Idyllic Iceland - 2000

Idyllic Iceland Early Years of Iceland Tourism Author: Lois Gray

00

July 1 – July 15, 2000

I NTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................... 4

T RAVEL D AY ........................................................................................................................... 4

R EYKJAVIK .............................................................................................................................. 6

Guðmundur Jónasson Guest House ............................................................6

The Althingi Parliament House & Radhus....................................................8

Lutheran Cathedral ........................................................................................9

G ETTING TO K NOW Y OU T HEM ............................................................................................. 12

T HINGVELLIR ........................................................................................................................ 14

G REAT G EYSIR ..................................................................................................................... 19

G ULLFOSS ........................................................................................................................... 21

I CELANDIC H ORSES .............................................................................................................. 23

S TEINSTADTSKOLI ................................................................................................................. 25

T URF H OUSE M USEUM ......................................................................................................... 26

D RANGEY I SLAND ................................................................................................................. 27

D ALVIK ................................................................................................................................ 30

A KUREYRI ............................................................................................................................ 31

H USAVIK .............................................................................................................................. 32

L UNDERSKOLI ...................................................................................................................... 36

H IKE ALONG THE J ÖKULSÁ Á F JÖLLUM .................................................................................... 36

J ÖKULSÁRGLJÚFUR N ATIONAL P ARK ....................................................................................... 38

A SBYRGI C ANYON ................................................................................................................. 38

G REAT F ALLS OF S ELFOSS , D ETTIFOSS & H AFRAGILSFOSS ....................................................... 39

H YERFJALI C RATER ................................................................................................................ 44

L AKE M YVATN ...................................................................................................................... 46

L AXÁ R IVER .......................................................................................................................... 48

G ODAFOSS – W ATERFALL OF THE G ODS ................................................................................. 49

S PRENGISANDUR .................................................................................................................. 50

D REKI H UT .......................................................................................................................... 52

F ESTIVAL OF THE S UMMER H UT ............................................................................................. 53

D RIVING D AY ....................................................................................................................... 57

M OUNT H EKLA .................................................................................................................... 59

T HÓRSMÖRK ........................................................................................................................ 60

W ALK ON THE C OAST ........................................................................................................... 64

D RIVE BACK TO R EYKJAVIK ..................................................................................................... 65

D EPARTURE ......................................................................................................................... 67

ADDENDUMS................................................................................................................... 69

I NTRODUCTION

This was a unique fantastic 2-week road trip around Iceland in the days when there

were few accommodations for tourists along the way. We slept in school

auditoriums, washed up in the ubiquitous hot springs indoor pools/spas and ate

from the kitchen camp truck that accompanied us. Though hotels and restaurants

are now available for you to enjoy – one thing will be the same for any current

traveler – the awe-inspiring scenery at every turn. This is a magnificent country that

should be on everyone’s list.

T RAVEL D AY

Getting there. From Friendship International Airport we boarded our very cramped

Icelandair plane to Reykjavik at 8:45 PM We ate a little of the plane’s supper and

tried to sleep until an hour before landing at Keflavik Airport.

The airport is interesting in that it is about 50 miles from the capital city It wasn’t

really intended to be a municipal facility; it was originally built by the British and US

governments as part of the defense of Europe and America during World War II.

Though Iceland tried to remain neutral during that conflict, Churchill recognized its

strategic importance in keeping the sea-lanes open to British and American

shipping during the early days of the war. Therefore, he sent British troops over to

Iceland, not invited according to the official story, and just commandeered the land

to build the airstrip and other necessary military structures to protect the island

from German invasion. He did not interfere at all with Iceland's own internal

government and things apparently went on as before during the war.

After the US declared war in l941, the US took over the operations in Iceland

towards the war effort. Amazingly enough, there is little or no resentment of either

the Brits or the US for the rather high-handed way they handled the country’s

“foreign affairs” from l939 to l945. Of course, the Icelanders did get an excellent

airport out of the operation! Besides, what could 200,000 Icelanders do against the

power of Britain and the US? Several Icelanders we spoke to said that on the

morning of the British “invasion” of the harbor at Reykjavik, the townies were

scanning the ship names to be sure it wasn’t the German fleet! Relief came with the

sighting of the Union Jacks.

Currently, Keflavik is also home to many military men under the NATO flag (most of

the sailors and airmen are US military, however). After the war, there was some

resentment among Icelanders over the continued stationing of US troops at the

airfield, mainly because the fellows were mostly single, bored with no important

duties, rowdy when they came to town on leave, and ready to join battle with the

young locals who were also spoiling for showdowns. Now, the military stations

mostly married men in Iceland and they no longer wear uniforms when they come

into Reykjavik or other Icelandic cities and towns. Relations between Keflavik and

the rest of the country seem to be quite smooth and, of course, the nation benefits

economically from the huge foreign presence.

R EYKJAVIK

As we groggily disembarked around 6 AM, we were dismayed but not surprised to

find that the airport motor coach driver strike was still in progress; our travel agent

had warned us about it. After standing about a bit wondering what to do (since we

had also been told that the ride into town by cab would probably cost about $100

to $150) we saw two other women who looked as sleepy and confused as we did. It

turned out they were Canadians and were on our tour. So we four joined forces and

grabbed a cab into town for about $30 each.

Guðmundur Jónasson Guest House

We arrived at the Guðmundur Jónasson Guest House about 7:30 AM pretty much

wiped out by fatigue from little or no sleep and jet lag—only to find that were no

rooms were yet available. Not too surprising when you consider the hour; why

would the current guests want to be rousted out by this ungodly time? They did

offer us breakfast in the lunchroom which we happily devoured: hot and cold

cereals, toast, tea and coffee, fruit (apples and bananas), tomato and cucumber

slices, hard boiled eggs, and of course the typical Scandinavian cold cuts. Then we

went to the guest lounge to sleep on straight-backed chairs (by stretching across 2-

3 of them) until 10 AM when they finally rewarded us for good and quiet behavior

by giving us our room keys. Napped again 'til noon and then ventured out to try the

city bus system whose drivers were not on strike; we headed for downtown and

arrived in a quick 20 minutes.

A bright sun was shining in a pretty much cloudless sky but it was chilly enough fo r us

to need a light jacket. The town center was quite deserted when we first arrived and

stayed that way until late afternoon. The few people we saw on the streets were not

dressed warmly so this was pretty obviously a lovely summer day fo r them.

Icelanders did not appear to our eyes quite as “Nordic” looking as the Swedes,

Danes and Norwegians. We saw a wide range of hair colors from blonde to dark

hues and red-heads as well. Not all eyes were blue and builds were slender in all

age groups , but certainly , all skin tones were quite pale! This variety must come

from the mixture of Irish and Viking genes.

Since we felt ill at ease, jet-lagged strangers in a strange land, we really could not yet

judge the friendliness factor of the local inhabitants as we were not very outgoing

ourselves. We did meet a couple of Scottish tourists with whom we talked for quite

some time. It takes them only 1.5 hours to fly over from Glasgow and it’s relatively

inexpensive for them to come to Iceland, except for the fearsome food prices.

First impressions of the city of Reykjavik (population 170,000 persons out of a total

Icelandic population of 280,000) a fourth of whom are under 15 years of age were

somewhat surprising! The city is quite colorful; guess we had expected rather drab

grays and icy whites, but instead we saw barn reds, wedgewood blues, buttercup

yellows, rosy pinks, and even some seafoam greens on the houses and public

buildings. Those buildings which are not constructed of stone are usually wooden

structures sided with corrugated tin and roofed with tin as well.

The Althingi Parliament House & Radhus

The Althingi Parliament House is a stone edifice, not a very pretentious one, which

looks like typical public building construction from the late 1800s or the early 1900s.

The Radhus (The City Hall) is of much more modern concrete materials and is on the

lakefront of Town Lake. Inside, and always open to the public, is a wonderful,

horizontally displayed, room-sized relief map of the country with the mountains,

glaciers, waterfalls, and volcanoes clearly denoted. This Town Lake is clearly a

gathering spot for the citizenry.

As the day wore on, more and more people were seen beside the water with

children and grandchildren gaily splashing and happily feeding the many birds on

the surface—ducks of all kinds, geese , and gulls of several types. The sun sparkled

on the water, the parents and grandparents smiled adoringly at the kids, the

waterfowl ate to repletion. The whole city seemed entirely enchanted by the

summer and the outdoor activities possible in the streaming light. How they must

treasure the memories of these summer days when the long days of winter of

darkness fall upon them.

Lutheran Cathedral

The city contains many squares with public spaces. The square on which sit the

Althingi and the Lutheran Cathedral, the Hallgrimskirkja, is a particularly popular

place and it is festooned with such colorful flowers and such brave green grass.

Some people bring picnics and blankets to sit on the lawn while the more early

arrivals sit on the many benches provided.

The plaza in front of the largest church in the country, the Hallgrimskirkja, is also

hospitable to crowds. The church is Lutheran and is very impressive. It is a quite

large concrete structure of a pyramidal shape in the facade that faces the plaza. It

starts low at the edges and goes by squared-off steps up to a very high central

spire-like portion. Some folks describe the church as “profoundly ugly,” but most are

inspired by that soaring facade.

In front of the church is a greater than life-size statue of Lief Ericson given to Iceland

by the people of the United States. However, since we are reluctant to give credit to

anyone but Columbus for the discovery of America (because we were taught early

on that “in 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue” and discovered the New World), the

statue is engraved with the Viking’s name and “Discoverer of Vinland.” Old “truths” die

hard, even when the best scientific evidence now strongly suggests that Eric was in

the area of Nova Scotia and even Massachusetts at least 350 years before the Pinta,

Nina or Santa Maria scraped onto the shores of Hispaniola Inside the church, all is

very spare as in most Scandinavian Lutheran churches—white walls, modern pews,

little or no statuary, very simple lectern and altar under a plain egg-shaped dome;

the only real decoration is the wonderful design of the organ pipes. These pews do

have a different twist , however; the seat-backs pull forward or backward so that the

congregation can be facing the altar or the back of the church depending on the

function.

At church services, of course, they face the altar, but when the church’s organ is

used for concerts, the audience faces the pipe organ display. We can attest

personally to the clear and resounding acoustics and the power and beauty of the

organ since we were so lucky to find that there was an organ concert this very night

at 8:00 o’clock. So jet-lagged or not, we were there. The organist was a guest artist

from Oslo, Norway, and he was quite accomplished. We greatly enjoyed hearing

that instrument and watching the cathedral walls practically “breathe” with the

sounds. Even with all that volume, we were fighting sleep some of the time.

Prior to the concert, we had a “gourmet dinner” at a fine restaurant on the main

shopping square of the city. There were way too many letters, mostly vowels, in its

name for me to recall it after the concert when it was time to write the diary. The

food was delicious and much more varied with salad and vegetables than we were

to enjoy for the rest of the trip. However, we also learned that the rumors about

food in Iceland being very expensive are unassailably true. Our dinners (without

alcohol or side dishes) were over $50.00 each.

We had much enjoyed exploring the city afoot for hours and then having that

wonderful meal and the stirring concert afterward, but now we were pretty much

“done in” and ready to head back to the Guest House for some sleep. Of course, the

heavens were at odds with our sleepiness because even though it was well past 10

PM, the sun was as bright in the sky as it had been at noon! So we wandered over to

the bus stop we had carefully noted on our way into town and began to wait fo r the

buses which the notice promised to come every 20 minutes.

When an hour had elapsed, we decided that we needed more information. It

happened that there was a bus terminal about a block away so we trudged there to

see what was the matter. The lady behind the counter who was also making

hotdogs, selling cigarettes, drawing up Cokes, finally deigned to look at us. In

answer to our question about where to catch the #4 bus and when, she casually

replied, “The # 4 is not running tonight; it’s broken down.” There was no notice to

that effect (even in Icelandic) posted at the stop, yet she acted as if “everybody

knows that!”

Anyway, we were stumped now because the #4 was the only bus which went in the

direction of our guesthouse. We were by now just too tired to walk the 2.5 miles back

so we gave up and hired a cabbie who charged us $9.00 for the drive. Icelandic taxi

fares were reputed to be steep and that proved to be true as well. Oh well, we were

home, showered, and in bed by midnight and asleep immediately.

G ETTING TO K NOW Y OU T HEM

The alarm got us up at 7:30 for the breakfast that would turn out to be “the usual.”

But it’s good and hearty fare and you certainly don’t have to get up from the table

hungry! Following breakfast, we went downstairs to the tour office and paid to rent

sleeping bags and liners for the two weeks. Then at 9:45 we went down to the street

to be picked up for our “Mountain Highlights” tour with the G-J Icelandic Tour

Company.

At the front door, we met with Pat and Lynn again (the Canadian cab sharers) and

when the bus pulled in to get us, we discovered a large crowd already on board.

Even though they had spread out all over the bus, when they realized that there

were four more of us, they graciously grouped back together so that Pat and Lynn

(who are sisters-in-law) could sit with one another and so could Kay and I.

Imagine our surprise, no, our shock, when we realized the only language we were

hearing was French! That’s right, we had been grouped with 30 French hikers because

not enough English speakers had signed up! The bus was certainly large enough for

the 36 of us (Oskar our guide and Magnus our driver made up the full complement)

and we learned later in the day that our group was even larger by three. However,

these three, Racka the head cook, Selena her assistant, and Halli the driver, would be

riding in the cook bus that would follow us all through our journey.

We could see that translations might be a little awkward but more troublesome for

Oskar than the rest of us. However, Oskar was quite the linguist and soon showed us

his proficiency in both French and English. He has good enough command of them

both so that he can joke and pun which was very impressive. He told us that he had

lived a year in Newton, Massachusetts when he was 14 so that’s where he got the

English. He presently lives part of the year in France so that explains his excellent

French. Another part of the year he lives in Germany where he teaches the Icelandic

language to graduate students in a German university; so he is also fluent in

German. He spends summers in Iceland seeing family and working in the tourist

industry.

He turned out to be an excellent and delightful guide, with a comprehensive

knowledge of his country’s history, its customs, government, literature, geology , and

sociology. He definitely enriched this introduction to a new country. He started out

to familiarize us with Icelandic personality traits and said the most obvious

important one is a love of irony. It evidently pervades their whole approach to life and

defines their sense of humor. So we definitely watched for it in Oskar and all the

other Icelanders we met.

T HINGVELLIR

Once all the details of loading us on board with all our gear and getting the rather

inadequate introductions to one another over, we headed out for a 45-minute ride to

Thingvellir, the site of the Icelandic Parliament, founded 1000 years ago by the

Viking immigrants. This government was the first democratic parliament in the

world. The settlers elected delegates to the parliament who attended the session

for two weeks every year. A leader (or Law-Speaker) was elected for a three-year

term and one of his most important duties was to recite one-third of the law each

session so that by the end of his term the entire law had been reiterated.

As it happens, Thingvellir is a very active volcanic site with regular earthquakes. As a

matter of fact, there had been two 5.2 quakes on June 17 and 21 of this year. These

quakes started some dormant geysers up again, including the Great Geysir. The

European and American plates meet in Iceland and in this place, you can actually

stand with one foot in America and one in Europe by straddling the fault line. These

plates are pulling apart about 2 centimeters a year and then volcanic activity fills in

the resulting cracks, so Iceland is truly growing larger. That’s another reason why it’s

quite accurate to call this country a “new land.”

Our first hike started here when we took off for about 2 hours through the lovely

valley. Because Iceland truly is a “new land” born only 20 million years ago from all

the volcanic eruptions, it is a very unusual looking place and difficult to describe

because it’s hard to find analogies for it.

There is very little topsoil as new ash and lava are constantly being added on top of

the land by the active volcanoes; therefore Iceland does not support much in the

way of trees. Even when the Irish monks came, over 1000 years ago, closely

followed by the Vikings, there was not much tree cover in the country, less than 10

percent, and the early settlers quickly logged the forest out. The only trees you see

are the few being planted as part of a fairly recent reforestation project.

The spruce and fir trees are necessarily small and stunted due to the poor soil, very

brief growing season, and harsh winters. However, the lovely wildflowers seem to

have no trouble getting a foothold in this hard terrain. Our rock-strewn path was

surrounded by fields of yellow, blue, lavender, dark purple and white blossoms.

Rocks are the most common sight in Iceland—of all sizes—more of the volcanic

bequest. So as it turned out, all our paths, no matter where in the country, were rock-

strewn or even boulder-strewn. Because the flowers and the plants that supported

them were so small, it appeared that we were walking in the tundra even though

this part of Iceland is not very high at all, only a couple of hundred feet above sea

level.

As soon as we were out of the bus and on the trail, a new and totally unexpected

sensation assailed us—the air was so pure that we could literally smell all these

flowers. Nowhere in the world have I ever smelled the fragrance of so many tiny

flowers so clearly. It was dizzying to be surrounded with such aromas and have your

eyes so full of color. The walk itself was not difficult at all other than picking away

among the rocks in order to stay balanced. Contrasting with the tenderness of

these plants were the sharp edges of the lava flows, the acute angles of the

surrounding mountains and volcanoes, the stoniness of the ground. Not much in

this scenery to tempt you to lie down on the ground. Nor did you want to trip and

fall—it looked as though you would be cut to ribbons.

We heard many birds singing, croaking, cackling, chuckling all around us as well.

Iceland does have a great variety of bird-life, though much of it is shore and seabirds.

Since we were marching along near Lake Thingvellir (Iceland’s largest), there were

many birds in the area. Along the walk, we often got good views of the Lake which

looked gray and very cold! Not very inviting to be sure. Iceland does not look

“comfortable.”

After a couple of hours of walking, we were given a demonstration of how most of

our lunches would be handled. We met up with our bus where Magnus began

unloading the trays holding sandwiches, pieces of cake, packaged cookies, and then

thermos jugs filled with a Tang-like orange drink, hot water for tea, and coffee. The

sandwiches were on really good bread and usually contained hard-boiled eggs,

tomatoes, slices of green peppers, cucumbers, and sometimes cabbage for lettuce.

Sometimes there were would be a fish salad type of concoction and on at least one

occasion we got an Icelandic “specialty” which seemed to be some sort of paste

made with sheep blood and flour rolled into a sort of jelly roll shape. That one we

could not enjoy.

After lunch, a piece of fruit was offered—either an apple (imported from New

Zealand) or an orange (from Spain). Lunches were hearty fare and certainly gave us

enough energy for the afternoon hikes. Only occasionally did we actually carry our

lunches with us on a hike where Magnus could not meet us at a halfway point.

After that wonderful lunch in the clear, sweet air, we walked along a mountain

escarpment where, in celebration of a thousand years of Christianity in Iceland, a

display of art and photos was mounted, illustrating the Biblical virtues such as faith,

hope, charity and then the modern virtues which were arrived at by a recent poll of

the Icelanders themselves. These included such things as industry, family,

community.

There were mega-sculptures purportedly depicting both the ancient and modern

virtues as well as photos of Icelanders involved in various activities like family

outings, community celebrations, folks at work. The whole exhibition probably

extended about half a mile along the mountain face. It was rather impressive and

the people had taken it seriously since there were wooden walkways and stairways

constructed along the route to permit close viewing and reading.

The weekend we arrived in Iceland, there were religious services in this area

commemorating the arrival of Christianity. However, Iceland must be experiencing a

lessening of church and religious influences because despite there being excellent

weather, significantly fewer people attended than expected. At this point in the trip,

there was not much attempt at interaction among the members of our group.

Everyone hung diligently on Oskar’s every word, both in French and in English, but

there was general shyness about trying to communicate with folks whose language

was not English. The Canadian ladies stayed pretty much to themselves as well.

Guess this is classic “primary tension.”

G REAT G EYSIR

We then reboarded the bus to head for the Great Geysir and its surrounding thermal

features—hot pools, bubbling mud pots, and other smaller “spouters,” like Strokkur

which erupts violently and frequently but not so dramatically high as the name-giver.

This area is not nearly as extensive as Yellowstone, but it smelled just the same.

There was not as much color here either. The pools were not the brilliant blues and

blue-greens you see in Yellowstone nor were there as many colorful algae in the hot

water run-offs. But all the noise, odor and spurting certainly told you that hot

magma was very near the surface as it does in Yellowstone and New Zealand.

Our first night’s shelter was a real hotel, but not similar to anything we call hotels at

home; it was more like a youth hostel. Our dinner was in the dining room of the

hotel with family style seating for eight at each table. We had delicious potato soup,

then tasty salmon, boiled new potatoes , and slaw (this too would become quite

familiar).

Many of the French people slept in a large first-floor recreation room with tables and

chairs in the middle. Pallets had been laid down around the periphery for the

sleeping bags. Kay and I ended up in a second story loft with about 20 other people,

sleeping in little cubicles separated by partitions you could see over – open in the

front.

There were a couple of single fluorescent strips to light the whole area, but since it

didn’t get dark outside, it didn’t really matter. There were not enough shower and

toilet facilities for a group our size, but we made do. Some of the folks started a

practice that continued throughout the trek—they went to the public “sundlaug”

(hot swimming pool). Every area we stayed in had its own facility, most of them with

showers as well. However, this night, Kay and I used only the lavatories for a little

spit bath because there was no way to get into the single shower in the hotel as the

line was far too long. The steaming hot pool under gray skies and chilly winds did

not look at all inviting, nor did the gang showers for changing into bathing suits.

So after the evening ablutions, we headed for the loft hoping that too many people

crowded into a small space would not prevent a good night’s sleep. And sleep we

did, with no problems at all. We were probably all grateful for the partitions, partial

though they were, for the awkwardness among the group was still very much

present. But we were beginning to separate in our minds those in the French group

that seemed diffident due to language differences and those who seemed to be

curiously hostile to the English group as a whole. We would ponder the meaning of

the apparent dislike and try to overcome it.

G ULLFOSS

We were quite early this morning in order to get to the toilets and sinks before the

crowding started. I got my contact lenses in and then went back upstairs to roll the

sleeping bags and pull all the gear back together for loading on the bus. This too

would be an almost daily ritual. On a hiking trip, though, you need routines to keep

everything moving smoothly so that you don’t keep the group waiting.

Gullfoss – Golden Waterfall

Breakfast was in the same dining room and it was our usual fare. It was overcast

and drippy as we left this first “camp” heading for Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall. The

ride was about an hour and it was still very foggy when we arrived but at least it was

no longer dripping.

We were let off the bus above the gorge for our hour hike to the falls. It was a really

fine walk along a deeply embedded and narrow trail on the rim of the gorge with

really spectacular views down into the 70-meter deep ravine. The falls were terrific

but we had to fight the “eye and mouth” midges all the way. We were really wishing

for our Alaska “head-nets.” The falls are in two levels and are quite wide and full.

However, because of our cloudy skies, we saw no “gold” in the waters, even though

we climbed the steep wooden stairs to the top of the cascade.

Then back on the bus for a ride across the highlands, the desert interior. This part

of Iceland is pretty much uninhabited and it is easy to see why. Actually, only two

people live in this area year-round—a husband and wife weather station team. This

is really raw, new land! No soil at all and just a pitiful few, very hardy plants pushing

through the rocks.

The landscape is unbroken, flat, rocky desert except for the occasional huge glacial

erratic boulder cutting into the line demarcating land and sky. There were long miles

of this terrain with snow-topped mountains sporadically seen in the distance. The

scenes reminded us of Patagonia in so many ways. The loneliness is palpable here

(even more than in Argentina) because there is no wildlife at all. The only mammal

native to Iceland is the Arctic Fox and he is wise enough NOT to live in these parts;

besides there would be nothing for him to eat.

We stopped for a picnic at a summer campsite with toilets and a dorm type building. It

was a very primitive place and we were relieved that this was not our stop for the

night. Drove on after lunch through more of the same until we came to the

“swimming pool” – a very tiny hot spring in a very small thermal area with much

bubbling and several spitting “hissers” but no geysers. Way too many flies in the

interior for comfort. A few of our group were brave or brazen enough to strip down

and put on bathing suits and plunge in for a dip, but we just waited for them and

swatted flies.

I CELANDIC H ORSES

Next goal was the small town of Skagafjordur famed for its “hestasport”—horse

farms and horseback riding demonstrations with the Icelandic horse. What

wonderful little animals they are too. Such sweet and intelligent faces, such stolid

and solid little bodies with full manes and tails and hides of many colors from black

to white with chestnuts, bays, palominos, and every shade in between. This little

fellow is a direct descendant of the Viking horses brought over 1,100 years ago.

He is virtually unchanged because no other horse has ever been allowed on the island.

Even today, if an Icelandic horse is shipped overseas for a show or any other

purpose, he is never permitted to return to Iceland. With such restrictions, the

breed is kept pure and alien equine diseases and parasites are never found among

these horses. His diminutive build tempts outsiders to call him a “pony” because he

is about Shetland size, but the horse-loving Icelanders bridle at that terminology

and quickly correct your terminology.

Three wonderful young riders demonstrated the wonders of this terrific horse with

his five natural gaits: the walk, the trot, the gallop, the tolt, and the flying pace. None

of these have to be taught to the animal; they come in his genes. What a wonderful

ride he offers, too. The gaits are so smooth, partly also because his legs move

differently from other horses in that the legs on one side move in conjunction.

When put into the faster gaits (the tolt and flying pace), he lifts his front legs quite

high (like a hackney horse) and looks like a little wind-up toy he moves so fast.

It’s amazing to ride these gaits too because they are so much smoother than American

saddle horses. We know this up close and personal because they arranged to hire

horses for anyone who wanted to take an evening ride and several of us started out

about 9 PM (still broad open daylight with sunshine of course). Others in our group

rode out at 10:30 PM and it was still bright.

The Icelanders are quite safety conscious so we had to wear helmets on the ride,

but that was good since they did take us through all the paces and we were moving

quite rapidly along. We forded a stream on horseback and the water came above

the horses’ bellies so our boots got wet. They led us along grassy pathways where

we got to “feel” for ourselves why these little horses are so popular! We are Icelandic

horse fans forever!

S TEINSTADTSKOLI

Supper had come between the horse show and the horseback ride, so about 11:00

PM, we strolled over to the showers connected with the “sundlaug” and had the

gang showers to ourselves. Our shelter for this night was the Steinstadtskoli (the

Stein town elementary school).

There’s a wonderful practice in Iceland of turning the elementary schools into

“summer hotels” since they are empty of children at that time and there is a great

need for tourist accommodations. Five of us bunked in each classroom; Kay, Pat,

Lynn and I were joined by an English-speaking French-Swiss lady, Rosemary. She had

worked for the Swiss government in Havana, Washington, and New York, and had

very good Spanish and English.

Through her , we discovered that our “French” companions were not all from

France. Some of them were French-speaking Swiss including Rosemary and her two

traveling companions. We slept in bunk beds and the room was quite nice (no one

snored) and the lights blazed on outside. This night, I woke up about 1:30 AM and

looked out in real amazement to see the sun still shining. Our internal clocks are all

wrong so sleep is still somewhat fitful, which explains the waking up at 1:30 after

having only gotten into bed about 12:00.

Footnote: Not much was made of the fact that today was American Independence

Day, but Oskar did give Kay and me a candy bar each to celebrate. He made some

little announcement about its being the 4 th of July and the French folk politely clapped

and we laughingly thanked them for sending Lafayette at the right time. We felt the

“ice” beginning to melt among the group as people turned and smiled and some

even revealed that they understood what we were saying.

T URF H OUSE M USEUM

Regular breakfast at 8 and then we left for a “turf house” museum visit at 9 AM. A

Lutheran priest and farmer and his family were the latest to live here and they did

so until 1947. The house was originally built in the early 1800s. The structure has

turf walls and roof with timbers shoring everything up. There is a long corridor with

many rooms coming off it, a few for living space, but most ly for storage of foods

and other supplies, another few for “shops” where blacksmithing, weaving,

churning, etc. could be carried on.

The house was originally smaller but was added onto in the 1900s. There were

many old implements and storage devices displayed in the appropriate rooms. The

actual sleeping and sitting room functions were contained in one narrow chamber

with built-in benches which served as the beds at night and the chairs or “sofas”

during the day. Men were on one side and women on the other because the whole

household even hired hands, slept 2 to a bed to stay warm.

The windows were quite small and high and did not let in a great deal of light even

though the day outside was bright with sun and brilliant with the blue sky! No

wonder the women wore their eyes out, what with sewing and weaving, and all the

other close work they had to do. Couldn’t even imagine what the place must have

looked and smelled like during the 6 months of darkness in winter. Peat and dung

fires would have kept the rooms smoky and choking too. Candles could not have

provided sufficient light for all the working going on. This house did not have

electricity at the time it was actually lived in. A sobering thought knowing folks

actually lived here until after WWII.

D RANGEY I SLAND

Our next adventure started in the small town harbor where we caught a little

private vessel with an intensely loud engine to get out to Bird Island (Drangey

Island). If only I had known that we would see plenty of puffins later, I would never

have taken this outing. Even though we were warned that if we were afraid of

heights we should not take this side trip, we did not understand what that actually

meant. So we forged on and that’s when the terrors began.I hated the loud and

smoky ride out to the island and it took almost two hours to reach even though our

teenaged pilot (under the captaincy of his grandfather) kept the motor at full throttle

the whole way. We were going against a very strong ocean tide and it seemed the

boat just couldn’t make any headway at all. The trip back took only a half hour, so it

was true that the tides were very strong. Anyway, if only the boat had never made it all

the way out

The way to the top of this high chunk of rock sticking straight up out of the ocean

was extremely steep, dry and sandy, and at its bottom were huge boulders on which

to dash yourself if you slipped or fell. Normally, I am not afraid of heights at all;

however , this trail completely unnerved me because I knew that coming back down

it was going to be a hundred times worse. Made it about two-thirds of the way up

onto a plateau about 500 feet below the top and just decided that I couldn’t face

having to climb even further down. So we sat for a while in the lovely grasses under

the brilliant sky enjoying the colorful and comical puffins, the dramatic black and

white kittiwakes, the ominous storm petrels, and predatory skuas! The cacophony

at Bird Island would have to be experienced to be believed—those myriads of birds

are chattering and squawking constantly in their loudest vocalizations. You literally

have to shout yourself to be heard over them.

After finishing our packed lunch, we began to pick our way back down with Kay

encouraging me every step of the way to “just plant a foot and slide until the sand

stops you; and it will.” On the few occasions , I let myself look down at the sea, I was

amazed at the clarity of the water! It was a breezy five degrees Centigrade (about 40

F). Anyhow, we made it down and even got across the boulder-chasm that had posed a

barrier on the way up and made into the boat by ourselves.

We saw the French family with two young daughters on their way down and the young

mother was obviously as unnerved as I had been. She was quietly crying. Kay left the

boat and went to help the daughters manage the last boulders. Everyone got back

safely. The “ice” began thawing even more as we all laughed and joked with relief

about how scary the experience had been.

The return boat trip was faster and much bumpier, but the relief at leaving that

place was unqualified. Our bus met us 15 minutes later and we paid our captain

8000 Kronur for a trip that had caused me to contradict my own travel axiom

(learned deep in the Copper Canyon in Mexico), “Never go anywhere that takes

longer to reach than you want to stay!”

D ALVIK

We joined those of the group who had been wise enough not to take the optional trip

to Drangey and the bus traveled through a lovely long valley to Dalvik on a bay of the

North Atlantic. The emerald green hillsides (low- growing mosses, grasses and

ferns) embraced the many lovely and neat farms filling the valley through which ran

a big, braided glacial river. Higher and darker snow-capped mountains marched

away behind the colorful hills. This valley also contained some pockets of trees

which the reforestation project had planted. They softened even further the harsh

look of the land itself.

Our “summer hotel” for this night was a boarding school building. We were four to a

room here, with two beds and two pallets for the sleeping bags. The toilet/shower

facility was pretty close to the room we shared with Pat and Lynn so we got a

wonderful shower.

Footnotes: 1. “Technical Stop” is a pause in the bus travel for the potty. Sometimes, it

was in the wilds, but most often, it would be somewhere with real toilets or at least,

an outhouse. 2. Found out tonight that we are supposed to help with the dishes

after breakfast and suppers. So groups of 4-5 are supposed to volunteer to do the

washing, drying and stacking in the appropriate containers. Kay did her first stint at

this tonight. The rest of us all took turns too, several times, during the trip.

A KUREYRI

They let us sleep a little later today (since breakfast was not until 8:30) and then the

bus pulled out at 9:15 to drive us to Akureyri, Iceland’s second-largest city at 16,000

souls. It is a pleasant, bay-side town, not as a colorful as Reykjavik. However, it

contains a large church designed by the Hallgrimskirkja architect. A very long series

of steps leads up to the church which is at the highest point in the city. Finally, a

Lutheran church in Iceland which has the ship model hanging prominently from the

ceiling (every church we saw in Sweden and Denmark on an earlier trip contained

the ship). This church was more ornate than the capital city version and it is much

smaller as well. It had a wonderful pipe organ display as well, but that too was on a

more modest scale.

We walked the pedestrian mall and did some shopping. Icelanders here were friendly

and most spoke some English since they deal with many tourists from Europe and

English really is the lingua franca of today’s tourist world. Their familiarity with

English is certainly not due to the fact that very many Americans vacation here;

actually, the opposite is true—very few US citizens visit Iceland. However, the UK sends

its share as does Australia, but the majority of visitors are from France and Germany.

They probably wondered what to do with us.

Speaking of Germany, there was another group from GJ Travel Service on the same

route as ours. This was a group of 26 Germans. The trips were arranged so we

crossed paths intermittently but not at every stop. Later, there will be more to come

on this subject.

H USAVIK

Leaving Akureyri, we drove around the south end of the bay and went up the other

side to Húsavík for the whale- watching trip. Kay and I had had quite enough boat

travel at Drangey, thank you very much, plus we have whale- watched in several

other places, so we opted not to join the others. Instead, we stayed in this fishing

village and explore it on foot.

First , we stopped for lunch at a seaside pub where we had a delicious lamb soup with

veggies. We next walked to the highest point we could find in this village to get some

good views and pictures of the harbor and the houses below. We found a wonderful

high hill empty of buildings. We started walking along a path and suddenly found

ourselves the targets of some very energetic dive-bombing birds with actual strikes

(luckily we had on our hats).

Turned out we had stumbled on an arctic tern nesting ground. They did not want us

near their nests or babies. We tried to honor their wishes as we dodged and

ducked. Some plovers were also nesting in the area and we saw many Sarah

Bernhardt performances by the adults who limped and staggered away in front of us

trying to entice us to go after them instead of their helpless chicks. The ruse

certainly worked—we didn’t eat a single baby plover. As we left the bluff, the terns

crowed and boasted of their successes in routing the “invaders” off their turf. All got

quiet again when we reached the bottom of the hill and exited from their view.

After our foray into bird-watching, we decided we deserved a dessert so we went

back to the pub and had chocolate sundaes (just as good in Iceland as at home).

However, sometime during our village wanderings, picture takings, or dessert

eating, the ship returned to the harbor with all our group aboard and we didn’t see

them disembark.

When we left the restaurant, we saw the docked boat but no sign of our travel

companions and the bus was not parked where we had left it. So we began to

wonder what we would do in that tiny village, abandoned by our tour leader, with no

Icelandic language facility, very few Kronur, and no knowledge about where the

group was heading next. While Kay waited on the harbor-side street to see if the

bus would come back for us, I ran up the very steep hill to the main thoroughfare

and looked frantically up and down, but no bus was in site. But then I spotted a

couple members of our group coming out of a pretty church which we had visited

earlier. Thank goodness, I recognized them. I called Kay up the steps to the main

street and we followed the group members to find the bus. We never did let anyone

know that we had temporarily felt abandoned.Needless to say, every day was

crammed with many activities because the light never fails! So you can tour, hike,

sight-see, etc., all day and all night if your body can keep up the pace. Anyway, Oskar

had another stop planned before we headed to our summer hotel for the night. We

got out of the bus and walked along some high cliffs over the ocean for about 2

miles out and 2 miles back while we peered over the sides up and back along the

walls to see the puffins nesting in their burrows in the walls and on the grassy

ledges.

Again, the noise was tremendous and the view just overwhelming and the ocean

was amazingly clear below us. Besides the puffins, we saw fulmars (which look like a

gull variety) and storm petrels again as well as skuas, the last two being predators of

puffin and fulmar chicks. Oskar told us that we were only 20 kilometers from the Arctic

Circle at this spot.

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 11 Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 Page 27 Page 28 Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 35 Page 36 Page 37 Page 38 Page 39 Page 40 Page 41 Page 42 Page 43 Page 44 Page 45 Page 46 Page 47 Page 48 Page 49 Page 50 Page 51 Page 52 Page 53 Page 54 Page 55 Page 56 Page 57 Page 58 Page 59 Page 60 Page 61 Page 62 Page 63 Page 64 Page 65 Page 66 Page 67 Page 68 Page 69 Page 70

Made with FlippingBook - professional solution for displaying marketing and sales documents online