Archive for August, 2010

Iceland Part 2: Akureyri

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Falling Fence

This will be a bit of a short one, as we only spent a single afternoon in Akureyri, the “capital of the north” (check out this map for some geography help). Akureyri is an eclectic mix of things including a quaint, pedestrian-friendly downtown; a huge mall surrounded by a big parking lot and wide streets; and some outskirts that seem to consist in large part of weirdly pre-fab looking cookie-cutter housing. As we only had an afternoon (we arrived in the early afternoon and left early the next morning for Jökulsárgljúfur National Park), we spent most of our time in the pedestrian-friendly downtownish area, aside from a trip to the mall to buy some stove fuel for our upcoming backpacking trips.

Akureyri

Akureyri, like Reykjavik, has an imposing church overlooking the center of town, although this one has nothing on Hallgrímskirkja. Those steps lead straight down to the downtown area and the pedestrian-friendly Hafnarstræti, with a huge number of restaurants and cafes, of which our favorite by far was a tiny Indian Curry Hut staffed by a single very dark-skinned Indian man and a very blond, tall, and slightly clumsy Icelandic woman. The entire restaurant, kitchen aside, included a counter for taking orders, two barstools in front of a shelf that served as a table, and room to stand for perhaps two people. And it was tasty!

The one sightseeing activity we indulged in was a trip to the Akureyri Botanical Gardens, which happened to be right behind our hotel. This was a pretty awesome botanical garden, featuring all kinds of flora neither of us had ever seen before. I came armed with a macro lens and got a few shots I like:

Akureyri Botanical Gardens

Akureyri Botanical Gardens

Aside from going to the botanical gardens, eating, and running a few errands for the backpacking trips, we pretty much relaxed in the same way we did in Reykjavik, by sitting in cafes and watching people. Most of the activities in the Akureyri area seemed to require a full day, and as we only had part of an afternoon, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do other than wander around. So that’s what we did.

Wireless Akureyri

Cozy Cafe

Finally, after nightfall – which of course wasn’t until 11pm or so – we retired back to our hotel, which was really more of an expensive hostel, and prepared for the next morning, when we would hop on a bus to Jökulsárgljúfur. Backpacking photos coming next!

Iceland Part 1: Reykjavik

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Hallgrímskirkja

Mary and I kicked off our two-week Iceland honeymoon with three days in Reykjavik, giving us a chance to have a relatively relaxed start to our vacation before we started traipsing all across the country. Reykjavik is a very modern, very European, very fashionable, very expensive, very safe, and very small city. It’s also very photogenic, although I quickly realized that a severe downside to summer days with 20 hours of sun is that, well, that’s a whole lot of direct sunlight and not too many opportunities for good outdoor light except on cloudy days.

We did a number of the classic touristy things that one does while in Iceland’s capital city; visiting the immense, imposing Hallgrímskirkja church was one of the first, although it wasn’t until the second time we went that I got the above headline shot (the light was just terrible the first time). We also spent quite some time hanging out in cafes – Reykjavik is well-known for an abundance of coffee shops, most of which serve excellent coffee and have a lot of character. Our favorites were Cafe Hljómskálinn, a two-story octagonal building right on Lake Tjörnin downtown, and Babalú, a ridiculously cute and friendly cafe just down the street from Hallgrímskirkja. We spent some time there browsing the Reykjavik Grapevine, the local alt-weekly English-language paper that turned out to be absolutely hilarious:

Babalú

Probably the most touristy thing we did was spend an afternoon at the Blue Lagoon, the most famous of the country’s countless hot springs, which has become developed into a massive tourist attraction thanks to its location halfway between Reykjavik and the international airport at Keflavik. Just outside the main hot springs, one can wander around the creepily opaque-white water and peer at the geothermal power plant in the distance:

The Blue Lagoon

Inside the facility, it looked more like this…

The Blue Lagoon

Our hotel was about a 20-minute walk from downtown, walkable either through the main downtown drag or along the waterfront. We walked back along the water one evening and were treated with dramatic dark skies while the sun was still fully out: a really neat combination that tends to happen in mid-Atlantic North America only right before or after big thunderstorms. It turned out to be a pretty common occurrence in Iceland, which both of us thought was rather awesome.

Late afternoon, II

The morning of our final day in Reykjavik, before we boarded a noonish flight to Akureyri (Iceland’s second largest city at a whopping 17,000 people), I wandered down to the harbor in the hopes of catching a few photos of the harbor at work. I underestimated the time it took to get there, though, and ended up just shooting some photos at what seemed to be a near-abandoned pier. Although it wasn’t what I set out to do, I ended up with some shots I’m very happy with, like this macro of a rope tied to the pier:

Reykjavik Harbor

And this semi-closeup of a building under construction on the waterfront, east of the harbor:

Under construction

Walking back from the harbor, I stumbled across the city’s main Catholic church, which while not nearly as visually striking as Hallgrímskirkja, definitely had something of its own charm, especially in the crisp morning air with no one around. I spent some time walking around the church and looking for different angles; I’m happiest with this shot, using one of the statues in the front lawn as a foreground subject.

Catholic Church

And then later that morning it was off to Akureyri – and the beginning of our trip around the far less-traveled parts of Iceland, including a couple of multi-day backpacking trips through some astounding scenery. Photos to come, of course! In the meantime, check out all my posted photos of our first three days in Reykjavik, over at Flickr.

(Also: the people of Reykjavik made for fantastic photo subjects, but I didn’t really get around to taking a ton of people pictures until we returned to the city for the last couple days of our trip. So those are coming later.)

Honeymoon in Iceland (sans photos)

Monday, August 16th, 2010

Why no posts for so long?  I’ve been traveling in Iceland for two weeks for my honeymoon, and am writing this from a cafe in Reykjavík.  Unfortunately, I idiotically left my camera cable at home and have no way of processing or uploading the 32+ gigabytes of photos I’ve taken so far.  We’ve had a fantastic trip so far, which has included several days here in Reykjavík, a few days exploring other towns like Akureyri and Lake Mývatn, and two long backpacking trips, one through Jökulsárgljúfur National Park and the other on the Laugavegurinn, a trail that our guidebook calls “one of the world’s great hikes,” an assessment which may only be a minor exaggeration.

Things we’ve seen so far: tons of beautiful landscapes, lots of eerily bubbling hot springs and steam vents, wacky local fashions (wildly patterned tights are a big thing here), lots of blonde people, crazy buses capable of fording large glacial rivers, some very interesting foods, the most delicious butter we’ve ever had, endless sheep, cows and horses, plenty of European tourists, very few Americans, a man we took to calling Beowulf, and more. Of course, there will be photos to come (I’ve tried not to let my photography totally dominate our honeymoon, but it’s up to my wife to decide whether or not I actually succeeded).  Sorry for the hiatus and the photo-less post, hopefully it’ll be worth it.