Iceland

Possibly because we are all staying home, travels of past years take on a nostalgic tint. We look what we did at that time of year before and remember, plan and dream.

Two years ago we took advantage of amazingly cheap tickets to Iceland and traveled to Reykjavik. Since it was beginning of September and school started, we could not be gone for long, so our whole trip was four days only. I am sure we missed lots of interesting possibilities, but still, we packed in what we could in this period of time.

We took all the warm clothing we had for fall, except maybe winter coats and heavy boots, and then were greeted at rental car counter by a sign warning tourists to open car door carefully, as not to be slammed by them due to severe wind gusts. And wind was indeed spectacular! I did put on everything I had in clothing to stay relatively warm and needed to secure my hair so I could actually see something.

Sky stayed cloudy the whole time. The nature is cold and stark, predominant hues are subdued, shades of grays, blues, and muted greens and earth tones. So far I made two paintings as a result of this trip, I’ll follow up with separate posts about them. Oh, I think I will start to measure the success of the trip by the number of paintings I made after!

We visited couple of art museums but were mostly impressed by murals we hunted for on city streets. Murals are exciting and creating colorful splashes in general grayness.

A nice place to spend couple of hours was Old Harbor in Reykjavik. Right next to it is Harpa, a concert hall and conference center. It’s architecture is graphic and textural, and the building is full of great open spaces, multiple stories high, with full walls of glass letting in as much light as the northern country has to offer.

One of the days we hit the road taking a Golden Circle rout, a 300 kilometer loop to the east and south. Unfortunately, the jet leg took the better of us and we started late, not our usual plan. As a result great tourist crowds surrounded us. Everywhere we arrived, our small rental car was overshadowed by herds of tour buses.

Our first stop was at Þingvellir National Park, with its dramatic geology, location of the first parliament, where we walked along the rift valley, situated between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The movement of those plates and resulting volcanic activity is responsible for the creation of Iceland. There is lots of lava rock covered in lush dark green grass and moss. 

Along the Golden Circle we also stopped at the crater, and Geysir geothermal area.  At the farthest point of the loop, Gullfoss we gave up. Standing for half an hour at the tail of disappearing in the distance and crawling with the speed of leisurely snail traffic line, we calculated that it will take a lot of time to drive the remaining few miles. We have decided to be content and turn around.

I am sure it’s not the only sight we have missed in Iceland, so be it. I have also really wanted to go on a tour of volcano crater. The description promised to lower visitors down into the shaft of dormant volcano for a spectacular view. I was very exited until finally reached the pricing section. I could be wrong, maybe it was my only chance in life to see the inside of the volcano, but cheap plane tickets have it’s downside: after spending two hundred dollars to fly around half of the Earth, it was really hard to pay four hundred for an excursion to the Underworld.

One of our best visit was to the open air museum Árbæjarsafn. That one would be very interesting to kids. It was founded on the abandoned farm and has preserved a way of life in the old Reykjavik amid it’s modern transformation. The museum hosts all the old buildings that somehow avoided destruction. They were basically relocated in it’s present place and assembled into a small village. Our two guides, two lovely girls dressed in old fashioned costumes walked us from building to building telling how people lived centuries ago. One of the homes we visited had a barn on the first floor, deep half way in the earth, build of dark aged wood. People kept cows on the bottom floor of the house because large animals warmed the whole building with heat from their large bodies.  

We were surprised to hear that although we are so far to the north, winters are not terribly cold in Iceland and there is little snow due to Gulf Stream. As we strolled along under drizzling rain trying to wrap ourselves tighter into our jackets,  I asked the girls how warm the summer gets. One of them slowly looked around us and answered that now is probably as good as it gets. 

Two more places I wanted to talk about in Reykjavik the became a source for my paintings I’ll describe in the next posts. 

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