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Friday, April 21, 2017

Glaciers and Other Icy Icelandic Things

Robin's egg  blue glacier
Cod liver oil

Today we loaded up the car, then hit the hotel's dining room for its continental breakfast. There was a delicious and vast array of food, suitable for the timid and the daring. Cereals, eggs, sausages, two kinds of herring and loads of freshly sliced fruit.
I was brave, daring a swig of Icelandic cod liver oil that sat with beckoning shot glasses along side the varied breakfast fare. It was surprisingly good, fresh and light while having zero fish taste. Nice to easily get in one's spring tonic for 2017.

Eldhraund Lava Field
Breakfast over, we headed onto the road to resume the drive past amazing scenery of ice and former fire, such as the Eldhraund lava fields, composed of lava rock overgrown with thick green moss. The field originated with the Lakagígar eruption - of the 'Laki' volcanic system - from the 1700s.
To approach glacier, step one is cross the one lane wooden bridge
Erdhardt Lava Field
 After studying the beautiful lumpy green expanses that covers acres and acres, we drove on, stopping to visit the Svínafellsjökull Glacier located 2 klm from the main road.
Ila photographs the glacier on the drive to face it 'one on one'

The road down to the Svínafellsjökull Glacier had a bold sign, warning the road sucked. But we
gingerly drove down to the glacier and back which made us bold. So we started often veering off the Ring Road to drive out and look at what side treks from the area had to offer.

Waterfalls continued to be discovered, putting on loud & incredible displays of plummeting water.

This poor waterfall had no name, I shall call it... 'Squishy'!
An Icleandic mesa, no doubt stolen from New Mexico

Far off, a bridge was spotted, and and crossing it put one in a parking lot with melting glaciers
Melting glacier field
Crowds in the distance park and view the melting glacier
Iceland Gull sails by
Harbor Ringed Seals swam about
Harbor Ringed Seal 'on the rocks'
The big treat - for us birders - were rafts of Common Eiders, paddling about.

Some Eiders 'on the rocks' too
The glacier area was melting and running into the ocean. The beach was just walking distance away.

It was difficult saying 'bye bye' to the eiders
We hadn't been more than two minutes from the glacier field when I shrieked due to unexpected wildlife - or semi-tame domestic critters? Am still not totally sure.


Like I said, Wow. Was not expecting domestic Reindeer or wild Caribou, whichever they are. The herd wasn't far from some more obviously domesticated sorts.

Yes, more Icelandic Ponies/Horses
We had already picked and booked our hotel for the night, and we began to search for it. Search for one thing in Iceland, and find more of these sorts of things, youngsters in this case.

Second 'hit' of wild caribou or domestic reindeer

There was something 'youngish' about these deer
We eventually found our hotel, which it seems is a brand new enterprise, still pretty much under construction. We were a bit worried about it but the room we got was new, and again, clean & comfy. With our luggage all stowed away safely, we took a drive further along to a little coastal town, Höfn. We're in southeastern Iceland, so we've come a long way.
The name Höfn means 'Harbor'
Ila might have been a triffle bored - I didn't ask her -  but for me Höfn was AWESOME! That is because the harbor and surrounding fields had many interesting birds.

Another of these beauties - European Golden Plover
Meadow Pipit
a colorful Redwing 

At a marsh next to the harbor, a Common Snipe busily hunted worms and such.

It doesn't seem like a trip to me if I don't see and photograph animals. After enjoying the harbor, the day ended with dinner at Pakkhús, a restaurant. Meals in Iceland are wildly expensive, with a modest meal costing around $40 - $50 or more. On the bright side, wait staff in Iceland are paid full salaries so they do not depend on tipping. In Iceland tipping truly is optional. I wish we had that system in the States.
Ila enjoying dinner after a glacier & waterfall packed day
And now for a final look at today's waterfalls and some ice. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

And On To Iceland

I've long wanted to take advantage of Iceland Airline's offer that if you fly Iceland Air, you can stay up to 7 days in Iceland on the way to or from Europe. Finally I been able to do so with my travel buddy Ila on our way from Scotland prior to heading home to the States. Our goal is to drive Iceland's Ring Road that circles the country - a bucket list goal.

It was a short flight over from Glascow, and we didn't know what we'd do if we landed in Iceland only to encounter crap weather. On hitting Reykjavik Airport, the air was nippy with only light snow flurries. Hurrah! We stayed at Raven's, a cute nice Bed & Breakfast for the night and the next morning we drove to the southeast.

We'd been on the road a whole five minutes when I made my first 'BIRD!' stop. European Golden Plovers loitered.

When I got a few photos we got back on the road. The scenery was covered with what I like to call 'designer snow', meaning just enough snow to make things look their best. 

 We drove past a hum-drum spot or 2, but even they had snow capped mountains in the distance to cheer up the locals a bit.

There were lots of buildings around that looked like farms, only no crops and no animals. I believe I just don't recognize the Icelandic version of small towns &/or business concerns when I see them.

The Ring Road took us past the tiny town of Vik with it's big church up on a hill. If one of the local volcanoes goes off, the villagers are read to race for the church. The church is high enough the villagers won't drown when the snow covered mountains cause lava induced flash flooding... or so it is believed anyway.
The rustic Vic Church overlooking the tiny town of Vik, Iceland's southernmost village

Reynisdranga: the 'sea stacks' on the shores of Vik

Hurrah for us, finding a little wool work-shop with many sheep based products at hand and next door a little artist studio.  The building must have been a farm building at some time in the past. It certainly looked ancient and it had outbuildings that blended into the scenery.

Spinning wheels, yarns, raw wools, pelts & knit goods for sale
Natural un-dyed woolen yarns
I got my first glimpse of Icelandic Ponies on their home turf, seeing a little group of school girls
jogging along behind their riding instructor.

Meeting all the International Requirements for cuteness
I was driving but must admit my eyes were as busy birding as watching the road. Didn't take long before I was pulling off road to photograph the wild things.
Newbie species for me - Pink-footed Geese

Graceful Whooper Swans were scattered about everywhere we drove.
We found the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which erupted in 2010. Placards discussed the eruption in - well, mostly in Icelandic. We could see distant farm buildings and a photo taken while said buildings were in the shadow of the lava spewing Eyjafjallajökull. For the better part of a week in 2010, the  volcano kept much of Europe's jets and planes on the ground and devastated the air quality.
The placard on the right shows the distant farm buildings during the eruption

Along the road, we found Seljalandsfoss, a spectacular waterfall  that didn't seem to like staying in one spot. 

Next we headed for the v. popular 'Black Sand Beach'  or in Icelandic is 'Reynisfjara'. I would bet no one swims on this beach much. Today it was so cold and windy that when I exhaled the wind seemed determined to shove my breath right back into my lungs. The whole area looked to me to be stolen bits from the United States: the basaltic columns of rock were from Wyoming's Devils Tower, the black sand was from Hawaii and the beach itself was a piece nicked from California's Point Reyes. It was all one confusing conglomeration of nature. 
Headed towards the beach
When not trying to blow away out to sea, all admire the massive wall of five-sided hexagonal basalt rocks. The columns sit like giant Lego blocks rising up to the sky. Just off shore there sits a v. amusing tower of basalt rock that gives the giggles to those - like me - with their minds in the gutter.
Black Sand Beach, known for its sand & the giant [censored] just off shore
Basalt Columns
It is said the columns may be Trolls that in daylight turned to stone
We had a late lunch at a little restaurant at the beach. Below you may see where we parked, by a parking lot sign warning that the Black Sand Beach was going to MURDER you if you turned your back on it

As was true for the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, and cliffs over the Black Sand Beach, gray and white Northern Fulmars were present, flying around gull-like and nesting lazily on the cliffs overhead. I've seen plenty of Fulmars but always at sea. It seemed flat out bizarre to see them hanging around on very-nearly-dry land.
Gull-like Northern Fulmars (small petrels)

We about had our fill of the Ring Road for the day when we spotted the sign for our hotel and drove up a mountain road to our hotel.

Our room was simple, particular in comparison to our previous night at the Bed & Breakfast. It was clean and comfy too.

Super simple twin beds and Danish Modern type furniture with desk
My favorite bit of the room was the window... because outside was a splendid sweep of snow dusted countryside.

The view out our hotel's window
And the view only improved when a huge flock of foraging European Golden Plovers arrived to run up and down in the pasture. Delightful for me indeed.
Ending the day, as it had begun....
with a few more European Golden Plovers