Icelandic Adventure: Bogarnes to Reykjavik Monday, Jul 10 2006 

Whale Bay

Whale Bay

After stopping in a park in Borgarnes where we saw a modern sculpture by Asmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) commemorating Egill, we travelled to Hvalfjordur. Also, known as Whale Bay, this secluded harbor not far from Reykjavik was a hiding place for Icelandic ships during World War II. The British, and later the Americans, kept the Germans from creating an outpost on this strategically important island.

Thingvellir

Thingvellir

Thingvellir is a special place. The early settlers chose it in 930 for their national assembly, the Althingi. The natural amphitheater is located by the banks of the River Oxara, axe river. On the horizon in every direction lie snow-capped mountains. This is also the spot where the two halves of Iceland – the European and American tectonic plates – are separating at 2.5 cm per year.

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Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

The Blue Lagoon revived us. Unlike most of our other stops throughout Iceland, it is not a natural wonder but rather the recent by-product of geothermal energy usage. The run-off water from the nearby Svartsengi power plant is rich in silica, salt, and other elements. State-of-the-art facilities include a wristband that probably uses RFID technology. It is used to enter and exit as well as lock and unlock a locker. The hot water was wonderful.

Leif Eriksson statue

Hallgrimskirkja Church

As we approached Reykjavik, we passed Halldor Laxness’ home. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. We stopped at the President’s house and looked in the adjacent church. We stopped for a brief time at the Perlan. This revolving restaurant sits atop four giant water tanks.

An organ recital filled the Hallgrimskirkja church during our short visit. In front of the church is a huge statue of Leif Eiriksson, “Discoverer of America,” which was a gift from the U.S. on the 1,000 anniversary of the founding of the Althingi in 1930.

Government House

Government House

Before departing Iceland, we walked around the Tjorn, including a quick walk through City Hall. We had altogether too little time to really explore the city. We did take note of Iceland’s Government House, overlooking Laekjartog square, built between 1765-70. It began as a prison workhouse but now houses the offices of the Prime Minister. It also housed the offices of the President of the Republic until 1996. Hopefully, we will have more time the next time we visit.

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Icelandic Adventure: Akureyri to Bogarnes Sunday, Jul 9 2006 

Hafnarstraeti

Hafnarstraeti

Akureyri, with a population of about 15,000, is the second largest town in Iceland. It sits near the end of the 60 kilometer Eyjafjordur fjord with a backdrop of sheer granite mountains tipped with snow. Although only 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, we enjoyed clear skies and temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. We walked through the commercial center of the town, Hafnarstraeti, where we purchased an Icelandic sweater made with two wools. It claims to be waterproof.

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AKureyrikirkja

Akureyrikirkja

The steep walkway up to the basalt Akureyrikirkja is lined with colorful pansies. This church designed by Gudjon Samuelsson was built in 1940. The inside of the church features stained-glass windows with scenes from Icelandic history and the life of Christ. The passage way around the outside pews is very narrow. A model ship hangs from the ceiling. Apparently this is part of a tradition to protect the parish’s fishermen at sea.

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Icelandic horses

Icelandic Horses

We stopped for lunch in Varmahlid, which only has about 100 people but was packed with visitors for Landsmot. This biannual National Horse Show of Iceland is at nearby Vindheimamelar which is also in the Skagafjörður district. Some 15,000 people from Iceland and other parts of the world participate in different types of competition, the classic Icelandic Gæðingakeppni, tölt competition, racing and breeding shows. We walked to the top of Reykjarholl Hill for a panoramic view of the countryside.

Glanni

Glanni

What’s a day in Iceland without seeing a magnificent waterfall? We were not disappointed with the waterfall Glanni, not too far from Norðurá.

Egill Skallagrimsson cairn

Egill Skallagrimsson Cairn

After dinner in Bogarnes, we took a short walk to the waterfront. A cairn recognizes where Egill Skallagrimsson lived in the 10th century. The son of one of the first Norse settlers, Egill was both a fierce Viking warrior and poet in the skaldic tradition of intricate word-play and metaphor. A stop in a local bar completed another interesting day.

Icelandic Adventure: Reydarfjordur to Akureyri Saturday, Jul 8 2006 

Icelandic waterfall

Icelandic Waterfall

Our first stop of the day was in Egilsstadir, population around 1,500. We were told that the airport is used when landing in Keflavik isn’t possible. I had observed the car washing facilities in some of the villages we had previously visited, but here I asked if there was a charge. There isn’t. The cement is slanted so that water can drain. Free water and hoses equipped with scrubbing brushes are readily available.The Ring Road follows the Jokulsa a Dal river valley. Of course, we stopped for another interesting waterfall.

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Hverir1

Hverir

Hverir2

Hverir Mud Pit

Later, we left all signs of water behind and traversed the sand desert of Modrudal culminating in a stop at Hverir. Walkways run across the multicolored clay, through dozens of bubbling pits and steaming vents. The blue sky brought out the dazzling colors. The sulphur smell added to the nature of this infernal landscape.

Lake Myvetn

Skutustadagigar

On the Namafjall ridge we saw the panorama of the Lake Myvatn region. After lunch in Reykjahlid, we took a short walk through the contorted volcanic pillars of Dimmuborgir. Then we walked around the Skutustadagigar pseudo-craters. These were formed when water was trapped beneath flowing lava, boiled and burst through the surface, creating what looks like volcanic cones.

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Godafoss

Godafoss

Godafoss, fall of the gods, is another powerful waterfall. One of the saga’s tells the story of the chieftan Thorgeir Thorkelsson, Law-Speaker in the Althingi in AD 1000, who was forced to decide whether Iceland should be pagan or Christian. As the Kristni Saga tells it, Thorgeir spent 24 hours under his cloak before deciding for the Christians. Riding back from Thingvellir to his home at Ljosavatn, he decided to toss all his carved images of pagan gods into this giant waterfall.

Akureyri flower

Akureyri Botanical Garden

Our accommodations in Akureyri were in the community college’s dorm. Surprisingly modern with microwave, two hot plates, and refrigerator. I took advantage of the additional desk space and enjoyed the view from our balcony. My pre-dinner walk included a stop at the Botanical Gardens, with 2,000 species of local and foreign flowers blooming in the city’s warm microclimate. The park was established by a local women’s association in 1912. With benches and well-kept lawns, the gardens were a perfect place to relax. Dare I say it: another great day!

Icelandic Adventure: Hofn to Reydarfjordur Friday, Jul 7 2006 

Hofn houses

Hofn

Hofn, which means “harbor,” is located in a beautiful setting. It has a population of about 1,600. Hotel Hofn, where we stayed, sits right on the Hornafjordur fjord which was like a tranquil lake. We especially enjoyed our morning view of the reflection in the water of nearby homes with mountains in the background. We visited the local Folk Museum, especially noting the stuffed birds and mineral exhibits.

shrouded Icelandic peak

Shrouded Peaks

We stopped at two separate lighthouses. The surrounding peaks were shrouded in a haunting mist. The unpaved Ring Road was squeezed between the North Atlantic and steep mountains. We stopped for lunch in the small fishing village of Djupivogur that has a population of about 500.

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Breiddalsvik wildflowers

Breiddalsvik

We also stopped in Breiddalsvik, with a population less than 300, and enjoyed a variety of wildflowers posed against rocky terrain with high cliffs in the background.

Petra Svensdottir blue flower

Petra Svensdottir Garden

We also stopped in Stodvarfjordur, with a population of about 250, and visited the interesting stone collection of Petra Svensdottir. The garden had many colorful flowers amidst the collection of Icelandic rocks and minerals. As we continued our drive, we traveled through a six kilometer tunnel. Truly, an engineering feat.

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Reydarfjordur stream

Reydarfjordur Trail

Only two blocks from our hotel in Reydarfjordur was a trail along a rushing stream. Again, the many wildflowers and colorful rocks, delicious smells, and rushing sounds of the water made for a most wonderful pre-dinner stroll. Another fantastic day!

Icelandic Adventure: Vik to Hofn Thursday, Jul 6 2006 

Vik

Vik's Black Sand Beach

The black sand beach near Vik has dramatic cliffs and distinctive fingers called the Reynisdrangur. We were hoping to see puffins, but saw only arctic terns. The population of 400 supported a store, Vikurprjon, where woolen products were made. A great spot to purchase an authentic Icelandic sweater.

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Lake craters

Laki Craters

After driving through the green volcanic desert formed by eruptions of the Laki craters in 1783-4, it was easy to understand why the Ring Road wasn’t completed until 1974. The story is told that a local curate, Jon Steingrimsson, preached the ultimate fire and brimstone sermon during the eruption.

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Nupstadur church

Nupstadur's Sod Church

Nupstadur turf house

Nupstadur Sod Houses

The small farm settlement in Nupstadur has a 17th century sod church. Two waterfalls could be seen falling from the dramatic cliffs in the background. We were told that a retired postman still lives on the farm. There are amazing tales of his knowledge of the area and ability to traverse even the worse weather conditions to deliver mail. Lomagnupur, a 2,500 foot cliff, is nearby.

Skaftafellsjokull glacier

Skaftafellsjokull Glacier

In the Skaftafell National Park, established in 1967, we walked to a small lake near the Skaftafellsjokull glacier. The finger we hiked to and others we saw as we drove are part of Vatnajokull. This awesome glacier covers 3,280 square miles or more than one tenth of the island, and is said to be 3,300 feet thick in places.

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Lake Jokulsarlon

Lake Jokulsarlon

The highlight of the day was a cruise in an amphibious vehicle on the iceberg filled Lake Jokulsarlon. The ice was calved from the glacier Breidamerkurjokull. We saw some seals basking among the ice formations. This lake, by the way, is where the James Bond movie “Die Another Day” was filmed.

Our hotel in Hofn was right on the coast with a beautiful view. Another great day!

Icelandic Adventure: Reykjavik to Vik Tuesday, Jul 4 2006 

Hveragerdi

Hveragerdi Greenhouse

After mechanical and weather delays in Columbus, we missed our scheduled flight from Boston to Iceland. We successfully flew standby the next night and took a taxi the next morning in time to meet our tour shortly before it left Reykjavik. Our first stop was in Hveragerdi, a town of about 1,500 located in the southwest market gardening center of the island. The huge Eden greenhouse was filled with plants including this plant sculpture.

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Kerid

Kerid

Then, a short stop at Kerid, an example of a Maar volcanic crater. Blasted out about 3,000 years ago, it is about 180 feet deep and now contains a small lake. Yes, we are exploring Iceland, filled with unique sights along or near the Ring Road.

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Gullfoss

Gullfoss

Gullfoss, the golden falls, is actually two waterfalls on the River Hvita. The upper falls drops 11 meters, the lower 21. The canyon extends 2.5 km and reaches a depth of 70 meters. Sigridur Tomasdottir, a farmer’s daughter, is credited for saving the falls from a planned hydroelectric project. I’m certainly glad that she did!

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Geysir

Geysir

Geysir, although no longer active, has given its name to all such water spouts in the world. This geothermically active area has steaming vents and multicolored formations. Strokkur, the churn, spits up a column of water every five to ten minutes. We even experienced a double burst. Unfortunately, a heavy cloudburst discouraged photography.

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Skalholt Church

Skalholt

Skalholt Church altar

Skalholt Altar

Another stop was Skalholt, Iceland’s first bishophric (1056) and for over 700 years its theological powerhouse. It endured changes from Catholicism to Lutheranism. The present cathedral, consecrated in 1963, has a beautiful mosaic. We saw several interesting pieces of carved stone in the basement crypt area, including the coffin of Pall Jonsson, an early bishop who died in 1211. An underground passage that was part of the medieval cathedral is still in use. Archaeological excavations were underway nearby during our visit.

Seljandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss

Skogafoss

Skogafoss,

We viewed two more major waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, both 60 meter falls. Each one has a unique shape. Waterfalls are a source of wonder and mystery for us. The sounds of rushing water is peaceful yet energizing. The air is clear and clean.

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Skogr turf house

Skogar Sod Houses

House of Holt

House of Holt

In Skogar we saw examples of various Icelandic homes through history. The earliest turf or sod homes must have been something during the winter. The House of Holt was built with driftwood in 1878.

Our room at Hotel Dyrholey provided us with a panoramic view of the surrounding farmland and sea. The back view we discovered the next morning was a glacier. A great first day!