vineri, 16 septembrie 2016

Iceland- the country of fire and ice

Surrounded by the Atlantic, partially covered with ice, crested by deep valleys, strong waterfalls, Iceland is the tip of the sword above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. A vast land of incredible natural diversity, from the snow covered peaks in the center to the endless black-sand beaches that struggle vigorously with the Atlantic waves. It is the place where ice and fire coexist, giving a unique landscape where glaciers form on top of volcanoes, lava springs out from under the ice,  mud boils at the surface and sulfur-rich waters heal any wound. Father time and mother Earth have been both generous and cruel with these lands. The beauty and wealth found here is only equaled by the numerous natural disasters that have crippled the country's forest surface to almost nothing and decimated the population throughout history.
Any geologist would easily agree that Iceland is more than fascinating. Speaking from personal experience and knowledge, Iceland is definitely one of the best places to be if you are a natural science student or just a passionate for our beautiful little blue planet. It is here that one can see "behind the curtain" how earth is created, can take a peek into history by simply looking at layers of ice.
It has been a novel experience for both of us, not just because we were here for the first time but because we never did so many things and saw so many completely different places in just one day.  

Day 1
Undoubtedly the hardest of them all and the most tiresome. Having slept but a few hours the night before (you know how it is, planning and other stuff done in the last moment :D ) a lot of coffee before the flight, on the flight and after landing, picking up the car, hearing a lot of gibberish about insurance, damage to the car, sandstorms and broken windshields, we finally got out under the overcast Icelandic sky. Our first priority was to head over to Reykjavik and find camping gas (our reserves were confiscated by a nice lady at the Copenhagen Airport- we can understand why, although it is not the first time we fly with camping gas in our backpacks- suck on this airport security!!). Anyway, we eventually found a gas station that had what we needed and so we took off eastbound. We decided to leave Reykjavik to our last day.
The road leading east

Þingvellir National Park (Almannagjá canyon marks the boundary between the Eurasian and North-American plate tectonics)
Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park
Travelling south-east from Reykjavik, a first big stop was the so-called Golden Circle. This area encompasses a multitude of natural beauties which are probably the best known also due to their proximity to the capital. Þingvellir National Park: the birthplace for the first Icelandic Parliament and also the place where man can literally walk between the North-American and the Eurasian tectonic plates (pretty damn cool :) )
Near Geysir

Baking bread near Geysir. Geothermal heat is used by locals  to bake bread. Rúgbrauð is simply placed in holes in the ground and left there for several hours.

Geysir- a natural hot spring that simply can't handle the pressure and bursts into the air, it can go up to 10 meters. However, Geysir hasn´t been so active in recent years so his mate, Strokkur, decided to lend a hand and keep tourists with itchy shutter fingers happy.
Volcanic landscape and young vegetation

Gullfoss. The Golden Waterfall
 The Golden Fall is one hell of a waterfall. Monumental, loud and intimidating.

 Uriðafoss is the underdog in the south, compared to its bigger sisters and yet, it is the most voluminous waterfall in the country (360 m3/s). It is also located on the Þjórsá River, the longest river in the country (230 km)
If you ever thought of visiting Iceland or you like looking at photos from this country, it is very likely that you heard  or saw photos of Seljalandsfoss. What makes it so interesting and popular is its proximity to the national road (oh yes, why go further away from the road and from safety when you can just lower your window). Leaving bad humor aside, it is a gorgeous waterfall, with a 60 meters drop and one can get behind it which makes this an even more interesting experience. The view from behind the waterfall is amazing and although the wind blew towards us, soaking us completely, it was a fantastic way to end our first day.
To be continued...

marți, 19 aprilie 2016

Stockholm, or Scandinavia's finest capital

Many are those who praise Stockholm as being the most beautiful capital of the northern countries, even of the world and we tend to agree... almost. Of course, we are being subjective here, but we also like to keep a certain balance in our description.

 We set off from Copenhagen with a low-cost flight and landed at one of the 3 airports that serve the city of Stockholm, evidently the smallest and the farthest one. Needless to say that the transport system is flawless and surgically precise so we got in the city relatively fast.  

 We developed a certain routine when it comes to visiting large cities and a kind of space orientation so that a simple map is enough to find our way. We found our hostel, checked in, left our baggage and took-off again. It was already dark outside so things looked differently.

 We wandered through the narrow streets of the old town (Gamla Stan), stared at the many small shops with handmade things, from clothes, iron souvenirs, leather and many other. What we truly enjoyed was the quiet atmosphere that otherwise lacks in other major capitals. Less (but still present) kitsch related to local souvenirs and more focus on supporting local artists by selling their work in many shops including the tourist center.

 An Easter tradition in the nordic countries-hanging of colored feathers

 One of the metro stations (many stations have been designed by local artists)

 The City Hall

 Besides the city center which is obviously the first thing to visit, one can truly experience nature at its best. Around Stockholm there are countless hiking paths, rocky shores, beautiful pine forests that stretch for many kilometers. Dozens of small islands surround Stockholm so with a canoe, the experience here can get even better. During the warm season, not our case here, there are daily cruises that circle around the archipelago. 

 Stockholm has this element that is missing in other capitals and that is the calm way of living, thing that made our stay more bearable, especially because we spent here 4 days, which is quite a lot even for us. On the other hand, we were here in March so we're quite sure things are different in the summer months. Nevertheless, it is a pleasing city, with lots to offer, whether you're a gourmand, an architecture fanatic or a wild spirit in search of nature escape.

To be continued...