Pritam Rohila Travels

Reports of my travels along with some pictures

Nov 8, 2013


We left our home in Oregon, at 9:15 a.m., to catch our 50-minute Horizon Air flight at 12:30 p.m. from Portland International to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Once there, after a quick pizza lunch, we took the airport monorail to S Gates, to board our 4:30 p.m. Iceland Air flight to Reykjavik.

Everything went smoothly except that my wife, Kundan and I had been assigned window seats in two different rows. And since the 200-seat flight was full, there was no possibility of changing our seats.

It was a rather small plane with two sets of three seats on each side, separated by a narrow aisle. Being practically confined to our seats, this 7-1/4-hour-no-frills-flight, was uncomfortable for us, but more so for Kundan.
To add insult to injury food was only available for purchase, and choice of drinks was very limited. And one had to buy even the head phones to enjoy the in-flight entertainment. Finally, prolonged turbulence, while going over the arctic region, was not only uncomfortable, but also scary. But the flight crew was efficient and friendly.

On account of 7-hour time difference, we arrived at the Reykjavik Airport at 6:30 a.m. on August 29.
Reykjavik Airport
Immigration and Customs were a breeze. But with luggage in hand, going through the maze-like circuitous route to the Arrival Hall, with several alternating up and down flight of stairs was un-nerving.

We quickly changed some money into Icelandic Koronas, and caught the Flybus airport shuttle to our hotel near downtown Reykjavik. At less than $20 per person, about one-hour-long, the 48-kilometer shuttle trip was rather cheap. The only problem was the bright early morning sun hitting eyes of the passengers. But the driver, unmoved by the plight of the passengers did not lower the windshield blinds, something that would have been quite unusual in the United States.

The highway to the town went through a large expanse of lava-field wasteland surrounded by the ocean and a distant chain or mountains. But here and there it was dotted with small signs of human habitation or industry.
Airport Road

Blue skies with a few wisps of white clouds dominated the scene. Very bright sun reminded me of our trip along some fjords from Bergen to Oslo in Norway, a few years back.

As we approached close to the city, the landscape changed to vegetation-covered green spaces and the number buildings increased. Also passing through traffic lights and building-up morning traffic, our speed slowed considerably.

The Airport Flybus took us to the Reykjavik Bus Stand, from where a shuttle service transported us to our hotel. We reached there around 8:15 a.m.

Reykjavik Bus Stand

Even though it was hours before their standard 3 p.m. check-in, the staff kindly gave us a room.

Rooms are quite small, but still larger than the rooms at some London hotels we have come across in the past. Also on each floor has a large, common sitting room, which offers respite to those feeling confined in their rooms.

Here we met Eva, a Philippina maid, who had worked in Kuwait, and had,  some time ago, moved to Reykjavik, after marrying an Icelandic man. Having passed her test in the local language proficiency, she looked forward to her Iceland citizenship. he surprised us with a Hindi greeting! She explained that she had picked up a few Hindi words from Indians she had met in Kuwait.

After settling in our room, and a shower, around 1:00 p.m., we walked to the Subway restaurant across the street for a quick lunch. Although it was sunny, it was cold and breezy outside. One definitely required a sweater or a jacket.

Afterwards we walked a couple of blocks to the Faxafloi Bay’s scenic waterfront.
Faxafloi Bay, Reykjavik
Faxafloi Bay, Reykjavik
We took some pictures, and enjoyed the walk along the paved path. The path was divided in two separate lanes, one for pedestrians, and the other for cyclists.
Path by Faxafloi Bay, Reykjavik

Back at our hotel we sought out Iris, the travel agent in the hotel lobby. She is a tall, pleasant and helpful. She told us that her the next day would be warmer (11 degrees Centigrade or about 52 degrees Fahrenheit), and that the following day some rain had been expected. Therefore, we booked an out-of- town sightseeing tour for the next day.

 Upon return to our room, we wanted to stay awake. But having been sleepless for about 28 hours, both of us were dead tired, and our brains, like the proverbial obstinate donkey, refused to proceed. After some sleep, we succeeded in keeping us awake, just for a couple of hours more. And the brains went back into the sleep mode. Finally, we quit trying to keep awake, and gave in to sleep.
Rainy Night View from our Window


In the morning, I woke up with light-headedness, most probably on account of dehydration. To rehydrate myself, I consumed considerable amount of water, while going through the morning routines Then I rested for a while, before going down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Back in our room, I rested some more and consumed more water.

By the time of noon pick up by the Excursion Bus, I felt a little better. But in the bus, my stomach started acting up, probably in reaction to the milk I had with uncooked rolled oats cereal.

In spite of the physical discomfort most of the day, Kundan and I enjoyed our six-hour excursion to Geysir, Gullfoss, and Pingvellir.

On the way, we went through the village of Hveragerdi. It is known as the flower town. In its large number of greenhouses the villagers grow all kinds of flowers, vegetables, and fruit. In fact, because of their work, Iceland is known for the largest production of bananas in the North Atlantic.

Greenhouses, Hveragerdi, Iceland


Geysir is the original spouting hot spring; all the others around the world are named after it. At one time, it spouted a jet of water up to 80m (262ft) into the air. But it is rather inactive currently,

However, nearby is Strokkur (the Churn), the world's most consistent geyser.  It shoots out a stream of water and steam  up to 35m (115ft) and erupts every six minutes or so, and sometimes twice in quick succession.

Strokkur, Iceland

Also there are some mud pools and steam vents in the area.

Mud Pools & Steam Vents, Strokkur, Iceland

A long brick path leads visitors to Strokkur and areas other geothermal features.

Path to Strokkur Field, Iceland
Across the road are the area’s tourist facilities include a hotel, campsite, gas station, café, restaurant, and souvenir shop.  In a nearby field stands a statue of Icelandic farmer, watching over his fields.

Farmer Statue
Farmer Statue

Our next stop was the Iceland’s most famous waterfall, the majestic and beautiful, Gullfoss, with double cascade.

 Gullfoss Falls, Iceland
 Gullfoss Falls, Iceland

Thanks to the daring efforts, led by Sigridur i Bratholti, it escaped destruction in the 1920’s, when a team of foreign investors tried to dam the river by building a hydroelectric project. Now, a pillar nearby memorializes Sigridur for her courageous work, to save the waterfall.

 Sigridur I Brattholti saved the Golden Waterfall from a hydroelectric project
Sigridur i Bratholti
From the Visitor Center, a long boardwalk leads to a gravel path above and to a wood staircase down to view the falls from different perspectives.

From near the Visitor Center, it is possible to view the distant, but large ice-field which sustains the river and the water fall.

On the way back, we made a brief stop in Thingvellir National Park. From the Visitor Center, it is a fairly long walk to the area's geologically unique place where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The two plates are gradually drifting apart and cause frequent earthquakes.

The fissure between them, at this place, is as wide as seven kilometers. The rift valley thus created supports pools of water teeming with fish and are good for snorkeling.

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

Nearby is Althingi, the oldest parliamentary organization, which was established in the present day Thingvellir National Park, in AD 930.

Althingi & Thingvellir National Park Visitor Center
19th-century rendering of the Law Rock, in Thingvellir,
where Althingi was established in 930 A.D. (Wikipedia)

In 2004 Thingvellir was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List.
Around 6:30 we returned to our hotel.


Today we had Oregon weather in Reykjavik. It was breezy and drizzled most of the day. We decided to explore the area around our hotel, and got wet in the process.

The only place of tourist interest we saw was the Hofdi House where the all-important summit between President Ronald Reagan and Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev was held in 1986.

Hofdi House, Reykjavik

Then we explored area around the harbor, and...

Reykjavik Harbor

Reykjavik Harbor

...admired some of the city's architectural marvels.

Concert Hall, Reykjavik

Reykjavik Architecture

While most of the city's buildings appear plain, its graffiti is as colorful as some of its houses.

Reykjavik Graffiti

Painted Houses (From a Reykjavik City Brochure)

Back at our hotel, we decided to take a city tour by the Hop On/Hop Off double-deck bus, and visit a few of the sights. From the Travel Agent at our hotel we bought our tickets.

On our outing today we observed that some businesses had “adorned” open areas around them with “fields of rocks,” true to the adage, “If God gives you lemons, make lemonade!”
 Rocks & Flowers

Rocks Around the Apron of Buildings

Also people did not seem to be very fussy about their lawns. They do not mind grass growing high, nor do they worry about dandelions and other weeds in their lawns.

Nov 7, 2013


We walked about ten minutes to the nearest stop to board the 10:35 a.m. service of the Hop On/Hop Off bus. A British couple also joined us there. But there was no sign of bus anywhere. Disappointed the other gentleman decided to walk to the first sight we wanted to see, a couple of miles away close to the center of the city. His wife stayed with us.

Reykjavik City Hop-on Hop-off Tour, Reykjavik
Reykjavik Hop On/Hop Off Tour Bus

When the bus did arrive at 11:35, the driver replied to our queries about the 10:35 service with “I don’t know.” Also he did not know why the taped English commentary had not been working.

Another couple who had boarded the bus at the next stop got so upset with the driver, and they walked to the bus head office and got a refund for their ticket.

We got down at the stop for the famous Reykjavik landmark, the Hallgrimskirkja Church.

Reykjavik Sightseeing Tour
Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik

It is a huge concrete building, and one of the tallest structures in Iceland.

Famous Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik Iceland Stock Photo - 11965563
Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik


In front of the church is a statue of Leif Eiricsson, who is believed to have been the first European to navigate to North America in A.D. 1000. It is said he named the new continent Vineland.  

The statue was donated by the United States on the occasion of the one-thousandth anniversary of his historic trans-Atlantic voyage.
Leif Eiricsson Statue, Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik
 Its interior, however, is quite plain, although it is distinguished by the 5275 pipe organ.

Hallgrimskirkja Church Interior, Reykjavik
  Pipe Organ, Hallgrimskirkja Church, Reykjavik

An hour later, we boarded the Hop On/Hop Off Bus. Fortunately the driver was new. He was certainly more courteous than the previous one, although his limited knowledge of English rendered him to be of little use to the tourists.

Near the next stop and overlooking the harbor, is the Arnarholl Hill, where, it is believed that the Ingolfur Arnarson set up the first settlement in Reykjavik, although it took about one thousand years before a town began to grow here.

Ingolfur Arnarson, Arnarholl Hill, Reykjavik (Open Stock Photo)

According to the oldest narrative of “The Book of Settlement,” as soon as Arnarson  first sighted Iceland, he threw his high seat pillars overboard, declaring that he would settle wherever the pillars happened to be washed ashore. And it so happened that the pillars landed at the Arnarholl.

Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, 1850 Painting by P. Raadsig (Wikipedia)
Because of steam rising up from the area’s hot springs, he gave it the name of Reykjavik, which means “smoky bay.”

We then walked to the Culture House. It is housed in a neoclassic-style building, which was the first building, officially erected on an Icelandic initiative under home rule. Therefore, it is regarded as one of the Iceland’s national architectural monuments.

Culture House, Reykjavik

This building is in quite contrast with most of the structures in Reykjavik, which although functionally good, appear quite plain and non-descript, probably because of the strict building code due to the area’s large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

But some buildings do stand out because of their paint or some architectural elements.


Painted House, Reykjavik (As Shown in a Brochure)
Since 2000, the Culture House has served as a venue dedicated to promote the Icelandic heritage. It has a permanent display of some of the Iceland’s national treasures, the principal medieval manuscripts of Icelandic sagas, as well as those depicting the medieval Northern European society, religion, and world view.
Medieval Manuscripts, Culture House, Reykjavik

Also, at the Culture House, we saw a documentary about Leif Eiricsson’s voyage to North America in A.D. 1000.

Nearby is the Government House, where the President resides when he is in town. It is a rather small and unpretentious structure.

Government House, Reykjavik

An hour later we boarded the bus again for the Volcano House, our next destination. But that was a huge mistake. It was much farther away from our destination than the previous stop.

Fortunately, we found a young girl. Finding her English quite limited, she decided to walk her bicycle with us to where she could point us our way to our destination! The fact is that all the people we addressed our questions to or asked for directions, were quite pleasant and helpful.

In a way it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Since it took us through one of the most scenic area of the town called, “The Pond.” It has its own “reigning” flock of ducks. Some of the posh houses as well as nice parks (one adorned with sculptures) surround this small lake.

Houses around The Pond, Reykjavik

 Resident Ducks, The Pond, Reykjavik

 Several stops for directions later, we eventually found the Volcano House.

Volcano House, Reykjavik

It features two documentaries about Iceland’s two major volcanic eruptions of the last 20 years.  
The first one happened without any warning on the night of January 23, 1973. It claimed about 400 houses and nearly 5, 000 people had to flee their home and their island in matter of hours.
The other eruption took place in 2010, which disrupted air traffic all over Europe.
Volcanic Eruptions Featured in Volcano House Documentaries
By the time we reached close to the Hop On/Hop Off stop, it was already 4 p.m., when the bus stops operating. We decided to hire a taxi. The close to two-mile trip cost us 1450 Icelandic Kronas, about $12.50.
We wanted to end the day with the comedy show “How to become Icelandic in 60 minutes.”

But we were too tired to venture out again in the damp and windy weather.