ABOARD OCEAN DIAMOND-Now this is the way to start a trip. After a two-hour flight from Indianapolis to Boston, I caught a five-hour flight to Reykjavík on Icelandair. The Icelandair plane was clean and comfy. I had a window seat which I prefer. The man seated next to me plugged in ear phones and immediately fell asleep. The plane left on time, flight attendants dimmed the lights and that was it. I awoke as we were landing in Iceland.
When I arrived in Reykjavík about 6 a.m., the sun was brightly shining. I quickly learned, however, that the sun shines almost all the time during summer months in Iceland. No sunrise and sunset. Just sun.
My guide Magnus was waiting for me at the airport to take me to my “day room” at a local hotel. That was a first for me. I’ve spent many many nights in hotels but never just a few hours during the day. It made sense, though, and I greatly appreciated it.
Magnus said I would have time for a complimentary breakfast buffet at the hotel, a three-hour nap, shower and free hotel WiFi to catch up with work messages. The hotel is equipped with heavy window blinds to block out the light during sleep time.
“We are used to it,” Magnus explained. “It’s the way our life has always been. We don’t rely on dark to make us sleepy. We sleep when we are tired.”
Then he added with a wink, gesturing to his eyelids, “We are born with shutters. We just close them and go to sleep.”
After the refreshing break, Magnus was back to take me and three other Americans – a man from Chicago and two sisters from West Virginia and Arizona – on an afternoon tour of the Golden Circle.
Golden Circle one of Iceland’s most popular attractions
A trio of natural attractions within two hours of Reykjavík, the Golden Circle is a main draw and I can certainly see why. First we came to Þingvellir National Park and stopped at the largest lake in Iceland called Þingvallavation. I can already tell that it is going to be difficult to type some of these Icelandic names on my laptop computer because of the unusual letters and symbols but I am going to try.
The rocky beach at Þingvellir is covered with hundreds of stone piles. These aren’t the big centuries-old cairns in Iceland that were constructed to show the way, like an old-time map. These small stone pillars – some with graffiti – look like child’s play. Actually, Magnus said, they are not welcomed by Icelanders.
Tourists create the stone piles to say “I was here.” Or some say to make a wish, perhaps to return to this lovely island. I took a photo so you could see. Although I most definitely would like to visit Iceland again, I didn’t stack a stone pile.
Pulling into the National Park Visitor Center, we walked to the overlook to see two tectonic plates ripping apart from each other. The way the North American plate and the Eurasian plate are drifting apart at the rate of about an inch a year from each other is clearly visible here. The result is large gaps and chasms.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir National Park is one of the most important historic sites in Iceland. It is here that the parliament of Iceland was first founded around the year 930 and where it continued to meet until 1798. Laws were made. Differences were settled. Justice was meted out.
“Men found guilty were beheaded with an ax and women found guilty were drowned in the lake,” Magnus said. “This is where the Republic of Iceland was formed in 1944.”
Geysers galore in Geysir country
From there, we drove through more mountainous terrain to Geysir country. The English word “geyser” comes from Icelandic. Looking like a watery version of the surface of the moon, the area is filled with steaming craters, blowholes, geysers and hot springs, the most prominent of which is Strokkur.
Strokkur blasts out hot water every four to eight minutes. Some of the spurts reach up to 100 feet in the air and the drifting sprinkles sometime catch close-up visitors by surprise. The Geysir Center offers exhibits and information about the area.
Next up was Gullfoss waterfall. Gullfoss is Icelandic for “golden waterfall” and when we arrived water seemed to be coming from everywhere. We could feel the glacial mist in the air as soon as we steeped out of the car. Not easy to get a photo without getting your camera wet.
In a country renowned for waterfalls, Gullfoss is said to be the most beautiful and most accessible. Numerous wooden walkways let you walk to various viewpoints. At first, you don’t see the massive waterfall. I looked up when I should have looked down. The falls are somewhat obscured from view in a crevice. Walking nearer brings Gullfoss into full view as thousands of tons of icy water thunder majestically down into a deep canyon.
Magnus told us the legend of the lady whose face is engraved on a stone memorial at the falls. Seems that Sigríður Tómasdóttir’s family originally owned Gullfoss. Sigríður and her sisters loved the falls, cutting the first footpaths to guide visitors to see the natural beauty. When her father was approached by foreign investors to sell Gullfoss so it could be harnessed for production of electricity, Sigríður vehemently opposed the project. So strongly did she object that Sigríður threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if her father approved the sale. He didn’t.
The State of Iceland acquired the waterfall in 1940 and it has been a State Preservation Site since 1979. Gullfoss is considered priceless in its natural state.
Our Golden Circle time went far too quickly and soon we were headed back to Reykjavík. But, of course, our main adventure is about to begin.
The Ocean Diamond is docked in Reykjavík and we are going to embark on a magnificent 10-day cruise with Iceland ProCruises. I am so eager to step aboard, check into my cabin and get to know the crew and fellow passengers.
Will let you know tomorrow what my first night is like aboard the Ocean Diamond. If it is anything like my first day in Iceland, I am sure it will be incredible.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch