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Iceland, 2013

This fall, we moved to France, where I am doing a postdoc in Montpellier. Since Icelandair has a good rate for one-way flights (unlike most airlines), we flew with them, and another nice thing about them is that you can do a stopover in Iceland at no extra cost. So that's what we did. I've always wanted to visit Iceland, and after this trip — only three days! — I can't wait to go back for a longer visit.

The "original" photos linked to in this set are reduced size, in fact, so contact me if you want a true original. Also note that with this photo set I broke my usual policy of posting images straight from the camera, without processing; the light in Iceland was very often overcast or muted, so I have manipulated the images to give them somewhat more punch.
Reykjavík is a funny place. A small town with a very cosmopolitan feel. Architecturally interesting, but with a recurring echo of the columnar basalt (first photo) that is found throughout the country, given its volcanic origins. Lively and energetic, and yet always with a feeling of being hunkered down to withstand long nights and cold temperatures (although it doesn't get as cold there as people think it does, apparently). The mountains are visible from much of the city, as is the distinctive church of Hallgrímskirkja (second photo; that's a statue of Leif Erikson in front of it, given to Iceland by the U.S.).
The Golden Circle
We took day tours with Iceland Guided Tours, which we highly recommend; you're in a small bus with just a few other people, and the guides are very friendly and very knowledgeable. The first day we took the standard "Golden Circle" tour that all the tour companies do. We began, in very cold, windy, and snowy weather, by visiting various waterfalls; Gullfoss, the most famous, is the second photo. My impression is that rivers do not meander in Iceland; they plunge seaward as vigorously as they can manage, carving stark chasms across the landscape.
Then we stopped for some hot springs and geysirs, which were quite reminiscent of Yellowstone. The geysir erupted very cooperatively, but was hard to photograph both because of its scale, and because the sky was so overcast that it was just white on white.
Next was þingvellir, an ancient cultural site, and also a rare spot where the rift between the Eurasian continental plate and the North American continental plate is above sea level (first photo; the Eurasian plate is to the right, to the left is the rift, the North American plate is far away, shown in the fifth, seventh, and eighth photos). We walked across a substantial portion of the rift valley between the two plates. It's a lonely and majestic spot.
At the end of the day, the sun finally came out, and our driver was happy to pull over for photos. These photos are what the highlands of Iceland typically look like, as far as I saw; the beauty here is typical and omnipresent, not exceptional. When we got back to Reykjavík the last sun was just hitting the mountains across the bay.
South Coast Tour
The next day we went on a second tour with the same company, along the south coast. Again, we started with waterfalls, and a lunar landscape of volcanic rock echoed by the moon in the sky above.
Then we drove to a beach with spectacular columnar basalt in all sorts of forms, and lovely black sand. Everything in Iceland is volcanic in origin, so the beaches are black sand, as on the Big Island of Hawai'i.
After that we drove to a glacier that is remarkably accessible from the road; glaciers are not remote things in Iceland! A quick walk took us to the foot of the glacier, where we walked around a bit on it. Keewi was resplendent in her new Icelandic hat.
A few final views and the day was over. We flew to France early the next morning. Too short! Next visit I plan to rent a car and drive around the ring road; our guide told us that the rest of Iceland is much more beautiful than the part we saw. I will have to confirm that for myself!

These images copyright © 2013 Ben Haller. All rights reserved.