Today I had booked myself a hideously expensive but well-worth it bus tour around the Golden Circle, Iceland's most popular tourist day trip from the capital. I woke up an hour too early at hideous o'clock, leaving myself more than enough time to eat a pot of instant porridge abandoned in my dorm and catch the bus from outside the hostel. The Icelandic tourist industry works like a well-oiled machine; shuttles pick everyone up from their various hostels and deposit us all in front of the coach at the main bus station, on which there is wifi! WIFI! However I was forced to remark again at that constant phenomenon of how American tourists always manage to identify each other instantly and cheerily share their life stories with an enthusiasm undampened by the glares of every other nationality present. It was hard to hate the particular selection on our bus as they were all elderly couples celebrating anniversaries and making new friends much more effectively than us youth at the back, but as Europeans we felt we should try hard to disapprove nonetheless.
The drive towards our first destination took us through a bleak landscape of volcanic hills wreathed in clouds so low you could almost pop them with a pin. Houses cropped up colourfully across the planes, as did the swishy-tailed Icelandic horses that look more like Shetland ponies than anything else, and we all craned our necks to look at the smoky islands lining the horizon. Sulphurous fumes snuck through the windows on the way through a moss-covered lava field. Apparently one third of the world's lava flow in the last 10,000 years has taken place in Iceland, a country where when a volcano erupts "we run towards it, not away from it!".
The countryside is perfectly picturesque. Puffs of steam prick the mountainsides and crystal clear little streams wind down the slopes. We pass a fishermen thigh-high in a rushing fjord, and the deep red of an earth path cuts through the endless green towards a little log church framed so perfectly against the blues and greys of the sky and a sunbathing mountain that it might as well be an oil painting. We skirt a lava hillock inconveniently positioned in the middle of the road, and our tour guide tells us that road construction had to proceed around it as it is said to be home to elves. 55% of Icelanders believe in them.