Off the Rails in Reykjavik

Very little went according to plan in Iceland, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a good time. Our rental car, once we got it, turned out to be a stick shift—which wasn’t a problem (I learned to drive on a stick), but a surprise, as many people I know do not know how to drive stick. Another surprise was learning that the one place to buy fuel for less than the standard amount is at Costco, only recently arrived in Iceland! I made a mental note to check for my Costco card, and we set out.

Our initial impression of the country was of extremely spare and utilitarian architecture—square and drab and a bit ugly. The road from the airport to Reykjavik passed through some pretty harsh lava-based land, which put us in mind of Mordor and the Emyn Muil that Frodo and Sam made their way across. It was not without beauty, though; the mountains against the horizon drew us onward.

We reached our Airbnb outside the city a little subdued by the exterior architecture—and were stunned to find ourselves in a beautiful two-bedroom apartment, very Scandinavian Design, clean and elegant and definitely upscale. Our host confided that we were their first rental customers—it was their actual home, which they leave for a summer home elsewhere. I guess they haven’t learned how much they could ask for it!

Our first day we set out at the crack of lunchtime to drive the Golden Circle tour of the most popular geologic spots on the island—where tectonic activity drives everything from geysers to geothermal power stations. The Garmin GPS that came with the car had other ideas. It took us way off the intended route, and we saw some sights most tourists miss, such as this lovely lake.

It also set us back a couple of hours, so we traded getting to see the Thingvellir Park for an unexpected adventure. Eventually—switching to Googlemaps on my phone—we found our way back to the route and the volcanic crater lake of Kerið. This was pretty cool.

As was the geyser at the Geysir site. They have a geyser that pops off every 6-8 minutes, and while it’s not huge, it’s fun. There’s also an odd pair of spring-fed pools, side by side, one cloudy blue and the other crystal clear. Why? No explanation was given. In fact, the conveying of information is one place where the Icelanders could pick up a few tips from the U.S. Park Service. Not only is little information available; it can be hard to tell where the actual attraction is!

Our last stop of the day was the Gulfoss Waterfall, which easily rivals Niagara for its breathtaking power and beauty—all hidden in a stretch of flat terrain that looks like the last place on Earth you would look for a waterfall!

You set out down a basically unmarked boardwalk, which dips down… to reveal a gorge and thundering beast that looks for all the world like the Falls of Rauros on the River Anduin.

By the time we got back, it was 11 pm, and we had just one more day to spend in Iceland. What to do?

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