Day 4 was scheduled to be the lightest of our day trips. After a leisurely breakfast, we pumped gas and got coffee at the N1 gas station, our established pre-trip routine.
Our first stop of the day was Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site. (Parking requires a fee but admission is free). The Mid Atlantic Ridge runs through this park and provides another opportunity to view this unique phenomenon. A walk down the narrow trail in the Almannagja gorge, (which represents the eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate), imagining how the original settlers of this island met to discuss and establish the laws of the land and thus, the very roots of the oldest parliamentary structure, is mind-blowing. This park is the amalgam of heritage, culture and geology of this country.
It was said that representatives from nearly 30 different tribes traveled nearly two weeks to reach the Althing meeting annually. Laws were made and punishments assigned. The Law Rock (Lögberg) where the appointed Law speaker presided over the assembly and from where speeches, announcements were made and punishments decreed, still remains, marked by a flagpole. One can just imagine the atmosphere in this historic valley during those annual assemblies, with people meeting in joy, in anger, old scores settled, new friendships formed, people beheaded or drowned for crimes committed. Never a dull moment, for sure! At the end of the trail is the beautiful Oxararfoss where many are said to have faced a watery grave by drowning.
I enjoyed reading this post on Thingvellir National Park, its one of the most comprehensive ones, detailing well the history and geology that merit the World Heritage Site designation for this valley.
After spending about an hour or more exploring the area, we drove onwards to Efstidalur II, the farm hotel. The ice cream here is exceptionally fresh and all natural, so of course, we had to make a stop. The farm also doubles as a hotel and has a restaurant and horse rental, in addition. One could spend a few days here relaxing, on a working farm.
We tried different flavors of ice cream like caramel, chocolate, strawberry, licorice. What I liked most was the natural sweetness of the ice cream. The rusticity of the cabin and the little dog that chased us around while we feasted on our dessert, all added a certain charm to the visit.
We next headed to Geysir, the second most popular attraction on the circuit. Although the original Geysir is not as active any longer, we were thrilled to catch the more active Strokkur geyser in action. It erupts every few minutes (about 8-10) and shoots about 90 feet into the air. It’s truly a sight to behold!
There are marked paths to follow as one revels in the sights of the hot springs, geysers and boiling mud pits and steam vents in this area. There is a visitor center with food, beverages, gift shop restaurant with the car park across the street.
After a quick pit stop for coffee and fries, we headed on towards Gullfoss, one of the most majestic sights on this Golden Circle. Situated on the Hvita River, Gullfoss or golden falls, drops a depth of about 90 feet into the canyon, in two stages. Its enchanting to watch the water gush forth, churning and frothing, as it runs powerfully over the edge and down below. The ice-cold spray stings like little needles but the beauty of the falls and the thundering of the water seek to soothe and calm.
The waterfall was the site of much controversy in the early 1900s as outside investors sought to use the power of the falls as a hydroelectric power source. Luckily for these falls and for us, the owner’s daughter at the time, Sigridur Tomasdottir, took matters into her own hands. She launched tireless efforts to keep the falls untouched by power projects and foreign investors alike. It must have taken a lot of grit and determination and a terrific love of the land for her to walk, as she did, several times to Reykjavik to keep her case alive and eventually, to win. I read that the lawyer who defended her case, Svein Bjornsson, became the first President of the Icelandic Republic when it was inaugurated in 1944. A small sculpted memorial to this remarkable lady is by the side of the falls.
Although we had planned to visit the Secret lagoon, we realised it couldn’t be done on time. So we decided to drive southwards to Skalholt. On the way, we stopped at Fridheimar Farm. This is a family run operation where tomatoes are grown in greenhouses. Naturally, tomato soup and bread are served as specialties at the restaurant. There is also a horse show that happens during the summer months. We were too late to do any of this but we did get to spend some time petting the horses.
Leaving the farm behind, we next visited Skalholt church, a sacred site in Icelandic history and one of religious power. Read this post on the history and importance of this famous church. The church was closed when we reached it but we took in the excavation work that is ongoing along the side of the church. The present church is the 10th one rebuilt on this site and consecrated in 1963. It has held a place of honor as a pilgrimage site, and a seat of learning and administration for over 700 years. A summer music festival is held here in annually as well, although it hadn’t started at the time of our visit. Daily services are conducted and the church is open from 9 am to 6 pm. The hypothesis house alongside the main structure adds an element of curiosity to the landscape.
From Skalholt, we drove to Kerid Crater, a most tapestry of colors all woven well together. A lake inside a volcanic caldera, the beautiful blue of the waters contrasts vividly with the red volcanic rocks that form the walls of the caldera. Green moss grows on some sides of the sloping walls. Apparently, the magma in the bottom of the caldera became depleted leading to the center of the magma chamber collapsing inwards on itself and creating the pool. There is a viewpoint from which to enjoy the crater but we saw many people walk down and towards the base of the crater. The cost to enjoy a visit is 400 ISK per person, over 12.
By now it was past 8 pm, so we drove to Selfoss, our goal was to enjoy the beautiful Selfoss falls before returning to Reykjavik for the night. After reaching Selfoss and driving around, we realised no falls existed in the middle of the little neighborhood where our destination supposedly was. A youngster, watering plants outside his home chuckled and told us that the falls we were looking for was located about 500 km away in the Northeastern part of Iceland. He looked bemused but not puzzled, so I am certain he gets asked this question often from confused tourists.
As we made our way back, we realised there was a Subway staring us in the face, so we quickly grabbed vegetarian subs before they closed for the night. The evening sun held its place and remained to guide us back to Reykjavik before midnight. We packed a small suitcase for the next two days and for the next journey to Oslo before settling in for the night. A very satisfying day overall!