Patricia Temples Photography

MAKE IT AN ADVENTURE! All rights reserved.

Iceland: Golden Circle Tour

The last day we were in Iceland, my companion and I took the Golden Circle Tour out of Reykjavik to some of the most visited sites in the country.  We rode in a Nissan 4-wheel drive off-road vehicle with a native Icelander, Ingi. and we were gone for eight hours.  It was just the three of us on this tour and we were able to ask questions and learn a lot of interesting things about the country.

The first stop on this drive was at Thingvellir valley, which is the site of the world’s first parliament.  At this site you are on a seam called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is essentially a volcanic seam many thousands of miles long, mostly under the sea.  In Iceland it makes a brief appearance above ground.  When you are standing at the seam, you have the North American continent on the right and the Eurasian continent on your left.  It was at this location that the Game of Thrones was filmed, along with other locations in Iceland.  This geological feature is also referred to as a tectonic plate. We stood on top of the seam and also walked down into the chasm, ultimately reaching a beautiful waterfall.

Tectonic plates 1

North America on the right, Eurasia on the left.

Tectonic plates 2

Down inside the rift.

Tectonic plates 3

The Icelandic Commonwealth lasted from 930 to 1262.  The first Parliament convened in 930 ad at Thingvellir.  All this time, Iceland was an independent nation. The Althing (Icelandic Parliament) in Thingvellir held the supreme authority of the country. The Althing was both a legislative and judicial assembly. There, disputes from all over the country were resolved.  This was considered the “Golden Age of Iceland.”

After 1262, Iceland became a part of the monarchy of the Norwegian King and later of the Danish King. The Althing nevertheless continued to convene in Thingvellir as a legislative assembly and judicial court up to the end of the 18th century. Thus, Thingvellir, as in earlier times, was a centre of national life at the time of assembly each year.

After we left this amazing area, we drove to see geysers (gay’-seer, as pronounced by Icelanders).  We spent almost an hour there, enjoying lunch in a nearby restaurant after experiencing several eruptions and walking around the area looking at wildflowers.  The most active geyser in this area erupted every 5-7 minutes.

Geyser 1Geyser 2Geyser 3Geyser 4

After our lunch break, Ingi drove us toward the glaciers.  Along the way he asked us if we were ready for an adventure.  Two eager replies of “Yes!” led him to immediately drive off the road as he approached a bridge, going through the small river rather than over the bridge.  Water flew all around us and we had a great laugh before he resumed his travel on the road.  We drove for a bit and approached glaciers in the distance.  Ingi stopped the vehicle, got out saying that he had to prepare himself and his vehicle for the next leg of the journey.  I had noticed he was wearing sandals with socks, so I figured he was putting on boots.  I was partially correct.  He was also deflating the massive tires on this vehicle from 25 psi to 4 psi, to get traction on the glacier, which was of course soft snow now that the weather was warming.  And, off we went, bouncing along over rough terrain covered with 20″ of snow.  At some point I said to Ingi, “You really enjoy this, don’t you?” and he replied enthusiastically and with a big smile, “Yes, I do.”  We stopped on the glacier and walked around a bit, taking in the sight of beautiful white snow.

Glacier vehicle with mtns

Glacier 1Glacier 2 lake

After using an air compressor to refill the tires, Ingi drove us to Gulifoss waterfall.  We spent a little time there with many other people walking around to get all the angles of the waterfall.  It was a busy place.


I may post one more blog about Iceland.  There are some things I learned about the country from Ingi, and from our City Walk tour of Reykjavik  that we took the first day in Iceland that I want to share. Interesting country, for sure.

Icelandic Horses

On my Iceland Adventure, I told my companions that I couldn’t go home without photographs of the Icelandic horses because my husband wouldn’t let me in the door without them.  We had two opportunities the last day of the trip, and the horses didn’t disappoint.

These special horses are a pure breed.  No other horses are allowed in the country, and if one is purchased and removed, it cannot return.  They are smaller in stature with luxurious manes, and they have a special gait called the TOLT.  Watch this youtube video of this gait, and notice that the rider is not moving at all despite the speed of the horse.

Here are the photos I took that got me back into my home after the trip.  Enjoy these beautiful creatures.

My Iceland Adventure, Part 5

When we left the Westfjords we took a ferry to Flatey (Flah’ tee) Island, a beautiful small island with a handful of houses and a hotel.  Hotel Flatey consists of two converted warehouses which accommodate a total of 27 people. My room was a single, small with eaves, but certainly comfortable and suitable for our stay.  The restaurant at the hotel served delicious soups and dinners, and the stay on the island was peaceful and relaxing.

Hotel Flatey

The red and green buildings were Hotel Flatey.

Buildings with hotel on left

Hotel Flatey is on the left side of this image next to the yellow building.

The island has a number of summer homes and places that the seasonal hotel employees stay while working on the island.  The buildings are so colorful.  You could easily walk the entire island and we did so many times.

There are only two couples who live on the island full time.  The remaining activity on the island is for tourists and summer home residents.  I had the good fortune to meet one of the residents, an older lady who told me they live on the island year-round to take care of their sheep.  She calls a friend on Snaefellsness Peninsula who does her grocery shopping for her and puts it on the ferry for her to pick up.  She told me the hardest part about being on the island in the winter is lack of social activity.  She and her husband have four children, eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren who live in Iceland.  The photos of the church with the tractor are of her husband.  I was there to try to get a photo of the church with two buildings that look like they are very close to it, but in fact, they are some distance away.

Church with tractor

Tractor working the land in front of the church

Church, library and tractor

You can see how far apart the church and the library are.

Church at midnight

This photo of the three buildings was taken at 11:44pm.

One interesting thing I learned from the trip to Flatey has to do with the collection of eider down.  I have done a little reading on this and it is fascinating.  The eider duck is plentiful on Flatey and nearby islands. Women harvest the down from nests for use in pillows and comforters. Due to hormonal changes during the egg-laying period, the females sheds this incredibly light and soft down into the nest. This leaves an egg-warming spot on her belly, but the down also provides protection for the eggs and young from predators.  Eider down is the only down on the market that comes from a live wild female bird, and it is not plucked from the bird, so it does no harm to collect it.  When the down is removed from the nest, the collectors replace it with grasses and hay they have carried for that purpose.  The majority of eiderdown on the world market comes from Iceland.  One comforter with eiderdown filling may contain raw material from over 60 nests.  I didn’t get a good photo of the down because at the time I didn’t realize how significant it was.  I was mainly interested in the eggs in the nest.  We were walking down a path beside a fence, and startled the mother off the nest.  I snapped a quick photo so she would return.  I wish I had been more careful.

My Iceland Adventure, Part 4

The Westfjords or West Fjords is a large peninsula in northwestern Iceland. The Westfjords are very mountainous; the coastline is heavily indented by dozens of fjords surrounded by steep hills. These indentations make roads very circuitous and communications by land difficult. In addition many of the roads are closed by ice and snow for several months of the year. The cliffs at Látrabjarg comprise the longest bird cliff in the northern Atlantic Ocean and are at the westernmost point in Iceland.We arrived at our hotel, Hotel Latrabjarg, after traversing a winding, narrow gravel road into the middle of nowhere.

Drive in van

Across the water we could see a small community, but when we arrived at our hotel, we were the only ones for miles.  It was great.  The hotel was so comfortable, with large rooms, wonderful showers, a dining room that had old wooden tables and chairs and was more like the dining room of a home than a hotel.  We stayed three nights and did a variety of things while we were there. 

The beach was a a short walk below the hotel and that was our first shooting location. We were photographing arctic terns, because when the sun was behind the cliffs, a black background was perfect for the white terns.  But, alas, I am not a great bird photographer, especially when they are in flight.  I found the terns to be difficult because they flew fast, darted around in every direction, and they were generally pretty far away from me.  I preferred photographing the Eurasian Oystercatcher, a larger bird whose flight was slower.  Anyway, here are a few bird photos, since that first day that was what it was all about.

Beach near hotel

The beach near our hotel.

The second day at Hotel Latrabjarg, we drove a few miles to Raudasandsbugur, the Red Sand Beach.  What a special location this was.  As we approached the beach, there was a terrific vantage point from on high, but alas, there was no parking for the vans.  However, later, when we returned, the light had improved and we walked a bit to get higher shots.  Wow. 

Red sand beach 1Red sand beach 4Red Sand beach bestRed sand beach with light

In between the two visits to the beach, we stopped at a church. Churches are plentiful in Iceland because property owners know that if they have a church on their land, their taxes are lower.  Churches are frequently painted black with white trim and red roofs, as this one was, and I found them to be beautiful.  I wonder what they would look like in the snow.  In winter when it is dark for 23 out of 24 hours, and there is snow on the ground, it must be amazing.  Someone told us that the snow is very white because there is no pollution, and that what little light is available is reflected on the white snow and gives the appearance of more light in the sky. I’d love to see that.

We stopped sometime along the way at an old house, built in 1907 and vacant since 1962. We photographed there, and I’ll share those another time. Across the road from that house was an old barn, a spring house, who knows?  It was built into a mound so that part of it was underground, with the side with a door above ground.  Here are some views of that interesting building.  Look at that landscape!

Sunken structure 1Sunken structure 2Sunken structure 3

My Iceland Adventure, Part 3

On our long travel day, I took photos from the van, while moving, and we stopped along the way where I got some shots of the landscape.  It varied from mountain scenes and poppies to scenes along the shore line as we approached our destination on the West Fjords.  Enjoy.

Landscape 3 with church and horsesLandscape 2Landscape 4Poppies 2Landscape 5Landscape 6 with horsesLandscape 8Poppies 3Poppies

My Iceland Adventure, Part 2

We spent three days in the area of Lake Myvatn which was created by a large lava eruption 2300 years ago.  On the east side of the lake we visited the Namafjall geothermal field, also known as Hverir.  This was the part of the trip that I found most interesting. The boiling mud pots, the colors of the earth, the steam vents through rock-covered boreholes were fascinating and new to me.  There is a lot of hot steam there, so areas are roped off, but there were plenty of places to photograph activity and to walk for good views.  There is a hiking trail into the mountain, which I used for a few higher shots, but the steepness and the rockiness of the terrain discouraged me from following the trail all the way over the mountain.

Mtn view 1

Fumaroles 1Fumaroles 2Larger view 1Larger view 2

TerrainBlue and tan earth 2Blue and tan earth 1

The mud pots are formed in geothermal area where there is little water.  The water that is available rises to the surface of the soil which is rich in volcanic ash, clay and fine particulates.  The blue color of the water is probably due to silica, and the surrounding tan color of the rock is a wonderful color contrast.

Mudpots 1

This terrain gave us the opportunity to learn about the geothermal energy of Iceland, and one of our outings included a trip to see the fifth largest power plant in the country, Krafla.  The five major geothermal power plants in Iceland produce about 26% of the nation’s electricity.  Geothermal heating meets the heating and hot water requirements of 87% of the buildings in Iceland.  Apart from geothermal energy, 73% of the their electricity is generated by hydro power, and .1% from fossil fuels.  The goal of Iceland is to completely eliminate fossil fuels for power generation, and that will be accomplished in the near future.

Power plant 1Power plant 2Steam plant 2Steam plant

One way that geothermal hot water was demonstrated to me most clearly was with the hot tub at one of the cabins where we stayed.  Our photographer instructor was testing the water for use in a few hours and found it to be cold.  Having had a hot tub at my home, I knew he couldn’t get the temperature high enough for possibly a day by my method.  His solution was to empty the hot tub, refill it with water from underground, and voila, instant hot water!  No chemicals required because the water doesn’t sit in the hot tub for days or weeks as it does here.  In Reykjavik there are underground pipes that carry hot water for heating the streets and sidewalks in winter to melt the snow!

The next post will take us to the western parts of Iceland, a thirteen-hour drive from Myvatn to the area near Latrabarg, the west fjords.





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