Sunday, May 3, 2009

Iceland - Travel Day #1

Our first day investigating southern Iceland came the day after we arrived. When William was unsuccessful in reaching the brethren in Reykjavik we grabbed our coats, cameras and map.

First stop was simple curiosity about what was hanging to dry in all the sheds. Too bad I can't also share with you the smell!

We had completely missed the major highway that had been our intended route and ended up on one that looked paved on the map but quickly turned to gravel. What a wonderful goof! It soon turned into wanting to stop for new pictures around every curve.

A camera can't begin to capture the panoramic views.

Notice the yellow sticky-up things (as Katrece called them). Those are the nearest thing to a guard rail that we ever found in Iceland. In really treacherous areas they popped up about every 10 feet - but only on the side of the road that didn't drop off into oblivion. We figured they must be indicators about the depth of the snow in winter.

We learned a new word along the way - Haetta! I was really glad that this sign also spoke English, but figured that was one word we needed to memorize.

The danger was from the steam vents and mud pots at Seltun. It was amazing to watch the mud boil in the ground right in front of you. (Can you see the air bubbles coming up in the center of this one?)

These were some slow-flowing streams that you would definitely NOT want to cross. Temperature around 190 degrees.

This one isn't out of focus - that's steam rising from the mud.

The steam vents made the whole area reek of sulphur.

A wooden walkway had been laid so that you could walk between the hot spots.

At one point the road was blocked by a gravel spreader that had toppled over. We managed to squeeze by, but it was tight.

We took a side road down to a beautiful, desolate area on the coast . . .

. . . which is also the location of the richest church in Iceland. After later seeing the huge Lutheran cathedrals in Reykjavik the claim to riches for this small church seemed strange indeed.

Of course, Jimmie is always the preacher. Show him a pulpit and he must get behind it!

Then I read the story about Strandarkirkja, or the Strond Church.

Back in the 13th century a bishop sent men to Norway to get wood to build a church at Skalholt, an inland village to the north. On their return their ship was caught in a storm and they lost their way at sea. They drifted for many days until, running out of food and water, they became convinced that they were going to die. Finally, the captain called everyone together and asked them to pray to reach land safely. The men all took a vow that they would build a church from the cargo of the ship wherever they were lucky enough to land if only they could be saved from the storm. The storm died down and they saw land at the village of Selvogur. But as they approached the shore the sailors thought it was hopeless.

There is no harbor, only rocks and breakers, so they prepared to sail away. But suddenly a figure in white clothing holding a shining cross stood on the rocks and beckoned them to come. They followed his directions and landed safely. When they got ashore and looked for the one who helped them, no one was to be found. They named the little cove where they landed Engilsvik (Angel Cove).
The crew kept their vow and built the church on the Strond. The people of the village considered that the church had been built on holy ground.
But the story doesn't end there. In the 17th century erosion suddenly began to destroy all of the farms in the area and by 1696 the whole place was deserted. All except Strandarkirkja. It was untouched by the erosion, so obviously another miraculous sign. As a result many folks view the church as the place to go when special prayers are needed and will make pilgramages there or send donations. Hence, it has accumulated great wealth.

There is also a statue on the grounds commemorating the angel who guided the men to safety. Notice the flowers left at the base by visitors before us.

Back on the road we had to squeeze by that overturned grader again.
These scrub bushes along the road were the first growing things that I saw in Iceland so I wanted a picture of them. Trees or vegetation of any kind were rare on the island.

After traveling for many hours we finally found this bakery and a delicious lunch! All of the bakeries we saw in Iceland also served as sandwich shops, but we quickly learned to take lunch with us after this. There is definitely not a McDonald's on every corner here! (However, we did see a KFC, Domino's Pizza, Pizza Hut, Sbarro's, Taco Bell, and a Subway in Reykavik.)

On our return circuit back to Keflavik we saw the first of many horses. The only variety allowed on the island are descendants of those the Vikings brought to Iceland more than a 1,000 years ago. In the days to follow we were to see numerous herds of them.

William told me that horsemeat was common in Iceland, so I worried about these adorable critters until assured by an Icelander that they are raised for riding and exporting, not eating. But I still cautiously checked the menus at the restaurants where we ate.

It is hard to tell in these shots how small they are, more like large ponies. I loved their shaggy hair-cuts.

And finally we saw snow up close and personal. For most of the day it was far away on distant mountaintops, but I wanted to make at least one snowball. The snow was like little pellets of ice, though, so I didn't dare throw it at anyone.

The weather today was glorious - sunshine, blue skies, and hardly any wind so it was really just a cool spring day. We had no idea then how unusual that was going to be.

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