I spent the past two weeks in very dramatic countries on fall break; started off in the Azores, stopped by London and ended the break in Iceland. The Azores and Iceland had slightly similar landscapes with natural hot springs, volcanoes, black sand beaches and stunning views. These places felt very different and familiar to Portugal at the same time, the more I travel and interact with people the more similar and connected I feel.
I have had a bit of a crisis with all my free time and realised that sometimes with study abroad programs that aren’t as demanding it’s so easy to get trapped in the beach, travel, live and party lifestyle that I often forget I am an unemployed senior graduating in the spring, lol. It is, however, so refreshing being able to meet people that care about how a place makes me feel more than my plans for after college. Being here is relaxing but I think it is important to remember that life is going on for people back home and that time does not stop while you’re abroad. My advice is to check in occasionally with loved ones and family and let your travels influence your decisions.
Hiking to this waterfall in Iceland made me realise how small I am in the grand scheme of things and made me stop and appreciate all the beauty around me.
Time has really been flying by. I can’t believe it’s almost November! Last time you heard from me, I was in Normandy. It was really cold there, but it was an amazing experience. I’m really happy that I went because as I said before, I wouldn’t have gone there on my own. These past two weekends have been really busy for me as well. The weekend after Normandy, I went to Iceland with my friend Michael. I loved every second of it, and plan on going again. We stayed at an Airbnb in Reykjavik and rented a car from the airport for the entire weekend. If you go, I advise getting a car because everything is so spread out, and the only mode of public transportation is a bus. We got there on Friday night, and stayed until Sunday afternoon. Friday and Sunday were spent in the city of Reykjavik, but Saturday was my favorite day. That day, we drove around the Golden Circle and hit a lot of our top places. My favorite spot was the Black Sand Beach. We woke up at 6:30am and did not get back to the Airbnb until 11:30pm. I was exhausted after, but it was worth it. I highly advise everyone to go to Iceland. It was so peaceful in its own way. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was a place that brought me real joy.
This past weekend, I went to London to visit a friend that is studying abroad at Queen Mary’s. I left Friday night for that as well, but had a 6:20am flight back to Paris because I had a final exam on Monday that I had to study for. (That’s one of my major signs that time is flying. Since I take 3 GW classes here, each for 3 and a half weeks, every time I finish one of them, it’s a sign that the semester is getting closer and closer to being over. I have already finished 2 out of my 3 and there’s still so much I feel like I want to do here.) But I really enjoyed going to London because I’ve been there before, and have done all of the tourist activities, so this time my friend took me to his favorite spots and the cooler areas of London. It was also nice to be in a country that spoke English for a bit. It was very weird at first seeing everything in English since I’ve been here for so long now.
Being abroad here has made me realize that I would love to travel to a different country every year if my finances and time allow me. Visiting all of these countries has been such a different experience every time, I could only imagine what other countries have in store as well. I’m so happy I took advantage of this study abroad opportunity. It has been an amazing experience that I know I will remember forever. I look forward to the last haul of my program, and can’t wait to see what else Paris has in store for me.
Before I head home this week, I have one more adventure to tackle here in Iceland: my glacial geology field work trip! For five days, my forty classmates and I are traveling with our professor and some graduate students around South and West Iceland to observe glaciers and the landforms they leave behind. Here is a recap of our trip, probably the most epic field trip I have been on.
Saturday (May 12th)
Saturday was our first day of field work and consisted of three primary stops: the Ancient Forest, Gígjökull, and Steimsholtjökull. The Ancient Forest is a patch of dried tree stumps which were killed in a flood. This flood was caused by a sub-glacial eruption from Katla volcano which is under the Mýrasjökull glacier. By dating the trees, scientists concluded that all of the trees died at the same time around 823 CE. This site was only revealed 15 years ago by another flood, which is why it’s a hotspot for glacial-flood related research now. Both Gígjökull and Steimsholtjökull are glaciers further inland from the ancient forest. These glacial tongues extend down from Eyjafjallajökull, the famous subglacier volcano which erupted in 2010. Both of these glaciers have released giant floods as a result of eruptions and other events, similar to the one which killed the ancient forest. Being able to predict flood events as a result of the interactions between glaciers and volcanoes is very important in Iceland because these massive flood destroy property and infrastructure, and have the potential to change the physical landscape and kill people.
Sunday (May 13th)
On Tuesday, we spent the entire day at Solheimajökull, another glacial tongue extending from Mýrasjökull. In the morning, we walked around the outwash plain of the glacier (the flat flood zone in front of the glacier) and observed different landforms (in layman’s terms, different types of gravel piles) from different time periods. For example, further away from the glacier we see features which date back to the Neo-Glacial era (2,000-3,000 years ago), as well as the Little Ice Age (600-800 years ago). Most notably, we see the moraines (linear mounds) which mark the end of the glacier at different points in time. Starting from the moraine from 1995, we can follow the retreat of the glacier as a result of climate change until now.
For the latter half of the day, we hiked on the actual glacier and practiced drilling into the ice using a steam drill. Basically, to operate a steam drill, you have a boiler filled with water which is heated using camping fuel. When the water boils, it releases steam through a hose which is connected to a hollow spike. The steam warms and escapes the spike through a small hole at the point. By facing the spike vertically downwards, the stream of steam will heat the ice below and slowly bore a hole down. These types of drills can be used to take measurements below the ice.
Monday (May 14th)
On Monday we spent our entire day at Sveinafellsjökull and Skeiđarárjökull, outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. We started the day by hiking around the ice margin and proglacial lake of Sveinafellsjökull. One of the PhD students who was accompanying out trip talked a bit about her research with ice cores. In general, ice cores can be used to measure changes in the temperature. This is done by measuring the concentrations of different water isotopes in the annual layers of ice. Essentially, if there is a warmer year, there will less “light” water isotopes because they evaporate out more quickly. In her project, the PhD student was looking at how volcanic eruptions in the area change the regional temperature and how that effects the concentration of different water isotopes.
The second part of the day was spent walking around the outwash plain of Skeiđarárjökull. This particular glacier in the largest outlet glacier from Vatnajökull. It is also a surging glacier, which means that it does not have the same annual growth and retreat as normal glaciers. Instead, it experiences periods of very fast flow which cause it to expand quickly (maybe every few years). After it surges, it leave behind lots of “dead ice” – ice disconnected from the main glacier.
Tuesday (May 15th)
On Tuesday, we continued our trip in the morning by heading east to Veiđarsandur. This sandy area is another outwash plain filled with sediments from the volcano, Katla. Eurptions from Katla melt the overlying glacier, Mýrasjökull, and cause it to flood and transport volcanic ash to the area down below. In 1918, there was a giant flood caused by a Katla eruption which carried enough sediment downstream to extend the surrounding coastline out 4 kilometers into the sea. This eruption actually connected an isolated island to the Icelandic mainland. Some of the Icelandic coastline is dependent on regular floods of glacier melt and volcanic ash to maintain the land. Currently, the small town of Vik is facing problems with coastal erosion since Katla has not erupted in 100 years to provide to sediments to the coast.
Later, we continued our journey to an older glacial landscape, named Völlur, closer to Reykjavik. Here we saw geological remnants from the Last Glacial Maximum 14,000 years ago. At this point, our group of fifty early-mid 20-somethings began to mentally devolve to kindergartners after spending 4 long days together. So here, there were lots of people tumbling boulders down hills and tumbling around in the moss.
Wednesday (May 16th)
Wednesday was our final day on the trip, and we focused on glaciomarine environments (where glaciers meet the ocean). During the Last Glacial Maximum, Iceland was completely covered by glaciers which extended into the Atlantic. The glaciers were so heavy that they caused the island to sink nearly 60 meters into the ocean. Once the retreated, the island rose again. This phenomena is known as isostatic rebound. Because of this, there are specimens of marine interactions available for us to see on land.
Most of our day was spent at some sea cliffs about an hour north of Reykjavik studying the structural geology of the cliff. Essentially, we were tracing different layers of sediment along the shoreline to see which layers were deformed during which glacial time period. A local farm dog decided to join our walk along the beach and probably had the best time of all of us receiving pats from every student.
This blog post is the final one for my exchange here in Iceland. It has been a really great semester, and this field trip really rounded it out well. Of course, it is always bittersweet to say goodbye to my friends, but I hope to see them again in the future. It’s been a semester full of bizarre and interesting experiences and has been truly worthwhile.
P.S. Here are some pictures of me snorkeling last week in Silfra, a crevasse in Þingvallavatn – my bucket list activity for my last free days in Iceland.
As promised, here is a continuation of my blog form last week about my trip to Germany. On Monday, I took the train from Frankfurt to Munich as I progressed through Bavaria. Upon arrival, I was immediately impressed by bustle and diversity of the city and its inhabitants. After checking into my hostel, I immediately went to explore the old, picturesque city-center.
Monday (April 23rd)
For the rest of Monday, my primary goal was to walk-around and see some of the popular sights of Munich. What really impressed me was the architecture of the city. It seemed like around every corner there was a new grand cathedral or theater. What I really enjoyed, which I guess is not available in Reykjavik, was the energy of the crowds walking around. Over 70 degrees F, it was like a warm summer’s night in the city. I ended the evening with a pretzel, happy to be in Munich.
Tuesday (April 24th)
Before coming here, I had consulted one of my friends in Iceland (who is from Munich) about what I should do while in the area. I asked him for some hiking recommendations since I wanted to take advantage of warmth and nature. He gave me several recommendations for some closer and further away hikes. Since I had three days in Munich, I decided to do two of them.
On Tuesday I did a shorter hike since I was going to meet Dagmar’s brother for dinner in the city. This hike (I believe its called the Five Lakes Trail) was just outside of Munich, in a town called Herrsching, and climbed a forested hill to a monastery called Kloster Andechs. The monastery is both old and beautiful and today is famous for brewing beer. Honestly, it was a bit confusing trying to find the trail initially since it starts in a town. But eventually the streets thinned and forest took over. Over the course of three hours, I walked from town to woods to monastery to lake (luckily able to follow signs instead of checking my phone every 10 minutes). Overall it was a very good day with excellent weather.
I returned to Munich with the commuter train, and after washing up, met Dagmar’s brother for dinner. We went to an Italian restaurant near his neighborhood in Munich. It was an excellent meal with interesting conversation.
Wednesday (April 25th)
Wednesday was my big hiking day. Since I was in Bavaria, I couldn’t resist doing a trip south to the Alps region. At the recommendation of my friend, I decided to do a long hike in the ‘Pre-Alps” (the “foothills of the Alps”) near a lake called Walchensee. To get there, I took the earliest regional train I could from the Munich Central Station at 6am Kochel. From there, I took the bus to the trail-head. I made sure to pack lots of food and 5 liters of water for the journey since online it had said the trail would take at least 7 hours. The loop started from the base of mountain ridge that consists of several peaks including Heimgarten and Herzongstand, which reach over 1790 m in altitude (about 5,900 feet). This was both the first hike I have done by myself and the hardest hike I’ve ever done, so it was certainly going to be a challenge. However, I was never really alone. There were tons of very athletic retirees there too. You can follow my progress in the photos below.
I was very, very happy I decided to do this hike. The mountains were absolutely stunning and I really felt accomplished when I got back down. (The first thing I did was buy an ice cream and some French fries at the bottom). Afterwards, I took the bus and train back to Munich and was pleasantly surprised that everything went smoothly. Then I basically went to bed right afterwards.
Thursday (April 26th)
On my final day in Munich, I obviously planned to take it a bit easy after the hike. I started the day by going to a vegan café that my friend suggested. I’m not vegan, but at least if I can’t figure out the menu, I know it’s all vegetarian. I had some really nice scrambled tofu and cherry tomatoes. For my main activity, however, I decided to go to the Deutsche Museum, a museum of science and technology, at Dagmar’s suggestion. It was quite unlike any museum I have been to in the US because it focused on engineering history. I only made it to 6 exhibits (of perhaps 20 or 30), in the 3 hours I was there. I learned about metallurgy and different casting methods, power machines, alternative energy, and last but not least cartography! They had a whole exhibit dedicated to geography which was cool for me. Since I didn’t get to go through the entire museum, I bought a really big book about its different exhibits at the end, as well as a book about nanotechnology. Afterwards, it was time to head to the airport and fly back to Reykjavik!
In the end, my trip to Munich was very busy and fun! I am really happy I decided to take Dagmar’s advice and go!
I believe next week will be my final blog post, as my time here in Iceland wraps up. I will probably ask to push it back another week or two because then I am going on my glacial geology fieldwork trip and will have something more interesting than final exams to talk about.
This past week I officially finished all my classes at the University of Iceland 😀 However, I have two weeks before my first final exam. So, in the meantime, I am spending a week in Germany travelling around. One of my goals while being abroad was to visit another country I have never been to before (considering that in Europe, it is fairly easy). Additionally, I have not seen my godmother, Dagmar (who lives in Germany), in a very long time. So here I am!
On Thursday morning I flew from Reykjavik to Frankfurt where I met my Dagmar, and her husband, Thomas. I have been spending the first few days here, and tomorrow I will take the train from Frankfurt to Munich. Over the last three days, Dagmar and I have done a lot of hiking (without Thomas unfortunately since he broke his arm a few weeks ago) and some exploration of Frankfurt city (with Thomas). Here are some photos and explanations of the sites we’ve seen!
Friday (April, 20th)
On Friday, Dagmar; her friend, Anke; and I hiked in the southern portion of the Rhein Valley. As many people know, the Rhein Valley is famous for its vineyards and its white wine in particular. Because of this, Dagmar chose a three-hour hike through one of the many vineyards in the area. Situated on rolling hills, the Rhein Valley hosts farmland and some forests. All together it is completely the opposite of Iceland - which has nearly no trees and definitely no grapes. This is the first time I have been without a winter jacket for the last four months (even in England it was fairly chilly and rainy while I was there). It has felt really nice to get some sun and wear some sleeveless shirts since the temperature has been about 80 degrees F! Of course, my internal thermometer has been a bit out of sync – I feel like I am a walking furnace after several extra months of winter.
Saturday (April 21st)
On Saturday, Dagmar and I continued our tour of the Rhein Valley further north by visiting several churches and monasteries (primarily from the Medieval era). Since Dagmar is religious and I am not, we had some interesting discussions about the role of religion in people’s lives. We also did another hike to the Middle Rhine Valley, which is UNESCO World Heritage Site. During this, we saw the statue of Germania which was built in the 1870s. The statue was erected to commemorate the unification of Germany following the Franco-Prussian War. We also saw several fake medieval ruins which were placed in the German countryside during the early 20th century as romanticism swept the country. Following our hike, Dagmar and I went to a restaurant nearby which had a lovely orchard. Fun fact: It is white asparagus season here so I have been eating significant amounts of asparagus.
Sunday (April 22nd)
Today, Dagmar, Thomas, and I toured the city of Frankfurt. We started by doing a guided boat-tour of the city, and continued by walking through the historic district. Over the course of the day, I learned several interesting facts. Frankfurt was originally established by Charlemagne in the 700s, and literally means “Fort of the Francs”. Later during the Holy Roman Empire, the kings of Germany were crowned in the Catholic cathedral which stands in the city’s historic-district. Traditionally, Frankfurt has been an important trade post and still is today. Home to the European Central Bank, the city has achieved one of the highest densities of job opportunities in the world. Currently, it is experiencing a large population influx due to the high number of jobs as well as a large influx of refugees.
Besides walking and boating around the city, Dagmar and I also visited the Museum of Applied Art where they were hosting an exhibition on Jil Sander, a famous German designer who revolutionized women’s fashion starting in the 1960s by focusing on the cut of clothing – making its more modern and sleek rather than feminine and frilly.
As I said before, tomorrow I will be travelling to Munich. So, I will update you all about that next week. Thanks Dagmar and Thomas for hosting me for the last few days!
One of the biggest questions I had before coming to Iceland was “what is the food like?”
From books, the only native Icelandic fruits and vegetables I’d heard of were moss and “scurveywart” (a shrubby plant with lots of vitamin C). Otherwise, the Icelandic diet has revolved a lot around goats and sheep. As a vegetarian, this was not a very promising sign.
It may surprise many to learn that Icelandic life depended heavily on farming up until 100 years ago. Many Icelandic people I have met here still have roots to farms today - perhaps their grandparent still live on their family farm or now they use it as a summer house. Today, Iceland imports a lot of food - especially produce - from continental Europe and the South America, but not all of it. So, it still begs the questions how and what are farmers growing here?
When Norse settlers arrived in Iceland in the year 1000, they immediately set up a farming community. There were very few towns in Medieval Iceland, and much the societal structure was based around individual homesteads and the family and employees who worked there.
Norse farmers originally brought a lot of livestock to Iceland, including sheep, cattle, horses, and goats. Many of the livestock breeds which arrived with the settlers can still be found on Icelandic farms today. Back then, sheep were especially valued because they could graze outside during the winter and provide wool and sustenance. Farmers at this time also grew different grains, mostly as fodder for their animals. Since farming primarily took place during the summer months in Iceland, farmers had little to do during the winter except survive. Often during January and February, men would leave their families and farms for an annual “hunt” to catch fish. For centuries, this lifestyle of Icelanders remained unchanged.
Sorry my blog post is a bit late, but I promise it is for a good reason again! This past weekend, my friends and I were exploring the Westman Islands, an archipelago off the southern coast of Iceland. We left on Friday morning and took the ferry from Landeyjahofn to Heimaey (translates to “home island”), the primary island of the Westman Islands.
Known in Icelandic as “Vestmannaeyjar”, this archipelago is famous now for two primary things – volcanoes and puffins. Vestmannaeyjar has experienced two eruptions in its recent geological history. The first occurred from 1963-1967 when an underwater eruption caused the newest island, Surtsey, to appear from the sea. Surtsey is now an important research area for evolutionary biologists studying how life colonizes new land. The second occurred in 1973 when the volcano, Eldfell, spewed lava onto 400 homes and caused the many of the island residents to be evacuated (but later return).
For tourists, perhaps the islands are most well-known as the summer home for mating puffins and their chicks. However for Islanders, Vestmannaeyjar is famous for its annual summer music festival, Þjóðhátíð (“The National Festival”), which takes place in August. During the festival, the islands’ population explodes from 4,200 to nearly 18,000.
This week and a half have been dedicated to spring break! Woo!
Last Tuesday, I left the stormy city of Reykjavik for the slightly less stormy town of New Milton, England, to visit my grandma. I don’t see my Grandma very often, living across the Atlantic and all, so I was committed to seeing her while I am relatively close by.
This week has been fairly calm compared to some of my weeks in Iceland, a time to slow down and relax. If I am being honest, much of my time has been spent doing newspaper Sudoku puzzles, watching quiz shows, and touring all the local super markets as we decided what vegetarian foods to try for the week. Of course, it has been really great to talk to my grandma and look through old photos and hear about her life as a young lady. On Easter Sunday, we were both treated to phone calls from my family, as well as my Uncle and Aunt living in Australia who I haven’t talked to directly since I last in Australia two years ago.
For this week’s blog, I thought I would post some photos from the week and tell a bit about them rather than doing it day-by-day.
On my first, full day in New Milton, I decided to go on a walk along the coast. New Milton is a seaside town on the southern coast of England, so getting to the beach only take about 40 minutes of walking. Below are some photos from my walk which included treading through a muddy horse pasture and walking along the sea-cliff trail. A number of signs along the trail warned of the heavy erosion along the cliffs. It was easy to see the older path which has now collapsed.
Walk Around Lymington
On Saturday, Grandma and I took to bus to a town called Lymington. Long ago it was a famous port for smugglers, but today it is a popular tourist destination – especially in the summer times. Our main mission going there was actually to visit the big Waitrose supermarket in search of some nice Easter Sunday food. While there, we also visited a café and had some coffee, and walked around the town a bit. It was one of the cloudy (rather than rainy) days.
On Monday, Grandma and I did a big trip up to London to visit Kew Gardens, the Royal Botanic Gardens. Once it was the home to King George III and Queen Charlotte, the parents to the famous Queen Victoria. Originally built for a French merchant, the Royals used Kew Palace as a retreat from city life. However, they abandoned the home after Queen Charlotte died in the palace. Since then Kew Palace and the Gardens have largely been kept the same. Grandma and I had a nice visit, despite some rain. We had a good meal – I even convinced Grandma to eat the vegan option – and we particularly liked the Palm House, which was filled with very luscious tropical plants.
Tomorrow I will fly back to Reykjavik, so sorry for a short (and late) post. This coming weekend my friends and I will visit the Westman Islands, off the south coast of Iceland. As far as my schedule for the rest of my time abroad. I have two more weeks of classes, and then I will spend a week in Germany visiting my Godmother and the Bavarian Alps. Then I will take my final exams and finish my time here by doing a week of field work for my Glacial Geology course.
Many people think of Iceland as a haven for environmentalism. Known for its geothermal power, the country has become a leader in sustainable energy. The commitment to sustainability here, in many respects, is greater than what I have experienced in the U.S. (though I suppose that bar is pretty low). In this week’s blog post, I’ll discuss Iceland’s geothermal energy production. In a week or two, I’ll write a follow up post about other facets of sustainability in Iceland. Much of the information below comes from the lectures in my Sustainable Energy course, as well as the links at the very end of the post.
How does geothermal energy work?
Before delving into geothermal energy in Iceland, let me first summarize what geothermal energy is and how it is harnessed. Geothermal energy, or heat released by the Earth, is a product of radioactive decay in the Earth’s core. As atoms within the Earth become more stable, they release energy in the form of heat. This heat travels to the Earth’s surface where we experience it in several forms, including volcanoes: steam vents, geothermal springs, etc.
In Iceland specifically, there are over 200 volcanoes, 34 high-temperature areas (steam fields where the ground temperature is greater than 150 degrees Celsius), and 250 low- temperature areas (where the ground temperature is less than 150 degrees Celsius).
It’s Sunday again, almost time for Easter break! I have one more full week before I head to the U.K. to visit my Grandma. Before that though, I have a final project and two exams to get through!
This week, I spent a lot of time copying lectures I missed while Evan was here… but I was saved on Thursday night when my friend from GW, Katie, arrived for the weekend! Katie was visiting London this week for spring break and spent the last two days with me here in Reykjavik! Since Katie had such a short time here in Iceland, it was a bit difficult to decide what to do, but we managed! I’ll give a brief description and some photos of what we did over the last two days.
Friday (March 16th)
Katie arrived on Thursday night/Friday morning at 1 a.m. Though I am sure she was hoping for some rest, I would not allow that. The same morning, we got up at 6:30am to go on a field trip for my Volcanology class around the Reykjanes Peninsula. The field trip itself was a free, optional guided-tour by my professor to look at different lava formations outside of Reykjavik. Since it was optional, I figured there would be some extra seats on the bus. And since the trip was for a lecture of 60 people, I wasn’t worried about the professor recognizing a new face. We left the university around 9 a.m. (no attendance taken, so Katie just got on the bus no problem). The primary purpose of the trip was to learn to identify A’a and Pahoehoe formations. A’a and Pahoehoe are two types of non-explosive lava flows. A’a refers to faster moving lava which, when cooled, leaves lots of rubble. Pahoehoe on the other hand are slower lava flows which have very smooth surfaces when they cool.
One of our first stops was the “Bridge Between Two Continents”, a bridge built across an inactive section of the tectonic rift, seen below. While here, we were examining the layering of the cooled rock and discussing how you can distinguish different types of eruptions and their chronology based on the leftover geology.
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