Sorry it has taken me so long to get these photos and stories posted. I had to play catch up with my life at home….and the weather has been nice. I learned when I lived in rainy, misty Norway, that whenever the weather is nice, you drop everything and just spend time outside enjoying the weather – and so I have. I made a few day trips with Lily – to Kansas to see the acres and acres of sunflower fields near Lawrence, Kansas….and then the following week to a beautiful farm in Jefferson, Iowa to take photos in an acre of zinnia fields. There are a lot of photos yet to come, but I wanted to get my thoughts and photos from Iceland and Ireland posted. We flew to Iceland and stayed for 3 days (all of which it rained, and the wind blew) to tour this beautiful country and get acclimated to European time before heading to 9 days in Ireland. The best word to describe the weather in Iceland: MOODY.
We arrived in Keflavik, Iceland (that is where the international airport is located) early in the morning on August 17th, our 31st anniversary. We flew through the night from DC to Iceland…which is about a 6-hour flight. There is a five-hour time change from Nebraska to Iceland. Rich and I decided ahead of time we would just stay in Reykjavik, the capitol of Iceland, and not rent a car. We would use public transportation to get to and from Keflavik (the airport – which is 45 minutes away) and just do tours the three days we were there. The first day, we were actually scheduled to do separate tours – our first time doing that. Rich was interested in snorkeling in the very deep waters between the two tectonic plates of the continents of North America and Europe in Silfra, in Thingvellir National Park. He said the water was very clear and extremely cold. He wore a dry suit but evidently still got a bit wet. I have yet to see the photos taken by the guide, but I will share when I do. He was gone about 5 hours….mostly driving to and from the National Park. I was not interested in doing that so I was SUPPOSED to go on a ship to whale watch and see some puffins. My tour was cancelled due to poor sea conditions. Let me tell you what this translated to….it was about 50 degrees and 30-40 mph winds and raining…. sideways. Yeah, I was fine not being on a boat. However, our apartment wasn’t ready either, so I was out and about walking in that mess for several hours. Luckily the city of Reykjavik is not very spread out.
Iceland is the self-proclaimed country of “fire and ice”. It is cold and windy and a lot of it is uninhabitable. It is made up of a series of volcanoes. Although it is really green because of all the rain they get, there is a lot of lava rock EVERYWHERE. You can tell how long it has been since a nearby volcano has gone off by looking at the vegetation. The black lava fields are everywhere, and they show the most recent volcanic activity. After a few HUNDRED years, moss will start to grow over the lava rock. As centuries pass, soil and vegetation start to grow and it becomes very green. Many of these places are blocked off to protect the vegetation. There are a lot of sheep, cows, and horses….all from Iceland. The Icelanders do not allow other animals into their country unless they are dogs or cats and are domesticated pets. Even then, they have to be quarantined for several weeks to make sure they are not bringing in any diseases. They export their horses but do not bring more in. They tried to bring in some horses to diversify the breed of their Icelandic horses several decades ago and even though they were cleared by veterinarians to come into the country, they had something in their blood that wiped out 40% of their herds. Think of the Europeans coming to North America and bringing their diseases to the Native Americans. Same idea. So now they just go with what they have. Their Icelandic horses are very strong and hearty and have shorter, sturdier legs. They have long fur in the winters and shed their long hair during the summer. The farmers release the sheep to the hills inland to feed during the summer and then all go on horseback to bring them down from the hills for sheering, slaughtering…whatever in the fall. Due to the fragility of the vegetation on the lava rock, there are no motorcycles or three and four wheelers that help to herd the sheep. It is only farmers on horseback. The sheep are marked with either ear tags or spray paint. The farmers gather all the sheep they can find and then contact the farmers to whom the extra sheep belong to. They meet and swap for their own sheep. There is only one animal indigenous to Iceland and that is the Arctic Fox. They are not easy to find and have a sanctuary inland in which many of them live.
Iceland has a population of about 370,000 people and is made up of 103,000 square kilometers. It is called a micro population. Not many people….and they only live on the coastline of Iceland. A great majority live in Reykjavik. Most of the other towns are very small. I will share more in further posts, but for this one, I wanted to show you photos of Reykjavik. Lots of cobblestone-lined roads. The population in the city is about 220,000. Euros are the money used there and Icelandic is the language. Most of you know that we used to live in Norway, another of the Nordic countries. I felt a lot of my Norwegian coming back as a lot of the words are the same. However….they have a few extra letters that are even above and beyond the extra letters in the Norwegian alphabet and those just threw me for a loop (or a dot…or a slash).
So here are some of the photos of the city. We so enjoyed our time there! There is a huge cathedral called Hallgrimskirkja (the church of Hallgrimur). It is a Lutheran Church and towers at 74 meters tall. It is the tallest church in the country and the 6th tallest structure in Iceland. The architect designed it in the late 1930’s and was inspired by the Icelandic basalt lava columns that are found all over Iceland. The Church was finished in 1986 and has a huge pipe organ that is 15 meters tall and weighs 25 tons! It has over 5000 pipes and easily fills the huge space with music, as when I took refuge from the rain and wind that first day in the church, the organist was practicing. Although a Lutheran church with the stark relief of a Protestant church, it has a traditional Catholic candle lighting area in the back, where I lit a candle for my Joe. I also paid a small amount to ride the elevator to the top and see the giant bell that rings every quarter hour and look out over the city and the coastline. Right in front of the church is a big statue of Leif Eriksson. The sculpture was given to Iceland in the 1930’s from the United States to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Icelandic Parliament. I actually went a few times to this church to catch it during the daytime and then at sunset…which wasn’t until nearly 10 p.m. when I was there. There are a few shopping areas near the church that has a rainbow road leading to the church and then a giant hopscotch on the pedestrian path that goes on for several city blocks. A lot of the natives who live and work in town ride those electric scooters everywhere..going pretty fast. I was surprised to not be run over by one of these folks.
One of my favorite sculptures in the area was the Sun Voyager. It is a huge stainless-steel sculpture of a boat set on granite beside the sea. We always pick up a little token of the country we have visited to put in our “world traveling curio cabinet’ in our living room. We got a small replica of this sculpture. We went there a few times as well. The sunset reflecting on the sculpture was really striking…making it look like a burning boat. There are a lot of Viking things in Iceland…as they were also the land of the Vikings. So, this was so appropriate.