June - July 2004

Revised 08 August 2004,
Photos & Text © 2004 by Len Schwer

Route of Travel
SFO - Boston (air via United Airlines)
SFO - Reykjavik (air via Icelandair, 2 nights)
Reykjavik - Laugar (2 nights)
Laugar - Akureyri (2 nights)
Akureyri - Egilsstadir (1 night)
Egilsstadir - Reykjavik (air via Air Iceland)
Reykjavik - Selfoss (2 nights)
Reykjavik - Boston (air via Icelandair, overnight)
Boston - San Francisco (air via United Airlines)

Map © National Land Survey of Iceland web site
National Land Survey of Iceland

Ms. Becky & I traveled with her parents, Ray & Norma, to Iceland 27 June - 8 July 2004.

The descriptions and pictures for this trip make for a fairly large download, so they are split it into two URLs:
  1. Days 1 - 6 Reykjavik to Akureyri in the present file
  2. Days 7 - 10 Akureyri to Reykjavik in another file

Click on a picture to see a full size view in floating window.
Mouse over picture for brief description.

Day 1 – 27/28 Jun 04 Sunday/Monday - Windsor to Reykjavik
  Our adventure to Iceland began with an overnight stay (Saturday 26 June) near San Francisco Airport at the La Quinta Hotel where we parked our car until our return. Ms Becky and I traveled with her parents, Ray and Norma Peugh. We took the 9 AM shuttle bus from the hotel to the to the airport, checked in and headed to the Red Carpet Club to wait for our Boston plane to board. The flight to Boston was ordinary and the nearly 5 hour flight a good warm-up for the next leg of our flight to Iceland. At Logan Airport we took another shuttle from Terminal C to Terminal E where Icelandair is located.
  After deplaning in Iceland, the passport control and ‘Nothing to Declare’ customs was simple and typical of the European attitude of these procedures. Our Vantage tour guide Arni greeted us outside customs and guided us to a small bus that served as our early morning (7 AM) Reykjavik city tour bus. We had to tour the city for about 3.5 hours while the hotel readied our rooms. Our first stop was a small diner on a fishing pier where we served ourselves cafeteria style to coffee and sweets. The odd bit about this place was Arni said this was the only place in Reykjavik opened for breakfast this early in the morning. I think it had a lot more to do with getting a kickback from the diner, as who can believe such a large city has no open restaurants at 7:30 AM? Anyway, the coffee was quite good, and welcomed after the Icelandair prison flight.
  Our next stop was one of the city’s public swimming pools where we watched a group of Icelandic seniors moving from one end to the other of the Olympic sized pool. This stop was part of the introduction to the city’s geothermal heating system, which heats all the houses and provides ample hot water for the city’s pools and associated hot tubs.
  So far the tour was not too impressive with a stop at a tiny diner and then to see an outdoor swimming pool. But our next stop was a real attraction, the largest church in Iceland. This state sponsored Lutheran church is quite impressive when viewed from a distance, but up close the plane concrete construction material was too bland for my taste, and more typical of the 1960’s style of architecture that was then in vogue in the States and parts of Europe.
  Our final stop of the morning was the Reykjavik City Hall. The point of interest here is the large scale model 3D relief map of Iceland. Our guide used this huge display to indicate our route of travel over the next 8 days. I always like such relief maps, so this was the highlight of the first day for me.
  The bus then took us to our lodging for the next two nights, The Hotel Loftleidir, which by the way, is owned by Icelandair. Our room was nice, but not spectacular, with twin beds which seems to be standard on such organized tours where singles may be sharing a room. After settling into our room, we opted to take the free shuttle bus back to the center of Reykjavik and seek a restaurant for lunch; this was the second meal of the day not provided by Vantage Tours. We found a very nice place called Caruso’s, on the main shopping street. While the food prices are high by US standards, the onion soup and fish entrée that three of us had from the luncheon special menu was very good and quite filling. Our guide Arni had promised that Iceland has good soups, and this first sample certainly confirmed this, and his taste in soups. We did a little souvenir shopping and then took a taxi back to the hotel for a shower and nap before our Welcome Dinner at the hotel with 14 more members of our group joining us from a pre-trip to Greenland.

The Group in California (DSCN1579.jpg) Typical Icelandic landscape (DSCN1581.jpg) The Group in Reykjavik (DSCN1586.jpg)
Hallgrimskirkja Church (DSCN1592.jpg) Leifur Eriksson statue (DSCN1588.jpg) Ms Becky behind Leifur's statue (DSCN1589.jpg)
Pipe organ inside church (DSCN1591.jpg) A Couple of Reykjavik Stiffs (DSCN1590.jpg) Our guide Arni illustrating our route (DSCN1595.jpg)
Reagan & Gorbachev 1986 Sumit house (DSCN1585.jpg) Houses near Reykjavik City Hall (DSCN1599.jpg) Main shopping street (DSCN1600.jpg)
Loftleider Hotel near city airport (DSCN1604.jpg) Our room after our nap (DSCN1609.jpg) Our room (DSCN1610.jpg)
View of the Pearl for our room (DSCN1602.jpg) Perfect time of year for flowers (DSCN1606.jpg) View from Pearl (DSCN1605.jpg)
The Group atop the Pearl (DSCN1607.jpg) City view from Pearl (DSCN1608.jpg) View of Pearl at 2 AM (DSCN1611.jpg)

Day 2 – 29 Jun 04 Tuesday - Free Day in Reykjavik
  This day on your own in Reykjavik was built into the schedule to allow the members of our group who went on the pre-trip to Greenland to have their tour of the city. While I understand the reason for the 'extra' day in Reykjavik, I think something, other than an optional whale watching tour, should have been offered to the remainder of our group. One advantage of such organized tours is that you are taken to interesting places and provided with an explanation of what you are seeing.
  We took a nice long walk into the city center and wondered around a bit. Ray and I were not interested in looking into the shops, so we headed back to the hotel and left Becky & her Mom to enjoy their window shopping.
  Lunch and dinner were on our (nickle) own this day. We skipped lunch as we had finished a nice buffet breakfast in the hotel at about 10 AM. For dinner we decided to walk back up to the city’s hot water supply, known locally as “The Pearl” on the nearby hill.
There is a museum, cafeteria, and a restaurant in this building, and the eating establishments had been recommended by our tour guide Arni. The restaurant was quite fancy and apparently very popular with the locals as most of the tables we walked past had reserved signs, and indeed the restaurant did fill-up before we left. The fifth floor location of the restaurant, in addition to the hilltop location, provides great views of Reykjavik; the viewing is enhanced by the fact that the restaurant also revolves. The food was very good and the service was excellent, which eased paying the $270 check for four, which did not include any alcohol.
  Our guide told us the average monthly income in Iceland is about $2,500, so it is difficult to understand how the residents of Reykjavik can afford the high cost of living in this city.

Day 3 – 30 Jun 04 Wednesday - Reykjavik to Laugar via Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  Today we began our tour of the island with a group of 35 on a 50 passenger bus. We headed west and north from Reykjavik and were in the rural areas in less than 30 minutes after leaving the mandatory stop at the souvenir shop; this type of forced shopping is my least favorite part of traveling with a tour group.
  Touring the island is focused on viewing the beautiful scenery all around you, which changes dramatically every few kilometers along the road, and stopping for a closer look, with expert explanation, at local natural wonders. The towns along the way provide a little diversion from the scenery viewing, and are often driven through with little more comment than the name of the town and population statistic. These towns provide services to the farmers and ranchers in the remote areas, and are not intended as tourist havens.
  Our first stop was an overlook of the fiord and town of Borgarfjodur. We stopped briefly in Borgarfjodur for coffee, snacks, and to use the facilities. In addition to some dried fruit and soda, we would have purchased something for lunch had we known in advance what awaited us at our ‘official’ lunch stop about an hour and a half down the road.
  Hraunfossar waterfall was our next stop where the glacial runoff stream flows through the lava formation and is joined by ground water flow that emerges from the stream bank.
  Our lunch stop was the nearby tiny village of Reykholt which is the home of one of Iceland’s legendary figures Snorri Sturluson. Snorri was the head of Iceland’s largest and most powerful family before the King of Norway convinced three other powerful Icelandic families to kill Snorri and thus pave the way for Norway to make Iceland a colony. They are currently excavating some ruins believed to be either Snorri’s house our ancient houses built on the same site.
  Our lunch stop was the tiny hotel located in Reykholt. The menu was fixed: mushroom soup and bread for 700 Kroner (about $10) per person. While the soup and bread were good, and filling, this lunch stop is another point against Vantage Tours.
There were no other choices for lunch in this area, so Vantage knew we would need to eat at this hotel and would be served the fixed menu. I believe that they should have included this meal in the package price, rather than having everyone pay for this fixed price meal. Also, we should have been told in advance of this lunch plan, as when we stopped about 1.5 hours earlier in Borgarnes, we could have either had lunch at that stop, or bought something for lunch from the grocery store or fast food place. It seems obvious to me that Vantage gets a kickback from this small hotel, or other considerations, and thus makes the group pay the paltry sum for the meal. All-in-all this seemed to be poor treatment of Vantage’s clients.
  Our fist stop after lunch was Deildartunguhver hot springs, which is advertised as the largest hot springs in Iceland, and indeed all of Europe. While the bubbling hot water was mildly interesting, I feel sure people traveling through Yellowstone Park would not stop to view this site even if it was right along the side of the road.
  Easily the highlight of the day was our last stop at Eiriksstadir, a recreation of the home of Erik the Red and birth place of Leifur Eriksson, the now accepted first European to discover North America. We were given an interesting insight into Viking life by a young lady, dressed in period garb, who explained details of the interior of the reconstructed house, and how the farming family lived and used the dwelling.
  Our final stop of the day was the Hotel Edda in Laugar where we would spend the next two nights. Although this hotel was in the middle of nowhere, with no other surrounding businesses, it was a fairly new facility with large clean rooms. One oddity of the hotel is it is attached to a school building that closed several years ago. None of the rooms in the school are used by the hotel, but the swimming pool and locker facilities are available to the guests, and the old cafeteria is used as the restaurant. The hotel provided our dinners for the two evenings, and the customary breakfasts. Each evening dinner on the tour is an pre-selected advance choice, from a list we completed the first evening, of meat or fish; our meat choices here were lamb the first night and chicken the next. I opted for lamb the first night and then fish, and both meals were quite good.
Near Borgarnees (DSCN1616.jpg) Map of Snaefellsnes Peninsula (DSCN1614.jpg) Ms Becky near Borgarnees (DSCN1615.jpg)
Hraunfossar waterfalls (DSCN1617.jpg) Ray & Norma at falls overlook (DSCN1618.jpg) Ground water enters the river (DSCN1619.jpg)
Mushroom soup & bread at fixed lunch (DSCN1620.jpg) Statue of Snorri (DSCN1621.jpg) Church at Reykholt (DSCN1622.jpg)
Hot water warnings (DSCN1624.jpg) Europe's LARGETS hot water springs?? (DSCN1623.jpg) Ms Becky on Snaefellsnes Peninsula (DSCN1625.jpg)
View from Snaefellsnes Peninsula (DSCN1629.jpg) View from Snaefellsnes Peninsula (DSCN1628.jpg) View from Snaefellsnes Peninsula (DSCN1627.jpg)
Ms Becky at Leifur Eriksson's recreated home (DSCN1630.jpg) Ms Becky with white hay 'bales' in background (DSCN1631.jpg) Statue of Leifur Eriksson on home site (DSCN1632.jpg)
Our room at the Edda Hotel in Laugar (DSCN1633.jpg) Our bathroom room (DSCN1634.jpg)

Day 4 – 01 Jul 04 Thursday - Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  The translation of Snaefellsnes is “Snow Mountain Peninsula” as the main geological feature of this east-to-west running peninsula is a 3000 foot glacier topped volcano on the eastern end. We drove a circular route around the peninsula going east along the northern edge and then cutting across the peninsula near the glacier and returning along the south coast. This was a day of viewing the very beautiful Icelandic scenery and listening to our guide, Arni, tell us some the history and geology of Iceland, with a few stories about legends like the “Hidden People,” a sort of parallel existence of human people that inhabit Iceland, but are not visible to ‘normal’ humans.
  Our main stop on this day was the unlikely combined attractions of a small farm church, with it’s ‘secrets,’ and the shark processing operation that provides the farmer with a steady income at Bjarnarhofn. The Greenland Shark, caught inadvertently by local fishermen, are not naturally edible as the flesh contains concentrated ammonia, since, we were told, these sharks have no kidneys. Shark preparation involves filleting the shark and processing them to remove/lower the ammonia levels in the flesh. We were provided with a small sample of what is referred to in tour books as ‘Rotten Shark’ due to it’s pungent smell, and a sip of the local Brennivin schnapps nicknamed the ‘Black Death’ by the Icelanders.
  The tiny farm church has quite a bit of history and several mysteries. The present church building was constructed in the early 1800’s but there has been a church on this site since the 1400’s.
The main treasure of the church is a religious painting of Christ and two apostles, which is attributed to a group of painters taught by Rembrandt. The mystery of this painting is the colors seems to glow as the sunlight beaming into the church is dimmed by shuttering the windows and closing the western facing doors. The painting also has the feature that the eyes of Christ seem to follow you as you walk back-and-forth in front of the painting. The challis also has an apparent mystery which is demonstrated as you slowly close the palms of your hands around the challis, some people feel vibrations and others feel a sense of heat, while yet others feel nothing.
  Our lunch stop was in the fishing town of Olafsvik on the northern coast of the peninsula. This was another lunch on our own (nickel), but at least there were a few choices which included a pizza shop, bakery, and a gas station with sandwiches. We opted for the local hotel which was serving a fixed menu of soup & fish or a ham sandwich with fries. The ladies opted for the sandwich and fries while Ray & I opted for the mushroom soup and fish. The self-serve soup and bread were good and filling, but I was a bit surprised to find that the fish was pieces of pickled herring; I like herring, but I was expecting pieces of cod or similar. It is rapidly becoming obvious that mushroom soup is the national luncheon dish of Iceland.
  The most scenic stop of the day was the black stone & sand beach on the eastern coast at Djupalonssandur. The views of the ocean and glacier were spectacular, and roaming the beach was a welcomed change of pace from the confinement of the day long bus ride.
Snaefellsnes Penisula on western end of Iceland (DSCN1659.jpg) We traveled around the penisula (DSCN1658.jpg) Ray & Norma on the tour bus (DSCN1635.jpg)
Small church on farm with shark processing (DSCN1636.jpg) Church interior & farmer - no pictures were allowed (DSCN1637.jpg) Farmer's granddaughter (DSCN1639.jpg)
Small museum at the farm (DSCN1640.jpg) Shark drying shed (DSCN1641.jpg) The Group at our lunch stop in Olafsvik (DSCN1643.jpg)
Scenic view of the penisula (DSCN1646.jpg) Ms Becky enjoying the scenery (DSCN1647.jpg) The flowers are usually quite small, but beuatiful (DSCN1648.jpg)
Snaefellsjokull (Snow Mountain Glacier) (DSCN1649.jpg) At the Djupalonssandur beach (DSCN1650.jpg) Ms Becky with glacier in background (DSCN1655.jpg)
Typical lava formation (DSCN1651.jpg) Hole in lava formation (DSCN1653.jpg) Lava formation in the ocean (DSCN1654.jpg)
Small fishing harbor (DSCN1656.jpg) Typical isolated farm house (DSCN1657.jpg)

Day 5 – 02 Jul 04 Friday - Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Akureyri
  This was a full day on the bus with only a few brief stops for photos, toilets, and lunch. Our first stop was at a small waterfall that entered a deep gorge called Kolugljufur. They are rebuilding the bridge over the river and hence the safety net partially blocks the view of the falls.
  After our lunch break at the combination gas station, grocery store and cafeteria, we took a short detour to see a small church and a large sod house located next to the church.
  When we arrived in Akureyri there were three cruise ships in the fjord, one of which we had seen earlier when we passed through Grundarfjorour on the north coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Akureyri is a nice town with a population of about 15,000. The town is located at the end of a very scenic fjiord, and the sunny day made for a striking impression of this “Capital of the North.” The bus dropped us off at the center of town and we had an hour to roam about looking in the stores.
  We re-boarded the bus for the 20 minute drive to our hotel for the next two nights, the Country Inn. The rooms in this hotel were quite comfortable, but the lack of an in-room TV was a bit disappointing. Most disappointing was the hotel location, far from Akureyri and its city center and anything else. It seems Vantage goes out of its way to select remotely located hotels. I had thought that our Reykjavik hotel, located about a 20 minute walk from the city center, was remote, but that might prove to be the hotel that is most closely located to the nearest population center. The hotel put on a buffet dinner that was excellent. I particularly liked the ham which tasted as if it was really smoked cured.
  This Country Inn is part of Iceland re-inventing itself. The former working farm family has recently converted from farming to tourism. Our new rooms were located in the former cow or sheep barn. These types of rural accommodations also serve Icelanders as they travel around their country, but this particular inn depends on tour groups, as the next day we were joined by a group from France.
Leaving the Edda Hotel in Laugar (DSCN1660.jpg) Locator map for water falls at Kolugljufur (DSCN1661.jpg) Ms Becky on new bridge (DSCN1663.jpg)
Beautiful water falls at Kolugljufur (DSCN1664.jpg) Yet another small church (DSCN1667.jpg) Sod houses next to the church (DSCN1666.jpg)
Rear view if sod houses (DSCN1668.jpg) Isolated farms and scenic beauty (DSCN1669.jpg) Cruise ships stopped at Akureyri (DSCN1673.jpg)
Church in Akureyri (Akureyrikirkja) (DSCN1672.jpg) View of Akureyri from church (DSCN1674.jpg) Our room at the Country Inn (DSCN1675.jpg)
Our room at the Country Inn (DSCN1676.jpg)

Day 6 – 03 Jul 04 Saturday - Akureyri the Icelandic Capital of the North
  This was a full day of touring the area around Lake Myvatn where some of the Iceland’s more recent (1970’s) lava flows occurred, and a center of geothermal activity.
  On our way to the lake are we first stopped at Godafoss, a very beautiful waterfall shaped in a semi-circle and reminiscent of Niagara Falls. The Icelandic name translates into “Gods Falls” as the legend is when Iceland converted to Christianity, the head of the Icelandic government threw all his pagan idols into the falls to demonstrate his acceptance of Christianity.
  While touring Iceland we saw a number of fishermen trying to catch salmon or trout in the too numerous to remember rivers and streams. Our guide Arni told us some of the better fishing spots require a one day license that sells for about $2000 US, and they have an 18 month waiting list.
  Just south of the lake is the active geothermal area of Namafjall Hverir. In this spot you can walk among several boiling mud pits and steam jets. This is also the first area in Iceland where geothermal energy was converted into electrical energy, and is now the home of a large power plant, the Krafla Power Station. There is a small ski area near the power plant used to teach children to ski, and our guide told us, after skiing the kids are allowed to play in the hot spring that runs near the ski lift, the spring is formed by the effluent of the power plant.
There is also a fairly new hot lagoon in the area where locals and tourists can bathe in the warm water that wells up from underground.
  Lunch was again on our own (nickel) and was at yet another of Iceland’s rural combination gas stations, cafeteria and a small shop. The four of us opted for the soup & bread meal, they offered both a tomato soup and a traditional Icelandic lamb soup. I tried both and found them to be quite good.
  Our final stop of the day was at Dimmuborgir which translates as Dark Castles. This is a small valley that was filled by a lava flow, apparently because of a natural dam that prevented the lava from continuing on its route. Before the lava could fully harden, what ever dammed up this valley opened and allowed the lava to continue flowing. The resulting lava formations are tall stacks of lava that bear a resemblance to castles or citadels.
  Dinner was in a very nice restaurant in Akureyri called “Fredrick V” and was included in our tour. As an appetizer, smoked Puffin was served which was enjoyable in small amounts, although a few people declined to eat this sea bird and were offered a salad. The main course was a choice of Artic Char or chicken, and I was very happy with my Artic Char choice.
The Country Inn near Akureyri (DSCN1677.jpg) The Country Inn barn now guest rooms (DSCN1702.jpg) Locator map for the falls at Godafoss (DSCN1680.jpg)
Ms Becky at Godafoss (DSCN1678.jpg) Glacial waters after Godfoss falls (DSCN1679.jpg) Locator map for Lake Myvatn (DSCN1684.jpg)
Wealthy(?) fisherman (DSCN1681.jpg) Unusual Icelandic flower (DSCN1683.jpg) Locator map for geothermal area of Namafjall Hverir (DSCN1693.jpg)
Ms Becky near geothermal well (DSCN1685.jpg) One of many natural steam vents (DSCN1686.jpg) Almost nothing grows in this area (DSCN1687.jpg)
Ms Becky near a fumarole (DSCN1692.jpg) Bubbling mud pit (DSCN1688.jpg) Timing is everything (DSCN1689.jpg)
or nothing (DSCN1691.jpg) Locator sign for the Krafla Power Station (DSCN1695.jpg) Krafla Power Station (DSCN1694.jpg)
New hot water bath opened a few weeks ago (DSCN1696.jpg) Lava formation at Dimmuborgir (DSCN1697.jpg) Icelandic orchid (DSCN1698.jpg)
A view of Lake Myvatn and distant glacier (DSCN1699.jpg) Dinning at Fredrick V (DSCN1701.jpg)

Days 7 - 10 Akureyri to Reykjavik Click to view Part II of this trip.

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Photos & Text © 2004 by Len Schwer