Published May 16, 2015
“I’ve ordered sun for you guys today”, says BusTravel Iceland‘s guide Ragnhildur Hjördís Lövdahl—Hilda, for short—when she picks us up at 9 AM sharp.
Today’s Premium Golden Circle Tour will lead us around some of Iceland’s most popular sights—with some surprises, not only in terms of weather.
The group consists of a cozy seven people, thus making it a very personal one, although it’s our understanding that the larger groups are equally as fun.
Our first stop is a bakery in the small town of Hveragerði, famous for its hot springs. The 45 minute drive there already hints at the diversity of the Icelandic landscape. As the clouds open up and the sun peeks through, we are amazed by views of rocky lava fields, hills made of red soil and a faint steam of vapour from a geothermal plant ascending up through the surrounding mountains.
All the while, our guide educates us about the magical island we’re standing on. “Iceland is the second biggest island in Europe after the UK, but only 20% of it is inhibited”, says Hilda. We also get to see the faint shadow of the Westman Islands—another glimpse of hope for today’s weather. Finally, we set off to our first landmark, the volcano crater Kerið, which is just as powerful a vision as expected. The sun shines bright overhead, saturating the mesmerising colour palette of the orange and green mosses that surround us, as well as the blue water of the lake, which is as dark as the sky above.
Of horses and men
As we head to our next stop, a local horse farm called Friðheimar, Hilda tells us how horses were for a long time the only means of transportation in Iceland. Once there, alongside tea and coffee, we receive an enlightening presentation on all the peculiar traits of the Icelandic horse followed by a demonstration of the five gaits. To show us how comfortable it is to sit on the Icelandic horse during tölt—a specific gait that is unique to the Icelandic horse—the horse rider carries a pint of beer while riding without spilling a single drop!
Even if you were not interested in horses before, the trip to Friðheimar will make you fall in love with them. There is also a certain charm about connecting with the locals there, and about being at an Icelandic horse farm that you would not normally get to see on big buses.
Since we are only a small of group of seven, Hilda decides to make an extra stop at the closely located waterfall Faxi. Even though the rain starts falling, we all take in Faxi’s majestic beauty as a taste of what we can expect from Gullfoss later that day.
On our way to Geysir the sky darkens further, creating a strange, grey, apocalypse-like scenery. Our guide decides it’s the perfect backdrop for some crime stories, both from the Icelandic Sagas and today.
We encounter Gullfoss, probably Iceland’s most famous waterfall, which never fails to impress, no matter how many times you see it. These majestic, thundering falls are well worth taking in for a moment, impressing upon you the power and wildness of the Icelandic environment. Truly a wonder to behold.
When we arrive, we have time to grab some delicious soup before heading to one of Iceland’s most famous attractions—those erupting hot springs called geysers. The most active one in Iceland today is Strokkur and we are lucky enough to witness a double eruption. Strokkur’s water discharge can reach up as high as 40 metres, which is a sight to behold.
The weather now graces us with some sunlight that shines through the clouds and along the reflections on the wet ground, creating a magical landscape that’s only slightly disturbed by the strong smell of sulphur from the geysers.
Between two worlds
The mood in BusTravel Iceland’s shuttle is much lighter than the weather outside though—short, often funny stories are shared between of all us. Bonding is easy and I can say that I have never had a more comfortable bus trip. As we drive to the last stop of today’s excursion, the sun finally breaks through the clouds and makes the rain disappear. Fittingly, Hilda starts to sing traditional Icelandic songs for us as we drive between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Epic.
The national park Þingvellir lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the aforementioned tectonic plates. Not only that, but it was also used as the Icelandic national parliament from 930 until 1798. In a place that has so much meaning, it is easy to get impressed. We walk with our mouths open between huge walls made of rock, looking over the lowlands beneath, brightly illuminated by the sun.
Once we’re back in town, all of us descend the shuttle with a smile—and maybe a little melancholia for parting with this lovely group with whom I’ve experienced these Icelandic wonders of nature.
Name: Ragnheiður Hjördís Lövdahl.
From: “Reykjavík, but I’ve lived in France for many years.”
Favourite part of the job: “I like meeting people from all over the world,” Ragnheiður says. “People are relaxed and happy to see new places.”
Strange guide moment: “One time a participant asked me ‘Where are all the castles?’—and that really confused me,” Ragnheiður explains. “Another time, a tourist asked me ‘Can I not get a kiss?’ After I had said no, he asked me again when he left. That was very strange.”