Monday, March 11, 2019


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Note:  Since posting this a few hours ago, and having trouble finding a website based on the address I found in the booklet below, I asked Jonas Thor what current web address should be used.  He answered:  Hey Iceland!    So, that is a site I recommend to get information, and further, to make plans for your travel to Iceland. -  DP

IcelandicCelebration2020 is but 15 months away, and for those who wish to consider travel to Iceland as a member of the (unofficial) Washington Island delegation, and meet with Icelandic counterparts, advance planning should begin.   Each traveler will be responsible for making his or her own air and lodging plans and also tours or sightseeing plans, apart from the planned group visit to Eyrarbakki.  As of this date, that event is planned for Tuesday, June 9, or Wednesday, June 10, 2020, depending upon our Icelandic hosts' preferences and schedules.

We recommend submitting your email information if you're interested in this event, whether you decide to travel to Iceland, or wish to participate in welcoming for Icelandic travelers when they arrive here in early October of 2020...or just wish to stay informed of plans.   To register your interest go to:
Bill Schott is maintaining a list of interested persons, and you will then be included in group communications as plans develop.

As a traveler to Iceland in 2020f, you might desire to plan extra, "personal" days prior to the celebration date, or afterwards, in order to tour on your own or with friends.   It could also happen that a group "leader" will emerge over time, and if so, group outings might be planned with costs shared by participants.  Such activities are yet to be undertaken, and as I'm staying will be someone else who does that planning!

With today's internet capabilities, trip planning becomes easier, although personally I find it a bit daunting to do such planning online.

Here's another recommendation I heartily endorse!   In the lead-up to our family trip to Iceland in June 2015, a good ten months in advance I contacted Iceland Farm Holidays Association (IFH) - which you can now access at "Hey Iceland!" - and I was assigned an associate who then "held my hand" through the process. This organization is a cooperative of lodging members located throughout Iceland, many of whom offer B&B experiences on working farms.  This becomes an excellent way to get to know Iceland from the inside, with personal, often family contacts.

I made a rough outline for what we wanted to do, and dates for where and when we wanted to stay:  two nights in Reykjavik to get acclimated and to learn about that city, and to meet with relatives;  several nights in rural settings in southwest Iceland;  then, one final night in Reykjavik as our trip came to a close, to return our rental bus and prepare to fly home the following day from Keflavik airport. (Which is an approximately 45-minute drive from downtown Reykjavik.)

Waterfalls are abundant, and at this park you can walk
beneath the waterfall.

I began making our arrangements through our IFH contact and took her suggestions as we planned together.  As a result of our email communications we made these travel arrangements:  airport transfer to Reykjavik upon arrival (and return one week later);  all lodging arrangements (multiple rooms were  required to accommodate our 11 family travelers);  a rental bus that we picked up on our third morning.   All such reserved services were paid in advance, which then guaranteed our rooms upon check-in.  I should note that our flight brought us into Iceland in the early morning from Minneapolis, and we were "beat."  Our rooms, however, were not available until about 3:00 pm, later that afternoon, a rather standard practice.  You might consider an alternative:  rent lodging for one additional night so that you can immediately go to your room and catch up on sleep.  But, at the time that seemed unnecessary to me - and too expensive - and as a result we snoozed in the lobby confines until our rooms were ready.

At our rural hotel, Evy encountered this small lamb that
had wandered wandered away from its mother
In late afternoon, at this same lodge, dozens of horses and
riders arrived for a weekend stay, a riding club
out of Reykvakik.

IFH does not make air reservations, nor will they reserve ferry tickets to Westman Island (Vestmannaeyjar), where we made a one-day excursion.  I think such arrangements are best made by the consumer, direct with the provider.  

We did well with our 14-passenger rental bus decision (room for luggage on rear-most seats).  Driving rules are similar to the
U. S. with the driver seated on the left side.  Roads are (generally) well-marked and in good condition, and you can get around quite well on your own.  Travelers are warned, however, about off-road driving, as these roads become exceedingly rugged and you may then wind up lost.  Request a GPS for your rental vehicle.  There may be considerable distance between towns or points of interest, and many miles of farms or open, natural landscapes.

A rather typical scene with farm building against backdrop of mountainside,
on southern coast on route to Vik.

One added feature of IFH services are their featured, pre-set, self-drive tours.  IFH will arrange your lodging in the geographic section of Iceland that most interests you.  Perhaps you'd like to drive around the entire island?  They will arrange that, too, for 11 nights, 12 days.   IFH featured tours can connect you with such diverse activities as mussel picking; horse riding; working farm experiences; bird watching, and so forth.   There are a great variety of activities to choose from, more than an average visitor generally has time.  Our interests tended toward museums and cultural points of interests, and as such they probably fell in line with interests shared by typical American tourists.   I made certain we had significant time - one day set aside - for our Eyrarbakki visit, and so we stayed in lodging roughly 40 minutes away, north of Selfoss.  Our lodging choices tended to be more of the "resort" or "hotel" variety than farm B & B.  We were pleased with all of our lodging arrangements.

Not everyone's idea of sightseeing, but
interesting fishing vessels and a major 
fishing processing center 
at Thorlakshoven, a port about 45 minutes west of
Eyrarbakki. A high stone break
wall offers
protection from the North Atlantic and  
also serves as a port for ferries to Vestmannaeyjar
 (Westman Island) in winter months.

My introduction to IFH was through Jonas Thor, an associate who has worked with IFH for a number of years and who most recently visited Washington Island in 2014.  He brought with him a box of the IFH 2013 booklets.  I still have a few copies left and will make them available to anyone who asks.  I recently asked Jonas if it would be OK to recommend to our prospective Island travelers the services of the IFH staff?

His reply:  "By all means recommend IFH. We can plan everyone's trip in detail!"

So, while there's plenty of snow still on the ground, why not get started by going online to check out IFH and activity options in Iceland?

Just go to:    Hey Iceland!
-  Dick Purinton

Friday, March 1, 2019

Icelandic Celebration 2020

Husid, the Danish trading center's home for its manager 
in years gone by, when Iceland was a Danish protectorate.
 Museum Director Lydur Palsson and staff members greeted
 us as their guests during our 2015 visit.  The IcelandicCelebration2020
 will make this Eyrarbakki visit a trip highlight.
Photo was taken in early June, similar to the time period
contemplated for the Sesquicentennial Tour.

Detroit Harbor -

The year 2020 will be the 150th anniversary of four young Icelanders arriving on Washington Island.

The area encircled in green refers to the region in Iceland in which
we concentrated our travels during a 2015 trip.  Both Reykjavik and
Eyrarbakki lie within this circle, an approx. 2 hour drive apart.

Already established here were residents - farmers, fishermen laborers and merchants - who were of German, Irish, Norwegian, Danish, English, and other national origins.  But, the fact that this was the first settlement of Icelanders in North America made it significant for those who followed.

During the ensuing four decades, 1870 to 1913, approximately 20% of the Icelandic population emigrated to North America.  Some came to Washington Island, as we know, but many more settled in western Minnesota, northeastern North Dakota, and the Red River Valley area near Winnipeg, "little Iceland" in Gimli, Manitoba, and so forth.

Yet, the establishment of homes, farms and businesses here on this island by Icelandic pioneers was significant, and it continues to be recognized as such by today's Icelandic historians who are eager to trace their family tree to descendants in North America.

Historical photo of Eyrarbakki at the turn of the last century when
stone and turf dwellings were commonplace. Eyrarbakki then was a leading
seaport for southern Iceland, and besides exporting wool and codfish
this seaport is where first emigrants departed by sailing vessel for Denmark,
then on to North America, in the early 1870s.   

The 100th Anniversary of that Icelandic immigration event was ably observed here in 1970.  There were Icelandic officials in attendance, and descendants of Icelandic immigrants.  Gertrude Andersen, first-born child to Icelandic immigrants in 1874, was 96 when she struck a bottle of wellwater against the steel of the brand new ferry, Eyrarbakki.   That water was drawn from a well in Eyrarbakki, then flown from Reykjavik to America by Iceland Air for the occasion.  A fish boil brought also people together for (we imagine) a few toasts and speeches.

Gertrude Andersen christened the new ferry Eyrarbakki
 in 1970.  Grandmother of Christine Andersen, she was
born in 1874, first child of Icelandic immigrants born
on Washington Island.

A sperm whale tooth, carved with the likenesses of early Icelandic settler Gudmander Gudmundson, and his wife, Gudrun Ingvarsdottir, was presented to the "People of Washington Island" from the Icelandic Association of Chicago.  Haldor Einarsson, best known for his furniture carvings for C. H. Thordarson, carved the likenesses of the Island's early Icelandic settlers.  Einarsson had by then returned to his homeland of Iceland after a career based in Chicago as a wood carver.  (photo of this commemorative gift is attached; you may see the actual item on display in summer at the Jacobsen Museum at Little Lake.)

Water drawn from a well in Eyrarbakki was flown by
Iceland Air to New York, then to Chicago, and driven to
Washington Island for the christening of the
ferry Eyrarbakki.

All of the above is background for why a 150th Anniversary Celebration ought to be seriously considered by the Island Community, and by anyone connected by heritage or simply
personal interest in strengthening our ties with Iceland.

In order to begin planning, a small number of us have met as volunteers of an unofficial steering committee to determine the best ways in which this event might be honorably celebrated.  We've come up with a broad outline, knowing that more details will need to be filled in as we proceed, and believing that more individuals will express interest and ideas as participants.  Today's blog, then, becomes just the first of many communications. We encourage others to digest the information and the possibilities, while considering their inclusion in 2020 whatever extent possible.

Fortunately, we've had direct (email) communication with several Icelandic individuals, friends and relatives, with whom we are well acquainted.  We also respect their passion regarding the 1870 emigration that began from Eyrarbakki.  They've also traveled to Washington Island and know us.   Through them I've been able to pin down timing for key events.

In addition (and here lies perhaps the most exciting and potentially significant part of the plan), we believe there will be interest from a group of Islanders to travel to Iceland in early June of 2020.  Likewise, from indications we've received from our Icelandic counterparts, a group of Icelanders may then travel to Washington Island in early October of 2020, rounding out the 2020 celebration experience.

Such an exchange would symbolize our mutual interest in a 2020 celebration.  It would further help to establish - or reestablish - ties with the Icelandic nation that might further ongoing, future relationships.

Gudmunder Gudmundson and his wife,
Gudrun (Ingvarsdottir)
Carved sperm whale tooth, gift to the Island
people in 1970.
Carved by Haldor Einarsson, Iceland.

Following, then, in Q & A format, are some of the particulars to consider.  I will anticipate there will be chat discussions, questions being asked, and ideas to aid in this celebration.  We - members of the initial steering committee - will try our best to keep up with your questions and comments, and to help organize various ideas.

1.  When would the exchanges take place?

By initial agreement with our Icelandic counterparts, we anticipate a contingent of Washington Island folks traveling to Iceland June 9 & 10, 2020.   That is when actual travel to Eyrarbakki, and perhaps a gathering of sorts with Icelandic relatives, might take place.  Of course, travelers will want to see sights and do things, either on their own, or as a group.

We would be hosts to a group from Iceland in early October, with planned activities to be held in the mid-week, Oct. 6 & 7.  A variety of events can be planned for their visit, including local points of interest, and opportunities for formal and informal exchange.

A walk along the seawall in Eyrarbakki, which was Iceland's
leading port for export of wool and fish in 1800s.  Later, this emigration
movement included citizens from other regions and
other Icelandic seaports.

2.  Where do I sign up to go to Iceland?

You will travel as an individual, or as a family, or group of friends, by making your own flight and lodging arrangements.

One possible scenario:  Fly to Iceland on Sunday (arriving early Monday morning in Iceland).  Take a day to acclimate, catch up on jet lag, visit points of interest in Reykjavik.  Gather and meet up with others at an appointed location, then travel as a group to Eyrarbakki on either June 9 or 10.  (TBD) Participate in a group dinner one evening.  Visit with Icelandic relations, either on your own or as a group, when such is organized.   Sightseeing should also be high on your list, and there are many tour opportunities,. both in Reykjavik and for the outlying countryside, to points of historical and cultural interest, to museums and the like.   But, we wish to emphasize that being a Washington Island representative to Iceland remains the key purpose for this trip.  We expect to further guidance from our hosts as more plans are developed.

Note:  Not to be discounted are the services of a professional travel agent.  However, for many, this becomes an extra step.  We as a committee of volunteers are not capable of providing travel booking services as would such a professional, or one's self!

At a certain point, by early July, we'd like to know:    Who wishes to travel to Iceland as part of the 2020 Celebration Group?    Who wishes to help host Icelandic guests on Washington Island?
Who is interested in both, but not likely to participate in either event?   We'd like to get an idea of what our planning and obligations might entail as we move ahead.   But, there's plenty of time, still.

Gulfoss, largest waterfall in Europe, discharges tons of
glacier meltwater each hour.

3.  Can I then also be an Island hosts to receive Icelandic guests in October?

Yes, this is an equally integral part of this celebration exchange.

Aside from visiting points of interest such as Rock Island, museums, Stavkirke, the Wickman home, etc., we anticipate hosting our Icelandic guests to at least one, if not more, social events, where personal exchanges of "Welcome" can be made, official proclamations or gifts presented, and perhaps enjoyment of local entertainment based around the Icelandic immigration theme.

Our Icelandic guests will likewise need to determine their travel dates, their places of lodging, and so forth.  We can assist them with suggestions.  We have no ideas as to numbers of visitors expected at this date because planning is still in its earliest stages.

4.  How can I determine my Icelandic lineage?

In Iceland there is great emphasis placed on genealogy, and they have a number of available websites that may prove very helpful ( is one example).  Our Island Archives is about to embark on updating our genealogy records.   An informational meeting to get this effort started will be held in early summer, and not only for families with Icelandic ties, but all Island families, in order to extend the base of knowledge in our Archives.  

Above all, anyone of Icelandic heritage ought to update their family information soon.  This, in turn, will help tie you to your ancestral roots in Iceland.  Who knows?  You may find a new cousin living  here in America, or in Iceland.

5.  What about funding for this whole thing?

At this point, the planning and execution is by individuals, out-of-pocket.  We think this is the way to go because today people can easily access travel information by the internet and create their own plans.   The variations in personal plans, credit card incentives, travel and lodging wishes, is more than a volunteer is willing to undertake.  You will likely find help and advice via internet, however, as you begin this process.

As for presentations to acknowledge and thank our Icelandic hosts, and later, to present our meaningful expressions of thanks to our Icelandic visitors, we perceive offering gifts that are meaningful but that do not necessarily require major expense:   framed photographs;  a momento of an immigrant family;  a dinner for all that could be pot-luck, or out-of-pocket, these ideas are to be encouraged.

Entertainment ideas have already been proposed, to include local talent and participants (perhaps members of the Island Players), slide photos from the Island Archives, etc.    If specific opportunities are identified for sponsorship, we would not hesitate to solicit financial aid from local businesses or service organizations.

As with travel to Iceland by members of the Washington Island contingent, we would encourage  personal visits with Icelandic relatives and friends.

We'd like the involvement of our Island school children as an educational and cultural opportunity.  Ideas are also welcomed to further this goal.

Dramatic walk in Thingvellir, between rifts in the Atlantic and
Europeantectonic plates.  Ruins of "booths," or shelters, at site of
oldest republic in the world lie in foreground.

6.  So, I'm interested in going to Iceland.  How do I start my planning?

There's no single way to go about this, but if you're thinking of joining in the Iceland travel portion of this celebration, you might begin by blocking out that second week of June, 2020.  Check out air travel, the options and approximate pricing. We think Chicago may be the easiest airport for departure, with Iceland Air being a major carrier, but Minneapolis is another option.  There are also frequent flights out of Boston  (only 3+ hours flight to Iceland.)  Cheaper seating may be available on "second tier" airlines, but beware of smaller planes, tighter seating, and extras for luggage, plus more commonly delayed departure times, etc.

As for lodging, there are many hotels in Reykjavik, also Air BnB's.  By checking back and forth with friends and relations who are interested in this trip, you may open up new ideas.   You might want to join in the same lodging location... or not.

All of this planning begins some 15 months in advance of the proposed June travel date, which ought to be time enough to consider your options carefully, and to correspond with others for advice.

        *       *      *     *

In the meantime, let us recommend introductory experiences through film, books and internet that might help you in making choices (and to familiarize yourself with Icelandic culture for when you become the host).

Two films we highly recommend that give you a good flavor of Iceland:
      Rams                          ....  on Netflix   
      Of Horses and Men ...   Amazon Prime

A book that captures the struggles, and the spirit, of Iceland's farmers in the years leading up to WWI, by Nobel Prize winning author Haldor Laxness:   Independent People
                                        Hannah Kent:      Burial Rites
                                        Nancy Brown:      A good horse has no color

Many Icelandic sagas exist, tougher reading for sure, but interesting in cultural and historical background, from the perspective of 8-900 years in the past, as Iceland developed identity as an island nation.

Evy Beneda has several Icelandic blog sites that she follows and recommends, including the following:

Finally, stay tuned to this blog.  Give your email information to (Bill Schott & me) at this email address:    This will put you on the mailing/notification listing for pertinent information.

In mid-May (date to be determined) we'll plan another public function to discuss plan developments, and to view slides of Iceland, or other information that will educate and invigorate your planning.  All are welcome, and you need not be an Icelandic descendent to enjoy and participate in these events!

-  Dick Purinton.        [NOTE ONE:   I was recently notified that the email address I provided in the next-to-last paragraph for celebration notifications did not work.   I made the correction 3/7/19.   Thanks for the several comments that pointed out my error.       SECOND NOTE:  I should not be quick to discount the aid and services of travel agents, for we used a great source, the Icelandic Farm Holidays Association, when we planned for our family trip in 2015.  In my next posting, I'll give some particulars based on our very positive experience working with an Icelandic agent of this tourism cooperative.]