Iceland: Beautiful Historic Churches

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja (Turf Church), Northern Iceland

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Vidimyrakirkja Entrance

Glaumbaejarkirkja  (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja (Glaumbaer Church), Northern Iceland

Glaumbaejarkirkja  (Glaumbaer Church) Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja Inside

Glaumbaejarkirkja  (Glaumbaer Church) Wooden Pipe Organ

Glaumbaejarkirkja Wooden Pipe Organ

Thingeyrarkirkja (Stone Church), Northern Iceland

Thingeyrarkirkja (Stone Church), Northern Iceland

Thingeyrarkirkja Stone Entrance

Thingeyrarkirkja Stone Entrance

Thingeyrarkirkja Historic Altar

Thingeyrarkirkja Historic Altar

Thingeyrarkirkja Blue Ceiling with Gold Stars

Thingeyrarkirkja Blue Ceiling with Gold Stars

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgramskirkja, Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja, Near Reykjavik

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Kalfatjarnarkirkja View of Whale Bone and Coast

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja, Near Reykjavik

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Propeller Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship's Wheel Memorial

Utskalakirkja Cemetery Ship’s Wheel Memorial

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja, Near Reykjavik

Hvalneskirkja Side View

Hvalneskirkja Side View

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Hvalneskirkja Entrance

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja (Beach or Miracle Church), South Coast

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Inside

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Star Patterned Ceiling

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Beaded Angel Tapestry

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Strandarkirkja Foot-High Elf Houses

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Vikurkirkja, South Coast

Every town in Iceland, no matter how small or isolated, seems to have its own historic church. Usually it is perched high on a hill or overlooking the water. We loved the attention to detail and beauty of these unique churches. Some of the buildings are made of concrete or colorful corrugated iron to withstand the harsh weather and winter wind; others are made of stone or turf (sod).  Christianity was adopted in this country around 1000 AD, and 80% of the population is Lutheran. That said, Icelanders are free thinking and embrace people of all faiths.  “Kirkja” at the end of a word means “church” in Icelandic.   Click on any of these pictures to bring up further details and traveling advice.

Iceland: Colorful Lighthouses

Siglufjordur (Seal Fjord) Lighthouse on Arctic Ocean (North Iceland)

Siglufjordur (Seal Fjord) Lighthouse on Arctic Ocean (North Iceland)

Nordurgardi (North Mole) Reykjavik Harbor Light

Nordurgardi (North Mole) Reykjavik Harbor Light

Stafnes Lighthouse.  Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Stafnes Lighthouse. Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Engey Lighthouse on Engey Island in Reykjavik Harbor

Engey Lighthouse on Engey Island in Reykjavik Harbor

Gerdistangi Lighthouse on Private Property Behind Old Stone Wall.  Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Gerdistangi Lighthouse on Private Property Behind Old Stone Wall. Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik.

Reykjanes Lighthouse. Iceland’s Oldest Lighthouse near Reykjavik.

Reykjanes Lighthouse. Iceland’s Oldest Lighthouse near Reykjavik.

Reykjanes (Smokey Point) Lighthouse Sits on Hill Overlooking Gunnuhver Gothermal Area

Reykjanes (Smokey Point) Lighthouse Sits on Hill Overlooking Gunnuhver Geothermal Area

Close-up of Reykjanes Lighthouse

Close-up of Reykjanes Lighthouse

Grotta Lighthouse (west of Reykjavik Harbor)

Grotta Lighthouse (west of Reykjavik Harbor)

Sea Glass Collected on Grotta Lighthouse Beach

Sea Glass Collected on Grotta Lighthouse Beach

Lighthouses in Iceland sit in incredibly scenic locations. Over 120 lighthouses and harbor lights can be found along the country’s rocky shores. Although some of the lighthouses are painted classic white, many are painted bright orange or yellow to contrast best with the black volcanic landscape and white snow in winter.  Another post about Icelandic lighthouses is at:  http://naturetime.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/iceland-best-climb-up-a-lighthouse/

Iceland: Best Climb Up a Lighthouse!

Pair of Gardskagaviti Lighthouses (the “brothers”).  Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik

Pair of Gardskagaviti Lighthouses (the “brothers”). Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik

Gardskagaviti Lighthouses and Old Fishing Boat

Gardskagaviti Lighthouses and Old Fishing Boat

Looking up Gardskagaviti Tower (Iceland’s tallest lighthouse)

Looking up Gardskagaviti Tower (Iceland’s tallest lighthouse)

Key to Gardskagaviti Tower (says ­­­­­"Thanks for Your Support" in Icelandic)

Key to Gardskagaviti Tower (says ­­­­­”Thanks for Your Support” in Icelandic)

Richard at Bottom of Stairs

Richard at Bottom of Stairs

Gingko Leaf Circle

Gingko Leaf Circle

Leaf Art Design

Leaf Art Design

Row of Saved Thermometers

Row of Saved Thermometers

Richard Unlocking Trapdoor Bolt to Top of Tower

Richard Unlocking Trapdoor Bolt to Top of Tower

Pam Climbing onto Viewing Balcony

Pam Climbing onto Viewing Balcony

Fresnel Lens in Gardskagaviti Tower

Fresnel Lens in Gardskagaviti Tower

Coastal View Looking East

Coastal View Looking East

Coastal View Looking South

Coastal View Looking South

View from Tower of the Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

View from Tower of the Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

Older Red and White Striped Gardskagaviti Lighthouse

One of our favorite experiences of our trip was visiting the pair of Gardskagaviti lighthouses on the Reykjanes Peninsula (near Reykjavik).   The taller lighthouse of the pair (known as “the twin brothers”) was built by U.S. servicemen who were rescued from a sinking Coast Guard ship. It was presented as a gift to the Icelandic people for saving their lives. At the museum next to the lighthouses we were given a key to climb up to the top of the tower (the tallest in Iceland). As instructed, we unlocked the door, went in, and then relocked the door behind us. We had the entire place to ourselves! The acoustics were incredible – the tower is essentially a giant tube that acts like an echo chamber. I remember reading once that lighthouse keepers often sang inside their towers because the sound was so amazing.

As we climbed up we enjoyed art displays on the walls and a display of saved thermometers. The top of the tower was especially unique. Richard had to unscrew a bolt to unlock the trap door leading to the balcony surrounding the Fresnel lens. What a view!

Afterward we locked everything back up and turned in the key. The smaller and older red and white striped lighthouse beside the tower was once used for bird migration studies.  Birds commonly seen at rocky Gardskaga Point include eiders, turnstones, gannets, red shank, and sanderlings. This lighthouse experience was one-of-a-kind and great fun!

Iceland: Whale Watching Near the Arctic Circle

Scenic Dalvik Marina

Scenic Dalvik Marina

Arctic Ship with Snowflake Design

Arctic Ship with Snowflake Design

Wooden Boat in Harbor

Wooden Boat in Harbor

House Nestled in Valley

House Nestled in Valley

Fjord's Snowy Mountains

Fjord’s Snowy Mountains

Humpback Tail

Humpback Tail

Humpback Surfacing

Humpback Surfacing

White Beaked Dolphins

White Beaked Dolphins

Icelandic Fish Poster

Icelandic Fish Poster

Iceland is a great place for whale watching in summer. Marine wildlife commonly seen includes humpback whales, minke whales, white beaked dolphins, and harbor porpoises. We went whale watching out of Dalvik at the edge of the Arctic Circle in late June (30 miles north of Akureyri).  The day of our tour seemed like one of the best weather days of the year – temperature was in the 60s with sunny skies, calm winds, and flat seas. After watching humpback whales and white-beaked dolphins in the fjord, we stopped to fish on the way back. Within 10 minutes there was enough pollack and cod to feed everyone on the boat. That fresh-grilled fish back at the harbor was unbelievably good!  This area was one of our favorite places of the entire trip – it is unbelievably scenic!

Iceland: Stunning Crystalline Ice on a Volcanic Black Sand Beach!

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon:  Ice 1

Crystalline Ice on Beach Across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon: Ice 1

Ice 2

Ice 2

Ice 3

Ice 3

Ice 4

Ice 4

Ice 5

Ice 5

Ice 6

Ice 6

Ice 7

Ice 7

Ice 8

Ice 8

Ice 9

Ice 9

Ice 10

Ice 10

Ice 11

Ice 11

Ice 12

Ice 12

Ice 13

Ice 13

Ice 14

Ice 14

One of the most amazing sights we saw in Iceland was crystalline ice on a volcanic black sand beach at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.  The ice floats out to sea with the tide from the lagoon, and some of it washes onto the volcanic black sand shoreline.  The interplay between ice, light, waves is ever-changing.  Nature’s beauty here is stunning!  Do you have a favorite?

Iceland: Glaciers in “The Land of Fire and Ice”

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Blue Ice Streaked with Black Volcanic Sand

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Vatnajokull Ice Cap

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Small Iceberg Floating Downstream

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Couple Viewing Icebergs in Lagoon

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Arctic Terns Flying Over Ice

Iceland contains the largest glaciers in the world outside of Greenland and Antarctica. This “Land of Fire and Ice” has 11% of its landmass permanently covered in ice.  Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon on the country’s south coast is especially beautiful. The icebergs in this lagoon come from the Vatnajokull ice cap (jokull at the end of a word means “glacier” in Icelandic).  The colors and beauty of this area are stunning!  A live webcam is at: http://www.livefromiceland.is/webcams/jokulsarlon/

Iceland: Volcanoes in “The Land of Fire and Ice”

Kerid’s Volcanic Caldera

Kerid’s Volcanic Caldera

Blesi Hot Spring

Blesi Hot Spring

Strokkur Geyser’s Blue Bubble (nicknamed “The Churn”)

Strokkur Geyser’s Blue Bubble (nicknamed “The Churn”)

Strokkur Geyser Erupting

Strokkur Geyser Erupting

Seltun Volcanic Basin

Seltun Volcanic Basin

Graenavatn Explosion Crater Lake

Graenavatn Explosion Crater Lake

View from Bridge Between the Continents – Rift Between the North American Plate (left) and Eurasian Plate (right)

View from Bridge Between the Continents – Rift Between the North American Plate (left) and Eurasian Plate (right)

Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at the intersection of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  This “Land of Fire and Ice” has 30-40 active volcanoes and a major eruption about every 5 years.  A new island named Surtsey formed after an eruption in 1963-1967.  Homes on the offshore island of Heimaey were suddenly covered up by lava and ash in 1973 (thus giving it the nickname “Iceland’s Pompeii”).  A new volcano museum named Eldheimar opened there in May 2014 (http://eldheimar.is/en/).  Worldwide air travel was disrupted for days by the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010.

All of this volcanic activity means that there are numerous places to see geysers, mud pots, fumaroles, and volcanic calderas in Iceland.  Our favorite geyser was Strokkur outside of Reykjavik.  It makes an unbelievable blue bubble for a split second before the water gushes up.   The English word “geyser” comes from Iceland’s original “Geysir” (which means gusher).  All of the places pictured are within an easy day trip from Reykjavik.