Iceland, Part 1: Reykjavik


D-17-06-04-2412_16-Pano (Iceland)

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.

D-17-06-04-1418 Sony (Iceland)

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.

D-17-06-12-8076 (Iceland)

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.

D-17-06-12-8059 Ver 2 (Iceland)

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.

D-17-06-04-2329_31-Pano (rdy2size)

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.


D-17-06-04-2317 (Iceland)

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.


D-17-06-12-8074 (Iceland)

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


D-17-06-12-8075 (Iceland)

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.”

D-17-06-12-8135 (Iceland)

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……

Scenes of Quito, Ecuador

Even during a short visit to Quito, the capital city of Ecuador,  there is plenty to see and photograph.  Here are a few more selections from a two-day visit.

Ecuador 08 Traffic Ramp

Like any major city traffic congestion can be a problem during rush hour, but as our bus slowly worked its way up this access ramp the presence of a delightful water sculpture provided some major visual interest.  Quite a difference from the storm water pits we have in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Ecuador 09 Think Big

An evocation to “Think Big” by a small mercado

Small businesses were everywhere, most often falling into the categories of eateries or convenience stores.


Ecuador 19 Cevicheria

Abigail & Michael’s Restaurante Cevcheria

(The origins of ceviche, raw fish cured in citrus juices, dates back some 2,000 years in the Andean region, with recipes likely updated with the arrival of the Spanish.)

Ecuador 10 Toy Store

Slow Business at the Toy Store

(The flashy red cycle belongs to Tevcol, a large private security firm with operations all over Ecuador.  The rider was apparently making his rounds while I took this picture.)

Churches are also found everywhere and some of the major cathedrals boast opulent interiors lavishly decorated with gold leaf, gilded plaster, and wood carvings.  Unfortunately, photographs of the interior were not allowed in any of those we visited.

Ecuador 12 Church TowersDome of La Compania de Jesus

(A Jesuit Church, one of the best known in Quito, dating back to 1605)

General elections (President and National Assembly) were to be held in a few days and the campaign was reaching its climax. There were about 8 candidates running for President and if the winner did not exceed 40% with 10% or higher gap over the total of the person finishing second there would be a run-off in early April. There was also a referendum on whether office holders or public servants should be restricted from having assets held in tax havens.

Ecuador 15 Political Rally

Political Rally for the Alianza Pais

 All eligible voters are required to cast a ballot; Those who do not must pay a fine.  As it turned out, the leading candidate of the incumbent party (Alianza Pais) did not quite secure the necessary totals so there will be a runoff.  The Alianza also suffered a loss of seats in the National Assembly but still holds a dominant position.  The referendum passed easily.

Ecuador 14 Political Activist

Rally Participant Strikes a Pose

The Parque del Ejido, one of the largest parks in the city, is a popular gathering place for artisans, food vendors, street performers, and sporting activities.  The Volleyball court was surrounded by spectators but a gentle persistence allowed me to squeeze through about three rows of the SRO crowd to get a good look.  There were 3 players on a side and their net is about 2 feet higher.  So there is no spiking; instead the net player executes what is much closer to a catch and throw, a maneuver that would bring an immediate whistle everywhere else I have seen the game played.

Ecuador 21 Food CartFood Vendor, Ejido Park

Ecuador 16 Volleyball

Volleyball Match, Ejido Park

Ecuador 20 Street Art

Street Art in Quito

And, of course, Examples of Street Art, tagging, and Graffiti could be seen everywhere.

Coming up…Ecuador’s famed Galapagos Islands

Journey to the Middle of the World

Ecuador 01 Overlook of QuitoQuito, Ecuador from the Overlook at Panecillio

The first time one visits a country, especially on a very short trip, the experience can be frustrating because you only get a glimpse of some of the possibilities.  This is particularly true for Ecuador because, despite its small size, it is an incredibly diverse land.  About the size of Nevada, Ecuador boasts volcanic peaks as high as 20,000 feet, vast tropical forests, and palm-fringed beaches on the Pacific Coast.  There are more bird species per square mile than any other South American country and more orchids than anywhere else on earth.  But the biggest draw is the famed Galapagos Islands which sit on the Equator about 600 miles west of Ecuador’s coast and that was the reason we were there.

Ecuador 07 parrots

Some “Wildlife” in Quito

Our schedule included only two days in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  Surrounded by volcanic peaks, some still active, Quito is the highest capital city in the world (9,300 feet) and the closest of any capital to the equator.

Ecuador Mitad del Mundo 03

Standing (and Jumping) on the Equator in Ecuador

A tourist attraction known as the Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City) is considered a must for anyone who wants a photograph of themselves straddling the northern and southern hemispheres.  The actual line is about 240 meters to the north, according to the guide, but no one seemed to care.

Ecuador 04 Fountains and Mural

Long View of “TooFly” Mural at the Central University of Ecuador

It is less well known that Quito is a hotbed for street artists and we headed for the Central University of Ecuador on a quest to find what was billed as the tallest street art mural in the country created by graffiti legend Maria “TooFly” Castillio in 2015.

Ecuador 02 TooFly Mural

The Mural, as Seen from Directly Across the Street

Castillio, a native of Ecuador, is now based in New York City and has installations in a number of countries.

The next day we visited some of the more common sights in the city such as the Virgin of Quito, a 134-foot tall statue towering over the city on a hill known as the Panecillio, and the Casa del Alabado Museum of pre-Columbian art.  Despite some skepticism on my part concerning the wisdom of the latter choice, it turned out to be a fascinating way to learn about the history, culture, and arts of ancient Ecuadoran cultures that populated this area for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived.

Ecuador 05 Virgin of Quito

The Virgin of Quito, a Gift from Spain

Ecuador 06 Shaman

Pre-Columbian Scuplture of a Shaman (5,000 to 1,500 B.C.)


Next Post:  Random Street Scenes in Quito