I realize that all of the photographs in my Iceland posts have been in color. (All that GREEN! It was so incredible!) There were some images, though, that I envisioned in black & white, so I thought I'd collect them here in a separate post.
(Continued from Iceland Album - Part 3...) It was such a beautiful day when we left Cabin Agnes and drove to Thingvellir National Park where we planned to spend the whole day hiking. I bought the most beautiful little book at the visitor center. I’d been hoping to find an Iceland souvenir that wasn’t the usual, and this was it.
Thingvellir: A Walk Along Memory Lane, by Hildur Petersen and Anna Bjarnadottir, is a beautiful story of two little girls who grew up together in the park (Anna's father was Iceland's Prime Minister during the 1960's.) The park's history and points of interest are woven together with personal memories and illustrated with sketches & photo-collages by Swiss artist, Karin Kurzmeyer. It reminded me a little bit of my flying adventure book, and turned out to be the perfect guidebook for our day. It was so much more interesting than just reading random facts. I wish EVERYwhere had an accompanying guidebook as artful and special as this one!
So we started down the trail in Almannagja (All Men's Rift), and as I was looking at one of the sketches in the book I realized we were standing in the exact same place!
Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was home to the world's first parliament waaay back in 930AD. The park is also famous for its geology as it sits on the divide between the North American and Eurasion tectonic plates. Usually these continental seams are under the ocean, but at Thingvellir you can literally see the effect of continents moving apart. And there we were walking right down the middle when we hiked Almannagja. So cool. Live Science has a great article about it HERE.
We hiked the canyon trail to the very end, then returned along the lake path, which was dotted with picturesque little summer cottages hidden in the trees.
This one had so much glass it looked like part of the lake.
After a picnic, we hiked in the other direction back toward the visitor center, where we ended the day with ice cream (of course!)
On our last day, we had two things planned that I was sooo looking forward to: a horseback ride, and a visit to the Blue Lagoon. I used to ride and now I miss it, so any opportunity to get on a horse makes me happy. The guides were amazed at the sunny weather… usually you get outfitted with galoshes and raincoats. Not today! The Icelandic horse has two gaits that other horses don’t: the tolt and the flying pace. I’d been on an Icelandic horse before and there's no forgetting that tolt. It's heaven. It feels like riding on a cloud.
Blue Lagoon's geothermal spa was the perfect treat for my sore legs after that ride! Yes it’s kind of expensive and yes the waiting line is long, but it’s worth it just to say you’ve been. The water is the same color as the inside of glaciers — that milky ice-blue — and there are warm spots and hot spots, and mud masks for your skin. Blue Lagoon is one of National Geographic's 25 Wonders of the World, which I thought was pretty cool. By the time we got out we were sooo tired.
The landscape around the lagoon was surreal. We found a giant hole to leave the kids in. “There’s candy down there…!”
We spent our last night at a guest house in the little fishing village of Gardur. It had a view of the sea, but I thought the view of the laundry in the wind was just as pretty.
The next morning we had a hard time getting going...
… but the reward for getting up early was being bumped up to Business Class — sweet! As we waved goodbye to this beautiful country, we all agreed that we definitely want to come back. Thank you, Iceland!
(Continued from Iceland Album - Part 2) From the Solheimajökull glacier we drove back towards Reykjavik, but turned north just after Selfoss. I’d found a perfect little cabin via Airbnb across from Lake Apavatn that would give us a cozy, quiet place to call home for two nights, with easy drives to the landscapes along the Golden Circle, and close proximity to an end-of-the-day treat: the Fontana baths at Laugarvatn.
The little cabin was even cuter than in the online photos. Agnes, our host, had cut fresh lupines for the table and left fruit and other goodies for us. I think she also arranged for the sunniest days in Iceland ever.
We’d stopped for some provisions on the way… I’ve never been so happy to cook spaghetti and sauce from a jar! Easy, inexpensive comfort food - yay! And yeah, the kids fought over who was going to sleep in the loft (because of course they wouldn’t share it), but nothing was going to ruin my happy place. John went for his morning runs along the horse trails and I spent time on the porch with tea and my journal. Next time we will rent the cabin for our entire stay - it was HEAVEN!
We started our Golden Circle drive with a visit to the Gullfoss waterfall (along with every other tourist). I am not a fan of crowds, but how could we be this close to an Icelandic icon and not go? I suppose it’s like some of our own more popular national parks: there is no such thing as solitude at Half Dome in the summer!
From Gulfoss we backtracked to the geysers. Geysir, the one that gave us the word “geyser” — I did not know this! — no longer erupts regularly, but Strokkur, the one next to it, does. I kept trying to make a photograph without every other person on the planet in it, but was always foiled. Then, however, as I was muttering and cursing, Strokkur erupted out of the blue and I got totally soaked. Serves me right :-\
I did, however, manage to get a couple photos I liked of John and the kids disappearing in the steam...
I love sundials. This one, partway up the hill overlooking the geysers, was so beautiful...
While I did not bring my camera to the Fontana baths, trust me, they were a perfect end to a day full of walking and people: quiet, and right on the shore of Laugarvatn Lake. While I wish we'd had the time to find some secret hot springs in the middle of the wilderness somewhere, this would do nicely!
And then, ahhh, a home to come back to. We love you, Cabin Agnes!
(Continued from Iceland Album - Part 1) At breakfast the next morning we had a discussion about what we could realistically see & do in the four days we had left. We decided to let go of visiting the Vatnajökull glacier (-jökull at the end of a word means glacier), planning instead on drives and hikes closer to Reykjavik. It was a huge relief to have a plan and - best of all - Airbnbs reserved for the rest of the trip. There’s something comforting about knowing you’ll have a place to call “home” at the end of the day.
With all of that finally settled, we decided to spend the day exploring Vik, starting with the sea. I’ve never seen a black sand beach before. It was surreal, as though an entire landscape had already been staged as a black and white photograph, with the exception of the iridescent green-hued cliffs (and the purply-blue lupines).
From the beach, we drove across the street and up the hill to the the iconic Reyniskirja church. Apparently there was hiking trail up the mountain that began at the far end of the parking lot.
The weather had turned sunny but it was still a little chilly when we set out. We climbed and climbed. I’m always such a bad judge of distance… everything looked closer than it actually was. (Or maybe it was the other way around.) I was the slowpoke of the bunch, stopping to photograph every few minutes, and Katherine, not big on walking, lagged behind with me. She and I would treat ourselves to a few chocolate Smarties — my European fave! — as a reward for making it to the next resting point. Ha! (Hey, you gotta stay motivated, right?)
When we got to the top we explored a little, but turned around and headed back down. The actual mountain peak was farther along the trail, but we hadn’t brought water. Or snacks.
Walking through the fields, I told the lupines how much I loved them.
After a picnic lunch back in town, we left Vik and headed west, stopping at Solheimajökull, one of the “tongues” of the Myrdalsjökull glacier. Myrdalsjökull is sitting on top of Katla, a volcano that’s due to start some serious grumbling in the coming decades. It was so interesting to stand there thinking that the whole landscape in front of us will wind up changing sooner rather than later.
It didn’t occur to me that the ice would be so dark and sooty, but, of course, Iceland is made of volcanoes, and so it makes sense. The parts of the ice that had cleaved revealed that perfectly magical glacial blue… its little inside secret.
Signs that read, “Don’t climb the glacier without a guide” were going unnoticed, and I’d read in a local paper that tourism has skyrocketed in Iceland with some consequences. Every year there are deaths, close calls, and expensive search-and-rescues. Trouble spots aren’t always roped off, or tourists seem to think they can ignore warning signs. Just around the corner from Vik, photographers out to “get the shot” of the Reynisfjara basalt columns have, on occasion, been swept out to sea. Iceland doesn’t mess around, so if you travel there, be mindful, Iceland’s wildness is what makes it so beautiful.
When we asked Gracie, John’s oldest daughter -- she’s twelve -- where she might like to spend our weeklong vacation she said, “Someplace warm with a beach!” As a joke I said, “How about Iceland? Ha ha.” We had a laugh, but the thought stuck with me. A friend had just returned from a motorcycle trip around Iceland, and other people I’d mentioned it to had either been there as well or knew someone who had. Everyone said it was a photographer’s paradise and a travel magazine I subscribe to showed up in my mailbox complete with a featured article about driving Iceland’s Ring Road. We decided to go. This was going to be the kids' first trip out of the country. I kept my own travel wishes simple, hoping to accomplish three things: see daylight at midnight, hike up a mountain, and relax in some hot springs.
Travel snafus abounded from the get-go. Silly me, thinking that four of us could make it to Iceland flying stand-by on the only flight out a day. Ha! Or that we could arrive a day late and just “wing it” without having to fork over some serious change to get back on track.
We arrived in Keflavik at midnight, which seemed more like a predawn twilight. It was windy, cold, and raining sort of sideways as we walked down the airplane steps onto the tarmac. We had no hotel but managed to find one. I was sooo happy to crawl into bed! Even at 3am the sky was light.
At breakfast in the morning we came up with our plan: drive to Reykjavik to the visitor center, figure out where we wanted to go, and then head out. We walked around town a bit, found a great bakery, had a picnic lunch on a hill overlooking the harbor, and took a peek inside the Harpa Performing Arts Center before finally hitting the road.
I don’t know what made us think we’d get all the way to Hofn that day. Note to self: next time, believe the travel magazine when it says you’ll want to stop everywhere to take in the landscape... Is that a waterfall?!
From the road, Seljalandsfoss (-foss at the end of a word means waterfall) seemed almost small. Nope. It was immense. (Those little dots are people!) The cliffs were a fairy-tale green and the air shimmered with mist. We got soaked hiking the path behind the falls but it was sooo worth it.
That night, we made it as far as Vik, Iceland’s southernmost village, and I’m glad we chose to stop. It was beautiful: black sand beach, terns flying along the cliffs, and more lupines than I'd ever seen.
We had a delicious dinner at Halldorskaffi and fell asleep in cozy beds right next door at the Puffin Hotel. Goodnight, Iceland! More soon…