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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

[UPDATE: In Game of Thrones, the area around Vik was used in season 2, to film sweeping panoramas of Jon Snow traveling beyond the Wall. ]

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

[UPDATE: Game of Thrones (GoT) filmed several scenes Iceland. The Black Sand Beach - shown earlier in this blog post - was used in beach landing scenes and the sea by the The Wall at the Eastwatch-by-the-sea (and verily, only GoT fans can give a sparrow's fart to the aforewritten facts)
Filming on the Black Sands Beach in January of 2017
A GoT's Black Sands Beach scene

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