Iceland: Sun, sea & black sand

It was overcast and chilly on the first two days of our Iceland road trip. When the sun finally broke through, it transformed everything—it almost seemed like we were in a different country! The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, as we found ourselves at the southern coast, near the headlands of Dyrholaey.

It was a day at the seaside unlike any I’d ever had, with crashing waves pounding at black, volcanic rocks…

Sea near Dyrholaey

… that would, over thousands of years, turn into miles and miles of this fine black sand.

Reynisfjara black sand beach

Iceland often seemed like it was so many different countries in one, and it wasn’t just because of the sunshine. If you looked back from the volcanic beach landscape, you would see these mountains carpeted with green and yellow. Yo-de-ley-hee-ho!

Inland from Reynisfjara

The coast near Dyrholaey and Vik is also known for being home to one of Iceland’s most famous critters: the puffin.

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Chasing waterfalls in Iceland

Waterfalls are everywhere in Iceland. I lost count of how many we saw while driving on the Ring road, which encircles the entire island. Every now and then we would see mist rising out of a crevice in a hill, or a fine spray of lacy droplets cascading from a source concealed by low, gray clouds. If Marlon and I had stopped for all of them (as we were tempted to do!) we might have never gotten back to Reykjavik after just four days.

We did get down and out of the car for the big ones, though. Seljalandsfoss was one of them.

Seljalandsfoss

The unique thing about this foss (Icelandic for waterfall) is the footpath that takes you behind the water.

Seljalandsfoss behind the falls

Warning: you will be soaked…

Seljalandsfoss leaving the footpath

… but you will also leave happy, and with some great pictures (if you’ve planned ahead to protect your camera). Really, to stay dry is to miss the point!

Seljalandsfoss-Marlon and I

Just a few minutes away is Skogafoss, one of the largest falls in Iceland.

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Iceland: The Golden Circle

Iceland’s most-visited sights are known collectively as the Golden Circle, a loop of three popular natural landmarks within 45 minutes to an hour’s drive out of Reykjavik. The Golden Circle was our first drive out of the capital, on our first day, and it was a great teaser of what to expect for the rest of our four days on the road.

Our first stop, however, technically wasn’t on the Golden Circle, but on the way and worth a quick look. Kerið is a crater that was formed by the inward collapse of an underground magma chamber (magma! Flashback to third-grade science!). More notably, Kerið is the venue of a yearly concert by Bjork, where she performs on rafts set afloat on the lake. Awesomeness.

Kerid

Our next stop was the Þingvellir National Park, the site where the first Icelandic Parliament, or Alþingi, was founded in 930.

Thingvellir and the Icelandic flag

Þingvellir is big—we didn’t cover all of it, but pretty much decided to park the car at a random spot and walk from there. Most of what we saw was a massive wall of rock that stretched far longer than what we could see.

Thingvellir

Part of this wall included the Lögberg, or Law Rock, the main gathering place of early Icelandic parliament, chosen because all the chieftains could reach it by some overland route or another. This natural formation of rock also looks seriously impressive, like a place of power should. From Lögberg, the view of the surrounding landscape made it all too easy to picture these powerful chieftains of old coming from all over Iceland, riding across the landscape to converge at the rock… like the Riders of Rohan galloping across the plains in Lord of the Rings. Goosebumps.

View from Thingvellir

Another spot that lent itself to powerful imagery was a waterfall and pool called Drekkingarhylur, where the Law Council carried out ritual executions by drowning… particularly of women. Eighteen women were known to have been executed here from 1618 to 1749.

Drekkingarhylur, the drowning pool

Of course, if you want plain and simple natural beauty without the history, there’s lots of that too—from long scenic walks…

Thingvellir walk

… to the first of many waterfalls dotting the Icelandic countryside.

Waterfall at Thingvellir

Þingvellir is also famous for being the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet… and are drifting apart ever so slowly. Parts of the ridge are sectioned off, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where continents are being torn apart. However, the many cracks and fissures in the earth are clear evidence of Mother Nature doing some heavy pushing and pulling.

Fissures at Thingvellir

From Þingvellir, it was on to Geysir, the first geyser ever recorded in printed material (and the source of the word “geyser”).

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Hot pot, Iceland style

I’m back! Sorry to have left everyone waiting for so long. Iceland, Kleine Fabriek and a Madonna concert sandwiched in between left me far more exhausted than I expected. I took the week to unplug and rest, and it was just what my body needed. Now I’m back with lots of Iceland stories and good things to share. Your patience will be rewarded!

Before I left for Iceland, the weather forecast for Reykjavik seriously freaked me out: 8℃ to 16℃ (colder than already-chilly Amsterdam) and raining all week. I was so not in the mood for cold and rain that I dragged Marlon into a long discussion of the pros and cons of canceling our trip and booking a last-minute escape to sunny Croatia.

We decided to go anyway, and I calmed myself by (over)packing for crappy weather. Among the contents of my suitcase: an umbrella, Timberland combat boots (my only “sensible” quasi-outdoor shoes), Uniqlo Heattech tops, two wool sweaters, several pairs of wool socks, two wool scarves, a knit headband, fleece leggings, a raincoat and a wool peacoat. So, which of these many garments did I actually end up using within hours of my arrival in Reykjavik?

None of the above. The answer is… my bathing suit!

With an evening arrival in Reykjavik, Marlon and I had just about enough time and energy to check into our apartment, have dinner, and do one other thing. When we found out that Laugardalslaug, Iceland’s largest geothermal swimming pool, was a 10-minute walk from our apartment, it became clear what that “one other thing” would be.

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Siena: Pattern love at the Duomo

While traveling in Italy, you can end up seeing so many churches that they all start to blend together after a while. The one church that jolted me out of my “church fatigue” after two weeks in Italy was the Duomo at Siena.

When I first walked in, it wasn’t the immense scale of the Duomo that got my attention—it was the feeling that, for a church built in the 1200s, there was something so strikingly modern about it. Then I realized what it was: black and white stripes!

Siena Duomo

The tones of midnight blue and copper in the ceiling also seem so current. I would love to use that combination somewhere in my home—to perk up our deep blue bedroom walls, maybe?

Siena Duomo ceiling

I have zero education in design, but I love patterns and I love spotting them on trips. My eyes were drawn to the marble floors of the Duomo, with their bold graphic patterns in black, ivory and rust. Don’t these look so maximalist chic?

Siena Duomo tiled floor pattern1 Siena Duomo tiled floor pattern2 Siena Duomo tiled floor pattern3

It makes sense for a church to remind people of heaven, doesn’t it? That must have been the motivation behind these celestial-inspired patterns on the dome…

Siena Duomo starry dome

… and on the floor of the aptly named Piccolomini Library, a small but stunning collection of illuminated manuscripts housed in the Duomo.

Piccolomini Library floor tiles

I know I can’t be the only secret pattern junkie around here. Now that I’ve outed myself, won’t you lovers of pattern reveal yourselves too?

By the way, this is my last post from our Italy trip. I can’t believe it took me so long to blog about everything! I dive right into Kleine Fabriek as soon as I get back from my trip, so I won’t get to post about Iceland immediately.

However, I’ve prepared something special for the weekend. It’s something I’ve never done on the blog before and combines two of my favorite things: travel and food. I’m excited and I really hope you’ll like it. Stay tuned!

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