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Armida Evony
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Armida Evony

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Almost Paradise

We searched, but did not find the Hollow of Paradise.

Paradísarlaut is described as an "oasis" near Glanní waterfall, a beautiful little round pool surrounded by lava and lush foliage. We went to the waterfall yesterday and by careful observation of the locals, realized there are secret shortcut paths that bypass the rather boring gravel walking trail. So we had an excellent adventure ducking under branches, wading through waist-deep grass, walking down cool little log steps, and following the sound of the water. Everyone we met on the path smiled at us conspiratorially. 

We found two secret overlooks, one of which was 5 feet away from the official touristy viewing platform. The platform was mobbed with grouchy-looking visitors fighting for a spot to take their selfie, and we pitied them from our secret little spot in the bushes. On our comfortable moss-covered boulder with its absolutely perfect vantage point for pictures. After I had taken my fill of pictures, we popped out of our invisible nook like two elves and surprised all the tourists. I thought it was funny that none of them looked to see where we had come from .. I totally would have. Colin was holding one of my cameras for me and asked how it worked, so I showed him how to autofocus, and he had a lot of fun experimenting with my zoom lens. I played around with my nifty new variable Neutral Density filter .. I love dialing that thing. Photographers of all ages = kids with toys :) 

This morning, second attempt. We dove into the undergrowth like two old pros, tried all the forks, and discovered the fish ladder and the soft sand beach and the whirlpools at the top of the falls (fun to see the 'backstage view' from behind). We found glades of pretty purple and yellow flowers, and lush grass, and some more very cool lava castles bristling with gargoyles and stuff. It was a lovely Sunday morning walk with almost nobody around. Just warm enough. Perfect in fact. 

We also revealed the secret path to several people who asked us how to get to the falls .. which apparently angered the elves, and they got their revenge by reversing the directions on the "you are here" map. Because Paradís was definitely not where that diagram showed it to be! 

After we finally decided to give up, we asked the guy at the hot chocolate stand, and he said it was in the completely opposite direction, out in the middle of the lava field, not near the falls at all. So we filed that information for future reference. Because we may decide to go back and stay again at the quirky hotel with the excellent country-style restaurant, the framed drawings of the elves that live in the hills nearby, and the extremely theatrical chickens whose coop is a tiny traditional Icelandic turf house. If we do, we'll know exactly where to find the Hollow of Paradise. Unless those elves ... shhhhh don't say it!
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+Armida Evony -- that reminds me of a conversation with a friend last year, who stated he emphatically believes in science . . . yet he still expects to find fairies at the heart of it all :-)
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Game of Thrones

Today was a play day. Colin and I don't play very often anymore, since he's a big almost-ten-year-old and prefers to spend most of his free time either reading or programming (or reading about programming.) Today though, I let him pick where we were going to go. 

We agreed that we would head towards the Bird Cliffs at Arnarstapi, but stop along the way anyplace that looked like fun. We had lunch at the Fish Soup gas station restaurant I mentioned in a previous post, had a picnic of cake and milk, and found three awesome castles. I had been telling Colin the other day about how much I liked playing imaginary castle when I was about his age, so he asked if he could try it today. 

There was Picnic Castle, which mostly consisted of cute little mounds of grass covered with various tiny flowers and mosses, and lots of wind. We discovered that the tiny purple ones smell really good, not similar to anything we could think of, just really good and "outdoorsy fresh" according to Colin. Of course we had to sniff about twenty other things before we figured out where the good smell was coming from, but that was fun. And hey, we've got a washing machine for one more night :)

Castle #2 was Throne Castle. We explored and discovered a throne (of course), a cannon, battlements, the Guardroom, the Queen's Chamber, the King's Garden Path and King's Garden, a secret staircase, an even more secret staircase for the Castle Spy, and an escape route for the King if the castle was attacked (Colin: 'not very Kingly behavior though'.)

Lava Castle, #3, was the most fantastical. It is inhabited by many mythological creatures which come alive at night. There are a lot of secrets that I can't reveal about Lava Castle. Some of them I don't even know, because it just so happens that Lava Castle is right down the street from the famous little black church at Búðir. Colin wanted to practice his Icelandic Horse gaits (he prefers the Flying Pace) on the sandy paths down to the beach at that point, so we were both happy. 

Most of my pictures today are of Colin, and piles of rocks, not surprisingly. We arrived home tired and dirty, with rocks in our pockets and pebbles in our shoes, and memories of a really fun day. 
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Oh what fun!!  Thank you for sharing your Game +Armida Evony 
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Armida Evony

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Dainty Bokeh

I have no idea what kind of flower this is. But it's cute, and I love that sort of bulby thing on the back. You would never know I took botany in college, would you? That could be because I didn't bother to go to class and may have dated the professor (don't judge, he was a graduate teaching assistant and we went to a movie about botany .. sort of ..) 

Anyway. I think this is my fifth, better late than never, entry in +Ann Pollak's #fivedaybokehchallenge . This will probably be my only macro shot from Iceland, since I pretty much can't remember how to do it. The deficiencies are my fault, and if you like this, the lens gets all the credit ;) 
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Nice one +Armida Evony​! I'll finish my challenge once I'm back home and have access to Lightroom again! ;)
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Marinating

Back in Reykjavik for a one night stay in between the South Coast and the Snæfellsnes peninsula. I really like the quirky hotel in the Marina district where we're staying. It's close to all the good seafood restaurants and has a really fun and edgy design vibe. Icelandic style at its playful, modern, ironic best. Plus the two Coast Guard ships that were damaged by the Russian sailing ship last month are being repaired right outside our window. http://icelandreview.com/news/2015/06/12/russian-ship-hits-and-damages-icelandic-coastguard-vessels if you're interested. Lots of jokes about an old wooden ship taking out half the Icelandic Coast Guard ... 

Yesterday's Travel Challenge was prompted by my desire to get some last-minute battery charging done as I was packing up our hotel room near Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. I was staring right at the charger, battery, and plug converter when I was thinking "now, do I have everything?" The elves distracted me. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Hey, at least it wasn't my camera ... 

Anyway, I discovered that my equipment and I had parted ways when I was hundreds of km away, and spent yesterday increasing my knowledge of shops along the South Coast tourist route which do not carry camera equipment. Kudos to the lovely guys at the Selfoss Tourist Info office, who have been incredibly helpful every time I've been there. They sent me to a little electronics store which had three Canon battery chargers, unfortunately none of them the right size. However, the clerk there was a typical helpful Icelander, and he was nice enough to check the inventory at his supplier in Reykjavík, reserve the single charger they had for me, and print out a map with the address of the shop so I could get there before they closed last night. 

As a result of this expensive but educational mistake, I have now found the real camera store in Reykjavík. I really like the tiny one-man shop on Laugavegur, but I knew there had to be a big one somewhere ... and it's a humdinger. It's called Nyhergi, which explains why I wasn't googling with any success .. and the address is Borgartún 37, Reykjavík 105. In case you ever need it. I also just had a nice chat with a girl at the postal service (online help!), and found out it is possible to send a package to any post office in Iceland COD and General Delivery. I hope you don't ever require either of these bits of information, but just in case ... 

After all that, I was ready for the decadent chocolate licorice cake with rhubarb ice cream ... so we didn't make it to Valdís, the ice cream mecca of Reykjavík, after all. Maybe for breakfast? :)
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The food has grabbed my appetite. I grew up with some delicious rhubarb dishes and I just had some strawberry/rhubarb pie the other day. Ice cream for breakfast sounds just right +Armida Evony.
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Insecure in Iceland

I kept wondering today, am I making a mistake? A long, stressful drive (lots of one-lane bridges with bad visibility, my least favorite Icelandic driving thing) through hours of pouring rain. And all to get to a location which the weather oracle says will have only a few hours of sunshine on Wednesday, the day we were supposed to be headed back to Reykjavik.

I've changed my hotel reservations and rearranged a lot of plans in order to take advantage of those few hours of sunshine .. because if they do actually happen, they will be oh, so worth it. But they might not. Weather changes fast in Iceland, and even though veður.is is flawlessly accurate for same-day forecasts, it doesn't always know what's going to be happening three days from now. So I'm crossing my fingers, toes and everything else I can think of that this trip is not a waste. And that I'm capable of taking some pictures that will make all the hassle worthwhile (definitely a cause for insecurity!)

But I must say, when we drove up to Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon and caught our first glimpse of those otherworldly turquoise blue glacier chunks, it was a glorious sight. Even in the pouring rain. Plus, Colin and I had a great time at dinner, trying to pronounce some really long tongue-twister Icelandic words and cracking each other up. He has such a contagious giggle, it affected the whole restaurant and staff :) 

And then I had a huge laugh when we drove back over to the lagoon about 10:30 pm, in the hopes that the rain would clear briefly around sunset. The entire parking lot was wall-to-wall camper vans. I should explain that the current trend for professional photographers visiting Iceland is to spend 70% of their trip budget renting a camper minivan and buying gas for it, in order to not have to pay for hotels. Any time you see one of those (and they're pretty obvious) you can be 95% sure there's at least one photographer inside. 

So tonight, I'm feeling really lucky to be staying in a very comfortable hotel about 10km away from the lagoon, sleeping in a real bed, instead of a cramped little camper in a noisy tourist attraction parking lot. At least that was one mistake I didn't make! Is it mean of me to wish that I could be there to see all the camper doors opening 22.5 minutes before sunrise, and a bunch of bleary-eyed photographers staggering out to fight over tripod space on the beach? 

I won't be there. Veður.is says it's a waste of time. I'll be showing up mid-morning with all the rest of the tourists. Mistake? Maybe. But Colin (and I!) can really use a good night's sleep tonight, and being a mom trumps being a photographer. 

Hope your Monday didn't involve a horrific commute!
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grins happily
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Armida Evony

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Lupine Bokeh

I've taken advantage of  +Ann Pollak's flexible schedule for her #5daybokehchallenge, but I finally got a chance to use my macro lens as intended in Iceland, with a closeup of the beautiful purple lupine flowers blooming all over the South coast right now. I feel very fortunate to be here at just the right time to see these flowers in bloom .. they have a very short season and make such a difference to the landscape. They are extremely difficult to photograph en masse, thanks to the strong winds sweeping over the southern tip of Iceland, which turn them into a pointillist's dream. I had a handy elf hold onto the stem of this one for me ;)
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Mmmmmmh, Icelandic landscapes! Keep 'em coming, +Armida Evony! :D
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North by Northwest

We've headed up north .. well, sort of .. exploring a little bit of the area between the Snaefellsnes peninsula and the West Fjords. Here are my impressions of Northwest Iceland:

1. Hotels get very, very weird .. and they are also few and far between. These two facts may be related. 

2. It's really empty. I thought Iceland was empty anyway, but the southern parts seem crowded compared to this. 

3. You can tell the tourists from the Icelanders really easily on a gravel road. 

This part of the trip has been a disappointment in several ways, but has included a few delightful surprises. 

First, there was the creepy hotel last night. Shudder. PLEASANT SURPRISE: that experience actually made tonight's venue, a rustic horse farm with shared bathroom facilities (eww, call me an American princess, but I don't like sharing a bathroom, and NO STRANGERS PLEASE) seem incredibly cozy and homey by comparison. Plus, Colin finally got to ride an Icelandic horse. 

Second, I found out when I got up here (never mind why) that all the gold-star photography sites I had been planning to visit are a) close together and b) require an 80km drive on gravel roads to get there. So I grumpily decided they can't be that gold star, and moved on to my backup plan of seal watching in Hvammstangi. PLEASANT SURPRISE: Hvammstangi is a strangely quirky little town in a fun way. I think it may be inhabited by selkies. 

Third, at the Seal Center, they sent us up the Vatnsnes peninsula ... on the very gravel road I had already decided to veto. We didn't see a single seal, but we ended up driving so far that I threw in the towel and just went around the whole damn thing. PLEASANT SURPRISE: I now have an advanced degree in driving on gravel roads with a certificate in Giving Way, and did my thesis on Not Panicking on a Blindhead Hill when you are driving on single-lane packed dirt and it starts raining. There's also a charming little seafood restaurant at the point of the peninsula.

Fourth, Hvítserkur, the infamous stone arch that everybody wants to photograph, is distinctly underwhelming. Definitely not worth an 80 kilometer drive on gravel roads .. even with the seafood restaurant thrown in. PLEASANT SURPRISE: It makes me appreciate all the other, much more spectacular sites which have such easy access and yet are still not very crowded.

TGIF, y'all! I can't wait to head down south again tomorrow :) 
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WOW! really amazing...
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Armida Evony

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I know where I'm going, I just can't pronounce it ..

Colin and I have been working hard on our Icelandic pronunciation, and we’re getting better. Our latest tactic is to correct Samantha, our GPS lady, every time she mispronounces something (which she does constantly, with sometimes hilarious results). Her version of Snæfellsnesvegur had us laughing so hard we had to pull over.

This has gotten me thinking about place and street names. I’m a huge fan of quirky British village names: who wouldn’t want to visit Nether Wallop, Mudford Sock or Snail’s Bottom? And I love the mysterious ones like Sutton Hoo, Twelveheads, Chequer Bent .. makes me want to find out how they got their names. We also have some pretty colorful names for small towns in the U.S., particularly in the Wild West .. Tombstone and Deadwood are famous, but there’s also Grasshopper Hollow and Bumblebee in my home state of Arizona. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. And Confidence, California .. or Last Chance, Colorado. 

So I admit, I’m a little disappointed to find out that the mysterious Icelandic place names which I’m working so hard to learn to say are almost always just a place description. And a terse one at that. Cave Place. Snowfall Mountain. Somebody's Farm. Even Eyjafjallajökull simply means Islands Mountain Glacier. There's no Weird Jagged Mountain or Misty Romantic Village here :( A Viking I know once told me that Nordic folks keep their place names short and simple because you don't want to say too much when it's icy enough out to freeze your tongue to your teeth. 

I do kind of like the simple (once you know the Icelandic word-chunks that are combined to make those tonguetwisters) road and street names though. School Street. Market Street. Harbor Road. Way to (insert place name here). Pretty hard to misinterpret those. I always picture a gang of Vikings yelling, “the sign says this way to the hot spring, wahoo!” 

Some of our American street and place names have an interesting historical context. Many come from Native American words, or the language of some group of immigrants that settled the place. Sometimes the name of an influential historical person, or a reference to some landmark. But unfortunately there are way too many streets named things like Arroyo Grove Close and Meadow Arbor Trail .. which are not geographically or architecturally possible. Let alone all the Magnolia Circles and Lindenbrook Ways in the middle of the desert. I swear there is some Pretentious Street Name Generator app that developers use. Makes me roll my eyes. 

Does your street or town have an interesting name? 
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If only this tradition was limited to lakes, +Armida Evony. It seems to have been a popular pastime to give places obscene names. :D
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Armida Evony

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Sheer Bliss

So I'm lightrooming away, with headphones on, waiting for the jacuzzi to heat up (I know, I know, it's decadent) when I glance up and see this rapturously gorgeous sunset. I mean ... it was a drop everything, run outside in your socks moment. Two-handed camera quick draw  ... click, click, click, click. I had to stop myself for the sake of my Macbook Air hard drive. Must. Delete. Shots. They have already been rejected three times. I'm never going to need or want them. They're already backed up in Google Photos anyway. I need to let them go in peace ...... 

Anyway ... this is my view. The air is just chilly enough to make the jacuzzi worth it. It's completely silent here at our rental cottage, but we're only fifteen minutes away from Borgarnes, the only "big town" on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. And after a few hair-raising moments and some intensive troubleshooting, I now also have a blazingly fast internet connection. Ahhhhhh ... life is good :)

As we wave goodbye to the weekend, I'm hoping you all had a lovely moment or two. I know some of you did .. those who post pictures of amorous cows for instance, not mentioning any names. As for those of you who are stuck in New Mexico business travel hell (yep, I finally googled it) or eating work-sponsored worm tacos, well ... hope this sunset will bring you a little relaxation.
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:-) :-) :-) 
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Armida Evony

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A rather blustery day ...

We're in the process of driving all the way around the Snæfellsnes peninsula, a lovely area that is my favorite part of Iceland (so far). People say Snæfellsnes is like a condensed tour of the whole country, it has a little of everything. It's also a photographer's playground with some of the iconic views that you see in everybody's Iceland album: the Arnarstapi bird cliffs, the black church at Buðir, and of course the epic Snæfellsjökull (gorgeous big mountain and glacier). Actually Wikipedia says it is a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier covering the summit. Today's pics are a selection of mountains .. "I'll have the stratovolcano with a glacier on top" .. 

This is my first time to drive all the way around the peninsula .. last night we stayed in Stykkisholmur, a charming little fishing village which supposedly has a Danish look to it. I wouldn't know, never having been to Denmark .. but it's definitely a cute little town. And we saw some seriously bizarre clouds there that looked like flying saucers, so that was cool. Stayed in a darling hotel that was built in 1867, although you would never know it from the ultra-high-tech showers. Very nice shower. Nice room too, but the shower was really spectacular. At breakfast (which was also pretty spectacular) we met a very nice couple from New Jersey who are just completing a 15-day trip around the Ring Road, and got the lowdown on what it's like to drive all the way around the country. 

Inspired by that, we decided to take the long way around and visit Grundarfjörður (astounding views they have in that little town) and Ólafsvík, which was described in one of my books as "the town that has a waterfall behind the dentist's office." Then we drove through the beautiful Snæfellsjökull National Park, one of the scenic jewels of Iceland. By the time we passed Arnarstapi and Buðir, the wind was really picking up. In fact, it was a little tricky holding the car on the road .. and this time I've got an SUV. The ocean was white with waves. The inland lakes were brown with mud being stirred up by the wind. The sand was blowing off the beach. The grasses and flowers looked like they were trying to run away from the wind. 

Colin was getting a little nervous, especially on the steep hills with no guardrail, so fortunately our hotel was only a few kilometers further. Getting out of the car with our stuff and getting into the hotel was sort of like a polar expedition .. I was afraid Colin would get blown over the cliff. But we made it safely. Since we've got wifi here (yay!) the first thing I did was check veður.is, and guess what? We're in the windiest spot in Iceland (at the moment anyway) and they actually issued a warning for our area! Sort of flattering! 

What was your weather like today? 
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That explains it then! Mm Vikings :) 
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Armida Evony

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knowing when to walk away ..

I was in a "ghost cat" frame of mind today. I know someone who will appreciate that reference, being in a Walter Mitty mood :) For those who haven't seen the movie, it's a moment where a famous photographer is in a position to take an amazing picture .. and just chooses not to. 

Maybe it was the long drive. Something about driving a long way on my own makes me feel introspective, especially when I already know what the road is like. Of course I wasn't really on my own, but Colin was deep into some programming project or other and only surfaced occasionally when I called his name four or more times.

Or it might have been that I'm very tired. The last few days have been a bit much, physically, photographically and also mentally. I realized I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to take really good pictures in a particular location. The pictures I took there last summer felt like a real breakthrough for me, and somebody whose opinion I really value praised them. So I think I turned this location into a measurement of whether I'm made progress as a photographer since then. I wanted my pictures this time to be noticeably better, and more creative. I try not to have an ego about photography and I really don't think I'm competitive about it, because it's something I do purely as a fun hobby. But I guess I can't turn off my self-improvement switch completely. 

Anyway, today there were a lot of beautiful photo opportunities along the way, but I really didn't feel like trying to capture most of them. And I decided, if I'm not passionate about taking a picture, why do it? So what if this is my only opportunity to see this particular mountain with lupines in bloom? It can still be a beautiful mental memory. I'm not sure it's a good thing for our imaginations to require a visual reminder of everything.

I sometimes get into an almost "privacy is theft" frame of mind (+Conroy Lee just for you) .. feeling obligated to share everything I see. And what I realized today is, when I get into that manic photographer mood, I actually don't see and enjoy the scenery .. I just get obsessed with framing everything as a shot. Not fun, and definitely not relaxing. 

So I resisted that impulse, and just drove and looked and tried to enjoy being in the moment. Colin and I had fun picking out fantastic lava animals .. a bunny, a chicken sitting on a nest, a dinosaur with a mossy mohawk. We got out of the car a few times for stretch breaks, but I didn't take my camera with me. I let Colin jump around on the springy moss-covered lava for as long as he wanted, something he's been eager to do ever since we got here. And we agreed that we actually prefer Iceland in misty mysterious overcast weather, rather than the brilliant blue sky, which somehow bleaches out all the beautifully delicate color combinations of the landscape.  

I spent a lot of time thinking about people today too. The ones who are close to me that I cherish. And also the ones who used to be a part of my life but aren't anymore. Something about travel makes me nostalgic in that way. Something reminds me of somebody, and it's a bittersweet feeling to know that I'm not going to share it with them. Sometimes it takes a long time to accept that somebody doesn't care about you anymore .. and you have good days and bad days .. 

Kind of like photography :) 

+Mark Rösel 
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+Maribel Schilling thank you! I belatedly saw this comment, for some reason G+ had removed it as spam. Rolling eyes @@@
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Armida Evony

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Mountains of Many Colors

The Landmannalaugur valley of the Icelandic highlands is remote, uncomfortable to get to, and only open a few months of the year. But it is also unique and spectacular-looking, and well worth the trip. This is a volcanic desert, full of minerals which streak the rhyolite cliffs with beautiful colors, and the high winds make fascinating swirled patterns and stripes in the sands. Since it's part of the Laugahraun lava field that was formed in the early 1400s, this region also has a lot of really interesting and unique lava formations in all sizes from boulder to mountain. We saw animal shapes, troll faces, and jagged teeth-edged hills .. plus a lot of little caves that make it easy to understand why Icelanders believe in elves :) 

Landmannalaugur is mainly a tourist destination .. I was told that Icelanders don't really go there, and they certainly don't live there, unless they work for one of the power plants. In fact, the entire center of Iceland is virtually empty of people and buildings. With some of the wildest weather in Iceland, hardly any fresh water, no roads until quite recently, and no arable land, life was unsustainable in the Highlands. Since there are only about 330,000 people in Iceland (yes, really), there's plenty of room for everybody in the friendlier coastal areas. 

If you can reach it, the Landmannalaugur valley is a very popular hiking destination, with several famous multi-day routes on the Laugavegur Trail. These are black diamond level (or whatever the hiking equivalent is .. black crampon maybe?) treks, and tourists can and do get lost and die out there. With typical Icelandic understated humor, the main shopping street in Reykjavík is also called Laugavegur, for the herds of people that walk that trail every day. Guess which one I prefer?

There certainly is ample appeal for photographers to make the trip, with breathtaking mountain views, crazy lava formations of all types, those colorful mineral deposits, mosses and wildflowers, and a few jewel-like waterfalls and streams which are the most amazing shades of teal, turquoise and aquamarine. This spectacular area never looks the same twice. Agúst told us that the colors change constantly and that they would be more vivid in August and September .. but I've got no complaints :) 

Photography note: 
I did not tweak the colors in these shots, except occasionally to try to fix my exposure deficiencies and show you exactly what I saw. If you like the oversaturated and glossily flawless look, there are lots of those images available online :) I hope you enjoy this taste of the exotic volcanic desert of Iceland. 
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Thank you +Timothy Street​! I really need to read more of the Icelandic literature .... someday ... 
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Introduction
Hi there! I'm the mom of two fascinating and funny boys, ages 9 and 15, who are polar opposites. I am passionate about encouraging kids to read and encouraging families to volunteer together. I take a lot of bad pictures, read a lot of books, and have extremely feisty gnomes living in my garden. I like to sing along, loudly, with a wide variety of music including baroque opera, country, metal and various quirky icelandic bands. I wish I could speak Icelandic or Finnish .. but at least I am a power user of Google Translate. My current fantasy is to find a sod-roofed hut in Iceland as a vacation home, and invite G+ friends to HIRL there with me. Sadly, I do not actually own the boots in my profile pic because they are custom-made and were no longer avaiIable by the time I found the link .. but .. I do have a lot of boots :) I am a real person, but I don't share pictures of myself publicly. My profile .. my choice. I'm an untypical California girl (Bay Area brunette, carnivore, don't drink wine or coffee) and tend to find nerds and vikings very sexy. And finally ... I totally have a crush on Finland. Yes, the country. Ask me why.

I mostly decide to circle people back from seeing their comments on posts (mine or other people's) and thinking we could have an interesting conversation. Please introduce yourself, I look forward to getting to know you! 
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