Iceland Travelogue

07.03.18 Continuing with our tradition of chess reports from far-off and not-so-far-off locations, we bring you chess and culture from the Land of Fire and Ice. Maine Chess Association Interim President Mike Dudley recently travelled to Iceland and shares with us his impressions of the island.

The giant waterfall Gullfoss (Golden Falls)

Thanks to Mike Dudley for contributing this report.

Michael Dudley
29 June 2018

From volcanic landscapes to incredible urban amenities, Iceland has become a popular vacation destination. Last year, in 2017, the small island nation of 350,000 residents was visited by almost 2.5 million visitors. Not only is this travelogue an account of what I saw and did with my family while visiting, but it is also a crash course guide in what to expect if you visit.


Our departure from Logan International Airport was one of many that follow a typical pattern of departures: depart for Iceland in the late evening, only to arrive in the wee hours of the morning in Keflavík. Our flight path took us directly over Bangor, through the air over the Maritimes, squarely over the glaciers of Greenland, and into the airport at Keflavik, a former American air base transformed into a central hub for transcontinental travel. The early arrival is juxtaposed by the persistent daylight: in late June, travelers to Iceland can expect the relentless photonic onslaught of 24 hours of daylight.


Reykjavík, a bustling capital city of about 125,000 people, and a metropolitan area of an additional 80,000 people or so, has so much to offer every visitor to Iceland. Our family had the pleasure of staying in the Ártúnsholt neighborhood of Reykjavík, just a ten-minute drive in from the city center and within ten minutes of the best thermal pools in the city. Our apartment was a ten-minute walk from the park at Elliđáardalur (Elliđá river valley), which offered a beautiful river walk resplendent in Alaskan prairie lupin and even the occasional wild rabbit.

Upon arrival in Reykjavík, and after some much-needed rest, we explored Reykjavík with the help of a Reykjavík City Card. This handy voucher, good for a choice of 24, 48, or 72 hours, allows holders access to all of Reykjavík's municipal museums, offers discounts at others, and at several restaurants and food vendors across the city. It also offers free access to the geothermally heated public pools, and world-class public transit (locally known as Stræto).

Using this pass, we took in the sights of the Settlement Exhibition, the National Museum of Iceland, the National Gallery of Iceland, and the Reykjavík Maritime Museum. The pictures below this travelogue offer a taste of the exhibits on offer at these museums, dedicated to the life, history, art, and culture of native Icelanders. While not on the pass, the trip around Reykjavík would not be complete without a tour through Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík's iconic towering church. The church tower offers the best view of Reykjavík.

Another fortunate event happening in downtown Reykjavík during this trip was a viewing of the Icelandic national football team (KSI, or Knattspyrnusamband Íslands) as they took on Nigeria in World Cup group play. Viewings took place all over Reykjavík, as foreign visitors and resident Icelanders alike took part in cheering Iceland on.

Reykjavík offers some of the best cuisine in either Europe or North America (at least in this author's humble view). Offerings are diverse, and are as far-reaching and worldly as its residents. Restaurants offering Vietnamese cuisine sit on the same block as the Chuck Norris Grill and the Lebowski Bar, and even fast food restaurant chains such as Subway, Domino's, and KFC offer an assertive presence (though, be warned: you will pay $15 or more for that sub or that pizza). Our experience in restaurants in Reykjavík took in local seafood, including arctic char, redfish, and minke whale, and offerings of horse and puffin, all common cuisine in Icelandic circles. Other restaurants offer more traditional plates: fermented shark, sheep's skull, and others, sometimes with a shot of the national drink, Brennevin, a foul concoction best described as a caraway schnapps.

Perhaps the most iconic Icelandic offering we enjoyed while out and about in downtown Reykjavík is an Icelandic hot dog, known in Icelandic as pylsa. The typical Icelandic hot dog is served with remoulade, a mustard sauce known as pylsusinnep, finely chopped white onions, and French fried onions.


A common set of sights to see in Iceland is known as the Golden Circle: a fifty-or-so mile loop that brings visitors to see Þingvellir (parliament fields), Geysir and Strokkur, and Gullfoss, four beautiful sights commemorating Iceland's natural beauty and rich history.

At Þingvellir, the North American plate meets the Eurasian plate at a divergent fault line. The lava rocks scattered everywhere are sometimes split by gaping fissures and are marked with moss. After taking in Öxarárfoss, we walked in a driving rain to the site of the meetings of the world's first parliament, the Alþingi, which met for the first time in 930 AD. (A statue of Leifur Eiriksson lives in front of Hallgrimskirkja, presented to Iceland as a gift from the United States to commemorate this anniversary.) In the fields is a church, Þingvallakirkja,

Geysir and Strokkur, and the boiling pools in its vicinity, are two of the most frequently visited natural landmarks in Iceland. While Geysir is the geyser for which all other geysers are named, it is not hot-tempered: Geysir rarely, if ever, blows its top. Instead, Strokkur is much more violent, going off every five to ten minutes or so. The area around Geysir and Strokkur is steamy, stark, and alien, smelling of the same brimstone that is in the hot water running through the pipes in many Icelandic residences. While this might seem a place where nothing can live, the soil around Geysir and Strokkur are teeming with wildflowers.

Gullfoss is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Iceland and is also an extremely popular tourist destination. A trail on the western side of the river Hvítá leads viewers to a rocky perch where both the initial falls and the larger second falls tumble into a canyon below. A monument on the trail tells the story of Sigríđur Tómasdóttir, a local guide who, according to legend, helped preserve the waterfall and keep it in the state it is found today.


The Bobby Fischer Chess Center, located in Selfoss, is an intriguing and eccentric museum dedicated to what is arguably the most memorable and historic confrontation in chess history. The Center is open daily from 1:00 to 4:00 PM, and is located on the second floor of a florist's shop in downtown Selfoss. A large chessboard is tiled and paved into the patio out front, and the stairs are adorned with pictures of the former World Champion playing Boris Spassky. Upstairs, the center features hundreds of artifacts from the 1972 World Chess Championship and its publicity, everything from a replica of the set used by Fischer and Spassky (furnished by none other than House of Staunton) to the political cartoons featuring Fischer and Spassky. A chessboard signed by Garry Kasparov commemorates his visit.


Iceland's currency is the króna (crown), which was trading at around 108 krónur to the US dollar at the time of the trip. While Icelandic businesses and vendors all advocate for the use of cards for transactions, having cash on hand can be a helpful way to avoid transaction fees. That said, coins are issued up to 100 krónur, so be prepared for lots of pocket weight!


Go to Iceland if you are ever able. The pristine scenery, bustling city life, amazing food and once-in-a-lifetime experiences make this destination a must-see!

The Alþingi, Iceland's national parliament.

The map of Árbæjarlaug, the public pool in the Árbær neighborhood of Reykjavík. No pictures of the pool itself, though, as taking pictures in a public pool is expressly forbidden!

Pictures snapped in Elliđaárdalur Park, which is like Reykjavík's Central Park.

Pictures of the Bobby Fischer Chess Center.

A statue of a bear in front of the German consulate, indicating the Great Circle distance to Berlin.

Pictures of Geysir and Strokkur, Koningshver, and the prairie lupine surrounding the thermal hotspot.

Pictures of the giant waterfall Gullfoss (Golden Falls), one with the author pictured.

Pictures of the interior and exterior of Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík's iconic central church. The pipe organ pictured contains an insane 5,750 pipes and must be cleaned regularly!

Harpa, Reykjavík's concert and function hall. Harpa's glass façade is meant to emulate the scales of a fish. This is the home of the prestigious Reykjavík Open.

A statue and food cart in Hlemmur Square, Reykjavík's largest central bus stop.

A typical Icelandic hot dog: Consisting of Icelandic lamb, pork, and beef, with remoulade, mustard, and French fried onions.

A beautiful example of Icelandic house architecture on Suđurgata, the street running next to Reykjavík's central pond.

Examples of the lavish artwork adorning the buildings of Reykjavík.

A statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, Iceland's first settler.

The sign above the Turfhouse Museum at Íslenski Bærinn, a preservation of an old Icelandic turfhouse. Unfortunately, the museum was closed upon our arrival!

The statue of Leifur Eiriksson presented to Iceland as a gift from the United States on the one thousandth anniversary of the Alþingi.

Pictures of the Reykjavík Maritime Museum, including commemorations of maritime technology, cod, and chess!

The obverse and reverse of Iceland's coinage. Note the Four Guardians (Landvættir) of Iceland on the reverse: the Dragon, the Eagle, the Bull, and the Giant.

A sample of displays at the National Museum of Iceland. Note the manufacturer of the chess set in the second floor lounge area!

The streets are sometimes named for Norse gods and heroes!

Öxárarfoss, the waterfall upstream from Þingvellir.

Reykjavík City Hall

The view of Reykjavík from the tower of Hallgrímskirkja.

Pictures of the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavík, including games typically played by the first settlers.

Sigríđur Tómasdóttir's bust at Gullfoss.

Reykjavík's central pond

The sights of Þingvellir, with a young traveler taking in the signage in Icelandic!

Icelanders have a subtle, understated sense of humor! However, leaving small tips or none at all is the norm in Iceland, as servers and food workers are generally well paid.

Watching Iceland play Nigeria in their World Cup match. This marked Iceland's first qualification into the prestigious soccer tournament. Áfram Ísland!


Wonderful picture shows..Kudoes to Michael Dudley...........Jon

wow... thanks for sharing

Pretty cool stuff - thanks Mike!

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