Amazing Iceland – Part one – the photographer’s dream!

I had absolutely NO EXPECTATIONS for Iceland except that it was a place daughter Helen and Dick picked for us to have a holiday together.  After our first few days of touring around I was blown away by the scenery we saw in any one day.  Generally, on previous trips, we get to see one major sight in a day, but here it’s at least three of four very impressive sights every day.

This holiday has been planned and organized by Helen who had visited Iceland earlier, in March.  Helen met us at the apartment in Reykjavit and gave us a guided walk around the town.  The first of many such “guided tours”.  So nice to be with Helen as we hadn’t seen her for 15 months while she was living and travelling in Europe.  After we stocked up with groceries the next day we drove off on the Golden Circle route.  First stop was Pingvellan National Park (NP) a very historic and significant site for Icelanders – the site of the first parliament for the nation in 930 AD.  The weather cleared so we had a walk around the area, saw a baby waterfall, scenic lake and an old wooden church.

In one memorable day on the Golden Circle we saw some of the top attractions in Iceland.  Starting with a small walk to the Secret Waterfall (Bruarfoss), which was not easy to find but very worthwhile to see.  Then we visited the Geyser and got some good pics of it erupting, before we drove to Gullfoss, a 32 m (100ft) high, very wide, double waterfall which they claim “outdoes Niagara Falls in wildness and fury”.  Its waterflow can reach up to 2000 cubic meters (500,000 gallons) per second.  On the way to lunch we stopped at another waterfall called Faxi. Considering we left our house at 10am that was quite a start to the day and already involved a few km’s of walking. Lunch was at the Fridheimer Cafe which is located within 5000 sq meters (1.2 acres)  of greenhouses and powered/heated by geotherrmal energy devoted almost entirely to tomatoes.  It was quite unique to see those rows of 3 m (10 foot) high tomato vines in a place that produces 1 ton of tomatoes per day and supplies 18% of Iceland’s needs.  Our lunch was tomato soup followed by cheesecake with green tomato jam topping.  In fact the whole menu had tomatoes in every dish.  Apparently Iceland is ideal for greenhouse growing due to its northern location and isolation (few pests, diseases or weeds) amd lots of geothermal energy to heat and sterilize the greenhouses & soils, and to produce CO2 & electricity for illumination of the greenhouses.  It was an interesting place.  The day continued with a walk around the crater, Kerio – its 55 m (180 foot) deep with water 7-14 m (20 – 40 foot) deep at the bottom.  Then we drove to the town of Selfoss before finishing off the day with a swim in the geothermo hot pools of the Secret Lagoon.  That was a pleasant way to end a day of amazing sunshine & clear skies, lovely vistas & scenery, and some fabulous natural wonders.  Our tour guide, Helen, did very well and we were home around 7:30pm.

The days continued in that full-on vein and with full sunshine most of the time.  We did the occasional stop for pony or sheep photos and on another full day we visited Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where Helen and I walked behind this powerful 60 m (200 foot) drop waterfall.  Then we had a lovely 2 km walk through a valley to Seljavallalaug, a 25 m (80 foot) outdoor geothermo pool built in 1923.  We all went in the pool but it was way too cold for us (not enough geothermal springs feeding it). We even managed an outdoor picnic in the sunshine before moving on to Skogafoss, a 60 m (200 foot) waterfall which featured a beautiful rainbow when we were there.  Next stop was to see a plane wreck, which was a 4 km one way walk on a flat black beach.  In 1973 a US navy DC3 ran out of fuel and crashed on black beach near Vik.  All survived.  We got our exercise doing that walk!  Then we drove to our AirBNB in Vik and went out for dinner – Another very full and interesting day.

Before we left Vik the next morning we stopped at Black Beach, aka Killer Beach, which features “Sneaker Waves” who have killed unwary tourists on the beach.  All the signs warned not to turn your back to the waves.  The area features a large cave, rock pillars (basalt columns), towering cliffs and black sand made from lava.  We were moving along the south coast of Iceland and drove through a very large area of mossy rocks and mountains before arriving at Fjardargljufur Canyon, an immense canyon about 2 kms (1.25 miles) long and up to 100 m (300 feet) deep with a river flowing through it.  We walked along the top to various lookout points.  It was another glorious sunny day with more amazing snow capped mountains and glaciers along the way.  It was a very scenic 300 km (185 mile) day and after our lunch stop we  got to one of our absolute highlights of the trip – Jokulsarlon, a glacier lagoon and an amazing sight where the Vatnajokull Glacier continually calves into the lagoon.  We saw ancient glacial fragments drifting very quickly out to sea and lots of stunning blue ice bergs floating in the lagoon.  It was hard to take in the majesty of what we were seeing.  The Vatnajokull Glacier is by some measures the biggest of all in Europe and it is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland.  Glaciers cover 23% of the land mass of Iceland.  The beautiful scenery continued along our drive to Hofn, where we finished the day with a sunset walk along a seaside golf course near our Air BNB.

In total we drove 2500 km’s (1550 miles) around Iceland and during that time we saw lots that piqued our curiosity, and so we put google to good use and found the following statistics that answered some of our questions: population of Iceland – 330,000, number of horses in Iceland – 80,000, number of sheep in Iceland – 800,000.  Needless to say we saw lots of horses and sheep throughout Iceland.  Apparently the horses are kept for companionship!

We saw so much on those first five days it was almost too much to take in, so I will stop this post here and cover the rest of the trip in another post.

 

 

Boat statute on Reykjavit Harbor

 

Reykjavit’s most prominent church and Leif Ericsson statute

 

View of Rekjavit from the top of the church

 

Pingvellan NP, site of the first Icelandic parliament, 930 AD
The Secret Waterfall
The Secret Waterfall
The Geyser

 

Gullfoss, the double waterfall
Gullfoss from another angle

 

Faxi Waterfall
Lunch in the tomato greenhouse
A close up of the tomato vines
From the top of the canyon
Down at the bottom of the canyon

 

Secret Lagoon geothermal hot pools where we had a swim/soak
Icelandic ponies at the roadside

 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall – before we walked behind it
Getting wet going behind the waterfall

 

Hiking to the pool
Dick getting into the quite cool 25 m pool

 

Icelandic picnic
Skogafoss waterfall
DC3 plane wreck on the beach (an 8 km walk we could have done without on a hot sunny day)

 

Black Beach with the killer waves
Rock pillars/basalt columns
Scenic drives

 

Fjardargljufur Canyon
At the end of Fjardargljufur Canyon

 

Driving towards the glacier
Jokulsarlon, the glacial lagoon
Enjoying the spectacle
Magical – Vatnajokull Glacier calving
Sunset stroll near Hofn

 

Exploring the Emerald Isle and attending a Wonderful Wedding

An unstructured five days driving around southern Ireland was a relaxing introduction to the country.  We had a rental car and our first night booked in an AirBNB on a houseboat in Sallins, a bit out of Dublin.  Finding a tourist information office was our first port of call (after the grocery store) on the way to the west coast and the Cliffs of Moher.  They were impressive and we had good late afternoon sun to show them off. Each day we booked our Air BNB for where we thought we would end up and fortunately that all worked out fine for us and meant we kept things flexible. Found nice places to stay and between our hosts and the tourist info places, we also found good restaurants.

Had three nights at Cahersiveen (never did learn how to pronounce it) on the Ring of Kerry which gave us one day for the Dingle Peninsula (Inch Beach, Dingle, Dunberg Fort, Beehive huts) and one day for the Ring of Kerry.  Learned about Skellig Michael (a very steep rocky island inhabited by monks for 1000 years) and even saw it in the distance, tasted Skellig chocolate at the factory, visited the 2000 year old Staigue Fort with its 6 m (20 foot) high walls (built without mortar) and enjoyed the views in Killarney National Park.  Had a walk around Muckross House and Gardens, as well as Ross Castle (one of the last castles in Ireland to fall to the English in 1652).  On the way to Kilkenny we visited the Rock of Cashel (reputedly the castle where the King of Munster was converted by St. Patrick in the fifth century AD) in Tipperary (a good excuse to keep singing that song) which contains a replica of the 12th century St Patrick’s cross.  Attempted to find our AirBNB in Kilkenny without having an exact address and by one of those amazing strokes of good luck, we met a woman on the street who knew our host and directed us to their place. Kilkenny was a great town to visit, interesting history on the Medieval Mile, good pubs with music, friendly locals, the famous Kilkenny Castle, Cathedrals and a 9th century round tower 30 m high which we climbed, before driving to Dublin.

The instigation for this whole trip was to attend Jenn and Paul’s wedding in Dublin.  Pre-wedding festivities included a ‘family dinner’ at Paul’s parents’ home and a tour of the Guiness Storehouse.  Barbara spent a couple of nights with us in our lovely Air BNB apartment in Dublin.  The wedding ceremony was conducted by a celebrant who was a friend of Jenn’s – it was powerful, emotional and touching.  Jenn’s way with words was evident in the ceremony and in her vows.  She looked radiant in her stunning gown as she married her handsome Irishman.  My dear friend Lesley, the mother of the bride, was also stunning in her hot pink dress and a gracious host all evening. And it was quite an evening with a couple of hours in the pub between the ceremony and the reception, followed by dancing til way after midnight.  In addition to the Irish contingent the guests were from Canada, Australia, and various countries in Europe.  It was a wonderful celebration of family, love and friendships in the crazy and wild party town of Dublin where revellers carry on in the streets most of the night.  A post-wedding brunch in a pub rounded off the festivites.  I was honored to be part of Jenn and Paul’s moving celebration, and very happy to have time with lots of old friends and to make some new ones at the wedding.  We really enjoyed our time in Ireland, even though it was not on our travel list before the wedding invite arrived.

Our houseboat stay in Sallins near Dublin

 

Poulnabrone Portal Tomb

 

Cliffs of Moher

 

Beehive huts on the Dingle Peninsula (with photographer Dick in action)
Driving around the Irish countryside

 

From the chocolate factory….lots of sayings in Ireland

 

Staigue Fort on the Ring of Kerry

 

Muckross House
Ross Castle

 

Rock of Cashel
Kilkenny Castle

 

The 30 m tall round tower we climbed
And then we had to climb down!

 

With Barbara at the end of the Guiness Storehouse tour

 

Jenn and Declan (even Declan did the Guiness tour) with Jenn’s brother Jeff in the background.
Jenn and Paul in Dublin on the wedding day
At the service

 

Lesley, mother of the bride, and one of my oldest and closest friends
Jenn and Lesley at the reception
Jenn & Paul doing their reception speeches
I got some lovely cuddles with Declan at the post-wedding brunch