It's amazing what you can learn from a mini-bus driver with verbal diarrhoea, even one who according to my good friend Wesley could, "Send a glass eye to sleep. But fair do's, we learn a lot from his unrelenting, constant banter during the 6 hours we spend on his little bus as he whisks us through the incredibly picturesque Icelandic landscape. His name is Hershey and he drives mostly on the wrong side of the road but nevertheless he is a veritable mine of information. Icelandic surnames for instance, he tells us all about those, "Unlike most countries where the offspring take on the family surname which is passed down the male side through generations, here in Iceland we take the the first name of the parent - male or female - and add "Son" or "Dottir" on the end". Take as an example someone called, Johann, the son of Olaf, his last name would simply become Olaf'sson, Or, the Icelandic singer Bjork who's last name is Gudmundsdottir, meaning she is the daughter of Gudmund. This is known as the patronymic system of naming which is widespread through Nordic countries.
We also find out from Hershey that Iceland has a population of a mere 319,000 - over 60% of which live in the area around Reykjavic, the capital. Hershey's not his real name by the way, he assures us we wouldn't be able to say that - but "Hershey" is as near as dammit.
..........Oh! and there really is no "C" in the Icelandic alphabet. See - you do learn things on Hersheys' bus..... but given that information you can't help but wonder why they called it Iceland - it should surely be "Ieland"? As it happens Icelanders simply call their country "Island".......Which conveniently gets around their lack of an alphabet "c".
Coming in to land over the Icelandic south coast aboard our Iceland Air Boeing, where's all the ice then....................?
So why Iceland in February? Ask Wesley it was his idea, but as it turns out it wasn't such a bad one. For one thing we may get to see the "Northern Lights"....We don't as it happens, but there's nothing anybody can do about that if they were reluctant to come out to play - even though we'd booked on a very touristy Northern Lights tour bus! In the event we spend over an hour standing on a freezing cold mountainside in the middle of nowhere, in the dead of night with hundreds of other hopefuls (hopefools?) all with cameras poised ready for action, and all for nothing. It's character building stuff though so we mustn't complain.
First impressions of the island as we fly over the south to land at Keflavik Airport, followed by the 30 mile bus ride to our hotel at Reykjavik is, "Pretty damned bleak". However, that opinion is about to undergo a complete change as the 4 of us head into one of the national parks the following morning.
..............Ah! -that'll be the ice right there. Taken out of the bus window on the way to Reykjavik from Keflavik Airport.
It's getting late by the time we arrive at the hotel in the capital, so there's just time for a quick shower before tootling off to find something to eat and drink. Our hotel is just a few minutes walk from the town centre main street but you wouldn't think it was the town centre. There are none of the high rise buildings of commerce or large dept. stores etc here, so strangers could be forgiven for thinking they were in an out of town suburb. It's all very low key as town centres go but all the nicer for it. We stop a local lass to ask her for directions, and a few minutes later find ourselves sitting down in a fine looking Indian restaurant which although quite good with a nice ambience, is expensive and the helpings were too small for what it costs. Lesson learned - find somewhere better value to eat next time.
Wooden scaffolding on a building site
The following morning after breakfast we've a few hours to kill before we're picked up at the hotel for our tour into the wilderness with Hershey and his bus, so we take off for a stroll around Reyjavik. Near the harbour they're erecting the large building shown above, Wesley and me stand for a while wondering why on earth they would use mostly wooden scaffolding - we saw this on several other buildings in Iceland too. Eventually he comes up with the theory that it's most likely something to do with the cold. Metal tubing would be freezing to the touch in the low temps they have there, plus it would contract a lot forcing it to buckle when the milder weather arrived. We're still not sure why they use it but it's a damned fine theory.
Reykjavik is a lovely city for offering it's visitors views like this.
Hallgrimskirkja, the concrete church in Reykjvik named after Icelandic poet
and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson
In this B&W photo, & from this angle the church looks like a space shuttle getting ready to launch
but as It was built between 1945 & 1983 I think it's fair to say that the shuttle probably wouldn't
have figured large in the inspiration behind the design! We'll return here later and get up to the top
of the bell tower to take some photos across the city
There may have been a recent shortage of Northern Lights here, but one thing that Iceland does have in abundance at any time is wide open space - and lots of it. Once out of Reykjavik it's knee deep in snow but incredibly beautiful. Hershey, for all of our mickey taking is a great fella and a very knowlegeable guide. He drives us up to the Ţingvellir National Park (pronounce it "Thingvellir, it's where our modern word "Thing" originates from) and as there are only a handful of us on the bus he asks if we'd like to stop and get out for a walk, so we jump at the chance. After pulling in at a small viewpoint / rest area he gives us directions to where we should go and says he'll drive the bus around and pick us up later. It's truly beautiful here but very slippery underfoot and as we waddle on our way it's quite slow going, but still a fantastic place to walk and breathe in some clear fresh Icelandic air. Thingvallavatn, the biggest Icelandic lake is here in the National Park. Divers come from all over the world to dive in it's crystal waters which are so clear that they can apparently experience some disorientation.
The edge of Thingvalla Lake in the National Park. This is where the very first Icelandic parliament
(The Althing - literally meaning The General Assembly) was set up in the year 930 AD making it one of the world's oldest parliaments
Walking in the Ţingvellir National Park. This is Thingvellir national church and Thingvallabaer, an isolated five-gabled farmhouse which is,
now the official summer residence of Iceland's Prime Minister, it's situated on the banks of The River Oxara
Hershey's bus waiting to pick us up.
The next stop on our little tour is at the Gulfoss waterfall. In winter a lot of it is usually frozen up so to see it at its most dramatic, spring / summer is best. Fortunately for us it's running pretty well today so we see it in all it's glory. It's a spectacular waterfall on the Hvita River, which makes several turns & drops over a few high ledges before one final drop into a 100ft deep crevasse. It's bitterly cold here with an icy, howling wind blasting over the mountains & through the river valley. On warmer, less treacherous days it's possible to walk up-river to see the falls from different angles but today it's so slippery underfoot it would be quite dangerous, plus being exposed to these temperatures for too long without wearing the proper gear wouldn't be a very good idea!
The final and most spectacular stage of the Gulfoss falls. From this angle it looks like the water disappears into the bowels of the earth.
For the final part of our tour, Hershey drives us over to Haukadalur, an area of smouldering and steamy geo thermal activity. The lack of snow and ice is noticeable here, the ground is warm to the touch and water in the many volcanic pools where it collects is piping hot. The Geysers are stupendous, Geysir itself, the largest of those in the Haukadalur area erupts about every 6 - 8 hours and hurls water about 70m into the air, it never erupted while we were there unfortunately. Geysir remained dormant for many years but volcanic activity and an earthquake kicked it off again in the year 2000. The nearby smaller, Strokkur geyser is a bit more reliable though and erupts about every 5 - 10 mins, so we stick around and watch it erupt a few times. It's an impressive & quite spectacular sight to see when it blows.
The process of a geyser (this is Strokkur) eruption goes like this.....
...... Firsty, a vacuum causes the water to be sucked back down the blowhole...........
.........Where it rapidly expands with the geo thermal heat, causing a huge bubble to appear.....
.......Which gets bigger..............
.........Eventually it gives in to the immense pressure and begins to "gush" in a great plume of steam............
.........Finally the full force is released and the water is ejected high into the air, you can see
just how high in comparison to the guy stood next to it.
Geysers are quite a rare geological phenomenon, they occur in only relatively few places on earth, all of them near to active volcanic areas. Iceland is very active volcanically speaking, the latest big eruption being from the, Eyjafjallajökull volcano in 2010. We're actually quite surprised how close this is to Reykjavik - only about 60 miles. Hershey tells us that the Icelanders know they are sitting on a volcanic time bomb but until that day comes, "We just get on with our lives as normal. We can't do anything about the inevitable so why worry about it until it happens" Nice philosophy - ask the folks at Pompeii, they'll tell you all about being fried to crisp in molten lava!
The whole ground area here smoulders with the heat, and the air is heavy with the smell of sulphur. No matter where you are in Iceland you're never far from an underground source of hot water. The power of the geothermal energy is tapped into and utilised very well. This explains it far better than I can - here. The only downside of this is that the water (in our hotel least) smells strongly of sulphur, there were lots of sidewards glances as Wee Jim and me suspected each other of causing the bathroom niff until we realised what it was! She did actually get a bit indignant when I accused her of farting a lot, I thought it may have had something to do with the curry we'd eaten!
Tube slo-mo video of Strokkur erupting
Back in Reykjavik the next morning we take a walk back to the Hallgrimskirkja, so we can go up into the bell tower and hopefully get some photos of the city from above. It's absolutely freezing here but the sunshine's so bright and clear that it more than makes up for the low temperature
It is an interestingly designed church but the fact it's made of concrete loses it brownie points, there's also something
about it aesthetically that just doesn't gel with me
The view from the tower is quite good though, I like the way the shadow cast by the church steeple mirrors the
road in this shot....pure serendipity...... Or is it?
The city pond, still half frozen. Note the rooves of the houses, the Icelanders like to paint them in jolly colours it seems.
I love the optimism of the marketing here. First their volcano spews it's ash all over
Europe bringing air travel to a complete standstill, then they try to flog us more of it....
.....in a jar!! You have to admire their cheek!
That's easy for them to say!
Sculpture made from volcanic magma, near the harbour in Reykjavik
If Carlsberg made fish 'n chip restaurants then they'd make them like this - probably! The best fish 'n chips you'll find anywhere.
Reykjavik street furniture
Iceland has to be one of the most incredible & fascinating places I've ever visited on my travels, in fact we all loved it. The short time we spent here just wasn't enough to get more than a mere taste of the culture and spectacular scenery. Having to use the "holidaymaker" tours went against the grain a little, it's not something that we usually do but it was the most effective way of using our time on this trip to see as much as possible in a few short days. Plus of course there was Hershey our guide to the national park who was a bit "off the wall" - which suited us just fine. He turned what could have been a mediocre run out to the tourist areas into a lot of fun. The plan is to return here in the not too distant future, but next time hire our own vehicles and get up to the northern & western parts of the island & off the beaten track a bit in an attempt photograph it properly, our appetite has been whetted. We've also been talking about maybe getting a flight over to Greenland from Iceland if possible.
Cameras used on this trip were:
My Canon 550D DSLR & a borrowed (from my lad) Panansonic TZ6 compact
Wesley's Panasonic G1 DSLR & his an old Pentax nuclear bomb proof, waterproof & Wesleyproof compact that he found somewhere years ago & still takes beltin' photos!
flew out there with Iceland Air, who were very good, and for an airline company
incredibly prompt. Our hotel was the Fosshotel Baron, which was ok but a bit
basic. On the upside it was close to both the waterfront and the town centre
bars and resturants.
Finally a photo from Wesley's
I love his pano shot of the view out over the harbour at Reykjavik to the
For me this one shot sums up our trip to Iceland perfectly.............bloody freezin' :o)
For more photos of
Iceland and other travel / motorsport photographs visit my photography website
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