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The Golden Circle Tour - Reykjavik
Thursday, August 4, 2016  
We disembarked our cruise ship in Reykjavik at 8:30am where we were met by Kristin Sif Sigurðardóttir, Managing Director for Atlantik, the company that arranges shore excursions for the cruise lines that call here. When she learned that CruiseReport.com was going to visiting Reykjavik, Kristin generously offered to take us on the most popular tour of Reykjavik, The Golden Circle.

Kristin met us at the pier as soon as we disembarked and we piled into her Hyundai Santa Fe and soon we were leaving the city limits of Reykjavik. With only 150,000 residents, Reykjavik seems small for a capital city, but consider that the entire country of Iceland only has 326,000 residents. Visually, Reykjavik appears much larger and much more cosmopolitan than what you would expect from a city this size. Kristin suggests that could be because it is a capital city, and I tend to agree.


View of Reykjavik

The Golden Circle Tour is offered by most cruise lines visiting Reykjavik, so you should be able to book this on board. This tour offers the most "bang-for-the-buck" as it allows first-timers to visit a variety of geological sites. Our first stop was Lake Thing-a-ma-jig. Of course, it's not really called Lake Thingamajig, but there's no way I can pronounce its real name which is Lake Thingvellir. The large lake is calm today as the winds have subsided. This National Park is a popular holiday destination for residents seeking refuge from the city.


Lake Thingvellir

In the distance, tall columns of steam can be seen rising from a geothermal plant. Kristin explains that 80% of Iceland's energy comes from clean sources and geothermal is a major source. The entire island is a tectonic playground with two of the Earth's major tektonic plates shifting and separating underneath causing earthquakes and occasionally, volcanoes to erupt, like when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010. I remember that one well as it caused us to cancel a trip to Great Britain when all the flights to Europe were cancelled due to the ash cloud it produced.


Cracks and crevices are evidence of tectonic movement

Instead of drilling a water well, a farmer in Iceland can drill a "steam" well of sorts. Small columns of steam can be seen on individual farms where hot water is captured and circulated to heat their homes. Icelanders enjoy cheap, clean and hopefully endless, energy. In addition to the geothermal energy being used to drive massive turbines, the residual hot water is transferred through an insulated pipeline to Reykjavik residents to heat their homes. Ingenious.

After a visit to the lake, we drove a bit further to Geysir where we had the opportunity to see active geysers spewing water and steam high into the air. Iceland has its own version of "Old Faithful" that spouts off every ten minutes or so. In our short visit, we saw it spew its mist three different times. Bubbling pools of sulphur-rich boiling water put out a smell reminiscent of rotten eggs. Across the road from the geyser field is a very nice visitor center with gift shop and restaurant. There is also a hotel with a restaurant which is used for tour group lunches on the Golden Circle Tour.


Walking around the geyser fields

After a brief technical stop at the visitor center, we were back on the road for a short drive to Gullfoss, one of Iceland's most spectacular waterfalls. The rushing river and resulting waterfall is fed by Langjökull Glacier, which is visible in the distance. The viewing area at Gullfoss is very well designed and appears to be new. Wide wooden plank paths lead you to excellent viewing (and photo) spots. You have the option of walking down a dirt path to get closer to the waterfall, but be prepared to get wet from the spray! I did not want to risk getting my camera equipment soaked, so I skipped the close-up visit. Nevertheless, even from a distance, Gullfoss is the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen.


Rickee enjoying the view at Gullfoss

After our visit to Gullfoss, Kristin had a special treat for us. After another short drive, we arrived at Fridheima, a local, family-owned tomato farm. The farm is owned and operated by Knútur and his wife Helena. But how do you grow tomatoes in Iceland? In a greenhouse, of course! When you think about it, Iceland is the perfect place for greenhouse farming. There is plenty of hot water right underneath them to keep the greenhouses warm. Pipes run along the ground and up the walls of the greenhouse, basically like a big radiator, circulating 205°F hot water. Glass panes let in the sunlight and when there is not enough sun, artificial lighting is used.


Co-Owner Knútur explains the packaging and marketing of his tomatoes

The greenhouse can produce tomatoes year-round which can be hand-picked in the morning and available in Reykjavik grocery stores that same afternoon! This allows the tomatoes to ripen on the vine which greatly enhances their flavor. This is the definition of sustainable, farm-to-table sourcing! Of course, a visit to a tomato greenhouse would not be complete without the ability to try the product. We were invited to enjoy a light lunch of tomato soup and freshly baked bread prepared by Fridheima's own in-house chef. I never have been too excited about tomato soup, but I have to say, this is the best I have ever tasted, and Rickee agreed. A live basil plant is on each table and guests can trim a couple of leaves and shred them into the soup (chiffonade scissors are provided) for added flavor. The fresh-baked bread with a cheese crust was worthy of a second visit to the bread board. A cucumber salsa, also produced and packaged by Fridheima was available as a delicious complement to the meal.


Pots of tomato soup and an amazing selection of fresh-baked bread

After an excellent meal of delicious tomato soup and decadent bread, we purchased some of the cucumber salsa which they sell in a little store at the entrance to the greenhouse. But the tour was not over. It just so happens that Knútur's profession is breeding and training Icelandic horses! We were invited to visit the stables where these small, but sturdy horses live. A small track with spectator seating is used for demonstrations of the horses' unique ability to display five different gaits. Most horses can only manage three gaits: a walk, a trot and a gallop. Icelandic horses are unique in that they can master five distinct gaits.


Knútur's daughter demonstrates the smooth gait of the Icelandic horse

The tölt gait is exclusive to Icelandic horses and it provides such a smooth ride that holding a mug of beer while riding can be accomplished with no spillage. These horses are not only beautiful and mild-mannered, but strong and capable.


Rickee gets friendly with one of the Icelandic horses

As we left Fridheima, Rickee and I both agreed that this visit was the highlight of the day. We were shocked to learn that some cruise lines don't include this in their Golden Circle Tour package! That is a real shame. Visiting a local, family-owned and operated business is a special opportunity that should not be missed. We have seen a lot of waterfalls and lakes, but only once have we had tomato soup in a greenhouse in Iceland. This is a visit that we will never forget.


Tomatoes grown at Fridheima

After our excellent meal and horse show, we made the drive back to Reykjavik. We stopped at The Pearl, a landmark that was created from four water storage tanks no longer in use. A glass dome was added on top of the tanks to make a rotating restaurant and viewing balcony. From the 4th floor of The Pearl, you can get a 360° view of Reykjavik.


The Pearl

We left The Pearl and another short drive brought us to Reykjavik's own sandy beach! Where else can you find a beach with a hot tub? Remember how cold it is here for most of the year and it makes sense. Take a dip in the cold ocean, then jump in the warm hot tub. Our last stop on our busy Golden Circle Tour was a visit to Hallgrímskirkja , a Luthern Church which was built in memory of a poet and a priest called Hallgrímur Pétursson. This modern design is a landmark in Reykjavik, and one of the first structures you notice when you sail into the port. While not as ornate as a Catholic church, this church is certainly unique.


Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik

After our visit to Hallgrímskirkja, Kristin explained how we could easily walk back to Voyager down a couple of popular shopping streets nearby. We said out goodbyes and thanked her for an excellent tour of Reykjavik. As we walked back to the ship, we passed a myriad of interesting shops, cafes and restaurants, all very close to the port. This made us think that Reykjavik would also be an excellent overnight port, allowing guests to walk into town for dinner or shopping.


Shopping street in Reykjavik

It has been a very busy day in Reykjavik, our busiest so far on this journey. The Golden Circle Tour is one that we can highly recommend to anyone visiting Reykjavik, Iceland.

Originally posted on: 5/31/2014
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http://cruisereport.com/crBlogDetail.aspx?id=3797   |  7/24/2017 11:32:45 AM