This is the second in a series of three articles about Iceland and Kensington Tours exclusive offer of The Gentleman’s Exploration. I am an honoured explorer-in-residence at this giant of a true travel company.
Temperature went below -15 degrees Celsius during the night, so the light was even more spectacular when we left Ranga Hotel, heading slightly north-west in the darkness, aiming for Gulfoss, the Geyser area and Thingvallavatn. Whilst riding in the dark, on the icy roads, all of us slightly tired from the evening before, I started thinking about Iceland and how little knowledge I had about this very special country. I knew Leif Erikson, the discoverer of North-America came from Iceland. And that Halldor Laxness received the Nobel Prize 1955, with several books describing the harshness of nature and life. And even more in present history, I knew of Eidur Gudjohnsen, soccer player, who had shown great capacity at Chelsea and Barcelona. On top of that, it was all about volcanic ash, eruptions, geysers, glaciers, fishing limit quarrels with Britain, the puffin bird, killer whales and a modern society who sported the first female president on earth, Vigdis Finnbogadottir. And, of course, I knew of the serious financial crises of recent time which was so devastating for the country. The night before, we heard a harrowing tale from a very nice fella at the hotel. He pretty much lost everything, but was trying to heal and return back to life. Stronger than before. In the Scandinavian way. Not complaining too much. One has to get on with life. It could be worse. Because we have a back up from society when things fail. I know of this personally.
I think this morning drive was a highlight of my life. No traffic. Icy and snow covered roads. Hardly any traffic at all. No people. Just groups of these beautiful Icelandic horses foraging. The surroundings brought my thoughts to its bigger neighbor, Greenland. We were surrounded by snow covered mountains, some truly alpine and we slowly rolled over the fenced in tundra. Suddenly we arrived at our first goal of the day. Gulfoss. Now, I have seen quite a few waterfalls in my life and after yesterdays visit to a Skogafoss, I didn´t expect a whole lot. Turns out Gulfoss is on my top three list after Iguazu and the Victoria Falls. And it being shaped by winter colors and the crude harshness of its surroundings made it magnificent! The drop is only 32 meters, but the area consists of quite a few impressive falls. Not surprisingly, a team of foreign investors tried to dam the area back in the 1920´s, but Sigridur Tomasson, the daughter of the owner, walked to Reykjavik, threatening to throw herself into the falls and kill herself if the plans went ahead. Thank God they failed, the investors, because these falls have to be seen!
This drive we did is called the Golden Circle, which is an appropriate name. We left Gulfoss, heading west again and ended up in Geysir quarter of an hour later. I have seen geysers in New Zealand. I was impressed than. Even more today. The worlds most reliable geyser, Strokkur, entertained us for an hour, by bursting upwards in impressive 15 meters high plumes. Another must see.
When we left Geysir it was still biting cold. Light continued to impress and it was easy to have a light feeling of being part of a hobbit film. Which was filmed on New Zealand. And there´s many similarities between these two isolated islands. Great scenery, great people and a relatively short history of human kind. And I say that, because our next stop was Thingvellir, where the Vikings established the world´s first democratic parlament in AD 930. Which in a European perspective isn´t that old. American and Canadian yes. I guess that was the reason Tim and Jeff was more impressed with UNESCO World Heritage site than me. But the surroundings was impressive!
The route back to the capital took us past the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn, passed mountains, a ski lift and down into Reykjavik. The short day was over when we entered the capital again. Another great meal was waiting us at one of the best restaurants of the Iceland. And another Glenlivet and cohiba.
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Mikael, interesting read – as usual. I only don’t agree to the ‘Scandinavian way’ of facing the crisis. Is the Scandinavian way also about building bombastic concert halls and shiny, luxury apartment and office buildings? This was the first thing I saw from Iceland – abandoned new buildings. Someone did things very wrong, and not at all in the Scandinavian way. The people then paid the price. And I’m not sure Iceland is returning the loans UK and the Netherlands gave it… (the famous referendum, when 90% voted ‘no’ to return). From being the glamorous outsiders who rejected participation in political and economic unions like the EU, Iceland suddenly turned around 🙂 Strangely this reminds me of one small Balkan country – Macedonia, which is equally just departing on a route to build a bombastic ‘imperial’ capital. Politicians are so silly and nationalistic, and those who believe them – even more!
Also not sure about Thingvellir being the oldest parliament in the world. What about the Roman Republican Senate, more than a 1000 years before Iceland was settled? Again reminds me of Macedonia which always desires to be linked with ancient Macedonia – although the two have nothing in common really.