Today Austin and I drove the Golden Circle, the most popular road for visitors in Iceland. Many natural wonders populate the length of the entire loop road, most just a short distance from where you park. Our day was mostly filled with rain and freezing winds, but we got out there to finish out our last day strong. The first one was a crater, Kerið, where an old volcano died out and created a giant sink hole in the earth. A small lake of dark turquoise sat calmly at the bottom, reflecting the steep walls surrounding it. It was so peaceful there!
Next we went to Faxi, a short but wide waterfall in the middle of a large river. We walked down to it and saw the fish ladder up close as well as the waterfall from the side. It was bigger than it looked from the top of the hill, probably around twenty to thirty feet tall. We enjoyed it for a while longer before heading to our next site.
As we approached our next pullover spot, the streets immediately proved to be filled with pedestrians and tour buses. The Strokkur Geyser is one of the only active geysers in the country, erupting several meters high every 3-5 minutes. We watched it a few times, surprised each new forceful spray, and got back in the car.
Just down the street was Gullfoss Falls, a series of great waterfalls spanning a huge river. This, too, was packed with tourists and it was even somewhat hard to navigate around them all. Nonetheless, Austin and I walked to the base and also up to the top, taking in its immense beauty. The river cut deep into the land, creating water depths up to seventy meters. The power from the falls made the air misty and frozen, reflecting the current weather of the day.
Yet another waterfall was down the road, Bruarfoss. This one was harder to get to and more secluded, thankfully deterring tour groups; Austin and I were the only ones there when we first arrived. It was small compared to the others, but more unique. Instead of falling off a shelf like the others, the water fell into a canyon in the center of the river, rushing out and away, down the sloping ground. It was a gorgeous display, backdropped by Dalmatian mountain tops. It was worth the short hike through the mud!
Our last big stop of the day was Þingvellir. This expansive site stretches for miles, it is the separation between the North American and European continental shelves. It rises from the ground, a tall natural occurring wall of rock. Water runs inside its deep crevasses, crystal clear and beautiful turquoise. There were a few things to see around the area including the Oxgarfoss waterfall, a small church, the lake: Þingvallavatn, and the view from the top of the wall. It was a natural wonder and was really cool to see.
Back near our hotel is Raurfarholshellir Noas, a volcanic cave that goes deep under the earth for over 1300 meters. Austin and I decided to walk down into its depths until it got too dark or unsafe, which proved to be very quickly. We walked down through a snowy path and into the giant natural stone gate, growing from the ground and bridging over us. The lava rock ceiling broke in some places into big circular holes, where snow piled up inside on the bottom of the cave. We walked under a few openings like this until finally reaching the mouth of the darkness. Ice stalagmites covered the rocky ground and it was hard to see much past the first fifty feet into the cave. We went a little into where it was still light, before finding that it was extremely slick, so we turned around. It was a somewhat eerie place that seemed somewhat abandoned and was completely unsuspecting from above ground. It was a great way to end our Iceland trip!
Tomorrow we head back to the US. This semester has been more than I could have ever expected. I have seen so many world-famous buildings, sites and landscapes and I have had experiences to think back on for the rest of my life. It’s bittersweet to be leaving Europe having been here since January, but I’m excited to go home and have a wonderful summer before starting my thesis and final year in the fall. As my blogging comes to a close, I’d like to thank everyone for reading about my many adventures this semester as I studied abroad!