Monday, July 6, 2015

Closing the Circle and Farewell to Iceland

Closing the Circle and Farewell to Iceland!

Thanks to everyone for following this travel blog and for your comments and questions. It's been a good way for me to track our stops and sights on this version of "The Sleep Deprivation Tour". That it has been, but well worth it for the unique experiences and people that accompanied this journey. If any of you decide to visit Iceland in the future, I'm happy to share more information. I'll also (eventually) post my "good" photos, taken with a real camera and lenses on our Apex Visual Art website and send out a note in that regard.

Leaving the small town of Seydisfjordur, we took it as a good omen that this abandoned building had a "happy" slogan on it.

 This was just a reminder that we were still in Iceland and it was still June as seen from part of the Ring Road crossing mountains in eastern Iceland.

Of course, while we were "in the neighborhood", we had to stop in at the Jokulsarlon iceberg lagoon. On this visit, there were very high westerly winds, causing most of the bergs to be jammed up over on the opposite side. The tide was also coming in very fast, causing swirls, whirling water and a feeding frenzy among the terns. They didn't even have time to attack passers-by. (Kelley ;))

A bit further down the highway, we encountered a sizeable herd of reindeer grazing by the road. They were camera shy, but stayed within focal range, while we lunched in the car.

A special find was an outdoor photography exhibit in the town park at Hvolsvollur. Printed on paper (!) and suspended between trees or posts, it was a treat to see. I especially liked the one on the right of a little boy hugging a young foal. Many of the photos were of popular sights, but some were novel.

Approaching Reykjavik, we stopped in Hvergerdi to see more geothermal activity and fruit/vegetable greenhouses heated by hot water piped in from nearby steam vents and geyser beds.
 Grapes thrive in the steamy greenhouses.

Outside Reykjavik, we smelled - then saw - this acre of hanging, gutted, drying fish, (suspended in the open air from poles) the source of a popular Icelandic snack food. I'll leave the (overwhelming) aroma to your imagination!!!
 Found on the snack food aisle in every grocery store and gas station shop.

On our last full day in Iceland, in Hafnarfjordur, we hit pay dirt! the gold mine! utopia! - by discovering a town park where elves, trolls, fairies, angels, Huldufolk, mountain spirits,  lovelings, and gnomes live. They even have a special center (note elves and gnome figures in the window) for believers!

 Map of Iceland numbered in the order of our visit, not including all side trips. Numbers 1-8 indicate general areas visited with the photography group tour. Numbers 9-15 indicate general areas Paul and I visited on our own.

Passing over the southern part of Greenland on the way to JFK. Eager for home!

 Thanks for joining us on this journey to the fascinating and exotic place called Iceland. After a short domestic trip next week, we'll be staying close to home for a while and enjoying August in Albuquerque.
Adios for now,
Barbara and Paul

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Dolphins count as Whales, Puffins, Elf Queens & Hairy Houses

Dolphins count as Whales, Puffins, Elf Queens & Hairy Houses

Happy 4th of July to all of you. We are back home safe and sound, but still have just a few more photos to share.

Driving on from Akureyri, we ventured north to the hamlet of Husavik, once whaling capital of Iceland. Fortunately, whale hunting has diminished significantly, though still offered on some menus. 

On a relatively fair day, we boarded a sailing ship to venture out on the current tourist draw of puffin and whale watching. After donning insulated flotation suits worthy of a North Sea oil rig workers, the ship motored out into the fjord. We saw a bazillion puffins flitting around and feeding near a small uninhabited island - Puffin Island-go figure, but could not approach too close due to the draft of the boat. Then with the wind from the stern and my favorite (NOT) a "following sea" attempted to spot some whales - minkes, humpbacks, blues - on the far side of the fjord. 
We did see a number of white striped dolphin leaping and flipping around us, which was quite fun. This type of dolphin often have a lifespan of 50-60 years, gestate for 365 days, measure about 8 feet in length and weigh 350 lbs. But alas, no actual whales showed themselves during our sail. However, the crew made a point of declaring our outing as a - "success" by categorizing dolphin as "whales"- probably for the purpose of maintaining their 98% success rate at whale-spotting on their advertising. 

Neat as a pin Husavik church, with knitter on the back steps enjoying sunshine

Whale skeletons (obtained from beached/stranded whales) in the Husavik Whale Museum. Near to far are skeletons from: an Orca, a Cuvier-beaked whale, and a Long-finned pilot whale.

 A skeleton from a rare Sowerby beaked whale

A model pair of the now extinct Great Auk. The last known living pair were killed in Iceland in the mid-1800s at the behest of a collector.

After our unsuccessful whale sail in Husavik, we made a special trip to a remote area of the Eastern Fjords, called the Borgarfjordur Eystri to see a large colony of Atlantic puffins. Relatives of the auks, puffins are pelagic seabirds (of 3 subspecies) which sport colorful beaks and orange feet during mating season. Due to their relatively heavy body and stubby wings, the puffins must flap up to 400 times per minute to maintain flight back and forth from the water to the nest. Puffins normally nest by burrowing in steep hillsides or sea cliffs and can be quite difficult to see up close without risking one's human neck. We traveled to this remote spot specifically because a set of steps and platforms had been built up alongside the cliff in several places to enable visitors to see the birds from only a few feet away, without risking life and limb. Delightful!

As we left that area on our way to Seydisfjordur, our evening stop, we learned that the area is also the location of Alfaborg, the City of Elves, and residence of the Icelandic Elf-Queen, Borghildur. Those gifted with "second sight" are able to see the elves or hidden people, as they are often called. The elf homes are thought to be inside the rocks, such as the mound to the left of this sign, and are similar to those of 19th century Iceland, only "nicer". 
Apparently, it's not uncommon in Iceland to divert road construction or alter building projects if thought to be in an area that might disturb the indigenous community of elves. 

 The next bit of quirky Icelandia we encountered was a home known as the "Hairy House". It was a neatly trimmed, reindeer antler adorned, tiny sod home painted in a cheerful coat of red. The home, Lindaroakki, was originally built in 1899, and renovated in 1979. It measures about 30 square meters, has a well in the cellar and is still occupied during summers by the elderly female owner.

We had to cross a snowy pass (in June!!!) to overnight in Seydisfjordur, a very picturesque town located at the apex of a fjord.

One of a multitude of waterfalls above Seydisfjordur.

The pretty little "Blue Church" of Seydisfjordur, an eastern fjord town.

Now, we'll be completing our travels along the Ring Road by heading south and westward along the coast back to Reykjavik.

Barbara and Paul

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Having the Hots for North Central Iceland

Having the Hots for North Central Iceland

Half of a country and many miles away, we've arrived in the geological wonderland that is North Central Iceland. It offers vast lava fields, hot pots, steam vents, epic waterfalls, lovely snow-capped peaks and fjords filled with whales, dolphins and sea birds. We stayed for 3 nights in Akureyri, Iceland's second largest city. Home to only 18,000 residents, it savors 22 hours of sunlight on summer days, but only 4 hours of daylight during the depths of winter, with it's location not far south of the Arctic Circle. Using Akureyri as a base, we explored the region's famous and unusual features.

Town of Akureyri dwarfed by a large cruise ship

Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) earned the name after the "law speaker" decided that Iceland was to become a Christian nation. Returning home, he tossed his pagan statues of Norse gods into the falls, as confirmation. 

Shoreline Lake Myvatn, with rough/ragged hoodoos (of lava) scattered about.

Eerie turquoise blue of a geothermally heated lake, hissing and bubbling to all that pass by. However inviting it looks, signs warn people to stay away, as the mineral content is toxic and temps are up to 200 degrees Celsius in some areas!

 Elevated view of Lake Myvatn, which straddles the seismically very active 
Mid-Atlantic Ridge

Europe's (and Iceland's) largest (by water volume) waterfall thunders over the ledge at around 195 cubic meters of water per second. With the sun behind us, standing in the drenching spray, we were able to see this rainbow.

A moonlike geothermal area with piles of stone filtering natural steam vents amid scattered rocky debris.

If mud cauldrons and stinky sulfurous fumaroles are your thing, come to Hverir.

If lovely powder blue, silky, warm mineral baths are your thing, then come to Myvatn Nature Baths. They rival the famous, expensive and touristy Blue Lagoon, near Reykjavik, but are much more relaxing, and accessible.

The gentle summer sunset over snowy peaks and the waters of Eyjafjord, driving back to Akureyri, around 11:30 PM

Glowing skies from a midnight sunset over North Central Iceland

Now north to Husavik for a whale watching day sail.

Barbara and Paul