A Travellerspoint blog

What, no whales?

Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day six

View VT Euromeet 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

But plenty of wind!

Street art near Hlemmur Square

Today some of us had booked a whale-watching trip, which I had been look forward to eagerly, especially after seeing photos taken by my friend Regina on a similar trip. Although I have been whale watching many times before, it is of course unpredictable and different every time, so I always like to take any opportunity for another trip wherever I find one. But unfortunately, this one was so unpredictable that it was cancelled - not through any fault of the company but because of very strong winds. Credit though to the company through which I had booked, Guide to Iceland, who had processed a full refund before I was even due to be back on shore at the end of the afternoon.

A morning in Reykjavik

In a Reykjavik souvenir shop

So the morning’s exploration of Reykjavik which Isa and I had planned became more or less a full day, but luckily there was more than enough here to keep us occupied. We made a leisurely start, meeting for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters opposite the apartment block. From there we walked slowly along the main street into town, Laugavegur, chatting and looking out for good photo opps as we went.




Reykjavik street art

The photos I took seemed to fall mainly into two groups - street art and architecture. And by the latter I don't mean anything ornate or imposing, but the simple but often colourful traditional corrugated iron houses found in Reykjavik's older districts. The pleasing geometry of vertical lines, rectangular window frames and contrasting roofs seems to reduce the structures from three to two dimensions, creating almost abstract forms.

Reykjavik building details

Reykjavik houses




More Reykjavik building details

Einar Jónsson Sculpture Park

Part way along Laugavegur we turned up towards Hallgrimskirkja in order to visit the Einar Jónsson Sculpture Park nearby, which had been recommended by our tour guide yesterday, Matthias. This lies behind the museum dedicated to the artist and his work, in a building that was formerly his studio.

Colourful shop on Frakkastígur, on the way up to the sculpture park

Einar Jónsson was an Icelandic sculptor working in the first half of the twentieth century. I had never heard of him and it seems that is not so surprising as very little of his work has ever been seen outside his home country.


We walked around for some time, both really taken with the sculptures. Although all different, there seemed to us to be common themes running through them, of protection, encircling arms, safety. You can see the influence of Icelandic folklore too. The figures are for the most part not large (all these works stand on plinths) but have a solidity about them.

Prayer, and Protection

Light and Shade

Thor Wrestling with Age, and Earth

Back outside the gardens we spotted an unusual small art work on a plinth near the Hallgrimskirkja - a jagged metal shape which, viewed from the right angle, provides an interesting frame for the church, echoing its form.

Hallgrimskirkja through a frame, and in silhouette

From here we walked down the hill, taking more photos as we went.

More building details

Lunch at the Old Harbour

We headed for the Old Harbour, where we had arranged to meet others from our group for an early lunch before the whale watching trip that was not to be. We confirmed this with the company’s office there and all agreed that in the (we thought) unlikely event that they were able to reschedule for 17.00 we would not take them up on the offer as we felt the waves would still be high and the whales elusive at that time of day. It would also interfere with our plans for what would be, for most of us, our last evening here.


Old Harbour, Reykjavik

Building near the harbour

Mind the banana skin!

In Reykjavik Fish

Decisions made we went for lunch at Reykjavik Fish and enjoyed their fish and chips while we planned our afternoon.

Fish and chips at Reykjavik Fish

VTers at lunch

We then split up, with Kirsty joining me and Isa in a visit to the nearby Saga Museum. We took a circuitous route however, through a nice residential area and past some more interesting street art on the walls of the Loftkastalinn building.

Street art by Guido van Helten

These are the work of Guido van Helten, an Australian artist who undertook a residency in Reykjavik in 2014. He based his designs on photos from the Reykjavik Museum of Photography Archive which depict scenes from the Jean-Paul Sartre play ‘Huis Clos’ (performed here in 1961) – an existentialist play in which the characters Estelle, Garcin and Inez are locked together in a room for eternity.

More street art in this part of the city (by other artists)

The Saga Museum

Once reached the museum proved small but fascinating and very well done, with lifelike (and life-size) figures depicting key scenes from that period in Iceland’s history. Before going into the main exhibition area, we took some photos outside, and inside had fun posing with some weapons provided for that purpose (along with costumes which we didn’t use) and a rather threatening Viking!

At the Saga Museum

The displays cover the period from before the settlement of Iceland through to the Reformation, in a series of seventeen scenes. Here are a few I found especially interesting and/or photo-worthy. My texts in this section of my blog are taken from signs at the museum and information on its website - everything in italics is a direct quote. Feel free to skip if you're not into history, but I found these tales fascinating!


Papar – the first inhabitants

The oldest Icelandic record of the papar can be found in Íslendingabók written by Ari Þorgilsson, better known as Ari fróði or Ari ‘the Learned’, in the period 1122-33 AD. In that work he writes that ‘there were Christian men here, whom the Norsemen called papar, but they left because they did not want to share the land with heathens. They left behind them Irish books as well as crooks and bells.’

… this short passage from Ari the Learned provided the basis for the belief in later times that the papar were the first settlers of Iceland. The word papar means ‘fathers’. These fathers appear to have been hermit monks dedicated to a simple and frugal existence. They sailed to the Hebrides and other small islands off the British coast in small hide-covered craft called currachs in search of new uninhabited places where they might settle and devote themselves to their faith, undisturbed by any intruders. Even though no actual remains have been found in Iceland there are a number of place names that appear to suggest their presence.


Hrafna-Flóki – the exodus from Norway

Flóki Vilgerðarson was the first Norseman to think about settling in Iceland. In 870 AD he had his ship loaded up with his belongings, including what livestock he could get aboard and made his way to Iceland. Navigational technology was primitive in those days for example there were no compasses and the Vikings kept directions by the position of moon and stars. They also knew a good deal about the flight paths of birds and for that reason they mainly sailed during the migration seasons of spring and autumn. Flóki went one step further than this and took three ravens aboard with him for which he asked the blessings of the gods. En route he released the ravens in the hope that they would help him find the way to Iceland. The first raven flew towards the Faroe Islands, the second flew up into the air and then back down to the ship but the third flew forwards and thereby led Flóki to the coast of Iceland. From that time on he was therefore known as Hrafna-Flóki or Raven-Flóki.

Hrafna-Flóki settled in Vatnsfjörður on Barðaströnd. But things did not go well for him. Instead of storing fodder for his livestock, he neglected the farm and spent the entire summer fishing and hunting. The following winter was especially harsh and all the livestock that he brought with him perished. Flóki left Iceland for good the following summer and it is to him that we owe its present name after he claimed he had seen a fjord completely covered over with ice floes in the middle of spring.


Ingólfur and Hallveig

The first Norseman to settle in Iceland and live here for the rest of his life was Ingólfur Arnarson, who came to the country with his wife Hallveig Fróðadóttir in the year 874 AD.

When Ingólfur Arnarson saw Iceland rise up out of the sea he decided to let the gods decide where might be the best place along the coast for him to settle. He then threw the carved pillars of his high seat overboard and swore that he would build his farm wherever they came ashore. These pillars, or öndvegissúlur as they are known in Icelandic, were carved with the family name and special emblem along with representations of the gods, but prominently featured the god to which they believed they owed the greatest allegiance. After having thrown them into the water, Ingólfur came ashore at what was subsequently known as Ingólfshöfði, where he raised a house and spent his first winter. He sent out two of his slaves, Vífill and Karli, to look for the carved pillars. They searched along the coastline for three years before finally locating them in a large bay in the southwest of the country.

When Vífill and Karli found the pillars they returned immediately to let Ingólfur know. They were not impressed with the place and said that, ‘there had been little point in their having travelled far and wide across fertile land if they were going to end up settling in this out-of-the-way place’. Ingólfur paid little attention to their complaints and moved to the place where the pillars came ashore. He called the place Reykjavík (literally ‘steam bay’) because of the large amount of steam that rose from the nearby hot-springs.

My friend Regina has a fantastic amount of information about Ingólfur and Hallveig, and Ingólfur’s blood brother Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson, in her blog on the Guide to Iceland website: https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/regina/hjorleifshofdi-cape?a=135. Excitingly, she can trace her ancestry directly back to Ingólfur and Hallveig, the first settlers!

Freydís Eríksdóttir

Freydís Eríksdóttir

In The Saga of Eric the Red we learn how Freydís accompanied her husband to Vinland on an expedition led by Þorfinnur Karlsefni and his wife Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir. When they reached Vinland they soon encountered the native people and begun to trade with them. However, during such an exchange of goods a bull owned by Þorfinnur went on a rampage and the natives who had never seen such a beast before immediately took up their weapons. A skirmish ensued in which natives appeared to have the upper hand and Þorfinnur and his party begun to flee. Freydís reprimanded the men in no uncertain terms for their cowardice and tried to encourage them to make a stand but they ran as fast as they could into the cover of the forest.

Freydís eventually followed the men but since she was pregnant she soon begun to slow down and lose sight of them. She ran past the body of a certain Þorbrandur Snorrason who had been slain by a blow to the head with a rock, and then saw the natives preparing to attack the Viking party with a battery of rocks and stones. As they pursued the Vikings the natives suddenly came across Freydís and surrounded her. Fearlessly, she seized hold of Þorbrandur’s sword which lay beside his body, opened her tunic to reveal one of her breasts and held the sword tightly against it. This bold gesture seems to have frightened the natives and they ran of terrified by what they apparently thought was an evil omen.

The Alþingi

The Alþingi

Towards the end of the settlement period the Icelandic chieftains decided to base their legal system on foreign prototypes. To this end a man named Úlfljótur, a farmer in the east who had many years of legal experience, was sent to Norway to learn all he could of the legal system there. The suggestions that he returned with were endorsed by the Icelanders but there was no writing tradition in the country at the time so the leaders of the legislature therefore undertook the extraordinary task of learning all the laws by heart.

While Úlfljótur was travelling in Norway, his foster-brother Grímur Geitskór travelled all over Iceland looking for a suitable place to hold the national assembly. The location he finally selected was at a place called Bláskógar by Lake Ölfusvatn, but which was later named Þingvellir and the lake Þingvallavatn. In 930 A.D. the Alþingi (Althing) or general assembly met for the first time and after that each summer and was in session for one or two weeks …

The only member of the Althing to receive payment was the law speaker whose task it was to commit to memory the entire body of laws, recite in front of the assembly all the laws that were in effect and further to preside over the meetings of the assembly. With the appearance of recorded laws in book form, the role of the law speaker changed dramatically and his title changed to lögmaður which meant something like chief lawyer. In time, men who were well versed in reading and writing took over the office of chief lawyer, such as Snorri Sturluson, Styrmir Kárason and Sturla Þórðarson. Even so, when the first book of laws known as Grágás appeared the chief lawyer probably required the assistance of scholars since he would not have had the literacy needed to carry out the task alone. The role of the law speaker and later chief lawyer was not only to stand at Lögberg the ‘Law Rock’ and recite the laws but also to keep a record of all the important dates on the annual political agenda for the proceedings and assemblies during the following year.

Snorri Sturluson

Snorri Sturluson – a poet and a politician

Snorri Sturluson was the son of Sturla at Hvammur. … In the year 1215 Snorri was chosen to the office of law speaker at the Althing. … Snorri had promised King Hákon he would bring Iceland under the power of the Norwegian throne, but when he returned home he evidently laid these plans aside. Snorri was elected Law Speaker for a second time in 1221 and kept that office for a further decade.

By 1230, Snorri had indisputably become one of the most respected and influential chieftains in Iceland, but his lack of interest in bringing the country under Norwegian rule soon prompted his downfall. In 1235, Snorri’s nephew Sturla Sighvatsson arrived from Norway under the appointment of King Hákon to carry out what Snorri had failed to achieve. He drove Snorri out of the country and set about his royal task by entering a bloody power struggle with the rest of Iceland’s leading families.

Snorri was in Norway when a disagreement arose between his friend Skúli and King Hákon. Skúli was in favour of allowing Snorri to return home and reclaim his lands but the king stubbornly refused his permission and prohibited Snorri from leaving Norway. … The king [sent] Gissur Þorvaldsson, who was by then the most powerful chieftain in Iceland, a letter requesting that Snorri be declared a traitor and that Gissur was either to bring him back to Norway or have him killed.

In the summer of 1241, Snorri’s sons-in-law, Kolbeinn the Young and Gissur Þorvaldsson met up on Kjölur, the mountain route across the Icelandic highlands, and devised a plan. It was on the eve of the 23rd September that same year that Gissur and his men broke into Snorri’s house and searched the premises for him. When they had him cornered they squabbled about which one of them should deal the final blow, when Snorri well over sixty years old repeated constantly: ‘Eigi skal höggva’, literally ‘Do not strike’. Gissur’s men paid no heed to Snorri’s words and together struck him down and killed him.

With that ended the life of one of the most prominent politicians in the history of Iceland. He was not at all famous for his prowess as a warrior but rather for his financial exploits and for his prolific output as a writer.

With seventeen such displays in all you will see that I have left out much more than I have included. You can read all the accounts on the museum website if interested: https://www.sagamuseum.is/overview/. Together they form a vivid picture of centuries of Icelandic history.

Leaving the museum Kirsty went shopping while Isa and I started to walk back to the apartments, still on the lookout for photo opps - more windows and street art!

On the streets of Reykjavik


We made a detour to visit the Roman Catholic cathedral. Its proper name is Landakotskirkja, but it is usually referred to by its former name of Basilika Krists Konungs. It has a design which, like that of Hallgrimskirkja, seems to have been influenced by the island’s geology, in particular the basalt columns found in several places – and indeed, both churches were the work of the same architect, Guðjón Samúelsson.

Detail of church door

When it was finished, in 1929, it was the largest church in Iceland at that time. Matthias had told us yesterday that it was this church, or rather its impressive size, which had prompted the building of Hallgrimskirkja, as the Protestant community were determined that the Catholics should not have the city’s largest church!


In the churchyard here we saw a striking statue, Kollun - a bronze figure of a woman with a glass cross embedded in it. Isa explained that on the sunny December day when she was last here the cross was gleaming and even today it was possible to see the intended effect.


At home in Reykjavik

We then walked back through the city to our apartments where I used the spare time to start packing and check in online as well as sort photos. In the evening we ‘last survivors' were invited to visit the Euromeet hosts Jón and Regina in their home. Jón picked us up in town and drive us to their lovely apartment which isn’t far from the centre and has views over the city and even of the sea!

At dinner chez Regina and Jón

There were five VTers invited plus Jón’s father and his partner, and their 10 year old granddaughter Thalia (Þalía), Jón’s niece, who was visiting from London. We ate Chinese takeaway and chatted about all sorts of things. Later Thalia and Jón did a mini magic show before she and her grandparents left.

A mini magic show

We VTers talked a while longer, speculating about next year’s meeting (we will vote on the location next month) and, truth be told, gossiping just a little as old friends will. Marit and I broke up the party a little early however as we both had to be up promptly the next morning for our respective flights - she to Norway and me to London. Goodbyes were said, and promises to meet again soon, then Jón drove us back to our city centre bases.

The Euromeet was properly over for me.

The journey home

Bus station, Reykjavik

The next morning I woke to rain. My pre-booked transfer to the airport went smoothly. I was picked up on time at the apartments in the shuttle bus and taken to the main bus station where I changed to the airline bus. As we drove south to Keflavik the clouds broke up a little and I was able to see a little of the passing landscape, although this is perhaps not the most scenic part of Iceland.

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The road to the airport

At the airport I had a muffin and espresso before heading to the gate. The plane boarded quickly and was not quite full. I had an empty middle seat next to my window seat and by pure coincidence found another VTer, Jowatani, and her friend sitting in the same row. They live in Seattle but are extending their trip with a tour of several European cities.

At Keflavik Airport

Thanks to the quick boarding we were able to take off about 10 minutes early. I couldn’t help but think with sympathy of my friend Lorraine, with whom I had travelled to Iceland, who yesterday was delayed for several hours at this airport by the same winds that had prevented our whale watching trip.

View after take-off from Keflavik

Farewell to Iceland

Skies were clearing as we left so I got a few photos of the south coast as we took off. Later I took more, as we flew into the UK over the Outer Hebrides, bathed in sunshine. We landed an impressive 25 minutes early at Heathrow and as I hadn't checked my bag this time I was fairly soon through the airport and on the Tube home.

Flying over the Outer Hebrides

It had been a fabulous Euromeet – thanks to the hard work of Regina and Jón, and to the strong community spirit that defines VT. Here’s to many more!

Posted by ToonSarah 02:29 Archived in Iceland Tagged art architecture restaurant history church flight airport city museum sculpture street_art reykjavik Comments (9)

Stunning landscapes of Iceland: the day the sun shone

Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day five

View VT Euromeet 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

On the bus to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

While the VT meeting might have officially ended last night, quite a few of us were staying on in Reykjavik to experience more of what Iceland has to offer. Some of us had booked a minibus tour (with Troll Expeditions) of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula for today, and were blessed with the best weather of the trip for what was to prove a fabulous, if long, day out.

We were picked up from various points around the city (in my case, right from the door of our apartments) soon after 8.00 am and set out on the drive north. Our driver/guide Matthias, who was excellent throughout, had plenty to tell us along the way. The road took us through a long tunnel under the Bay of Whales, Hvalfjörður, and through the small town of Borganes, where we turned off the Ring Road, 1, towards the Peninsula. I managed to take some photos from the bus, despite bumps in the road and reflections in the glass, to capture the changing scenery and improving weather.





On the bus to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, skies clearing

I also shot a few video clips during the course of the day which include a snippet of Matthias' informative commentary and a snatch of music by Icelandic group Of Monsters and Men - Little Talks.


Gerðuberg from the main road

Our first stop was at the basalt column cliffs of Gerðuberg. This imposing formation is like a real-life geology lesson. The half kilometre long cliff looks remarkable even from the road, but drive up close and it is truly impressive.

Gerðuberg basalt column cliffs

The hexagonal pillars look more man-made than natural. They are quite regular in size, mostly twelve to fourteen metres high and about one and a half metres in diameter, which adds to the impression that they were somehow manufactured. In a sense they were, but by nature rather than man! The basalt was formerly lava flowing from a volcano which was rapidly cooled when it met the sea and formed these even shapes as a result.

Today the sea is some distance from this point and I would imagine that the land between here and there has been filled in gradually through the deposits made during volcanic eruptions.

Gerðuberg basalt column cliffs

Small church near Gerðuberg

Brunch at Rjúkandi

Salmon bagel

From here we continued a short distance to a welcoming café, where Matthias suggested we had brunch. Although it was a bit early to eat, most of us adopted the suggestion and tucked into some delicious food. I had a bagel with avocado and smoked salmon, which was excellent, and the soups looked particularly good too.

We were also all glad to be able to use the toilets here, as ‘comfort breaks’ would be fairly few and far between today. This was explained clearly to us, unlike the fact that this would be the last chance to eat until late in the afternoon - the only small criticism I have of this otherwise excellent tour.

Sign at Rjúkandi, and wall decoration

View from the cafe at Rjúkandi

More photos on the road

A mineral spring

Our next stop was just down the road, at a farm, Ölkelda, with a spring of mineral-rich water which we were able to taste from a small tap. The water was very metallic in flavour due to all the iron - I wasn’t keen on the taste, although pleased I’d had the opportunity to sample it, but some of the others liked it better than I did. What I did like was the opportunity to photograph the striking deep red colour of the water as it flowed away over the grass - beautiful!




Iron-rich waters at Olkelda

Olkelda spring

A sign by the spring says:

‘The mineral water was examined in the year 1754... The Icelandic mineral water was analysed in the year 1972 by the scientists Karl Höll and Ulrich Münzer. In their report [it] says that the water is good for people who suffer from heart and kidney diseases, as well as diabetes. Iron is good for the blood and fluor for teeth.

The mineral water at Ölkelda has been used as drinking water at the farm for centuries and still is.’

The sign also lists all the minerals found in the water, comparing the amounts found with those in ordinary tap water. You need to either speak Icelandic or know the chemical symbols, as this part isn’t in English, but it’s clear that all the minerals are found here in much greater amounts.

The beach at Ytri Tunga

The beach at Ytri Tunga

At the farm of Ytri Tunga, where Matthias told us he had spent summer holidays staying with his aunt who used to own it, we were able to walk down on to the beach to see seals basking on the rocks. They were some distance away and I couldn’t see them close enough to identify if they were common or grey seals (both are found here although I’ve read that the grey are more numerous) nor did I remember to ask Matthias, so that must remain a mystery. Maybe there were even some of each in this group!

Seals at Ytri Tunga

The beach here was sandy but strewn with seaweed-draped rocks. Inland we could see the Snæfellsjökull ice-cap, and between that and the beach were the bright green shades of the Icelandic farmland. It was here that I took one of my favourite photos of the whole trip!

Landscape near Ytri Tunga


By now we were surrounded by the natural beauty of Snaefellsnes and there were wonderful landscapes to photograph wherever I turned.

On the road near Bjarnarfoss

Our next brief stop was at the waterfall of Bjarnarfoss, where the people climbing the path alongside the falls gave a good sense of their scale, as did the noise of their waters, just audible at this distance.

The waters and basalt columns of Bjarnarfoss

The falls are the largest of several which tumble down the sheer face of what appeared to me to be a natural amphitheatre, above which loomed a volcanic crater. There were more basalt columns here too. I hope my short video gives some sense of the dramatic setting:

There was no time for us to hike to the falls however as we had loads more to see!


Next on the itinerary was the picturesque church at Búðir, which Matthias told us is a popular spot for weddings - I could see why!

The church at Búðir

The graveyard and coast at Búðir

Tombstone, Búðir

An informative sign in several languages explains the history of the church:

‘In 1703, Bernt Lauridsen built the first church at Búðir which was demolished later and rebuilt again. In 1816 the parish at Búðir was abolished. Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, one of the ladies of the parish, fought strongly for a new church, but the national church rejected her request. Eventually Steinunn received a royal permission to build a new one, which stood ready in 1848. A quote on the door ring says, “this church was built in 1848 without the support of the spiritual fathers.” In memory of this achievement Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, this noble woman, is buried in the churchyard in Búðir. Between 1984-86 the church was reconstructed and consecrated in 1987. Among the valuable possessions of the church are a bell from 1672, an altarpiece from 1750, an old silver chalice, two messing candlesticks [I assume candlesticks for use during the mass] from 1767, and a door ring from 1703. The church is protected and one of the oldest wooden churches in Iceland.’

Probably because of that protection we found the church locked, but Isa and I did manage to take photos through the windows – of each other!

Taking a photo of Isa taking a photo of me!

This was also a good spot for a group photo.

VTers at Búðir

Landscape near Búðir

Near Búðir


The next stop was a much longer one, to do a walk along the cliffs at Arnarstapi. Matthias drove us to a spot near the small harbour and explained that he would meet us at a parking lot a little further down the coast. With his clear directions, a marked path, and Regina as unofficial guide, we set off in the direction he indicated.

Near the start of the walk

And what a walk this was! This was my favourite stop of the day, I think. The sea was a clear deep blue, the rock formations fascinatingly photogenic, the kittiwakes charming and the sun pleasantly warm on my face - just wonderful!

The harbour at Arnarstapi

At Arnarstapi

Birds on the rocks at Arnarstapi

In one rocky cove, Regina pointed out a spot where the sea had carved a hole through the rock, creating a stone bridge. Some of the group scrambled down over the rocks for a closer look but I was content with what I could see of it from above.

VTers on the rocks at Arnarstapi

Regina at the stone bridge

Under the stone bridge

As well as far too many photos I shot several video clips, trying (and largely failing) to capture the full beauty of the landscape here.

Typical view, Arnarstapi

The cliffs at Arnarstapi

Rock colours of Arnarstapi

Basalt rocks

The natural stone arch here is called Gatklettur or Arch Rock, and is just one of many examples of how the sea has eroded the cliffs to create this dramatic coastal scenery.



There are smaller holes and arches, several caves, numerous rocky islets (several topped with basalt columns tipped horizontally) and some sea stacks. As at Gerðuberg, I felt myself to be in the middle of a living geology lesson.

The cliffs at Arnarstapi

Although I focused mainly on the coastal scenery in my photographs, there is much beauty inland too. I learned from Regina that the small pyramidical volcano is Mt. Stapafell and the black and white house in front of it, much-photographed in its lovely setting, is Amtmannshúsið, the erstwhile home of the Danish Prefect.

Mt. Stapafell near Arnarstapi

As we neared the end of our walk we arrived at a huge stone sculpture, the statue of Bárður Snæfellsás, the work of Icelandic sculptor, Ragnar Kjartansson. Bárður Snæfellsás was half-man, half-troll. He was one of the early settlers of Viking times - he landed at Dritvík and Djúpalónssandur, and settled with his family at Laugarbrekka on the south coast of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. His half-brother Þorkell also settled in Iceland, at Arnarstapi, with his two sons, Sölvi, and Rauðfeldur. But the story of Bárður Snæfellsás gets interesting at the point when he flies into a rage after Þorkell’s sons play a prank on his daughters, leading to him losing his mind. He gives away all his land and all his earthly belongings and vanishes into Snæfellsjökull (the glacier that dominates the peninsula). There, it is said, he builds an ice cave and becomes known as the Guardian Spirit of Snæfell. The locals worship him and see him as their saviour.

Looking towards the statue of Bárður Snæfellsás

The statue of Bárður Snæfellsás

Over the centuries people here have called on Bárður in times of hardship and trouble. He is said to wander the region wrapped in a grey cowl held together with a rope made of walrus-hide. In his hand he holds a cleft staff for climbing the glacier.

What a perfect position for this giant sculpture of the giant, in the shadow of Mt. Stapafell and Snæfellsjökull!


Londrangar sea stacks and cliff-top views



But there was much more to come! We made a shorter stop a little further along the cliffs to see the dramatic lava sea stacks known as Londrangar – another wonderful view point, and with more kittiwakes.

I later read that these stacks are basalt volcanic plugs, part of a former crater, which has been eroded to its present form by the sea. The highest is 75 metres tall and the other is 61 metres. The nearby hill, Svalþúfa, is part of the same volcanic crater. The farmers in the area never make hay on this hill, as they don’t want to disturb the elves who are said to live there.


The black sands of Djúpalónssandur

Next was Dritvik, which used to be an important fishing cove, and which rivalled Arnarstapi as my favourite place on this tour. Here you can walk down a narrow ravine, known as Nautastígur, on to the black lava Djúpalónssandur beach. The path is lined with impressive cliffs and interesting rock formations, including, according to a nearby sign, one known as Gatklettur, the Rock with a Hole – the same name as the arch rock at Arnarstapi.

Walking down Nautastígur (taken by Regina)

Rock formations, Nautastígur

Arriving on the beach

Just north of these, above the beach and visible from it, are the two pools, Djúpalón (Deep Pools), which give the beach its name. I loved the colours and reflections here. A sign by the path explains that the level of these pools rises and falls with the tide, and that only the surface water is fresh, so you have to be wary of drinking from them.

The pools, Djúpalón, at Djúpalónssandur

As you arrive on the beach you see four large rocks known as the Lifting Stones. Fishermen used to lift them to test their strength. If you couldn’t lift at least the third largest you were considered too weak to face the pressures of a life at sea.

The lifting stones

In addition to the rock formations beside Nautastígur, there are many more on the beach itself and out to sea. The weather now had turned a little hazy and there was a slightly eerie atmosphere. Perhaps this was due not just to the haze but also the stories told about the rocks. Regina told me that one is said to be the troll Karl, the fiancé of the giantess in the mountain pass above the restaurant Rjúkandi where we had eaten brunch.

Rock formations, Djúpalónssandur

Troll rock, Djúpalónssandur

I took so many photos here!

On the beach you can see some rusty remains of the trawler Epine, which fished out of Grimsby on the east coast of England. She was wrecked here in March 1948, with only five out of the crew of nineteen saved. A sign on the beach describes the rescue effort:

‘Rescue teams from Anarstapi, Hellnar and Hellissandur came to help, but conditions were difficult, with bad weather and heavy seas. Members of the crew could be seen on the forecastle and the wheelhouse and tied to the rigging. The tide was coming in and huge waves broke over the ship. One man was washed up on the beach still alive. After the tide turned it was possible to shoot out a line which the crew managed to tie to the mast, and the four men who were still alive were pulled to safety in a rescue seat.’

Wreckage of the trawler Epine

The remains of the ship are left here as a memorial to those who died so it is important not to disturb them.

I would love to have spent more time here but there were still more places to see, so we turned our back on the sea and climber back up Nautastígur to the waiting bus.

Climbing back up Nautastígur

View from Nautastígur


At the small volcano of Saxhóll I opted not to climb the 300+ steps to the top to look down into the crater - not a bad decision from what those who did go up told me about the crater (there is no water in it, just a dry earth hollow), although the view from the top would have been worth seeing perhaps.

The steps up Saxholar

Instead I took photos near the foot, of colourful mosses and the many small lava tubes - perfect homes for the Hidden People.

Mossy rocks, Saxholar

Lava tubes

Jón had told us yesterday about these Hidden People, the Huldufólk, who have been part of the folklore here since people first came to live in Iceland. One account of their origins places them within the Christian belief system. The story goes that God planned a visit to Adam and Eve. The latter wanted to bathe all her children and dress them nicely for the visit. But God arrived before all the children were clean so she told those that were not ready to go and hide. God asked if the children he could see were all the children they had, knowing of course what she had done, and when she lied and said that they were he declared that the children she had hidden would remain forever hidden from everyone, and their descendants too, and thus the Hidden People came into being.

Many here still hold to the old beliefs. They say that the Hidden People live in the rocks, invisible to man. Icelanders will rarely throw rocks, because they might accidentally hit one of the elves. Construction and road-making projects are sometimes altered to prevent damaging rocks where they are believed to live, and they are said to have interfered with machinery, making work impossible to complete until plans were altered to avoid their homes. I was reminded of a motorway in Ireland which was routed around a thorn tree after a local folklorist said that the tree was a fairy bush and was sacred ground (see Fairy bush survives the motorway planners)

The road to Saxholar

Leaving Saxhóll the road took us up to the northern side of the peninsula, through some rather bleak but beautiful scenery. The hillsides were dotted with waterfalls, a few small villages clung to the coast and the mountains inland were still (in late May, remember) well covered with snow.


Views from the bus, northern Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Waterfall seen from the bus, northern Snaefellsnes Peninsula


There was one stop left to make, possibly the most famous on Snaefellsnes, at Kirkjufell, which means Church Mountain. It takes its name from its resemblance, from certain angles, to a church steeple. Interestingly, Matthias told us that it was this mountain’s shape which inspired that of the Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, as well as the basalt columns we had seen earlier at Gerduberg, clearly visible in the church’s design. But from other sides it looks quite different – like a witch’s hat perhaps.

VTers at Kirkjufellsfoss, taken by Regina

Here a picturesque waterfall, Kirkjufellsfoss, tumbles down under a bridge in front of one of the most photographed mountains of Iceland. Unfortunately the weather had turned hazy by now, and the light was rather flat, so it was hard to get a good version of the classic ‘waterfall and mountain’ shot. I preferred to focus on the falls themselves, trying (not always successfully) to avoid including other visitors in my shots. This is a popular spot!

Kirkjufell and Kirkjufellsfoss


The views of the surrounding landscape from the top of the falls were wonderful too – a beautiful lake reflecting the snowy ice-caps, distant waterfalls and the nearby village of Grundarfjörður.


Views from Kirkjufellsfoss

Grundarfjörður, and another nearby waterfall

I also shot a brief video clip of the view from the top of the falls:

The journey back

From here we completed our drive along the northern coast of the peninsula and turned south to drive through the mountains. The weather had turned cloudy by now, but (as I had throughout the day) I grabbed photos of the scenery whenever I could and was pleased to find later that a few had come out OK - extra reminders of our day out in this fantastic landscape.

On the journey back


We stopped for a short while at the same café as on the outward journey, where we had hot drinks included in our tour price, before climbing back into the minibus for the long journey back to the city.

We were dropped off at various points, and along with several friends I opted to get out at Hlemmur Square rather than the apartments so that we could go for something to eat. There weren’t a lot of options in the immediate area and we were too weary to go far, so we ate in a cheap (by Icelandic standards) and cheerful noodle place before heading back to our rooms to rest up. Some would be leaving tomorrow but for a few of us there was still one more day of adventure to come …

Posted by ToonSarah 07:49 Archived in Iceland Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains beaches birds coast volcanoes views friends seas mythology euromeet virtual_tourist Comments (14)

Iceland’s South Coast

Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day four

View VT Euromeet 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Another VT excursion

Steam rising from the hillsides near Hveragerði

Another day, another VT excursion, but thankfully in considerably better weather. We had a little light drizzle as we left Reykjavik, but after that most of the dampness we experienced was from waterfalls rather than rain!

We set off from Hlemmur Square at eight, as yesterday, so again I was unable to get coffee from the local coffee shops which frustratingly only open at that time - instant coffee made in my room just isn’t the same.

Our route took us east along the south coast, passing Hveragerði, known as the hot house town because of all the hot springs – their steam is used to heat greenhouses to grow vegetables and tomatoes. We also passed the Hotel Ranga where I had stayed with Chris last time I was in Iceland, and Seljalandsfoss, a dramatic waterfall to which we would return later in the day.



Our first stop was at another waterfall, Skógafoss, where we walked along the river to a point close to the falls with their thundering waters. The spray was a challenge to photography, but far less of a problem than yesterday’s rain had been.


At Skógafoss

The power of Skógafoss

In addition to the falls themselves, there were cute lambs gleaming white against the vivid green of the landscape, and even a wedding party here to be photographed in one of Iceland’s most famous beauty spots.

Sheep at Skógafoss

Bride at Skógafoss

Of course it's hard in a still photo to do justice to the power of water flowing over such a waterfall, so I shot a short bit of video too:

There wasn’t time, nor would I have had the inclination, to climb the steps to the right of the falls that lead to the top. But I had done so last time I was here. At that time I wrote on Virtual Tourist: ‘They are well-maintained and reasonably easy, but there are a lot of them, and you can’t see the falls themselves at any point on the way up, so if you’re going to climb you will want to do the whole lot. The reward when you reach the top is a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside and of the water tipping over at the top of the falls.’

Here are a couple of photos shot from the top on that visit. You can see our white hire car in the bottom left corner of the second of them, which gives a sense of scale, and you can also see how much quieter it was on that occasion - ours is the only car in the car park! I reckon that’s due in part to the time of year (February versus May) but also to the dramatic rise in visitor numbers to Iceland in recent years.


View from Skógafoss, 2012

I loved the legend about these falls that I found on my friend Regina’s blog on Guide to Iceland. You can read the full story there and she tells it very well, so I won't repeat it in full here. The gist of it is that behind the falls lies a chest filled with gold and treasures, which was hidden there by Þrasi Þórólfsson, the Viking Settler at Skógar in around 900. Attempts to recover the chest have all failed but the person who does succeed will have riches in abundance!


The path to Sólheimajökull

From here we drove on to the glacier of Sólheimajökull. This is an arm of the larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier which flows over the live volcano Katla. Should that erupt there will be huge chaos and drama here, with the fiery lava, molten rocks and pumice melting the ice of the glacier above. Today however, all was calm. The most striking thing about Sólheimajökull is how much it is retreating – from what I read, about a kilometre in the last decade. That means it must be over half a kilometre further from the parking area than when I last saw it, six years ago.




The path to Sólheimajökull

On that previous visit I had not been able to get closer than the car park because of the icy conditions. Today that wasn’t a problem, so I joined the others in hiking the path along the river towards the ice face.

I didn’t reach it however - mainly because there were too many photogenic spots along the way but also because I decided one of the many small streams which tumble across the path might be too challenging for my trainers and I didn't want to spend the rest of the day with wet feet!

Ice floes

The glacier

I was very happy however with the photos I got here, and also videos. Even the tiniest waterfalls in Iceland are worth stopping to enjoy. For me this video, with its mix of small details and more sweeping vistas, sums up Iceland:

And the colours here were amazing - the contrast of vivid green moss with the dark lava and silvery streaks of snow and ice. The dull weather didn't matter at all, and the low clouds over the surrounding hills added to rather than detracted from the atmosphere.

Landscape at Sólheimajökull

Pretty pool near Sólheimajökull


Lamb soup

Next it was on to our lunch stop at Vik where I enjoyed a tasty lamb soup (expensive but far better than yesterday’s mushroom one). This area has been significantly developed since I was last here.

Then Chris and I had bought our lunch in a small café attached to a petrol station; today there is a large complex with a gift shop, supermarket and cafeteria - and lots of visitors!

The church at Vik

But the picturesque red-roofed church still sits high above the town as it did then. This is Reynir Church, which was moved to this location from a nearby farm in 1932. I found this legend about it on a website, with echoes of the famous Rumpelstiltskin fairy-tale:

‘According to the legend one of the early farmers of Reynir was obliged to build a church before autumn. The timber arrived late in the summer and he could not find a carpenter for the work. One day, a stranger showed up on the doorsteps and offered to help him build the church. His wages were to be the farmer’s 6-years-old son unless the farmer could guess the stranger’s proper name. When the work was nearing its final stages, the farmer became more and more worried, because he was not close to knowing the stranger’s name. One day he went for a stroll and lay down in a grassy slope and fell asleep. He dreamt that he heard a woman’s voice recite the following: “Soon Finnur will leave, father from Reynir, with your little playmate”. When he woke up, he went straight to the church, where the stranger was just finishing the construction, and said to him: “Soon the work is over my good Finnur”. The stranger dropped the last plank and vanished into thin air. The farmer and his family lived happily ever after.’

This church is located on the highest point in the community and is believed to be the only building that would survive the likely flood if the volcano Katla, lying beneath the Mýrdalsjökull glacier, should erupt. The volcano has been dormant since 1918, but the people of Vík practice regular volcano drills and are trained to rush to the church at the first sign of an eruption.

There was also time to take a few pictures of the famous Reynisdrangar or Troll Rocks, tall stacks of basalt lying just offshore at the foot of the mountain Reynisfjall. The geological explanation is that Reynisfjall was eroded by the forces of nature to form these stacks. But the legends attached to them are much more colourful and more fun.

Reynisdrangar from Vik

According to one story, two trolls tried to drag a three-masted ship to land here. But trolls cannot go out in daylight, and these two made the mistake of staying out too long. When the first rays of the sun struck them and they were turned instantly to stone. Another legend tells of a husband whose wife was kidnapped and killed by two trolls. The man followed the trolls down to Reynisfjara where he froze them, ensuring that they would never kill again.

Whatever their origin, the stacks are certainly very striking. The tallest stands 66 metres above sea level and with the waves crashing against them and throwing up spray they are indeed an impressive sight. Interestingly, although there are four stacks, from land you can never see more than three.


Dyrhólaey from Reynisfjara

After lunch we started to retrace our steps back towards Reykjavik, but there was still plenty to see on the way. Firstly we stopped at the beautiful, but dangerous Reynisfjara black lava beach, where signs warn of the risks of getting too close to the water’s edge where ‘sneaker waves’ have been known to catch out unwary tourists and drag them out to sea - a warning reinforced by our host Jón.

Dyrhólaey from Reynisfjara

Reynisdrangar from Reynisfjara

Waves at Reynisfjara

This has to be one of the classic Icelandic landscapes – a sweeping black beach backed by the imposing black basalt cliffs, the latter dotted with patches of green and the white specks that on closer inspection proved to be kittiwakes. Beyond the black sands and lava, huge grey/white waves crash against the shore, and further still on the left are the Reynisdrangar, looming through the mist and spray, and on the right the arch of Dyrhólaey, the southernmost part of the Icelandic mainland. This is so large that one intrepid pilot successfully flew through it, in 1993.

In 2012 Chris and I drove out on to this promontory via the causeway, and it was here that we found some of the most stunning and beautifully lit scenery of our trip. Still pools of water reflected the icy mountain landscapes all around us, and to our other side rocky outcrops were equally perfectly reflected, creating an effect that reminded me a little of the karst scenery near Guilin in China – and a little of an ink blot!

Reynisfjara beach from Dyrhólaey, 2012


The road to Dyrhólaey, 2012

We took a group photo in front of the striking basalt column cliffs (see my first entry about the meet) but disappointingly didn’t see any of the puffins which nest here, although as I mentioned above, there were kittiwakes.


Kittiwakes at Reynisfjara

However I was happily occupied taking photos of the crashing waves and dramatic scenery, and also a video in an effort to capture the movement of the waves.



The cliffs at Reynisfjara

Views from the Ring Road

Unlike yesterday, when all we could see out of the bus window were raindrops, today we had wonderful views of the passing scenery, and for the next part of our drive it was my turn by the window.

South Iceland landscape

I managed to grab quite a few photos, some of the impressive Mýrdalsjökull and of several waterfalls, including a distant and rather magical shot of Skógafoss as we passed.



Mýrdalsjökull from the Ring Road

Skógafoss from the Ring Road


Our final stop was back at Seljalandsfoss, another impressive waterfall (65 metres high) which I had also seen previously but was very pleased to revisit. The water here flows from the now-infamous glacier Eyjafjallajökull - it was an eruption of the volcano that lies beneath this ice cap that caused so much chaos to flights all over Europe back in 2010.

Here it is possible to walk behind , but the falls unlike some of our group I chose not to do so - partly because I was unsure of my footing on the wet rocks (even with my hiking pole), partly because I felt I had got wet enough yesterday (!), but mainly because it seemed it would occupy most of our time here and restrict the number of photos I could take!


Visitors at Seljalandsfoss

I wandered around happily, trying with only limited success to capture the majesty of the falls, in both photos and video:

The falls from further along the path

Small waterfalls next to Seljalandsfoss

Water tumbles over the edge

Bird in the spray

All too soon it was time to return to the bus for the two hour drive back to the city - which for some of our number, who had walked behind the falls, was a pretty damp ride! Here are some photos taken there by my friend Yvonne, which she is happy for me to share with you here:

Behind the falls, by Yvonne

Sunday evening, our final dinner

In the evening we had the last official dinner of the meet, in the Sky Lounge of the Center Hotel by the Harpa Concert Hall. The views were great - or would have been, had the clouds not descended again on the mountains across the bay.




VTers at dinner

Delicious cod
Icelandic apple pie

But no matter - we had excellent company, tasty food (most agreed the best of the three meals, with beautiful cod and a very good apple pie) and to crown the evening, magic from our host Jón, who is a professional magician and always gives us an enjoyable show.

Jón the magician

Hansi is videoing - as usual!

We had a lovely evening, but soon, sadly, it was time to say goodbye to the many friends leaving Reykjavik tomorrow - although others, like me, would be staying a little longer. This is always the toughest part of our meetings, but we have shown now that we have the momentum to continue to meet despite the closure of the website, so we can be confident of another Euromeet next year. Hopefully we will most, if not all, of us meet again there.

THANK YOU to our wonderful hosts, Regina and Jón

Posted by ToonSarah 08:32 Archived in Iceland Tagged landscapes waterfalls beaches people restaurant coast glacier iceland virtual_tourist Comments (17)

The Golden Circle in the rain

Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day three

View VT Euromeet 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.


‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass,

it is about learning to dance in the rain’

Well, the weather forecast was right, and if ever we needed to learn to dance in the rain, it was today!

But despite the weather, a large group of VT members gathered promptly near Hlemmur Square for our 8.00 am departure on a bus tour of the famed Golden Circle.


Chris and I had driven some of this route on a previous visit to Iceland but at that time of year, February, not all the roads were open and today’s first stop, Thingvellir, was new to me.


I have to confess that the rain lashing down dissuaded me from making the walk down to the fissure which marks the divide between the tectonic plates of Europe and America. But I managed to keep my camera dry for a short time in order to capture some photos of the bleak landscape and of the spray from a waterfall hidden beyond a ridge.


Landscape near Thingvellir

My friend Isa did however make the walk and has kindly allowed me to share this photo with you. It gives a very good sense of the conditions!

Walking at Thingvellir, taken by Isa

It was just as well that I did get those landscape photos as it was difficult to see the scenery through the raindrops on the bus windows, and impossible to photograph it. I felt bad for those VT friends who had never previously visited Iceland and seen its stark beauty - they weren't seeing much of it today!

View from the bus


Our next stop was at Geysir. This is a spectacular area where the landscape is dotted with hot springs and geysers – so much so that one of them, the Great Geysir (Icelandic name, Stori Geysir) itself, gave its name to the phenomenon as a whole, with geysers all over the world named after it (geysir is Icelandic for ‘gusher’). Sadly the Great Geysir is these days more or less inactive (although I have read that occasionally it can be coaxed back into life when artificially stimulated with carbolic soap powder). But luckily another nearby geyser, Strokkur, is much more obliging, and erupts at regular 5-10 minute intervals. It may not reach the heights that its neighbour once did, but at 30 or more metres it is still a pretty impressive sight.


Steam and hot pools at Geysir

I had seen Strokkur in action on that previous trip, so on this occasion contented myself with a few photos of the bubbling and steaming springs beside the path. This was an area that had struck me with its unearthly beauty on my previous visit – more so even than the drama of the erupting Strokkur. The path is lined with bubbling hot springs, hissing fumaroles, belching mud pots and so on, all surrounded by a rich green moss that seems to thrive in the steamy atmosphere.


Steam and hot pools at Geysir

My friend Yvonne has kindly let me use this photo which she took here - it really shows the elements that our VT group had to battle to see the falls.

VTers in the rain at Geysir, by Yvonne

It was too rainy for me today to risk having the camera out for any length of time, but here’s a video I shot back in 2012, and some photos of Strokkur

Strokkur, 2012

Soon I retreated to the warmth of the café where I enjoyed a much-needed cup of coffee and later some mushroom soup for lunch - not particularly exciting as a meal but OK to warm me up. I passed a pleasant hour chatting with friends and browsed the large souvenir shop but didn’t make any purchases.



Then it was on to our next stop, Gullfoss, the Golden Falls, which give the Golden Circle its name - Gullfoss means ‘Golden Waterfall’. This is Europe’s largest waterfall. It is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 metres and the lower one 21 metres.

Having seen the power of Gullfoss it is hard to imagine that it was ever threatened, but so it was. In the middle part of the last century such wonders were perhaps less appreciated than they are today, and for a while there was talk, and even some plans, of harnessing the power of the river here to generate electricity. The popular story is that these plans were overthrown due to the efforts of one woman, Sigrídur Tómasdóttir, who even threatened to throw herself over the falls. Whether it was her threat, or a simple lack of money, is not clear, but the falls were saved and today are protected as they should be, while a memorial to Sigrídur stands in the upper car park area. Iceland would certainly be the poorer, despite all its other magnificent scenery, without this dramatic sight.

Wet visitors at Gullfoss


Again, I had been here before, but I love waterfalls and was determined to see it again, so I braved the downpour to walk out along the path that leads to the upper falls. I grabbed a few photos but was too concerned about the effect of the heavy rain on my camera to linger long.

Here are some extra images from my 2012 visit, when despite a lot of ice I was able to get closer to the falls, and also a short video I shot then.

Gullfoss panorama in the snow, 2012

Upper Falls, 2012

Lower Falls from above, 2012

Gullfoss in the snow, 2012

Like many other visitors, it seemed, I soon took shelter in the souvenir shop and this time did buy a couple of things to remind me of our VT meet here - a little whale ornament and a bandana decorated with an image of the falls.


This was to have been our final stop, but as we had spent less time than planned at the other locations (owing to the weather) an extra brief halt was added, at the volcanic crater Kerid. This was a completely new sight for me, so although some stayed on the bus, having by now had more than enough of the rain, I decided to pay the 400 ISK ticket fee (this is privately owned so chargeable, unlike national park sites in Iceland).

Although I only had a short time here it was well worth seeing and paying for - a beautiful deep green lake lying in a crater streaked with vegetation of various hues. The crater was formed about 6,500 years ago, the result, geologists believe, of the collapse of a small magma chamber. The water here rises and falls according to the level of the water table, varying between 7 and 14 metres in depth.

I struggled to take photos though - each time I cleared my lens of rain drops more were blown on to it by the strong winds. These are the best I could manage.


Crater lake at Kerid

Saturday evening dinner

From here we headed back to Reykjavik. We alighted in the rain (still) at Hlemmur Square and I stopped off briefly at the Reykjavik Roasters opposite the apartments as I felt in need of a good cup of espresso as a pick me up. The. It was back to my room to dry off all my clothing and relax before dinner.

In the evening the same bus took us to the Viking Village in Hafnarfjördur for dinner. As the name suggests, this a themed restaurant - a little corny perhaps, but a lot of fun and not too over the top, except perhaps in its décor. Outside there are trolls and Vikings aplenty, while inside we found stuffed seabirds, Viking saga friezes, weapons and even a bat flying overhead!

At the Viking Village, Hafnarfjördur

We had a cosy upstairs room with seating mostly on long benches, but like several others prone to back problems I was able to secure a seat with a back-rest, for which I was grateful.

In the Viking Village, Hafnarfjördur

Fish of the day

The food here was quite good (I had fish, which was nicely cooked) although the promised soup starter never materialised.

More important than the food was the typical VT family atmosphere and we drank a toast to those friends we had lost in the last year, one of whom was a particular friend of mine, Katherine, whom many of us were missing. It was nice to know she was remembered.

Dao thanks Regina and Jón

Two Anne-Maries

Ali in the Viking Village

VT group in the restaurant

There was live music from two very accomplished and fun musicians which was not at all gimmicky as these things can be. I enjoyed chatting with friends old and slightly newer, and the evening passed quickly.

Musician at the Viking Village

But we didn’t stay late, as there is an early start again tomorrow, so around 10.00 the bus was there ready to bring us back to Reykjavik and in my case at least, to bed.

Posted by ToonSarah 03:24 Archived in Iceland Tagged landscapes waterfalls people food rain restaurant volcanoes hot_springs music weather geysers iceland virtual_tourist Comments (10)

City tour; and the meeting begins!

Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day two

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Reykjavik old town architecture

Despite my fears there was only a little noise in the night to disturb my sleep, and I slept well although woke early. I’d bought a couple of yoghurts yesterday evening to eat as breakfasts during my stay, but with a relaxing programme today I decided instead to try out the coffee shop opposite the apartments, Reykjavik Roasters. There I enjoyed an excellent espresso and a croissant.

In Reykjavik Roasters

By the bus station,
Hlemmur Square

After this leisurely start to the day I met up with Lorraine and Isa, who arrived last night and was staying in the same apartment block. The latter decided to walk to our meeting point but Lorraine and I headed for the bus stop where we bumped into Carol and Peter, who like Lorraine are from Australia. We caught the bus together and alighted at Lækjartorg where the VT crowd were gathering.

Soon we set out on our city walk, led by one of our hosts, Jón. He gave us a really informative tour and as a bonus the weather, which had been grey and rainy at the start of our walk, soon started to improve, so I had some blue skies to enhance the many photos I took.

On the VT city tour (taken by Regina)

Tour guide Jón, and co-host Regina

On the VT city tour

Some Reykjavik history

Our route took us around the oldest part of Reykjavik. As we went Jón told us about the early Viking settlement here and how the city grew up from that. The first settlers in Reykjavik were Vikings, Ingólfur Arnason and Hallveig Fróðadóttir, who made their home here in 874 after the former had chosen the site by throwing the pillars that marked him as a chieftain into the sea and observing where they came to shore, here in a bay he named ‘Smoky’ after the steam he saw rising from the many hot springs that surrounded it – Reykjavik means Smoky Bay.

Plaque on the statue of Jón Sigurðsson (independence struggle leader), Reykjavik

For several centuries Iceland was governed as a commonwealth under the Althing, one of the world's oldest functioning legislative assemblies, established by Ingólfur and his descendants. But after a period of civil strife it came under Norwegian rule in the 13th century and later under Danish rule. During the 19th century Iceland struggled to achieve independence. In 1874, Denmark granted the country its own constitution and limited home rule, which was expanded in 1904. However it remained in a union with Denmark until World War Two, when the latter was occupied by the Nazis. There was some relief here, we learned, when Iceland was invaded not by German troops but by British, and they surrendered peacefully. The British later handed over to the United States. It was during this wartime period, in 31 December 1943, that the Danish–Icelandic Act of Union expired, and the Icelandic people voted overwhelmingly to end the union and establish an independent republic, which was formally set up on 17 June 1944, with Reykjavik as its capital.

City tour sights

Among the sights we saw on our walk were:

The Stjornarrad, which houses the offices of the Prime Minister and was built as a prison in the mid-18th century. Outside Jón pointed out the two statues - one of King Christian IX handing over the constitution in 1874, and the other Hannes Hafstein, who became the first minister of the country in 1904 when it was granted home rule by the Danish.

King Christian IX on the left, Hannes Hafstein on the right

The famous hot dog stand where Bill Clinton once ate, Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, and the bank, Landsbanki, where the crash of 2008 began

Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, and Landsbanki

The former pharmacy Apotek, now a hotel and restaurant - I liked the gargoyle-like carving on the corner of the 1917 building, the design of Guðjón Samúelsson, former State Architect of Iceland

Starling at the hot dog stand, and gargoyle on Apotek

Reykjavik Cathedral

The city's Lutheran cathedral, built in 1787-1796 (we didn't go inside however). Interestingly, if you search online for Reykjavik cathedral, I have discovered, most of the results you get will not be for this building but for the more famous Hallgrímskirkja, which is in fact ‘just’ a parish church, despite its impressive size.

But more of that later …

The statue of Jón Sigurðsson, considered the founder of modern Iceland, who led the country to independence from Denmark in 1874. This stands in an open space, Austurvöllur, opposite the cathedral and parliament building, the Alþingi. The square is a focal point for any protests that take place in the city, because of its location opposite parliament, and Jón told us a number of interesting accounts of protests that took place here during the time of the banking crisis.

Statue of Jón Sigurðsson

The 19th century building housing the Alþingi, where the four protectors of Iceland, the spirits of the land or landvættir (dragon, eagle, bull and giant), are carved in relief above the windows.

Parliament building, Reykjavik

Jón recounted the story of the Danish King Harald Bluetooth Gormsson who wanted to invade Iceland. He sent a wizard in the form of a whale to scout for possible landing points. As I couldn’t easily capture Jón’s words I will quote from Wikipedia:

King Harald Bluetooth Gormsson of Denmark, intending to invade Iceland, had a wizard send his spirit out in the form of a whale to scout it out for points of vulnerability. Swimming westwards around the northern coast, the wizard saw that all the hillsides and hollows were full of landvættir. He swam up Vopnafjörður, intending to go ashore, but a great dragon came flying down the valley toward him, followed by many snakes, insects, and lizards, all spitting poison at him. So he went back and continued around the coast westward to Eyjafjörður, where he again swam inland. This time he was met by a great bird, so big that its wings touched the hillsides on either side, with many other birds large and small following it. Retreating again and continuing west and south, he swam into Breiðafjörður. There he was met by a huge bull, bellowing horribly, with many landvættir following it. He retreated again, continued south around Reykjanes, and tried to come ashore at Vikarsskeið, but there he encountered a mountain giant, his head higher than the hill-tops, with an iron staff in his hand and followed by many other giants. He continued along the south coast but saw nowhere else where a longship could put in, ‘nothing but sands and wasteland and high waves crashing on the shore.’

Landvættir, by the way, are spirits of the land.

Dragon and bull

Giant and eagle

Outside the parliament building is a statue of the first woman to sit in the parliament, Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason, who was elected to the Alþingi in 1922.

Ingibjörg H. Bjarnason

Another statue stands in a small square just down the road from here, this one of Skúli Magnússon, the so-called ‘Father of Reykjavík’. Until the middle of the 18th century the land currently occupied by Reykjavík was devoted to farming; meanwhile trade was monopolised by the Danes. Skúli Magnússon founded a company here, Innréttingar, which changed all that. The company started by producing woollen products but soon expanded into other industries. Magnússon went on to build sixteen facilities and trained his workers in new industrial skills. The resulting business boom led to the urbanisation of Reykjavík and the granting of its city charter in 1786. It is still the only city in Iceland.

Statue of Skúli Magnússon

We passed, and I photographed, various old buildings at the heart of the city, including the one where I first met Regina, on my last visit to Iceland in 2012.





Old town architecture, Reykjavik

I also enjoyed seeing the signs of spring arriving here, somewhat later than at home in England, but no doubt even more welcome because of that.

Signs of spring in Reykjavik

We stopped briefly by the City Hall and Tjörnin Pond, which on that last visit was frozen solid enough to be walked on but today was full of ducks and gulls.

Tjörnin Pond

Feeding the ducks at Tjörnin Pond

I will include in this blog some photos taken on that 2012 visit, for comparison between the seasons ...




A very different Tjörnin Pond in the winter of 2012

We were now back near where we had begun, and Jón pointed out a modern statue depicting the water carrier who brought water from the hot springs to the city. We also got some different angles on the statues we had seen at the start of the walk of King Christian IX who gave Iceland its constitution and of Hannes Hafstein, the first minister.

The Water Carrier

King Christian IX, and the Punk Museum


We finished our tour with a walk (past the Icelandic Punk Museum!) up to Hallgrimskirkja, the huge white church that dominates the horizon in this part of the city. Despite its size and prominence in the city this is not, as I mentioned, Reykjavik’s cathedral but simply a rather over-sized parish church for this neighbourhood. The story goes that local Lutherans, as the biggest religious group here, were affronted when the Roman Catholics built what was at the time the largest church in the city, so determined to outdo it with this one – and outdo it they did! The design (by state architect Guðjón Samúelsson) was inspired by the landscapes of Iceland – its basalt cliffs, glaciers and mountains. It took 41 years to build the church: construction started in 1945 and finished only in 1986.


Here Jón declared the tour over, but not before we had taken plenty of pictures here in front of the church. The space here is dominated by the statue of Leif Erickson, who was the first European to discover America. Unfortunately, as Jón told it, he then lost it, so Christopher Columbus had to discover it all over again!

Statue of Leif Erickson, from the front and behind

Inside Hallgrimskirkja

Here our group scattered. Some went to shop, others to visit museums. I joined Isa, Cecilia, Dao, Sylvia and Rick on a visit up the church tower. I had done this on my last trip to Iceland but I thought it would be worth seeing the view again, at a different time of year, which it certainly was.

City and harbour view from Hallgrimskirkja

Looking down

Perlan and mountains from Hallgrimskirkja

The bay and distant mountains from Hallgrimskirkja

We spent some time up here taking photos and once back at ground level decided it was lunch time. Isa recommended a nearby café which she been to on a previous visit - Salka Valka. There I had an excellent fish soup, perfect for this chilly weather. And talking of perfect, how appropriate to have a map of the world on the wall where our multi-national group chose to eat.

Salka Valka

In Salka Valka

Window sill ornaments, and fish soup, Salka Valka

Afternoon wanderings

After lunch we went our separate ways. I checked out a few shops, but prices here are high and I managed to restrain myself despite almost falling for a very pretty necklace. There were more old buildings to photograph and some interesting street art just off Laugavegur, the main shopping street.


Street art in Reykjavik


Old town architecture

I turned off past the old French Hospital, which a sign told me was built in 1902 to serve French mariners who were fishing for cod off the Icelandic coast. At that time 150-200 French ships fished these waters each year, and there were two other hospitals built to care for them elsewhere on the island. This hospital closed in 1927 and since then the building has been used as a secondary school and more recently a music school.

The French Hospital

I walked down to the waterfront to visit the Sun Voyager sculpture where I bumped into more VT friends, Karl and Cindy. The Sun Voyager or Solfar is the work of Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason. Constructed in gleaming stainless steel, it is intended to represent a sort of dream boat or ode to the sun (not, as many think, a Viking longship).



Sun Voyager


After taking quite a few photos here I strolled back beside the water, enjoying the views of the mountains and the seabirds, especially the terns swooping down to fish and also this eider duck. There was another interesting sculpture along the way which made a perfect frame for the mountains across the bay.




Along the waterfront

Then it was back to my room, via the supermarket to buy instant coffee as we will be leaving too early tomorrow for me to get my fix from the coffee shop across the road.

First 'official' VT dinner

This evening was the official start of the meeting. Registration took place before dinner at the Jörgensen Kitchen & Bar in the Center Hotel, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the apartment. I walked down with Isa to find Regina and Jón super organised, with all the payments handled quickly and lots of information about the plans for the meet and our various options given out in return. It was happy hour so I was able to buy a glass of house white for ‘only’ 600 ISK (my second glass later would cost me 1,400 ISK - almost £10!)

Our hosts, Regina and Jón

Lorraine, Hansi, Yvonne

Co, Gillian, Ali

Cindy, Karl, Holger

Sonja and Teresa

Of course there were loads of greetings to be made, old friends to talk to (some not seen for several years) and news to exchange. After an hour or so it was time to take our seats at the long tables to eat.

My table (taken by Jowatani)

Icelandic lamb

There was good crusty bread to start, with a pesto spread, followed by a choice of chicken or lamb. I had the latter and it was excellent, though could have been served warmer for my taste. But then it must be hard serving so many people at once. Dessert was chocolate cake with strawberries and blueberries. Then there was more milling around and conversation.

But I, like quite a few others, decided not to stay too late as we have an early start tomorrow for a day tour of the famed Golden Circle. Despite the forecast of rain I am looking forward to it!

Posted by ToonSarah 08:58 Archived in Iceland Tagged buildings people architecture restaurant history statue views church city sculpture street_art reykjavik virtual_tourist Comments (6)

It’s May, so it must be Euromeet!

Iceland Virtual Tourist Meet, day one

View VT Euromeet 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

VT group on Reynisfjara beach

Setting off for Euromeet

Setting off for the Euromeet

Well, Virtual Tourist the website was killed off over a year ago, but Virtual Tourist the community is alive and kicking! And that means that May = Euromeet month.

Arriving over Iceland

This year’s meeting was in Iceland, so to Iceland I went. I was last there six years ago, in February 2012, in an abortive attempt to see the Northern Lights (we succeeded the following year, in Norway, but that’s another story). I loved the country then, especially the magical landscapes, so was keen to see it at a different time of year, as well (of course) to meet up again with all my VT friends.

One of those friends, Lorraine from Australia, had been visiting cousins in London prior to the meeting and I had arranged to travel with her. She stayed the night before our departure with me and my husband, as we live pretty close to Heathrow Airport, and after breakfast this morning we were on our way, taking the Tube to the airport. We were there early but passed the time with chatting, shopping and an early lunch. Our Icelandair flight left a bit late but other than that the journey was without incident.

Arrival in Iceland

We landed at Keflavik Airport in the rain, collected our bags and found the FlyBus that was to take us to Reykjavik. The journey was rather slow as traffic was heavy, and the rain meant that the views outside were a bit obscured, but I was still excited to be back here.

Road to Reykjavik from the airport

At the bus station we transferred to a small minibus which delivered us almost to the door of the block where we were both renting a (separate) studio apartment, the Stay Apartments Einholt. We let ourselves in with the code we had been sent and found the keys to our apartments without any bother. Mine was a good size but I was disappointed to be right by the lobby and on the road, so I feared it could be noisy.

Stay Apartments Einholt

My studio room

Pre-meet dinner

The Roadhouse

There was time to unpack and settle in before setting out to the restaurant Regina had booked for our first dinner together, the Roadhouse. The meeting would start properly tomorrow but with so many of us already in town this was a good opportunity to see each other and start to catch up with old friends - and to make new ones.

The rain was pouring down as Lorraine and I walked to the restaurant just a few blocks away and we arrived very wet and chilly, but to a warm welcome. Soon we were caught up in the usual friendly spirit of a VT meet, with lots of chatting and laughter. We ordered food (most had burgers, mine was delicious) and drinks (I had a small beer).

More people arrived and the expected 20 became 40, with the restaurant staff coping admirably with the swelling numbers. I really enjoyed catching up with many of the people I had met at previous meets and also meeting Sylvia and her husband Rick for the first time, after several years of chatting and sharing travel stories online.

At the Roadhouse - Jon, Regina, Sonja, Christian

Lorraine and Marit

Sylvia and Rick

Photographer and co-host Jon

Long spring nights in Reykjavik

I didn’t stay too late however as it had been a long day. When I left I was thrilled to see that the improving weather during the evening had revealed the snow-clad mountains across the bay, so with Lorraine and Marit I took a walk down to the water’s edge to admire the views and take some photos. By now it was around 9.45 but still broad daylight - brighter and warmer in fact than at 6.30 when we had walked to the Roadhouse! I was to get used to these light nights over the course of my visit but this evening it was a real novelty to take these photos.





Evening by the waterfront

Rainstorm across the bay

On the way back to the apartments we popped into a gift shop where I bought a couple of postcards (partly in order to get change for the bus tomorrow) and into a supermarket to buy yoghurt for breakfast. Then it was time to head for my room, to sort photos, send goodnight messages to friends and to Chris at home, and to catch up on my journal before turning in for the night.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:03 Archived in Iceland Tagged landscapes people planes rain restaurant coast flight photography seas euromeet virtual_tourist Comments (15)

Mixing business and pleasure

Jersey day three

View Brief visit to Jersey April 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Attending to business

What a difference a day makes!
The same view as yesterday, but in better weather

Today was the day when I needed to attend at the Judicial Greffe to swear the oath in order to be granted probate. But with a bit of time to spare before the appointment we were able to have another leisurely breakfast before checking out of the hotel, leaving our luggage to be picked up later.

Statue in Liberation Square

The sunshine had returned so we took the opportunity to get some photos in Liberation Square of the Liberation Sculpture, which stands there. This was erected when the square was created in 1995, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Liberation in 1995. It was the subject of great controversy at the time.

When the design was first revealed by the Occupation and Liberation Committee, people were astonished and very unhappy that the group of people was shown releasing a number of doves of peace. The Committee explained that they had decided to change the brief to commemorate 50 years of peace, but islanders had been anticipating a sculpture to represent 50 years since the Liberation. Apparently many remarked that if any doves had been around at the end of the Occupation, they would probably have been caught and eaten by the hungry population, rather than released. People also commented that there was no recognition of the military aspect of the Occupation so a serviceman in battledress and boots was added to the group. The artist, Philip Jackson, explained that his original idea had been to have the figures waving a flag, which would be much more in tune with the public's understanding of the experience of Liberation, but the committee had decided to change the brief to one of ‘peace’, and so the dove motif had been introduced. As a result of the public protests the revised design incorporated a giant Union Flag.

Although we were still early for my appointment we decided to find the Courthouse, which is in Royal Square, a few minutes’ walk from the hotel. This is the former market square, and until 1751 was known as Le Vier Marchi, the Old Market Place. Incidentally you see here the use of the local French dialect, derived from Norman French and known as Jèrriais. More on that later …

Royal Square

Today the square has a rather French appearance, due in part to the pollarded trees. It was the site of many of the island’s historical events, including in 1781 the Battle of Jersey, when invading French troops were put to flight by the island’s militia.

A gleaming golden statue stands in the centre. This is George II, who for some reason was portrayed in Roman dress by the sculptor John Cheere when it was placed here in 1751. It is of gilded lead and stands on a granite plinth close to where the old market cross stood until the Reformation. All distances in the island are measured from this statue. Laws are disseminated by the Viscount from a stone at the western side of the plinth and the Proclamation of Accession of a new Monarch is read from a platform erected in front of the statue.

The statue from the front

A visitor to the island in 1798 had one perspective on why the king should be dressed as a Roman:

‘At the head of the Market Place, upon a pedestal, stands a gilded statue intended to represent George II - the attitude of which is so graceless, and the countenance so unlike, that it has been found necessary to inscribe upon the stone the name of the personage it was meant to exhibit. The fact is - the States of the Island were duped by an old gentleman of the name of Gosset, who wanting a piece of ground to render a house he was building more commodious - offered, for the grant of it, a statue of His Majesty to adorn the publick square. The proposal was accepted and the figure was brought over from England. The site had been previously prepared, and iron rails placed round, to keep off the rude hands of curiosity. A day was fixed for displaying to the Inhabitants the brazen image of their Monarch - it was conveyed to its eminent station under the inscrutable cover of a blanket - the publick eye became eager to behold the Royal Effigy - the signal was given and the veil withdrawn - when instead of the British King - Jersey had conspicuously placed in its capital - the statue of a Roman Emperor.

Mr Gosset - the patriotic donor conceiving that his countrymen might be easily duped, and he perform, at a cheap rate, his part of the contract, purchased this old figure of Julius Caesar at a sale, for its weight in lead, and added to its ancient dress the decoration of the Garter - as a sure insignium of the expected Monarch - and a certain proof against discovery. But a lady who had recently returned from Rome, visiting the island soon after the erection of this valuable treasure, recognised, to the great mortification of the natives, the "very stamp and image" of her old friend in the Capitol.’

[from the Island wiki]

And from the side and rear

An article in the Evening Post of 1930 ridicules this and other speculation about the origin of the statue (it had also been claimed that it was on old ship’s figurehead, as though such a thing would have been made of lead, or found among the debris of a shipwreck):

‘Lead statues, usually of a classical nature, were considered highly decorative and desirable objects of art during the 17th and 18th centuries. A nobleman's park was incomplete until it bristled with them. A statue such as that in our Square was quite in keeping with the tastes of the day, and the subtle flattery of depicting King George II as a Caesar went, as will be seen later, straight to the heart - and purse - of that valiant little monarch.

To the many who wonder why King George should be represented as a Roman Imperator, one must reply that fashion, then as now, blinded men's eyes to absurdities. Just as tomb epitaphs had to be composed in the pompous and pedantic Latin of Oxford, so had the worthies, whom the epitaphs described, to be decked out in the guise of the ancient Roman.’

[again from the Island wiki]

Crests on the former Corn Market

On the southern edge of the square is the old corn market, now the registry office, and the former military police HQ. There is an attractive sundial on the wall of the latter and an old police alarm. As the sign explains, this was installed in 1901 and was ‘one of eight such alarms which covered the town of St Helier. Each box contained a manually operated telephone with detachable ear piece, writing platform and batteries. The telephone lines terminated at the town hall. On the formation of the States of Jersey telephone service in 1923 these police alarms were abandoned.’

Sundial, and police alarm on the old police HQ

Dome of the old library

The court buildings are on the eastern side and were formerly the public library. The sign over the door still reads ‘Biblioteque’, which somewhat confused me.

But I soon found where to go and the process of getting the Grant of Representation went smoothly, assisted by the friendly Chantelle. We then dropped the paperwork off at the relevant bank nearby, and were free to enjoy the rest of the day, with our flight home being not until early evening.

A walk by the sea

With the weather so lovely we decided to walk along the Esplanade to get views of Elizabeth Castle out in the bay.

St Aubin's Bay and Elizabeth Castle

Elizabeth Castle was built in the 16th and 17th centuries, on a tidal island about half a mile out to sea, when the increasing power of cannons meant that the existing fortification at Mont Orgueil was insufficient to defend Jersey, leaving the port of St Helier vulnerable to attack by ships. The islet is 60 yards wide and about 500 yards long and can be reached at low tide by a causeway of shingle across the sands. For 400 years it was home to a priory. The monastic buildings were taken over by the Crown at the Reformation and surviving buildings used for military purposes. Construction of the castle began in 1594, and continued in the first years of the next century under the then governor of Jersey, Sir Walter Raleigh, who named it ‘Fort Isabella Bellissima’ (the most beautiful Elizabeth) after Elizabeth I.

Elizabeth Castle, causeway still covered

Elizabeth Castle, tide going out

It was first used to defend the town at the time of the English Civil War. Charles II visited the castle in 1646 and 1649, staying in the Governor's House there, and was proclaimed King on the death of his father, Charles I, by Jersey governor Sir George de Carteret despite the abolition of the monarchy in England. But in 1651 Parliamentary forces landed on the island and bombarded the castle with mortars. The destruction of the mediaeval Abbey church in the heart of the complex, which had been used as a storehouse for ammunition and provisions, forced Carteret to surrender and Jersey was held by Parliamentarians for nine years. The parade ground and surrounding buildings were later constructed on the site of the destroyed Abbey church.

By the start of the 19th century Elizabeth Castle was considered no longer able to protect the island and Fort Regent (which we didn’t have time to visit) was built on the hill above St Helier to replace it.

Elizabeth Castle at low tide -
you can see the amphibious vehicle that ferries visitors to the castle

The tide was on the way out and the causeway just clearing but we didn’t feel we had enough time for the walk out and back, so just took lots of photos from the beach.




Elizabeth Castle at low tide

We had a break for coffee in a café overlooking the bay and then strolled back to Liberation Square where we had lunch in the same bar where we had eaten on our first day here, The Square - a Reuben sandwich for Chris and smoked salmon one for me, both excellent.

A visit to the museum

Welcome to the Jersey Museum

After lunch we visited the Jersey Museum, devoted to the history of the island. At the ticket counter my eye was caught by the Welcome sign, which was in dual language – English and Jèrriais. I promised to tell you more about the latter. Jèrriais is the ancient language of Jersey, still spoken today by around two thousand people and closely related to the Norman language spoken by a minority in mainland Normandy. It is often referred to as Jersey-French, but that is a misnomer, because it is not a Jersey version of French, but rather a Jersey version (or versions, because words vary from parish to parish) of Norman French. Some of the words are Norse in origin, such as hougue which means mound, but most, like this welcome sign, are closer to French. The Island wiki has the words of the British National Anthem in Jèrriais:

‘Dgieu sauve not' Duchêsse,
Longue vie à not' Duchêsse,
Dgieu sauve la Reine!
Rends-la victorieuse,
Jouaiyeuse et glorieuse;
Qu'ou règne sus nous heutheuse -
Dgieu sauve la Reine!’

After paying for entry (£9.95 each) we watched a short but very well-made film which took us from Neanderthal times to the Liberation of 1945. This is available on Vimeo and as it is publicly available there I trust it is also OK to share it here:

We then went to look at the exhibitions. As we went in we saw a display about Lillie Langtry, who I was surprised to learn was born on the island.

Lillie Langtry's dressing case

The main area, called the Story of Jersey, had some interesting artefacts but we found the arrangement rather confusing as we seemed to move from prehistoric times to the occupation and back to Victorian times, rather than following events chronologically - but maybe we just got lost! Of most interest were the old films from the 1930s and audio of people speaking Jèrriais, and I loved a 14th century brooch that I would happily wear today, its design was so pretty.

14th century silver and gilt brooch

Stained glass from the Fishermen's Chapel, St Brelade

There was also an area devoted to the 1980s, the time when the well-known TV series Bergerac (which neither of us has ever watched) was filmed here. This was both unnerving (to see the first decade of our marriage considered as ‘history’!) and interesting. As the intro to the exhibition explains,

‘It was a decade of huge contrasts. There was lots of greed and selfishness and widening gap between the rich and poor, but at the same time, people took action to help look after the planet and each other.

The 1980s were a decade of people power and individuality. World-changing events were led by public opinion and the need to change an unfair world. The most momentous of these changes was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, reuniting a divided Germany. International protests and campaigns led to the eventual release of anti-apartheid campaigner Nelson Mandela. The world was changing and people became much more aware of the need to look after it.’

We saw displays about the impact of AIDS, major political events, the Great Storm of 1987 which battered the British Isles, and even Bergerac’s car, a 1947 Triumph Roadster.

1980s disco scene, and Bergerac's car

In the Merchant's House

Attached to the museum is an old house, the Merchants House, which I personally found more interesting than the museum exhibits. Here you can visit all the rooms, furnished as they would have been in 1869. Rather unusually, they are displayed as if set out for auction, as the house was formerly owned by a doctor who tried to sell off all his possessions to meet his extensive debts, so each piece of furniture, ornament etc., bears a lot number, and the descriptions provided in each room read like an auction catalogue.

As the museum’s website explains:

‘On the evening of 27th August 1869, a momentous decision was taken by the family that lived at No 9 Pier Road. Dr Charles Ginestet persuaded his wife Jeanne that they should abandon their beautiful home and flee to France to start a new life. They would be leaving behind friends and family but also a nightmare of debts and legal proceeding.’


In the Merchant's House

As you walk round the house ingeniously placed screens play footage of actors in the role of various family members, talking about their lives and their feelings on having to leave their home. As I understood their story, the doctor had been widowed and remarried, bringing his new wife to live in the family home. His grown-up children, still living here, seem not to have been impressed by her and the changes she brought, and blamed her for the debts run up by her husband. The whole thing was very cleverly done and intriguing.

Our plane home,
Jersey Airport

By the time we left the museum there was just time to have a coffee before collecting our bag from the hotel and catching the bus to the airport. This was rather small and appeared to have no seating in the departures area other than by the gates, which were inaccessible until your flight had been called, or in bars and restaurants – so we felt forced to have a beer!!

The flight home went smoothly and despite a slight delay in taking off we landed more or less on time at Gatwick. Using the Gatwick Express and the Tube we were home by around 9.00 PM after a successful and enjoyable few days in Jersey.

Posted by ToonSarah 09:48 Archived in Jersey Tagged buildings islands castles architecture coast beach history statue fort houses museum seaside Comments (5)

Of birds and beasts … and seafood!

Jersey day two, part two

View Brief visit to Jersey April 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Emerald tree boa, Jersey Zoo

Plan A


Back at the bus station we caught another bus, the 23, which took us on a winding route through the Jersey countryside and a couple of small villages and delivered us right to the entrance of the Durrell Jersey Zoo. Named for Gerald Durrell, who founded it, this zoo is run on very different lines to the majority. There are few large animals here - no big cats, no polar bears. The stated purpose is foremost to help to preserve endangered species and the entertainment of visitors is only secondary to this. And of course the income from those visitors helps with the preservation work. The website explains their mission thus:

'Durrell' is an international charity dedicated to 'Saving Species from Extinction'. Founded by author and naturalist Gerald Durrell, we've been saving some of the world's most endangered animals for over half a century. Through our Wildlife Park in Jersey, conservation academies in Mauritius and Jersey, and 45 field projects worldwide, our unique approach tackles conservation from all angles.

And describes their work at the zoo:

‘Our founder, Gerald Durrell, held the pioneering belief that zoos should primarily act as reserves and regenerators of endangered species. So while it’s still important we provide a fun and engaging day out for families, over the years Jersey Zoo has focused as much as possible on conservation.

Today, the overarching role of our animal collection in Jersey and overseas – our ‘ark’, as Gerald would have it – is conservation. We manage breeding programmes for release back to the wild, develop the skills and tools to conserve species in the wild, train others in animal husbandry and conservation practice, and communicate important messages to our visitors.

We rigorously and regularly assess our animal collection, assigning each animal in our collection to one of four roles: conservation, research and training, education, or visitor experience. By 2020, we aim to have 90% of the species at Jersey Zoo contributing to conservation, training and research, or education.’

Flower at Jersey Zoo

We paid our £16 entrance fee and started to explore. And we had a wonderful time here! The zoo is thoughtfully laid out, with space for the animals the priority and lots of greenery for both them and the human visitors. We followed the recommended walking route which took us past all the enclosures. Among the highlights were:

‘Jewels of the Forest’, where we walked among colourful and very tame birds:

Red-billed leiothrix or Pekin Robin

Palawan peacock-pheasant

Palawan peacock-pheasant - tail detail

Nicobar pigeon

Nicobar pigeon

The reptile and amphibian house, with colourful frogs and snakes and other interesting creatures:

Cuban iguana

Ploughshare tortoise

Emerald tree boa

Brazilian poison frog

The lively meerkats - great fun to watch and to try to photograph:

Meerkats at Jersey Zoo

The gorillas, especially as our arrival here coincided with their second lunch time which provided us with great photo ops (I took far too many!) and some interesting explanations from the keepers – I learned, for instance, that the youngster was five years old.

Silverback gorilla, and the youngest member of the family

One of the females

Gorilla feeding time

I also shot a short video here – look how carefully and dexterously the gorilla handles her food:

The orangutans, swinging among the trees on the many ropes strung between them, and the white-handed gibbons (confusingly available in both black and beige colour schemes ;) ) who shared their large enclosure:


White-handed gibbon

Young white-handed gibbon

The golden lion tamarinds and marmosets, also sharing an enclosure:

Golden lion tamarind


The Chilean flamingos - we had seen them a few years ago in the Atacama Desert but it was great to get a much closer look here - I loved the deep pink feathers under their wings:


Chilean flamingos

Nearby were some White-naped cranes, a new species to me:

White-naped crane

The lemurs, although we spent less time with them as it was at this point that the rain returned



The aye-aye - impossible to photograph in the darkness of his enclosure but fascinating to see.

Even the flowers around the zoo were lovely, and the odd shower only added to their beauty, with rain drops glistening on the petals:

Bluebells, and (I think) an arum lily

Magnolia, and camellia

Collected by Durrell
in New Caledonia

We also visited the exhibition room that tells the Gerald Durrell story, from his birth in India, his childhood fascination with animals, his books, and his work as an adult devoted to their protection and conservation, including the opening of this zoo and its development. There were lots of photos, early editions of the books, and some of the souvenirs he had brought back from his travels.

After a hot chocolate in the café (we had decided after our large breakfast that lunch would only spoil our appetites for dinner) we caught the bus back to St Helier to rest up a little, sort photos and catch up with messages.

While going round the zoo we had already caught the football score that told us Newcastle had beaten Arsenal 2-1, which, as well as being a great result in itself, also meant that Premier League survival was guaranteed. So there were match reports to read too, and friends with whom to exchange messages of celebration.

An excellent dinner

In the Quayside Bistro, St Helier

In the evening we decide to splurge a bit and went to the nearby Quayside Bistro, an upmarket restaurant overlooking the marina which specialises in seafood. We had a fabulous meal - in my case a starter of tempura prawns with wasabi dip, main course of lobster thermidor, and dessert of prune bread and butter pudding with local ice cream, washed down with a great Austrian Grüner Veltliner, one of our favourite wines. Chris had a crab and scallop starter, chicken with dauphinois potatoes and finished with coffee and Armagnac. Service was friendly and for such a special meal the bill of just over £100 really not too bad. And of course we raised a glass to my late mum, as she was the reason we had come to Jersey and had such a super day!

Tempura prawns, and crab with scallops

Lobster thermidor, and bread and butter pudding

Then it was back to our hotel room in time to watch the highlights of our match v Arsenal on Match of the Day 2. A great end to an excellent day.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:26 Archived in Jersey Tagged animals monkeys islands lizards food zoo restaurants reptiles apes Comments (11)

Jersey under occupation

Jersey day two, part one

View Brief visit to Jersey April 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A change of plan

Rainy morning in St Helier -
view from the hotel restaurant

We started the day with a good breakfast at the hotel, in the Harbour Room restaurant which, as the name suggests has good views over the marina. A shame then that those views were marred by grey skies and rain.

The plan today had been to visit the famed Jersey Zoo, but given the disappointing weather we decided on Plan B, a trip to the War Tunnels. We caught a bus from the nearby bus station, number 28, after a brief delay due to a problem with the bus, which refused to start. A replacement was soon brought alongside and we left only five minutes late.

The journey to the tunnels took about 15 minutes. On arrival we paid the £13 adult fee and in addition to our tickets were given a gender appropriate ID card and told to look out for ‘our person’ among the photos and information boards.

Replica ID card, Jersey War Tunnels

The Jersey War Tunnels

The extensive network of tunnels was dug during the occupation of Jersey by the Nazis during World War Two, from 1940 to 1945. It was designed to allow the German occupying infantry to withstand Allied air raids and bombardment in the event of an invasion. The Nazis used more than 5,000 forced and slave workers from nations across Europe to dig this complex over 50 metres underground. They lived in harsh conditions, although how they were treated seems to some extent to have varied according to nationality, with the Russians suffering worse treatment than, say, the Spanish or Dutch. My assumption is that this was because the Russians were actively engaged in fighting the Nazis while some other nations had surrendered and been occupied.

Replica of hospital

In 1943, the tunnels were converted into an emergency hospital.

As you walk through the tunnels different display areas each tell one aspect of the history of the island during that period - the British decision not to defend the Channel Islands, the difficult choice facing the islanders, who had only 24 hours in which to opt either to stay or be evacuated, life here under German occupation and eventual liberation on 9 May 1945 - a date still marked each year by a public holiday. The following more detailed descriptions of each section of the story below are taken from the Jersey War Tunnels website, but the photos are of course all my own:

To Leave or to Stay?
As the UK announced that it would not defend the Channel Islands, residents were faced with an impossible choice - to stay and face the unknown enemy or to go, leaving behind families, friends and possessions.

Display describing the experience of some who chose to leave

First Contact
As German troops arrived in their thousands, Jersey was firmly under the jackboot. Discover those uncertain days as the occupied learned to live with their occupiers.

Our hotel under Nazi occupation - the German German Naval HQ

The Paper War
With little physical resistance to deal with, it wasn't long before the German command began interfering in daily life. Its main weapon - a formidable bureaucracy, generating new laws and orders on a daily basis.

Rules for islanders under Nazi occupation

Daily Life
As restrictions and shortages increased, daily life for islanders became more difficult. This recreation of a Jersey home during the occupation gives an insight into the make do and mend mentality that kept residents going throughout these dark years.

1940s house

Whispers & Lies
Under occupation, accepted realities change for good. In a small community where trust is everything, can neighbours and friends still be trusted? Whispers and Lies gives you an idea of how things change when huge strains are placed on the bonds that hold people together.

Cooperation & Resistance
Nothing is as it seems and choices are hard to make. And how do you resist when you have no weapons? Examine the dilemmas faced by everyone during the occupation, from the UK government to the island's leaders and islanders in their daily lives.

OT Gallery
This impressive interactive exhibit will reveal more about this prolific engineering organisation, its methods and the people who, willingly or not, worked to build Hitler's Atlantic Wall and changed the face of Europe forever.

The Unfinished Tunnel
Men toiled with picks and shovels, loading rocks into trolleys and pushing them back up to the tunnel entrance. In the semi-dark and the damp, with the constant fear of rock falls, this back-breaking work went on in 12-hour shifts. You experience it all through an interactive audio-visual experience in the unfinished tunnel itself.

The unfinished tunnel

Fortress Island
Far in excess of their military significance, the Channel Islands used one twelfth of the reinforced concrete of the entire Atlantic wall. Had the Nazis deployed these resources more reasonably, they could have doubled the strength of the Atlantic wall and had a profound effect on the Allied advance.

Telegraph station

Under Siege
After D-Day, the Channel Islands were cut off from all supply routes through France. The last year of the occupation was characterised by hunger and desperation.

Desperate Times
In the final months of Liberation, Islanders became desperate. Food shortages were acute and with no knowledge of when the war would end, the Island entered its darkest times.

1940s kitchen

Air Raid Shelter
Step inside a replica air raid shelter to get a feel for the conditions, noises and bleakness of the situation faced during World War II.

Discover the event that islanders will never forget: 9 May 1945. Finally, after five years of occupation, British forces arrived to free the Channel Islands. Scenes of happiness and relief characterised this most wonderful of days, which is still marked by a public holiday and celebrations today.

Liberation celebrations

As to the people on our ID cards, we found them both. Chris’s man, Clifford Cohu, was one of many islanders who did what they could to resist the occupation. When war broke out he was rector of St Saviour. With three of his parishioners he acquired an illegal radio set (German authorities had banned their use by islanders).

Replica ID card

The Island wiki tells his story:

‘The set was owned by John Nicolle, a farm labourer; Arthur Dimmery, a gardener, was the set's "guardian" - he was responsible for digging it up and reburying it after use; Joseph Tierney, a gravedigger at St Saviour, typed up the information; and Cohu, who also performed chaplaincy duties at the General Hospital, provided information about the course of the war to various patients. Cohu was also known on at least one occasion to ride along the Parade in St Helier shouting the news. …

Cohu was arrested on 12 March 1943, and on 9 April the case came to trial. … Cohu was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for "failing to surrender leaflets and [...] disseminating anti-German news". Other people caught at the time normally expected to serve between 2 and 6 weeks: the harshness of the sentence reflected the severity with which the authorities viewed the conspiracy. Given the length of the sentence, Cohu was deported from Jersey in July 1943.

Cohu was taken first to the Fort d'Hauteville at Dijon, then to Saarbrucken in December 1943. By March 1944 he had reached Preungesheim, near Frankfurt-am-Main, where he was kept in solitary confinement and forced to work. Food and heating were both inadequate.

Cohu's wife Harriet … was informed that on 30 August Cohu had been released to an internment camp at Naumburg-am-Saale, near Leipzig. This was in fact untrue: Cohu had been sent on to Straflager Zöschen, where he arrived on 13 September 1944. A Czech, Premysl Polacek, witnessed the beating that the enfeebled Cohu received at the hands of the SS guards, who singled him out as der Englischer. Weakened by this he contracted dysyntery and died on 20 September 1944, aged 60.’

My Lucie was a French artist who was sentenced to death by firing squad for leaving inflammatory notes on German staff cars but had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment on the intervention of the Bailif (the governor of the island who had been left by the British with the unenviable role of running the island under the Nazis).

Display board mentioning Lucie Schwob

Later I found out more about Lucille Schwob online and it turns out she was a fascinating woman. She was born in 1894 in Nates, France, to a Jewish family. She was sent to school in England, and later the Sorbonne University in Paris, where she started to experiment with photography, mainly self-portraits. She adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun, deliberately non-gender specific. At the age of 17, she met Suzanne Malherbe, a graphic artist who worked under the name Marcel Moore [also mentioned on the display board I photographed]. Moore became her lover and companion and, later, her half-sister, after Cahun’s father married Moore’s widowed mother. During the 1920s they lived in Paris, collaborating on various written works, sculptures, photomontages and collages.

Replica ID card, Jersey War Tunnels

The following is based on the Wikipedia article about her, with minor grammar and factual corrections (the latter based on other sources):

In 1937 Cahun and Moore settled in Jersey. Following the fall of France and the German occupation of Jersey and the other Channel Islands, they became active as resistance workers and propagandists. Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis' crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing the fliers in soldiers’ pockets, on their chairs, and in cigarette boxes for soldiers to find. Additionally, they inconspicuously crumpled up and threw their fliers into cars and windows. Moore spoke fluent German, a secret kept from the Nazis. The leaflets were written as if written by a German officer and signed ‘The soldier without a name.’

In many ways, Cahun and Moore's resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. Cahun's life's work was focused on undermining a certain authority; however, their activism posed a threat to their physical safety.

In 1944, Cahun and Moore were arrested and charged with listening to the BBC and inciting the troops to rebellion. But it took some time for the trial to take place as authorities found it hard to believe that old ladies, which is how they presented themselves, could take on such a resistance. The death penalty was finally commuted to imprisonment. They were freed when the island was liberated from German occupation in 1945. However, Cahun's health never recovered from their treatment in jail, and they died in 1954. She is buried in St Brelade's Church with her partner Marcel Moore.

We would probably not have visited the tunnels were it not for this morning’s rain, and we both found them absolutely fascinating, so we ended up being grateful for the bad weather! But after walking through the tunnels we emerged to improving weather, so we had a coffee in the café then took the bus back to St Helier. It was time to revert to Plan A and visit the zoo after all. But as this is becoming a long page, and I took lots of photos at the zoo in addition to these at the tunnels, I think I will finish here and save the zoo for the next entry ...

German tank at the entrance

Posted by ToonSarah 05:57 Archived in Jersey Tagged islands history museum war_and_peace world_war_two Comments (9)

A mini island adventure

Jersey day one

View Brief visit to Jersey April 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

First sight of Jersey

After my mother died last September we discovered that a small portion of her savings were invested in a Jersey fund, and that to access them we needed to get probate there as well as in the UK. We could either pay a Jersey solicitor to do the work or go over there ourselves. As the latter option worked out cheaper, and would give us a chance to see a little bit of an island we had never visited, it was a no-brainer!

So today saw us boarding an EasyJet plane at Gatwick Airport, en route to St Helier. The weather at home had just, finally, turned spring-like, so our timing could have been better, but at least that meant clear skies for the flight, and thankfully we landed, about 20 minutes late, to even warmer sunshine than we had left behind in London.

Landing in Jersey

Pomme d'Or Hotel,
under German occupation

We took the bus (#15) from the airport to Liberation Square, where our hotel, the Pomme d’Or, was situated. This hotel has a long history. Victor Hugo stayed here in 1852, and the hotel later played a significant role during World War Two when Jersey was under German occupation. It was commandeered to serve as the German Naval Headquarters and German Harbour Master’s office. The swastika flew above its entrance as a constant reminder to the people of who was now in charge. My photo of this period was taken at the Jersey War Tunnels, which we visited the following day.

When the island was finally liberated, on 9 May 1945, the swastika was replaced by a Union Jack as celebrations began on the square outside and all over the island. That square is now known as Liberation Square, and 9 May celebrated as a public holiday each year. We were to learn much more about this period in the island’s history tomorrow, so I will save it for my next entry and return to the present.

First impressions of St Helier


By the time we arrived at the hotel it was after 2.00 pm so we were able to check in and leave our bags in our room before heading straight out again to find a late lunch.

Everyone was out enjoying the sunshine and it was quite hard to find a table at an outside café, but eventually we got one at a place called The Square, just around the corner from the hotel. We shared some light bites - garlic bread, chicken strips and calamari rings. The food was just right and the drinks too (I had my first rosé of the season) and although the service could have been faster we enjoyed relaxing in the sun after our journey.

Given our difficulty in finding lunch we thought we should book a table for dinner later. We tried several places in that vicinity, including a highly recommended Mexican restaurant I’d hoped to eat in, but all were fully booked or not serving food in the evening. So we wandered around the back streets, taking a few photos as we explored, mainly of details such as statues and street art.

Toad column at Charing Cross

When I took this photograph I didn’t know the significance of this toad which sits atop a column in a small triangular ‘square’, Charing Cross, but I researched it later. I learned that Jersey is the only one of the Channel Islands to have a native toad, and it is a unique species, different from those found in England, for example. Being the only island with toads led the residents of the other islands to use the term ‘crapaud’ (French for ‘toad’) to refer to those of Jersey in a derogatory way.

But instead of resenting this, the locals made the most of their ‘nickname’ by proudly erecting a monument crowned by one of their toads! This reflects the location of the monument on what was originally marsh land and home to many of the toads. Later, between 1698 and 1812, it was the site of the island's prison, and this column, erected here in 2004 as part of the commemoration of the octocentenary of Jersey's status of Crown Dependency, is engraved with extracts from the Code Le Geyt of 1698 concerning crimes and applicable punishments.

Nearby in a small park known as Parade Gardens we came across a statue of Lieutenant-General Sir George Don, Jersey's Lieutenant-Governor from 1806 to 1814. He looks very impressive in his uniform, and on either side, at the foot of his granite pedestal, sit the figures of Commerce and Industry. Don is credited with developing Jersey’s road system as a result of his frustration at not being able to easily move troops around the island.

General Don

Is this Commerce? Or maybe Industry

Le Sueur Obelisk

Also in this vicinity is Le Sueur Obelisk on Broad Street, a monument to five-time St Helier Constable Pierre Le Sueur. It is according to the Island Wiki ‘widely acknowledged as irredeemably ugly’ although I would be generous and say boring rather than ugly! However, the website goes on to quote author and genealogist J Bertram Payne who in his 1863 ‘Gossiping Guide to Jersey’, expressed his dislike of the memorial as follows:

‘The monument itself is a sad blot on the good taste of the island, and is merely an exaggeration of those spa toys one buys at Sandown or Clifton. At each side of its square base are lions' heads, pierced for fountains. The water, however, has never been forthcoming, so the lions look like hapless sea-voyagers - retching without effect. We do not know who designed this thing - this cross between a pillar and a post. We wish we did, for his name ought to go down to posterity, encircled with the halo that should belong to the inventor of the ugliest bit of pillo-pyramidical construction in the world.’

In between taking photos we eventually managed to book an Italian restaurant which looked OK, and then headed back to the hotel for a short rest back at the hotel and a chance to unpack and settle in properly.


St Helier street art - the Murals Project

Evening in St Helier

As a Catholic Chris wanted to attend Sunday mass but in order to have a free day for exploring tomorrow we decided on the Saturday evening service. St Thomas’s church, about ten minutes’ walk from the hotel, proved to be an attractive and imposing building.

St Thomas RC Church

It is the principal Roman Catholic church in Jersey and was built in the 1880s to replace an earlier, smaller (much too small) church on New Street just to the south. It has some lovely stained glass and an impressive collection of church silver and relics. I had unfortunately left my camera behind at the hotel but was able to get some passable photos with my phone. If you are interested there is a very detailed description of the church on the Island Wiki: https://www.theislandwiki.org/index.php/St_Thomas%27s_Church

Stained glass in St Thomas

Just a few of the relics

Emerging from the church after the service we felt a few spots of rain so hurried to the restaurant, Bellagio. We were early for our reservation so had a drink in the bar downstairs before going up to the restaurant on the first floor to eat. The food was good (I especially liked our shared meat antipasto platter), the house wine very good, and the service friendly. A good choice.

Spaghetti with pancetta and chilli


We then retired to our hotel room to watch a bit of TV and catch up with emails (both of us) and journal (just me!)

Posted by ToonSarah 01:16 Archived in Jersey Tagged islands monument history statue hotel flight restaurants street_art Comments (8)

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