First of all, check out our photos from Iceland: Photos galore!
Iceland is amazingly picturesque.
I wanted to put “beautiful” but beautiful isn’t really the best word to describe Iceland. Sure, there are many areas that are beautiful. Looking over horse fields to snow-capped mountains across a fjord is beautiful. The sun setting on a glacial lagoon filled with icebergs is gorgeous. But It’s also a little alien. Lichen-topped lava fields – the bright green mixing with deep black is unlike anything else you’ll see on this planet. Black sand beaches with sparkling white chunks of ice is simply an unforgettable sight. Watching the aurora dance and flicker across a glacier will give you the chills. And then there are times when it’s just majestic as heck. Seeing an ice cap for the first time is breathtaking – the brown-green of the fields giving way to a bright white expanse of snow and ice. Watching steam rising out of the ground to remind you that this place is alive and still being created is humbling. That is Iceland. To call it beautiful would be a grievous understatement because it is so much more than that.
Iceland is accessible.
We flew from Boston Logan and it was a five hour flight. That’s it. No big deal. You can drive to New York in that amount of time. Instead, hop on a plane, relax, and next thing you know, you’re in a foreign country. I found tickets via Icelandair.com for less than $500 roundtrip. You can’t travel to most places in the US for less than that. You might even get to see Greenland along the way! “But I don’t speak Icelandic!” you say. Luckily, the people of Iceland (and most people in the world it seems) speak more than just their native language. Most of them are incredibly fluent in English (making me feel ashamed for myself and most other Americans that can’t even master our ONE language). They’re also super friendly and willing to help in almost any way possible. While it’s always a good idea to learn a least a few cursory words in the language of the country you’re visiting, don’t let your inability to pronounce ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ keep you from going there.
What about the weather?
Did you grow up in New England? Good. Then you’re not a wimp and you can deal with the cold. Believe it or not, it’s not that cold in Iceland. What really surprised me was the wind and how quickly the weather can change. The wind really rips across the open expanse of lava fields. But it also brings in warmer air from the ocean when that happens. Two of the days we spent in Iceland were windless and the temperature dropped to about 25 degrees. I was completely comfortable (and I am ALWAYS cold) but that was the day I heard everyone complaining about the cold. I will warn you that when the wind gets whipping with the rain/sleet/snow it can be pretty miserable, but it’s not the frigid wasteland that most people think that it is. Iceland in November is a pretty odd time to go but we wanted to see the aurora and it’s really the only time to do so. I’ve heard that summertime is completely different and we’ll probably try to go then at some point.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, can you tell I loved Iceland? To be honest, I’ve always been a warm-weather gal – Iceland was NOT where I imagined my first trip abroad would be. Yet, for all of the reasons above, it ended up that way. Regrets? None. I went in with a very loose idea of what I wanted to do, keeping in mind that the weather changes in a second there and we might not be able to do anything other than bum around Reykjavik. As it turns out, I got to do almost everything on my list AND still bum around Reykjavik. We used airbnb.com to find a cozy apartment (Daniel was a great host) right in Reykjavik, one street over from the “happening” street of Laugevager. We spent our first two days familiarizing ourselves with Reykjavik and the promise of a nice forecast later in the week.
Our first big trip was the Golden Circle. This includes Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss. Þingvellir is a really unique area geologically and historically. It’s the site of Iceland’s parliament from 930 to 1798. It is also the site of the crest of the ridge between the North American and European continental plates – in essence, you can see the separation of these two plates on the surface of the Earth’s crust. I really enjoyed walking around all of the trails and paths there. It’s a beautiful area and we got some great photos there. Next stop is Geysir. This is the site of the geysir to name all geysirs. Yes, it’s name is actually Geysir and the word ‘geyser’ comes from it. Unfortunately, old Geysir doesn’t do much erupting these days so it’s up to Strokkur to supply the entertainment. It erupts on cue every 5-10 minutes. It was pretty cool to watch it erupt a few times over. The whole land here is pretty active geothermically so you can walk around see hot springs and fumaroles all over the place. It was very windy here so I was pretty uncomfortable, but Kevin walked to the top of a nearby hill and said the view was pretty spectacular.Our last stop was Gulfoss, an impressive waterfall just south of the Lángjökull glacier. It was extraordinarily windy there which whipped up spray from the waterfall and I was pretty miserable. We stayed just long enough to snap a few pictures and then stopped at the small cafeteria-style restaurant for our fill of lamb soup. Mmmm lamb soup. Our drive back took us to Selfoss, a city south of Reykjavik. We stopped at a cute coffee shop there for a bit before taking Route 1 back to Reykjavik. I was totally unprepared for the view we got as we passed Hveragerði. We wound our way up the side of a mountain to a snow-covered field of mountains and geothermal activity. The view in the setting sun was enough to take your breath away.
Friday was horseback riding day! Obviously being a horse person, I was pretty stoked for this. It did not disappoint. They assigned horses by riding ability and I was given a fiesty little pinto named “Pinto”. Seriously, he was so new that he didn’t really have a name. He was a good kid, but just interesting enough to ride that I didn’t get bored. Once we got underway, they separated the experienced riders from the inexperienced riders. It was in this way that I got to gallop through lava fields. Kevin stuck with the inexperienced riders for the first half, and when they gave us the opportunity to “swap” groups, he switched over to ours. He had so much fun that he wanted to book another ride! Unfortunately the weather went downhill on us and prevented that, but I’ll get to that later. I seriously recommend riding to anyone going to Iceland. There are a number of stables within 30 minutes of Reykjavik and there are horses for all levels. We used Ishester for our tour but there are many to choose from.
Saturday was our big day. We wanted to travel from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon, the glacial lagoon. It’s about a five hour drive with no stops and we got going WAY later than we planned. Luckily the drive is amazing since you pass several volcanoes, three ice caps, beautiful farmland, lava fields, glaciers, epic waterfalls, and more. We stopped only a few times – once to see Seljalandsfoss( and amazingly gorgeous waterfall), once at Eyjafjallajökull (the volcano that erupted in 2010 and screwed up air travel all over Europe for a few weeks) and once at the Skaftafellsjökull glacier at the start of Vatnajökull National Park.
We also saw the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which covers the caldera of Katla, a historically troublesome volcano in southern Iceland. Because of all this, we ended up in a mad rush to make it to Jokulsarlon before sunset. And we made it. Just in time. We had the most gorgeous sunset I’ve ever seen. The sky was pink, the mountains were white, the ice was blue. Jokulsarlon is a glacial lagoon filled with icebergs that have broken off of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. This is one of the most amazing and disturbing things I’ve ever seen. The Breiðamerkurjökull glacier used to go right to the Atlantic ocean. Sixty years later, there is a deep and expansive lagoon between the glacier and the ocean. As sad as this is, it is also incredibly gorgeous. The icebergs are a vivid blue due to years of compression, squeezing all of the oxygen out. Many of the icebergs are bigger than houses and will float in that lagoon for up to 5 years before they melt enough to escape the canal to the Atlantic. Speaking of that, if you walk to the other side of the road, you will encounter a black sand beach where the mini icebergs have floated up and beached themselves. The contrast is simply breathtaking. Kevin and I spent quite some time here, up until it was just about dark. Because Kevin had data service to his cell phone, we decided to check the aurora forecast since it was supposed to be a clear night. When the forecast deemed it an active night aurora-wise, we decided to stay in the area.
We ate a delicious dinner at Foss Hotel Skaftafell (Beef Cheeks and Arctic Char…yummm) about 45 minutes from the lagoon and then headed back. It was quite dark at this point and we got our camera stuff out to try to photograph anything that might happen. It was when Kevin was testing his settings that he first noticed a trace of red and green on his camera screen. It was the aurora! To the naked eye it looked almost like a mist or snow blowing off the ice cap, but the camera’s long-exposure saw it for what it really was – the aurora borealis. We hung out for a bit but to be honest, I was feeling a little underwhelmed. It never was the vivid green I’ve seen in photos. We decided to start the long drive home to Reykjavik around 10pm. It was as we were passing the Skaftafellsjökull glacier again that I chanced a look up out the car window and saw it. A long line of green, arced like a rainbow across the sky. I knew we were going to get a real show. I asked Kevin to pull over as calmly as I could, and told him to get out and look. The long green line across the sky slowly began to curl and bend. Next thing I knew it was dancing. The lights flicked and wavered within their line, much faster and livlier than I ever would have expected. I was breathless – it was, and still is, the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Our whole drive back to Reykjavik was punctuated by stops to see the lights as the waxed and waned. We didn’t make it back until about 4am and were exhausted…but happy.
Unfortunately Sunday and Monday, our two remaining days, were a wash. We got a storm with 45mph winds that shut down even the Blue Lagoon. We holed up in a cozy hotel room and tried to relax. While it would’ve been nice to have explored the Reykjanes Peninsula, I can’t say I hated our downtime.
Things that I really was NOT prepared for.
- How freaking expensive the food is. You want a meal for less than $15? Good luck. If you’re content to eat hot dogs (Icelandic hot dogs are seriously good) for every meal you can probably accomplish this. But a meal at even a no-frills restaurant will run you at least $30 for two people. Meat soup is your friend. It’s seriously delicious and one of the cheaper options out there. Or there’s always the hot dogs.
- KFC, Subway, and Quiznos everywhere. That honestly just surprised me. Never saw a single McDonalds or Burger King but those three chains were pretty prevalent.
- The wind. I can’t stress this enough. The wind was so bad at one point it ripped the rental car door out of my hands, breaking the hinge. The cost to pay for that was a pretty unpleasant surprise when we went to return it. Learn from our mistake – hold on to your car doors!
- No lights at all, especially at midnight when you’re five hours from Reykjavik. It was a little unsettling to feel so isolated. Be prepared for that and have at least minor supplies in your car with you in case something happens. We drove for over an hour at times on Iceland’s MAIN HIGHWAY without seeing another living soul.
- Pay attention to the speed limit. It wasn’t until AFTER we got back that we learned that the use of traffic cameras is pretty prevalent across Iceland. We’re not speed demons by any means, but it’s pretty easy to let the odometer creep up when you’re driving on a particularly flat, open stretch with no one else around. The speed limit caps out at 90kmh on most roads which will feel pretty slow to most Americans. Pay attention to that! We’re still waiting to see if we get any traffic tickets…which we’ve heard can be VERY expensive.
- In November, the sun rises for about 6 hours a day. It doesn’t get more than 10 degrees above the horizon, making it look like sunrise or sunset ALL day. It was absolutely beautiful. I had some abstract knowledge of this going on, but it is really disconcerting for it to look like sunset ALL day. It also made dealing with jetlag more difficult when it didn’t really get light out until 10am every day.
So seriously? What are you waiting for? Go to Iceland.
I always tell myself that I’m going to be a good doobie and write lots of stuff and have an active blog but I always find myself forgetting to write. Well, it’s been a long, hot summer and it’s starting to wind down. I can’t believe it’s August already! I’ve had a an absolute blast this year taking the reins (haha, see what I did there?) on three major show circuits on my own. Many thanks to Course Brook Farm, Apple Knoll Farm, and CRDA for welcoming me with open arms.
I will be updating in the following weeks about some of my adventures this summer (which includes Chincoteague pony pennings, as always) but I just wanted to share about my own two ponies.
Teaguer was my first pony. A little “white” (obviously light palomino) foal that we purchased at the 2002 Chincoteague pony auction. He was a smart, smart boy right from the beginning. He quickly figured out how to test the electric fence with his whiskers to see if the power was off. If it was, he’d rip it down. Obviously not the best of behavior but it certainly says something about the intelligence of the breed. He ended up being quite small – maxing out at 13.2 hands. We made a tough choice and sold him to a local home, realizing that he had what it took to be a top hunter pony but my sister and I were much too big for him. He went on to have a very successful career in the local circuits until disaster struck when he foundered badly. It was such a bad case that his owner was pressured to put him down by several vets. Luckily she and his main vet recognized his fighting spirit and fought to keep him comfortable. He has since made a full recovery and is absolutely sound today. This past spring, his owner suddenly sold her house after several years on the market (gotta love the housing market crash!) and suddenly had to make some quick desicions. Luckily, she immediately reached out to me and offered him back to me. Obviously I couldn’t say no, and Teaguer is once again part of the family.
Hershey was purchased at the 2003 Chincoteague pony auction. His sire and dam were the two tallest ponies on the island and he was a leggy chestnut boy with a jaunty blaze. We had realized at that point how small Teaguer was going to be and wanted to get a pony we KNEW we would be able to ride and compete. Hershey was always the more awkward of the two – we always joked that he was nerdy and needed to grow into himself. Well, it took almost 7 long years, but he finally blossomed into an amazing eventer. He ended up topping out at an amazing 15.1 hands and was the perfect size for me. From ages 3-7 I did exclusively dressage on him. He always seemed rather bored in the ring and I felt bad making him go around in circles. Then the opportunity arose to send him to a dear friend in Virginia to give him a taste of eventing. I figured he’d be there for about a year, learn to jump some, and then I’d bring him home. Well, he has turned out to be an absolute rockstar. He is a cross country machine and will jump pretty much anything. In the span of two years he’s gone from not jumping anything at all to rocking it at Novice. We think Training is absolutely in his future!
Obviously I’ve got a little bit of a thing for Chincoteagues but I just think they’re a really underrated breed.
Now you know who you’re helping to support when you purchase photos from me! 🙂
I always like the first horse show of the season, even though it’s usually the coldest. Sure, it’s chilly and early and you’d really like to have slept in about an hour longer, but horse shows, from the smallest to the largest just have an atmosphere of excitement. Something about the air just smells different at a horse show, don’t you think?
My first show of the season was the Course Brook Farm 2-Phase. Course Brook is a beautiful facility comprising of acres and acres of land – something of a rarity in the congested metrowest of Boston. I always enjoy going there because of the gorgeous views and lovely people.
Yesterday’s show was a bit on the smaller side. It’s the type of show I’d love to bring Hershey to if he were up here as a nice warm up for the season. The competition was good – you could tell everyone was aching to get out and test the things they’ve been working on over the winter.
We even had a little bit of excitement throughout the day! A couple deer decided to move through the woods next to the stadium ring as stadium was going on eliciting some theatrics from a couple startled horses (I think if Hershey were there he’d be jumping over the fence to go make friends…then he’d spook at the shadows of the jumps in the ring or something). After the deer moved on, there was some MAJOR excitement as some people noticed there was sky-writing going on. It seems that some enterprising young person was asking a date to prom through contrails in the sky! Of course to me it looked more like it said, “Pom?” but we were quite a bit off and to the side. I hope that the intended recipient said yes! That is quite a lot of effort to go through to be rejected! And finally, the many of the horses were feeling quite frisky in the brisk wind and were having quite the blast tearing around their paddocks. I don’t blame you, kids, I’m pretty excited about spring coming too!
Overall it was a great day. Thank you Course Brook Farm for hosting a lovely event and allowing me the pleasure of photographing! You can view all of the photos here http://www.amandasylvia.com/Equine-Events/Course-Brook-Farm-Combined
Okay, it’s official. I’m in love. Who doesn’t love collages?
After a long cold winter (and snowy, and icy, and miserable) I’m back to shooting! I had a blast yesterday shooting some sale pics for a couple of really cute ponies. Teaguer, the palomino, is actually my first pony and I’m helping his current owner try to find a little girl to love on him. He’d be a star in short stirrup. Monty, the little bay welsh, would be an adorable cart pony or hunter pony prospect for a talented little girl. I just think they’re both super handsome, wouldn’t you agree?
I’m super excited to be back out there, camera in hand. I have a good handful of horse shows I’m shooting this summer. I’ll also be taking a trip to Florida and Virginia next week so I’m sure I’ll be posting some fun vacation photos from that.
“Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow.” – Imogen Cunningham
My dog might be a little derpy, but dang is he handsome!