Iceland – Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon

Woke up bright and early at 0430 – actually come to think of it, it was not yet bright but it sure was early.  The downside of having chosen accommodation within walking distance of everything you might possibly want to see in downtown Reykjavik, is the proximity to People… and at 0430 this morning we had People arguing LOUDLY outside out BnB in aggressive sounding Icelandic that was confusingly peppered with plenty of ‘fucks this’, ‘fuck that’, and, ‘fuck you’.  Not a fun way to wake up but a bit of a risk with any inner city accommodation.  One thing is for certain, we were not going to be late getting away this morning.

Today’s schedule included ‘All The Things People Go See When They Stop Over In Reykjavik’ – ie: The Golden Circle (again).  So we made our way to Þingvellir (more commonly known by the anglicised version, Thingvellir) to see what we could see.   Þingvellir is one of Iceland’s most important historic sites/national parks known primarily as the place of the Alþing (Althing) – which was the name of the Iceland parliament from the 10thC all the way through until the 18thC. There are ruins of the Þingvellir Church and some old stone buildings, but the site is very well known due to its location – it sits in a rift valley between two separated tectonic plates, which create cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault that runs through it. It’s hard to make our the rocky chasm in these pictures as the light was so stunningly bright today.  Apparently as late as 1967 you could drive through this rocky chasm created by the fault lines, but at that time they created a pedestrian-only gravel roadway through the space.  In the early 2000’s that pedestrian walkway collapsed in one section revealing that the fissure was something like 30 metres deeper than thought.  Due to the subsidence (possibly from tectonic shifting), they decided not to fix the entire gravel walkway but to instead create an elevated boardwalk for visitors to use that would meet up with the gravel walkway in the lower areas. The entire lava fields have rock formations like this – though a great deal of it is under moss and peat in large areas. Such a gorgeous day!  Was about 6-8°C with a light breeze and beautiful blue skies.   After seeing the Alþing area, we made our way towards Gullfoss falls via the back roads around Þingvellir Lake, The lake was calm and still with mirror-like reflections visible on its surface.

From there onto Gullfoss waterfalls.  These remain simply stunning.  This is my third visit to the falls and each time they look remarkably different – different light, different time of day, few/more visitors, same thunderous sound of 140 cubic metres/second of water tumbling down the canyon… with bonus rainbows in the spray coming off the falls today.

We were drenched walking through the mist to get to the cascading part at the top of the falls.

From here, we did like tourists do and made our way to the nearby geysir fields to see the famous Geysir and Strokkur doing their thing. The entire area is a thermal wonderland with misty pools and creeks full boiling and steaming sulphurous water winding it’s way through the moss covered lava fields. Watching the pools bubble away always reminds me of Macbeth Act 1, Scene 1…After we pottered around the Geysir area for a while we retreated indoors for a wander around the gift shop for a bit.  Wondering what the Land Of The $25.00 Souvenir Tea Towel has in store for us by way of souvenirs this time…

Actually, no. Even this t-shirt was a lie.  At 3900kr it was nearly AUD$50.00, so nope; I couldn’t afford this t-shirt.  Still it is gratifying to hear American tourists wandering around exclaiming with incredulity over the prices of everything – they are so accustomed to their dollar going a long way when they travel, it is refreshing for the rest of us to watch them suffer the sticker shock that we’ve been dealing with since, well, since forever.
After the non-shopping expedition, we had a quick bite to eat and then set off towards our next stop – the not-so-secret, Secret Lagoon.

Also known as Gamla Laugin and located in the village of Fludir, the Secret Lagoon is Iceland’s oldest having been established initially in 1891. It has been kept very natural looking and it aims to be a uniquely Icelandic experience – apparently not having given way to the ‘big spa’ treatments of the Blue Lagoon hot springs (will report back on this later – personally I’m not sure I care, I’m just here for a good soak).  Anyway, touted as being the oldest and therefore most traditional hot spring experience available, we had to give it a go.

Selling children to trolls is a proper threat in Iceland – according to polls, more than half of Icelanders believe in actual elves… little invisible folk who get up to mischief, have a monarchy, hold courts, and inhabit natural places like boulders, lava fields and mountains.

This was only the beginning of the list of rules for entering the hot springs.  Rule number one for public health and safety I assume, is that all guests will have a completely naked shower before putting on their swimsuit and entering the pool.  Fine, when in Rome, I thought.  So I put all my clothes in a locker, wrapped myself nekkid in the towel provided and went around to the long line of military style communal showers to rinse off and then struggle to get my dry swimsuit on over my wet body.

There were two other ladies, Spanish is my guess from their chat, doing likewise, when no fewer than seven young American women walked right past the showers in their dry swim suits and out the door and into the hot springs without rinsing off.  (Warning: small rant coming:) Why is it that some people think rules don’t apply to them?  Yes, they are probably not used to showering naked with strangers, neither am I.  But we’ve been told the etiquette, we’re in a foreign country, so we do as expected.  The arrogance is somewhat astounding.

And not the first instance we have seen of it today – at Þingvellir this morning there was a American man with a drone who walked right past no fewer than three ‘No Drones In the National Park’ signs, and decided that this was a good place to start flying his drone – until a park official had to waste his time and come over and tell him to bring it down.  There was also two other occasions of drones overhead at the Gullfoss falls and at the Geysirs – where, yes, there are plenty more signs saying, ‘No Drones Allowed’.  On top of that we saw Americans smoking in the Geysir environment in spite of all the ‘No Smoking’ signs, all the while there are ashtrays with Europeans standing around them finishing their cigarettes before entering the area. Why do people think these things don’t apply to them.  The arrogance and thoughtlessness is just phenomenal.

This sort of inconsiderate shit when combined with the Chinese tourists’ propensity to move in large packs and then literally turn their backs on whatever they have come all this way to see to experience it only through their phones by standing around for 20 minutes taking exceedingly posed, pouty, pointing, peace-signed selfies in the attempt to get a perfect shot, really must leave people who live in these destination countries with a deep hatred of tourists.

I try to be a good tourist, leave nothing behind; take nothing away, I don’t wield a selfie stick ever, I’m quiet and respectful in sacred locations, I wait before stepping in front of someone taking a photograph, I don’t cross behind the ropes to places I am not supposed to go, I don’t hog the best photographic vantage spot for ages, I offer to take photos of other people and couples if they are struggling… I just don’t understand how most people are so self absorbed as to not realise how their movements are affecting the enjoyment of people around them.  It’s a bright yellow sign!  Don’t smoke, don’t use a drone, don’t hold loud conversations in churches, have a shower before you enter the hot spring. How difficult is it, ffs?!

Sigh… so be it.  The momentary discomfort of showering naked with strangers was quickly overcome as we slipped into the fantastically relaxing hot springs.  Amazing.  Within two minutes I could feel all the tension draining from my body, within twenty minutes I was wondering how I go about moving to a country and buying a property that has a natural thermal creek running through it so I could have a natural hot spring all of my own.  🙂  The water comes straight from an underground source at boiling hot temperatures.  You can see it bubbling away – no doubt you could cook your eggs or anything else in it quick smart. The pool’s moss covered surroundings and wispy steam rising into the air from the water gives the place an almost mystical feeling. The warm water stays at 38-40 Celsius all year in large part due to a local geysir that bubbles away all day and has a minor eruption every few minutes, which constantly floods the lagoon with fresh hot water. The afternoon sun over a nearby greenhouse. The water was glorious after our few days of transits and flights and whatnot.  It was lovely to float around in the heat after being in the cold and wind all day.  The Secret Lagoon also happily sells alcohol so I was able to float around in the hot water while enjoying an ice cold cider.  Oddly, even though there was about 80 people in the rather large pool, the place is rather quiet.  People are enjoying the relaxation of the hot springs and keeping their conversations quietly between themselves (mostly… I mean, there’s always *those* Americans in the room).  My experience hitting the showers on the way out could not have been more different had I directed it. Massive cultural differences evident between the young American women on the way in, and a bunch of young Scandinavian women on the way out.  I was in the shower, naked, washing my hair and about eight young ladies who obviously knew each other entered the long shower area – they all stripped off and into the showers without a second thought for saggy bums, pieced nipples or unshaved armpits. Unsurprisingly they were dried off and changed in half the time of some others in the space who were desperately trying to keep covered while drying themselves and dressing under falling towels and doing that special dance you do when trying to put a bra on under a shirt when your skin is still damp.  All up our visit to the hot spring was lovely (the rant in the middle not really occurring to me until I went to write this all down!) and I am looking forward to the next one in Myvatn which is in the more remote north of the island.I have no idea what these little houses are for, they’re not even knee high but they are dotted around the property.  Possibly for the elves…?

After we left the springs we made our way to the Lindartún Guesthouse for the night.  Lovely place with the most well equiped shared kitchen facility… I wish I had known the kitchen would be so well appointed – we would have been having poached salmon and vegetables for dinner instead of a throw in the oven pre-made pasta meal thing.  There is not a lot of restaurants around in these small towns, so most of the guesthouses have cooking facilities for guests – not to mention the cost of dining out every day/night would just about send you broke here! I will have to double check the internets regarding the kitchen situation before we check into our next guesthouse tomorrow night.

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