Monthly Archives: September 2017

Giants, Elves and Jules Verne

We drove to Reykjavik which will be our final destination in Iceland. On the trip there we were once again blown away by the beauty and diversity of the landscape around us. I took this photo out the car window.  We did stop to take this photo of sheep.  You see sheep just about everywhere you drive in Iceland, sometimes even on the road.  I marveled many times at how sure- footed the animals were. It was amazing how very high up on a mountain side they could go to graze. We also stopped to take this photo of horses. There are so many herds of horses everywhere in Iceland.  The friendly, sturdy breed is exported to many European countries. In Iceland they are used for riding and racing and rounding up sheep. 

We stopped in the village of Arnarstapi to do a hike to Hellnar village and back.   We walked with the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. A rainbow followed us all along the way. At the start of this hiking path was a statue representing a character from one of the Icelandic sagas or mythical stories.  The giant Bárðr Snæfellsáss disappeared into the nearby volcano after a huge family conflict.  Early fragments of  Bárðr’s story have been found in manuscripts dating from the 1400s. We were hiking amongst these lava rocks formed in all kinds of weird shapes and contorted forms. 

Some rocks were covered with a red kind of lichen.  We passed two signs like this one for Drougalag but didn’t know what they were for, although my sister did find a video online of some children from Iceland singing a song about Drougalag who appeared to be some kind of a ghost. We wondered if the signs marked a spot where Huldufolk or elves are thought to live.  Some people in Iceland still believe in the existence of elves and construction projects can be altered or warnings displayed to protect elf domains. Our path led to the village of Hellnar an old fishing port that dates back to 1560. We’d hoped to see some puffins on our hike but all we found were gulls and terns. 

Snæfellsjökull the volcano that was always in view as we hiked is famous because of the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne.  In his book the protagonists find the entrance to the passage leading to the centre of the earth on Snæfellsjökull.

My other posts about Iceland can be found here……..

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Stykkishólmur- Sleeping Under the Eaves

We spent a night in the fishing community of Stykkishólmur in Iceland. This was our cute and cozy house. Dave and I had to climb a ladder up to the loft to sleep.  The ceiling was so low we could barely stand up there. Each of us had a single mattress tucked under the eaves.The main living area had this old table and chest with benches that looked like they had come from an ancient church. We went for a hike after we arrived.  Dave has learned to use the panorama effect on my phone now …….so he has been experimenting with his new technique. Stykkishólmur had been a fishing harbour since the Middle Ages. and you can see old things in the town like this abandoned boat and……new things like this beautiful modern church which is also used for musical concerts because of its great acoustics. Information panels on our walk provided us with insight into the history of Stykkishólmur and explained that this interesting rock wall was columnar basalt. We hiked up to the Stykkishólmur lighthouseand stopped to admire this steel sailboat sculpture near the harbor. 

Stykkishólmur reminded me of some of the fishing communities we visited in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. 

Other posts…….

The Fishing Village That Changed The World

Stitching a Story

The Rooms

Other posts about Iceland


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Into the Volcano

We rented a home near Selfoss in Iceland.  When the owners were showing us around the place they pointed out this poster that explained what we should do if………Hekla the nearby volcano should begin to erupt. Hekla is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. It last erupted in 2000. On a rainy day we decided to visit the LAVA museum in nearby Hvolsvöllur to learn more about volcanoes. After watching a movie that showed the most recent eruptions of Icelandic volcanoes we walked down this eerie hallway……..that had panels of information about each of the most active volcanoes in the country. As you go through the museum they try to recreate volcanic effects by having the floor move and divide beneath your feet and having you find your way through a corridor of dense steam.By turning the wheel on this map of Iceland we could see how the various volcanoes had developed and changed. Iceland has some thirty active volcano systems, thirteen of which have erupted since humans settled on the island. In this room interactive screens helped us learn about different kinds of volcanic eruptions and their effects. In one area you could look up and down at this gigantic recreation of the mantle plume beneath Iceland’s crust. Here screens that surround you recreate the visual effect of a volcanic eruption.  Dave is looking at information about the Hekla volcano nearest the house where we were staying. In medieval times people called the Hekla volcano The Gates of Hell. 

Most interesting to me were recorded interviews you could watch of people who live in communities near volcanoes and how that impacts their lives.  One woman talked about how they teach children about volcanoes  in a way that will keep them safe and informed but not scare them too much.   “What we try to emphasize to the children,” said the woman, “is that when there have been volcanic eruptions in Iceland people came together and helped each other and took care of each other and rebuilt together. And we reassure them that will happen again if there is another volcanic eruption.” 

Other posts……..

Visiting a Volcano in Hawaii

Hanging Around Hilo

A House With a View and Much More

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House With A View and So Much More

We stayed in this unique and lovely home near Selfoss in Iceland.   Spacious and sleekly designed it looked out over the surrounding countryside.  Windows instead of walls encompassed the main living space and offered a stunning view of the fall colors on the hillsides and in the ravines all round. There was a river running behind the houseand you only needed to hike a short way to get a spectacular view of Mount Hekla, an active volcano.  Designed and built by seventy-five year old couple Greta and Pall, the home sat on a huge tract of land purchased by retired Icelandic pilots, each of whom had built a home in the area that featured a grass runway and an airplane hanger. Pall’s hobby is binding books and he had some of his volumes on display on one side of the fireplace. Greta has an affection for antiques and had arranged her unique finds throughout the house. We went hiking in the gorgeous fall colors that abound in this part of Iceland. I took over this delightful corner nook for writing and made progress on a manuscript which is due in November. If I was ever lucky enough to snag a writing grant I’d rent this house in Iceland in a heartbeat.  Isolated,  but with all the amenities, including great wifi, it would be the perfect place to write. We knew we wouldn’t be near a grocery store so we stocked up before coming here and prepared our meals in the sleek and modern kitchen. 

We spotted these rock ptarmigans on the yard.  They are a protected species in Iceland.  This one is just changing from its summer brown to its winter white. There was a great view from the backyard patio where we barbequed and waited in vain to see the Northern Lights. 
The beauty of the place was a balm for the soul and spirit. 

Other posts……….

A Rainbow in My Mouth

Hiking Up To The Church in Vik 

Seeing a Glacier Up Close



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A Rainbow in My Mouth

Sometimes in order to get my husband to take photos of me like this I have to keep him happy by staging silly pictures, like this one he insisted I pose for at Skógafoss one of the biggest and most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.In return however he took some lovely photos of my sister Kaaren and me at the falls. The Skógafoss has its source in the glacier I wrote about in my last post. Skógafoss is sixty meters high.The spray from the waterfall which mists around you as you hike closer consistently produces a rainbow near the base of the falls on sunny days.  There is a legend that a treasure was hidden in a cave behind the falls. No one has yet been able to find or retrieve it. Although Dave isn’t always eager to take photos of me he had no trouble agreeing to snap a picture of these two lovely young ladies from Germany. 

Skógafoss has been used as a backdrop for movies, television programs and music videos and countless posters with inspirational sayings. 

I saw a young blind man with a white cane being led to the falls holding on to the hand of a woman about his age.  It made me close my eyes for a minute and listen to the falls.  It was a good reminder that nature’s beauty can be enjoyed with more than just your sense of sight.

Other posts………

Visiting A Glacier in Iceland 

Hiking Up to the Church in Vik Iceland

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The Myrdalsjokull Glacier Hike

quartet on glacierWe hiked up to the Myrdalsjokull glacier. kaaren and me glacier vikThe weather kept changing drastically during our hike.  One minute it would be sunny and the next freezing and raining like in this photo with my sister.  streams from glacier vikAll along the way we saw these streams running down from the sides of the mountains.  hike to galcierIn some places there were so many they made a loud rushing sound. hike to glacierOf course Dave as usual was way ahead of the rest of us….. dave sign glacierand was the first to reach the sign that said we shouldn’t proceed any further without proper ice hiking equipment. Since everyone else seemed to be ignoring the sign we did too and kept walking closer to the glacier. ken on glacierMy intrepid brother-in-law Ken climbed a little further and higher than the rest of us.dave and me glacier vikWhen we got up right close to the glacier the sun came out.dave and ken having funAnd Ken and Dave hammed it up a bit for the photographer. woman who took our photo vikThis fellow hiker lived in Columbia for most of her life but now resides in Florida.  Here she is telling Ken and Dave about the effects of the recent hurricane in her home city of Fort Lauderdale.  group photo glacier vikShe offered to take group photos of us. hiking to vik glacierMyrdalsjokull is Iceland’s fourth largest glacier covering nearly 600 square kilometers. vik glacierIt is on top of the volcano Katla which erupts every 40-80 years. The last eruption was in 1918. at the glacier vikApparently at places the ice on this glacier is hundreds of metres thick. three trolls with rainbowOn our drive home from the glacier we stopped at another lookout point to see the iconic local landform nicknamed The Three Trolls. Can you see the faint rainbow off to the left?rainbow near vik icelandAlthough the constant switch of the weather from cold and rainy to sunny and warmer all day wasn’t convenient it did create many beautiful rainbowsarch rainbowand some lovely light effects over the ocean. sun over the oceanWe’ve only been in Iceland a couple days but I’m beginning to believe what writer Stephen Markley said is  true……. rock bridge“The problem with driving around in Iceland is that you’re basically confronted by a new soul-enriching, breath-taking, life-affirming natural sight every five minutes. It’s totally exhausting.”

Other posts……………….

 Hiking Up to the Church in Vik Iceland


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The View From the Church in Vik Iceland

Sunday morning we hiked up to a Lutheran Church just behind the little cottage where we are staying in Vik on the southern tip of Iceland. 

Our cottage named Eingigarour

The church yard afforded us a view of the angry Atlantic Ocean and this farmyard with a horse pasture. 

Rain had been predicted for the whole day but it held off for our hike. Although things might have looked brighter in the sunlight, the mist and darker sky gave a beauty all its own to the morning.  The rain during the night had drenched the tiny flowers and polished the fall leaves. We hiked up the trail behind the church to the graveyard.I love to visit graveyards because you can learn so much about local history from them.In Iceland only first names are commonly used.  Your last name is your father’s name and if you are a boy you add ‘son’ on the end.  So Gisli born in 1886 was the son of Svein according to this tombstone.  And Sigridur born in 1920 was the daughter of Gisla. This moss covered wall ran along one side of the graveyard.From the graveyard hill we could look out over the village of Vik, the church and the ocean. This tiny fern was poking out from under one of the pathway steps. Every church we have seen so far in Iceland is built in an almost identical way to this one with white siding and a red roof. 

Other posts………

A Tiny Church

Church of the Holy Cross

Faith That Frees


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Reading My Way Through Germany, Switzerland and Austria

Before we left on our cycling trip in Europe I downloaded three books on my Kindle, one for each of the countries we would travel through.

My German book was Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. Trudy is a Minneapolis history professor searching for the truth about her childhood. She won’t learn anything from her mother Anna who stubbornly refuses to talk about the past. We find out Trudy’s father was a Jewish doctor captured by the Nazis. Anna becomes the mistress of a German military man in order to save Trudy’s life. After the war an American serviceman marries Anna and brings her and Trudy to the United States. Trudy believes she is the daughter of the SS officer, who she can vaguely remember. This knowledge colors her whole life. Things change when Trudy undertakes a history project interviewing German war survivors living in America. I chose the classic Heidi by Johanna Spyri for my Switzerland book. I had not read it since my childhood. Heidi was written in the 1880s and I wondered if Heidi was the inspiration for female heroines of the early 1900s like Pollyanna in America, Anne of Green Gables in Canada, and Mary Lennox in England’s The Secret Garden. These are plucky, independent young girls who have had difficult lives and yet remain hopeful and are a positive influence on those around them. One thing I had forgotten about the book Heidi was how religious it was and how faith plays such a key role in the lives of Heidi and her embittered grandfather.

In A Whole Life by Robert Seehalter we are provided with a spare, simple, unemotional and honest look at the entire life of an ordinary Austrian man named Egger. He has a horrific childhood, a varied work career where he labours incredibly hard but is always a dedicated employee, a brief time of quiet married joy, a stint in the army that leaves him a prisoner of war, and then a retirement where he guides tourists on treks in the Austrian Alps. Outwardly there would seem to be little that is remarkable about Egger’s life but the fact that he is able to find inner calm amidst the difficulties of day-to-day living and accept his lot in life is remarkable.

From Those Who Save Us I gained an interesting perspective on the holocaust in Germany. From Heidi I enjoyed absolutely beautiful descriptions of the Swiss countryside and In A Whole Life I saw Austrian history and geography through the eyes of an ordinary man.

Other posts about books and travels……….
Eat Pray Love
Images From Ru

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Bach Stein not Steinbach

door konstanz germanyToday we hung around in Konstanz, Germany. There is plenty of lovely old architecture left there.  That’s because the city was not bombed by the allies during World War II thanks to geography.  

swiss german border

Standing at the border between Kreuzlingen Switzerland and Konstanz German. 

Konstanz is really a twin city of a Swiss town called Kreuzlingen. Allied bombers left Konstanz alone because they were worried about accidently bombing Kreuzlingen and thus violating Switzerland’s neutrality. Konstanz citizens left all their lights on at night so that allied pilots would not be able to differentiate Konstanz from Kreuzlingen where citizens also left their lights on to alert allied pilots. rosegarten museumWe learned about this at the Rosgarten Museum in Konstanz which we visited today courtesy of a free coupon from our bike tour company. A display on the top floor told the story of the fate of the Jews in Konstanz during World War II.  They were transported to Gurs, an internment camp in France. Those who didn’t die there were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered.  dave in museum courtyardWe sat in the sunny courtyard of the museum later enjoying the free coffees also provided by our coupon.  Dave read more about Konstanz history in the museum guide. bach stein clothing storyAs we walked through the streets of Konstanz my sister pointed out this men’s clothing store.  Kaaren and I grew up in a community called Steinbach. Here was a clothing store with the name of our home town in reverse.  Bach Stein. lamb in konstanzWe ate delicious lamb doner kebabs for supper.  The owner chatted with us as we ate.  He is a Kurdish immigrant and has been quite successful in Germany. He also owns two businesses in Stuttgart.
After supper we had pastries and coffee in the city square and listened to a band covering American music by the likes of Cat Stevens and Elton John.  Then it was off to bed.  Tomorrow we head to Zurich and then on to Iceland for the second leg of our trip. 

Other posts about our bike trip in Germany

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House Barns and Gelato

And just like that our five-day biking trip around Lake Konstanz or the Boden See is over. Our last day of cycling was fairly easy compared to the previous four. The weather was absolutely lovely, sunny and just cool enough to make for pleasant riding. We were biking mostly in Switzerland today and saw house barns along the way. The house was attached right to the barn just like some of the houses in my grandparents’ village of Gnadenthal in southern Manitoba and like the house at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach.  I had to stop and photograph these terra-cotta warriors around the swimming pool at a luxurious apartment complex overlooking the lake.  Dave and I visited the site of the real terra-cotta warriors in Xian China and so it was somewhat startling to see these giant reproductions in the middle of Germany. 
We decided since it was our last day we should have our photo taken with our bikes beside the beautiful Boden See which we have been travelling around all week. This very polite and kind young man named David who was resting on a park bench agreed to take our photo. He told us he was on one last cycling excursion before starting his university year in Munich where he is studying to be an industrial engineer. He even took a panoramic shot of our group.
We stopped at noon for a drink at a little place along our bike path where we met a couple from Connecticut who have cycled in many different places. They recommended our next trip should be cycling the heel of Italy’s boot.  

Once we arrived back in Konstanz we checked back into the Hotel Halm where we stayed at the start of our journey. Dave has been looking for a gelato place all along our route and he finally found one this afternoon so we had to stop.

Over an excellent dinner at a Singaporean restaurant we reflected on our great bike trip and the good quality of the tour company who organized our route provided our sturdy and reliable bikes, reserved our hotels for each night and ferried our luggage from place to place. We would happily book a tour with them again.  

After a day of rest here in Konstanz we will be off to Iceland for the next stage of our journey. 

All the posts about our bike trip

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