Iceland: A Trip around the Ring Road

In spring 2005 I visited Iceland for the first time. I won an auction for two tickets and two nights at the IcelandAir flagship hotel for $1000 from the Cal Alumni Assoc. Being naturally crazy, I dragged a friend to Iceland for a week at the end of April.

Then, in August 2007, I returned back to Iceland, this time to study Icelandic in the small city of Isafjordur. Icelandic? Yes, traveled to the tiny town to learn a bit more about the Nordic peoples.

Iceland is an adorable Nordic nation where the Norse gods and their Eddas originated. I love reading about the history of the country because the Norse language formed here as well as the pagan Norse religion. A must read for those interested in Icelandic history are the Poetic and Prose Eddas.

This post is for traveling in Iceland. I drove around the Ring Road, Route 1, and had the opportunity to see most of the major landmarks in the country. This article is a work in progress and I will keep adding more information to it. If you have photos or favorites places to share, please write a comment below.

Iceland is my favorite country and everyone has to visit the country. Join the Facebook group called Iceland and give the little place up north some love.

Reykjavik
The capital of Iceland, population 119,000. The photo below is the view from the largest church, Hallgrímskirkja.
Reykjavik city

Sólfar – The Sun Voyager
Located on the river front near downtown Reykjavik.
Sólfar - The Sun Voyager, Reykjavik

Þingvellir
Home of the world’s first parliament founded in 930AD.
Þingvellir -Alþing

Gullfoss and Geysir
Foss means waterfall in Icelandic. Gullfoss and Geysir are near Þingvellir (about 30-45 minutes away) and are beautiful places. While not the largest waterfall, Gullfoss is spectacular. Geysir is the name for several geysers located together. One of them erupts every 10 minutes or so.
geysir

Gullfoss - Iceland

Ísafjörður
This little city of 4000 is the capital of the West Fjords. Isafjordur is a cute, little city and taking photos in Isafjordur was amazing.
Isafjordur Iceland

Bolungarvik
Located about 10km away from Ísafjörður. There is a great Viking tour (it was organized through our class) in Bolungarvik. Best way is by car or bike, buses seldom pass by.
Bolungarvik, Iceland

Flateyri
Another small city in the West Fjords, about 20km away.
Near Flateyri

Vigur Island
An island less than an hour’s boat ride away from Isafjordur. A beautiful island with many species of birds, including the eider ducks who produce gorgeous down feathers.
Vigur Island

Akureyri
Largest northern city of Iceland at 17,000.
akureyri

Húsavík
husavik

Myvatn
Near Lake Myvatn, Iceland

Hverfjall
myvatn

Dettifoss
Europe’s largest waterfall located east of Mývatn. The waterfall is normally closed in the winter season.
Dettifoss
Courtesy of Dbrim

Jökulsarlon
One of my favorites places in Iceland, this glacier lake is a must see after visiting Skaftafell National Park.
jokulsarlon

A more panoramic photo of the glacier lake
Jokulsarlon

Skaftafell National Park
Another view of a glacier and a mountain

Vík
Church overlooking Vik

Skogafoss
Skogafoss


Vestmannaeyjar

Three Small Islands
From LittleFrank

Selfoss
A small city outside of Reykjavik. There’s a wonderful fish restaurant on the water called Fjöruborðið (translation from Icelandic: At the Seashore). The restaurant is 20-30min away from Selfoss and is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
A set of crosses from people who died from car accidents.
Field of Crosses, Iceland

Bláa Lónið – Blue Lagoon
One of the world’s most famous spa and lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is close to the Reykjavik Airport so many people stop there at the beginning or the end of their trip. There are also buses that pass through the Lagoon and into Reykjavik or the Keflavik Airport.
Blue Lagoon

Keflavik
The Reykjavik International Airport is located in this tiny city.

Why KLM is [maybe] the Worst Airline

Update: 06/27/2009 I told my whole story to our friend Marcus at KLM and he escalated the letter to someone else. Let’s see what happens. Nothing happened. What a surprise, no one from KLM bothered to reply back.
Update again: While I think KLM is stupid beyond belief, I still need to fly them. They’re my gateway airline into continental Europe and into the US and Asia. I just hope they are not always this stupid. And as I am a loyal fool to Delta… I have to stick with KLM. Well maybe I can do Air France too.

I have to rant because at this point there is no where else to go. I hope that some idiot from KLM public relations or customer service sees this post and understands how upset I am.

A lot of readers here also travel so post your stories about KLM, NWA (Northwest Airlines), SAS, or anyone else that gave you terrible service.

I flew from Stockholm to India this past month with KLM and NWA. Unfortunately for Stockholm, there are not very appealing airline options to fly into continental europe and continue to Asia. There’s SAS (THE worst airline since you have to pay for water), KLM, and Air France. My post is about the dismal service, communicate, and receive any recourse for stupid service.

So, the list of complaints:
1) Arlanda Stockholm Airport; check in with KLM. I check in with KLM, only to find out my hand luggage bag is 1/4 inch (about 1/2 centimeter) TOO big to take on board. I’m sorry the wheel was sticking out of that straight-jacket baggage checker! Now, the agent at the KLM counter is on my case to lighten out my bag. I pull out as much as possible, laptop, blanket, snacks, etc. and throw the bag on the belt.

The suitcase and this “hand bag” now weigh 23kg; of course she has to lecture me and tell me I have to pay for the overweight. After a few minutes of begging she lets me go with those 3kgs for free. OMG!
Then, the KLM counter lady gives me a lecture that I have no right to stand in the First Class/Business Class/ Elite Plus line. Wait! I am in Delta Elite Plus member and your overheard counter image has the Skyteam logo. You don’t specify that is for KLM only. But I am wrong, Delta Platinum is in fact not part of the Skyteam like that. Great, so the Skyteam alliance is useless then.

2) Get on the plane to go from ARN-AMS. Flight is delayed. 20 minutes. 30 minutes. 40 minutes. 1 hour. Yay! We take off over an hour late. Arrive in AMS a little bit before 9AM.

3) Make it onto the NWA airlines bound to BOM. Door closes. Wait, we’re not moving; no pushback. We sit. Sit some more. 20 minutes pass. Captain gets on the intercom that we have auxiliary power switch problems so we have to hang tight. Yep, another hour goes by before we leave the gate.

4) Arrive at the Mumbai Airport. My name, along with a dozen others are called on the loudspeaker. Not a good sign. There’s no sign of our baggage. I file PIR (Property Irregularity Report) with KLM. KLM gives me a crappy 25 Euro discount on the flight I purchase. Yippee! After filing lots of paperwork, dealing with Indian customs to have my bags cleared by the airline, I head home.

5) Two days later and some shopping to run around for underwear and tops and bottoms, I get my bags. But, but, the front pouch of my handbag is empty. Did someone steal stuff? Where are my personal business cards? Where is my ipod? Where is my headphone? And the little junk in the front pouch? Gone. All gone.

I file a complaint with the KLM office in Mumbai. They give me a case number that I can use to file the stolen items when I return back to my country of residency, Sweden. Fine. I wait.

6)
Get back to Sweden. The useless counter in baggage claim that supports KLM and all those airlines with baggage issues, is well, useless. I get a phone number to call in Sweden, but as usual in a socialist country, no one works on the weekend.

7) Sunday, I email KLM directly (only took a couple weeks since their website is the most horribly built thing since msn.com) with all the details of the baggage situation, case number, etc.

Monday, a response. At least someone is fast to read and respond. Thank god.
Here is the letter from KLM Customer Service:

Thank you for your e-mail dated 3 May 2009 regarding your recent journey with KLM and Northwest Airlines. KLM takes precautions to make sure that passenger baggage is loaded and off-loaded with the greatest care. We regret that even with these precautions some items were missing from your luggage. Please accept our most sincere apologies for any inconvenience or distress this irregularity in our service may have caused you.

In instances such as these, we would recommend passengers to submit a claim to their travel insurance for consideration since the liability of airlines is limited. This letter may be used as proof for your insurance company that you reported the loss at our company.

Should you not have claimed on your own insurance and wish instead to claim directly on KLM, then you are more than entitled to do so, although KLM’s liability, like that of all other signatory
airlines, is limited to terms set out in the Montreal Convention. Unfortunately we cannot offer you any compensation for the missing i-pod as according to our Conditions of Contract, we do not accept liability for pilferage of money, jewellery, electronic and photographic equipment, precious metals or other valuables. For the latter we refer you to the General Conditions of Carriage article 8.6.d, based upon the Montreal Conventions.

To enable us to handle the remainder of your claim promptly and efficiently, we kindly request you to provide us with the following:

*Specification and/or receipts of the missing cards and the first needs items purchsed.

*Bank information [more details he writes]

Once again, we would like to offer our apologies for any inconvenience or distress the missing items from your luggage may have caused you.

Yours sincerely,

Marcus Johnstone-McKinney
KLM/NWA Customer Care North Europe
P.O. Box 69370
1060CK Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: 08 587 99 747
Fax: +31 20 588 8250

Ohh, why thank you but I highly doubt you give a rat’s ass.

Please accept our most sincere apologies for any inconvenience or distress this irregularity in our service may have caused you.

There’s the legal bullshit we are all waiting for:

Unfortunately we cannot offer you any compensation for the missing i-pod as according to our Conditions of Contract

So why the hell do I have case number for stolen items I cannot claim? I don’t know. And why didn’t anyone at the Mumbai KLM Customer Service office tell me that electronic goods will not be covered? Lack of communication.

Where do I go from here? Not sure. Having lost more than 2500SEK due to stolen items, spent over 1000SEK having to buy new clothes, and had the lack of service from KLM, I don’t know. Why should I care about poor little airlines’ problems with fuel issues if they have no responsibility to give customer service and to not rip people off? Why do you airlines think customers hate you because you charge us for ever extra pound on board, or make us buy water, snacks and pillows on flights? Are we just cattle?

Thank you KLM for making me have the worst trip ever. And it is nice to know that Delta Platinum Elite Plus fliers can be treated like shit by the airlines in their own Skyteam network.

I have created a post just for KLM Baggage Information. Please also check it out if you have questions about filing baggage complaints or the paperwork required to file a complaint. Note though, I cannot help you as I don’t work for KLM; don’t me to call you!

Taking Risks

It is interesting how every person decides what risks to take and how far to go; while at the same time, taking no risks in certain parts of their life.

Case in point:
My friend, LO, told me on the phone: Girl, you are insane. You’ll drive a car around Iceland by yourself, travel the world by yourself, but you won’t tell a man you like him.
Me: uhhh…that’s correct.
LO: Romance is not your life you know. If it falls apart, you don’t.
Me: I think I would rather fall off a fjord than be heartbroken, but you have a point.
LO: You are nuts.

That’s me…I rather drive the Ring Road at 3AM than tell someone I like them. I suppose by saying such words, I expose my soul. I’m such a highly independent person that those three little words (I like you) means I am setting myself up for failure. Really big failure. I rather have my car breakdown or end up 200 miles away from my destination than say such words.

Once of these days, I’ll take a risk and tell a dude I like him. Or maybe run off to another country instead. =)

[On a ridiculous Zodiac note: Maybe that is the Sagittarian in me. We travel, we are adventurous, we are dominant and intelligent, and yet we are scared of commitment. But once captured, we are loyal creatures…]

What we do in Sweden during the winter

The very kind gentleman I was staying with explained what the Swedes do doing the winter. I thought, that I and everyone else on Earth already knew of Swedish winter pastimes. Dead wrong we were.

What do the Swedes “do” in the winter season to pass time? Invent things. Yes, build stuff. What do they build? Who knows… an upgraded cheese slicer? spiffier bikes?

As he explained some of the little widgets and such he and his friends built to pass time, I couldn’t help but smile. Seriously, smile. He was explaining everything in a cute, innocent manner though all I could think of, “You build things? Sure you are not hiding the truth? You sure that not after building something, you get tanked at the bar and…?”

Or maybe, “building things” is an analogy to what the rest of us believe the Swedes do during the winter.

Maybe I should stay there during the winter and see what these Swedes are really up to…

Last Days in Isafjordur

To think by this time next week I will be in the US living the mundane life is depressing. I cannot fathom leaving Iceland and returning to the US.

But first, my adventures of the last 24 hours.

I spent Thursday night at Langi Mangi for the Pop Quiz contest. Langi Mangi is the local internet cafe/bar, basically one of the only happening places in the city. So there I was, the tourist, the only Indian (or Asian/other person), hanging out with the locals, drinking beer and answering ridiculous questions about the Nordic countries. Unfortunately RF and I got there late and only heard the last two questions (of which we corrected answered and understood one). RF eventually left and I stayed with the locals and discussed politics, facebook, puppets, and possibly other ridiculous things. Of course, these people were so tall I was sitting in the land of the giants. And not just tall, but gorgeous; the Icelanders are beautiful people.

On Friday the class went to the local fish restaurant (same place as the one on Tuesday) and we ate and drank and ate some more. Of course, it helped that our administration was smashed as well by the end and was laughing so hard I thought he would fall into the ocean. I also visited my friend (along with LO) at the tourist office and we partook of Brennivin. Truly a wonderful time to be completely smashed and walking around town.

In the end, I passed out on the children’s bean bag. There is proof somewhere on Facebook of that…

Tjoruhusid: Isafjordur’s Amazing Fish Restaurant

We finally visited the local Icelandic fish restaurant, Tjöruhúsið. Local meaning, a log cabin, a tiny kitchen, and the husband cooking fish on a moving stove. There were three choices: fish soup, catfish, and a type of cod. We choose all of them and then waited.
Menu at Tjoruhusid

We waited and waited; as the air filled with fish, the time passed slower and slower. Eventually, we received some fresh bread and a stick of butter (literally a square block) to hold us down from clamoring like cats. 30 minutes later and a massive porcelain bowl appeared at the table. It was fish soup. The soup was creamy but not too think and held morsels of white fish that melts in the mouth.
Delicious Fish

Another 30 minutes later, our professor plops down at the table and we partake of more beer while waiting for the main plats. They show up… in large ironclad pans. One pan is filled with cod cooked in a creamy, bechemal type sauce. Adorned with grapes, salad greens (the only time I will be able to forage in Iceland), sliced tomatoes, and lemons, the dish is fit for the aristocracy. Or maybe, just the local fisher families of the WestFjords.

Viking Poison Strikes: Icelandic Brennivin

It started with innocuous questions about the cuisine. Two minutes later, the rather good looking Icelander came back from the kitchen with a small frozen jar filled with white chunks. He then searches the closet and pulls an empty bottle of schnapps, then finds a unopened one stashed in a brown paper bag. What do these employees do to warrant a few bottles of liquor in the closet?

Doesn’t matter…the fun was about to start.

Three small shot glasses were laid out and filled with the schnapps. My friend, the Icelander, and I took the toothpicks and each picked the smallest white block of meat from the jar.

And then we ate. The putrid, slimy, chewy piece fought hard to no be dissolved in my mouth. I turned it to pulp after vigorous chewing and chased it with the schnapps. Nauseated, dizzy, and wholly disgusted, it was over in a couple minutes yet the aftertaste super glued itself to my teeth, gums, tongue, and even my lips.

That was Brennivín, Icelandic schnapps – known as svarti dauði (“black death”)…and hakarlputrified shark meat

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brenniv%C3%ADn

Isafjordur: A buccolic city in the West Fjords

Icelandic Flag

Isafjordur, Iceland…a tiny tiny town.

4000 people, one post office, two gas stations, two bakeries. Yet, amazing to live in the fjords. Tall, unwavering, impressive mountains carved in zig-zags. Located near the Arctic circle (66.1N instead of 66.5N), it is good enough to be the Arctic.

If you are visiting Iceland or thinking about visiting Iceland, then check out the Iceland: A Trip Around the Ring Road Guide. Already going to Isafjordur? This is your guide then. =)

History of Isafjordur
Written in Icelandic as Ísafjörður, with some very cool nordic characters not seen in the Latin language system.
Ísafjörður is the largest town in the Westfjards (Vestfirðir) region. It was formed in the 9th century and became a major port city by the 16th century.

In 1786, the King of Denmark (Iceland was a Danish colony) granted Isafjordur municipal status. He also abolished the Danish trade monopoly.

From the mid 1800s to late 1900s, Isafjordur exploded in population and became the center of the fishing industry. It was the city’s golden era of prosperity. Iceland’s largest saltfish exporter, Ásgeirsverslun, hailed from the city. Motorized boats for fishing and freights enabled the town to expand into shrimp. Post World War II, the invention of quick-freezing created another golden era for Isafjordur. Hundreds of packing plants sprouted up in the city and every local was connected to the industry.

But Isafjordur’s fishing success would not last forever. A worldwide economic recession in the 1980s paralyzed the industry. But the Icelandic strength and will power would not allow the industry to perish, and it became leaner, smaller, and still competitive. The fishing industry changed its focus to a fleet of small boats rather than the big trawlers of the 1970s and early 1980s. High-tech industries and research, based on the knowledge and tradition of the fisheries developed, creating more opportunity for the town’s citizens.
Iceland's Independence from Denmark
And of course, the town is on the map with numerous tourist opportunities. Isafjordur also hosts a small university that has its strengths in the Icelandic Summer Course program and graduate studies programs. As I’m here studying there, I’ll give a review of the program soon. Check out beautiful photos of Isafjordur; they should convince anyone to visit.

Food
Let’s face it, there are not many options in the city but there are still great spots.

Langi Mangi
Café, bar/pub in central Ísafjörður. Lunch menu, soup of the day, sandwiches, burgers, pitas. Wireless connection, live music. Licensed.
Open Mon-Wed: 11:00-23:00, Thur: 11:00-01:00, Fri: 11:00-03:00, Sat: 12:00-03:00, Sun: 13:00-23:00.
Web site: http://www.langimangi.is/ – e-mail: langimangi@langimangi.is
Address: Adalstraeti 22, Isafjordur. Tel: (+354) 456 3022.

Tjoruhusid

Located next to the Isafjordur Maritime Museum at the waterfront. The restaurant is owned by a quirky couple but they server amazing Icelandic fish dishes. The building is also one of the oldest in the city. Specialize in fresh catches of fish and fish soups.
Open daily during the summer 11:00 – 22:00.
Address: Nedstikaupstadur, Isafjordur. Tel: (+354) 456 4419.

Thai Koon
A Thai-restaurant next to the grocery store in the little mini-mall. Great price for a lot of food.
Hours: Mon-Sat: 11:30-21:00, Sun: 17:00-21:00
Address: Hafnarstraeti 9-13, Isafjordur. Tel: (+354) 456 0123


Fernando’s

Restaurant in central Isafjordur Ísafjörður with American and Italian menu. Lunch buffet at 11:30-13:30
Open: Sun-Wed: 11:30-22:00, Thur-Sat: 11:30-00:00
Web site: http://www.fernandos.is
Address: Austurvegur 1, Isafjordur. Tel: (+354) 456 5001.

Bakarinn
Has tasty cakes, pastries, pizzas, and soups.
Hours: weekdays 07:30-18:00. Closed Saturdays. Sundays 09:00-17:30.
Address: Hafnarstraeti 14, Isafjordur. Tel: (+354) 456 4770, (+354) 456 4771, fax: (+354) 456 5065

Gamla bakarid
One of Iceland’s most famous bakeries with tons of breads and pastries. You can even find bagels there.
Hours: weekdays 07:00-18:00, Saturdays 07:00-16:00.
Tel: (+354) 456 3226, Fax: (+354) 456 5026
Address: Adalstraeti 24, Isafjordur

Hamraborg

A very “American fast food” kind of place. Pizzas, hamburgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, etc. Some groceries (ie. milk and bread) and DVD rentals are available. Oh, they also have plenty of candy (godis).
Hours: Everyday 09:00-23:30
Tel: (+354) 456 3166
Address: Hafnarstraeti 7, Isafjordur

Kaffi Edinborg

Brand new café and restaurant in the Edinborg culture house, where the Tourist Information centre is also located. Light meals all day every day, brunch on weekends.
Open: weekdays 11:00-01:00, weekends 11:00-03:00.
e-mail: kaffiedinborg@simnet.is.
Address: Adalstraeti 7, Isafjordur. Tel: (+354) 456 4400.

N1
Petrol station, fast food, groceries.
Open: work days: 07.30-23.30, weekends: 08.30-23.30.
Address: Hafnarstraeti 21, Isafjordur. Tel.: (+354) 456 3574

Isafjordur Hotels and Hostels

Sightseeing in Isafjordur

First Days in Isafjordur

What I find ironic is that to enter Iceland via Keflavik airport, one must go through security. To travel domestically, via the Reykjavik airport, the security screens are not present.  No checks, no nothing.  Brings us back to the good old days. :)

The sun completely sets (or I will say the sky goes black) at 00h50 and rises 04h30.  Great no?!  For all the strangeness, I do love this country.

Monday, 20th August.

First day of class. Went very well and I will definitely learn a lot or hopefully enough of the language to travel and converse with people.

Komdu Saell, Hello in Icelandic!

Bonjour!
…wait, wrong language… Ni hao!
damn, still wrong…

Komdu saell!
let’s hope this is right ;)

I have finally arrived to Isafjordur…a town that literally can be tucked away in Memorial Stadium and the parking lot. ;) It is beautiful here: the massive fjords, dangling remnants of snow, the Arctic Ocean (maybe North Atlantic) and the colorful houses littering the landscape.

I have plenty to post so do check out the blog and flickr for tales, sagas, and of course, photos.

http://flickr.com/photos/blacksapphire/

It’s been 32 hours of traveling, 6 airports, 1 bus station, and 3 taxis. time for bed (i know at noon).