Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

We spent the last couple of days of our trip in Reykyavik, capital of Iceland and area with almost 2/3 of the population of Iceland. We walked past Tjörnin Pond admiring the city reflected in its water. Reykjavik is a human sized city - no tall buildings and very walkable.

Hoping for Food

There are many birds in the pond's waters and feeding them does not seem to be discouraged. I was intrigued by the swans with their black trimmed beaks.

The Unknown Bureaucrat

Icelanders are not afraid to laugh at themselves. This sculpture, The Unknown Bureaucrat, proudly stands near the pond.

I Wonder What They Recommend

Virtually all Icelanders speak English and in the capital there are English signs on most stores. I did not go into this one but did wonder about what records they were selling.

Peace

Although there were (too) many tourists - there is not the same sense of hustle and bustle you get in larger cities. Walking past this sculpture I felt a sense of peace. There is a lot of public art in the city.

Reykjavik Spires

While much of Reykjavik feels new, there is also the old. The two spires - on the left one of the older churches - on the right, the spire of Hallgrímskirkja

Hallgrímskirkja

The church was designed by the late Guðjón Samúelsson. He took his inspiration from the basalt columns that sometimes form when lava cools. Construction began in 1945 and only completely ended in 1986. It towers above the city both because of its height and the fact that it sits atop a hill.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallgr%C3%ADmskirkja

Organ in Hallgrímskirkja

There is an impressive organ inside made by Johannes Klais, an organ builder from Bonn
As the church is Lutheran, there is very little interior decoration. Light streams in and there is real sense of calm inside the church.

Leif Erikson

Leif Eriksson stands outside - the Icelandic explorer who "discovered" North America. He has a much more massive feel than the statue of him we saw in Newfoundland near where he probably landed.

House in Reykjavik

Many of the older homes are painted or covered with corrugated, coloured siding. I'm sure it adds colour to the long grey winters. Iceland in summer is vibrantly green and colourful. I am not sure I would feel the same about the short days of winter. Although Iceland is just south of the Arctic Circle, its climate is more temperate than Montreal. Although it is never very hot there, in winter the average temperature in Reykjavik is 0°C (32°F).

Pick Your Colour

These Fjallraven backpacks caught my eye - I could just picture a class of students, each with a different colour!

Public Bicycles

These public bikes are decked out in WOW's colour. We flew from Dublin to Reykjavik with WOW and enjoyed their sense of humour (Our call button was labelled: Honk if you're hungry - each button had something different).

Sign in Keflavik Airport

If I have any negatives about Iceland it is only that hotels, B&Bs etc. are very costly. While flights are cheap, once in Iceland your money will disappear quickly, hence these words of warning at the airport. Despite that, I would go back. I love the open spaces, the clean air, the jaw-dropping beauty, the variety of landscapes... The cities and towns are at a human scale - which the countryside is immense and full of wonders.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

More Southern Iceland

Hofskirkja

The clouds moved back in along with rain - sometimes a gentle drizzle, other times more persistent. This church - Hofskirkja  is dedicated to Saint Clement and  was built in 1884. It is the last turf church that was built in the old architectural style with thick walls made of rocks.

Stream

We hiked a bit in Skaftafell National Park. The path had rubber lattice mats embedded in the gravel. Without them, the climb would have been a real challenge as the gravel tends to slide.

Waterfall

The rain, though not heavy, fell consistently which made photography difficult. This is a waterfall we passed along the way.


Wild Flowers

This is one of the few areas in Iceland where we have seen trees.

Mountain Behind our Hotel

I am fascinated by the shapes of the mountains with chunks of lava and large rocks undisguised by trees. The main growth on parts of these hills is moss.

Flat All the Way to the Coast

There are no foothills - the land is very flat leading to the water. Sometimes this flat land is caused by glacial floods following volcanic eruptions. There are about 130 volcanic mountains in Iceland - some are inactive but others not at all! Check out the weather site for Iceland. http://en.vedur.is/  It includes a tab for Earthquakes. You can see how many occurred just in the last three days as well as their intensity

One Edge of Vatnajökull Glacier

It is always dramatic to see the edge of the glacier. This area is crisscrossed with streams which grow in the spring as the winter snow accumulation melts. As to driving - there are a number of one lane bridges, but with sparse traffic and polite drivers, it is not an issue as whoever arrives second simply pulls to the side before the bridge and waits for the car going in the opposite direction to pass.

Looking Towards the Glacier

It is hard not to keep stopping to gawk - despite the inclement weather, the views are spectacular.

Lava Field

This lava field is near Katla, one of the most dangerous in Iceland. It has not erupted in almost 100 years and many feel it may erupt again soon.

Add a Rock for Luck

Laufskálavarða is the only place in Iceland where it is permissible to build cairns. There are many there and the tradition is that the first time you drive past to ensure good fortune as you drive east (hoping that Katla does not erupt). This has been going on for many years. With the influx of tourists, the Icelandic road administration now trucks in stones so that there are enough - and so people don't venture farther afield and destroy the landscape.

Flowers by a Stone Cairn

Flowers grow near the older cairns.


Tiny Flowers

This was our last day out in the countryside - and then on to Reykjavik.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Spectacular Day

Basalt Columns

Sometimes a day just stands out from others for its surprises, its wonders, its beauty. September 1 was one of those days. We decided to revisit Reynisfjara Beach with its black sand and basalt columns. The wind was stiff and we bundled up with gloves and jackets well zipped.

Black Sand Beach

We had been here three years ago and on a much warmer day - it was nice to see it a little wilder.

Puffins Above the Beach

I was surprised to see some puffins still sitting on the grass above the basalt columns. This time of year they fly out to sea and spend months on the water.

Sea Stacks off Reynisfjara Beach

The sea stacks were slightly shrouded in mist and the waves crashed against them.

Textures

The textures of the rock inside the caves were fascinating. After a stop in Vik for lunch we drove east and the climate changed completely.

Mountains Have Interesting Shapes

Mountains seem to display sculptures.

Mountains Rise Beside the Flat Terrain

And in the distance we saw the glacier.

Ice in Iceland

We arrived at our destination: Jökulsárlón - a lagoon at the end of one arm of the glacier. In it floated icebergs which had broken off from the glacier. It was jaw-dropping beautiful.

Birds Perch

I'll let the images speak for themselves.

Seals in the Lagoon

Swimming Through the Lagoon

Icebergs in Jökulsárlón

Textured Iceberg

We went to a second lagoon: Fjallsárlón - not quite as dramatic but beautiful nonetheless.

Fresh Ice

A Toe of the Vatnajolkull Glacier

The Edge of the Ice

Days don't get much better than this!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

On to Iceland

Steam Comes Out of the Mountain

We were in Iceland three years ago and fell in love with the scenery, the people, the incredibly clean air. One way to get home from Dublin was via Iceland so we thought, "why not!" We rented a car and headed out. You can see far in Iceland. There are very few trees and there are many flat areas, covered with lava from one or another volcano. The steam rising from this mountain is from the earth and in many areas this geothermal heat and energy are used to create electricity and to provide hot water to homes.

Hills in the Mist

Much of the land near the sea is very flat and is met suddenly by mountains. The mountains, bare of trees seem sculpted - their shapes undisguised.

Icelandic Farm

While some sections are covered with grass or heavy moss, many parts are bare rock. Farms cover the grassy flat land.  We stayed overnight on this farm. We were told that this area was covered with ash during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull and saw a photograph of the farmer, face covered with a surgical mask, driving his animals to a place where they could find grass.

Tractor

There is quite a bit of farming in Iceland. One big difference from Ireland is that most of the sheep are left to roam free on the mountain sides and in open fields. In September they are rounded up as they could not survive the winds of winter. While Iceland is quite far north, its climate is more temperate due to the gulf stream, but being an island in the North Atlantic, it is still subject to heavy rain and winds.

Church

It is not uncommon to see small churches like this in very small communities. The entire population of Iceland is about 330,000 and about 200,000 of them live in the capital region in and around Reykjavik. From here the nearest village, Vik, has a population of just over 300 and is almost 50 km away.

Icelandic Horse

Icelandic horses are still used on farms - you would not be able to round up the sheep with motorized vehicles. Dogs and horses are far more useful in the terrain where the sheep are. The sheep were due to be rounded up about ten days after we left the farm on September 1.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Corlea Trackway and Goodbye to Ireland

Ancient Trackway

We took a little detour on our way back to Dublin to see the Corlea Trackway. This iron age bog road (dating from 148 BCE) was discovered buried in the bog in 1984. Part of it was preserved (a complex process) and was repositioned in a climate controlled building exactly where it was found. It was only used for about 10 years before it sank into the bog. It was a huge undertaking to build and there is much conjecture as to what its purpose was.

Corlea Trackway

Its existence was passed down in myths. The trackway is built of oak and birch (estimates say at least 300 oak trees were felled for its construction)

Much of the trackway remains buried in the bog outside the visitor centre. It was once possible to walk on a wooden walkway over the bog but this is now closed as it, too, is showing signs of sinking and needs to be repaired to ensure visitors' safety.

Heather

The area is surrounded by bog and lovely heather which was, according to our guide, much more highly scented than is usual.

Did you know

In a nearby pub where we had lunch I snapped this sign. It still has not convinced me that Guinness is good (tasting, that is) - though I am not a fan of beer of any sort.

Leaving Ireland

After a night at a hotel near the Dublin airport - a jarring experience after our days in the countryside - we left Ireland and headed to Iceland for a few days before returning home.