Iceland Final Post

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IMG_2132On our (supposed) last morning, Suzette awoke with the vacation blues mostly due to the inclement weather in Colorado so she spent the morning researching delaying our return and ultimately moved our return back a day and saved us money in the process!

We headed to the blue lagoon for a wonderful soak in the mineral rich waters with mud masks and drink included. We soaked for about 2 hours and felt as if we had a great massage when we got out. We were both noodles!

We headed into Grundvik for lunch and ended up at a local restaurant that looked like an authentic Captain D’s. We were the only people in the joint and Suzette had a burger that she hoped was cow while I had my only meal I didn’t care for which was very fishy boiled fish with some potato’s. It was really strong smelling and overall was mild tasting but I wouldn’t get through the whole portion. Much of our reserve chocolate and a few mints went towards battling the taste in my mouth for the rest of the afternoon._PGO3486

We checked out the oldest lighthouse on the coast along with some sea birds on the cliffs and another geothermal park called Grunndavin which amounted to a roiling steam vent. As we were both still feeling mostly “noodleish” we hightailed it to Reykjavik for our new last night in Iceland.

We checked into Suzette’s last minute find of a hotel which was a full 1 bedroom flat in the heart of downtown and headed out to find a bar she IMG_2147wanted to try. Loftid was a bit of a walk down but we were greeted by a quiet happy hour and fun bartender. I had a Budweiser (the original from the Czech republic) and Suzette some wine, we both tried a shot of Brennevin (Icelandic schnapps that is not sweet, more earthy), and we got into a great discussion with a local geologist that was having wine and waiting for friends. We talked about their politics, the bank defaults, their taxes (50% if you make good money), murder rates (2 in 2015), property taxes (10% annually), you name it; we went there. It was really interesting conversation and we learned a lot about the country from a locals perspective. We left our happy hour 4 hours later and stumbled to another bar for a quick bite and it ended up being a Tapas place (my least favorite way to eat as I find you spend a fortune and leave hungry) at The Public House. Food was great and portions were ok but we were done drinking. Back at the flat we retired for the night only to be awoken by techno and partying at 4am….it lasted until 7:30. 7:30! These people are nuts.

The Road Home

After packing we headed to the elevator to leave the hotel and it let us in…..but didn’t move. Press button, nothing. Try to press a different floor…nothing. Hit theIMG_2148 IMG_2150 door open button….nothing. Seriously?!? We hit the call button and fortunately someone answers and she speaks English. After rifling through her Ipad, Suzette finds enough info to tell them where we actually are and they send someone our way. 15 minutes of sitting on the floor trying to keep her from sheer terror (she doesn’t like enclosed spaces) we are out and carrying our stuff down the stairs.

A leisurely breakfast at a local gourmet breakfast/lunch place using every buzz word they can think of from ‘Merica “Gluten free, vegan, spelt, Chicken”. Really? I didn’t know you could make a chicken out of Spelt? We head to the airport. Almost there but I have to fill up the car and we need a specific gas station that accepts the pre-paid card we have. Can’t find one…anywhere. Start combing the nearest town to the airport and we find one thankfully. As I am fiddling with the gas Suzette is looking at the bay and spots Whales! We fill up, and head to a jetty where we are looking over a perfectly calm bay. No sounds but the breathing of whales as they come up for air and loll around. Mother and Calf, and about a dozen other whales…just us, the sea birds, the sea smells, snow capped peaks in the background and the breathing of whales. It couldn’t have been a better end to a fantastic trip.

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Iceland Day 6

_PGO3445Iceland- GrindavikBuffet style breakfast at the hotel, packed up reluctantly as I really wanted to stay another day to see what kind of shots I could capture at another low light time. We headed to the lagoon and diamond beach for one last visit. The winds were calm and all the ice had totally changed in both locations. Snapped a few shots and spent some time taking in the sights wondering (as I often do) would I ever see this place again? I think the answer here is yes._PGO3417

 

Started our drive back from whence we came. We stopped at the national park where we learned about the glacial flooding from past eruptions and took a great hike up to a falls that had basalt columns as the backdrop which was great and not crowded. After so many sedentary days in the car, it felt great to get out and stretch our legs!  More stops at a couple waterfalls which were more crowded than we cared for as they were on the main tourist bus routes and a long slog to the southeast part of the island.

Half way back we decided to stop and hike out to a plane fuselage that was crashed out on the black sand beach. We started our hike and about 30 minutes into it we were still hiking with nothing but flat land as far as the eye could see. We stopped some toursits that had their phone with a live location on it and realized we weren’t even half way to the wreck! With time at a premium, we turned and headed back to the car….it was a long walk for nothing! A few more stops to photograph interesting structures, some smaller thermal parks, rifling _PGO3450through our music mixes to try to find a fresh song or two to listen to in the car, our hotel was just up the hill from Grindavik (a small industrial fishing town) and sat in a lava field overlooking Iceland’s main geothermal plant. At this point, this was a positioning hotel for airport proximity and close to the Blue Lagoon which was our grand finale event of our trip. I was slightly annoyed at the setting but ended up finding myself staring at the plant through dinner (which was excellent) fascinated with studying it trying to figure out how it all works. Iceland is very proud of their geothermal energy and is the “greenest” country per capita with all their energy coming from geothermal they have the lowest “carbon footprint” of any country. Also, they provide free energy to their people which is pretty damn cool. We ended the night with our last bottle of wine in the lounge with conversation and fretting of going home to crappy weather in Colorado. The night was supposed to be our best chance for northern lights and we told the hotel to wake us if they came but no call came.

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Iceland Day 5

_PGO3335Iceland Glacier CoveThe wind howled all night and continued this morning! Damn. We had a long drive to the southeast part of the island through desolate lands.

We started with a revisit to black rock beach to admire the basalt columns and sea stacks before heading out. A brief battle with the gas system in Iceland (they require chip and pin and while our credit cards now have the chip for whatever reason they still don’t assign pin’s yet so we had to buy prepaid cards to use the system).

Lots of slow driving in a buffeting car (Iceland while it’s desolate, they have a 90km speed limit (about 52ish) _PGO3314and speed cameras to tax the people in a hurry.  Lunch at a gas station café which was the only thing around for miles, more wind, more lava fields, some one lane bridges (and we’re talking LONG bridges here like .25 or .5 mile with pull outs), lots of washed-out flat land (which we later found out was from glaciers melting and flooding the area during volcanic eruptions) and off in the distance, huge mountains and glaciers….way off. A couple waterfalls skipped (we said we’d hit them on the way back when it wasn’t windy) and we continued on towards Glacier cove and diamond beach.

I was hell bent on getting photo’s there regardless of the wind so we checked into the hotel, put on all our clothes, and headed to the lagoon for a few shots and found some quiet spots out of the wind. We were amazed at all the life the glacier supports. Seals and ducks frolicking in the lagoon and I got a couple nice photo’s at both locations. While taking some shots on Diamond "Diamonds" on the beachbeach Suzette noticed whales surfacing just off the coast feeding at the mouth of where the glacier meets the ocean. We enjoyed spending some time watching them as well.

 

Diamond Beach is really cool! Ice from the lagoon washes up due to the currents. The waves then form it into interesting shapes and strip it of all snow and you get these incredible chunks of clear and blue ice sitting on black sand. It’s really a unique spot in the world!

Dinner at the hotel restaurant (was the only restaurant within 45 minutes but food was great) and I dragged Suzette back out to diamond beach at last light to capture some long exposure shots. Worth the trek! There was a photography expedition I had to work around and Suzette hung out in the car but some of my bet shots of the trip came from that adventure.

 

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Iceland Day 4

 

_PGO3280Iceland-VikAfter a late night of looking for lights I am awoken by roosters…at 3:45 am. Seriously? Wife is giggling every time they crow because she knows it drives me crazy. After a few tosses and turns, a pillow over my head, and some fitful sleep between the cacophony of crowing (I don’t know how many roosters they have but it’s WAY more than 1 and I’m convinced they were conspiring against my sleep) we get up and head to breakfast. The proprietor gives us a tour of the sheep barn to show us some newborn lambs (some that came just that morning and were still red) and we head out.

I am amped! To the southern coast we go. The darkest place with the best chance for lights. We have been shut out
_PGO3248thus far! We stop at a smaller river falls on our way out and settle in with music from my phone blaring. (always remember to bring an “Aux” cable when travelling international….then you aren’t subject to local stations) The drive is over old lava fields and other than some interesting moss growing on the older fields there isn’t much to look at….then came the wind. We are talking hold onto your cattle type wind here people. Our little low profile car was shaking everywhere, waterfalls were falling sideways type wind.

We drove past some interesting sights that we vowed to check out when it wasn’t so windy and we headed to a museum which covered getting around Iceland, and communicating to and from Iceland. They had a huge collection of old phones, old vehicles, and was interesting to see many of my old phones on display….am I really
that old? There was also a nice village of traditional homes so you could see how the settlers lived.

_PGO3229From there we went to the hotel and checked in early, I caught up on a bit of work hoping the winds would die (which they didn’t), and we went out to brave the afternoon. Our tour was mostly driving with brief moments out of the car (and some moments like “oh hell no, we’ll come back later” as we watched dust devils whip across the plains). We stopped at a glacier tongue to check it out and could barely make forward progress through the stifling wind that was blowing against us on our hike. We did about a 20 min round trip hike and I snapped about 5 perilous shots (risking lens pitting from sand in the wind) and checked out Skogafoss waterfall because it looked relatively well sheltered and then decided to have wine at the hotel and head to dinner in hopes the wind would settle. We figured we had until 11pm anyway so there was plenty of time._PGO3264

We had a nice dinner of local fare in the town of Vik and headed out to a peninsula to get a viewof sea stacks at low light. The wind had settled! We snapped a few shots and were looking at all these quirky birds flying around and I said to Suzette “Those look like puffins!” I clambered up to the cliffs and sure enough they were everywhere! I got a few great shots thanks to a borrowed super zoom lens from a friend and we headed back to the hotel after a brief stop to try to find a good subject for last light clouds. I had a long night of working to resolve some client issues and headed to bed late. A quick midnight check for lights and nothing….but the wind was back.

 

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Iceland Day 3

_PGO3130-2Iceland-GoldenCircleStarted in the fog and based on Suzette’s research we re-routed the short way to the north part of the peninsula. Drove through GROSS weather over a pass that was a dirt road and muddled through the fog and rain. The peninsula was gorgeous with random water falls strewn throughout. You can’t believe the waterfalls in Iceland. You see 100+ foot waterfalls EVERYWHERE…and they are in some dude’s backyard….literally. Gorgeous waterfall, check…house that looks not much better than a sinle wide set up at the base of it….check. After a brief tour of the northern part of the peninsula we hit another pass and BAM beautiful sunshine! Mountains must have been blocking_PGO3138 the weather to the north.

We backtracked towards Borgarnes for a quick sandwich and coffee at a gas station type café and took the tunnel under the fjord which was a marvel in and of itself. It cut 2 hours off our drive, and went super deep….ear popping deep. 6km long, 1,000 kroner toll (about 8 dollars) and worth it when you are trying to get from point a to b in a hurry. We skirted Reykjavik and _PGO3171headed to the “golden circle” The most famous driving loop in Iceland.

Our first stop was one of the geologic marvels of the world – the place where the Eurasia plate and the Americas plate meet (and are diverging). There is literally a cliff that is one plate and you can walk between the two and stand on 2 continents at once. It’s really compelling to visit. After a hike and some photo’s, we headed to Gullfoss falls: A giant river falls. We were there just in time to catch the falls in full light and after a brief hike and pictures we headed to the last attraction of the day. Geyser. That’s its name and it is what ALL geysers’ are named after. It blows about every 5 minutes and was pretty spectacular! After visiting some mud pots, colorful pools, and getting a nose-full of sulfur, we headed to the hotel.

Suzette found us a farm stay outside of Selfoss which was one of the bigger towns in Iceland. We checked in and headed to town for dinner per the owners’ recommendation. We had a fabulous meal with a river view and headed back to the stay where I ran around like an idiot chasing horses through horse poop mined fields with my camera and tripod trying to capture last light shots just after sunset. The ironic thing was that after all my running around getting shots, last light lasted another 45 mins at least. A phenomenon I haven’t encountered before. A brief hot-tub and glass of wine and we retired.

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Iceland Day 2

 

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Long driIceland-Hellnarving day (but many are in our travels). We headed out to Snaefellsnes peninsula in the northwest part of the island (yea, we couldn’t say it either so we just called it the Snuffleupagus peninsula) to see the glacier over there and check out the national park. Apparently this volcano is known in some circles as a mystical place by those of the new age variety so that in and of itself was amusing.

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We took the long way around the Hvalfjordur Fjord instead of the tunnel that went under and enjoyed the desolate roads and sights.  Snow capped peaks, quiet coves, rugged cliffs, and waterfalls…. everywhere. We stopped mid-day in Borgarnes which is a quaint tiny town for a fantastic lunch of mussels in curry, soup and salad bar, snapped a couple shots in the town, and continued towards Hellnar.

Not too far out of town we saw some of our first Icelandic horses in the distance and I stopped because 2 of them were going at it. I managed to snap a couple of blurry pics of the 2 that were fighting which I didn’t know how rare that was. Every other horse we saw for the rest of the week only moved to itch itself or get to the next patch of grass…. Damn I wish they were in focus! *sigh*

_PGO2990Continuing our drive we were treated to open countryside views, cliff bands, waterfalls, and lava fields but not much else. I guess we didn’t realize how sparsely populated iceland would be. I mean there are some decent towns by the airport and obviously Reykjavik has a fair amount of people but these country sides feel abandoned. You see houses here and there but there is NOTHING out there. All I can think to myself is do these people drive an hour+ to get groceries?

A few more stops at a lighthouse, a church in the middle of nowhere, and abandoned _PGO3034homestead for pictures along the way. Suzette was completely in love with a rogue sheep we found at the homestead and so I spent more time than I should have trying to get the damn thing to look at me so I could get a picture of something other than his butt. I finally got some shots but pretty sure I pissed him off as he started pawing the ground at me.

We arrived at Hellnar early (official population of 8) and sniffed around, hit a black sand beach in the park, lighthouse, sea stacks, and the hotel restaurant for dinner. After dinner it was still light so we went down to the coast for a walk and to see if there was anything exciting to shoot. Suzette managed to find a sheep to chase around to try to get a picture with but then it turned and started coming towards her and she panicked and ran away. Determined to see Northern lights, I stayed up until midnight and headed out to see if I could see any lights….nothing. However, I set up the camera and took a couple pics just in case.

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Iceland Day 1

_PGO2930Long travel day started with a later flight which was nice…at first. I tried Advil PM to force sleep and it just made me groggy
without much success in actual sleep. 6.5 hour flight from Denver taking off at 5pm is not long enough to sleep but with it being a red eye, you are bleary eyed when you arrive. We arrived at 6:30am and were greeted by air stairs to get off the plane. Seriously? In ICE-land? Anyway as I was trying to shake off the Advil PM we stumbled into the duty free store where we bought some beer and wine to have at our stays. When we saw all the local flight crew doing the same, we figured it was a good idea. We had heard food was going to be expensive in general so we tried to prepare appropriately bringing plenty of snacks for the car and buying a few
bottles of wine and beer for evenings. We stayed at the airport to get our bearings and tried to wake up with coffee and food.

Reykjavik was 45 mins from the airport and we drove straight to the hotel. They let us check in early and we decided a nap was in order. An afternoon of walking around the city, lunch at a local recommendation, an interesting history museum about the settlement of Iceland and the trials the people faced in colonizing the land, a cathedral, a church, a walk by the bay to the performing arts center which was quite the building, and we were more than done for the day. Dinner at the Skoggi hotel and bed about 10pm (it was still light).

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Iceland


_PGO3347
_PGO3055After fully intending to head to Peru for our spring adventure, torrential rains in Houston were going to make flying standby near impossible so Suzette decided to plan a last minute trip to Iceland instead. We are talking it was Thursday (and she had a whole trip planned to Peru) and we were flying out Saturday.

Suzette’s mastery of planning got the job done in one (very long) day. Without much time to research, she did “best guess” planning with a little wiggle room in the schedule and the ability to cancel reservations to make sure we could adapt after we got there.

Summary

Iceland is not ice. In fact, other than the glaciers which cover probably 15-20% of the land the climate is much more temperate than I would have thought: It’s like Seattle and the big island of Hawaii had a baby and forgot to add a touch of summer.

There are oceans of lava fields that you drive through_PGO3469
in different parts of the land. There are huge fields of sediment that are left from floods caused by volcano’s melting glaciers and wiping out everything it their paths. That is
contrasted by gigantic glaciers, active volcano’s, fjords, tranquil ocean bays, mountain ranges, more waterfalls than you have probably ever seen. It is a sparsely populated countryside (only about 330,000 people in the entire country) full of livestock, hay fields, and Icelandic horses. They have fantastic fresh water right from the tap and fish is their traditional food resource. The people are incredibly friendly and hard working. Icelanders are no-nonsense, utilitarian people and it shows in everything from architecture to food. We had some great meals but if you ended up in a small town and ate at a local place it was no frills. Food is very expensive but high quality (even the meals we had at gas stations were overall very good) and there was surprising access to fruits and veggies considering most of that is imported. Lodging was relatively reasonable, clean, but no frills. The locals party hard and don’t even hit the bars until midnight. We had personal experience with neighbors in our accommodations keeping the party going with techno and dancing until 7:30am.

_PGO3323What a trip! Iceland surprised me. I was expecting to like it but not love it. I am looking forward to going back when the days are shorter and I have a better chance of getting northern lights pics and sunrise and sunset shots that weren’t at 4am – 10pm respectively. Also, Looking forward to exploring the western Fjords and potentially having a camper van to hang ‘on location’ for first light and last light.

There will be 8 total posts including this one highlighting our days that we were in Iceland with stories and images (and even a video) to go along with the stories. I hope you enjoy them.

A note from the Photographer: It would be impossible for us to explore so many different areas in such a short time and obtain gallery quality images of all these areas. To obtain what I feel are gallery images, one must really absorb the area, find the perfect setting, and then wait for the right light. While I was in the right place at the right time on a couple different occasions and to obtain some gallery images, most of the images I have shared are to help share our trip with you. I hope you enjoy them and our stories!

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Travel

I have decided to add a new section to my site detailing our travels and how I collect the photographs I sell. I find that friends and clients are amused by our stories and so I wanted to create an interactive experience that shares some highlights of our stories along with some of the photo’s that help tell the tale. I hope you enjoy!

Iceland