Our Trip to Iceland: Day 4
We woke up on New Year’s Eve with plans to drive The Golden Circle (also known as Þingvellir National Park.) The Golden Circle is an Icelandic ‘must see’-meets-tourist trap. (I only call it a tourist trap because, for the first time during the trip, we found ourselves in a “crowd” of people, and we also had to pay $2 to use the bathroom and $16 for a bowl of lamb soup.) Regardless, it was a gorgeous day full of natural wonders.
Stop #1 in The Golden Circle is (casually) the rift between the European and North American tectonic plates. It’s a bizarre thing to wrap your head around while you’re staring into (and walking through) the canyon, but it makes for some gorgeous, snow-covered pictures.
The Geysir of all geysers (aka the geyser for which all other geysers are named.) Geysir eruptions are infrequent (they're actually been known to stop for years at a time in the past) but are capable of throwing boiling water 229 ft into the air. THere is a more active geyser, Strokkur, which erupts every 4-6 minutes - and we were able to see that baby blow!
This waterfall may perhaps be the most famous in the Land of Waterfalls! It’s a roaring beast that you can hike down to if you’re feeling daring. But, seeing as how it was the most frigid day of our December trip, we weren’t feeling very daring. Instead, we took some pictures while bracing ourselves against the Arctic cold, then ran back to our car. Between that run-in with Gullfoss, and our inability to do anything except sleep when we arrived at our hostel near Skógafoss, we didn’t have great luck with famous waterfalls! (But it’s okay. Iceland had plenty more to offer us.)
This famous volcanic crater looks like the beautiful site of a UFO landing. Though it’s privately owned and, as such, an additional cover charge of pocket-change, it’s worth a visit!
But what we loved most were the unscheduled stops along The Golden Circle. From the acres and acres of snow-covered land, to the beautiful 4 hours of ‘golden hour’ sunset, to the huddles of friendly Icelandic ponies on the sides of the road - there was plenty to keep us busy!
When we did finish our time on the road, we returned to our Airbnb to get ready for the night: a New Year’s Eve party! We had been told by our hosts that locals celebrated the holiday by lighting, and they had given us the location of the most popular bonfire. They also explained to us that fireworks were banned in Iceland on every other day of the year; but on New Year’s Eve, that ban was lifted. Icelandic families would sometimes spend “thousands of dollars” on fireworks, and there were no restrictions regarding where - or how many - could be launched. “There will be smoke that will cover the whole city!” Sigga said, “just wait!”
When we arrived at the bonfire, I was already impressed. The inferno was the size of a truck; it was meant to symbolize a clean slate - burning that which held you down in the previous year so as to give you freedom in the following year. The fire burned brightly, adults spilled their beers, and children ran around with sparklers; all the while, fireworks were exploding in every direction - some dangerously close. The entire skyline was sparkling that night, and my heart was sparkling along with it. All of a sudden, a stillness took over the chaos and everyone looked up, one-by-one. Directly above us, the Northern Lights danced brilliantly, stretching from horizon to horizon. A band of snaking light, far surpassing the beauty of any firework or flame. We watched until the tears in my eyes dried. And when the lights faded again, the fireworks resumed. They didn’t stop until 4am that night; and Sigga was right - the entire city was shrouded in smoke for the entire day to come.
It was an anniversary to remember.