I was fortunate to have a photographer friend in Springdale, Utah, Seth Hamel, invite me on a November trip to Iceland at the same time as I was exploring my own winter Icelandic adventure. It eventually all just fell into place and I was soon flying IcelandAir on my way to Reykjavik.
The first half of the trip would be guided to specific locations by a company called Guide to Iceland. Guides would take care of us for the first week or so, then we would be on our own the second week. I am close to twice the age of Seth Hamel and Katie Hope, also a Springdale photographer, so it was kind of them to invite me on this Icelandic adventure. Because of the age difference, I knew I would learn from them in ways not possible if I were traveling with other gray-haired geezers. I therefore welcomed the adventure on a couple of levels.
By the way, Seth Hamel is a very personable, energetic and knowledgeable photographer in Zion National Park. All variety and levels of workshops can be arranged with him and his staff at:
He will be “super psyched” to to take you to the special places within Zion so you can capture professional quality photographs of that beautiful Utah landscape.
Budir on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula
After flying all night from New York and zero sleep for me, we touched down in Iceland in total darkness at 6:35am and drove about 50 miles to meet up with our photography guide. On our way to a little black church in Budir on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula we were stunned by the glowing pink sunrise on mountain peaks with fresh snow. For you non-photographers, good light at sunrise in the American Southwest generally will last only a couple minutes, often less. Then the special light is gone as the mountain peaks get bathed in direct sun and the light becomes too harsh. In contrast to this, the beautiful light our first morning in Iceland continued, mile after mile. We kept glancing at each other, thinking shouldn’t we be stopping for this pink light? After what seemed like an hour, the beautiful, pink glow continued. We were passing up what appeared to us to be many great photo opportunities, but continued speeding along the ice covered road. Thank goodness for studded tires, which seem to be the standard. The sun in Iceland never gets higher than what I’ll call four fingers above the horizon. If you hold your hand out toward the sun at arms length, the sun will not rise any higher than four fingers high. The result is light perfect for photography which lasts hours each day. When we finally arrived at the black church the pink light was gone, but still a very beautiful scene.
This church appears black since it is coated with tar to protect it from the harsh Icelandic elements. This apparently has worked as the church is well over 100 years old and still functioning.
This is a symmetrical mountain also along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula near the small town of Grundarfjordur. What is the point in telling you all these names neither you nor I can come close to pronouncing or remembering? It is so I’ll have a place I can go as a reference when I am lucky enough to visit Iceland once again. Something the Icelandic traveler should learn is that ‘foss’ means waterfall, so this waterfall near Mt. Kirkjufel is called Kirkjufellsfoss.
After taking the waterfall photo of Mount Kirkjufell above I simply turned around and took the moon rise scene which was behind me, with the small town of Grundarfjordur at the base of the mountain.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
This unique lagoon is reached after hours of driving along the southern coast from Reykjavik. It is well worth the trip, as you can see.
This beach is littered with bushel basket sized iceberg chunks and is literally across the street from the above Glacier Lagoon. Some ice chunks make it into the Glacier Lagoon, others get stranded here. It is hard to imagine what it is like being on this beach during a full moon, waves crashing and the moonlight illuminating the crystal clear ice. It is likely one of the top four experience I have had in retirement. BTW – the other great experiences were #1) hang gliding in the Swiss Alps 2) swimming with manta rays in Oahu 3) Hiking to the flowing lava in Hawaii.
I am thankful to our guide Petur Thor Ragnarsson for the above photo. I think his photo turned out better than any of mine. You can see more of his work at his web site: http://www.peturthor.com/
Ölvisholt Vatnajökull – Best Beer EVER!
We spent the night a few miles from the glacier lagoon. As usual, I ordered the local fish and the local brew, Vatnajokull. It is named after the largest glacier in Iceland and the second largest glacier in all of Europe. Also flavored with local thyme. I’m not sure what the unique ingredient is for the great taste, but it is absolutely the best beer I have ever had. Oddly, it cannot be bought in the stores in Reykjavik, only near the glacier. What a shame!
Reynisdrangar Black Beech
Trying to get an acceptable photo here was particularly frustrating. In addition to the unique black pebble beach, there is the Black Beach Restaurant serving local dishes like smoked salmon and egg sandwiche a couple hundred yards away. I had two such sandwiches. While they sound simple, it is not something one can easily order back in the States. The Black Sand Restaurant also provided much needed warmth. Consequently, bus loads of tourists show up. It is nearly impossible to get a photo clear of tourists taking endless selfies with all manner of posing and climbing on the basalt columns. When not photographing, one can stay entertained watching tourists get swamped by the occasional rogue ocean wave.
Most people stay on or around the walkway, but our group hiked up a nearby hill for a better angle and viewpoint. The white around the pond is water spray turned to ice.
Another popular stop on the main road along the southern coast of Iceland. Once again, there will likely be a couple large tourist buses in the parking lot. What attracted me to this particular photo spot was what looked to me like Phantom of the Opera type mask in the ice. Much of Iceland appeared to be a black and white photo. While this is a color photo, you can see it is mostly black and white.
This was the most out of the way place we visited on our tour. We were the only people at this waterfall and the only car in the parking lot. It was cold and snowing, but I suspect few visitors is standard. The soft light and glacier runoff combined for some brilliant turquoise water at this waterfall. We had this place to ourselves, no buses here….
I generally stay away from saying which are my favorite photos. However, the simplicity of this scene, simplicity of the color and the lack of it being an iconic stopping place appealed to me. I took three similar photos at this stop and these are among my favorite photos from my trip to Iceland. The other two photos of this scene can be seen in the Iceland Gallery. We could hear a loud, constant roar, beyond the horizon. We later learned it was waves crashing on the distant shore from the dissipating storm.
When I travel, it is a goal of mine to learn what I can about the local culture as best I can. It is certainly NOT my goal to convince them the only way is what is done in the USA and that they are clearly wrong in their habits or culture. Too much of that exists today….. Anyway, one can buy horse meat on menus of fine dining restaurants in Iceland. There is also puffin and whale meat, but I did not encounter those. I did order horse meat, and I can reluctantly tell you it is the best meat I have ever tasted. That seemed to be the consensus at our table of three. Hummmm not sure what else to say.
There are a couple popular sites in Reykjavik, the Sun Voyager and the Lutheran Church. While the Sun Voyager looks to many like a Viking ship, they claim it was never intended to be such… OK, looks like a ship to me.
This church architecture is is clearly a tribute to the hexagonal basalt columns which are plentiful on the island.
Random Stops Along The Way