Our first four days were canals and history, and then it was on to the land of fire and ice.
The 10-1/2 hour flight direct from Los Angeles to Amsterdam got us there at 9am. Then we had to figure out how to stay awake all day. Didn’t turn out to be a problem!
Amsterdam is a charming, clean city of about ¾ of a million people, almost all of whom speak English. They’re all very helpful and as charming as the city. The city is a real gem, with 40 parks and over 100 miles of canals with charming old houses embracing both sides of the waterways.
There are about as many coffee houses as there are miles of canals, they just don’t serve coffee. These are the pot emporiums.
The city boasts a number of world-class museums of historical art masters and a variety of good, informal, casual and upscale restaurants to entice your stay.
We stayed awake with a walk to the Train Station Plaza and a two-hour on/off bus tour, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour canal boat tour, each with a splendid feel that makes Amsterdam so charming.
Since this was our fourth trip to Amsterdam, most of the next two days was spent visiting with the quartet of Gabriele’s charming relatives.
A few things in Amsterdam: There are more bikes than cars, probably because it’s so hard to find a place to park your car. If you’re lucky enough to find a space, you don’t have to put money in a meter. You enter the number of your space in your Smartphone. Do it again on your way out and your credit card is charged. Great feature. The other special was the security checkpoint at the airport—automated, fast, friendly and efficient.
Now it was time to move on three hours west to Iceland, a country the size of Kentucky, sporting 14 volcanoes and a population of about 350,000, most of whom live in/around Reykjavek, the business and political capital.
We took a cruise around most of the island country, but there are plenty of land tours and rental cars and campers available to see the sights.
Iceland is a visual paradise and a land of endless photo ops. The mountains and volcanoes are always in the background as you cruise through vast expanses of green moss landscapes, some strewn with leftover volcanic rocks.
The skies are clear (we had no rain) and the temperatures ran from 45 to 59 degrees. That is a warm summer for them.
It’s a young country geologically and historically. In addition to the active volcanoes, there are bright green valleys, glacier-cut fjords, powerful waterfalls, black (volcanic) sand beaches and roaring streams and rivers.
Our first port stop was Grundarfjörður, at the end of a beautiful fjord that leads to the grandeur of the landscape and the extinct volcanoes. The Snæfellsjökull Volcano is certainly one of the most famous mountains in Iceland, if not the world. It is not unusual for photographers from all over the world to make their way to Grundarfjörður for the sole purpose of photographing this unique landmark, which is comprised of a glacier setting on top of a 5,000-foot volcano. It’s quite a sight!
Next we headed for Grimsey Island, population 90 hardy souls. The island is about 25 miles north of mainland Iceland and directly on the Arctic Circle. It’s a haven for numerous colonies of birds along its jagged cliffs. The main resident is the clown of the sea, better known as the puffers. It is a rumored that the island has one store, which has half empty shelves and the other half are quite dusty.
We didn’t quite make it into the harbor because the seas were too choppy, so we headed in early to our next port, Akureyi, a small city of 16,000. Nicknamed the capital of Northern Iceland, it features a magnificent, modern, double spire church hanging over the downtown.
Moving on, we sailed down a beautiful, long fjord into Isafjordur. Currently, the town has one of the largest fisheries in Iceland as well as a monument to the seafarers lost during long fishing expeditions.
Heimaey, one of the 15 Westman Islands, welcomed us next. The only inhabited island, Heimaey has a current population of 4,700 and it was there in 1973 that an volcanic eruption began without warning by the side of Mt. Helgafell on the outskirts of town, to swamp one-third of the houses with boiling lava and bury most of the rest in ash. Miraculously, the fishing fleet was in port, and evacuated the whole population to the mainland without loss of life. Six months later, when the volcano had fallen dormant again, most of the islanders returned to rebuild their homes and lives—and re-established the Westman Islands as one of Iceland’s main fishing ports.
Iceland is dedicated to preserving its natural wealth through responsible conservation. According to the Environmental Performance Index, it is the world’s greenest country. Iceland is at the forefront of renewable energy production, and nearly every home in the country is supplied with heating and energy from renewable energy sources. Iceland has also made a commitment to responsible fisheries management, and incentive programs to reduce fossil fuel-driven transportation through the use of hydrogen and methane.
All-in-all, we traveled 965 nautical miles, equivalent to about 1,200 land miles. If you were driving, you would easily double that mileage.
It’s a good trip and a nice vacation, only six hours from New York.