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The Golden Circle

Our third day on the island saw us hitting the tourist trail with gusto, which in Iceland means the Golden Circle, a 180 mile loop connecting the country’s principle tourist attractions, or at least those close enough for a day trip from Reykjavik. In typical Renfroe fashion, we shunned the overpriced guided tour on some giant sightseeing bus, and rented ourselves a miniature car instead- I’ve always believed that the best way to see a place is as captain of your own conveyance, be that car, bicycle or boat. It just gives you so much more freedom to go where you want, stop where you will, and see what is interesting to you, not what some banal tour company has in mind. You might miss out on some superfluous commentary, or you might even miss an entire sight that you were unaware of, but at least the things you do see, you’ll see by your own resolve and impetus. I think this quote sums up my sentiment pretty succinctly:

“The ordinary traveler, who never goes off the beaten route, and who on this beaten route is carried by others, without himself doing anything or risking anything, does not need to show much more initiative and intelligence than an express package. He does nothing; others do all the work, show all the forethought, take all the risk- and are entitled to all the credit. He and his valise are carried in practically the same fashion, and for each the achievement stands on the same plane.”

~Theodore Roosevelt

With that sentiment in our hearts, we set out on the twisting, wet asphalt into the Icelandic countryside… first stop, Þingvellir National Park, a place where Iceland’s history is laid down as thick as the plush mats of green moss that cover every rock there. And where the rocks themselves have a history as improbable as the Icelanders- the park sits atop a crest in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a slowly widening rift between the tectonic plates that are North America and Europe. Standing in the gap between the two cliff faces that marked the edges of the plates, you could almost feel the Old World and the New World straining to distance themselves from each other, two and a half agonizing centimeters every year. We then took in some pretty cool geysers- though not as impressive as, say, Old Faithful, they had their own claims to fame, one being named Geysir, of which all geysers the world over take their name. Then on to the roaring Gullfoss water fall, the Niagara of Iceland. A few other lesser stops and a lot of driving through mist and drizzle, we successfully circumnavigated the Golden Circle. Kacey might disagree, but for me, it only just wetted my appetite for the rainy little island- I can only imagine how wild and untamed the land gets once you venture past the well beaten paths of the Golden Circle. Perhaps someday we’ll find out…

Until then though, we had to settle for a stop at the appropriately named Blue Lagoon- a massive outdoor hot springs- that you could easily spend a whole day at, unless like us, you were only stopping there for a few hours on your way to catch your flight, as almost everyone else there was as well, because it happens to be cleverly located between Reykjavik and the airport.

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Our flight arrived in Reykjavik very, very early in the morning.  Jetlag was getting the best of us, and it was all we could do to keep our eyes open on the bus ride into town.  As seasoned travelers, we are normally pretty good at dealing with it, but for some reason, this time it hit us like a brick wall.  Unfortunately, our plan to combat the time change- take a quick morning power nap at our airBnB- was thwarted because our host couldn’t check us in until 11am- not that we should have expected any earlier, but we had had our fingers crossed. So we spent an hour or so at a café eating and drinking sugary and caffeinated things, but the chairs weren’t very comfortable, so we paid our check and headed out to find a suitably soft park bench.  But it turns out that it is cold in Iceland, much colder than our bench sleeping wardrobe was prepared for, even in August, and in any case, every bench was sopping wet from the incessant drizzle.

The oldest building in Reykjavik

The oldest building in Reykjavik

Then we saw it, the answer to our insomniatic prayers: an art gallery that for some unspeakable reason opened at 7am on a Thursday morning.  This might not have been our most thought out plan, but we were exhausted… we paid the €1.50 each to get in, then retreated to the most remote hall of the gallery, found a cushioned bench, and though we didn’t lay down flat, got comfortable by kind of leaning up against one another, back to back, and propping our chins on our hands, so as to look like we were in deep contemplation of the giant canvases hanging on the wall. To complete the ruse, what we really needed were some of those trick glasses with open eyes painted on the lenses. But that probably wouldn’t have helped considering I woke up two hours later, slumped over, with a nice puddle of drool bathing the side of my face on that oh-so-clean public bench.  It’s amazing we hadn’t been kicked out for loitering or public drunkenness or something, I can only imagine what we looked like.  But I’d like to think that some benevolent curator took pity on us and closed that wing of the gallery so other patrons wouldn’t be distracted by the snoring vagrants on the bench, and saving us from the ridicule.  Realizing what had happened, I roused Kacey and we made a hasty exit.  Calling the airBnB again, she reluctantly agreed to let us in early, for which we were probably embarrassingly grateful, and then: sleep, beautiful, beautiful sleep.

Once we woke, we spent the rest of the day, and next, just walking around this little island capital- checking out the shops, the cafes and pubs, the boardwalk, the cathedral, the swimming pool, and we even took the time to take in a screening of a locally produced movie- which ended up just turning into an €8 nap- did I mention we were still dealing with jetlag?

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The Atlas Expedition

Time for a rewind… August 8th, 2012.  Kacey and I sitting in the sunsoaked terminal at DIA, watching the planes taxi by.  Two carry-ons each are all we have: both a small backpack, Kacey a purse, and me, my camera bag.  We had just spent our short summer doing Colorado things, with friends and family, having only returned from our adventure to the South Pole, via the Antipodes and Hawaii, in June.  Seven weeks was a decidedly quick turnaround between trips for us, especially considering the scale of each itinerary.  But our impending return to indefinite corporate servitude made this coming trip seem not only reasonable, but indeed, necessary.  We know all too well how hard it is to shake the yoke of employment once you are settled into the complacency of a pay check, and the inconvenience of satiating your wanderlust with “vacation days”- of which, as a contractor, I was afforded none.  Thus we found it prudent to ride this vagabonding train on one more adventure before tossing in the hat.

This would be Europe Part Deux for us as a team, with a few of our favorite old haunts listed on the itinerary, and a ton of new ones to boot, spread over two months.  To list it quickly: Iceland, Amsterdam, Spain, Morocco, Italy, London, and Munich.  As you can see by the list, the keystone of the endeavor was Morocco, and the keystone of Morocco is the Atlas Mountains, of which we would be spending a pretty fair amount of time driving over and through, hence our choice for the name of this little adventure:  The Atlas Expedition

So, without further ado, let the story begin!

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