Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Gibraltar - Stepping into British Territory

Rock of Gibraltar
The train service between Ronda and Algeciras is limited. In Algeciras we took the bus to Gibraltar. We knew we had a tight window for sightseeing so we could make it back to Algeciras in time to catch the last train to Ronda. And the rain didn't help at all. But we managed.

The approach to La Línea de la Concepción on the Spanish side of the peninsula gave us the best glimpse of the 426 meter high limestone rock towering behind the beach and harbor. The Rock was a spectacular sight to behold!

Crossing the runway
We waited for an EasyJet flight to take off before the security barricade was lifted and we could safely cross the runway to get to the city center. Cars, buses, trucks and people moved quickly across the tarmac. In the distance we could see a lot of new construction. Gibraltar's area size is only 2.6 square miles but it's home to some 32,000 people. It's pretty crowded.

The runway of the Gibraltar International Airport
This is an active runway and as it is open to the sea on both ends, it acts like a wind tunnel. With intermittent rain showers during our visit, we got a little wet. The wind rendered our umbrella useless.

Winston Churchill Avenue
There is usually a queue of vehicles waiting to cross the runway. It's best to leave the car on the Spanish side of the border and walk across the tarmac. Buses going up to the center of town run a regular schedule if walking is not an option.

Tower of Homage
The 14th century Moorish castle complex can be glimpsed from Main Street. What's left are the Tower of Homage and the Gatehouse which were rebuilt in 1333 when the Moors reconquered Gibraltar from Spain and occupied it for the next 129 years. 

Phone booth
What can be more British than this iconic red phone booth? Remember when we used to close the door of the booth to talk in privacy? 

Tropical Foliage
How to get there from Ronda, Spain;
Our whirlwind trip to Gibraltar from Ronda was achieved using a combination of train and bus to transport us. The Altaria is not a fast train and we left Ronda at 9:18 a.m. and were in Algeciras by 11 a.m. The bus station in Algeciras is conveniently located across the street from the train station. We waited a few minutes to board the bus to La Línea which is a short walk from Gibraltar. After showing our passports to a Customs Officer, we were waved through. Outside the Customs office are tour operators offering a variety of sightseeing opportunities around the peninsula. There is a bus stop a few meters outside the Customs building on Winston Churchill Avenue for visitors who wish to take the red bus across town.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie



Saturday, December 26, 2015

Something I look forward to

Sunrise
For several years now, on the 26th of December, I've taken a photo from my front door of the sunrise. Today there was not much to see as the fog was so thick. It wasn't until an hour after the "scheduled" sunrise when the sun finally broke through the fog to light up our day. So nice after several days of rain. We need rain though after 3 years of drought. Grateful for these blessings.

“One grateful thought is a ray of sunshine.  A hundred such thoughts paint a sunrise.  A thousand will rival the glaring sky at noonday - for gratitude is light against the darkness.”  Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway, quotes, Verse & Grumblings for Every Day of the Year 
*****
Image by TravelswithCharie

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Monastery of El Escorial
It's been ages since my first visit to the monastery of El Escorial. What impressed me most then were the long corridors and one particular door with a low clearing so you would have to stoop so low to pass through. Or else.....

I was delighted to discover that I could go to San Lorenzo de El Escorial by taking one of the suburban trains from Chamartin. And the trip took less than an hour and costs 8.10€ roundtrip. So I took off one sunny afternoon to rediscover this old town. What struck me as we approached El Escorial were the spectacular mountains which dominated the landscape. Little did I realize that when I opted to walk to the monastery that I would be climbing up a thousand meters to the foot of Mount Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama. So I panted uphill all the while thinking, will I ever get there? I found out later on that I took the roundabout way along Avenida de Los Reyes Catolicos but what the heck. It was a good exercise which I badly needed after the overindulgence of the last couple of weeks.

The plaza in front of El Escorial was buzzing with children who were just released from school when I finally arrived. Soon they were joined by the older students whose classrooms occupy a wing of the massive and austere monastery. How lucky these kids are to learn history where it unfolded! It was in 1563 when Philip II initiated the construction of El Escorial which would serve as the pantheon of his father, Charles V, as well as a monastery and a royal palace. By the time construction was finished in 1584, the monastery also included a church and a college. The Royal Library was completed in 1592.

Royal Basilica
From the Patio de Los Reyes, you can view the façade of the Basilica which is adorned with the statues of the Kings of Judah. David and Solomon are at the center of the frontispiece. I didn't bother to go inside the monastery because it was late and I was eager to see the gardens. Formal gardens surround the palace and extend downhill to the Casita del Principe. As it turns out, the Prince's Paseo is the shortcut to the train station. What a pleasurable walk I had under the canopy of autumn tinted trees!

Paseo del Principe
There are several trails within the gardens of the Casita del Principe. The casita or house was built for the future king of Spain, Charles IV. It was meant as a retreat for the Prince where he could get away from the rigors of palace life. Trees line these paseos (14 in all, according to a map on site) and it's a breathe of fresh air to be in these surroundings. 

The Casita del Principe is a Patrimonio Nacional (National Heritage) and the Monastery and Site of El Escorial is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


Cerralbo Museum

Foyer
The Cerralbo Museum is a museum palace which belonged to Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, the 17th Marquis of Cerralbo (1845-1922). He was an avid collector of art and antiques which he obtained from his travels and from art auctions in Europe. His acquisitions include paintings, sculptures, drawings, tapestries, ceramics, historical documents, books, photography, objets d'art and furniture. It was one of the finest collections of its time. The palace of the Marquis was built to be both a residence and a gallery.

Hall of the Armoury
The armoury was the receiving area of this aristocratic residence. The Marquis and his Marquess, Inocencia Serrano y Cerver, greeted their guests in this hall where the suit of armor belonging to the illustrious ancestor of the Marquis, Pablo Fernandez Contreras, the first Earl of Alcudía, (who was the Admiral of the Spanish Squad that defeated the Dutch fleet in 1635) is on display. The Marquis of Cerralbo also inherited the title of Earl of Alcudía.

Dining Room
The formal dining room sits twenty four and is decorated with mirrors and paintings, particularly still life canvases. It's a somber room with diffused lighting so the ladies wouldn't look bad under the glare of electric lights.

Ballroom
The museum palace reflects the lifestyle of wealthy Madrileños in the late 19th century. The ballroom is a gilded dance hall adorned with frescoes with dance themes. The family crests are held up by putti just below the concave ceiling while busts watched guests dance and mirrors reflected their every move.

The library has an impressive selection of 12,000 books in a variety of subjects. The books on archaeology and numismatics are some of the the most important in the collection. 

St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1600-1605, oil on canvas
There are many fine paintings in the museum including this work by El Greco of St. Francis receiving the stigmata. The painter's name is written on the stone below the saint's knee. Notable Spanish painters including Ribera, Zurbarán and Cano are also represented in the collection as are European artists like Tintoretto and Van Dyck.  

The Museo Cerralbo is on Calle Ventura Rodriguez, 17. Metro: Ventura Rodriguez or Plaza de España. www.mcu.museocerralbo.es.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie




Saturday, December 05, 2015

Chinchón, Spain

Plaza Mayor
The charming town of Chinchón is a quick bus ride from Madrid's Conde de Casal bus station through green countryside and somnolent little villages. For most of the passengers in the bus, it was a time to doze off after a busy morning of shopping and doctor's appointments in Madrid. But that was rudely interrupted when a race car driver in a black sedan cut in front of our bus with two feet to spare and the bus driver had to brake quite forcefully waking up the weary from their siesta. Then everyone started to talk at once about our close call and my once aloof seatmate who had gone to dream world after finishing her pastry, started to converse with me. She later volunteered to show me the way to the Plaza Mayor (which is also close to where she lives) and we had a pleasant conversation as we slowly climbed uphill to the square.


Claros

The Plaza Mayor of Chinchón is a 15th century square surrounded by white washed three storey buildings with wooden balconies called claros. The square doubles as a bullring during festivals particularly in July and October and it has the same hard packed surface you would find on a regular stage for a bullfight. The Plaza was a parking lot on this quiet afternoon with only a handful of visitors in sight.

Castillo de Los Condes
Chinchón has a rich history which can be traced to the Neolithic period with artifacts found in the caves nearby. In comparison, the Castillo de Los Condes (castle of the Condes) only dates back to the 15th century when Fernando de Cabrera was awarded by Henry IV the "Lordship of Chinchón" in appreciation for his service to the monarchy. His second son, Fernando Cabrera y Bobadilla, was conferred the title of Count in 1520 by Carlos V. Various wars through the centuries left the castle in ruins. It was at one time a manufacturing plant for the production of anisette, a sweet liqueur which is Chinchón's famous commodity. The castle is privately owned and the interior is not open to the public.

Rooftops of Chinchón

Halfway up to the castillo, I chanced upon this view of the rooftops of Chinchón. It was early November in mid afternoon and the temperature was just right for a stroll and some pleasant discoveries. How wonderful to find Chinchón near Madrid but quite a world away!

"All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." Martin Buber

How to get to Chinchón:
Take Bus 337 from the Conde de Casal station on Avenida de Mediterraneo in Madrid. The fare as of this writing is €4,20 each way. The buses are painted green. There is no train service to Chinchón.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie







Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bryce Canyon National Park


The Ampitheater

"It's a helluva place to lose a cow", remarked Ebenezer Bryce about Bryce Canyon. (Ebenezer was a homesteader in the Paria River Valley around 1875 and the Park is named after him.) As I looked at the Ampitheater from Bryce Point, I couldn't agree more. It was awfully crowded down there with phantasmagorical rock sculptures shaped by water, frost and erosion over millions of years standing toe to toe into the distance.

Hoodoos from Sunset Point

Bryce Canyon is not a canyon. It is actually a series of natural amphitheaters carved by erosion. And the air is so clear at Bryce that we could see far into the horizon. The Hoodoo (Bryce Canyon's newspaper) writes that "On a clear day you can see over 150 miles and even recognize landforms in Arizona!". As we drove from one vista point to the next, I appreciated more and more the panoramic views of Escalante National Park which borders Bryce Canyon. At Rainbow Point, we had reached the highest point of the Park at 9,100 ft. above sea level.

Grottoes

The white grottoes seen at Bryce Point are in sharp contrast to the red hoodoos in the Park. They look ethereal in pale tones but not unique as the rock formations are tinged in a paletteful of hues from reds to oranges to ochers to yellow and whites and subtle shades in between. 

Sunrise Point

Sunset produces an amazing layered horizon. We were at Sunrise Point at the end of the day where we should have been at dawn. But it is just as spectacular here at sunset.

Tunnel through Red Canyon

We passed through Red Canyon on our way to Bryce and this area is ablazed with towering walls of red rocks. It's definitely worth a stop. 

How to get there:
Take Highway 15 North from Las Vegas. At Cedar City in Utah, take Highway 14 to 89 north to the Park. Sometimes Highway 14 may be closed as it was when we went up to Bryce so take Highway 20 instead through Red Canyon to 89 south. Bryce Canyon is 270 miles from Las Vegas. There's an entrance fee per vehicle of $25 which is valid for 7 days or $12 per person if traveling by motorcycle, bicycle or as a pedestrian. These fees I've indicated were valid in late September 2015. It's best to purchase an annual pass if you plan on visiting other national parks in the area like Zion or Escalante. Seniors over 62 years of age pay $10 for a lifetime pass. Check the Bryce Canyon website for more updated information: www.nps.gov/brca.

If you wish to avoid the hassle of finding a parking space within the Park, there's a free shuttle that takes visitors to various vista points within Bryce Canyon and may be boarded from parking lots outside the Park at Ruby's Inn and the Visitor's Center. Shuttles run from mid April to September 30.

*****

Images by TravelwithCharie


Reykjavík Basics

Where to say:
Center Hotel Klopp
Klapparstig 26, Reykjavik 
Buffet breakfast included
Central location. A block from Laugavegur, the main shopping street.

Foss Hotel Baron
Baronstígur 2-4, Reykjavik
Buffet breakfast included
Across the boulevard from Sculpture and Shore Walk and a short walk to Höfdi House.

Where to eat:
It is expensive to eat out in Reykjavik. If you're on a budget, it might help to buy food at the supermarket. There are several supermarkets conveniently located in the city center or try the Thai Restaurant on Laugavegur where the food is delicious and reasonably priced. 

Catfish at Sushi Samba

Samba Sushi
Japanese and South American Fusion cuisine.
Thingholsstraeti 5
View their menu here:  sushisamba.is
This is an expensive restaurant. Prepare to pay at least $30.00 for the dish shown above.

Pearl Cafe
Perlan
Open from 10 a.m. To 9 p.m.
www.perlan.is
Perlan is a destination on its own. It sits on a hill and has a 360° view of Reykjavik. There's a bus that stops at the bottom of the hill which is a short easy climb to Perlan. The Café serves hot and cold dishes including soup and pizza.

Baejarins Beztu
Tryggvatagata 1 (across from the harbor)
This is a popular hotdog stand. Tourists love to take their selfies here with hotdog sandwich in hand. One hotdog and fries add to 600 ISK or $4.50.

Baejarins Beztu

Ruan Thai
Laugavegur 59 on the second floor (above the supermarket Krónan)
Good food and reasonably priced. Attentive and friendly service. 
Two dishes and beverages for $30.00. See their menu here: ruanthai.is

Supermarkets:
Krónan Supermarket on Laugavegur 59

10-11 Supermarket on Hverfisgata 

Sightseeing:
Grayline Tours
grayline.is
We took Grayline Tours to the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon and the Northern Lights.

Airport Transportation:
Flybus
From Keflavik airport, they will drop you off at their station in Reykjavik where you will board a smaller van to your hotel. You save when you purchase a roundtrip ticket. They have a counter outside the arrivals area at the airport.

The airport transfer can also be made with a stopover at the Blue Lagoon. There are lockers at the lagoon where you can store your luggage while soaking at the lagoon.

Currency:
Icelandic króna (ISK).

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Golden Circle

Thingvellir National Park

One of the closest areas to visit from Reykjavik is Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park. The Park is of historical significance to Icelanders. This is where the oldest open air parliament in the world (the Althing) was established in 930 and continued to meet till 1798. Thingvellir is also of paramount geological interest. The North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates run through the Park and have created a rift which continues to expand. 

Thingvallatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland and lies south of the Park. It is the habitat of 150 types of plants and 50 invertebrates. 

Gulfoss

Gulfoss (golden falls) is fed by glacial melt from Langjökull, the second largest ice cap in Iceland. When glacier melts and flows down the river, it carries sediment with it. Hence the water is somewhat golden in hue. Gulfoss cascades in two tiers down a 32 meter canyon. Sunshine and a spray of mist in the air will create a rainbow to make your heart leap. Yes, Wordsworth!

Strokkur (The Churn)

Strokkur is the most active geyser in Haukadalur Valley. It spouts regularly about every ten minutes and you can anticipate its arrival by watching the activity in the boiling basin. When it spouts, it is accompanied by a thunderous noise but it ends too quickly leaving the onlooker begging for more.

The Great Geysir was once the main attraction in this field with its 60 to 80 meter high jet trajectory but it has been dormant since 1916 and now spouts a mere 8 to 10 meters high into the air at less regular intervals.


Steam vents, small geysers, hot springs, and warm streams populate this active geothermal field bounded by Laugarfjall mountain. The raw and volcanic landscape of The Golden Circle has attracted the production company of the successful TV series, Game of Thrones. The brooding backdrop is tailor-made for their show.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


Skálholt


Skálholt Cathedral, South Iceland

Skálholt has been the spiritual center of Iceland since the ordination of the first Catholic bishop, Isleifur Gissurarson,in 1056 and through the advent of Lutheranism in the 16th century. The Catholic bishop from North Iceland, Jon Aráson, was captured and beheaded together with his two sons in 1550 effectively ending the Catholic faith in Iceland. The Lutherans maintained their Episcopal See at Skálholt until 1785. A major earthquake and volcanic eruptions toward the end of the century finally drove the bishop and school to Reykjavík where the See was installed in 1801. This led to the decline in importance of Skálholt as the religious, educational and cultural center of Iceland. Renewed interest in Skálholt in the 20th century saw the construction of a new cathedral on the ruins of previous churches. It was consecrated in 1963.

Excavations in the area have yielded artifacts including a stone sarcophagus and tombstones which are displayed in the church crypt.

Interior of the Cathedral

The altarpiece is a mosaic of Jesus and was created by local artist, Nina Tryggvadóttir. The stained glass windows were a gift by the Danes to the church and tells the story of salvation. It was made by another female artist, Gerdur Helgadóttir. The plain exterior walls of the Cathedral belies the beautiful interior space lit by a kaleidoscope of colors from the stained glass windows.

Þorláksbúð

This interesting turf house, Þorláksbúðwas built in recent years on the ruins of the old chapel. It is in sharp contrast to the white washed Cathedral. The Unesco World Heritage Center refers to Iceland's turf structures as "vernacular architecture". Its origin may be traced to the Viking settlement in Iceland in the 9th century. There are many fine examples of these structures in Iceland today though these are mere reconstructions since turf has to be replaced every 20 to 30 years and together with the ravages of time, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, these turf dwellings would not have survived in its entirety to the present day. There is controversy over the placement of Þorláksbúð at Skálholt but in my opinion, the addition of this vernacular house focuses attention on an important cultural heritage. And that's a good thing!

The Golden Circle Tours offered by various sightseeing companies include a visit to Skálholt. 

The Settlement Exhibition on Adalstraeti 16 in Reykjavík is a good place to learn more about life in the Viking Age and see firsthand the remains of a 10th century longhouse and other artefacts excavated on the site.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chasing Aurora

Aurora Borealis from the Grayline Iceland Tours brochure

For many years I dreamed about going to Iceland or Alaska to see the Aurora Borealis. That dream became reality in mid September of this year when I finally landed at Keflavik airport in Iceland. The first few days of our stay was marked by rain and heavy clouds. Then a storm followed. It seemed hopeless. But on Thursday the sun came out and the clouds lifted. Grayline Tours confirmed our northern lights mystery tour and I was in heaven!

We were driven to Reykjanes Peninsula which is south of Reykjavik at around 9 p.m. The sky was still shedding the light of day so we drove quite a distance away from city lights to get the best view. I kept scanning the darkened skies for traces of the aurora and finally I saw a patch of green in the sky. It wasn't big nor was it dancing but it was there. The driver stopped the bus and we all trooped out of the bus to watch the aurora from an ancient lava field. It was chilly outside and we stood there for a while but the aurora never developed. So we left for greener pastures until we reached a lighthouse where we parked for an hour or so to wait for the northern lights to reveal itself. We were not lucky there either. As we were right by the water, it was much colder though we had the option to get a hot drink at the café. Most of us queued up for the restroom instead.

Downcast we headed back to Reykjavik. It was then past 1 a.m. We were told that our tickets were good for two years or until we see the northern lights. And I had made up my mind to rebook the tour for the following evening. As we approached the city, the bus went down a darkened road as the driver tried one last time to find the elusive aurora. And there in the middle of nowhere, the guide called us to get off the bus as soon as possible. What happened next was magical. Above us was a huge canopy of green and white lights. And all I could say was "Oh my God!". And yes, the incredible spectacle before us was His work of art. 

I couldn't get a good photo of the aurora. I only had my IPhone camera and my digital camera. But it's enough that I saw with my own eyes what I had wanted so much to see all these years. When I got back to the hotel, I reviewed the photos and found some smudges of green in a few of the shots I took. I increased the exposure of the image below in order to see the green rays better but it made the photo grainy. 

My photo of the Aurora Borealis

We saw the northern lights again the following evening from our hotel window. It was nothing like the images I've seen on Instagram or Google images but we did catch a green whirlpool. How amazing that was! What started as a hopeless pursuit amidst bad weather conditions turned out to be a good week for chasing aurora.

For more information about the Northern Lights tours, check their website at grayline.is or send them email at iceland@grayline.is. The mystery tour costs 6400 ISK as of this writing. Tours are conducted from September 15 to April 15. I highly recommend Grayline as their staff took us to many locations and didn't give up until we saw the fleeting northern lights. The ability to rebook the tour free of charge in case the aurora is a no show is quite reassuring.

*****

Image with lighthouse from Grayline Iceland Tours.




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Reykjavik Walks

Reykjavik is an easy city to explore because of its compact size. We spent three days discovering this charming old town and made lots of stops along the way to read all the helpful descriptions provided at each site and tried some local Skyr and pastries along the route. The Shore walk begins at Höfdi House on Borgartún, overlooking the bay. It is a beautiful stroll along the coast. The City Center walk starts at Government House while the Cathedral Square walk begins on top of the hill at Hallgrímstorg.  The Harpa Concert Hall may also be included with the Shore walk as it is at the end of the boulevard and a hop and skip from the Sun Voyager. 

Shore Walk

Höfdi House

The Höfdi House is where détente saw light. The great thawing of ice between the United States and USSR (as it was known then) began with the meeting of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in this house in 1986.

One of the former residents of Höfdi House was the poet and entrepreneur, Einar Benediktsson who lived here from 1914 to 1917. There is a statue of him standing in front of a harp (which symbolizes his poetry) on the grounds of the property. Here's an excerpt from his work, Surf.
"Mighty heartbeats from the ocean's cold depths
My strength and peace I drink from your sound."

Sun Voyager

Sólfar or Sun Voyager is a steel sculpture by Jón Gunnar Árnason. What appears like a Viking ship ready to set sail into the Atlantic, is really a dream boat--it carries dreams of hope, progress and freedom. It is also an ode to the sun. 

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

See description under City Center Walk.

City Center Walk

Government House

The Government House is the office of the Prime Minister of Iceland. It was originally built as a prison and used as such till 1861. Then the Governor of Iceland lived here until Iceland became a sovereign state in December 1918. Government house is sometimes called The White House.

Iceland has the oldest parliament in the world known as the Althingi. It was established in 930 A.D. and the country's leaders met outdoors on the Law Rock (a flat ledge on a rocky outcrop now marked with a flagpole) in Thingvellir to enact laws and render justice. The meeting was open to all free men and it attracted large crowds.

Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center

Geometry + glass + light = Harpa Concert Hall. It is the home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Icelandic Opera. The entire building is clad in glass and reflects the play of light. Harpa was designed by visual artist, Olafur Eliasson. 

Old Harbor

The old harbor is the jumping off point for whale watching and puffin tours. It has been scrubbed and updated and has become the new hub for locals and visitors alike for its restaurants, shops and scooter rentals. 

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur

This is one hot dog stand that always has a queue in front of its cozy stall.  Tourists from around the world can't wait to do a selfie with their hot dogs. Bill Clinton ate here. So what's in the hot dog? Free range lamb and some beef and pork. You add the condiments. Or you can order one with everything in it. They accept cash or credit card. A hot dog and soda as of this writing is 600 kr. And that's a steal since dining in Reykjavik restaurants averages 3800 kr. per person. On Tryggvagata and Pósthússtraeti, across from the harbor. They also have branches in other parts of the city.

Cathedral Square to Downtown

Hallgrímskirkja

This cathedral is the iconic symbol of Reykjavik. (See separate article on Hallgrímskirkja.)

Skólavördustígur 

What's in a name? This rainbow street is called Skólavördustígur. It is dotted with restaurants and boutiques and a short stroll downhill from the cathedral. It intersects Laugavegur, the main shopping artery in Reykjavik.

Trolls on Laugavegur

According to Norse mythology, trolls are supernatural beings who live in isolated mountains, caves or rocks. They are giants, strong, hideous looking, slow witted and unfriendly to humans. There is a distinction between small and large trolls. The small trolls are the huldufólk (hidden people) or elves. 

The fascination for trolls in Iceland can be explained through the natural environment according to B. S. Benedikz (author of Iceland):
"The reason is of course perfectly clear. When one's life is conditioned by a landscape dominated by rocks twisted by volcanic action, wind and water into ferocious and alarming shapes, the imagination fastens on these natural phenomena." From Wikipedia

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie



Monday, September 28, 2015

Hallgrímskirkja



Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran cathedral designed by Gudjón Samúelsson. Samúelsson drew his inspiration for this project from his surroundings, particularly from columnar basalt formed by lava flow in this volcanic island. It took over 40 years to complete the cathedral. Samúelsson didn't live to see the inauguration of Hallsgrímskirkja in 1986.  

The cathedral is named after Hallgrimur Petersson, Iceland's beloved poet who penned Hymns of the Passion (listen here: http://youtu.be/am04VxkReKU). He was also the pastor at Saurbaer in Hvalfjördur.


The rib vaulted ceiling reminds one of the great Gothic cathedrals. But what sets it apart from its predecessors is its clean and simple style. Sharp arches flow down to linear columns. 


The main altar is adorned with an eight-meter long painting, Five Crucifixions by Helgi Torgils Fridjónsson. "Whether this work should be regarded as religious, is really up to the spectator, however all mental conflict is by nature religious. People ponder the suffering of the crucified but I do not believe that for a religious person passion stands for direct pain but rather for a kind of experience and motion in time", according to Fridjónsson.


The organ was made by Johannes Klaes of Bonn. It is 49 ft. high and weighs 25 tons. 


Straight lines frame an arched window.


Hallgrímskirkja sits on a hill and its tower can be seen around town. There is a 360 degree view of the city and harbor from the tower which rises 73 meters (244 ft) from the ground. I used it as my point of reference when exploring the city. The fee for the elevator ride to the tower is 800 kr. Proceeds from the fee are used for church projects.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie