In 1936 WH Auden and Louis MacNeice took a three month tour of Iceland. Travelling by boat, bus, and horse, they saw a vast majority of the beautiful country. In a typically Modernist fashion, however, Auden speaks of seemingly irrelevant (yet charming) aspects of the island. Of Þingvellir, he writes, “I’ve been to Thingvellir, the stock beauty spot, which is certainly very pretty, but the hotel is full of drunks every evening. A very beautiful one called Toppy asked me to ring her up when I got back.” I dare say Toppy remained drunk, yet Audenless.
When Auden mentions that “stock beauty spot” he is describing one of three of the, if not “must see” spots of Iceland, then certainly the “most seen” attractions. Only a few hours drive outside of Reykjavik, a visitor will find the three most well-known sights in Iceland; Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. They anchor what has become known as the Golden Circle, an area of Iceland that you should see; not only for the beauty and history involved, but but also because they are all so darn close together.
Our Golden Circle trip was largely marred by rain, though that did little to take away from the beauty of the spots. The rain did seem to beat back some of the crowds along the ever widening spine of Þingvellir, and helped introduce us to one of Iceland’s more cleaver National Park workers (we walk into the visitors center, dripping wet, to ask of the impending weather outlook. “It’s raining” he replies before grudgingly checking his computer for a forecast and his nose for some other information.).
Comedians aside, we continue our Golden Circling to Geysir, an interesting site, but more in that I was tickled watching so many people, mobile phone cameras at the ready, waiting for a bunch of hot water to explode from the ground. I don’t want to disparage the awesomeness of the place, however. Seeing pools of water boil as result of the intense heat and pressure of the earth’s under layers is an impressive sight, but the dense crowds, tour buses, and food court like feel to the visitor’s center took some of the majesty away.
Gullfoss, on the other hand, was one of the more impressive things I’ve seen. Auden writes of of the country that “one of the nice things about Iceland is its small size, so that everything is personal.” A truth that is found walking along the edges of a massive canyon watching literal tons of water cascade to a misty and frothy river below. In fact, standing that close to the falls the sound of the water drowned out even the sound of the myriad languaged chatter, so that it was possible to feel alone amongst the crowd. The incessant roar a constant reminder that, despite Protagoras’ statement, humans are far from the measure of all things.