March 28, 2016

Iceland: apparently I never actually posted anything but Reykjavik?!

I would have bet (and lost) some serious cash money that I had written a second post about Iceland, but the archives don't lie. I realize no one but future-me has been waiting with bated breath for this, but future-me will indeed want to see these pictures, so apologies, current-everyone-else! Not at all timely trip recap post ahoy!

I know I mentioned it in my other post, but the fact that there are only a few hours of daylight in Iceland in January was both really hard to get used to, and at the same time really easy to get used to, since there wasn't anything you could do about it. But I did amuse myself by taking photos to timestamp the progression of daylight while there, since it was so foreign.

For example, here is a shot from our tour bus as we picked up folks around the city for a Golden Circle tour, at full-on 9am:

Reykjavik, 9:00am :)

By 10:30am, the sun had started to rise while the moon set:

...and daybreak with the setting moon, at 10:30am.

And this is about an hour later, with the sun as fully up as it was going to get:

Sunrise complete

That pinkish glow just.. stayed. All the time. It was incredible.

Our first stop was a town called Hveragerdi, which is (I think?) the only town in the world built entirely on a geothermal hot spring. There are literally columns of steam rising from cracks in the ground throughout the tiny town - like, just in people's yards, or on the side of a hill - and like most of Iceland, the entire town is run on geothermal power. I have virtually no good pictures of this, since we rolled through town in the bus and it was still pretty dark, but the picture above with the setting moon is from just outside the town, and you can see the steam just sort of randomly pouring from the ground. There's even a restaurant there that cooks the food entirely using steam - not, like, with steam POWERED ovens, actually cooks the food IN the steam. That is on the list to try if we ever go back.

Our next stop was the Faxi waterfall (which means horse's mane, named after the appearance of the falls). It was VERY COLD AND WINDY here.

The wind was NOT PLAYING AROUND out here.

Chris + Faxi. Still freezing.

But see how it looks like sunset even though it was like 11am? It actually made for challenging photos, since I always wanted to capture the brilliantly-colored sky at the same time as whatever I was actually taking a picture of in the foreground (and I need more photography chops to do that effectively) but it's hard to screw up these views too badly no matter what you're doing.

The sky remained stunning. There's something to be said for the quality of light when the sun only rises partway into the sky every day.

Next up was another waterfall, Gullfoss:

This one is somewhat unique since the two tiers of the falls are at a nearly 90* angle from each other.

This one is famous because it's apparently quite rare for falls to make a 90⁰ turn between two tiers of the ravine like this:

It was EVEN COLDER here. Painfully, amazingly, cold.

If I thought it was cold at Faxi... I was wearing two pairs of pants, two wool sweaters, a giant winter coat, and snowboots here at Gullfoss, yet felt like I was wearing nothing more than a pair of cotton pajamas, the way the wind cut right through me. After a few photos (me: "GOOD ENOUGH!") we beelined it inside for some incredibly wonderful lamb soup to warm up.

You know what's good? INSIDE. With delicious lamb stew to warm you up.

After lunch we hit one of the most famous stops on the Golden Circle tour: Geysir park, home to the original & famous geyser (literally named "Geysir") that unfortunately does not regularly erupt anymore... but also home to many smaller and more regularly-erupting geysers for the viewing pleasure of tourists.

The main geyser (actually named "Geysir") used to be the main attraction, but has stopped erupting in recent years.

It smelled VERY strongly of sulfur here. Overwhelmingly, nearly gaggingly so, if one happened to be, say, around 8 weeks pregnant at the time.

Strokkur is now the main attraction, erupting about 30 meters into the air every 7 minutes or so:


Because the water erupting from the geysers is literally boiling, it causes an interesting (and slippery) dynamic around the park: the ground just below Strokkur was covered in standing water from the frequent eruptions, but everywhere nearby that wasn't getting doused in boiling water every 7 minutes was just covered in a nice thick layer of slippery ice from the runoff.

Icicles on the rope around Strokkur

I fell a lot. Chris did a lot of arm-grabbing-and-hoisting to keep me from slamming into the ice too badly.

As we had been driving around the countryside all day, we routinely passed fields full of adorable, shaggy Icelandic ponies. We asked our driver if we could stop to get a better picture of them at some point.

Some of the Icelandic ponies we'd been seeing from the bus all day. I wish we could get closer....

Boy, did he deliver. He pulled over next to a fence at the side of the road and called out to the horses, who all came trotting obediently over to the fence, hoping for treats.

Oh hello! Yes I'll pet you too! Although all he really wanted was snacks.

They were super docile and friendly

They all also had snow and ice matted into their coats. They didn't seem bothered.

Chris and a pretty black

It was so awesome.  They were adorable and wild and shaggy and had chunks of ice and snow woven throughout their manes and coats and didn't seem bothered by it in the slightest. I really wish we had had some apples or something as thanks for letting us get so close and pet their sweet faces.

By this point it was getting late in the day, in terms of sunlight (you know, like, 3:30) so we hopped back into the bus to try and hit one more sight, Thingvellir National Park.

Incidentally, this is what virtually all roads we were travelling on looked like. This was not a "bad" road; it was apparently just the normal state of roads in the winter.

This was the general condition of the roads all day, incidentally.

None of the cars or buses or vans had chains on their tires or any apparent special snow/ice equipment. Everyone just.. drove on the roads like this, at normal speeds, and did fine. Coming from the DC Metro area, which shuts down schools for weeks at a time at the faintest suggestions of snow, rain, or ice... well, color me impressed, Icelanders.

By the time we arrived at Thingvellir, we were catching the very last of the daylight ( like, 4pm) and the landscape took on a stunning monochromatic aura as a result:

Entering Thingvellir National Park

We hiked up a short pass through the hills to the site of Iceland's first Parliament, established here in 930 (and where it remained until 1798!).

Walking up through a rocky pass in the very last of the daylight

That last photo is after manipulating the saturation and exposure in the original to normally unheard of levels in order to eke out the very last of the light and colors available in the near-darkness.

And.. that's it. We were only there for two days and two nights, mainly in an effort to see the Northern Lights - which didn't happen. The first night out we had ostensibly perfect conditions, with reports of activity to the north of us, but the lights never migrated south enough for us to see them. I specifically booked us on a tour that would allow us to try again another night if the lights were a no show, but by night two I was so exhausted from jetlag and cold (and being 8 weeks pregnant!) that I couldn't handle the thought of spending another night freezing my tuchus off instead of snuggling in a warm bed and getting some desperately needed rest. So after we got back from the tour, we warmed up with a quick nap and then had a lovely, quiet dinner in downtown Reykjavik before packing up and heading to the airport at an ungodly hour the next morning.

I'd absolutely, totally go back. Just maybe in the summer, next time. :)

This was the birthplace of the Icelandic parliament? Or something? I fell asleep during this part.


  1. Ponies!!!! PONIES PONIES PONIES!!!!!

    The light and sky and everything is just lovely, and I'm sorry about the sulfur smell, BUT LOOK AT THE PONIES! Hashtag: heart eyes!


    PS The seeming lack of ability of the east coast to function during snow storms baffles me. Rocky Mountain winters routinely drop a foot or two overnight in the populated valleys, and yet I have had exactly one snow day (K-12, college, or post-college work) in my whole life. I just...I do not understand.


  2. Wow! Super beautiful! I'm not sure that I would go in the dead of winter, but Iceland has been on my bucket list for a while and some day I will get there!

  3. The photos are stunning! It looks like it was a great trip.

  4. It looks so gorgeous over there, even in fuuhhhreeezing temps. I'm still sad you weren't able to bring back one of the ponies. You even have the backyard space now for one!

  5. OK, this is awesome. The ponies!! I really want to go there now. Also, I would guess that people had snow tires, despite the lack of chains, and probably most of them have all-wheel drive as well. Europeans are usually pretty hardcore about snow driving equipment (snow tires are actually legally required in Germany), and those roads look nasty.