Visits to "I" lands - 2014
   For our winter escape in 2014 we decided to include visits to Ireland, Iceland and the Cook Islands - as well as stops in the good old USA.

  The Ireland visit was 2 weeks of golfing and touring with a couple of good friends. We stayed in nice hotels which included excellent breakfasts, saw castles and quaint villages, played some beautiful golf courses (albeit not overly well), and enjoyed many excellent restaurant dinners. You may have heard it said that "nobody goes to Ireland for the food", but we would beg to differ. It was far from being just boiled potatoes and Irish stew.

Breakfast is served  Dunluce Castle

Golfing Buddies  Spuds

  The Cook Islands (Rarotonga) was a couple of weeks of relaxation in a little beachhouse - and somehow sunset always seemed to happen at gin-o'clock!

beach house  

   

  This posting is mostly dedicated to the 2 weeks we spent circling Iceland in a campervan caravan with brother and sister-in-law Jim and Mary Ellen. We met in a B&B near Keflavik airport and picked up our rental vans the next morning. We have had campervan holidays in the past - but this is by far the biggest vehicle we have used. It was quite comfortable - and well suited to the wide open spaces of Iceland. We easily found scenic overlooks or other nice parking spots for our overnight stays. This was a first campervan experience for Jim and ME - but Jim soon "ramped up" on the skills required to have a level bed. (By the way - John supplied the words and Jill, Jim and ME took all the photos. Click on any image for a bigger view.)

Flag   J and J van

Using the table and chairs   Ramped up

  Our first stop was at at Şingvellir national park. This is a wild and wonderful place where the mid-Atlantic ridge rises above the sea and the earth is splitting as North America and Europe drift further apart. It also marks the historic meeting place where Icelanders have practiced their form of democracy for over 1000 years. We had a lovely ramble down the wildflower bordered path to the waterfall and dinner in the parking lot.

Earth cleft   Waterfall on first walk

wildflowers   Historic meeting place  

  The next day we continued the Iceland "Golden Circle" with visits to the Geysir thermal area and the very impressive Gullfoss waterfall.

Geysir  

   

  Our 2 week stay was in late June and early July - so while the sun did get below the horizon in the middle of the night, it never got dark. Unfortunately, that didn't mean that we did a lot of sitting in the sun. It seems daft to complain about the cold when you visit a place called "ice land", but it was colder than we had expected. We thought that we might get temps between 10-15C (in the 50s F) but we often had daily single digit highs (in the 40s F). The weather never really inhibited our activities (though the rain parkas were well used), but it meant that we couldn't sit outside in the evenings and enjoy the locations where we parked. This is unfortunate because one of the charms of a campervan holiday is the ability to find a nice spot to enjoy. We mostly found nice spots, but had to enjoy them from inside the vans.

 

 

  Iceland is an impressively wild and rugged place, but that doesn't stop the locals from doing their best to make a living from the land. Two thirds of them live in Reykjavik, but it never seems too long before you pass another farm dwelling.

 

 
  More evidence of the hardy local nature came from the wildflowers. They were abundant and widespread.

 

 
  Then, or course, there are the birds. Many of them are not local - just summer visitors making the most of the great nesting and feeding conditions. Puffins are near the top of everyone's list of favorites, and 80% of the world's puffins nest in Iceland. We saw many different species in many different places. Among the notables was the arctic tern, which seemed to be nesting in large numbers in every vacant field. They were beautiful to watch, especially when diving to catch a feed, but fierce in defense of their nests.

 

 

 
  Iceland is famous for volcanoes and glaciers. In fact, during our trip the online weather page contained warnings of possible floods due to volcanic activity under an ice cap. Luckily we had no problems of this nature - and didn't get really close to either one due to the need to travel on rough roads to reach them, and our unwillingness to do this in the vans. We did however visit places where the glacial outflows float to the sea - giving us a day at the beach Iceland style.

 

 

 
  Our closest encounter with volcanic activities was at Mıvatn in the northeast. This large lake is surrounded by signs of recent eruptions, including craters, fumaroles and boiling mud.

 

 

  Icelandic for Iceland is Island - which is easy enough - but Icelandic is a notoriously hard language to learn and speak, and none or us got very far with twisting our tongues to make the required sounds. Luckily Thank You is a simple Taak and most Icelanders speak very good English (and occasionally someone would understand my attempt at "no worries" - "ekk ert maul"). But, here are a couple of volcano names for you to try (including the one that shut down European skies in 2010), and some photos that didn't make it into any other grouping.

 

 

 

 One of the highlight days came towards the end. We had made it back to the east coast and the sun had reappeared. We made the most of a cloudless, windless day to take a boat trip out into Breiğafjörğur bay from the town of Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes penninsula (like I said about Icelandic...) According the Icelandic lore there are 2 things that can not be counted - the number of stars in the sky and the number of islands in this bay. The trip featured nesting birds, weird geology, sea vistas and "Viking sushi" when they dragged up some fresh scallops and urchins - they were delicious (the scallops at least). We then retired to a camp in the lava flows to enjoy the evening.

 

 

 

 

  There are many more stories that could be told, and pictures that could be shared - but I expect that you are probably bored by now and wouldn't be interested to see and hear about World Cup semi-finals at a sod roofed hut filled with Germans, or near escapes from off road adventures at the expense of some burning of the clutch, or a visit to the Icelandic accordion orchestra festival, or green slimy hot baths, or striking attractive blue eyed blonds, or trying to spy on an operational whaling station, or excellent lobster bisque, or Jill dressed as a Viking warrior, would you?
  So that's all from us!