Sunday, August 19, 2012

Iceland—So Many Questions...

After our return from Iceland, I have been fascinated with all the questions that we have received relating to that interesting country. I am by no means an expert, having only scratched the surface of the island. So, with apologies to the Icelandic people, I am going to do my best to answer the questions that I have received:

Iceland? Why Iceland?
True story… upon my return from France in December 2011, I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to return there in 2012 to show him the areas that I had found so extraordinary. He responded that we needed to take a less expensive vacation this year to offset the more costly trip that we took last year to California.  With that in mind, I suggested that we go to the beach in North or South Carolina, or to some other beach location not too far from home. I have mentioned before that my husband can’t seem to sit still. I think that the idea of a beach vacation gives him hives. I, on the other hand, grew up on beach vacations, and have missed them. Long story short, he looked at the beach idea for a millisecond and decided that it would be better if we went to Massachusetts (where we have dear friends) instead. I recognize that there is no logic there, but I complied. Two weeks later, he came home and asked if I would prefer Massachusetts or Iceland. I guess I don’t need to say what my answer was. I didn’t ask until two weeks before our departure what prompted this sea change from Massachusetts to Iceland! I was concerned that he would alter his thinking and suggest Massachusetts again. When I did ask, he said that he wasn’t getting any younger and wanted to start chipping away at his bucket-list with regard to vacations. I am thrilled with this idea and reaped the benefits!

Vatnajokull Glacier—the largest glacier in Iceland

How big is Iceland?
Iceland is about the size of Virginia and West Virginia combined or a bit larger than the State of Ohio. We drove all the way around the island mostly on what is referred to as the Ring Road. With side trips, we drove over 1,000 miles in ten days. There are few roads into the interior of the island, and no roads that are passable (across the interior) without a four-wheel drive vehicle.

What is the summer weather like there?
It is generally in the 50’s or 60’s and rain can be very common. We packed all kinds of raingear, which perhaps kept the rain at bay. We were so fortunate with the weather since we only had one full day of rain. Most of the time, the sun was bright and the sky was blue. In fact the sky really is bluer there because of a lack of pollution. Much of the land can appear to be very desolate, but where there is greenery, it truly is greener. This is because the short growing season necessitates more efficient storage of chlorophyll. It is often windy, which provided no end to bad hair experiences! The sun doesn’t set until after midnight and it is bright by 4:30 am. This sunshine gives people plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, and gives farmers three crops of hay during the summer.
Bright sunshine and the town of Seydisfjordur in the background
Dressed for the chill at the glacial lagoon

What is the Icelandic currency?
The Icelandic krona

Are the people friendly?
The Icelandic people could not have been more courteous and kind. We had a wonderful time conversing with people. With the exception of two older women in a tiny, tiny town, everyone spoke English well, which is a godsend since Icelandic is VERY difficult. In fact, Icelandic is very similar to Old Norse. The school children have little difficulty reading the Icelandic Sagas, which were written several centuries before Shakespeare’s writings. They are very proud of their written heritage and boast of a 100% literacy rate. Sculptures of authors and poets are found throughout the country.

Trolls are big in Iceland. The people are less imposing and more friendly.
 When do the people learn English?
When I posed this question, I was told that they start learning in school around the age of 10, but that American movies, video games, music and television broadcasts enhance their learning and make it very easy for them.

Is Iceland modern?
There was no time in our stay that we didn’t have internet access. Iceland is quite modern, just sparsely populated.

Is it expensive there?
WOW!! Is it ever!! There are no bargains to be had in Iceland. Part of the reason for the expense is that so much has to be imported. I bought an apple at the grocery and noticed that the label indicated that the fruit was from Argentina. The apple traveled farther than I did.

And… finally… did you like it?
ABSOLUTELY! No disrespect to Massachusetts, but Iceland was just completely fascinating. I couldn't help but be inspired by the landscape to return to my easel with new ideas!

Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful waterfall in Europe

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Driving in the Sky

During the last three days, I was able to experience flying while in the car. While driving from south Iceland to east Iceland, we took a shortcut on a gravel road that had us traversing in the clouds. We kept commenting (while I had white knuckles on the car seat and my husband had white knuckles on the steering wheel), that the view would likely be magnificent if we could only see it. The fog was so thick that we could barely see a yard in front of us. Remarkably, when we reached the top of the mountain, the clouds dispersed and gave way to beautiful azure skies. The view was stunning. The tops of the mountains were on either side of the road, and cottonball clouds dotted the sky, kissing the mountaintops in some areas and adding to the feeling of flying, since there were times when we drove through the clouds as well.

Yesterday, we drove from east Iceland to north Iceland. During that journey, we also felt as if we were in the clouds. Iceland is an interesting mix of Ireland, Norway, Montana, Switzerland -- and the moon. Yesterday, we experienced all those areas visually. Part of our trek was through a barren area called a cold desert, where a moonscape came to mind. Other areas reminded me of uninhabited mountains in Montana, while the town where we stayed reminded me of Switzerland. Since this town, Akureyri was on a fjord, Norway leapt to mind as well. We were only around 100 miles from the Artic Circle, but the weather was mild and lovely.

Today, was another day of driving in the clouds to get to Stykkisholmur, which is a charming village also in a fjord. The weather is more what I had expected for our entire trip here... cold and cloudy. No complaints from this end, however. Our hotel is a historic building that is exceptionally comfortable. It will be nice to snuggle into my comforter with a good book to relax after all that "flying."

Sunday, August 5, 2012


There are not enough superlatives to describe some of the sights that are to be seen in Iceland. When we first arrived here, I will admit to some concern. The road from the airport to Reykjavik looked so desolate, and there are very few trees in this country. Anyone who knows me, even briefly, has an idea of how much I adore trees. (It is believed that the island was tree -covered at the time of the Vikings, but the wood was used and replenishing didn't occur because of over-grazing sheep.) Desolation doesn't do much for me either. Since leaving Reykjavik, we have seen such magnificence that I am struck silent. Therefore, I will say no more and just show some photographs of what we have seen the past two days. I hope you enjoy some of the beauty.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Another Amazing Day!

How do you top the Blue Lagoon? Well, one way to do so is to visit areas along the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is aptly named. The circular route allows for other-worldly and gorgeous sights. The first stop on our itinerary was to Gullfoss. Gullfoss is an extraordinary waterfall that is compared in majesty to Niagara. An advantage to Gullfoss over Niagara is that there are no hideous shops and fewer crowds to mar the view. There is beauty surrounding the falls and we enjoyed getting soaked with spray from the powerful force of the cascading water. We have rented a car, so we are also not beholden to others for our schedule. No moss grows on my husband and we don't sit still when we are on vacation. I often joke that I usually need a vacation after my vacation because we are so busy. That said, we see so much when we travel that I can't complain.

Our next stop was to Geysir which was somewhat similar to a smaller Yellowstone National Park. As we walked into the area, one of the geysirs began to spout and I was able to whip my camera into gear to successfully capture the moment. I felt so lucky that I jumped up and danced around, since others had been standing for some time with their cameras trained to the site just waiting for the special moment.

Later, we went to Kerid Crater. The signs in Iceland leave a bit to be desired and we almost sped right past it. Good thing that we found it because the view was like something that you would imagine in a science fiction film. The crater was formed by an ancient valcano. The lake within the crater was a rich veridian green.

Water was the order of the day because we then arrived at Seljalandsfoss, another waterfall. This one was festooned with multiple rainbows, and we were even able to walk behind the wall of water which cascades 203 feet from the top of the mountain. The rushing water and the rainbows took my breath away.

Finally, after a meal of Icelandic fish stew for dinner, we walked along the black sand beach. This was not the kind of stroll that one imagines in warm climates. The wind was whipping and I was wearing three fairly heavy layers of clothing.

I have included a photograph of the geyser and another photo of our view behind the gorgeous waterfall.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Iceland... Incredible!!

There are countries around the world that I am exceptionally interested in visiting. Iceland was not on my short list, but it was on my husband's, and that is important. Many years ago, he insisted that I see Ireland. I had very little interest, went anyway, and LOVED every minute of the experience. I thought that history would repeat itself, and so far, that has proven to be true.

Iceland is so beautiful and the people are as kind as I had heard that they would be. We spent two days in Reykjavik. Today, we rented a car to go to the Blue Lagoon (what fun), and are now in the countryside. I had hoped to have some inspiration for upcoming paintings, and today confirmed that I will not have trouble finding that. However, we have also had some delicious food. My husband teased me for taking pictures of the lobster soup that we enjoyed on Tuesday evening. (I have often commented that I would only embrace a kosher lifestyle when lobster is considered kosher... no worries there!) However, he was all in favor of photographing our skyr cake from yesterday evening. So, I have also posted a photograph of the skyr cake, which really was more photogenic even as the lobster soup was phenominal. I have also included a photograph of the landscape that I saw today. Ideas for paintings are going to be percolating like hot lava, with any luck at all!