By Judy Dickson
This August I was fortunate to be a participant in the Snorri Plus Program which had been forced to cancel plans in 2020 and 2021. We were thirteen happy travelers when we all met up that first afternoon along with Pala Hallgrimsdottir, our director. We came from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Minnesota, California and Australia and we all had the same goal in mind, to learn as much as we could about Iceland, visit important sights, and to possibly meet some new relatives. No wonder our group bonded well!
Most everyone traveling from North America arrives at the airport in Keflavik around 6 am. It was good planning that we would have a few hours to settle into our rooms at Hotel Oðinsvé and try to catch up on sleep. Since the orientation was at 3:30 and at the Snorri office within close distance of the hotel, we were able to walk there together. There we introduced ourselves, heard the outline of the next day’s activities and really enjoyed guest speaker Stefan Pálsson, a historian in the Icelandic Sagas who presented with a comedic style. Our day ended with an amazing 3-course dinner at Kol restaurant.
We were off to a great start!
We spent the morning of day two at Hannesarholt. This same day we visited Alþing Parliament House, built in 1881, and were given a wonderful tour of the beautiful and inviting interior. Lunch that day was at Jómfrúin, a Scandinavian kitchen specializing in smørrebrød. After that we were given a free afternoon and had dinner on our own.
On Wednesday, Aug 10, we were on a tour of the Golden Circle. This was quite a different day as plans changed and we had to join forty other tourists on a large bus. Our stops that day were at the unique Friðheimar tomato farm with a restaurant in their large greenhouse. On that colder morning, the tomato aroma and the geothermal warmth were enticing us to stay! The tour bus stopped next at the Geysir Geothermal Field where we joined throngs of visitors to watch the famous geysir, Strokkur. erupt approximately every ten minutes. The whole field seemed to boil, bubble, and steam which kept us all in anticipation. After that, we continued on to stop at the thundering Gullfoss Waterfall. This was very impressive and offered two different viewpoint spots. Many of our Snorri Plus group hiked down the many steps to the lower viewpoint, braved the wind and spray, and took wonderful selfies beside the raging waterfall!
Our last stop of the day was at Þingvellir National Park. This was the site where, during the Settlement Age, Icelandic chieftains gathered once a year to settle government business. A very exciting part to see is the gorge where one can observe where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly separating. We had a fairly long tour here learning about the fissures, enjoying the view over þingvellir, walking between the boundaries of America and Europe, seeing the Law Rock, and hearing about the Drowning Pool where women who were thought to be witches were drowned. At the end of our nearly ten-hour day, we welcomed a free evening!
Our next day in Reykjavík began with classes in Icelandic literature and language. We all appreciated having the opportunity of listening to very knowledgeable speakers and their fascinating presentations. That day we had a lovely lunch at Hannesarholt and were given a free afternoon before a busy evening ahead. One of the most exciting events began at 4 pm when we were invited to a welcoming reception and had the opportunity to meet up with relatives that the genealogists for the Snorri programs had been able to contact. This made for a very lively reception as the Icelanders got to know their cousins from North America and Australia! But the day was not done…after that, we all made our way to Hotel Holt, quite a grand hotel filled with a priceless collection of art that had belonged to the grandfather of the present owner. After happy hour, we were given a tour of the artwork in the many areas of the hotel and then were seated in a splendid dining room and treated to a fabulous three-course meal. We were back at the hotel after 10 pm - quite a full day we had!
On Friday we enjoyed our last day of classes. After lunch, we were privileged to be able to go to the Stofnun Árna Magnússonar and view the Icelandic old Saga books. We listened to two speakers and three of our group were delighted to realize that the most recent donation to the university in 2002 Snorri´s Edda was from an Icelander we all knew from Saskatchewan! Later that day our group walked to Hnoss Restaurant at the impressive Harpa Concert Hall where we enjoyed share plates and then laughed long and loud at the one-man show “How to become Icelandic in 60 Minutes”!
Our Adventure Tour began on Saturday, Aug 13. Half of our group flew to Egilsstaðir while the rest of us filled the sunny day with lunch, shopping, and strolling until we left on the 6 pm plane to meet the rest of the group. It was very interesting to us that there were absolutely no security restrictions for domestic flights at the city airport. After a short flight, we met up with Pála and the others along with Kent Lárus Björnsson who was to be the driver of our luxurious 19-passenger van for the next few days. It was late by the time we reunited so we were quickly off to enjoy share plates at the lovely Café Nielsen. By meal’s end, we were on the road to our hotel rooms at Hotel Eskifjördur in the town of the same name.
We stopped at a stunning spot early on our second day. This was Stuðlagil where some of us walked nearly 300 steps down (and back up) to see an incredible view of the basalt column gorge with its concave rock formations and turquoise water. We could spot quite a few groups of people on the other side of the gorge; they would have made a long hike to reach their viewpoint.
The next stop was really delightful. We stopped at some well-preserved turf-roofed farmhouses in Sænausatel. The same family has occupied these since 1532 even though the homes were rebuilt in 1770. We were all invited into the building that had a restaurant in it where we dined on Icelandic pancakes (thicker than pönnukökurs), topped with whipped cream and rhubarb compote. Hanging on the walls were many hand-knitted Icelandic sweaters, up some very steep stairs, were the sleeping and eating quarters, and outside were their pet sheep and several smaller buildings.
In the early afternoon, we arrived at Vopnafjörður and were met by IR genealogist Cathy Josephson at the East Iceland Emigration Centre in the Kaupvangur building. Our group was impressed with the various displays relaying information of the period of time when many Icelanders from the northeast and east of Iceland departed for North America.
Later that day some of us attended Kathryn and Ken's renewal of wedding vows at the ancestral church of Kathryn's ancestors. Our sleeping arrangements varied that evening from rooms in the guesthouse to a farmhouse and even separate cottages on the grounds at Síreksstaðir.
The next morning we had an early stop at the Postman’s Museum located at a nearby farm. The large display of maps showing the routes mail carriers traveled in the summer and winter as well as photos and memorabilia were very interesting. To add to that we were entertained by the farmer’s daughter who sang several songs for us accompanied by her mother on the accordion.
We had a long drive that day to Akureyri so the next two stops were fairly rushed. When we stopped at Ásbyrgi Canyon in the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park, two of the group did a quick hike and view of this huge horseshoe-shaped canyon said to be named after Ódinn's eight-legged horse and the gigantic hoof print he left on the earth. The others paid a visit to the visitor centre. Following that we arrived in Husavík and grabbed a late lunch, a few of us snapping photos in a hurry in order to board the bus for our next stop which was not on the planned agenda.
We visited a very large sheep farm named Skardaborg which was owned and operated by my, and sister Janis' second cousin, Siggi, and his wife Helga. She had invited everyone on our tour for coffee which turned out to be a very large buffet of meats, fish, breads, and many many desserts.
The couple gave us a tour of their garden, and told us the size of their farm and the operation they run to preserve and sell smoked lamb from their stock.
We tried our best to sample many dishes! Before we reached Akureyri we stopped at one of Iceland's most iconic waterfalls, Goðafoss, or Waterfall of the Gods, said to feature in the sagas when the law-speaker in the year 1000 AD chose to have Iceland transform from a pagan nation to Christianity. After taking in its beauty, we were on our way to our destination for the next two nights at Hótel Akureyri. This was indeed a very full day!
On day ten, August 16, we had a very nice stop at a very beautiful church called Grund and took a pause in its cemetery on a glorious sunny morning. Christmas House was next with its large display of ornaments and Christmas decor. We could spend the afternoon in a leisurely manner; many of us relaxed in the new and beautiful Forest Lagoon Skógarbödin and others spent a few hours in the Botanical Garden. Other worthwhile activities were viewing inside the lovely Lutheran Akureyri Church at the top of the hill or just strolling past the shops in the downtown area.
We bade farewell to Akureyri and headed onto the bus with an adventurous day ahead. One stop was fairly unusual, wandering around Hjalteyri, an abandoned herring harbour and old fish factory which used to have Iceland’s largest processing plant in the 1930s. Then we reached Hauganes, donned our one-piece flotation suits, and scurried onto the whale-watching boat.
Alas, we were not so lucky even on a sunny afternoon but two of the group managed to catch a fish each just before we hopped off the boat. In the later afternoon, we arrived in Siglufjörður, a tiny village with a harbour-front and the amazing Herring Era Museum. This little place used to be Iceland’s busiest herring port in the early 1900s and had a population of over 3,000 at one time. After a visit there we drove to Hotel Siglunes.
On Thursday, Aug 18, we had a beautiful drive to reach Hofsós and discover what was planned for us. First of all, we boarded a boat and sailed around Drangey Island and the other small islands scattered around it. Drangey was truly dramatic, its steep cliffs rising up in the waters and a perfect home for seabirds. In the sagas, it was the refuge of the outlaw Grettir. We had a well-informed guide, a spectacular day, and good luck spotting whales that day! When we disembarked, we were met by Valgeir Thorvaldsson who led us on a tour of Vesturfarasetrið, the Icelandic Emigration Centre. We had time to visit the exhibits in three historic buildings and learned even more about the many Icelanders who emigrated to North America from 1870 to 1914.
Many in the group were thrilled to discover photos of an ancestor or two amongst the hundreds on display. Valgeir and his assistant Mallory treated us to coffee and cake and spoke to our group about the beginning of the Emigration Centre and how it operates. Much of the rest of the day was on the bus driving to our next spot, Hotel Hafnarfjall outside of Borgarnes. We were driven to a nice restaurant on the water and treated to an Icelandic fish buffet.
Our next day, Aug 19, will hold a special place in our memories. This was the day we were travelling back to Reykjavík after our week-long adventure tour. But before we would reach the capital city, we had a most wonderful opportunity! Kent, our bus driver, timed everything perfectly! We reached Bessastaðir, the official residence of the president of Iceland, at the correct hour and then were ushered in to meet President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.
For all of us, it was a highlight of our tour. The president was most gracious and at the same time very personable and more informal than many of us would have thought. He welcomed us warmly and spoke to us about his background as a historian as well as his thoughts on how Western Icelanders are always interested in discovering their past and enjoyed following traditions from their Icelandic ancestry. We were served coffee, kleinur, and pönnukökur and were given an extra tour by the president himself. It was a most interesting 90 minutes that we were fortunate to have with him.
By Saturday, Aug 20, we were settled back in the Hotel Oðinsvė and free to take part in Menningarnótt, or Reykjavik Cultural Night. This popular festival is held in August once a year and attracts nearly as many people as the Icelandic National Day. Quite a few of the group participated in the marathon with Laura in our group finishing the 10k fun run and seven of us walking 3k for the experience.
In addition to Pála Hallgrímsdóttir, our director, we were joined by Jody Arman-Jones who is a Co-Director of the Snorri West program for the Icelandic National Leagues of NorthAmerica and the United States (INLNA and INLUS). She also serves on the Snorri Foundation Board of Directors; the INLNA Board of Directors; and is an Icelandic Roots volunteer.
We were also joined by Blair Lockhart who is a Co-Director of the Snorri West program for the INLNA and INLUS. She serves on the INLNA Board of Directors and the Lögberg-Heimskringla Board of Directors.
Dianne O'Konski who is the President of INLUS and serves on the Lögberg-Heimskringla Board of Directors and is on the Icelandic National League of Iceland Board of Directors also joined us along with Hulda Karen Danielsdóttir, who is the Chair of the Snorri Foundation Board of Directors and Chair of Icelandic National League of Iceland (aka Þjóðræknisfélag Íslendinga - INL Iceland or ÞFÍ). Her husband is Guy Stewart, a teacher at Landskotsskóli.
The fun was topped off with a treat at the end, the famous Icelandic Pylsa (hotdog)! There were activities and cultural events all across Reykjavík, and it was evident that not only tourists were out and about but all across the city, but many Icelanders were involved as well. The evening finished with a fireworks display over Harpa Concert Hall and the harbour. This was a fitting ending to our last weekend in Iceland!
We had a fairly free day on Sunday. Many of our tour group enjoyed their last day of shopping, wandering around Reykjavík, or visiting places they had missed in the city. The Icelandic National League of Iceland held its convention and two of the Snorri Plus group attended. We were lucky to have a beautiful sunny day for our final day. We had an excellent dinner that evening at ROK, a quality restaurant near our hotel. Along with our director Pála, and our driver Kent, we had Icelandic Roots volunteer and Snorri Program Organizer, Jody Arman-Jones, Blair Lockhart, a member of the INLNA Board of Directors and Snorri Program representative for Canada, Diane O’Konski, President of the INLUS, and Hulda Karen Danielsdóttir, president of INLIS with her husband Guy all share the tables with our group. There were fond farewells at the end of the evening after two weeks of touring around Iceland with a dozen other like-minded people. The next morning we were driven to the airport at Keflavik for our flights home.
Snorri Plus 2022 Participants: