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Trip Report - 10 "Western Icelanders" Discover Their Roots (Long)


Jun 18th, 2003, 03:43 PM
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Trip Report - 10 "Western Icelanders" Discover Their Roots (Long)

A group of 10 family members visited Iceland the first two weeks of June. My father's parents immigrated to Canada in the late 1800s, but he and his brother had never been to Iceland. Icelanders call us "Western Icelanders" or in Icelandic (spelled phonetically) "Vestern Eeslangdeurs".

The group consisted of the first generation born in Canada (my father and his brother - ages 91 and 86), my aunt (also 86) and 7 us cousins (45-58) i.e. the daughters of the first generation.

Following is our (long!) trip report. Note regarding prices - where I quote $ they are Canadian (currently 75 cents to the US $). For restaurant meals I'll usually quote lunch or dinner for one with a main course, glass of wine or beer and coffee.

Day 1: We converged on Keflavik Airport from 3 directions and met at 6:00am - our flights all landed within a few minutes of each other and we picked up 3 rental cars - brand new Skoda Octavia's. They were great cars with the most amazing amount of trunk space. The trunk easily took 4 passengers' luggage, plus backpacks, camera bags, lots of duty free liquor (!) and all the odds and sods we bought along the way. Drove from Keflavik to Hveragerdi where we stayed at the Hotel Ork.

Hotel Ork was very nice - spacious rooms and very helpful staff. Also the hotel has a very large hot pool, plus two smaller ones (at varying temperatures).

After our long flights (particularly the group from Vancouver) many went for a nap. I prefer to stay up after flying all night, so walked around the town. (Also, since my luggage was lost - I didn't have to worry about unpacking!).

Had read about a tourist stop called "Eden" - it's basically a garden nursery with some tourist merchandise and a cafeteria - apparently many bus tours stop there but I'm not sure it's worth it. Found a nice bakery and bought sandwiches and pastries for all and by the time I returned to the hotel, most were up and ready for a snack and a soak in the hot tub. The sky cleared and it was actually very warm and sunny. We sat around the pool for several hours - chatting and planning our next two weeks.

Eventually talk turned to dinner - we looked at the menu from the Hotel Ork dining room and had our first collective shock at Icelandic prices. I had done a ton of research before the trip and knew Iceland was expensive, but it was still a shock. $18 for a bowl of clear tomato soup. Gulp. $55 for an entrée. Yikes. You could almost hear everyone's brains trying to calculate how much more money they needed.

I had some restaurant suggestions in surrounding towns, so we set out in our convoy for Selfoss, about 12 km away. Restaurant Menam is a Thai restaurant (yes - it was funny eating at a Thai restaurant as our first meal!) however they have a full menu of other dishes - lamb, shrimp, hamburgers, etc. Dinner (lamb) was $40 - expensive, yes, but cheaper than that $18 bowl of soup.

Note regarding Icelandic prices - I'm going to stop commenting now about how expensive Iceland is. We all decided to just "get over it" otherwise it could become all-consuming. All our hotels included breakfast so even non breakfast eaters (like me) had breakfast, and we economized some days by buying meats/cheese/bread and making our own lunch along the way, and fortunately no one obsessed about it.

Back to the hotel for an early night.
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Jun 18th, 2003, 03:50 PM
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Day 2 : Up early (still no sign of my luggage - it was very easy to get dressed quickly so I was first at Breakfast!) and off to visit Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir.

I knew that many of the roads in Iceland are hard packed gravel, and checked with the desk clerk regarding our intended route. He advised that one stretch (approx 22 km) was gravel - but said it would be fine.

We set out in drizzling rain for our first stop - Gullfoss. This lovely waterfall ("foss" means waterfall) can be reached either by walking down a long staircase or driving to a lower vantage point. This was our first real glimpse of how the seniors would handle the terrain. My dad set out for the staircase route - and managed brilliantly - others were puffing coming up the stairs and he passed them by! My aunt and uncle took the car route - and it all worked out.

After stopping for coffee and shopping at the gift shop, we were off to Geysir - the namesake of all geysers! Geysir is dormant (we said it doesn't "Geys" - a verb we invented!) but nearby Strokkur does, every few minutes. Had fun watching that and then went to the nearby Hotel Geysir for lunch. A delicious buffet lunch was $50.

Then - off to the day's highlight - Thingvellir.

As I mentioned in a previous posting -- of all of the sites we planned to visit in Iceland Thingvellir was the most important for my father. (You know how the father in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" comments about the fact that all word origins are Greek? My father cannot *hear* the word Parliament without pointing out that the VERY FIRST Parliament EVER was in Iceland at Thingvellir!)

The 22 km stretch of gravel road previously mentioned connected Geysir with Thingvellir - it wasn't a particular challenge - the road was a single lane (which we expected, with places to pull over if you meet another car) and we thought "hey, we're tough Canadians - these gravel roads are fine". Ahhh...a fine example of foreshadowing, if you're ever read one!

Thingvellir was very moving. We all had various guide books and had read quite a bit about the Allthing (Parliament). There are not a lot of markings or tourist infrastructure there (and the same is true of other sites) but we were well informed. (Obviously if you're on a tour they would provide a lot of detail - if you travel independently I strongly advise you read up on the tourist sites first).

We spent a great deal of time talking with the crew of an archeological dig - that really added to the experience, and my father dragged out his rusty Icelandic, only to discover it was still quite good!

Back to the Hotel Ork for a quick dinner of meats and cheeses we purchased at the grocery store in Selfoss and then meeting with the first group of Icelandic relatives (the first of many!). 6 relatives drove from Reykavik and we spent a delightful evening with them in a banquet room generously offered by the hotel staff (which was very kind, because we took our own liquor, but used all their glasses/ice/etc without charge).
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Jun 18th, 2003, 04:24 PM
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Kind off topic question but I am just curious, did you actually take your fathers' last name at birth (being born in Canada) or did your parents stick with Icelandic tradition and give you your fathers' first name + dottir?
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Jun 18th, 2003, 04:35 PM
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Hi - when my grandparents moved to Canada they (like most Icelandic immigrants - I think) stopped the tradition of taking the father's name and adding either son or daughter (dottir) and instead took a last name based on the valley where their farm was located (the valley is called Bardardal - the last name they took was Bardal).

It was interesting during our trip, though. We met many relatives and as far as they were concerned I was Elizabeth Viktorsdottir, and after I while I would just introduce myself that way.

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Jun 18th, 2003, 04:40 PM
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Very nice report, makes me look forward to my upcoming trip to Iceland this July!
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Jun 18th, 2003, 05:19 PM
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Day 3 Still no luggage. This has cut at least 45 minutes off the time it takes me to get ready in the morning - more time for breakfast!

While researching our trip before we left I came across a site called http://www.storytrips.com/ - the web site describes the services as "day-trips to magnificent places, historical sites, with a touch of Iceland's unique culture, and an opportunity to spend some time at local farms. Trips are tailor-made to your group's requirements and for your enjoyment. You will be accompanied by Icelandic writers, artists and actors who serve as your tour guide and storyteller during the trip. You will dine on traditional home cooked Icelandic delicacies at genuine farmsteads and welcoming homes in this fascinating land of the midnight sun."

Well - this sounded interesting. The thought of one day early in the holiday that we could spend all together with someone else driving and interpreting, sounded interesting. While we are all relatives, in some cases we'd only seen each other a handful of times as adults. I sent an e-mail asking for a proposal for our group of 10.

The owner of Story Trips (Gudrun Asmundsdottir) quickly responded with a suggested itinerary. We would be picked up at the Hotel Ork in a comfortable bus and tour the southern shore with an actor/storyteller. The price ($200 Canadian/$140 US) included transportation, a coffee break and lunch. We exchanged several e-mails regarding the itinerary, including a request to her regarding visiting my grandmother's farmstead (we have a great deal of information regarding my grandfather's side of the family, but quite little regarding my grandmother's - and we knew my grandmother was from the area around Selfoss).

Well- .Gudrun was a woman with a mission. She spent almost a month researching our family history (e-mailing for more info, etc) and finally, two days before we left announced "I have found Gudrun Tomasdottir's farm, and we will go there. (Gudrun is a very common name - like Mary!). This was very exciting - my father's face lit up when I told him!

At 10am a very nice compact bus arrived for us at the Hotel Ork. Gudrun was there to greet us and her husband Birgir was the driver. Off we went, heading east from Hveragerdi. Our first stop was at their farm - Gudrun had suggested we plant trees. Iceland was deforested, and has set out to reforest the country. We had recently experienced a couple of deaths in the family, and Gudrun's suggestion was to plant trees in their memory. Well - .this was very special.

Driving east of Selfoss we arrived at their farm. Birgir had "our" trees ready (carefully numbered and marked) and my father (Viktor) and uncle (Fridrik - aka Fred) solemnly planted them. While there are many, many moments of our visit I will treasure, this stands out. Two men - 86 and 91 years of age - who have a strong sense of being Icelandic and Canadian - planting trees in Icelandic soil for those who have passed.

Then we went into their farmhouse for "coffee". This was our first experience with "coffee" in Icelandic homes - it's almost as formal as "tea" in English homes. We had cakes, cheeses, fruits, cookies - and great coffee! It was here we first learned that Gudrun was a well known Icelandic actress (subsequently we learned that she is one of Iceland's most famous actresses - our relatives' jaws dropped when we said we had spent the day with her - she was very self effacing with us, though!). Before we left we all signed the guest book - next to the registration of "our" trees (#103 and #104).

We continued east towards Vik, stopping at two beautiful falls - Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Then lunch at a farmhouse - cream of broccoli soup, home made bread, pan fried trout caught that morning, with tomato salad and boiled potatoes. Delicious!

Gudrun kept up a constant commentary during the trip - she pointed out sites, told many, many stories (based on the Sagas), and sang Icelandic songs. After a while we all started to recognize songs we'd heard as children. And then the singing really started!

As we returned towards Hvergardi, we turned off the main road towards our grandmother's farm. Unbeknownst to us Gudrun had arranged for us to meet the current owners of the farm (who are, in fact, direct descendents of the family that had purchased the farm from my grandmother's family). We arrived at the family farm, and were welcomed into the farmhouse - Gudrun had brought champagne and enough glasses for 16. It was an amazing experience for my father and uncle to stand in the same room as their mother stood in 120 years ago, and toast her!

Then the current owners of the farm took us on a tour of the farmstead, including a cemetery that certainly holds remains of my father's family. This was our first glimpse of the strong bond between Icelanders and us - "Western Icelanders" We were so honoured for their generous welcome and they were so honoured we had come to visit.

After exchanging addresses and many hugs, we were off to the Hotel Ork. We returned at 8:30pm - 10 and 1/2 hours after the start of the tour, and, as I said, probably the most memorable day of the 2 weeks. We laughed, we cried, we sang, we ate..it was wonderful. Gudrun has become a close friend of the family- and plans to visit us in Canada next year!

If you are staying in or near Reykavik I strongly suggest engaging Gudrun for a tour.
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Jun 18th, 2003, 06:51 PM
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Thanks for the reply Another question, are you a Canadian citizen? Icelandic? Dual citizenship? I dated a girl that was born in Iceland but moved to the states when she was roughly 4 years old. She considered herself American with the exception that she still was a citizen of Iceland and merely a resident of the US(Green Card). She said she did not want to become a US citizen because she said she would have to renounce her Icelandic citizenship and may not be allowed to return to Iceland. Any truth to that?
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Jun 18th, 2003, 07:25 PM
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Elizabeth-wonderful report ! Can't wait to hear more. Iceland is on our list... hearing frequent reports of the grand people and beautiful sights resulted in moving it to the top.
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Jun 18th, 2003, 09:37 PM
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Wow! Thanks for sharing; it's a great read!
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Jun 19th, 2003, 04:17 AM
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What a wonderful report!
I shared it with my husband who has done some research on Icelandic sagas and law as part of his study of revenge-based justice.
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Jun 19th, 2003, 06:52 AM
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Thank you for this wonderful report. How special to be able to discover your roots with so many family members. Did your luggage ever show up?

Elizabeth, too
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Jun 19th, 2003, 06:58 AM
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My goodness - I didn't think this would be so long - it's almost real time! Thanks for the nice comments!

Re the question regarding citizenship - as my father was born in Canada we're Canadian citizens - it might make emigration to Iceland easier, though.

Day 4: My Luggage arrived! Now I'm smug because I have 3 days more clean clothes than anyone else

We left Hveragardi for Akureyri (where we will stay for 3 nights), with a stop near Hvammstangi to meet relatives. The instructions are somewhat obtuse - stop at the restaurant Stadarskali and "tell anyone who you are and we will come get you". Sure enough it worked - the first person we walked up to knew we were the "Western Icelanders", and shortly thereafter a distant cousin arrived to collect us.

Stopped at the family church, where my father's uncle is buried, and the family farm (Bjarg), where Grettir Asmundarson's head (an outlaw from the Grettir's Saga) is buried. Hmmm..we're visiting a lot of buried relatives! There is a fascinating monument at Bjarg with bas reliefs demonstrating events from the saga - the text is in Icelandic however.

And finally we arrive at a cousin's house - the table has been set for "Kaffi" (coffee), and is covered with delicious cakes, pastries, smoked fish and smoked lamb and there are at least 2 dozen people awaiting our arrival! The next two hours passed like a blur - a flurry of paper as we all figure out how we're related (pretty straightline as this group are descendents of my father's uncle), and then the singing started. The room was dominated by a grand piano and this branch of the family is very musical - in fact two of them were leaving the next day to perform in Norway. The singing was lovely and as we left (the leaving part took an hour!) they gave us 3 sets of 3 CDs they had produced (one set for each car) - by the end of the holiday we were practically singing along with them!

The drive from Hvammstangi to Akureyri took a couple of hours - and the scenery along Route #1 (the ringroad) was spectacular. At this point we started to appreciate how variable the Icelandic scenery is. Being from Canada, where you can drive for a day and have very little change in the surround, it was amazing to watch scenery change dramatically in 15 minutes.

Arrived at the Guesthouse Akureyri, located on the main street Hafnarstraeti. Some members of the group were initially disappointed with the Guesthouse, stemming mostly from lack of experience with "shared facilities" type of accommodations, and the absence of an elevator for the seniors (and the breakfast room was on the 4th floor). But, the staff were terrific and arranged for us all to be on the lowest floor, offered to bring breakfast to the seniors' rooms and upgraded my aunt and uncle to the one room with facilities (and, seeing as it was a bigger room, it became the bar!). While the rooms were very small, they were very cute and spotlessly clean and each had a small washbasin. All was fine.

Dinner that night at the Bautinn Inn, just down the street (across from the Hotel KEA). Good food, from a very broad menu (pasta, pizza, fish, hamburgers, lamb, steak, etc) - we actually ate there twice. Dinner (seafood pasta one night and a hamburger the other) was approximately $55.

We didn't finish dinner until almost 11pm - which was pretty standard for us the whole trip, due in part to how light it is in June. We all found our internal clocks were fooled into thinking it was much earlier so we'd all stay up quite late! Next day to Husavik.
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Jun 19th, 2003, 07:57 AM
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Day 5 - Today we drove to Husavik. A cousin of mine in Winnipeg had arranged an introduction to business associates of his who lives in Husavik and Gunnar and Adda kindly offered to take us on a tour of the area. The weather was really wet that day, so our events were all inside (we had wanted to go whale watching but it was just too wet).

We visited the Whale Centre and the Husavik Museum - in both cases Gunnar and Adda had asked the curators to take us on a tour - I highly recommend both. Lunch was at Restaurant Salka, right by the Whale Centre. Excellent seafood soup, shrimp salad and fish - about $55 for lunch.

At lunch Gunnar asked my father and uncle if they would mind being interviewed and photographed for the local paper - well, of course they didn't mind at all and in about 2 minutes the reporter appeared! My grandfather was from the Husavik area and the reporter was quite fascinated with the "invasion" of 10 Western Icelanders. We hope to receive copies of the newspaper shortly.

And then Gunnar had another surprise - more relatives! About 6 months ago we had written as many relatives as we knew, but hadn't heard back from one group. Gunnar had mentioned to various locals that we were coming, and one lady asked many questions about us as she was sure we must be related - and she was right (they had changed addresses and our letter had never reached them). So, we visited with them in their store (a very nice tourist store on the corner of the road leading up to the museum - please excuse that bit of advertising!)

As we were leaving Gunnar and Adda had lovely gifts for us - a Canadian/Icelandic pin and 2 CDs of Icelandic Folk Songs - yes! More music for the car.

Regarding gifts - we had debated taking a few gifts for our relatives but in the end didn't. At first I regretted that (as we were given gifts everywhere we went) but frankly we saw so many people (in total over 60) we couldn't possibly have taken something for everyone. So we're having pictures framed and we'll send those as after the fact thank yous. We did, however, start taking bottles of wine with us and that was just fine - the universal gift worked!

Back to Akureyri - tomorrow was a big day - the visit to my Grandfather's farm Svartarkot, in the valley Bardardal, the origin of my father's last name.
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Jun 19th, 2003, 08:42 AM
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Day 6: Gunnar knows the present owners of my Grandfather's farm (Svartarkot) and had kindly arranged with them for us to visit the farm. During our lunch at Husavik he gave me the owners names and directions, etc. A few of us kicked around some ideas as to what time we might go....all the while Gunnar was very quiet. Finally I asked him if there was a time that he would suggest - and he quickly said "noon". Well, we chewed that around a bit, trying to figure out how to fit lunch in, and Gunnar was quiet, again. When there was a moment of silence (a rare occurrence with the 10 of us!) he said "noon" again. Ahhhh...we got it - they wanted to surprise us with lunch.

Svartarkot is about 90 minutes from Akureyri - at the end of a river valley. We stopped many times along the way to take pictures of all of us next to road signs ("Wilkommen a Bardardal!" - no doubt the locals are still wondering why so many people were taking pictures of that sign!). When we arrived at Svartarkot (it's literally the end of the road) there was a large gate, with a fish and the name of the farm in lovely ironwork. Victor and Fridrik opened the gate, again with many cameras flashing.

We have a very old pencil drawing of the farm, and as we rounded the corner the view was identical to the drawing, the farm house, the river and the lake - more pictures!

It's hard to adequately describe how warm a welcome we received - here we were, perfect strangers wanting to traipse around their property (all the while calling it "our" farm!) at the absolute busiest time of the year (they're sheep farmers - baby lambs were everywhere needing attention).

The owners of the farm and their two daughters were lovely - that morning they caught 42 lake trout for our lunch, which was absolutely delicious - actually it was the best meal I had in Iceland. The fish was prepared two ways - one oven poached in milk and fresh chives and the other pan fried with tons of butter. Then...out came the smoked trout and smoked lamb - in addition to sheep farming they have a smokehouse on the property and sell over a thousand of kilos of smoked fish and lamb to local hotels and restaurants. I love smoked fish and this was the best I have ever had.

The owners do not speak English but their daughters do and we had lively conversations with their help. Also, by this time my father's Icelandic was quite remarkable and he was doing fine on his own.

We then took a tour of "our" farm - the first thing I did was head straight for the smokehouse - a sod roofed log building next to the lake. It was positively mediaeval - about 6 inches of soot coated every surface and a huge grill on the floor. He smokes about 300 kilos of fish at a time by hanging the fish in the rafters for about 5 days. I stunk of smoke for a day, but it was worth it!

They have 400 sheep so we had a tour of the barn and held the new lambs - an odour that also clings! For the first time ever I had to check that box on the customs form "Have you been on a farm" - I was sure the smell of my clothes would readily tell that tale!

One other building next to the river by the lake is a small A-Frame cottage with a nice deck, etc. We assumed it was where one of the daughters lived, but in fact it's a cottage they rent to fly fisherman - you can practically fish from the deck. Fly fishing is very popular in Iceland - and they rent the cottage to people from all over the world. If anyone is interested I'd be happy to give you their e-mail address.

It was well after 4pm when we left - after receiving a CD (!) of songs performed by the daughters - very lovely. My dad was quite quiet on the drive back - it was a very emotional visit for him.

On our way back to Akureyri we stopped at the lovely waterfall Godafoss - we had planned an afternoon visit to Lake Myvatn but it was very late at that point and raining very hard. Next time!

Dinner that night was at Vita e Bella - an Italian restaurant in the same building as the Bautinn Inn. This was a splurge night - we were so enthusiastic after our day we treated ourselves to a really delicious Italian dinner and two glasses of wine! The pasta dishes were excellent (pasta is made on the premises) and a half portion is ample. Dinner was $90.
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Jun 19th, 2003, 09:46 AM
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Day 7: This morning everyone shopped in Akureyri - "The Viking" store on the main street right next to the Guesthouse has good prices on standard tourist items.

Lunch was at the Café 3 doors down from the Guesthouse towards the Bautinn Restaurant (sorry - can't remember the name) - the food (quiche, sandwiches) was delicious and quite reasonable - lunch $35. They also have a computer at the café - it's about $5 for 15 minutes.

Otherwise, today was meant to be a driving day - our next destination was the West Fjords, but that was too long a drive for one day. We stopped at the Icelandic North American Emigration Centre in Hofsos - very interesting displays and excellent resources for tracing genealogy, if you have time to stay there.

We stayed at the hotel at Stadarskali (across the street from the restaurant). It's actually a really nice hotel in the middle of nowhere. Dinner at the restaurant was fun - the grill chef is from Minnesota so he joined us when his shift was over...then the chef joined us...then 4 of us went across the street to the chef's house...then we toasted each other with Scotch...then the chef gave my father a painting...just another typical Icelandic welcome!

(Dragging the painting around Iceland for the next week was less than fun, though!)
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Jun 19th, 2003, 09:54 AM
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Day 8: Remember my comment earlier about gravel roads, and how they were a piece of cake? - well we got our comeuppance today. We knew we had a long, tough drive to Isafjordur so we were on the road by 9:00am. Once we left Route #1 (Ring Road) the road turned to single lane and gravel - not bad other than some potholes in places and steep drop offs without guardrails in others. And the scenery was incredible - in places we were right by the water, then we'd climb, climb, climb through cloud to the top of the mountain - which was perfectly flat with no vegetation (looked like the surface of the moon!), then down again. It was breathtaking.

We stopped at Holmavik for lunch - a charming fishing village with a terrific restaurant - Café Riis. I had a chicken salad that was exceptional (lettuce!!!), the mushroom soup was excellent and the open faced shrimp sandwich reminded you what shrimp is supposed to taste like. Lunch was $55 (no beer, though - I was driving!)

From Holmavik to Isafjordur is 212 kilometres - the waitress had said the drive would take about 2 hours. Not bad, we thought.

Hah....5 hours later we pulled into Hotel Isafjordur, exhausted. We traversed 5 fjords - staying at sea level pretty much the whole time - if you hold out your hand and imagine "driving around" your thumb and all 4 fingers, that's what we did. The road was heavily potholed, keeping the speed down around 45km/hour, but it was 5 kilometres of construction that slowed us down to barely 20km/hour.

The road graders had been through and they had just finished laying the first bed for the road - giant rocks, nay, boulders! The Gravel hadn't been laid yet - we became nostalgic for a gravel road! We could barely sustain 20km/hour - and were being thrown from side to side and couldn't talk, because your voice warbled so badly you couldn't be understood. I was looking in the rear view mirror at my 91 year old father in the back seat, and in the car behind were my aunt and uncle - she having just had back surgery - but there was nothing we could do other than keep going. I figured the only thing that was stopping my father from saying "why the h*** have you brought me here" was the fact that he couldn't speak!

We finally arrived at Sudavik - and even though Isafjordur is only about 30km more - on paved roads (!) - if you drive from Holmavik to Isafjordur you will definitely stop at Sudavik as it is the FIRST bathroom break in 4.5 hours! Out popped all the seniors from the cars - laughing at the experience, asking if anyone minded if we took a short rest here, maybe have a coffee! They were amazing - not one word of complaint - just an amazing sense of adventure!

Actually, it's a very cute little café in Sudavik - it had just opened the week before. I don?t know the name but you literally cannot miss it - it's right by the gas station. They serve sandwiches and light food and every other weekend a more formal dinner. We chatted with the manager (no one was in a big hurry to get back in the cars!) who had just arrived from Selfoss (having learned his trade in his family restaurant Menam - yes, the restaurant we ate at our first night in Iceland!).

We asked him for suggestions for restaurants in Isafjordur - we knew our hotel had a restaurant but it's very expensive. His first comment was to avoid "Pizza 67" (a chain of Pizza/pasta restaurants that is fairly ubiquitous around Iceland) and suggested "Thai Koon". Off we went.

As we rounded the corner into Isafjordur there wasn't a cloud in the sky, brightly coloured fishing boats were coming in for the day, giant stands of tall red tulips were everywhere and the mountains were snow capped all around. It was beautiful - what drive?

Checked into the Hotel Isafjordur - very nice view of the fjord from our rooms and very helpful staff. Drinks in Fred's room (which never lost its status as the "bar"?) and then to Thai Koon.

It's in a little mall on the main street Hafnarstraeti. It's self serve - they have 4 hot meat dishes, rice, noodles and WONDERFUL fried shrimp - your choice of two meats plus rice or noodles. A delightful Thai woman and her Icelandic husband own it. And it wins the best bargain award - dinner was $24 with a Grolsch beer!

I should have mentioned before that I'm intentionally going into a lot of detail regarding restaurants as I had a lot of trouble finding restaurant suggestions for Iceland - hopefully these suggestions will help others.
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Jun 19th, 2003, 12:16 PM
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Awesome trip report! More!! More!!
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Jun 19th, 2003, 02:07 PM
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I am officially green with envy. I want Icelandic roots! (It's my spiritual "home", but the only ancestral connection might be the Vikings that went to Russia--kinda far back to explore the connections.)

What a wonderful trip and trip report!
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Jun 19th, 2003, 03:45 PM
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Day 9: Good grief - I have to pick up the pace a bit.

Woke up early the next morning and went for a walk around Isafjordur - the light was perfect and I got several lovely photographs. We added it up and as a group took over 2,000 photographs. We're going to upload all of them to an online photo album so we can swap best shots.

I had done a fair bit of research about the West Fjords and Isafjordur - it seemed that the town, while lovely, didn't have a lot to see especially because that day was a national holiday and none of the shops or the Maritime Museum would be open. But there were several other things to do - visit the next town (Bolungarvik), or see the spectacular falls called Dynjandi (which I had already dismissed as it was at least an hour and a half drive and we had done enough driving the day before) or - of greatest interest - take a boat tour to see birds, most especially puffins! We were all puffin crazy, but to date, no puffins.

The hotel had several pieces of literature regarding boat tours - but alas it appeared we were too early (that?s something to consider for planning purposes - many tourist services don?t start until mid June - we ran into that a couple of times). I walked over to the Tourist Information/Boat Tours office on the off chance someone was there. The door was locked but I knocked on it and out popped this very nice young man (Gylfi) who looked at me and said ?I?ll bring the bikes right out? and then disappeared before I could say anything.

True to his word, he returned with two bikes. I?m sure the look on my face said it all. ?You?re not here to pick up bikes?? he asked. No, I?d like to take a boat tour. He had a couple of options (mostly local ferries) that didn?t work because they left in 10 minutes and everyone was back at the hotel having breakfast. The regular boat tours didn?t start until the next day, he said. I told him I was part of a group of 10 and he said - wait here. Long story short ? he came back and said if I could guarantee 6 people the company would do a special tour to the Island of Vigur for us (Leaving at 2pm for 3.5 hours for $75 including Kaffi) - he gave me his cell phone and said he needed to know within a half hour. Back to the hotel I went - our group was still having a leisurely breakfast and I was a bit of a whirling dervish as the decision had to be made. 8 people agreed and we were on. The absolute guarantee of seeing puffins clinched it for most!

At that point it was still only 10am - so several of us drove to Bolungarvik and walked around the outdoor Maritime Museum (very neat, but the buildings weren?t open due to the holiday) and then back for a quick pylsur (hot dog) and over to the boat. Kiddi, the owner of the company (West Tours - http://www.vesturferdir.is/skodaferd...=25&lang=enska ) was delightful, and the boat was very comfortable, accommodating 25 inside in comfortable warm seating, or about 10 on the open back deck which, while cooler, offered a magnificent view of the fjords as we made our way over to Vigur (it also had a great view of the road we came in on - I have to admit we laughed as we watched vehicles wend their way over the horrible 5km stretch!)

Vigur is approximately 2 kilometres long and is the home to 11 family members. There are 3,500 eider duck nests on the island - eider down is their primary source of income. As luck would have it we were that at the peak eider harvest season (I?m not sure that's how they describe it!) and we had a fascinating introduction to eider. Plus - 80,000 puffins call the island home! Within minutes of stepping off the boat we saw about 2 dozen puffins up close - apparently that's not common as they're usually seen on water or entering and leaving their nests on walls. Success! And the eider ducks are very nonplussed about people - we were able to come quite close while they were on their nests.

My dad, uncle and aunt (Viktor, Fridrik and Dorothy) elected not to hike the length of the island (my dad said - I can do it - it's only 600 metres each way. I said, but dad that?s over a kilometer round trip - Hell, he said, I can't do that! Optics!). Before we booked the tour they had assured me there was plenty to do if you didn't tour the island so off they went to the farmhouse.

The rest of us walked the length of the island and Kiddi gave us a wonderful overview of eider farming and life in the West Fjords. They produce 60 kilos of eider a season, and then produce several finished products on the Island, mostly quilts and pillows. Hey, I thought, I could bring back an eider down quilt! They don't actually sell any of the finished products on the island (they're all shipped out) but Kiddi said she would ask and that it would probably be less expensive to buy it directly on the Island, rather than in Reykavik. She returned with the information that I could order a one kilo eider down quilt for $1,600.00. Apparently I have NO idea how much eider down quilts are! I bought a postcard.

We returned to the farmhouse, where Vic, Fred and Dorothy were having a lovely time with the residents. Kaffi in the dining room was lovely and then a nice 40 minute boat ride and we were back in town.

I highly recommend this tour - they also do an evening version with dinner.

That night we decided it was time to splurge again for dinner - we ate in the Hotel dining room and it was exceptional. The daily special was lobster bisque and cod with pepper sauce. It was lovely. With a half litre of wine it was $75.

We had another long travel day the next day - heading south to catch a ferry at 12:30pm for the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We had varying estimates of how long the drive would take - so we took the most pessimistic (after our "oh, the drive to Isafjordur will only take 2 hours" yet it took 5!) That meant leaving at 7am. The hotel very kindly offered to serve us breakfast at 6am - an hour and a half before the usual time.

Gee..looking back I've really tightened this up, haven't I
Elizabeth_S is online now  
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Jun 19th, 2003, 04:08 PM
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Don't leave out a single word! It is a brilliant trip report.
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