Travels in the North

Musings on arctic holidays

Tag Archives: Reykjavik

Reliving an old trip – 29th June 2006 – Golden Circle Tour

My Lonely Planet guide book was very disparaging of the Golden Circle Tour, saying you spent more time in expensive cafes than seeing the sights. However I figured you can’t really come to Iceland and not see its main attractions (such as Geysir and Gullfoss), and as far as I was concerned it was as good a way as any to see all this. The LP did say it was best to adopt a “mellow attitude”, which isn’t exactly something I find difficult to do so I reckoned I’d be ok.

I was picked up from the campsite at 8:20, and we were driven to a depot then got on our tour bus. I was initially surprised that our driver (Gúmmi) was doing all the talking, there wasn’t a seperate tour guide. He seemed to really know his stuff, and talked a lot about Reykjavik as we drove of the city through the outer suburbs. We drove past an industrial park Gúmmi said was built in the 70s outside of the city, by the 80s the building had caught up with it and now went far beyond it.

The first sight on the tour was Þingvellir national park (the Þ is pronounced ‘th’). We drove past a pipeline to a power station that provides about 50% of Reykjavik’s hot water – so well insulated it only loses about 1.8 degrees in the 20 miles or so it travels. We did a brief tour of the geothermal power plant, all seemed very modern. Then we moved on to the old parliament site, set on a picturesque valley on the fault line between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates (Iceland grows by about 2.5 metres a year due to these plates separating). Iceland is one of the oldest democracies in the world, and people used to gather at Þingvellir annually to discuss laws, then socialise (I suspect most just made the journey for this to be honest, politics isn’t everyone’s bag right?)

Then it was on to Gullfoss, a hugely impressive waterfall, although the million or so flies hovering around me tempered my enjoyment of it slightly. After this it was on to nearby Geysir, which is actually several geysirs spouting boiling water up in to the air every few minutes. Again, hugely impressive!

We also took in an explosion hole in the ground (whose name I forget), another nearby waterfall (again, the name escapes me) and finally Eden which seemed to be a garden centre-cum-tourist trap. Despite this final stop I have to say overall it was a fantastic tour, really made by our excellent driver.

Gúmmi also talked a little bit about Icelandic life which I found fascinating. In Iceland earnings up to 75000ISK are tax free, thereafter everyone pays a flat rate of 38.5%! VAT is also very high at 24.5%. It’s also an incredibly expensive country to live in and a lot of people work two or three jobs to make ends meet. [2012 edit – it’s interesting revisiting this and reading this, I wonder how this has changed since the economic crash? If things were tough in 2006 it must be fearsome now)

There was an interesting mix of people on my tour, a couple from Tennessee (with strong Southern US accents!), and a guy who was stationed at Keflavik in world war two. It was his first visit back to Iceland as part of an EU scheme for war veterans to go back to where they were stationed in the war. The biggest change he said was the number of roads, there were none when he was last he (at least, no tarmacked roads), but also less grass and vegetation he said.

Reliving an old trip – 28th June 2006 – Six hour bus ride to Reykjavik

I’ve always been a fan of journeys for their own sake. Flying excepted I guess, although even that isn’t so bad if you’re flying with a decent airline and get settled in with some wine and films. Anyway, as such I was actually quite looking forward to my six hour bus ride to Reykjavik, and it didn’t disappoint – a quiet and pleasant journey through rural Iceland stopping at such wonderfully exotic but actually very sleepy looking villages such as Blönduós, Hvammstangi and Borgarnes.

Bus to Reykjavik

Bus to Reykjavik

As we drove through the outer lieing of suburbs of Reykjavik I was struck at the sheer size of the place, I hadn’t seen anywhere remotely this size since leaving Aberdeen seventeen days ago. Reykjavik is a city constantly growing, as was evidenced by the number of cranes and construction I could see. Like the Faroe Islands, Iceland suffers from centralisation with people from small villages all over the country upping sticks to move to the big smoke (or perhaps more appropriately smoky bay, which is what Reykjavik translates as). 62% of the country live in the capital, a figure that is growing annually.

I was staying at the campsite which was a bit of a hike from the bus station and city centre. But it’s a nice site, very big and with decent looking facilities. Everything costs extra though, showers, laundry and cooking facilities, and that’s off a base rate of 800ISK per night.

I booked a Golden Circle tour for tomorrow, which takes in the quintessential sights all conviently placed within a few hours drive of Reykjavik. Then I walked back into town to explore.

The main shopping street Laugavegur seems nice, but expensive. I treated myself to a pub meal rather than cook back at the campsite, but stopped at the supermarket on the way back to stock up – I won’t be able to afford this every night!