Iceland


Basic facts

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Iceland, "The country of tales, legends, volcanos, hot springs and glaciers has always been on my "list" of countries to visit.

In july 2002 I went there, and found that most of my expectations regarding nature were exceeded. Probably, no where else on earth are the forces of nature more evident than here. Visit Iceland and feel the power of nature!

It is assumed that the Norse accidentally discovered Iceland after beeing blown off course en route to the Faroes. The first to come was the Swedish viking Naddoddur who arrived on the eastern part of the island around 850 After Christ. He named the place Snaeland (Snow Land). According to the "Islendigabok" it was a the Norwegian viking Ingolfur Arnarson who was the first to establish a permanent settlement in 874 at a place he called Reykjavik (Smoky Bay).

In the early 10th century, Thorsteinn Ingolfsson, son of Ingolfur Arnarson, founded Iceland's first large-scale district assembly near Reykjavik. In 920 the Allting, The National Assembly, was moved to a place called Blaskogar, later called Thingvellir. On the convention of year 1 000 came the decre that made Iceland a Christian nation. Shortly thereafter, the first bishoprics where set up at Skalholt and Holar.

By the early 13th century, the period of peace that had lasted 200 years came to an end and the country entered a turbulent era. Competitions between politicians turned into violent feuds and power struggle. The, more or less powerless, governement was not able to protect the people from encroachments from the fighting fractions.

With intention to calm down the cruelties the icelanders seeked for a confedarecy with the norwegian king Hakon. In 1262 it was signed. The Kalmar Union of Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 1397 brought Iceland, still a province of Norway, under Danish rule. After disputes between church and state, the Danish governement seized church property and imposed Lutheranism in the Reformation of 1550. Also this resulted in violence and death for the icelanders.

Later on the volcano Hekla had several eruptions causing death and destruction. Hard winters led to crop failure and starvation. 

In 1602 the Danish King imposed a trademonopoly that resulted in large-scale extortion and more suffering.

During the 17th and 18th centuries distasters continued in the form of natural catastrophes and British, Spanish and Arab piracy of Iceland-bound trading ships.

By the early 1800s, a growing sense of Icelandic nationalism was perceived in Copenhagen. Their struggle for freedom had began. The Act of Union, which was signed in 1918, effctively released Iceland from Danish rule, making it an independent state withing the Kingdom of Denmark. The formal establishment of the Republic of Iceland took place at Thingvellir on June 17, 1944 and since than the icelanders are fully responible for the development of their own country.

Iceland has in many aspects a cruel and dramatic history, and the icelanders heritage is certain aspects very brutal.

Reykjavik - The Capital

Reykjavik, the world's northernmost capital is also one on the newest established as late as in the late 19th century. 

The capital was the starting point for my almost two week long roundtrip on Iceland. A trip full of interesting and fascinating experiences. 

Reykjavik is the home of almost 170 000 inhabitants, which means that around 62 % of the population lives here. The city is not very beutiful it self. One can see that a rapid growth has found place and the city lacks an overall cityplan. New houses are mixed with old, some of them in rather bad condition. But, the city has a reputation of an intensive nigth-life.

Some historic places can still be found in Reykjavik. Remember, this was the place for the first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson. In the Old Town you find most of the historical buildings; The Cathedral, Stjornarradid (offices of the president and the prime minister), The Allthing (The Parliament) and Fogetinn, the oldest house. A very impressing modern building is The Hallgrimskirkja. The famous summit between US President Ronald Reagan and The Sovjet leader Michail Gorbatjov was held in The Höfdi House in 1968.

In Reykjavik you are offered to visit Lundey, The Puffin Island. This is the only place close to the city where you can see puffins. When you ask the touroperator if you will see puffins they gladly answere: "Yes, there are at least 30 000 puffins on the island". What they do not tell you is that you are not coming close to the birds. Do not join this trip, even if you want to see puffins, because it is wasted money to go there. Use your money for something better than this! 

From Reykjavik I drove east on the Ringroad around the island in my rented car, a classical trip when visiting Iceland. During my 12 day long stay I drove almost 2 500 kilometers and got quite a good picture of the whole island. Iceland is very beautiful and worth to visit several times.

There is so much to experience and so many places of interest to visit during a trip to Iceland, so I will select only a few of them I visited in my tripdescription.

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Thingvellir

The first stop outside Reykjavik was the historical Thingvellir. The descendants of the first settler Ingolfur Arnarson established the Allthing at Thingvellir. Nearly everything that happened in Iceland until 1271 had some connection with The Allthing. It was here that Christianity was accepted as the national religion around year 1 000. You can easily spend a whole day walking around at Thingvellir visiting places of historical interest and enjoying the beautiful nature. Here is also Iceland's largest lake, Thingvallavatn, located.

Geysir

All the world's spouting hot springs were named after them on Iceland. The "Great Geysir" began to erupt in the 14 th century and ceased in the early 20th century because thousands of tourists tried to set it off by pouring in loads of rocks and dirt. The "Great Geysir" could spout up to 60 meters. Today tourist have to be satisfied with seeing the geysir "Strokkur" spout. Also this geysir is impressiv when spouting up to 20 meters.

Gullfoss - THE Waterfall

Iceland has many impressive waterfalls, maby the flagship of them is Gullfoss. At least is Gullfoss one of the countrys main attractions. The river Hvita flows not far away from Geysir. Close to the farm Brattholt it forms a magnificent waterfall - Gullfoss. The waterfall drops a total of 32 meters in two falls and the canyon below them is is 70 meters deep and 2.5 kilometers long.

Vik i Myrdal

Vik, with a population of about 300 inhabitants, is Icelands most southernmost village. It is also the rainiest place of the country. Vik is beutifully located at the sea with dramatic cliffs and a nice view over the Myrdalsjökull icecap and the volcano Katla, if the weather is clear. Regretfully it was not during my stay. 

I liked Vik, because here are some nice birdcliffs giving you a chanse to see birds very closely. Here I got my first close up view of the very beautiful little puffin. The puffin is a colourful bird and allows you to come close, if you are careful. You have lot of fun if you sit down and watch the birds feeding their youngsters or just being social. 

Nupsstadur

The old farm Nupsstadur is located below some dramatic cliffs. The farm buildings date back as far as the early 19 th century. The small turf-roofed church close to the main buildling is dedicated to St Nicholas. The church was mentioned in records as early as 1200 and is one of the  last turf churches in Iceland to remain in general use.

The farmhouses are very intersting to look at and if you are lucky the owner shows up and tell you about them.

Jökularsalon

People travelling the Ringroad always make a stop at the remarkable Jökularsalon, located between Skaftafell and Höfn. It is a small lake, 190 meters deep, full of large icebergs calved from the glacier Breidamerkulljökull. A part of the James Bond film "A view to kill" was filmed in this arctic environment. You can either walk on the shores looking on the icebergs or make a 30 minutes long boattrip among them. This place is one of the musts when visiting Iceland.

Höfn

Höfn, population 1 800, which means harbour, is nicely situated in the Hornafjördur and offers beautiful views over the Vatnajökull-glacier on clear days. The town it self has not very much to offer. The regional folk museum is located in an old trade warehouse, Gamlabud, constructed in 1864. The maritime museum is located in a building called Pakkhusid. For me the biggest attraction in Höfn was the large cinnamonrolls with a lot of caramel sold in the supermarket. According to the baker; "They are the best in the whole country". The birdlife around Höfn is very good.

The surroundings of Höfn are good places for trekking. There are several trails leading to different mountains. To reach some of the starting points you need a car. I made a whole day trekk to The Hoffellsjökull which offered beautiful views over the deltalandscape leading to the glacier, beautiful coloured mountains, and the glacier it self. This is an easy trekk as you walk on flatland to the end of the glacier. From there you can follow a small dirtroad up to different points with nice views over the glacier.

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Myvatn

The Myvatn-area, in the northeast of Iceland, is considered to be one of the natural wonders of the world, and notified on the UNESCO:s World Heritagelist. Almost all visitors coming to the country comes here to se the interesting volcanic or geothermal sights and of course the very beuatiful lake with its birdlife. The Myvatn-area is located in the rainshadow, so it is supposed to some of the finest weather in the whole country. You need at least two whole days and a car to explore the lake and its surroundings. The trekking possibilites are very good.

Some of my favourites in this area were Dimmuborgur with its spectacular lavaformations. Here I was lucky to see the first wedding ever in a large lavacave called Kirkjan (The church). Hverfell, the landmark for the village Reykjahlid, is an old volcano. The trekk up to and around the crater is nice and takes only a couple of hours, if you drive to the foot of the mountain. Another nice small trekking area is the forested lava headland Höfdi. It is covered with wildflowers and birch trees. Bring something to eat and drink, sit down on some high spot and enjoy the views over the Lake Myvatn. Feel life! Another interesting thing to explore are the pseudocraters at Skutustadagir. They surround the small pond Stakholstjörn. The walk among the craters around the pond, offers nice views and an interesting birdlife. Eldhraun, the magnificent lavefield close to Reykjahlid gives you a good picture of the power of nature. Namafjall is a pastelcoloured mountain south of the Ringroad, 6 kilometers east of Reykjahlid, dotted with with steaming vents. Hverarönd,the geothermal field immediately east of Namafjall, is full of boiling mudpots, steam vents, sulphur deposits, boiling springs and fumaroles.

Krafla area

Krafla is an 818 meter high mountain located 7 kilometers north of the Ringroad, east of Reyjkahlid. The name is now used for the whole volcanic area and the geothermal powerstation located here. Here you find Iceland's most awesome lavafiel created of a series of eruptions. Walking around in the surroundings gives you an impression of being close to the earth's creationprocess. All over there are mudpots, steam vents, sulphur deposits, boiling springs and fumaroles. One of the main attractions here are the Viti-crater (Hell). You can easily walk around this impressive 320 meters wide explosion crater. Behind the crater are the "twin lakes" with boiling mud springs.

Husavik

Husavik, population 2 500, is becoming famous worldwide as a center for whale-watching. It is a little, typical Icelandic town with a cross-shaped church from 1907, unique for Iceland. The church is built from Norwegian timber. For Swedes this is a special town,  as it was the real site of the first Nordic settlement founded by the Swedish viking Gardar Svavarson in 850 A C. He stayed here with his men over the winter on their trip to some exotic place. In spring he left, but some of his people stayed.

North of Husavik is the peninsula Tjörnes separating Skalfjandi from Öxarfjördur. Here are good possibilities for birdwatching. The 50 meters high cliff is full of different seabirds. At the lower parts of the cliffs there are large colonies of puffins.

The main reason for me to stop in Husavik was to join a whale-watching tour. There are now a couple of operators running the tours, and Nordur Sigling says that they are the best. During the trip I joined we saw minke whale and dolphins. What an experience!

Glaumbaer and Vidimyri

The 18th century turf farm at Galumbaer is located only 8 kilometers east of Varmahlid and is worth to visit. Glaumbaer is one of the best remaining examples of early Icelandic building techniques. Inside the farm is the Skagafjördur Folk Museum with a collection of things used i past times. 
When walking around in the different parts of the farm you feel like you are walking in ancient times.

In Vidimyri, on the Ringroad west of Varmahlid, is an old chieftain's residence. The lovely turf-covered little church, which is one of the nicest 19th century buildings on Iceland, is a reconstruction of a previous church. 

Snaefellsnes

The 100 kilometer long peninsula Snaefellsnes, located between Faxafloi and Breidarfjördur, is charachterised by rugged mountains rising between a broad coast plain on the south coast and a narrower one in the north. One of Iceland's best known landmarks is the 1 446 meters high, dormant volcano Snaefell. Its icecap, the glacier Snaefellsjökull, was the starting point in Jules Verne's classic novel "A journey to the center of the earth". The peninsula is sparesly populated and the scenery fantastic, so also the birdlife. If you have your own car, include a trip around Snafellnes in your journey. You will not regret it.

The largest town on the peninsula is Stykkisholmur, population 1 200. From here I started my trip around the peninsula. Some of the places I visited was Helgafell, The holy mountain. Once there was a pagantemple on the top of the mountain. Grundarfjördur is a small fishingvillage, population 850, surrounded by spectacular mountains and the sea. Budir was a former fishing village, abandoned in the early 19 th century. Today you can see the remainings of the old stonehouses. The westernmost cape of Snaefellnes is Öndverdanes, it is long and hard drive on a dirtroad to reach it. Once this place was inhabited. Today the only building here is a ligthhouse. Few come here so you are, more or less, alone with nature. On the beach in Dritvik you can find four "lifting stones". They were used to test men who wanted to work on a fishingboat. Before the men where hired they had to prove their strength by lifting stones. The four stones had different weights; Amlodi - 23 kg (Useless), Halfdraettingur - 49 kg (Weakling), Halfsterkur - 140 kg (Half strong) and Fullsterker - 150 kg (Fully strong). Have a try when you go there! 

Iceland is a country of contrasts. The nature is splendid, the icelanders friendly, the trekking possibilities very good and the birdlife marvelous.

Visit Iceland and you want to come back.

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iceland_01.jpg (48519 byte)

The vikingship
"Sun Craft".
Reykjavik

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Thingvellir

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The waterfall at
Gullfoss 

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Puffins.
Vik

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The old church.
Nupsstadur

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Icebergs.
Jökulsarlon

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Coffeebreak.
Hofellsjökullen

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Icelandic horses 

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 Geothermal power.
Krafla 

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Landscape of lava.
Krafla

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The lake Myvatn

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Puffin.
Tjörnes

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Landscape of lava.
Krafla

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Mudpot.
Hverarönd

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The waterfall at
Dettifoss

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Turfhouse.
Glaumbaer

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Glaumbaer

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The new church.
Stykkisholmur

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Grundarfjördur

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Öndverdanes.
Snaefellsnes

Basic facts:

Conventional longform: Lydveldid Island

Area, total: 103 000 sq km
Population: 
318 450 
Population/sq km:
3
Coastline:
4 970 km
Capital/Population:
Reykjavik / 118 000

Lowest point: The Atlantic Ocean 
Highest point: Hvannadalshnukur ( 2 119 m)
Largest river:
Thjórsá ( 237 km )
Largest lake:
Thingvallavatn ( 84 sq km )


Pop. growth rate:
0.69 %
Infant mortility rate: 
3
(deaths / 1 000 live births)
Life expectancy at birth (years):
Male / Female  80 / 83

Ethnic groups: Icelanders 94 % ( mixture of Norse and Celts ), Others 6 %
Religions: Evangelic Lutheran 80.7 %, other protestantic 4.0 %, Roman catholic 2.5 %, other religions and unspecified 12.8 %
Languages:
Icelandic
Literacy; % pop. over 15 years:
Male / Female: 99.9 / 99.9

Independence:  June 17, 1944 from Denmark
National holiday:
 June 17, Independence Day

GNP/capita: 39 563 USD
Currency:
Icelandic Krona ( ISK )
Tourists (annually): 1 102 000

Mobiltelphones: 348 100
Internetusers:
301 600
Railways: 0 km
Mainroads:
12 869 km

Source: CIA World Factbook 2012/02

Map of Iceland


flag_iceland.jpg (23283 byte)

The flag was officially introduced on June 19, 1915 for domestic use and on ships sailing in domectic waters. The flag was approved by the Danish King in 1919. 

In connection with the declaration of independence on June 17, 1944 the flag was determined to be flag of Iceland.


island.jpg (20086 byte)

In the crest you can see the flag of Iceland. Four characters from fairy-tales are holding it. They are considered to be protectors of the country. The characters are mentioned in Snorre Sturlasons "Heimskringla". 


 

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More information about Iceland
Lonely Planet   World Factbook

Newspaper: Icelandic Review   Morgunbladid
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REYKJAVIK


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