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A Magical Land Sprinkled with Horse Confetti

Iceland! The day finally came to head North and travel to my first international experience! (I never counted Tijuana or Cancun really. Or even a cruise to the Bahamas). I had been on the waitlist for about two years for the Iceland Retreat with Phyllis Burchett Photography. After seeing so many of her images from Iceland, I knew it was somewhere I simply had to be a part of someday! The lupines, the waterfalls, the breathtaking scenery and horses, it's an equine photographer's dream come true!



icelandic horse standing in a field of lupine
A beautiful Icelandic Horse standing in a field of Lupine

Dappled Icelandic Horse walking in a field of lupine
Dappled Icelandic Horse walking in a field of lupine

A white Icelandic Horse framed by the lupine
Icelandic "Unicorn"

As I show you some of my images, I'd like to also give you my Top 10 Reasons why you should also consider visiting this beautiful place!


  1. Travel to Iceland from Pittsburgh was only about a 6 hour non-stop flight on Icelandic Air! You just have to fly on the days they have their non-stop flights.

 

I would encourage you to purchase a luggage weight device, unless you have a great scale that you can use at home. We did not, so I purchased this from Amazon and it worked great! (Link) The reason to make sure your luggage is 50# for your checked item and 22# for your carry on, is they are pretty strict on Icelandic Air. You will have to get each of your luggage weighed and measured for the checked item to make sure it fits into their slot for the carry on. This was quite the struggle for me, as I had a lot of gear I was trying to take plus two weeks in Iceland, needing layering clothes, boots, rain gear etc.

All went smoothly for me for the most part as far as my luggage, and due to a hiccup in their system, they even allowed me to check my extra luggage (my tri-pod) for free!


 

Once I arrived to Iceland, I met up with my photography buddy, Patti Monson, and we waited for the rest of the group so we all could head to our hotel together.


I took a little power nap after we had breakfast at a cute little coffee shop cafe. I had left Pittsburgh at 8 pm Friday and arrived into Iceland at 6 am Saturday, hardly sleeping on the plane, I was a tad warped.


Konvin Hotel (https://konvin.is/)

After we all rested up, we took a short drive to the area of Valahnúkur mountain, where we visited the site of the first lighthouse on Iceland that was built in 1878. The lighthouse was severely destroyed in an earthquake on October 28, 1887. As a result, a new lighthouse was built on Vatnsfell. This area was also the spot where they filmed The Volcano Man with Will Ferrel in the Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. (I haven't watch it yet, but it's on my list!)



Lighthouse at Vatnsfell


2. My next reason you should visit Iceland is that we drive on the same side of the road! I did not know this really before heading to Iceland, but it was a pleasant surprise! No confusion when you are driving all around the Country.


We headed to the ranch on Sunday, but stopped at Thingvellir National Park, You can walk the Öxarárfoss Waterfall Trail, which also allows you to walk through a crater where two tectonic plates meet. In Thingvellir National Park, you’ll find both the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate on either side of a sloping path. This is known as the great Almannagjá fault.


Öxarárfoss Iceland
Öxarárfoss
Thingvellir National Park

Thingvallakirkja church




Once we arrived at Skálakot Manor Hotel, we all settled into our quarters. We had the choice of staying in a private room in the main lodge or the bunkhouse. I chose to stay in the bunkhouse with some of the other photographers. I just love the feel of a big sleep over! All of us setting up our computers and editing together in the evenings. Passing on tips and tricks and learning in the evenings after all of the photoshoots have taken place.


None of us could wait to get out shooting, so once settled in and unpacked, we headed out to one of the pastures with mares, foals and a beautiful black stud!


Beautiful white Icelandic Horse
A beautiful white Icelandic mare


We had a wonderful dinner at the restaurant right at Skálakot before we all eagerly went to bed preparing for our first shoot in the morning! Which was the lupines!



 

The Nootka lupine which grows in Iceland is not native to the country as it was imported from North America in 1945 to combat topsoil loss, which had been a serious problem since the 19th century.

 


Later in the afternoon we did our second shoot of the day in the canyon with a wonderful water crossing!



Icelandic horses crossing a river
River Crossing


Day 3 started bright and early at 4 a.m. so that we could get to the waterfall before all the tourists.


3. This brings me to my 3rd reason for visiting Iceland!

With a sunset at midnight and sunrise at 3 am during summer months, you will never run out of daylight for visiting all the beautiful sights to see! Some folks may even choose to go sight seeing in the evening and sleep during the day to avoid the crowds!


Skógafoss was surely a sight to see! Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland, with a drop of some 60 meters and a width of 25 meters. Steps lead up to an observation platform above Skógafoss, i.e. if one is up for it, as there are some 527 steps, depending on where you start. We did the climb in our second half of our trip once the hubby's came over. Skógafoss is only one of the waterfalls in Skógá river, there are 30+ other waterfalls in this river above Skógafoss.


A legend is connected to Skógafoss waterfall; it is believed that behind it you can find a chest filled with gold and treasures. The story goes that Þrasi Þórólfsson, the Viking Settler at Skógar (Eystriskógar) in around 900, hid the chest and it is said that the first man who goes there will find great treasures.



Beautiful Paint Icelandic Horse in front of Skógafoss







Day 4 was a wash out, so we decided to do a road trip to Vik and to Glacier Lagoon. Was a good day!




Day 5 we visited another unique waterfall, Gluggafoss. Gluggafoss waterfall - the Window Falls is a beautiful approximately 44-meters tall waterfall in Fljótshlíð in South-Iceland, often overlooked by travelers.

It is actually a series of waterfalls running in the small river Merkjá and together these waterfalls are called Merkjárfoss Falls.



Beautiful horse walking in front of a waterfall
Beautiful Icelandic Horse mare in front of Gluggafoss.



After lunch on Day 5, we were fortunate enough to get a ride in on the amazing Icelandic Horses! It was so much fun, even though it was raining. The gait called the "tolt" was a blast! I would certainly recommend if you visit Iceland and love horses, taking a trail ride on these amazing horses is a must!






Our last day during the retreat was a full day of shooting! We did another waterfall, a river crossing, photographed the herds as they were being turned out for the night, photographed again as they were being brought in, and then had a surprise of photographing a bachelor herd in a nearby field! It was certainly the grand finale!


I came home with about 10,000 images which included the first week at the retreat and the second week with my husband and our friends Patti and Ken. Keep an eye on my Facebook and Instagram feeds to see more throughout the year!






Now for the rest of my Top 10 Reasons to Visit Iceland!

4. Everybody in Iceland speaks English. Menus are in English as well at most restaurants.

5. You can rent a camper van or RV to see the island without having to stop and return to a hotel or airbnb. With this option you will see more! We stayed at an airbnb so that we did not have to keep loading and unloading our gear and suitcases. But there were days we'd drive 5 hours to our location and then 5 hours back. Campgrounds you do not need reservations and we saw alot of folks simply parked at waterfall parking lots. Campgrounds are fairly cheap as well ($10 a night or so). So you save on having to rent a car and hotel, as everything is all in one!

6. Crime rate is very low in Iceland. It is one of the safest Countries in the World! No one has bodyguards in the country – not even personalities like the president and celebrities. People are extremely polite and there are almost no violent crimes or hate crimes reported in the country. The president was offered to make his vehicle bulletproof but he refused the offer as there is no need for that kind of protection in Iceland.

7. Their speed limit signs have smiley faces if you are going the speed limit and frown faces if speeding. I found myself getting excited over the smiley faces. (I'm sure that would wear off over time, but it was entertaining while there!)

8. Most restaurants are pay at the counter. No waiting for the waiter to return with your check. No need to ask the waiter to split the bill. You simply go to the checkout, tell them what you had, and then pay.

9. They have the yummy ginger beer at all the restaurants. I found myself drinking way too much of it. Along with eating way too much of their chocolate!!

10. Due to the daylight hours, your vacation seems to last so much longer when visiting Iceland! About 21 hours of daylight each day, vacations don't seem to fly by!


I hope you have now put Iceland on your bucket list of places to visit!


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