The Icelandic Yule Lads

As today’s the day, I wanted to share how Icelandic people count down to Christmas. I found a book about this during my first trip to Iceland. Since then, I’ve loved this story about the 13 little fellas who keep excitable Children in check as Christmas approaches.

They reputedly come from the lava fields of Dimmuborgir, so of course I visited there when I was chilling on the north side of iceland two years ago.

Me and the lads

This is their natural habitat, and playground:

Dimmuborgir: look closely and you may see one of the Yule Lads hiding in the lava field

Keep an eye on your sausages, and look forward to the day when you can gobble Skyr, safe in the knowledge that you are only copying the example of another.

Here’s someone else’s (much better, and more knowledgeable than mine) explanation:
Icelandic Jólasveinar – Santa Clauses in Iceland

From Furugrund

7 Super Shots

I am taking part in Hostelbookers 7 super shots thread, because they’ve started lots of travel bloggers scouring their digital photo archives on dark winter evenings (if you live in the northern hemisphere, that is) with this winning idea to inspire those with itchy feet.

Here’s my two penn’orth:

1) A photo that…takes my breath away
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Iceland. It was an October afternoon, a couple of degrees above zero and blowing in a force 4-5 gale off the sea. But still it’s so beautiful that a couple of friends and I spent nearly two hours here taking photos. Just as we though we’d captured the sunset, someone set the sky on fire…

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Iceland


2) A photo that…makes me laugh or smile
A baby Orangutan flicking a crafty ‘v’ sign on his cheek at me. This youngster and his parents oozed character, and make for some fabulous photos.

Baby organutan, Lok Kawi zoo, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo


3) A photo that…makes me dream
Back to dear, lovely Iceland again. This time to Grundarfjörður, on the north side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. Out hiking in a rainstorm west of the Kirkjufell, a small glacier-carved mountain now forming a peninsula at the edge of the fjord, I stumbled upon some lovely wooden cottages. Maybe one day I will own my own cabin around here…

Wooden cabins, Kirkjufell, Grundarfjörður, Iceland


4) A photo that…makes me think
My trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau remains one of the most moving days of my life. I spent most of the day in tears at the awful things that humans can do to other humans, and the sheer scale of the loss of life. These small stones, lovingly inscribed with names and dates of those lost by their dependents and placed on the railway tracks at Birkenau, stun me every time I look back at the photo.

Memorial stones on the railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau


5) A photo that…makes my mouth water
In stark contrast to the above, a very simple shot of my friend Jamie thinking just how much he would love a Pieminister pie at that moment in time. The added bonus is that this was taken at the legendary Glastonbury Festival, one of my favourite places in the world, at the stall next to the also-legendary Brothers Cider Bar in the West Holts.

Do you know what...? I love Pieminister!


6) A photo that…tells a story
These two young novice monks, at Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan, look all sweetness and light. But until about three seconds before I took this photo, they were having the most violent and un-monklike fight in the monastery’s courtyard!

Novice monks, Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

A secondary story is that this was one of my Grandma’s favourite photos from my travels. I spent several hours at her house with the laptop talking her through my photos, but she was captivated by these monks above almost anything else (even the Great Wall Of China, which she had always wanted to visit but never did). I hear she told my Dad and many friends who visited her about “those two little lads who were growing up to be monks”.


7) A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)
This ‘accolade’ simply has to go to my photo of the stunning Yamdrok-tso lake, in Tibet. I often have this photo as my desktop background on my work computer, and people cannot believe it was taken with a compact camera, and has not been digitally enhanced (or even cropped) in any way. I was just lucky, and in a supremely beautiful place.

Yamdrok-tso, Tibet


This photo tag game has been going for a couple of weeks now, so I’m going to nominate 5 posts I’ve seen that I really like (and that inspired me to blog my own – thank you!):

  1. Cam & Nicole at Travelling Canucks and their 7 super shots
  2. Alex at Virtual Wayfarer and his 7 super shots
  3. Erin at De La Pura Vida and her 7 super shots (particularly love that baby sloth!)
  4. Cathy at Traveling With Sweeney and her 7 super shots
  5. Anja at Hitting The Road and her 7 super shots

Iceland South Shore Day 2: Vik to Jökulsárlón

There was beautiful early morning sunshine whilst I had breakfast, but the weather turned nasty approximately two minutes after I started a walk on the beach in Vik, and stayed ridiculously (Icelandically!) changeable all day.

I received an element-battering whilst I took a few photos of the Reynisdrangar rock stacks   (legend has it that three trolls out causing mischief one night were turned to stone once dawn broke), before continuing my drive east across the Mýrdalssandur (below).

The next stop on my journey along the south shore was the 120-person village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (meaning something like ‘church farm cloister’, but more commonly known as “Klaustur” to its friends!). I walked up the steep path on the west side of Systrafoss waterfall (seen below from the top, looking over the glacial run-off plain below), around the Systravatn (Sisters’ Lake) that it flows from, and round the rest of a steep and boggy loop back down into the village.

Continuing east, I took a quick stop at Foss á Siðu, as it looked like a great waterfall for a scramble over rocks at the left hand side. Of course, the combination of wet rocks and a clumsy ginger kid led to the clumsy ginger kid almost falling in, but it was fun!

The Skeiðarársandur glacial outwash plain is much larger and more spectacular than the Myrdalssandur (apparently covering a massive 320,000 acres), with long, narrow bridges to carry Route 1 across the many drainage channels.

Halfway across I stopped to look at the photo boards of the worst flooding, caused by the  jökulhlaup after the 1996 eruption of Grímsvötn (the volcano which caused the smaller ash cloud in May 2011). There’s also a twisted girder of the Skeiðará old bridge by the information signs, giving just a little indication of the destructive power of nature.

Further east, beyond the Skaftafell National Park visitor centre, I decided to go it alone on a glacier hike (I’ve done organised ones on past trips), and spent a merry hour sliding and scrambling around in the moraine at the end of the Svínafellsjökull glacier tongue.

The last big driving stretch of the day – from Svínafellsjökull to Jökulsárlón – was the best of an amazing amount of beautiful scenery.  I had phenomenal views of glaciers and mountains both in front of me and behind, and felt extremely lucky both to be there and that the road was almost deserted so I could keep stopping for photos.

Jökulsárlón (the glacier lagoon) is simply as stunning as I was expecting it to be, and a whole lot more. Despite the bitter cold my friends and I spent a good couple of hours taking photos and watching the seals

…also looking for the Great Skua (not the British Sea Power record!). And then someone set the sky on fire.

I can cram a lot into these days.

After I’d found my hostel and had dinner it got even better, as the clear night and open skies, I finally got to see some bright flashing greens and purples of the northern lights. Only a little “show”, but absolutely stunning and leaving me wanting to make another trip to see the Aurora in its wider beauty again soon.

Iceland Airwaves 2010

I don’t want to fill my travel blog with gig reviews and pictures, but the larger reason for my trip to Iceland was my first visit to the amazing that is Iceland Airwaves.

If you’re interested in music, links to listen to some of the artists I (re)discovered, and my “if you only listen to one track listen to this one” recommendation, please have a read of my blog posts over on my littlegingerkid blog .

Day One       Day Two       Day Three       Day Four       Day Five

Prins Polo playing at Venue on Day One of Airwaves

Should you want to learn a few words of Icelandic, I can point you in the direction of this lovely blog

Chilling on the north side of Iceland

THE ROAD. After a late-to-bed and early-to-rise (to watch the F1 from Suzuka) it’s safe to say I arrived a Heathrow a little tired. This is attested by the fact that I punched myself in the nose at the departure gate at Heathrow (I was getting the Sunday Times out of my rucksack, so I blame Rupert Murdoch…).

Anyways, an Icelandair flight to Reykjavik (Keflavik), the Flybus to Reykjavik (domestic) and an Air Iceland flight to Akureyri later, Elly and I were checked into our hostel, Storholt , and headed to downtown Akureyri. This may be the local gay bar?!

Electric Six's next album cover

Bláa kannan – the Blue Coffee Pot – cafe bar was a much prettier nicer location (with cake!) for the cold Thule I’d been promising myself on the first night back in lovely Iceland.

DAY ONE Monday (the 1st full day) saw Elly and I pick up a hire car made for me:

My Icelandic wheels

We headed north-west out of Akureyri, up the west coast of the Eyjafjörður fjord, stopping briefly in Dalvik & Ólafsfjörður before heading into the newly-finished tunnels under the mountains. The first, being single-file with absolutely no indication as to traffic priority, would have descended into a Chuckle Brothers style to-me-to-you farce if we weren’t deep into the offseason. The second and third tunnels broke for air in the lovely setting of Héðinsfjörður.

Héðinsfjörðurvatn. Beautiful even on a misty, drizzly day

We reached Siglufjörður – “herring town” – to find the town’s main attaction, a museum celebrating the “herring years” (unsure if this is to do with the comedian Richard?!) was closed, as was most of the town at this time of year. However there was a lovely craft shop and a rusting boat that reflected itself in a seepia tint into a muddy puddle.

Rusty boat in Siglufjörður

DAY TWO. An early start to get the kilometres under the tyres, east out of Akureyri. First stop was Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods.

Godfoss in full flow

There are a couple of much better photos, and a note on the myth behind the formation of the waterfall here

Heading further eastwards we reached Lake Myvatn , stopping for a spot to eat, then to walk the shore near the strange lava formations standing in the lake at Höfði.

Lava formations in Lake Myvatn at Höfði

Following a wee bit of marvelling over the workings of nature, we headed for still more around the ‘dark castles’ of the rock pillar formations at Dimmuborgir

Lava formations on dry land at Dimmuborgir

Dimmuborgir, it should be noted, is also the feted home of the Icelandic Jólasveinar or Yule Lads , a Christmas tradition.
Also the inspiration for a Norwegian black metal band (fans of the latter mistakenly finding this page via Google should click here to return to the darkness!).

Next stop on the anti-clockwise (hey, I got fed up of clockwise with all the Buddhist holy places earlier this year, and have been going the other way to counteract the dizziness!) lap of the lake was the mud pots and steam vents of the Hverir geothermal area.

It just backs up my comments that parts of Iceland are like walking on the moon (and, in fact, it’s not far from Askja where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and other Apollo programme astronauts trained for their moon landings).

The video helps, but can’t take you there (or convey the potent suphorous “eggy” smells!)

We then headed up to the coast to Husavik, the capital of whale watching.

Husavik harbour

Unfortunately we’d missed the only whale watching boat of the day and the Icelandic Phallological Museum (yes, really !!) was closed for the winter, with it being low season. Instead we went to the whale museum, where I learnt a lot about something I never really knew that I didn’t know anything about, if you catch my drift…?

Finally, back to Myvatan to see the sunset, relax in the hot springs at Myvatn Nature Baths and look (in vain, as it turned out, for the Northern Lights).

Sunset over Lake Myvatn

Shame about not seeing the Northern Lights. Again. Means I’ll just have to keep coming back to lovely, lovely Iceland. Obviously I’m really upset about that…!