The Golden Circle, Iceland

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The Golden Circle, Iceland

“Earth’s crammed with heaven. But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Everyone who has been to Iceland will tell you that a day trip driving the Golden Circle  is necessary, and they are 100% correct. The Golden Circle is the most popular day trip  from Reykjavik.

The first stop is Gullifoss which I have already talked about.

The next place to visit is the geysir. The English word “geyser” is actually derived from this exact geysir here in Iceland.

There are lots of bubbling pools to check out, along with the two famous geysers, Geysir and Strokkur. Strokkur is the only one still active today, which erupts every 5-8 minutes or so, sometimes even more (meaning you’ll see it shoot out it’s steaming hot water multiple times) What’s cooler than watching a hot spring spout steaming water up to 60 feet in the air without any mechanical support? That’s geology for you.

The last  stop is Iceland’s first National Park, Þingvellir. Not only is it the first national park and Iceland’s largest lake,  but it’s also the location of Iceland’s first Parliament, started back in 930 AD. Back then an assembly of 48 chieftains would gather to discuss Viking law and hold court. It’s regarded as the founding of Iceland as a nation and historically important to Icelanders. Pingvellir has recently been accepted on the UNESCO World Heritage list because of this.

And for all you Game Of Thrones fans, this is also the place where many scenes of the show have been filmed,

 It’s  considered to be  the best place on earth  to view the North Atlantic divergent ridge (where the North Atlantic and Eurasian tectonic plates collide),

The plates are slowing moving apart at around 3cm per year, ultimately meaning the continents are being brought closer together.

I was lucky enough to be able to tour Iceland in a Smithsonian group led by geologist Scott Burns. It was on my bucket list to do Iceland with someone who could explain the rugged beauty, glaciers, climate change and volcanoes. Scott was just intimidating enough for me to know that he knew his stuff, and just as easy-going to answer my questions. I learned so much and it was fun. I look forward to more trips with him. I have a lot of this earth to understand.Thanks for everything.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Eight Other Things That I Did In Iceland

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Eight Other Things That  I DidIn Iceland

“The poetry of the earth is never dead.” John Keats

Deildartunguhver is Europe’s most powerful hot spring. Most of the water used for central heating in the towns of Borgarnes and Akranes is taken from Deildartunguhver.

The hot water pipeline to Akranes is 64 km long, the longest in Iceland and the water is about 78 – 80 degrees when it reaches Akranes. If you have taken a shower anywhere within a 65 km radius of the spring, you have already bathed in the hot water from this powerful spring.

Rising about 170 meters above the ground, Grabrok Crater belongs to the volcanic system of Ljosufjoll. It can be easily accessed via a footpath. The crater is quite steep and steps have been built on part of it to make the hike easier.

This volcanic crater is located east of Lake Hreðavatn in the fjord of Borgarfjörður in West Iceland. Spread over a distance of 90 km, it is also the largest of three craters (Stora Grabrok, Grabrokarfell and Litla Grabrok); it was formed about 3400 years ago in a fissure eruption.

.Once at the rim, I got a nice view inside. The path allows you to walk all around the crater but the strong Icelandic  wind almost blew me into the crater.

The Icelandic Horse is the only horse breed from Iceland and their ancestors were brought there in the ninth and tenth centuries by Vikings/Norwegians. It is a small breed of horse – not a pony. In the 10th century they banned importing horses into Iceland in an effort to keep the Icelandic breed pure. The ban still stands today. If an Icelandic horse leaves Iceland, they are not allowed to return.

The Icelandic  horse is fairly sleek in the summer months – though they retain a heavy mane and tail – but in the winter they grow a special, three-layer coat, which helps them survive the freezing Icelandic temperatures.Tthey are known for their sure-footedness and the ability to cross Iceland’s rough and diverse terrain, 

 Glaumbær Turf Farm was the perfect place to see these beautiful little buildings with mud roofs up close and learn more about Iceland’s history and culture. The farmstead is still inhabited. The old house is a part of the National Museum’s Historic Building Collection and houses part of the Skagafjörður Heritage Museum.  This site has been inhabited for centuries.  Glaumbær is mentioned several times in the medieval Saga literature. The age of the buildings vary considerably, the youngest dating from around 1880 and the oldest back to mid 18th century.

Glaumbær is composed of fourteen clustered houses.  Exhibits show four tradesmen’s workshops  (carpenter, blacksmith,  watchmaker and saddle maker), personal history of the local novelist Guðrún Baldvina Árnadóttir,  two storage houses, living rooms, bedrooms. the hearth kitchen and three pantries.

Iceland is known as the land of fire and ice due to its long history of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tongue twisting names for glaciers. The Lava Center Museum in South Iceland is worth a visit. This innovative museum opened in 2017 not far from Mt Hekla, an active volcano that was considered to be the gateway to hell in the Middle Ages. The interactive, state-of-the-art exhibit depicts millions of years of Icelandic volcanic activity, including earthquakes, eruptions, glacial floods, rift systems and the formation of Iceland’s landmass.

Siglufjörður is the northernmost town on the mainland of Iceland. This also means something quite exciting: The midnight sun shines bright all night long.

The highlight of any visit to Siglufjordur is the Herring Museum. Rather than describe the golden age of fishing from the Fifties through to the end of the Sixties, the award-winning museum recreates it, with figureheads and navigation lanterns galore. There are vintage photographs of fishermen with wind-lashed faces, ankle-deep in the day’s catch, and of the “herring girls” with bright Nordic smiles.

Akureyri is arrestingly pretty, with antique wooden houses, corrugated modern ones, tempting restaurants, bookshops, an excellent art museum and heart shaped red lights.

It is Iceland’s second largest city. and considered to be the capital of North Iceland.

Asbyrgi (Shelter of the Gods) is a remarkable horseshoe-shaped canyon. Viking/Norwegian settlers believed it to be a hoof-print formed by Sleipnir, Odin’s eight-legged flying horse from Norse mythology. Some people say that it is the capital of the Hidden People of Iceland.

Geologists believe that Asbyrgi was formed as the result of a catastrophic flood from the nearby Jokulsa glacial river. Located in Jokulsargljufur within the Vatnajokull National Park, Asbyrgi has 100 meter (330 ft) high cliffs which form a 1 kilometer (.5 mi) wide ring of protective shelter around the rich vegetation and forest.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Best Day In The Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland

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Best Day In The Snaefellsnes Peninsula In Iceland

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”  Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 I was more in awe during my day in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the west fjords of Iceland than during any other part of the country I visited.

This is saying a lot considering how much I fell in love with the glaciers, Myvatin, all hot springs and waterfalls.

It helped that it was a warm, sunny, windless day.  I still can’t say the name of it properly. 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula is often called Iceland in miniature as you can see everything the country has to offer in one area: volcanic craters, lava fields, a glacier, waterfalls, fjords, hot springs, black and golden sand beaches, lush meadows,  cute fishing villages and colorful wooden houses.

Bárður Snæfellsás was the settler of this area, half a troll and half a man,. He came to Iceland in the ninth century and gave the peninsula its name. The big stone structure of Bárður Snæfellsás at Arnarstapi was made by sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson.

Búðakirkja is a little black wooden church in the hamlet Búðir (which seems to consist of a hotel and this church) that was originally built in the 19th century.

It has an isolated location amongst the Budhahraun lava fields just above the sea. 

Snæfellsnes Peninsula is one of only a few places in Iceland where the beaches are golden. 

There are stunning views of the mountains and Snaefellsness glacier here. Many interesting stories are connected to the glacier, and it is believed to be the meeting place of extra-terrestrials.

Some people believe it to be one of the seven chakras (energy centres) in the world and you may not sleep well due to the magnetic energy.

Jules Verne wrote an interesting science fiction book called  Journey to the Center of the Earth in 1864 about a group of scientists, who ventured into the crater of Snæfellsjökull glacier. Yes parts of the 2008 movie were filmed here.  

 You can also do long walks through the lava fields.

Every bend in the road, the landscape changes.

Notice how perfectly shaped these basalt columns  are. It’s hard to imagine that nature did this. Lava flowed out, cooled and contracted. The slow speed at which the lava cooled made it crack and create these forms.

We ate lunch at a lovely ancient fishing village in Hellnar overlooking the water and amazing cliffs.

There were  dozens  of birds hanging out on the cliffs and rocks, staining the columns white  poop I imagine, although I definitely could be wrong.

After lunch we were off to yet another black beach (my favorite kind of beach).

There were huge lava formations.

We passed a few turquoise and green colored lakes.

This is a portion of beach with iron pieces from a British shipwreck in 1948 (which are kept here in memory of the brave fishermen who lost their lives).

 I finally reached those beautiful black pebbles.

It’s quite clear why it’s also known as Black Lava Pearl Beach, as the beach was entirely made up of small and smooth black pebbles (called Djúpalónsperlur or “Pearls of Djúpalón).

With huge monolithic rocks in the water and smooth pebbles beneath our feet, I could have walked here all day.

 Nestled deep inside a spectacular landscape of lava fields not far from the fishing village of Stykkishólmur, is the Shark Museum.  Stykkishólmur was featured in The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. 

It was masquerading as Greenland.

I assume many of you have not been to the Bjarnarhofn Shark Museum so I will explain it.  The room is filled with an eclectic mix of fishing tools, bones, dried shark skins, as well as taxidermy relating mostly to Arctic birdlife. 

It is randomly displayed like a garage filled with stuff.  Sharks are not specifically hunted, it so happens that some might get caught in the net when other fish are being sourced.

I ate some fermented Greenland shark which is poisonous if eaten fresh. You dip it in  Icelandic schnapps (Brennivin) and it was surprisingly delicious to me. I like the Swedish salt ammonia flavored  licorice so it might not be the same for you.

We went to see some of out tour guide  Argunnar Yi‘s paintings in a nearby hotel.

Art and black sand beaches -kind of a perfect day for me. 

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Things That I Have Learned In Reykjavik, Iceland

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Things That I Have Learned In Reykjavik, Iceland

“Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer” – Unknown

Reykjavík is the northernmost capital city in the world.

Reykjavík is regarded as the world’s most sustainable city. The city plans to be a carbon neutral city by 2040.

The steam rising from the area’s hot springs gave Reykjavik its name, which literally translates to “Cove of Smokes,” or more eloquently ” Smoky Bay.

Towering over the Reykjavik skyline is Hallgrimskirkja, a 240-foot tall Evangelical Lutheran church. The building which resembles volcanic basalt lava columns, opened in 1986. It is the tallest building in the city—as well as the second tallest in the entire country.

The National Museum of Iceland is the place to go when you want to learn about Icelandic life through the centuries. Everything related to this island nation from belief and religion, to seafaring, farming, culture, costume and the development of trade relationships from the beginning to the present day. The exhibits are beautifully displayed in the various sections with lots of info. Audio displays tell some fascinating stories and computers give access to a wealth of additional facts. A photography exhibition is always on show.

One of the most popular foods in Iceland is hot dogs. There’s no better hot dog stand in Iceland to get them than at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. The kiosk has been in the Reykjavik harbor since 1937, but President Bill Clinton and Anthony Bourdain’s visit solidified its constant long line of locals and tourists waiting for the lamb-based hot dog doused in ketchup, mustard, remoulade (mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish), and both raw and fried onion. ”The president you have now, I wouldn’t serve a hot dog.”, said the owner.

The Saga Museum which features seventeen exhibits traces Icelandic history from the Norwegian exodus to the Black Death. It is now located  in a historic home on the Reykjavik harbor.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a must visit for those who are curious about penises – from whales to hamsters. It is located on the main shopping street in Reykjavik. I didn’t have time but I would I have loved to see all the tourists taking selfies. 

From mid-April until late August, the Atlantic puffins summer in Iceland! You can take a Puffin tour from Reykjavik but I saw them near Husavik.

They are cute little birds and definitely worth putting the red suits on (for warmth and flotation devices)  and taking a beautiful three hour tour. 

On October 8, 2007, John Lennon’s birthday Yoko Ono revealed an outdoor beam of light called the Inagine Peace Tower on the city’s Viðey Island in honor of her late husband. “I hope the Imagine Peace Tower will give light to the strong wishes of World Peace from all corners of the planet. And give encouragement, inspiration and a sense of solidarity in a world now filled with fear and confusion. Let us come together to realize a peaceful world,” Ono said. Now it is  lit from October 9 to December 8, December 21 to December 31, February 18, and March 20 to 27.

In 2011, Reykjavik was the fifth city named a City of  Literature by UNESCO, thanks to its “invaluable heritage of ancient medieval literature” and “the central role literature plays within the modern urban landscape.”

Let’s be real. People don’t come to Iceland to shop. They come for the nature, the waterfalls, the glaciers, and all the fun stuff you can do around Iceland.. Reykjavik is one of the most expensive cities.in Europe. However, you can find  cool, locally designed outerwear in many stores for similar  prices to your country. Every time you wear it, you will remember your time in Iceland. 

Fly safe,

JAZ

Vikings And Sagas In Iceland

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Vikings and Sagas In Iceland

” Never break the peace which good men and true make between thee and others. Rjúf aldrei sætt þá er góðir menn gera meðal þín og annarra. ” The Saga of Njall

Vikings are a thing all over Iceland.

The hats with the horns sell in every souvenir shop. I hate to tell you people but the horns were a Hollywood invention that caught on. 

Was Iceland really even settled by Vikings? The term Viking applies to Scandinavian raiders. Now the people that settled in Iceland might have once been Vikings but when they came to Iceland there was no indigenous population to conquer, no churches and abbeys to sack for wealth and  no one to rape and pillage. They saw this beautiful country with no one to fight and they became farmers and landowners.

And then there are the Sagas- the classic literature of Iceland. They are stories written down from eleven hundred to thirteen hundred. They started off as a realistic representation of Iceland but the later ones are filled with dragons, maidens and sex.

The saga of Burned Njall is the most famous saga. It is written in the late 1300’s There are a lot of feuds and bad advice and everyone dies in the end – sounds like Shakespeare of the North. There is a cute street in Reykjavik named after it.

Everything is Iceland is Saga this or Viking that.  I’m not sure what they have to do with a hotel or a rental car.

But at least the Sagas actually existed in Iceland. They are  classic and legendary tales  and represent the history of the people of Iceland. Though trolls and ghosts are  featured, much of The Sagas remains grounded in reality.

They tell stories of farmers, families and fighters, lovers, warriors and kings, of betrayal and dilemmas, and which are, for the most part, believable and credible. Women play a strong role too. If you don’t at least read one when you visit, check out the Saga Museum in Reykjavik if for nothing else than historical accuracy.

Fly safe,

JAZ

 

Myvatn, Iceland

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 Myvatin, Iceland

“And if you follow, there may be a tomorrow. But if the offer is shun, you might as well be walkin’ on the sun” Smashmouth

Iceland straddles two tectonic plates –   the Eurasian plate and the North American plate. Lake Myvatn in Northern Iceland sits right on top of the rift between the plates.  This means lots of volcanic activity and interesting geological formations created over centuries of eruptions found near to the lake.(Dimmuborgir)

Lake Myvatn means lake of the midges which are small flies (another creative Icelandic name). There are many flies around  but the more mesmerizing the scenery became, the less I noticed the flies. (Skutustaoagigar)

One might find that this landscape is familiar if you have been to Rotorua, New Zealand (as I have) or watch Game Of Thrones (as I have not).  As you drive through this area, the lush greens and clear blues of Lake Mývatn are replaced with burnt oranges, earthy browns, and ashy beige.

The wet, rich landscape of the lake is replaced with a dry cracked earth, uninhabitable to most plant species -except lichen which must be the hardiest plant in Iceland.  

 As soon as I stepped off the bus I could smell the sulfur from the steam vents.  The strong smell  seeped into my skin, hair, and clothing. It is caused by the steam and the fumarole gas.

This gas gave me a headache and nausea after a few days in this area. I definitely tasted sulfur  in the water. They said that was normal.

With its intriguing and otherworldly landscape, a visit to Namafjall Hverir is something you must do in Myvatn. It  looks similar to Mars.

Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice vents letting off steam and bubbling gray mudpots on a green, orange, and gray speckled ground.

The volcanic vents are called  fumaroles; which belch sulphurous gases furiously into the air.

The sulphur deposits  were mined in Iceland in previous centuries to produce gunpowder. The strange yellow, orange color of this geothermal area stems from the sulphur.

The ground is very  hot and its important to always  stick to the paths in all of Iceland’s geothermal areas. Icelanders are brought up to fear the dangers in nature, but some tourists have not.  If you step on mud inside fenced off areas  your foot might sink straight into a hidden boiling hot-spring and get severely burned. It has happened.

This warm ground is also used to bake bread.

The famous geysir bread from Lake Myvatn is a rye bread made by burying wooden casks near a hot spring. This bread can  be purchased in several places in Myvatn.

The Mývatn Nature Baths are sometimes called the Blue Lagoon of the North.  These facilities pump water warmed by the geothermal activity into beautiful pools.   It is much more affordable than the Blue Lagoon, much less crowded and you don’t have to purchase tickets in advance. The geothermal water  is rich in minerals, silicates and geothermal microorganisms, which are believed to be beneficial for the skin.

Soaking in the pools is an excellent way to wind down after a day of visiting all the interesting sights in the Mývatn area.

I wanted to thank Argunnar Yi  from Smithsonian/Odyssey Travel. She is a warm, friendly, funny, intelligent , truly motivated guide.Touring Iceland with her was an amazing, artistic experience. She knows the best of everyone and everything in Iceland. She brings color everywhere she goes.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Traffic In Iceland

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Traffic In Iceland

“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.” Dan Rather

The Icelandic people say that the increase in tourism has changed the traffic situation in Iceland. Twenty years ago scarcely anyone living outside the city owned a car but now it is different. The roads are crowded.

The tourists make it more and more dangerous to drive. It seems to Icelanders that anyone can rent a car in Iceland. The tourist short stop in the road for a photo op is a particularly common accident.  

As an American from a busy city, the situation looks quite different.  I wasn’t driving but there were empty roads as far as the eye could see. It seemed like you could just sit back and enjoy the landscape. 

 Every now and then you will come to a point in the road where you realize, that the only reason why there are so few people in Iceland killed by car accidents is that there is so little traffic. Some of those roads look like they would be treacherous in winter. 

The trickiest part of driving seems to be the tunnels. When driving in, you feel like  you are entering a huge cave built into the rock. They can be as long as six miles. I am claustrophobic and I just had to put my faith in Rocky our driver and in the hope that it did not end somewhere in the middle of the mountain. One of them felt like it would never end.  It is quite possible that while you are in a tunnel, it suddenly narrows into one lane with periodic widening bays. Cars coming in the opposite direction pull over and wait for you. Apparently our direction had the right of way. Luckily we did not meet a truck.

I think  the biggest road problem in Iceland are the sheep. It is far more common to be cut in front of by a group of sheep than by other drivers.

There are actually way more sheep than drivers on Icelandic roads.

Drive safe,

JAZ