Ísland (Iceland) Photography by Michael Gordon
Big Collection of Photographs
With no particular theme. Slide show and gallery. Photos from 1986 mostly; Added October 2009.
Forty Black and White Photographs
Slide show and gallery. Added 15 March 2002.
Slide show and gallery.
: Akureyri, Goðafoss, Krafla Geothermal. Photos made
1986, added here June 2002.
Some movie filming locations for "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" with Ben Stiller.
The Latitude/Longitude are here shown in decimal format. Just paste the numbers into the
Google Earth search to take you there.
- (LL 65.077367 -22.724654) Walter Mitty arrives in what is named Nuuq, Greenland, but is filmed at Stykkisholmur in northwest Iceland.
The airport is close by. The town hall was painted black and was where Walter Mitty finds a somewhat besotted helicopter
pilot. I didn't need a geographic clue for this one; I've been there and recognized it. For purposes of economy you can
suspect that other scenes were filmed nearby and that is indeed the case.
- 54:45: (LL 64.928305 -23.251167) Walter Mitty arriving at Iceland on a ship at the port Grundarfjorthur.
That's the actual name of the place and it is a few miles west from Stykkisholmur where the helicopter
- 54:55: (LL 65.875591 -23.477337) Inspecting a map of Iceland, the finger is pointing to Thingeyri -- a
town that does actually exist at the indicated spot in northwest Iceland (West Fjords). Nearby to the right,
where the highway takes a shortcut across the fjord, in reality is the hamlet of Hvammur but in the movie map
this is called Stykkisholmur. The real Stykkisholmur is considerably to the south on the Snaefells Peninsula. Also adjacent to the movie-town Stykkisholmur is the glacier Eyjafjallajokull but in reality it is far away in
south-central Iceland. Because of these alterations, I wonder if there's any surprises or "easter eggs" on
- 56:08: (LL 64.289522 -15.081403) Walter Mitty riding a bicycle. The first curvy road part is indeed the
road east from Grudarfjorthur but suddenly you are transported all the way across Iceland diagonally to the
town of Hofn.
Geographic clues: Direction is revealed by shadow if you can tell the time. Time of day is discernible by the
length of the shadow. At 64 degrees north, the shortest shadow -- at local solar noon -- is going to be
about a 45 degree angle which is what we see. Therefore the scene was shot around noon and that means
the road is aligned to the southeast, so is the cliff, and the sea to the south -- placing us on the southern coast of
Iceland although other candidates exist in some fjords. There's actually two scenes here, one riding northwest as seen
from a distance up on the cliff and another scene where he's riding under the powerlines going southeast (that's the LL).
The mountain is unusual. Most Icelandic mountains taper off toward the sea but this one has an abrupt rise just before
being cut off by the sea. Vegetation is sparse suggesting recent volcanic activity. The road is paved and just
about the only road paved in Iceland, outside Reykjavik, is the "Ring Road". No discernible highway traffic so that
suggests a far distance from Reyjkjavik.
- 56:12: (LL 64.832073 -22.246839) Walter Mitty riding a bicycle across cultivated pasture in the background and rocky
lava field in the foreground with some impressive but highly eroded cliffs behind a solitary farmi, a small mountain called
Ljosufjoll (Ljos is "light" and fjoll is hill or small mountain). It does indeed catch the evening sunlight beautifully.
This scene was not very easy to find.
The clues are: low sun angle hence morning or evening -- but which? There's no obvious way to tell except most Icelanders
prefer to stay up late and not get up early (except of course farmers and fishermen).
The angle of the strata and the layering provide some clue since it is a bit
unique to northwest Iceland but not all the way out in the fjords.
- 57:48: (LL 64.117502 -21.471984) Walter Mitty falls off a bicycle next to a geothermal hot water pipe and powerlines.
The road is highway 435 east-northeast from Reykjavik. The clues are fairly obvious in this case -- Geothermal water and
power. That is found pretty much in only three places: Krafla, but they don't export hot water, Blue Lagoon which
exports hot water but not along a highway, and Nesjavallavirkyun at Thingvallavatn. There's another geothermal station
nearby the latter also feeding Reykjavik. So it is a simple matter to find a road traveling along a pipeline and powerlines.
- 58:11: (LL 63.931082 -20.649595) Walter Mitty running across a bridge. This is the old bridge over Thjorsa (Theor-sau).
I found this one by simply Googling "Iceland bridge" and looking at photos.
- 59:54: (LL 64.020649 -21.398920) Walter Mitty trades Stretch Armstrong for a longboard (long skateboard). In the movie
this place is called a hotel but is more of a restaurant, more or less Skithaska'linn (that's what it is but this terminal
client won't do the Icelandic characters needed for proper spelling). It took a long time to find this one. As with
the above, sun angle provides a clue and there's a glimpse of a clock in the kitchen, fuzzy but either 10 minutes after
12 or 2 p.m. Either way, gives a good clue about direction. Combine that with free-standing geothermal hot water and
it narrows the choices somewhat.
- 1:01:28 (LL 65.232251 -14.122349) Moments later he finds himself at the head of a valley and wishes to go down, which he does on the longboard (skateboard).
The first view of it is at the head of the valley looking east. At the bottom of the road is
the town Seythisfjorthur and the Aldan hotel where he fetches a ride to escape the "Eldgos" (eruption, "eld" is fire).
Once again the primary clue is shadows, this time the valley on the right is shadowed suggesting you are looking east. Not
many paved roads descend eastward into a fjord.
- 1:01:43 Altered scenery: You can see a discoloration in the valley at the "s" curves halfway down. That's because the road
has been altered in the movie. The first two bends are really there but the road then becomes relatively straight down to
the town. In the movie three "s" curves have been added that plainly are not needed right there. Anyway, when he rides down
the road it is "real" and the spurious s-curves aren't there.
- Heading out of Seythisfjorthur they take a dead-end road out to the end of the fjord. In the movie, however,
this is a reasonable escape route.
- 1:04:58 (LL 64.540172 -21.908063) Diamond-shaped Mount Skessuhorn prominently in the background across a placid fjord. The dust-covered SUV
arrives in Borgarnes traveling more or less north having cross a bridge over the fjord. Looking out the window one sees
a Papa John's restaurant, in the movie that is, but in reality it is...
- 1:05:22 Geirabakarí Café Konditori adjacent to Hagkaup. I recognized Hagkaup as a department store chain fairly widespread
in Iceland so I went to their website, located the locations of Hagkaup, chose a few that had suitable pointy mountains in
the vicinity, and went looking. The hard part was Google Earth doesn't know the street address of the Borgarnes location.
However, entering the same street address into Google turned up a cafe (and Hagkaup department store and Bonus grocery store)
which included a photograph from inside the cafe revealing its location at the edge of the fjord, the very first thing
you encounter on arriving at Borgarnes from the south.
- He stays in Borgarnes until 1:09:47 having a cellphone conversation with his ladyfriend and ends with the text message
from Hernando. Then he returns to New York City (I suppose that's where it is).
- 1:18:35 He's back in Iceland, but this time it is a proxy for eastern Afghanistan, the Himalayan mountains. About half of
Iceland looks like this so there's not much point trying to figure out exactly where. But probably along the Sprengisandur
road north from Gulfoss.
- 1:18:53 (LL 63.530804 -19.513220) Easily recognized and very unique Skogafoss, one of the most beautiful sights in Iceland.
- 1:22:56 Sean Penn operating a Nikon camera (FT3?) with 400mm f2.8 Nikkor lens.
Ísland (eess'-lahnd) is an amazing place. It
certainly is not suitable for everyone, but for some it is the most
interesting place on earth. How can you tell if you might like
to visit? The photos might help a bit. Following tourist
links might help a bit. Keep in mind that tourist links suppose
you want to find in Iceland the same things you can get a home, except
maybe better but you might actually be looking for something so
different and indescribable that it won't go on a web page.
Downtown Reykjavik and Akureyri are surprisingly cosmopolitan with an
emphasis on art, fabric, music, entertainment -- things that make long
winter nights tolerable. But you didn't come to Reyjkavik to
party -- you came to discover geology and solitude. That
might someday be difficult to find but in 1985, solitude was everywhere
except Reykjavik and Akureyri, and as the people respect your privacy,
you can even sit in a city park and think your thoughts without being
Iceland has a long history, much longer and more tangible
is found in the United States or most of North America. North
America has plenty of ruins; but how many places have been continually
occupied for more than a thousand years? I have visited the
farm Drangur near Stykkisholmur, where in the year AD 950 Erid the Red
Rauthi) killed someone and, fleeing vengeance or justice, took ship
and discovered Greenland. At the time, it was green enough to colonize,
so he accomplished the colonization of Greenland. His son, Leifur
(Leif Ericson in English) continued westward, landing on what is now
Then there's Snorralaug -- the pool of hot water adjacent
to Snorri Sturleson's house (130 degrees Fahrenheit, 54 degrees Celsius). He wrote the Sagas
in the 1100's, 1132 comes to mind for one of them. That's incredible. It is still there, still hot.
Warning: At least in 1985, Icelanders did not worry
much about idiot tourists. Since then, some effort has been made
to protect the survival-challenged visitor. The whole island is
dangerous and the sea even more dangerous. Face it, that's why
you want to go there. It's dangerous, but it is beautiful and
Some of the dangers (keep in mind some of these dangers have by now been fenced off):
- You might burn your face off when a geyser erupts while you are looking down into the hole.
- Other holes emit steam so hot that it is perfectly clear and
invisible. One such had a small warning sign in Icelandic not to
put your hand over the pipe. Steam formed about three feet above
the pipe. I put a thermometer into the invisible steam and it was
so hot it blew the top right off the thermometer.
- You can fall into a fissure or crevasse in a glacier.
- You can break through thin crust into boiling mud at Krafla.
- One lake has deadly vapors down in its crater.
- Ice forms on the ledges around Gullfoss; in the winter (not peak tourist season of course) you have great danger of falling in.
- Some back roads are not passable in winter. Your mileage may vary.
- Some back roads are not passable in summer.
- Some back roads are worst of all in spring -- the surface melts
into a muddy quagmire but underneath a thin, wind-dried crust is a foot
or more of runny mud then the ground is still frozen under that.
The road looks dry but you'll get stuck instantly; plus make someone
very unhappy when the road does finally dry with foot-deep ruts permanently engraved in it. I
got into it and discovered I had not locked the front hubs; so I
crawled out into freezing cold mud halfway to my knees and reached my
hands down into the mud to lock the hubs.
Language and definitions:
The language is in English: Icelandic, in the native language Íslensku (Icelandic) or Íslenskumal (Icelandic language).
It is not much changed from Old Norse but had 500 years of Danish
influence. In written form it seems somewhat Skandinavian but
when spoken it does not much resemble any of the Skandinavian
languages; voiced fricatives (voiced and unvoiced forms of "th" and that sort of thing) are more common than in Norwegian or Danish.
It is highly structured and regular with not very many surprises
once you learn the rules. This fact is very interesting to me; it
suggests that language in general has not evolved toward greater
sophistication. Icelandic is amazingly sophisticated and conveys
quite a lot of meta information. Meta information is implied by
the structure -- "he picked up the box" reveals that the person doing
the lifting is male. Icelandic conveys quite a lot of
meta-information, and the presence of it changes the structure of the
sentence as well as the words themselves.
For instance, the saying and spelling of Keflavik is as I have
written, but only if you are naming it on a map. If you are
telling someone that you are going to it, then it becomes possessive --
it "owns" your destination: Eg fara till Keflavikur.
Why? I'm not sure, but you cannot go to Keflavik -- to an
Icelander, the concept is absurd -- Keflavik is not a place, it is a
collection of many places (houses, businesses, streets).
Therefore, the full sentence ought to be "I go to Keflavik's bakery"
but they leave off "bakery" for privacy or something. You say, "I
go to Keflavik's..." and just stop. It is incomplete and that's
okay but the word must still be written and spoken possessive case.
Notes: Icelandic has strong "case" and "gender". The gender and case
of an object modifies any adjectives, comparitives or enumerations -- the
word for "one" depends on what you are numbering! With three genders and
four cases, it is possible for some words to have twelve different forms
(spellings and pronounciations).
Consequently it is more or less impossible for Americans to learn Icelandic
fluently. To add to confusion, not all Icelanders agree on how Icelandic
should be spoken and spelled; Snorri Sturleson, the famous writer of the
Sagas in the 1100's, is considered an authority but he did not have much
to write about modern technology devices.
Icelanders are wonderfully patient and appreciate that you try to speak
the words even though you use the nominative masculine form when you should
have used the imperative feminine case and gender. They may laugh but it
is in good spirits and you can try really hard (I did) to remember the forms
but don't feel bad if you cannot. After two years and some serious study
I almost had a grasp of when to apply the different forms as well as a small
Alphabet and phonetics. Icelandic has 36 letters; each letter
has usually only one sounding. Adjacent letters can modify the
sounding in unexpected ways but I have not found very many such
deviations. You can learn to read Icelandic without too much
difficulty and you might even be able to make yourself
understood. Words tend to be very literal -- I worked and lived
(dwelt) at Keflavikurflugvollur which is literally translated
to something like "Keflavik's flying flat place" (Keflavik
airport). It means you can learn a few hundred root
words and be reasonably confident that nearly every new word is a
composite of those root words and has the implied meaning.
Syntax. Not a lot different as compared to English but the
important difference is adjectives. The first adjective is
usually suffixed and without a separating space. You would
not have a "fast boat", you would have a "boatfast". If the
"boatfast" is painted red, then you might call it a "red
boatfast". In English, you have "fast red boat" and you are
wondering whether it is a slow boat painted "fast red", or a fast boat
merely painted red.
- Peninsula. Pronounced "Ness". Example: Reykjanes, Akranes
- Smoke or steam. Pronounced like "rake". Example: Reykjavík
- harbor or inlet. Pronounced "veek" when acute, "vik" when
not acute (' over the i).
- Pronounced "Thing". The collection of representatives
meeting to govern (Parliament, Congress)
- When not acute, a flat place (Thingvelir) .
When e is acute, a motor, engine or device.