Iceland 2016 A winter trip

This was the first extended trip I've taken without Mike since we were married 19 years ago. Iceland has been on my wish list for a long time and I had looked at many different workshops before signing up for the one I took. It turned out to be quite different than I had imagined it would be but for reasons totally beyond anyone's control but it was a fantastic time and I am scheming a return visit.

Day 1

When I arrived at the hotel it was too early to check into my room, so I left my luggage with the incredibly helpful person at the desk and headed off into the gray 6 AM Sunday morning in Reykjavik.

I was captivated by the colorful doors and buildings in the area near the hotel and with the overcast skies it was good urban photography, especially since at that hour of a Sunday there were so few people out.

The District Court of Reykjavik, a short walk from where I was staying before the workshop started.
Window and reflection, Iceland District Court, many places had graffiti, this was one of the few that covered it up.
Restaurant Doors
That first step down is an ankle breaker.

One of the places I had researched was the statue of the Sun Voyager located on Sæbraut, it is an iconic sculpture that just happened to be a very cold, very windy 15 minute walk from my hotel, but it helped keep me awake.

The Sun Voyager

It was only a 5 hour flight, but coupled with a 5 hour time change and being up early the morning before to take Mike to the airport for his flight out, I was tuckered and it was only 10 AM. I went back to Centre Hotel Thingholt thinking to take a nap on their couch until my room could be ready but they surprised me with having a room for me. I think it was because I didn't freak out that my room wasn't ready like the woman in front of me did when I first got to the hotel. The room was so pretty, I think it was an upgrade.

The "living room" workspace, nice and airy. I don't think I ever sat on the couch

Really comfortable bed and super soft, really warm comforter. It took me about 5 seconds to fall asleep once I got in the room.

The bath was great, you can't really see it but the sink was really cool with the spout coming out like a little waterfall

Room selfie in the floor lamp. Everything was modern, minimal and above all really clean.

A short nap turned into most of the day and daylight had pretty much burned out by the time I woke up and it was time to plan the next day's outing. My original plan had been to hire a guide for the next day and go to a few of the places I had researched, such as the Golden Circle, then after the workshop follow up on that with a rental car and a few days of driving back to some of the spots that I wanted to spend some more time at. Unfortunately the guide I had hired was injured in an accident the week before the trip so I was left with a day I had not planned for. I knew I had a day scheduled to wander around Reykjavik and I didn't want to end up in a massive group tour so I booked a tour to the Reykjanes peninsula. After a fine introduction to the amazing Arctic Char it was lights out for me

The yummy Arctic char, more flaky and flavorful than Salmon and freshly caught

Day 2

Infrared image of Strandarkirkja "The Miracle Church"

I picked my tour wisely. Every other tour leaving from the depot was on a giant bus packed to the gills, the one I took had 4 other people in a small mini-bus. The driver was incredibly knowledgeable having grown up on the peninsula and the drive took us around a goodly part of the area and I made note of some of the areas I wanted to return to when I had the rental car after the workshop was over.

Strandarkirkja graveyard and the fisherman's monument in Infrared.
Another view of the Strandarkirkja in Infra Red. The clouds were fabulous.

We moved on to the Seltún geothermal area. The water below the ground is 200 degrees Celsius and comes out of the ground boiling which creates mud pots and fumaroles. The minerals deposits from the constantly churning ground have left colorful deposits which were a marked contrast to the white snow colored hills around the area.

The Seltún geothermal area. There is a nice boardwalk that goes around the area.

It got really busy after we got there, a pair of large tour buses pulled up and the boardwalk got a little too crowded to shoot.

Unfortunately some people are self-centered and careless about what they do with their trash no matter how beautiful, pristine and remote a place is. As I was waiting to try to get a little mud plop come up from this little vent a man behind me flicked his cigarette butt onto the ground.

Why do some people have to ruin beautiful things for everyone?
I turned around and found this beautiful, if stark, view of the road and hills covered in snow

I hoped to come back to the area on one of my "driving" days, hopefully early enough to avoid the large number of people and to visit lake Grænavatn, which has teal colored water. I didn't make it, but it's on my list of places for when I go back.

We stopped at Grindavik harbor for lunch at Bryggjan Cafe. They don't have much on the menu but the lobster soup, although really expensive (like all food in Iceland it seemed), was amazing.

This little cafe gets a well deserved 4.5 rating from Trip Advisor

From Grindavik we headed off to Gunna Geyser and the Reykjannes Lighthouse. Gunna's Geyser is the most well known and most visited geyser in Iceland. The story was told to us by our driver and was also on a sign at the beginning of the boardwalk.

I know they say you can hear the sounds she makes when she's about to fall in to the geyser but all I could hear was the wind as it froze my nose.
For a long time this was a beautiful hot spring with colorful pools but it became "angry" around the year 2008 and 300° C mud began boiling out and destroyed some of the boardwalks that surrounded the geyser area. The area was closed for a few years and reopened in 2010. In the distance you can see one of the geothermal power plants that convert the abundant steam to energy for the country. In the foreground you can see somebodies contribution to the colorful nature of the area :(.

The boardwalk also made a nice viewing spot for the Reykjanes lighthouse, it is Iceland's oldest lighthouse and once sat closer to the ocean but storms and earthquakes destroyed it, it was rebuilt on this hill and serves as the landfall light for Keflavik and Reykjavik.

Reykjanesviti, you can get an idea of the size of the lighthouse by comparing it to the small red dot on the road in front. That was a very tall man and his companion walking along the road.

Our next, and last stop was Midlina, the rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are being pulled apart at the rate of 2.5 centimeters per year. This is happening deep under the ocean floor but above ground there is a rift cutting across the country where the rock formations are split by this (slowly) growing fissure. The Leif-the-Lucky (or Miðlína) bridge stretches across the rift. If you walk all the way across the bridge you can get a personalized certificate saying that you walked all the way from Europe to America. I was too busy taking pictures of the moon-like landscape and the locks on the bridge to do that.

The view halfway between Europe and America
Love Locks. From Wiki "The history of love padlocks dates back at least 100 years to a melancholic Serbian tale of World War I, with an attribution for the bridge Most Ljubavi (lit. the Bridge of Love) in the spa town of Vrnjačka Banja. A local schoolmistress named Nada, who was from Vrnjačka Banja, fell in love with a Serbian officer named Relja. After they committed to each other Relja went to war in Greece where he fell in love with a local woman from Corfu. As a consequence, Relja and Nada broke off their engagement. Nada never recovered from that devastating blow, and after some time she died due to heartbreak from her unfortunate love. As young women from Vrnjačka Banja wanted to protect their own loves, they started writing down their names, with the names of their loved ones, on padlocks and affixing them to the railings of the bridge where Nada and Relja used to meet."

I returned to Reykjavik in the middle of the day and after a nice dinner I went for a walk. I'd heard that Reykjavik was an amazingly safe city to walk around at night and I put it to the test, wandering the city for a few hours talking with people and enjoying the beauty.

Okay, maybe it wasn't the nicest of dinners but it was inexpensive.
Reykjavik at Night. Taken from across the partially frozen Tjörnin in Reykjavik. Tjörnin is a lake near the center of Reykjavik that is often called "The Pond" It is home to over 40 species of water birds including Greylag goose, Eider and Artic Terns and is a hot spot for birders.
Greylag geese at night. I was really pushing it with my ISO at 8000 and catching the flash from someones camera. There were plenty of people there feeding the geese and ducks, even at 11pm on a Monday night.
My wandering eventually brought me to Hallgrímskirkja, the big Lutheran church in Reykjavik. The church is named after Hallgrímur Pétursson who wrote the Passion Hymns, a set of 50 poetic texts exploring the Passion of Christ. It is the 6th tallest structure in Iceland (4 of the others being radio transmitters, and one being a retail and office building). I had a great night of clouds for long exposures and this is a blend of 6 images the longest being 25 seconds long. (and no matter how prepared I try to be something gets left behind, that night it was my cable release so I was stuck with a maximum of 30 seconds for an exposure).
It was time to get back and pack. The next day was the start of the workshop and pickup time was 8AM. I took a few (more) shots on my way back to the hotel.

Day 3

Finding decaffeinated coffee is hard in some places, I haven't drank regular coffee for years, and it's always a challenge when I go places that don't serve it, or when it comes like this. And this was only in Reykjavik. It was non-existent where we stayed on the workshop. I did break down and had regular coffee once a day for the rest of the trip. Who needs to sleep anyhow?

This was probably Kava, it definitely wasn't coffee.

Packed up, ready to go and waiting

I would definitely stay at Centerhotels Thingholt again. I wish I had booked this for after the workshop too, but I wanted to try someplace different.

As I was waiting I caught up on my emails. One caught my attention - it was from my workshop leader, date stamped 1 hour before, he had developed a severe problem with his foot and couldn't stand, walk or drive. He had a plan B though and had an Icelandic friend of his who runs a tour company drive us around. His hope was that he could meet up with us 2 days into our 5 day workshop and take over. Unfortunately that didn't happen and his friend drove us around the entire time. It wasn't what we expected, and I think all of us had signed up in the hopes of getting some instruction, but it was still a good time and we all got along well. Aside from the driver there were four of us, David, Andrea, Lance and I. David and Lance and I had a good deal of experience, Andrea not as much, but she was game and we all helped each other out during the times we were shooting and when we got back to the guesthouse at night.

After we all were together in what I thought then was a really big 4X4 SUV we set out towards our base of operations Guesthouse Hali. Yep, there will be an obligatory picture of me with the sign, I don't know many people who spell my name the way I do and it was pretty wild to stay somewhere named "after" me. The next five days were busy!

Our first stop was Skogafoss. It was a cloudy, overcast morning but we were enthralled. It was also full of people so getting a shot like this took an incredible amount of patience. We didn't stay too long, we had places to see and many kilometers to go. On a clear day you can get a rainbow over the waterfall, this was not one of those days but the beauty of the waterfall was amazing.
Just before we left I was able to get this one other image with a single person standing to the side, it shows you the immensity of the falls.
Then it was off to see the famous sea stacks at Vik. Reynisfjara beach is probably the most dangerous beach in Iceland due to the rouge waves that come up unexpectedly and the tourists who insist on going out to the waters edge despite the number of signs that warn against it. We weren't going anywhere near the water this day, it was incredibly windy, and it was snowing so hard that our jackets were covered with nearly an inch of snow and sleet in the short time we stopped at the beach, I think we spent less than 20 minutes there it was so inhospitable. I did see some other tourists headed towards the cave (that you can not see on the left of the image) which is something that is warned against on the signage. It is another place that is on my list to return to someday.
The next stop was another beautiful little roadside waterfall at Foss á Siðu which means waterfall at Siðu. It is not one of the tallest or a heavy flowing waterfall and with the cold of winter the ice that built up on the bottom occluded the stream bed it feeds. Interestingly if the winds are strong enough off the ocean it will cause the water to flow up the waterfall. The small structure on the hillside I believe is used during spring and summer when the sheep roam the hillside.
Then it was on to our last stop the Svínafellsjökull glacier. The day was still dark, with low clouds but I loved the moodiness. A panoramic view of the glacial area right off the road.
The glacier in InfraRed. Not much color since the ice and sky absorbs much of the IR light rendering them dark while the snow and the lower clouds are white.
I loved the colors, the amazing blues of the ice and the black striations from the rock and lava of eons past that have been compressed into the ice
Our merry band of photographers. L-R Standing: Me, David, Andrea and Lance kneeling.
The jaw dropping beauty of this place, with David "watching" our bags and tripods, as if they needed to be watched. That dark spot on the ice in the upper third is a photographer from another group.

We continued the journey to Guesthouse Hali. It was a nice, rustic place. We had one of the guest houses pretty much to ourselves. Each one of us in our own room

It would be hard to lose this room key
I highly recommend the Arctic Char with Mango Chutney or the Lamb

Day 4

We started off the next morning visiting the beach at Jökulsárlón where the icebergs wash up after breaking off from the glacier in the lagoon. There weren't that many icebergs, and most of the pieces of ice were pretty small but they were like little gems especially with the sun coming up over the ocean. It is also not easy photography and it's always imperative to keep an eye on the ocean since you never know when a bigger wave than expected will come in and knock you or your tripod down.

A few shots of the ice pieces on the beach.

Then we were off to have breakfast and continue with the day which included a trip to an ice cave. But before we headed to the ice cave we stopped to visit with some Icelandic horses that were hungry for some treats.

The beautiful Icelandic horse. According to a recent census there are about 80,000 Icelandic horses on the Island ans compared to @317,000 people. Most are kept for showing and racing and a lot still work herding sheep. Icelandic horses exhibit two more gaits than other horses - there is the Tölt which is a very rapid, ambling gait that can be kept up for a long period of time and is very comfortable for the rider. There is also the flying gait or the skeið which is seen in pacing competitions. Not all Icelandic horses can perform the flying gait but all can do the Tölt.

We headed back along the ring road towards Jökulsárlón to shoot some landscapes, which were jaw dropping in every direction. We had beautiful blue skies against the snow colored mountains, a partially frozen river, pretty much a photographers dream, if you like cold weather.

No matter where you looked it was beautiful
Panoramically beautiful

We spent a while there, photographing the mountains, the wildlife and each other photographing the mountains and the wildlife.

Clockwise - Andrea, Lance, David and a few reindeer. The females are the ones that still have their antlers.

Then it was off to the ice cave. We thought that our guide, Hörður, had a big car, that was nothing compared to the ones that took us to the staging area to go to the ice cave.

Hörður's car on the left and the monster that took us out onto the glacier on the right.

After getting our safety gear (rock climbing helmets and ice spikes for those that didn't have them) we got on even bigger vehicles (that I don't have a picture of) and off to the ice cave we went. And found probably 3 other groups with 25-30 other people there. It was really difficult to photograph around all those people but we all managed to come away with some good shots.

Inside the ice cave, including a shot of me, courtesy of David.
These are closeups of the ice. It's hard to conceptualize but the ice was smooth, all of that texture was embedded inside the ice wall.

We returned to the Guesthouse Hali after our trip to the cave and set back out to catch some late light at Jökulsárlón Lagoon. The lagoon was pretty amazing with the glacial ice creeping down into it. A lot of the ice was locked up still from the cold weather which made for some dramatic images and the sky was doing the Iceland thing - cloudy and slightly rainy one minute, sun shining down the next, in other words it was perfect! People though amaze me. There were signs all over to stay off the ice that it was thin by the shore, but people just had to walk out on the ice. I only saw one person fall in, and that was up to their knee, but I'm sure it happens a lot more than that.

Jökulsárlón Lagoon, late in the day. We saw a bunch of seals as we came in. They hadn't moved much by the time we left either.

Day 5

Day 5 was over cast and snowing in the morning. And after a nice breakfast at the guesthouse we headed off for the most southeastern point in Iceland - Vesturhorn. But first some more of the Icelandic Horses. One of my to see things was the horses, and I certainly got to see quite a few.

The Sturdy Icelandic Horse.

Our next stop was an abandoned farm house. It was a good thing we had ice spikes with us, no way we could have gotten near this without them, the ground was one solid sheet of ice.

Abandoned farmhouse. The skies really were incredible every day we were there. The cloud formations were fantastic, even if it was snowing and windy. I'm so used to gray featureless skies when it is snowing or raining, it was so amazing to see such texture and color even in poor weather.
Andrea staying a safer distance away than I did. The type of ice spikes you have makes a huge difference. The little nobby ones are good but aren't up to the hike across the ice, at least not while carrying a bunch of camera equipment.
Our next stop was another abandoned building just up the road. Many abandoned places had some type of graffiti, but this was some of the best I saw.

And then there were more horses!

I think we were all a bit horse crazy, everyone wanted to stop for them.

And then finally to Vesturhorn

What an amazing place it was. Black sand beach, these hummocks of sea grass. It just begged for a shot in Infrared. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.
And in normal spectrum, from a slightly different vantage point.
After lunch we started back towards Stoksness with a few stops on the way. Here we stopped to take some shots along the coast.
And another shot to see some more horses. Okay, I'll probably not include too many more Icelandic horse shots. Probably, but not promising. I've always been a bit horse crazy and these horses are just so different and wonderful, even when they are eating my hair and hat as I crouch down to take the shot. There was actually a set of a Viking village near here but I did heed the sign that said please no pictures.

We continued to drive around the area near Vesturhorn waiting for the sun to set to get some "blue hour" shots and hoping that there would be some aurora action. The aurora forecast was for a slight chance but we were dressed warm and ready to wait it out.

From l-r. The Viking Cafe near the beach overlooking Vesturhorn, some old whale bones on another beach down the coast and a van that has seen better days.
And then back to Vesturhorn to catch some beautiful light. From lowering light, to blue hour to a little bit of the aurora. It was pretty darn cold out there and it was a 2 hour drive back to the guesthouse so we called it quits around 10pm. I think all of us except Hörður, our guide and driver, slept most of the way back.

Day 6

Another early morning trip out to Jökulsárlón Beach this time we were rewarded by a spectacular sunrise, unfortunately there still weren't many icebergs on the beach and I had the unpleasant experience of being knocked into a wave by someone from another group (unintentionally) and ended up with water in my boots despite my gaiters.

A shot before the sun actually broke the horizon, not much for the foreground but the color was spectacular. A shot of part of the ice paraparazzi, just after I got wet.
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Hali Sowle


© Hali J. Sowle 2016 all rights reserved

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