Our Trip to Iceland
July 2003
In text and pictures

Where the glacier meets the sky, the land ceases to be earth and the earth becomes one with heaven. Here no sorrows live, nor unnecessary joy; beauty alone reigns there, demanding nothing more.
---Haldor Laxness, Nobel laureate 1954

We flew out of SFO early in the morning, got to JFK in mid-afternoon, had a nice dinner in the terminal and got on Icelandair at 8:15 PM. We dozed on the plane, and arrived at Keflavik Airport in Iceland about 6:00 AM. We gathered up our baggage and took the Flybus into Reykjavik. The Flybus was waiting right at the curb and accepted credit cards, but we decided to use the ATM in the terminal to draw out some Icelandic Kronur. A 45 minute ride brought us to Hotel Skaljbreid in downtown Reykjavik. We passed several modern plastic hotels on the way, but the Skaljbreid is a delightful European style hotel right in the middle of things. We did have to carry our bags up several steps to the elevator landing so that was slightly inconvenient. We had guaranteed our room for the early arrival (by paying) so they had it ready for us. We settled in and went to the Sun Room for the complimentary buffet breakfast. It consisted of pickled herring, cold meats, cheese, rolls, preserves and juices. It did us very well daily for our stay in Iceland. We had time to explore the main street of town as well as grab a bit of a nap.

Our first excursion was to Ishestar to ride the famous Icelandic horses. Brought to the island by the Vikings in the tenth century, they have remained a pure strain because importation of other horses has been forbidden for 1000 years. Experienced riders say they have five gaits, instead of the usual four. All I know is that for this novice it was a pretty bumpy ride over the lava fields!

We returned to town, and walking down the street found the Lakjarbrekka Restaurant. They served a feast of immense proportions! Renée had the Lamb Feast, and I had the Lobster Feast. After a delicious bowl of lobster bisque with at least two lobster tails floating in it, they served me a platter with three broiled tails, three fried tails, and three tails in puff pastry. Although the Icelandic lobsters are small, they are exceptionally delicious and the feast was a wondrous experience!

Up bright and early the next morning, we caught a cab to the domestic airport where we flew a small plane to the Westmann Islands. These islands are the site of the famous eruption of the volcano Eldfell which nearly buried the town in 1973. This lava flow is one that covered some houses and yards and left others untouched. The island used the heat of the lava flows to provide heat for all the houses in town for many years. Some residents have relocated the sites of the streets they lived on and placed markers in the lava to commemorate the event.

In 1963, some fishermen noticed smoke rising out of the sea. Over the next months the people of Iceland watched a volcanic island rise from the sea and fall under again several times, until finally it grew high enough to stay above the waves. The island of Surtsey is a scientific preserve as scientists watch to see how life develops on this newest piece of land in the world. Already there are insects, birds and plants on the island.

Returning to the mainland, we next visited the famous Blue Lagoon. All the power for Reykjavik is provided by geothermal forces. The hot salt water is pumped to the surface and a heat exchanger heats fresh water to deliver to the city. The remaining salt water is discharged into holding ponds, and these have become a spa resort for the Icelanders. The water temperature hovers close to 100 degrees, and lifeguards bundled up in parkas patrol because the air temperature is only about 50 degrees F. It is a marvelously refreshing swim.

The next day, we met Gudrun Amundsdottir, a noted Icelandic storyteller, member of the Reykjavik City Theater and television actress, who took us "Where The Glacier Meets The Sky". This tour is known as the Golden Circle, and Gudrun entertained us all through it with tales of Vikings and kings, maidens, giants, trolls and even lawyers! We highly recommend this tour for anyone who is going to Iceland. You can reach Gudrun at www.storytrips.com.

She first took us to Thingvellir, renowned as the meeting place of the Althing. This conclave of Viking chiefs is known as the world's oldest Parliament still meeting. The site is very near to the only place where the Mid-Atlantic Rift comes to the surface of the land. Extending all the way through the Atlantic Ocean, this sea floor rift is where the continents are spreading apart from each other. In this picture, I am standing on the European plate, and Renée is standing on the North American plate. In a few million years we will be so far apart we won't even be able to wave to each other!

Then we visited Gullfoss, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Crashing down through a glacial valley it makes a great thunder and spray.

Volcanic craters abound in the countryside. This beautiful crater of Kerid is only one of the many we saw on the Golden Circle tour.

All of Iceland is highly geothermically active. One renowned field of activity includes Geysir, the great geyser after which all the others are named.

Iceland was covered with trees when the original settlers arrived with Ingolfur Arnarson in 874. But over the centuries it has been pretty much denuded and now a tree is rare all around the island. Gudrun's husband, Birgir Matthiasson, has a beautiful grove of birch trees which have been planted by many visitors to Iceland. Renée and I each got to add one more beautiful birch to the landscape of Iceland.

Then we were treated to a home cooked dinner in Birgir's farmhouse. We feasted on lamb and roast potatoes and finished off with wonderful blueberries. Renée said they were the best blueberries she had ever tasted.

On our last day in Iceland, we toured the Snaefellnes Peninsula, passing near Sneafellsnesjokull, a large mountaintop glacier. Then we took a cruise on the bay, spotting many kinds of sea birds including sea eagles nesting on the precipitous rocks of the bay. They dragged a net along the sea bottom and came up with a load of the freshest possible seafood.

Although Renée would have none of this Icelandic sushi, I was happy to give it a try. Absolutely fresh scallops, eaten right out of the shell are an unexpected treat. But the real hit was the sea urchin roe right out of the sea. In Japan it is an expensive delicacy, favored by men searching to improve their virility. I ate it with great pleasure!

All in all we had a perfectly wonderful time in Iceland. It is a beautiful place to visit, thoroughly civilized but still relatively unspoiled in natural scenery. Everyone we met was extremely friendly and helpful and all spoke excellent English, since it is required in their schools from the age of 8. Although it is an expensive country, the accomodations were comfortable and the food was positively outstanding. The next morning bright and early we were on our way to Heathrow to board the Royal Princess for our British Isles cruise.

Our Cruise Review is posted here
or you can jump right to
the cruise pictures here.

Email us at thehalls@bully4.us if you would like to talk about this trip.

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