Published October 3, 2019
On a rainy Sunday, I set out to explore The Golden Circle with tour company Reykjavík Outventure accompanied by a friendly tour guide named Ragnar. The rain fell down in heavy sheets, and I scrambled to get into the back seat without getting too wet. “On these kinds of days,” Ragnar said as we left Reykjavík, “I like to make a list of gratitude. For starters, let’s all be thankful for newfound friendship.” The six of us in the van looked at each other and nodded. It was sure to be a magical day.
As the rain poured out of the sky onto our van, Ragnar regaled us with a brief history of Iceland and the Golden Circle. He was a magnificent storyteller, and I particularly found the story of Yoko Ono coming to Iceland and lighting the peace tower compelling. “Iceland is a very peaceful country,” he said. “You would never leave your baby in a pram outside while you get your hair done in the states, would you? Here in Iceland, we have no reason not to. That’s the second item on my list of gratitude. Iceland is a very peaceful country.”
Before I knew it, we had arrived at Þingvellir. As if by fate, the rain let up just enough for us to walk along the path and see where the peace-loving Vikings held council. It’s a spectacular view at the top of the path. The old parliament building, the lake, the mountains in the distance—all are visible from the observation deck. It’s the perfect place to get a selfie, to reflect on the state of the world, or just to appreciate the beauty of one of the newest islands in the world.
Suddenly, the rain picked up again, and we ran to the shelter of the gift shop for some hot coffee and breakfast. Before long, we set out again on our Golden Circle journey. Our destination: Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. The product of glacial runoff, the water in this lake is filtered through dried magma, and is some of the purest water in the world. You could fill your water bottle up in the lake with no fear, which is exactly what we did. “This would be the third thing on my list of gratitude,” Ragnar said. “Infinite access to clean water.”
Our next stop was the Kerið Crater. This massive crater lake is the result of a volcanic eruption that happened over 3,000 years ago. The area is absolutely drenched in colour from red rocks and green moss to the deep blue-green colour of the lake. Even against a gray sky, the view from the top was breathtaking. The rain stopped and the sun came out briefly, giving us a view of the landscape against a blue sky. Even though it didn’t last long, I put the brief cessation of rain on my personal list of gratitude. Ragnar’s sunny demeanor was rubbing off on me.
From Kerið, we went to Efstidalur Farm for lunch. Three dogs ran around our van as we pulled into the parking lot. They were all soaking wet, but excited to see us, and eager for attention, which I was more than happy to give them. We went inside and Halla Rós, the hostess, told us about life on a dairy farm. We ate skýr and drank mysa, also known as whey. For lunch, we had some of the best soup I’ve ever tasted, and for dessert, ice cream.
Afterwards, it was time for one of the highlights of the Golden Circle trip—Iceland’s infamous geysir, Strokkur. Every six minutes, like clockwork, it explodes in a fury of extremely hot water and sulfur. Once we arrived, we stopped and watched it erupt a few times in a row. It’s the kind of thing that makes you stop in your tracks and reflect in wonder at the beauty of natural phenomena.
From there, we braved the rain again to see Gullfoss, the king of the waterfalls. “The English have a saying: ‘ABC. Another Bloody Castle.’ We say ‘ABW. Another Bloody Waterfall,’” Ragnar joked. There are literally hundreds of waterfalls in Iceland, but if you can only see one, this is the one you should see. Located in the deep canyon of the Hvíta River, this massive body of water demands respect. And even with the rain hitting my face at an angle, I was more than happy to give it that respect.
Between the heavy rain and the splashing of the falls, we were all drenched and chilled to the bone. It was time to warm up so we stopped at The Secret Lagoon to soak in the hot tub. Locals refer to it as Gamla Laugin, or the old pool, because it was one of the first pools in Iceland, and a place where many locals first learned to swim. The rain had stopped, and the hot water kept us warm despite the cool air around us. This definitely made my personal list of gratitude. The middle of the pool is tepid, but the edges where the water flows in are almost dangerously hot. That was where we spent most of our time, relaxing on pool noodles, and turning into human prunes.
As the sun sank behind the clouds again, it was time to get out of the hot tub and get back into the van to go home. We sat quietly, and Ragnar turned the radio to an Icelandic rock station, which played the greatest Icelandic hits of the genre. Driving home, I couldn’t help but think about all the things that I really do have to be grateful for. On this trip to the Golden Circle, they became exceedingly apparent.