A Travellerspoint blog

Iceland - Gulfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser, Thingvellir

Three of the main attractions of Iceland's Golden Circle

The Golden Circle if Iceland forms the main series of natural wonders not too far from each other, which for many tourists is the heart of their visit to the country (and many of them just visit this, plus the Blue Lagoon). Indeed, if you don't have much time, you could do this in one long day or better two days, although this would make a fast and superficial visit to Iceland. And no matter if you are an individualist or a group tourist, the main sights on the Circle should really not be missed. No wonder that the Golden Circle is often very crowded. Hoards of tourists are bused along the route for short visits and the obvious photoshoots.

However, with some planning, favorable timing and a bit of good luck, it is possible to visit these places without finding yourself in huge crowds. We definitely had our portion of luck. First of all we were already staying in the immediate area of three main attractions: Gulfoss Waterfall, Strockur Geysir and the unbelievable Thingvellir (Þingvellir) valley. Second, the weather was absolutely fantastic. And third, we had our own faithful Sad Car.

I will try not to write too much now, and let the pictures tell the story, with some added background between the pictures where needed.

Gulfoss waterfall

The word Gulfoss means Golden Waterfall, which is probably related to the fact that in sunny weather the mist of the falling water often creates beautiful rainbows and other light effects.


Some 150 years ago, it was very hard to reach the waterfalls. Sigríður Tómasdóttir was a daughter of local farmers in Bratholt, nearby the falls. She was one of thirteen children of whom only seven reached adulthood. She was an independent spirit among her many sisters and brothers. It was the beginning of foreign travel for tourism reasons and the first people started to come to Iceland. According to the stories, she was the first one who guided those early tourists and actually built a path to access the falls.

Gulfoss waterfall, the young lady who assisted tourists 150  years ago

Gulfoss waterfall, the young lady who assisted tourists 150+ years ago


Strokkur Geysir

The word "geyser" is used worldwide to describe the phenomenon of a geothermic spring, fountain or spout, and the origin of that word comes right from here. The original Geysir used to erupt frequently, with water masses ejected up to 60 meters, however with irregular interviews. This was the reason that impatient tourists used to throw objects such as rocks into the spring. This, in addition to small earthquakes, made Geysir become dormant (but still potentially active). Next to it, however, the Strokkur geyser became active and not only that, it is almost as regular as a Swiss clock: every four to six minutes it spouts water to a height of 30 meters.

Strockur Geysir

Strockur Geysir


Geysir and Strokkur are located on a geothermally very active field, with a lot of activity. Steam comes out of the ground everywhere, and there is the unmistakable smell of rotten eggs: hydrogen sulfide. There are also mud pots where people can see the actual boiling of liquid mud, and many steam and sulfur vents. Getting off the path that leads along the places is very dangerous, and people must take enough distance from the Strokkur too, because the water is boiling hot.

large_DSCN4939.JPGLitli Geysir, Strockur

Litli Geysir, Strockur


Along the main road there is a large parking and a new visitors center with restaurants and a gast station. Across the road, a path leads into the geothermal field. There is no entrance fee. Walking up the hill gives a beautiful and impressive view over this area with all the activity from the inner earth. There are always people waiting for the eruption, and people are in awe when suddenly the water and steam is ejected.


Thingvellir (Þingvellir) Valley


Þingvellir may be one of the most impressive places on Earth to visit, especially for people who understand something about geology and tectonic plates. It is part of the Mid-Atlantic fracture zone, to which also the Azore islands belong., which almost runs from pole to pole. The facture zone is where since hundreds of millions of years, when the super continent Pangea started to break up, the American south and north continents are pushed to the West and the African and Eurasian continent are pushed to the East.


This happens with just millimeters per year (at most). If you realize how wide is the Atlantic Ocean (which was not there, at first), and that the entire Atlantic sea bed was "created" from that longitudinal crack in the earth crest, you start to get some idea of the gigantic forces, but also the enormous time spans of plate tectonic processes.

And Þingvellir is part of the Icelandic system of "cracks" where this process does not happen under the sea, but on land. You can actually walk on the very bottom of it. Or even more spectacularly: there is a space where the river runs through an immensely deep crack, and there you can dive or snorkel in the water of the birth place of land.


When you walk through the narrow gorge, the rocks on one side are the American continent, the rock wall on the other side is Europe. No man's land, in a way. New earth crest, new land, is created here by forces of nature that are beyond every imagination. And this happens continuously, also right at the moment you walk here. What's more, it will continue for hundreds of millions if not billions of years: the Pacific Ocean is not squeezed to close yet, it is still spanning half the globe...

The name "Þingvellir", by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the geological super-event that happens here all the time. In fact, the name means something like the valley of the parliament. It was the place where already back in the year 930 A.D. the world's first parliament was established. Only in 1800, the parliament was relocated to Reykjavík.


To keep things practical, and for a dark and cynical form of entertainment maybe, many of the executions were also performed here. Some of the rocks were quite convenient for this, and names of some places still remind of this. People were hung, beheaded, put on stakes, or burnt on the fire stack, depending on man or woman, witch or wizard, and what other crime was involved. For hanging purposes, there was frequently discussion whether Gallow Rock did or did not have enough space to hang two people at the same time...


You can "do" the Golden Circle in a day, but we concluded that if we ever really want to take in this unique place Þingvellir, then we will need several days at least, for this place alone. Nice thought for a next trip!

Posted by westwind57 23:57 Archived in Iceland Tagged road_trip volcano countryside colors roadtrip iceland r geysir thingvellir fresh_air sad_cars strockur gulfoss_waterfall Comments (0)

Iceland - Feeling Happy with our Sad Car

Arriving in Iceland, picking up our "experienced" rental car, and our first days around.

Our Iceland Trip 2016

Our Iceland Trip 2016

Our Iceland Trip 2016

Our Iceland Trip 2016

A long term wish came true, we had finally decided to go to Iceland. For some six weeks ahead we had been making plans for our route, booked the accommodations, bought the necessary wind- and water resistant clothing, and of course we needed a car. Our plan was to book a couple of places in the west and the south, each for a couple of nights as our base.

We would not go camping, but would stay at guest houses and simple hotels. The route we had in mind consisted mainly of paved roads and gravel roads, not the so-called F-roads for which you need a Land Rover or something. But for the gravel roads in the very Northwest, we would need a four-wheel drive sedan or stationcar.

Now, renting a car in Iceland is quite expensive. By some coincidence we found a local company, appropriately called SAD Cars, that rents out cars of at least 10 years old, for prices that are much more attractive. We found good and bad reviews, with a tendency to the positive, so we decided to give it a shot. We saw it as adding to the adventure, and a bit of a calculated risk. Iceland has an up to date system for safety checks of cars, so we were not too worried about brake failure and things like that. And we would go for 2 weeks, so even if something would go wrong mechanically, our vacation would not be totally disrupted by having to wait half a day or so for a mechanic or a replacement car.

Enjoyment starts already at the flight

Enjoyment starts already at the flight


After a very nice 3 hours flight with Icelandair (we got ourselves upgraded to business for a minimal extra amount), we landed at Keflavík. We had to wait just a little while, but soon enough the guy from SAD Cars showed up to pick up us and a few other travelers. It took a short ride to their facility just outside of the airport. It is not your usual rent-a-car facility, it's more like a shed. But ten minutes later they showed us to our car, a weathered dark green Subaru Legacy 4-wheel drive stationwagon, with definitely a long and successful life already on its way, and couple of hundreds of thousands kilometers of "experience". With some instruction, and after signing the long checklist of dents, scratches and little flaws, we were on our way.

They don't have the policy that you get a full tank. It is sort of honesty policy. You bring it back with more of less the same fuel level as when you got it, or a bit more is fine too. The tank was half full, and we wanted to fuel up first and get some water, snacks etc. just in case. At the nearby gas station we discovered a few things: the electronic key only worked to open the door but not to lock it. Also, the hatch made a lot of noise. And, as we would find out later, the dashboard lights were hardly working. No problem... these are just details, we decided.

Guesthouse Steinsholt

Guesthouse Steinsholt

Steinsholt hot tub

Steinsholt hot tub

Soon enough we were on our way to the first guesthouse where we booked, in a non-descript hamlet called Steinsholt, about two and a half hours' drive. We had a good map, no GPS of course, but sure enough we found the place easily. It was a family run guesthouse with comfortable rooms, with a dining room which was more a family room, delicious home cooked food and... an outside hot tub!

By the time we arrived the sun was already about to set, so we walked a bit around there before dinner, and after dinner everybody took their time talking over a coffee or tea in the dining room before going to bed. Bedtime is usually early in the Icelandic countryside...


The next morning we had a generous breakfast with bread, eggs, all sorts of cold cuts, coffee, tea, milk, home-made jam and of course the inevitable icelandic skyr yoghurt (which is now on my daily breakfast table at least a few times per week!). It was more cloudy than yesterday, so we were not really sure what to do today, but being with other guests at the same breakfast table helps a lot. We got the suggestion to visit Haifoss valley, a valley not too far away with a waterfall at the end. We would be able to get close to there, with some 10 km from the parking to the fall on foot, as long as we had a 4-wheel drive. Well, we had one.

However, the drive was more adventurous than we thought. It was more a road for a heavy duty army tank or at least a jeep. Carefully manoevring around deep holes in the path, and huge rocks, we got to the place to park the car.


The hike was stunning. Empty land (we were there all alone), rainbows, sheep, horses, and we could even find the hiking path. However, heavy clouds started to accumulate where the valley made a 90 degrees turn, so we never made it to the fall.

Haifoss Valley, fluorescent algae in a creek

Haifoss Valley, fluorescent algae in a creek


Well, so sorry... we would see more falls than we could count later on, so we walked back to the car after 8 km, that makes 16 in total, burning up our breakfast calories. Sheep were observing us from high on a cliff, probably finding us pityfull to venture out in the rain while we could have stayed in a house. Or just laughing at us, we didn't ask them. Far below, we saw a group horse riders galloping in the wide open.


At walking speed the managed to get the car back on the paved road without ruining it, and drove further east to find a warm place and a warm lunch. It started to rain harder, so we took our time.

At the end of the afternoon, we decided to take a detour back to the guesthouse, and we found a gorgeous road with the Hekla volcano in the clouds on our left, and a beautiful river with rapids (Þjófafoss) on our right. It was dry again, so we did take quite a few pictures.

The barren terrain near Hekla

The barren terrain near Hekla




We arrived back in the guesthouse for dinner, which was very good again (veal and lamb and soup). After a few drinks we decided we were tired and fell asleep almost instantly.


Posted by westwind57 20:20 Archived in Iceland Tagged road_trip nature hiking volcano mountain river valley waterfall photos iceland geysir subaru sad_cars steinsholt kevlavík hekla Comments (1)

Croatia, Opatija - old style Riviera grandeur on the Istrian

Last day of our spring break with lunch break in Opatija

This was the last day of our short vacation in Slovenia and Croatia. After checking out we followed the eastern coastline of Istria as much as possible, which meant that we drove by Opatija around lunchtime. While this coast has been popular since the ancient Romans, who built villas on several scenic spots, Opatija itself does not have a very ancient recorded history. It developed as a hamlet around a monastery in the 15th century, when it was first mentioned. In the subsequent centuries, this part of the Adriatic coast was more Austrian influenced than the west coast of Istria.

Opatija only started to develop as a town when an Italian merchant built a lush villa (Villa Angiolina) where he received notable guests. Other wealthy and influential people from (mainly) the Austrian empire followed, and in 1873 it was connected to the railway network to Vienna, apparently mostly to accommodate the Austrian Crown Prince and his wife. The railway company even bought the villa to host the couple. Talking about investing in customer relations...


In the following years, a yacht club was established and the town was declared a climatic seaside resort. A tramway was built along the scenic coast, the town became favorite summer spots for the Austrian emperor Franz-Jozef and empress Francisca ("Sisi"), the German emperor Wilhelm and other notable people with blue blood. Many people in Central Europe who believed of themselves that they were of some sort of relevance to the rest of the world (usually just in their own circles of course) started to consider Opatija as one of the places where you would want to be seen. In that sense it was very similar to the French Riviera, or the coast of Lake Geneva, and that is clearly to be seen by the lay-out of the town and the building style.


In the 1920's Opatija became Italian, and with Mussolini's fascism coming up, a campaign of "Italianization" of the population started. More classy hotels were built and the important positions were given to Italians. After the Second World War, Opatija was assigned to the Yugoslavian federation and many of the Italians emigrated back to Italy in a hurry. That did not stop the development of Opatija as a high end resort though. More hotels were built among which the Adriatic Hotel, and a casino. Once Yugoslavia split up in the early 1990's, Opatija became part of Croatia.

The city is stretched along the coast, where the main boulevard and the most significant buildings are located. Although the atmosphere breaths Old Glory like, for example Montreux and Lausanne do, everything is very well maintained, and it is still a very popular holiday destination as well as a popular target of day-trippers. We were there on Sunday, and we noticed that it seems especially favorite for family get-togethers over coffee with pastry, brunch or lunch.


We found a wonderful terrace along the sea just south of the city and had some very nice seafood with a glass of wine.

After lunch we took the quiet and very well maintained motorway back to Ljubljana, to turn in the car and take our flight back to Amsterdam. The weather gods were even nice to us on this very last bit of our trip, because the clouds got thicker only after we flew over the Alps, granting us some beautiful views of the still snowy mountain tops.


Looking back, we felt we had a very well spent and relaxing 10-days break, and especially Slovenia surprised and amazed us. We will be back...

Posted by westwind57 00:54 Archived in Croatia Tagged mountains sea road_trip coast hotel flight riviera croatia slovenia opatija grandeur Comments (1)

Croatia, Istria, Pula - Summer days in May

Living the good life - two days of sun, sea, early summer temperatures, food and relaxation


As much as we enjoyed Piran, it was now time for the next part of our trip. Initially we had planned to stay in Slovenia and booked our last hotel in Novo Mesto. But the weather forecast for Istria was much better than for inland Slovenia, so we changed our plans last minute and managed to book a room at a guesthouse in Vinkuran, a small town at the south tip of the Istrian peninsula, which is part of Croatia. We really couldn't have made a better decision.

We passed another nice town still in the Slovenian part of Istria, Portoroz, and then soon arrived at the border crossing. The Croatian officers were not interested in checking passports, so crossing he border was really a breeze. The sun was out, it was getting well above 20 degrees Celsius. There is a motorway straight to Pula, but we decided that we would like to follow the coast a little more. However, due to some river deltas and estuaries, this is only partly possible. Nonetheless we took a smaller road down.

We made short stops at Umag and Porec to buy some snacks and drinks for on the way, and followed road #75. While the attempts to follow the coast did not really work out as we wished, this was more than compensated by the forests and rolling hills more inland. It was not spectacular but just pretty for most of the route.

For lunch we stopped at Restoran Istarska hiža Kontija, along the road in Sveti Lovreč, just over half way of our route today. The reason why we stopped there was because it was already almost 2 o'clock in the afternoon and we were getting hungry, and this place seemed to be popular, considering the almost full terrace, and the number of cars, motorbikes and bicycles parked there. The moment that we drove onto the parking lot we knew that this was a good pick. Under a pergola, two chefs were cutting chunks of meat of a freshly roasted suckling pig, and on the other side of the terrace, another one was roasting above the wood fire. The atmosphere was clearly cheerful, it seemed that everyone was thoroughly enjoying the first real summer day of the season.

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

Croatia, Istria, Vinkuran - Rooms Villa Oasis

In the end of the afternoon we reached Vinkuran, a small village just outside of Pula. We found the hotel, which actually looked more like a large modern private house, turned into a Bed & Breakfast. We were welcomed with a welcome drink, and checked in. We understood that for this night we would be the only guests. Even though this was a small place we very much loved it. The room was impeccable, and upstairs there was a terrace with a pool. Perfect!

Then the owner offered to drive us around the area in his own car so that we got a bit more familiar with the immediate surroundings and with the city of Pula. We found this a very nice offer which we gladly accepted. We drove through the city and the owner told us a lot of facts from the pre-roman history, via the Romans, the Middle Ages, the Venetians, Austrians and Napoleontic France, till the present. There are many historical buildings.

Croatia, Istria, Pula - Restaurant Ribarska Koliba

Croatia, Istria, Pula - Restaurant Ribarska Koliba

Croatia, Istria, Pula - Restaurant Ribarska Koliba

Croatia, Istria, Pula - Restaurant Ribarska Koliba

After half an hour or so we were on the way back, when we passed a nice restaurant with terrace at a marina, so we asked the owner if he would accept a cool drink from us before getting back.

In the evening, we decided to have dinner in the old town of Pula. We parked the car next to the Roman Arena, and walked into he pedestrians-only street into the old town. Although the center is beautiful with lots of history and excavations and a tower, it somehow missed the charm of Piran. Perhaps it was because it was so quiet, or because of the local people.


In general, we felt like the Croatians were a little less open and hospitable than the Slovenians. On the other hand, once we were seated at a very simple place for an even simpler local dish of fried anchovies with fries and salad, the conversation with the locals started off after a glass of wine or two, and we had a very nice evening after all.


When we went back to the car, the Amphitheatre was beautifully illuminated. This is really a landmark. It was built between 27 B.C and 68 A.D. so the construction took almost 100 years. What makes it very special is the size, and above all the fact that most of the original structure still stands today as it had been built.


The next day was a lazy day, which can be summed up quite simply as follows:

Morning walk along the little bay of Vinkuran, under the morning sun, and discovering the place where we would have dinner that night.


Drive to the village of Premantura for some shoppings, especially a cap for me, and flip flops for both of us, which we had forgotten to bring. Plus a cup of very good espresso.

Seafood lunch at Restaurant Kamik in Banjole, which was another lucky shot. Actually a double lucky shot, because we later found out that the reviews about this place were quite mixed, from raving to trashing. Whatever is the case, we very much enjoyed our lunch at the outside terrace there. We had a little issue regarding the invoice which was resolved quickly and graciously, and the food as well as the cold local wine were very nice.


People talk a lot about plating and how attractive a plate can be made. Our fish looked a little aggressive at us from the dish, with piranha type of teeth, but it was really good. We also had entertainment. During our entire lunch time, a small lizard on the wall was playing hide and seek with us. Hopefully after we left he still found some crumbs or morsels on our table, but it couldn't be much because we almost ate everything...


A whole afternoon at Medulin Beach, warm enough to get into the shallow bay. You have to walk quite a bit out to get to deeper water, but it is clean, clear and pleasant. Maybe because it was not the season yet, but it had the feel as a seaside resort mostly for local people.


Our al-fresco dinner was at walking distance of our hotel, at Restaurant Barka in Banjole. Very nice food and because we didn't have to drive we could both enjoy the wine as well. A little bit more upscale than other restaurants, this place, and it was our last night before flying back, so we didn't mind at all to eat a little more lavish this time. Food was great (a selection of grilled meats and local sausage specialties), service was very friendly, and when we received the bill we were still pleasantly surprised.

Posted by westwind57 19:17 Archived in Croatia Tagged sea fish road_trip beach croatia seafood pula arena istria piran medulin premantura amphitheatre banjole suckling_pig Comments (0)

Slovenia, Istria, the old town of Piran

Picture-perfect Piran, historic town rightfully favored by the Romans, the Franks, the Venetians and today's tourists


Piran is situated at the northwestern tip of the Istria peninsula, at the Mediterranean Bay of Trieste. From our hotel you could easily see the coastline with Trieste in Italy on the horizon. It is a truly picture perfect little town, but its history goes back to more violent ancient times as well.

In the time of the Roman empire, the inhabitants were not only fishermen and farmers, but also notorious pirates, who attacked Roman merchant ships around the ports on the opposite coast, like where now is Trieste, Mestre and Venice. In the 2nd century B.C. the Romans had enough and they added the Istrian peninsula to their empire. When the Roman empire started to fall apart by the invasions of tribes from the East, Piran was fortified and remained one of the crucial defense strongholds of the Romans.

From the 13th through 18th century, Piran was part of the Venice empire, with some local autonomy. It was a port, although not as important as Venice itself. In 1558 A.D. the plague broke out and eradicated two thirds of the population. When the Austrians took parts of Slovenia and northeastern Italy, they developed the port of Trieste, which negatively impacted Piran's importance in the 18th and 19th century. Yet, the lay-out of the town and the architecture of the buildings, even today, make a very Italian/Venetian impression.


In the Napoleontic period, to be precise in 1812, a mini-battle was fought in the Bay, between an English and a French ship. The French ship had been newly built but the British ship prevented it from leaving the harbor of Venice. Under fog they tried to escape anyway, but this turned out to be a bad idea. A five hour sea battle followed and the French ship lost it, at the cost of half of its crew. Apart from the ancient pirate activities, this is the only battle that has taken place in Slovenian sea territory.

Like many parts of Slovenia, Piran also has been occupied alternatingly by the Austrian-Hungarians, and the Italians. But unlike cities in the North, the influence of the Italians has been more important here, especially because the Italians got it back after the First World War. After the Second World War it eventually became part of Yugoslavia, which made many of the inhabitants decide to move to Italy. In 1991 it became part of the then established country Slovenia.


The town is mostly at sea level, although the north part is a steep cliff with the St. George church built on it. The cliff is a kind of natural fortification and offers stunning views of the sunset, and a great overlook at the lower city, with the Tartini Square as one of its center points. The upper and lower cities are connected by a maze of very narrow, steep streets and alleys, as well as shortcuts by stairs. On the north side of the St. George church, outside of the fortification wall, a paved path leads along the water to the bay where we stayed.

large_6piran13.jpglarge_6piran15.jpglarge_6piran04.jpgSlovenia, Istria, Piran - beer colder than your ex's heart <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Slovenia, Istria, Piran - beer colder than your ex's heart ;)

We enjoyed our stay very much, and can surely recommend to choose Piran as a stop on your road trip for a few nights.

Posted by westwind57 17:25 Archived in Slovenia Tagged venice road_trip history trieste wine italian mediterranean slovenia istria romans piran tartini st._george Comments (0)

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