After our Titanic foray into Belfast, we spent the next day and a little more at sea heading to Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital. After a cool sail in (see the photos—we passed a huge iceberg), we arrived around 1:00 pm and after a quick lunch we set off on an 8 hour tour with our guide from Tours by Locals, Birkir. Now normally we would never start an 8-10 hour tour at 1:30 pm because within few hours all we would be able to see is darkness. But this was Iceland and we were within 2 weeks of the longest day of the year so we could tour until midnight and it would never be totally dark. That meant we could see what the tour books refer to as the southern Iceland Golden Circle.
It included the edge of continents, incredible waterfalls, exploding geysers, volcanic craters, Icelandic horses and some of the most amazing natural beauty we have seen. Our first stop was the Þingvellir Icelandic National Park which has significance for two reasons. It is a historical site where the Icelandic parliament first met in 930 AD. And it is the intersection of two continents. Seriously. The plates that form the North American continent end in Iceland and run directly into the plates that form the European continent. In a way we were walking between North America and Europe the entire time we were in Iceland. In fact, two days later just outside Akureyri in the north, I was able to stand with my right foot in North America and my left foot in Europe. Pretty cool.
After our visit to this beautiful (in its own way) national park, we drove onward to ice cream. Yes, ice cream. It seems that there is a world-famous dairy and ice cream factory in almost the middle of nowhere. We had some amazing ice cream and even got to meet the cows that had done the original work on it. It was a fun and delicious experience.
Next up was Kathleen’s favorite part of the tour, a visit to feed some very cool Icelandic horses. As you drive through the wilds of Iceland, you see thousands of these Icelandic horses (never call them ponies). They are everywhere. Of course they are owned by someone but you do see some wild ones as well. Birkir knew of a place where a farmer allowed his horses to be petted and fed (he even provided “horse candy” you could buy) and so we stopped and everyone who wanted to got to feed the horses while the rest of us took photos. See mine to see how incredibly beautiful these animals are. That said, it is sad to say that Icelanders eat horse on a regular basis. It is a staple of their diet. Birkir offered to find us a restaurant that served horse but we said we were content to pet and feed them.
After that it was on to the absolute, drop-dead highlight of the day—the Gullfoss waterfall. We have been to Niagara Falls but I have to tell you, this was so much better. In my opinion the reason for that was that these falls are still in a very natural setting and incredibly cool. Also, the water is totally unpolluted and blue. When you see the photos, just realize that I didn’t do anything to those pics at all—the water really is that blue. Seriously. The pictures tell the story.
We thought we had seen it all but now it was on to geysers. Compared to Old Faithful that goes off once an hour, Iceland’s southern geysers go off every five minutes or so. They smell of sulfur but they also are very cool. Check out the photos below.
After our geyser experience and a brief stop at a volcanic crater (sorry, this one didn’t come close to Crater Lake and just not impressive enough for pics), we made a brief stop for dinner (by this time it was around 8:30 but outside it looked like the middle of the day) and then it was on to our last stop of the day, The Blue Lagoon.
If you have ever been to Iceland you have heard of the Blue Lagoon. It is so popular that people flying from the US to Europe will do a five hour stopover just to hit the Blue Lagoon (which is located between Reykjavik and the airport). If you have never heard of it or seen photos, just imagine a giant, blue hot tub with hundreds of people (maybe more) swimming around, drinking and rubbing mud on their faces. And the strangest thing was that we arrived at the lagoon just before it closes at 10:55 or so. But you would never know it. The sun was up and there were (see the pics) hundreds of people still in the lagoon. Birkir told us they stop letting people in at 11:00 pm in the summer but they don’t start kicking people out until midnight.
I should add that sunset that day was at 11:58 and sunrise the next morning was at 2:15 am. It never really got dark and when we finally got back to the ship at almost midnight, we were very thankful for the blackout curtains in our staterooms.
Our first day in Iceland was INCREDIBLE! Birkir was an amazing guide and got us everywhere in a fun and beauty filled day. It was just outstanding.