Monday, July 21, 2014

Iceland: Through the Eye's of an Artist part 13 The Icelandic Horse

'White Horse Meadow'         5x7       pastel
Purchase painting here $50
 It was a ride of a lifetime. All of my life I've dreamt about galloping across a flower filled meadow on the back of a beautiful horse....mane and tail flowing in the wind. My dream came true in Iceland on a gorgeous Icelandic Horse. It was a magical experience.

The Icelandic horse is special. They are small and very strong and hardy. Since no horses have been imported to Iceland since importation was  banned in the 11th century, the horses in Iceland today are the same as they were 900 years ago. They are known for having 5 gaits with the best known gait being the tolt. The tolt is a smooth gait that carries a rider very comfortably over rough ground. I can attest to this!

I had booked my horseback riding tour before my trip. During the week of the workshop the anticipation for my ride was building. We saw these beautiful horses everywhere. It was a challenge to get good photos while we were driving though we did ask Stan and Corey for a few 'horse photo ops' and they happily obliged.

Adorable foal at the shark museum

Finally the day of my tour arrived. I looked out the window and it was raining....and it was windy and cold. A front was moving in. The good news was the tour was still on and I was going to make the best of it. I layered up from my long underwear to my new Icelandic wool socks and rainboots. The rain stopped just as we boarded the van to the Laxness Horse Farm.  It was going to be a good day!

My experience at Laxness Horse Farm was perfect despite the messy weather. There were about 10 of us in the group including my new friend from Lapland (you meet the best people on the bus!)  We were ushered into a room to gear up....rain pants, jackets, boots, gloves and helmet all included. Next step was to meet your horse. I was asked about my riding experience which was not much but regular trail rides.  The guide thought a minute and said he would be right back..he had just the right horse for me. He walked into the corral and came out with my horse Odina. She was beautiful. She was careful and had just the right amount of spirit. She was perfect!

Getting ready to ride!

Play ball with me!

Yes, she is the perfect horse for me.

We started out on our ride....single file through a meadow filled with Lupine. We gradually climbed the hillside until we were above the farm. The path leveled out and we began to move along more quickly....and even more quickly. This was no ordinary trail ride. We were really riding!  We continued riding past waterfalls and crossing streams which Odina did with such care. We climbed higher and higher ever so close to the edge but I felt secure on my horse. Every so often the wind would pick up and it would sprinkle. It was raw and so alive! (so much more exciting than a sunny day)

Across the moody and mystical countryside of Iceland

At the halfway point we dismounted to give our horses a rest. Our guides went around the group and asked how we were with the speed of the ride and if we wanted to go faster. Hmmmmm. My heart overruled my head and I said FASTER! So the group was divided into two and I wondered if I did the smart thing. Oh well. You only live once as they say.

Odina takes a rest

I am so glad my heart said yes. Odina and I flew like the wind over the meadows and streams. Wind and rain whipping us we ran and I quickly found her rhythm and moved with her across the rough terrain. Odina was so smooth. Her thick mane and tail were flowing. I could hear the thundering of hooves and feel the splash of the rain. All of my childhood dreams were coming to life in Iceland. I couldn't stop smiling. It was truly an experience of a lifetime.

We are flying!
The second part of my tour was a trip to the Blue Lagoon, the famous geothermal pool known for its warm milky blue water. The perfect way to end the day was a soak in the warm and soothing water. Another memory was made.

selfie with my horse

'Odina'              5x7            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $50

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Iceland: Through the Eye's of an Artist part 12 Icebergs, Glaciers and Arctic Terns

'On Top of the World'               9.5x13         pastel             ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $150
Iceland is green and Greenland is ice. That's what we learned in elementary school. I still wanted to see ice on my trip to Iceland. I wanted to walk on a glacier and see some icebergs. I came close to some glaciers and there are tours to take you out on them but I didn't walk on a glacier this trip. I did see icebergs though.

The spectacular glacial lagoon of Jokulsarlon was 600 miles roundtrip from Reykjavik but it was well worth the drive. After the workshop I spent 5 nights in Reykjavik on my own. It was my plan to take some tours. The tour to see the South coast of Iceland and Jokulsarlon was my first tour. I went with Iceland Excursions and it was a wonderful experience. We rode on a comfortable brand new bus complete with wifi. Our tour guide was interesting and knowledgable. My seat mates turned out to be a wonderful couple from New Jersey of all places and one of them was a pastel artist. It truly is a small world.

The edge of a glacier reaching down to the highway

The entire drive was spectacular...from waterfalls to distant islands to the largest river bed in the world, to the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, it was all amazing. The glacial lagoon was the final stop on the tour before heading back home. It was more than I could ever imagined!

A couple of the spectacular waterfalls we stopped to see

You don't know what is coming before you get the lagoon. It is right off the main road but there is no 'preview'. You go over a bridge and there it is. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. I was in awe and I know my jaw must have dropped. Yes it really was spectacular. It couldn't possibly be a real place and yet it was. We were greeted by the din of hundreds of Arctic Terns flying overhead. They would prove to be a distraction for me.

Hundreds of Arctic Terns greet us at Jokulsarlon

Part of the tour included a boat ride in the lagoon. We put on our life jackets and the amphibious boat slipped into the water. The colors and shapes were simply beyond my wildest dreams. Every shade of blue seemed to be represented in the sky, water, distant glacier and mountains and of course in the icebergs themselves. It was eerily quiet except for the sound of the boat. We learned about how the icebergs are chunks of ice broken off from the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull  We had a chance to taste some of the glacial ice which was interesting. 

A few photos from the boat tour among the icebergs

After the boat tour we had time to wander around the area. I was torn between taking more pictures of the lagoon or turning around and watching the Arctic Terns. They fascinated me.  Hundred of these little sea birds had made their nests on the grassy area beside the parking lot. These birds make the longest annual migration of any other bird. They fly 25,000 miles from Antarctica to their Arctic breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland. (and I thought 600 miles on a bus was long!)  Since they nest out in the open on the ground they have to be fiercely protective of their nests and young. And they are!  They will attack anything that ventures onto the nesting area....they dive bomb the highest point (your head) and will even poop on you!  The chicks were well camouflaged in the grasses but I managed to see them through the telephoto lens of my camera.

protecting the nests

nesting in the grass

A crazy tourist. I hope she got pooped on!

Can you see the chick?

So well camouflaged 

Sheep....move out of the way...or I'll poop on your head!

I may have been a long day but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. Many of the stops we made deserve more time but at least know I have more to see on my next trip to Iceland!

If you have missed any of my Iceland Travelog posts you can find links to them on my Pinterest page HERE

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Iceland: Through an Artist's Eyes Part 11 A Skywatcher's Dream

'Early Morning Daydreams'            16x20             pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting on Etsy $350
 From the window of a bus the landscape of Iceland slipped by. I logged many miles on the roads of Iceland. First as a passenger in the vans Stan Sperlak had rented for the workshop. Then as a tour passenger on the big tour buses of Iceland Excursions. I took a tour to see South Iceland and the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. It was a 14 hour tour which covered 600 miles!

A typical shot through the window of the charge for the rain drops!
Every mile was worth it. Most of the time my camera was on and ready. I have become proficient at drive by photography.  A quick glance ahead with a finger on the shutter and click! Many of these shots are out of focus but they still capture the essence of the land...the mood, shapes and colors. Sometimes it is the only choice because you can't possibly stop as much as would like. It is all about the journey but with a limitations of time sometimes a shot through a bus window is necessary.

Here comes a waterfall...cameras ready!

From the moment I arrived I noticed I could see the sky form anywhere. There are no trees to block the view. I had heard about this but it is hard to imagine such a lush landscape without trees. But it is true. No matter where we drove I could see the sky and I could see for miles on the clear days. I really didn't miss the trees. Instead I noticed the other things...the lushness of the grasses and mosses covering the hillsides. Even the lava fields were covered in spongy green moss. It truly is landscape suited for elves. I could imagine them being quite content here.

No trees but beauty all around us

The lack of trees encouraged you to look up. As we drove through the countryside I would often find my gaze following the many streams and waterfalls to their source in the mountains....and this is where it got thrilling...that place where the mountains met the sky. The sky was always changing and always amazing. We never had a simple blue sky day. We never had just plain white puffy clouds. No, we had dramatic skies and they changed by the second. I think we probably saw every type of cloud formation and sometimes in the matter of a few hours!

Interesting clouds

The arctic sky is different. It is lighter and warmer. It never really was a deep dark blue. It was almost like the lower part of our Eastern US sky. It was quite beautiful and I was glad I had brought a selection of blue pastels with me.

This is an untouched photo. Just look at the vibrant blue in the water and sky!

Iceland is a skywatcher's dream come true. We had mist,  fog and low lying clouds. We had dark brooding storm clouds moving over the mountains. We had clear blue skies peeking through clouds to reveal the sharp white outlines of distant glaciers. We had beautiful sunsets with painted clouds. This was the stuff dreams are made of.

Just a few of the many drive by photos taken out the window of the van and bus

My thousands of 'drive-by' photos of the landscape and sky will provide me with endless inspiration. Today's painting is inspired by a photo I took from the van window on the drive back to the airport. Several in the group had an early flight so we were on the road at 5:00 am and this is when I took the reference photo. The clouds were low and the day promised to be beautiful. I was glad I still had another 5 days in Iceland!