Iceland, Part 1: Reykjavik

 

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Overview of Reykjavik, from the observation deck of the Hallgrímskirkja Church

Virtually everyone who travels to Iceland begins and ends their visit in Reykjavik, the northernmost capital city in the world. Despite its location just below the Arctic Circle, Iceland’s climate is milder than one would expect due to the influence of ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream.  At the same time, summers are quite cool, with lows in the 40s and sometimes below.

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A typical side street in Reykjavik, with a decidely non-urban backdrop featuring Iceland’s dramatic landscape.

The name Reykjavik translates roughly as “Smoky Bay,”  a reference to the steam rising from geothermal vents observed by early Viking settlers in the 9th Century.  The island currently has a population of about 330,000 persons, yet more than 2/3 of them reside in the capital region.  By comparison Fairfax County, Virginia where I live, has over 1 million inhabitants.

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A view up the the hill toward the Hallgrímskirkja Church around midnight in early June.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Iceland’s history is that it has the oldest parliament in the world. The “Alþingi”  was established as an outdoor assembly around 930 AD and was moved to Reykjavik in 1844.  Its survival during a long and often turbulent history enabled the country to maintain a semblance of control over its political destiny even as it became part of the kingdom of Norway in the 15th century and eventually under Danish control.  World War II severed the link with Denmark and Iceland became an independent Republic on June 17, 1944.

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The Hallgrímskirkja Church with a statue of Leif Eriksson in the foreground.  The vertical columns evoke the balsaltic columns which characterize the geology of Iceland’s landscape.

Despite its small size, Reykjavik is a “happening” place anchored by an impressive concert hall, the Harpa, with its colored glass façade evoking the country’s volcanic geology.   Additionally, there are upscale restaurants, art galleries, vibrant street art, and a lively nightlife scene.

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The Harpa Concert Hall which held its opening concert on May 4, 2011. It houses the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and the offices of the Icelandic Opera. The interior architecture is equally dramatic.

 

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Example of Street Art, a 40-foot mural by Li-Hill, a Canadian artist currently based in Brooklyn.  Entitled “Deacon of Dark River,” it was completed in 2015.

 

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Prikid, a casual cafe by day, jammin’ hip-hop joint at night (according to folks who have been inside)

 

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Reykjavik boasts a good number of stylish boutiques such as this specialty store, Ofeigur, which carries Icelandic jewelry, dresses by Hildur Bolladittir and hats by Liivia Leskin

But for many who visit here, the most dramatic location is found along the shore of the bay where the stainless steel “Sun Voyager” points its prow out to the sea. Often mistaken as a Viking ship, the artist described it in more general terms of the human experience: calling it “a dreamboat, an ode to the sun, symbolizing light and hope.”

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The “Sun Voyager” by Jón Gunnar Árnason

This was my second trip to Iceland, an expedition over the island’s  storied landscape which, like most visits here, began and ended with a day in Reykjavik. I was accompanied by two fellow photographers, Rick and Michele and, as we prepared to lave the capital, our intent was to find some places that were off the beaten track.  We even hoped we might find one or two special places that were off any track, beaten or otherwise.

 

Next:  The road trip begins……

Iceland Part 4 (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!)

It’s been a busy time since the eclipse on 27 September, primarily because I am running around trying to get ready for my Open Studio Event in 7 days. But that is a subject for another post.  Today, it’s time to bring out some more images from Iceland.

Readers may have noticed that Icelandic place names tend to be extremely complicated and hard to pronounce.  But there is at least one exception, the small town of Vik located on the south coast.  Perhaps the most notable feature here is its black sand beach, characteristic of a country populated by active volcanoes.  Not far away are the cliffs of DyrhÓlaey where we spent the good part of the afternoon.  One doesn’t have to walk far from the parking lot to get a good view.

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Cliffs of DyrhÓlaey

The classic vista here, however, is from a promontory that looks back toward the cliffs.  It is only about a 10 minute walk from the location shown above.  This is a perfect example of how the scenery can radically change in a very short distance.

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View from the Promontory, Looking West

And after a 20-second stroll to the opposite edge of the promontory one is treated to this view.

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View from the Promontory, Looking East

That evening, the group visited the Reynisfjara Beach, best known for its sea stacks.  One thing to remember about photographing on a beach close to the water is the need to pay close attention to the waves.  I have always observed that precaution, except for approximately 3 seconds on that evening when I turned to respond to a question from another member of the group. In that brief moment an unusually large wave pounded ashore with surprising speed and water was suddenly rushing past me above my knees. I turned to rescue my camera and tripod but it was too late.  My camera was down, I followed, and I saw another member of our group being dragged into the ocean while he desperately held his camera and tripod above the water surging around him. One of the tour leaders reacted quickly and grabbed that camera before the water claimed it.  With his hands free, the downed member was able to get back up about the same time I did.  I retrieved my camera but it was ruined, as was the lens.  The photographs on the card, however, were unharmed.  The image below was taken just a few minutes before this happened.

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Fortunately, I had a back-up camera body and lens and managed to capture the sunset about 40 minutes later.

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Sunset, Reynisfjara Beach

Keep Shooting (but watch those waves)…….

Iceland: Part 3

Iceland is a land shaped by fire, ice, and water.   It sits astride two major tectonic plates which are being gradually forced apart by the pressure of molten rock deep within the earth.  At the surface glaciers inexorably move through the mountains, slowly carving new landscape formations.  The melting ice from the warming climate and heavy rainfall in the mountains generates innumerable waterfalls, some tumbling over cliffs 200 feet and higher.

As a result, there are spectacular opportunities for the landscape photographer when weather conditions cooperate.  During our time in Iceland, we were treated to a few special moments but more often found ourselves in fairly challenging conditions.  But the challenges are part of what motivates us to take our cameras outdoors whenever we can.  Because sooner or later persistence will be rewarded with a magical ephemeral moment.  A moment you never forget.

One of the favorite spots for photographers in Iceland is the small blue glacial waterfall called Brúarfoss. Although well known to visitors, it can be extremely hard to find.  Fortunately, we were on a photo workshop led by Ian Plant, ably assisted by Alex Mody, and Ian unerringly directed our driver through a maze of unsigned dirt roads to a trail head.  After a short hike we were there and it was immediately obvious why everyone wants to see it, even in poor weather conditions.

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Brúarfoss from the Pedestrian Bridge (wide angle photomerge)

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Brúarfoss, from the Shallows (wide angle photomerge)

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Brúarfoss, from the Pedestrian Bridge (telephoto photomerge)

The next day we arrived at Gullfoss (Golden Falls, located in the canyon of the Hvítá River) for a sunrise shoot, but my efforts to capture the grandeur of the monster cataract were mostly unsatisfactory.  However, a few attempts were OK and are shown below.

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Early Morning at Gullfoss, View to the West

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Workshop Participants, Gullfoss

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Brief (5 seconds) Rainbow, Gullfoss

At midday, we got a break in the weather just as we arrived at Seljalandsfoss, located close to the Ring Road (Route 1).

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Seljalandsfoss at Midday

Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall approximately 200 feet high.  It has a cavern to the sides and rear that allow people to walk behind the falls.  This image is a side view from within the cavern.

To be continued…….

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