The three of us laced up our boots and started off in high spirits, excited for a day-long hike through the Hengill volcano range. A few hours later, I was alone on the top of a mountain, terrified and shouting until my throat was raw. This was supposed to have been an easy day out. Where had it all gone wrong? And where the hell was Brandt?
"Don't go chasing waterfalls". Words of advice from TLC, the greatest American girl group of the 1990s. No doubt it's a catchy refrain, but what a terrible message! Why should three women who achieved their own dreams dissuade their fans from "chasing waterfalls"? To stick to the rivers that they're used to? I suspect T-Boz and co. were trying to nip future competition in the bud. And it's not just bad advice on a metaphorical level. As we've discovered in Iceland, waterfall-chasing can be very rewarding indeed.
A steaming pool of milky blue water in an unforgiving landscape of lava, the Blue Lagoon is among Iceland's most attractive sights, and perhaps its most popular. At $60 per head, entrance is scandalously overpriced, but that doesn't deter the crowds from pouring in. And it didn't deter us.
As amazing as it was to stand on the cliffs of Þingvellir and survey the rift valley where two tectonic plates are separating, it was even more amazing to fly over that same valley. I think I know why so many birds spend their summers in Iceland. The views are hard to beat.
Standing in front of the church at Skálholt, my mind wasn't occupied by the magnificent natural scenery of the location, but rather by its quiet solitude. This was once the largest town in Iceland? Unbelievable. And so I asked my question again, this time aloud, in a thunderous voice. Why not? It's not as though anyone was around to hear me.
Arguably the most impressive sight along Iceland's Golden Circle is the enormously powerful double-stepped waterfall known as Gullfoss (Golden Falls). Here, the Hývtá River's journey through the highlands comes to a magnificent end as it drops over 100 feet into the canyon below.
The Haukadalur Valley, found along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge just northeast of Þingvellir, is an especially restless area of geothermal activity. Along with other bubbling pools of rotten-smelling sulfur, it's here that you can find Geysir. This is the original -- the geyser which lends its name to all others.
Reykjavík may be the capital, but the rift valley of Þingvellir (pronounced "thing-vet-lir") is the true heart of Iceland. Over a thousand years ago, the country's first parliaments were convened here, adding historical significance to an area of unbelievable natural beauty.
Close to the Perlan Building, and directly underneath the path of roaring planes landing at the nearby Reykjavík airport, is the Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, one of the city's favorite hangouts.
Like most countries, Iceland has its share of legends from the time of its founding. But unlike most countries, Iceland's legends are about Vikings, guaranteed to be bloody and exciting. For the uninitiated, the country's sagas have been brought to life in the excellent Saga Museum.