

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One of the most wonderful things about Iceland is how much pride Icelanders take in their country. This tiny island with 300,000 people and possibly the most confusing language of all time, has got to be pretty high up there on the national pride rating chart. Any why shouldn’t they be psyched? Iceland is truly a masterpiece of nature.

That being said, it’s no secret I LOVE Iceland. And if Instagram is any indication, a lot of other people are discovering it as well. So, I’m going to fill this post with the pictures of our trip around the Golden Circle, which is a popular route among visitors.

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First stop, Reykjavík Roasters, then we hit the road.

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From Reykjavík, we went up to Friðheimar Greenhouse Cultivation Centre, where they’re growing tomatoes and cucumbers with geothermal heat (geothermal power currently generates an impressive 25% of the country’s total electricity production.) Friðheimar was painfully adorable, I’ve never enjoyed a greenhouse so much!

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From the greenhouse, we went on to the Geysir geothermal area where the Strokkur geyser shoots water into the air every 5 minutes or so. It was really cool to see, even though it smelled a bit due to the sulfer!

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After approximately 10 geyser erruptions (just as thrilling each time!), we continued on to Gullfoss, an insane waterfall that plunges about 100 feet down into a crevice.

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The wind was aboslutely howling around Gullfoss, so I didn’t get to spend as much time exporing it as I’d like, but it was stunning nonetheless.

Next stop, Thingvellir National Park, which packs the history punch. The American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet in this park, so you can be on one continent, then walk on over to the other! The plates are spreading apart at the rate of a few centimeters per year, so there is space between them where you can dive down and explore the ocean underneath the plates, which I would just absolutely KILL to do sometime (ie in the summer).

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Note: The photos above were taken at about 3:00 in the afternoon, so you can tell what the winter sunlight situation is like. 

Thingvellir is also the site of Iceland’s first Parliament (right under that flagpole!), established around 930, and was held in the park until 1798. It seems like a strange, isolated spot for a mass meet-up, especially in those days, but hey, they probably just wanted to come out here as much as possible since it’s freaking gorgeous.

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We stopped about halfway through the day at a small roadside restaurant, and overloaded ourselves on kjötsúpa, which is a traditional Icelandic meat soup, and SO hearty.

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The resturant also had a little shop attached, which we used to warm up and try on some winter accessories. 🙂

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The Golden Circle tour took nearly the entire day, and we were exhausted by the time we made it back to the hotel. But on the drive, we’d seen some Icelandic horses and I was determined to go meet them in person.

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Now, Icelandic horses are small and fluffy, so they are automtically cuter than regular horses. I had made up my mind at this point, and decided we’d ride them out into the lava fields.

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It was a fantastic concept, but literally the coldest I’ve ever been in my entire life. I was genuinely concerned I had frostbite on my toes and I couldn’t feel my hands or arms when we got back to the lodge, despite doing an excessive bundling job pre-horse riding.

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That being said, holy shit, the scenery. We rode through fields and fields of black lava covering in contrasting white snow, galloping around on our tiny horses and it was simply magical. I don’t have a lot of experience on horses, plus my fingers went numb about 2 minutes into the ride, so I don’t have a ton of non-blurry photos, so you’ll have to trust me. Don’t go to Iceland without spending time with the fluffy little horses.

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It took approximately 3 days and several trips to the hot dog stand for me to thaw out, just in time to go hunt the Northern Lights. Now, the lights were very high up on my Iceland Bucket List, but they’re not exactly predictable. Sure, you need a clear night, blah blah, but what you have to do is go out into the middle of nowhere and just wait.

Luckily, the Icelanders built lodges out in the middle of nowhere for this specific purpose. So you can sit in the warmth of the lodge, enjoy some waffles and hot choclate, and they’ll call you if the Lights make an appearance.

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We’d stand outside in the snow for a bit, huddled up with other random travelers to create a giant circle of warmth, and stare up at the sky. I’ve been on this planet for nearly 30 years now and seen quite a bit of it, but I’ve never ever seen stars like that. Thousands and thousands of them glittering up there in the most awe-inspiring display of nature that I struggle to describe. I would’ve been happy just to stand there and stare forever, but the trance was broken when we did catch the very slightest glimpse of the Northern Lights, their lime green flames dancing on the horizon.

I think it was Iceland’s way of inviting me back, by giving me just enough of the country to deperately want to see more.

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See my other posts about Iceland here, including the Blue Lagoon and the wonderful city of Reykjaviík.

A note on the Golden Circle tour: If you are going in the summer, I’d suggest renting your own car and taking on this route – and others! – on your own. If you’re there in the winter like we were, let the experts take over and just enjoy the ride. No need to get stranded on a glacier in a foreign country.

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