Saturday, January 29, 2022

Back Home Again

Well, the shadows are back here in Meaford.  There isn't much new to report other than the continuing snow and cold temperatures.  We get a little snow every few days, and tonight there's an extreme cold weather alert with wind chills forecast to take the mercury down to near -30C.  My caregiver this morning said her car thermometer read -31C!  Seems like a pretty typical January to me!

We did have a bright sunny day yesterday, and it was glorious, even though the sun wasn't enough to raise the temperature much.  It did bring the shadows of the trees back for awhile and the sun is back today.

And those trees were outlined against a totally blue sky.

The view out back was beautiful, making me think of the next season to come.

But there's enough snow that our heron is still behaving like an ostrich.

Just as a reminder, our heron still had his head (mostly) above the snow only 6 days ago.

Just 24 hours before the bright sunny photos above, this was the view out back, with the snow coming down heavily.  We haven't had as much snow as some years, but it's plenty to make you feel that it's winter, and the continuous below freezing weather has been great for outdoor rinks and cross-country ski trails.

Not much else to report on here, but I'll see what I can come up with to keep you amused.  I've been stuck at home with a skin infection for longer than I'd like, missing both physio and church for several weeks now.  And our coffee group can't meet because of the current covid rules.  Hopefully that will end next week, and I am starting to feel better.  In fact I'm keeping happily busy with reading and writing as well as doing all my exercises.

I've just been looking back at posts from the past, and found we had a squirrel invasion 4 years ago on this date.  We had 6 squirrels clustered around the bird feeder at once!  In comparison I don't think I've seen a single squirrel for three weeks this year.  I have hardly seen a single bird in the yard either; it's a dull time of year for wildlife.

So I hope you're enjoying whatever weather the winter season is bringing you as we approach Groundhog Day and Candlemas next week.  Now only four days away, these festivals traditionally mark the middle of winter, 40 days after Christmas, on Feb. 2nd.  Hope that the groundhog does not see its shadow!

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Blue Lagoon

The last highlight of our trip to Iceland was visiting the famous Blue Lagoon.  It's conveniently located near the airport, so we left early on our last day and stopped there to enjoy the warm water for an hour or two.  It was very relaxing, and quite busy, popular with locals as well as tourists!

These photos show the busy corner of the Blue Lagoon; most people don't go far from the entrance from the changing rooms.  The required nude showers almost put Mrs. F.G. off, but it's quite routine here.

You can even slip into a sauna if you wish.  The facility operates as a spa, promoting itself as a retreat with healing benefits from the high silica content of the water (which gives it the blue colour).  There is a hotel and restaurants for those wanting a longer stay.

We quite enjoyed our hour-long swim, floating easily in the warm water, just as you'd expect from a hot spring.  There wasn't a lot of actual swimming done; most of the lagoon is only 4-5 feet deep.  And this isn't actually a hot spring, it's left over warm water from a geothermal power plant next door.

There is more to this geothermal lagoon than the area developed into the spa.  There are two major lagoons in the lava field here, beside the neighbouring geothermal power plant that provides the warm water.  The developed corner of the lagoon is only about 1/10th of the total lagoon.

So outside the 'Blue Lagoon Spa', you can see other parts of the lagoon, surrounded by incredibly rough, convoluted black lava, stuff you would not want to walk on at all!  It's often covered by a thin layer of moss or lichen, the grey you see in the pictures.

The story of Iceland's transition to renewable energy is an important one.  Today nearly 90% of Iceland's homes (and almost all of Reykjavik's) are heated directly from geothermal sources, while hot water is provided directly to your tap and shower - you have to be careful because the water is HOT!  Between hydro and geothermal energy, virtually 100% of Iceland's electricity is renewable.  Oil and gas is only needed for vehicles, but even the roads, sidewalks and parking lots are cleared by the warm water piped underneath them.

So while you're floating in the blue lagoon you can celebrate Iceland's geothermal energy sources and the low-cost energy they provide, as well as the left-over warm water for the lagoon.  All of this is because of Iceland sitting atop the mid-Atlantic Ridge, and this corner, known as the Reykjanes Peninsula is the second place where the separating plates of the continents can be seen.  And the whole area is the Reykjanes UNESCO Geopark.


If you've followed along you'll know that this trip crammed a lot into 4.5 days.  We were kept really busy.  Your have to be able to enjoy touring on a bus, but we had done that before when we went to Italy, so we were confident it would be ok.  And a very high proportion of Iceland tourism is based on tours, from the day-long tours we enjoyed to luxury tours that follow the circle route around the entire island, at a much higher cost!  You can rent a car and do the drive yourself, but you do then need to do your own research on what you want to stop and see.

As I said at the beginning, this adventure was very much a spur-of-the-moment decision when I saw the ad for a cheap Iceland holiday, and it turned out to be a wonderful adventure.  Not the time of year we would have chosen, but it fit our budget that year.

Out biggest impression was how rugged and interesting Iceland was, and how its settlement clung to the outer edge of the island.  And how organized they were - there wasn't s slip-up in our tours for the entire time.  And it all came in on budget, no hidden surprise costs.  Hope you've enjoyed joining us on our visit to Iceland..

Monday, January 24, 2022

Reynisdrangar and the (Sometimes Deadly) Reynisfjara

The destination of our fourth day in Iceland was actually beyond the waterfalls and the museum to the south coast, about 2 hours from Reykjavik.  It was both an interesting drive and a fascinating place.  We ended up at the famous black sand beach known as Reynisfjara.  And the sand was truly black, eroded from Iceland's volcanic rocks.

This is said to be the most beautiful black sand beach in the world.  It was formed when hot lava from the nearby Katla volcano ran into the cold seawater and broke down so quickly it formed sand almost instantly (in geological terms). I think the 'most beautiful in the world' description may have been added in mid-summer when the sun was out, the waves were gentle, and the water was blue!

That certainly wasn't the case on the day we were there!

But this felt like a real adventure and we enjoyed all of it - the beach that Mrs. F.G. is walking along, the crashing waves, the cold howling wind off the north Atlantic and the offshore sea stacks.  Almost as adventurous as being up on the glacier two days before!  And close to going outdoors at this time of year here in Meaford!

The waves off the Atlantic were crashing!  However, these waves can be deadly!  Because of the underlying steep slope of the beach here, a much larger swell can approach without warning, and suddenly push much further up on the beach.  Known by meteorologists as 'sneaker waves', these have caused several drownings here over the past 20 years, one just two months ago.

If you've ever been caught in an ocean swell, you'll understand.  It's the backwash that's deadly, possibly carrying you away from shore.  If you're wearing warm clothing and can't swim, you're in trouble immediately!  This is particularly treacherous for tourists who approach the narrow bits of beach at the far ends, where there's not much space between the peaceful waterline and the cliffs.  Just google Reynisfjara and you can find videos of large groups of tourists being knocked off their feet, and occasionally tourists being washed out some distance into the water.

Cliffs rise at either end of the beach, and the wild towering Reynisdrangar sea stacks (Reynir's Pillars of Rock) rise offshore, nesting place of thousands of birds like Puffins, Guillemots, Fulmars and Arctic Tern.   We could barely see the stacks through the haze when we were there and certainly couldn't make out the seabirds!

Did I mention that Iceland has trolls as well as elves?  There are two stories of how these rock pillars were formed, and both feature trolls.  One version is that two trolls were trying to pull a large schooner onshore, but the sun rose before they finished and froze them to stone (trolls in Iceland are creatures of the dark).  The other involves a man whose wife was murdered by two trolls.  He went to find them and again sunrise came before they could get away so they were frozen into rock.  Take your pick!

But in all of this it was the basaltic columns on the lower cliff at the end of the beach that intrigued me.  

These rocks are cooled lava, 90% of which is composed of basalt.  If it cools relatively rapidly (say over just a century), it undergoes columnar jointing forming these vertical columns.

 Typically the lava forms geometric columns, hexagons, pentagons or octagons in cross-section.  It's truly remarkable when you see them.  We've also seen these in Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland, and in Edinburgh on the lower cliffs of Arthur's Seat, a site known as Samson's Ribs. but perhaps the best known sites are the Giant's Causeway in Ireland and the Devil's Postpile in eastern California.

In places you could almost walk up the side of the cliff using the columns as stepping stones.

Can you see the little wheels in my brain turning under that hat?  I've been skimming Instagram and thinking of all the adventures we've had, including this one.  Once we've returned from Iceland I'll tell you about it.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss

Waterfalls are a great attraction in Iceland, and we saw some of the best.  Along the drive down to the south coast we saw both Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss, walking up to each to get a close look.  These and other waterfalls are fed by the melting glaciers of the highlands, particularly in these two cases by the melting ice from the Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers, the southernmost glaciers in Iceland.  We stopped to inspect the edge of a glacier first, the source of the water for these falls.

This is the toe of the glacier, slipping down the valley to where it is more accessible.

We crossed the wide gravel area and then got right onto the ice at the front of this glacier.  As you can see it's very dirty from all the sediment that accumulates on the surface as it melts.

The immediate edge of the glacier was carved into fascinating shapes.

And to our left was the beginning of the meltwater running off the ice and forming the beginning of the river.

And BONUS! you get a picture of Mr. and Mrs. Furry Gnome together!  Can you believe this is one of only 2 or 3 pictures of us together from all our travels?  Says a lot about me as a photographer.  As you can see it wasn't very warm, with a cool breeze flowing off the ice.

And here is the first waterfall.  As you approach the walk to Skogafoss, the larger of the two waterfalls, it's partly hidden behind the hill, but it certainly looks like a powerful waterfalls at this point.
The canyon it's cut in the cliff is filled with mist, and the approach is filled with people, giving you an indication of how popular these sites are - and remember, this is a cold day in late April.

Eventually I manage to get a view without people, but we're not going closer for the risk of getting drenched!

Driving on to the next we get a great view of a waterfall blowing uphill!  The wind was pretty strong to create that effect.

Seljalandsfoss is a smaller but still beautiful waterfalls, flowing over the edge of the same line of cliffs.
This falls has a large cave in behind the curtain of water, but we didn't choose to get drenched here either!  Many of the views of this waterfalls that you can find online are looking out of that cave at the falls from behind.

There are a couple of nearby smaller waterfalls, but we didn't get names for those.  Very pretty waterfalls in their own right, but over-shadowed by the two larger ones.

You can see our distant bus when we turned around to head back.  A great afternoon of checking out waterfalls!

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Skogar Museum

Skogar Museum, two hours south of Reykjavik, was our destination one day, and it was fascinating.  This is an open-air folk museum showing the architecture of homes from the past, including an amazing 'turf house'.  No elves in sight, but we enjoyed seeing homes of Iceland's past.

This is the turf house at the museum, all one house but perhaps lived in by an extended family.  What look like different buildings would be connected beneath the sod roofs.

Sod homes were built from the time of settlement up until the mid-20th century, the sod and stones helping to keep the houses warm.  I'm wondering if the lack of trees for firewood was also part of the context for this.

These are not original sod homes, but real homes nevertheless, moved from nearby and restored.  Elsewhere in Iceland you can see original sod homes lived in until the 1950s but now used as museums.  They require a lot of maintenance.

I found the architecture fascinating; inside they were like any other early home, the sod is only on the outside.

There were also a few other early 20th century buildings, 3 homes and a small church, 

The interior of the homes contained what I expected, based on visiting other pioneer villages here in Canada.

The Skokgakirkja Church was much like pioneer churches here, but considerably more ornate inside than I expected, perhaps reflecting the Lutheran tradition.  Regina Hronn Ragnarsdottir, the lady in the photo (thanks), is an Icelandic blogger who has written extensively about tourist sites in Iceland that reflect Icelandic culture, including turf houses.

There was also an interior part of the Skogar Museum, with smaller models of sailing vessels and a number of other historic artifacts, many related to local fishing .

I found the butter churns and ladles interesting, for I have a ladle exactly like these from my grandparents.

But the centrepiece of the museum is the 'Petursey', a fishing boat actually built on this farm in 1855 and donated to the museum in 1952.  The new museum building was built around it and houses it and all the other artifacts which you can now see year-round.

We found the visit to Skogar Museum provided a good glimpse into traditional Icelandic culture, and a refreshing balance to all the more natural features we were seeing otherwise, the glaciers, waterfalls and rocks!  (Along with the elves).