I put my phone away after taking pictures and spend a long stretch of time just staring at the Gulfloss Waterfall. The air is full of wet mist. The overwhelming beauty in front of me has absolutely nothing to do with us humans. I’d like to cry, but I can’t – maybe there’s simply already enough water thundering down before me in a never-ending stream. Such poetry. In motion. See what I keep doing there?
Before setting off down some steps and a path that brings me closer and closer to the Gulfloss, we are warned that some tourists have previously complained about getting wet on the way. Um. I open up the umbrella I brought with me (Yes! Hamburg rain love shout-out) and proceed.
A few hours previously I’d boarded the bus to embark on the Golden Circle Tour that I’d booked with Gray Line before I left Hamburg. The scheduled pick-up from my hotel wasn’t as early as for the whale watching tour, meaning I had a bit more time to continue digesting seeing whales before being completely blown away by what I saw on the Golden Circle.
Most of you have probably heard about this tour or come across numerous mentions while doing research for a possible trip to Iceland. The Golden Circle is a wonderful way to get a first and lasting impression of Iceland’s unique natural wonders when you’re based in Reykjavik. It’s not a natural trail, but a carefully developed trip across very good roads, so a drive is a great idea as well, if you’d rather rent a car. I enjoyed the bus trip of roughly an hour out of Reykjavik before our first stop in Thingvellir National Park.
We walk between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, just a stroll between two continents, as you do, and listen to stories from our fantastic guide about how things worked around here when Iceland’s parliament first started its existence where we are walking now, with new laws been shouted down to the people by an appointed member with exceptionally strong lungs. Slightly higher up from the path we took between the plates, our guide turns her back to us and suddenly shouts something in what sounds like very forceful Icelandic. She then turns back around and calmly explains to her wide-eyed audience that the acoustics worked very well, carrying the information down clearly to the population below.
Before we left the bus, we were told we would hear about the executions that took place here in the olden days. This is something I had not read up on at all before my trip to Reykjavik. What I hear takes me completely by surprise. It’s also very easy to let your imagination surrender when there are no distractions around and you’re not in the city. We stand above a beautiful stream, the rocks in it contrasting with the clear water, the higher tectonic plate visible on one side, and the untouched landscape, except for boardwalks, stretching out in every direction in front of us. The stream becomes both beautiful and terrible as I learn that women, most of them young, were drowned in this very place. The crime? Supposed adultery. If the woman had a child as a result of the affair, or what might very well have been rape, the child was spared, while the mother was doomed. When I ask why drowning was the execution method for the women, our guide said it was simply so. I don’t feel like examining the reasons further. As for being burnt at the stake, according to records only men were executed this way in Iceland, following accusations of sorcery. An interesting twist, if you can call it that, on what one has heard about this macabre part of European history in other countries.
After the revelations at Thingvellir and Gulfloss, we stop to look at geysirs and this provides some natural (literally) levity. I mean, curls of steam, huge jets of water shooting up in the air at regular intervals, that well-known stinky smell (which wasn’t all that intense) and the burbling noises of smaller boiling geysirs, not to mention grown men dipping their hands into puddles your guide expressly asks you not to touch and a sign that the nearest hospital is 62 km away? We also stop at the smaller Faxi Waterfall with its salmon ladder and the Skalholt church, a significant part of Iceland’s Christian history.
Our guide told us quite a few interesting things about Reykjavik as well – population numbers (some 127,000 compared to roughly 350,700 in the whole country), universities, nationalities, language (based on old Norsk), salmon fishing (there’s a river where the mayor has to make the first catch of the season before everyone else is allowed to fish), chocolate production (it was imported from Poland before the 1930s). The water in Iceland is so clean that we could safely drink from rivers in the area. Eating whale meat is NOT a traditional Icelandic meal, it’s just a horrible thing perpetuated by the tourism industry. Meanwhile, if you really want to go local and get a taste (no puns intended) of history, there are still places where you can try marinated sheep testicles. I spent a while digesting (no pun intended once again) that one before I was able to refocus my brain.
I get plenty of glimpses of volcanoes – it’s mind-boggling to think that they are so close, so sleepy-looking, yet with massive violent potential, while the surrounding landscape with its mix of mountains, rocks and moss, fields and farms popping up every now and then is encompassing in its tranquility and vastness.
We’re ushered back on the bus at the end of the tour and it starts to rain a little. The clouds are hanging low, there’s a first hint of the day growing darker, and suddenly I get a very strong feeling that we need to go now. It’s been a full day with impressions that will stay with me for the rest of my life, but if we don’t leave now, I’m sure trolls will crawl out from underneath all those mossy rocks. I’ve felt welcome and humble here, but it’s quite possible that the hour of the “hidden people” is drawing nearer, and it’s time for me to go back. I am, after all, yet again a visitor here. I might not have been asked to come, but I’m happy that I was allowed to.