If you missed day one in Iceland, see it here. I also apologize to anyone with slow internet… lots of media on this page!
Day 2: Outside Reykjavik
Our second day began with a typical European breakfast of rolls, cheeses, and meats. Then we were picked up by Eld Hestar and driven to their horse farm east of the city. Along the way we caught our first glimpse of a distant glacier–a wall of white that dwarfed the mountains before it.
After bundling ourselves up, we had horses picked out for us based on our skill level (non-existent). I was paired with Brunko, surely the sturdiest and most reliable steed a Viking warrior like myself could hope for.
Brunko was a perfect companion, dutifully forming a line with the others and then tailgating behind the previous horse as tight as possible to deter line cutters. He also liked to snort at the other horses when they went poo. In addition to being a noble and valiant mount, he also enjoyed snuggling.
Megan’s horse was somewhat less agreeable, and enjoyed making extra stops to eat grass while the rest of the group pushed onward. Thus I named her Munchka. Unlike Brunko, Munchka did not enjoy walking with her nose inches from another horse’s rear, much preferring to dally behind to let others advance and then charge ahead once there was sufficient space.
We rode for about 1.5 hours, following dirt trails around the farmland and crossing a river. The horses, bred pure only in Iceland, are adorably stout, and made a fine platform for beginners like us, even if we did end up a bit sore.
Next we had lunch in the farm hotel (a typical European
breakfast lunch of rolls, cheeses, and meats), before being picked up by a tour bus to see the Golden Circle.
The first bus tour stop was Geysir, the original geyser, although it no longer erupts. However, the thermal pools nearby bubbled away, and one spot shot water and steam about 30 feet in the air every five minutes or so. We hiked up the hill, avoiding the streams of 80-100′ Celsius water (and the sulfur drenched fumes where possible).
At the top of the Geysir Park a barbed wire fence blocked access to the ridge above, but some helpful people had placed a ladder going over the fence so everyone could still climb up. It was unclear who the fence was meant to deter, or why the park didn’t just invest in a gate. There must be fewer lawyers here. From the top we had good views back over the hot pots and off to one of the snow capped (for the moment?) volcanoes.
The bus led us on to Gullfoss, the golden waterfall.
This is a massive set of two falls, dropping over 32 meters through a deep gorge. We have been counting waterfalls (three before Gullfoss), and we concurred that this should count not as one or two, but ten because of its scale, bringing our total to 13. The sun was out, creating a nice rainbow in the mists that the wind whipped up towards us from the ravine. The river is fed from snow melt from the volcano we had seen earlier. Note that the waterfall is only golden when the sun is setting, which is to say never in the summer.
After the waterfall we headed to Thingvellir, former home of Iceland’s parliament. It is a rift valley where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are drifting away from each other. Between them lies a clear blue lake, considered one of the best diving spots in the world (at least according to the advertisers).
It was interesting to see the deep cracks from where the plates are shifting, some of them filled with the water that pours into the lake. In the distance, mountains and glaciers surrounded us.
Ours was an “express” golden circle tour since we spent the morning with the horses and only about five hours at the main sights. Despite that, it still gave us a reasonable amount of time at the three big spots (we skipped some places like a geothermal plant visited by the full tour). I don’t think we would have needed more time, and getting the horse riding experience in addition was worth it, even if now we need to find one of these hot tubs for our sore legs!
We had dinner at Noodle Station, which as our guidebook claimed served delicious soups of “ambiguous asian origin”. I would call it a mix between Ramen and Pho. For dessert we returned to the crepe shop we had stopped in the previous day and had some delicious sweet crepes.