Monday, 19 December 2016

Grimsey Island at the end of the earth

Grimsey is a small Icelandic island about five km2 and situated 41 kilometers north of Iceland. The island is experiencing growing popularity because the Arctic Circle passes through it, and many travelers come for that reason.

Grimsey Island at the end of the earth

Grimsey is inhabited since the Vikings settled in Iceland, and the story goes that the name of the island links to the first man named Grímur who discovered it; he most likely came from Norway. The first written mention of Grimsey is in the saga Heimskringla, dating back to 1024; the tale tells that King Ólafur of Norway asked the people of Grimsey for ownership of the island in exchange for his friendship, but proud and independent Icelanders, reluctant to share Ólafur's idea refused his proposal. 

Grimsey is well-known for its natural resources and rich fishing banks, and Iceland rely on these resources for the local people, not on the Norwegian king! When Christianity arrived in Iceland, the island became the property of the monks, who requested rent from the dried-fish farmers in exchange for land use.

Grimsey Island at the end of the earth


In the eighteenth century, many men died at sea or from diseases such as pneumonia, and this led to the belief that the island's population would eventually disappear. But it did not happen, and nearly 100 Grímseyingar (robust and healthy!) now live on Grímsey. In 2009, the island became a town in the municipality of Akureyri.

Grimsey is the northernmost point of Iceland at the 66th degrees North: 66 ° 33'N 18 ° 01'W. It is an island with no trees, where the harsh climate sculpts vegetation. The upside is that it is very rich in bird species and has one of the largest puffin colonies in Iceland. From time to time, a polar bear gets stranded on Grimsey -this happened in 1969. Nowadays, you can admire this beautiful animal at the museum in Húsavík. If you happen to stay on Grimsey, the rich Arctic ocean around the island is a place where one can view seals, whales, and other mammals.

The church in Grímsey was built in 1867 from the driftwood that got washed up by the Arctic Ocean and ran aground on its shores. There is also a school which educates children until the fourth grade, but after that, a young person should go to school in Akureyri. Also, on the island is a grocery store, a campsite and a few guesthouses, a café, a gallery and of course a swimming pool

Grimsey Island at the end of the earth

The island has a regular boat and plane service from the mainland. By boat from Dalvik, you can reach Grimsey in three hours, three times a week. By plane, you can reach the island every day in summer and three times a week in winter, departing from Akureyri. Fishing is the Islands main source of income, the Island's people also depends on agriculture, collecting birds eggs, and of course tourism.

Despite its small population, Grimsey’s people obtain a rather rich cultural life and are best known for their interest in chess. In the nineteenth century, an American scholar and lover of chess, who admired the island and its people (although, he never set foot there), sent a chess game to every family on the island, along with food and money to promote the culture of Grimsey.

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Friday, 16 December 2016

Petrol and service stations in Iceland


Since the economic crisis in Iceland in 2008 when the value of the Icelandic money weakened, Iceland became a more affordable place for travelers, pushing thousands of people to come to see why Iceland is the amazing country of which everyone speaks. A vast majority of travelers rent cars and go around the island, so we thought a little guide on service stations and gasoline in Iceland would be rather helpful.

Petrol and service stations in Iceland

You can find service stations throughout the country, except in the highlands of Iceland. Check your route and be prepared, you should not be driving more than 250 kilometers without finding a petrol station on your way. N1, Olis, Atlantsolia, Skeljungur are all service stations in Iceland spread around the country; their prices vary, gasoline and diesel are much less expensive in winter, below 200 crowns per liter (1.40 €). In the summer season,  you have to pay around 250 kroner (€ 1.80) per liter. You can keep track of prices on this website.

In some gas stations, especially in the Reykjavík area, you pay one price for filling your gas tank yourself and a bit more if you wish to have an employee do it for you. 

Petrol and service stations in Iceland
 
Some service stations are automatic -those at Atlantsolia, for example, all are, and will only accept debit or credit cards. To use these automated stations, insert your credit card into the machine provided, type your code if necessary ( not always), then the maximum amount you wish to pay for gasoline or diesel for your car. The machine will return your card at the time. Fill your tank, and when you reach the maximum amount, the pump will stop (it will stop before full if done). To print the ticket, you have to insert your credit card again into the machine.

You can also buy pre-paid cards with the amount of your choice, but make sure the petrol station you have chosen is available on the roads on your route. Usually, in your rented car, you have a map that shows where the gas stations are located all over the country,  but the pre-paid card doesn't specify which.

Petrol and service stations in Iceland

In Iceland, petrol stations are also places to hang out with friends; providing groceries, fast food restaurants, hot drinks, similar to the atmosphere at the Icelandic pool, people meet there to chat, eat ice cream ... In the larger service stations, you will have several fast-food chains available, a grocery store, a small souvenir shop and even an information point.

Useful links:


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Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Dimmuborgir

History
Dimmuborgir, "dark castles", is a volcanic formation zone in the North of Iceland and is one of Iceland's most visited attractions. These unusual lava structures are a must see when you visit the Myvatn region.

Dimmuborgir

Dimmuborgir, located ten kilometers south of the village of Reykjahlíð, is an area known for its volcanic activity. Dimmuborgir formed over 2,300 years ago, during a long and violent volcanic eruption when an impressive volume of lava flowed into a twelve kilometer long crack in the ground, south of the crater Hverfjall (or Hverfell), and joined the valleys of Laxárdalur and Adaldalur. Geologists agree that something blocked the lava flow, resulting in the creation of a lava lake.  When the lake began to cool and solidify, the mysterious blockage was released and passing out lava, which then solidified creating the lava sculptures that you can see today.

The Dimmuborgir region is recognizable by the large hollow tube structures that formed when lava pooled over a lake resulting in these spectacular lava pillars. Some "chambers" of lava are large enough to hold one or more people, and that's why the area was named “dark castles" The unusual shapes of lava give an air of mystery and magic to this place.


Hiking

Dimmuborgir

Walking, photography, observing nature and the local plant-life are the main activities in the surroundings area of Dimmuborgir. Some small walking paths have signposts to Dimmuborgir, and whatever the time of year you can choose to be accompanied by a guide.
The small circle 570 meters takes around 10 or 15 minutes to walk.
The large circle 840 meters takes about 20 minutes walking.
The circle of the church, leading to the formation that looks like a church is 2250 meters long and is about 60 minutes on foot.

The Mellönd circle: 1200 meters takes about 30 minutes on foot.
Krókastígur, the zig-zag path: 800 meters takes around 40 minutes walking.  This way is a bit more challenging than other walking trails. You can also visit Dimmuborgir walking from the village of Reykjahlíð; the road is about 14 km long and takes 3 to 4 hours to get there.

Grjótagjá - Hverfjall - Dimmuborgir
The marked path starts in the village of Reykjahlíð, at the intersection of the number one road leading eastward from Egilsstaðir, Iceland. From there, the trail leads you to the cave Grjótagjá, where there are secret hot springs (too hot to bathe in). You continue your way up Hverfjall crater, where you'll discover a beautiful view of Lake Myvatn. You descend the other side of the crater on a stiff slope and continue to through the volcanic formations of Dimmuborgir.

You can also do the second part of this hike at Dimmuborgir, Hverfjall (or vice versa), which is eight kilometers long. When you get to Hverfjall, there are two paths; one easy, the other a harder zig-zag path that leads to the summit of the crater.

Jólasveinar

Dimmuborgir

In December, the Icelandic Christmas Santas, invite guests to visit them in Dimmuborgir on a particular day to prepare for Christmas. They also take a dip with travellers at the Nature Baths.

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Monday, 12 December 2016

Some Charming Cafes in Iceland

If you would like a nice walk before your coffee, leave your car at Arnarstapi and take a  2.5 km coastal hiking trail until you reach the coffee house Fjöruhúsið Hellnum, surely the most pleasant café in Iceland. You can also just drive to Fjöruhúsið Hellnum, located on the seafront near Hellnar in Snaefellsnes peninsula; this café is a real treat for both your palate and your eyes. Note that the coffee shop opens after Easter and closes in October.

Some Charming Cafes in Iceland

Vogafjós is a farm, a guesthouse, a restaurant and a café located on the banks of Lake Myvatn. Most of their food is homemade coming from their farm or local producers. At any time of the year, treat yourself to a hot chocolate and a piece of pie with whipped cream.

Open all year, this cafe located in Dalvik, North Iceland, offers a delicious house fish soup, amazing home-made cakes and a very cozy and friendly decor -on the way to the toilet, you will find yourself nose-to-nose with a sculpture of the Icelandic president, that looks like he does in person.

Some Charming Cafes in Iceland

This cafe offers nothing more exceptional than the dishes you find on their table, which is the work of Þór Sveinsson and Helga Ingadottir. Eating fresh local products in a cafe in Hvolsvollur with unique and original dishes, this doesn’t happen every day! The café is open from April to September, but it may open its doors in winter.

In the oldest house in the village of Rif, Snaefellsnes at the Gamla Rif café offers simple, traditional dishes.

Some Charming Cafes in Iceland

With a small British pub alongside, the Lára kaffi Seyðisfjörður is a great place to spend an evening chatting with friends and discovering the artists in this little town in East Iceland. Employees share their knowledge of Icelandic beer and music. In summer, you will find some tables outside and also a lovely garden area with tables, chairs and cushions.

This coffee house Þingeyri, in the West Fjords, is nestled in a small greenhouse dating back to 1915. The building was once a grocery store and then was converted into a café by a Danish-Belgian couple. The atmosphere is pleasant, as are all the dishes -and of course not forgetting the delicious waffles on the menu!

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Stekkjarstaur - Icelandic Yule Lads (December 12th)

Here in Iceland we have 13 of so-called Yuletide lads. They come into town one by one, the first on the night between December 11 and 12 and the last arriving on Christmas Eve. Then they'll return to their home in the mountains one-by-one again.

In latter years they've taken on Santa's role to give kids gifts. Every kid in Iceland will put a shoe in the window and the 13 nights before Yule the Yule-lad of the day will put something in there. But originally they were pranksters and thieves. Mostly they stole food and their names generally reflected on their favorite food.
The Yule Lads are traditionally said to be the sons of the mountain-dwelling trolls Grýla and Leppalúði. They would trek from the mountains to scare Icelandic children who misbehaved before Christmas. Additionally, the Yule Lads are often depicted with the Yule Cat, a beast that, according to folklore, eats children who don't receive new clothes for Christmas.

Every night, one Yuletide lad visits each child, leaving gifts or rotting potatoes, depending on the child’s behavior throughout the year.

Stekkjarstaur 
December 12th

He is particularly fond of sheep's milk but has enormous trouble with getting it because his stiff knees make impossible to bend his legs.

Often mistakenly believed to have wooden peg-legs, but he's described to have 'staurfætur' which is commonly used for peg-legs. It does however just mean a leg that can't bend the knee. It wasn't an uncommon ailment in former days and is more likely that he had stiff legs than actual wooden legs...
Icelandic 

Stekkjarstaur kom fyrstur,
stinnur eins og tré.
Hann laumaðist í fjárhúsin
og lék á bóndans fé.

Hann vildi sjúga ærnar,
þá varð þeim ekki um sel,
því greyið hafði staurfætur,
- það gekk nú ekki vel.

English

Gimpy was the first,
Stiff like a tree.
He snuck into the stables,
And fooled the farmer's sheep.

He wanted to suck milk from them,
- They did not care for that,
And because he had peg-legs
- It did not go too well.

Stekkjarstaur harbours a stiff temperament, is stiff temperament, is stiffly set in his ways and very conservative. Some claim he secretly practices yoga, but this has never been confirmed.

He's the tallest of the brothers. That cross of troll, elf and human ancestry gave him a very long and rather stiff pair of legs. Legend says he walks as though they were made of wood, and he has to use a long walking stick to be able to walk properly. Some folk art portrays him as having two wooden prosthetic limbs, but I go more for him just having long, straight legs. They do help him take enormous strides, so he can travel further than anyone else in his family.

His specialty is in terrifying sheep and, on occasion, stealing them. So, starting on this evening and running through Christmas, Vikings make sure their sheep are well locked away or the next morning they might have some very terrified sheep ... or, even missing sheep.

Berglind, Iceland24

Friday, 9 December 2016

Vestmannæyar: The Westman Islands

Vestmannæyar is an archipelago of about 15 islands, located in the south of Iceland (that take 30 minutes to get to by boat from Landeyjahöfn). These islands were formed by submarine volcanic eruptions and most recently, in 1963 the island Surtsey emerged during an eruption. Heimæy (the largest Island of 13.4 km2) is the only Vestmanæyar Island inhibited with a population of more than 4,000 people.

Heimæy island lives mainly from fishing and hunting and is especially well-known for bird hunting (including puffin hunting). With the growing tourism in Iceland, the Westman Islands have become a popular destination in the summertime. On the first weekend in August, when Iceland celebrates the shopkeepers holiday (Verslunarmannahelgi), the Westman Islands host the festival Þjóðhátið í Eyjum that welcomes between 11,000 and 13,000 people (most of the crowd are Icelanders from the mainland). 

Vestmannæyar: The Westman Islands

The festival was first celebrated in 1874 while the rest of the Icelandic nation celebrated the millennium of the settlement of Iceland; the bad weather did not allow residents of the Westman Islands to join the party on the mainland of Iceland, so they decided to organise their own festival. Ironically, Þjóðhátið í Eyjum is now one of the largest Icelandic festivals!

The Eldheimar Volcano Museum traces the history of the Eldfell volcano on Heimæy Island, including the most recent eruption on January 23rd, 1973, when a lot of damage was done to the Island and over 360 houses were buried in lava and ash. Archaeologists have been uncovering what remained of the buildings, and the Eldheimar Volcano Museum is built around the remains of one of the homes. 

Vestmannæyar: The Westman Islands

You’ll be dumbfounded to see that the objects and souvenirs in the ruined houses seem to be intact despite the ash and dust. The entire population was evacuated during the eruption in 1973, that lasted six months, and a majority of people have returned to the island. Today, you can climb up the volcano Eldfell and still feel the heat from the eruption more than forty years later.

The Heimaey island also has the Sagnheimar Folk Museum, and the Natural History Museum and Aquarium. You can get around most of Heimaey on foot, or you can rent a bike. There are also organised bus tours that go around the island and boat tours also. 

The island is very lively, especially in the summertime, with plenty of cafes, restaurants and shops to keep you busy and many art galleries too. It is said that the highest point of the Heimey Island is the windiest place in Iceland.

Vestmannæyar: The Westman Islands


If you've watched the movie Stormy Weather by film director Sólveig Anspach, you´ve already caught a glimpse of Heimaey Island and its beautiful atmosphere. Djúpið, by film director Baltasar Kormákur, is another movie filmed on Heimæy. This movie tells the true story of Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a fisherman from the Westman Islands, whose fishing boat capsized, causing him to swim for six hours in cold 5 ° C water, and he miraculously survived. A truly fascinating story!

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