Category Archives: Iceland

Hotel Profile Series: Hotel Borg in Reykjavik

Hotel Profile Series

Looking for a Unique Winter Getaway?

Why not catch the Northern Lights in Iceland?

Iceland is beautiful in the winter, with wintry snowscapes and snow-capped mountains. There are ample opportunities for winter activities, like snowboarding, glacier hiking, snowmobiling on a glacier, or ice caving.

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In our Hotel Profile Series, we take a closer look at some of the properties that have charmed, bedazzled and delighted our clients for years without end.

Hotel Borg in downtown Reykjavik is a favorite among many of our clients.

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Opened by Icelandic adventurer and strongman Jóhannes Jósefsson in 1930, Hotel Borg has been a dignified staple of downtown for decades. Its unique Art Deco style stands out among Icelandic hotels, with a soft, modestly boastful white townhouse exterior, and an interior swirling with glamorous curves. It’s modern, swanky, inviting, and elegant.

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Superbly located in the heart of Reykjavik, Hotel Borg overlooks beautiful Austurvöllur square, so you can step right out and within minutes walk to Reykjavik’s top restaurants, art galleries and specialty shops.

Each of its 99 rooms and suites is equipped with flatscreen TV, telephone, safe deposit box, minibar, complimentary wifi, ensuite bathroom, writing desk and luxury amenities. Ask for a room with a view overlooking the square. If you really want a deluxe experience, the one and only Tower Suite is as fancy as it gets – with two floors, ample lounging area, and luxuriant king bed.

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At the concierge, you can collect maps of the city and the Ring Road, get Aurora forecasts, or make reservations at the spa or restaurants. Hotel Borg also has an excellent spa with hot tub, steam bath, and sauna—perfect for unwinding after an active day in the elements.

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Superior Room 2571Tower Suite 11585

Call Willamette Intl Travel to plan your ideal vacation in Iceland – we have access to all the top guides, accommodation, and tours to tailor a holiday to your specific budget. 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Field Guide to Iceland’s Mystical Beings — Elves & Trolls – oh my!

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Iceland is beautiful even in winter, with plenty of fun winter activities and the breathtaking Northern Lights to look forward to! Ask us about hotel packages and fantastic airfare to and from the Land of Ice and Fire. 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

Halloween is just around the corner! Let’s take a moment to look at Iceland’s traditional take on ghouls and ghosts. 

Iceland’s belief in elves is well-documented among travelers and news sites. The Atlantic, BBC, and the Guardian all published stories on Iceland’s unique band of elves in the last couple years. But the magical beings in Iceland don’t stop there. There’s a whole host of supernatural creatures in Icelandic mythic repertoire. The cold winters and black nights were perfect breeding grounds for all sorts of fantastical fables. Some scholars believe they began as warnings or scary stories for children…

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Huldufólk

Huldufólk or “Hidden People” are humanoid beings who live in large boulders. Some Icelanders agree that they are synonymous with elves; others, a completely different species. Certain magical areas, called Álagablettur, are said to be enchanted dwelling places for the Huldufólk. They are invisible and rarely show themselves to humans; when they do appear, they have brown hair, nondescript green clothes, and are about the same size as humans. Apparently they are adverse to Christian symbols and electricity. They’ve been known to halt construction projects in protest.
TrollsLegends of trolls, gigantic monsters of nature, are plentiful in Iceland. Trolls represent nature at its most powerful and raw; they are huge, like mountains themselves, with fierce faces. They are greedy, terrifying, if a bit unintelligent. They are creatures of darkness, and a touch of sunlight will transform them into stone instantly. Sea stacks off of Iceland’s coast are often linked to the bodies of trolls, caught in sunlight adn frozen in time. The Vik basalt rock formations are such frozen trolls. Another legend surrounds Dimmuborgir, the lava field with towers of black lava near Lake Myvatn. Local legends speak of a major troll revelry, and the trolls partied so much they fell into a drunken stupor and were caught with the sun came out.

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Gryla and Gróf

Some trolls are so famous they are named. Gróf is a friendly female troll (or ogress), who once befriended a young girl Siggi. Many Icelandic children are told tales of Grýla in childhood. Grýla, a fearsome and ancient ogress, has hooves for feet and thirteen tails. She gave birth to the thirteen Yule Lads who cause mischief around Christmastime every year. She has married three times, dispatching of two of her husbands because they bored her. She has an insatiable hunger for naughty children.

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Water-Dwellers

Several cryptids haunt the waters around Iceland. The Lagarfljót monster lives in the lake Lagarfljót beside the town of Egilsstaðir. In the West Fjords, an evil troll lives on the banks of a small lake. The tale goes that the troll appears as a white horse; but if you dare to ride the horse, you’ll be stuck to it and dragged underneath to a watery grave. The only way to tell it apart from a real horse is by its hooves, which are backwards. There have been claims of sea monsters all around Iceland: the Shore Lad, Sea Man, Shell Monster. The Lyngbakur is a whale giant that devours fishermen. There’s even a museum in the West Fjords, the Skrímslasetrið, that delves into the cultural history and eyewitness accounts of Iceland’s sea monsters.  GhostsLocal folklore is packed with tales of ghosts, undead beings that haunt stables, rivers, houses, graveyards, hillsides–basically anywhere. They appear widespread in sagas (notably Glámr in Gretti’s Saga), as well as modern lore. Ghost tales are stories of unrequited love affairs, children who died too young, heroes cloven in two. Ghosts of drowned men wear damp seawear, young boys wear scarlet-red sweaters. Toddlers who were left out to die appear crying, singing to their alive mothers, wrapped in swaddled blankets. Stop by the Ghost Center, a museum in Stokkseyri devoted to hauntings all over the island, to learn more.

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Sæmundr fróði

There are many renowned warlocks in Icelandic folklore, but none so famous as Sæmundur Sigfússon fróði. “Saemund the Learned” was a semi-legendary scholar, who lived in the 11th and 12th centuries. He studied the Dark Arts, and spent his days tricking the Devil. One story relates how, when he graduated from the Black School, Saemund sewed a leg of lamb into his cloak. As he was about to leave, the Devil reached to grab him but snatched the leg instead. Saemund slipped away to safety.

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Tilberi or Snakkur

Tilberi, or Snakkur as they are also known, are worm-like creatures, born of witchcraft in order to steal milk. The recipe to creature a Tilberi is complex and precise: a wtch must steal a rib from a recently buried body early on Whitsunday. Pluck gray wool from the shoulders of a widow’s sheep, and then twist the gray wool around the bone. For the next three Sundays, the witch will spit sanctified wine on the bundle during communion. After each spit, the tilberi will shudder, until at last springing into life at the end of the third Sunday. The tilberi then is sent to suck milk from cows and ewes in secret. The tilberi jumps on the udder and once full with milk, will cry out “Full belly, Mommy” or “Churn lid off, Mommy.” The witch will then collect the Tilberi and it will vomit the milk into her butter churn. The only way to kill a tilberi is to send it to the mountain to collect lambs’ droppings in three pastures. The tilberi will die because evil creatures cannot tolerate the number three (naturally).

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Yule Lads & Yule Cat

The Yule Lads are thirteen mischievous trolls who cause trouble around Christmas. We’ve covered them extensively in a previous post, which you can read here. The Yule Cat is a humongous cat that lurks around the countryside wth the Yule Lads. It will devour anyone who hasn’t received any new clothes of Cristmas eve. Popularized by the poet Johannes ur Kotlum in his poem Jolaktturrinn.

Have you heard more about spooky tales and mystic beings from folklore around the world? Share with us in the comments!

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Video: Top 5 Unique Tours in Iceland

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We’ve prepared a fun little video for you this week! To see more of these, Like Us on Facebook! We’ll be publishing them every now and then on our Facebook Page. Enjoy!

Planning a Summer or Fall trip to Iceland? It’s important to book hotels and tours early to this wildly popular destination. Give us a call! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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The Next Best Destinations for 2017

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Happy New Year, dear Readers! We’ve made past the end of 2016, hopefully with some fun and meaningful travel memories racked up. But what does 2017 have in store for the traveler? Here are our Top Destinations in 2017:

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Cruise ship in Isafjordur, the West Fjords of Iceland

1. Iceland

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Iceland has once again made the list. In the past 10 years, Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination soared to immense heights, capping 1 billion travelers to this dynamic Atlantean rock in the summer of 2016 alone. Most travelers have visited the gorgeous Golden Circle and the Glacier Lagoon, maybe even ridden an Icelandic horse or spied the Northern Lights–but what’s next for Iceland in 2017? Traveling a bit more off-the-beaten path, to Lake Myvatn area, to the West Fjords and the Westman Isles. We’ll have to see what this magical Viking isle has in store for us!

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

2. Slovenia (& the Balkans)

If you haven’t discovered this off-the-beaten-path trek in Europe, what are you waiting for? Slovenia is the oft-cited “playground of Europe,” with a range of activities to attract the thrill-seeker. Spelunking, hang-gliding, jet-skiing are just some of the more popular pursuits. Plus there are few city centers as pristine as Ljubljana’s. A great way to see the Balkan countries is to rent a car and spend a few weeks traveling around war-wounded Sarajevo, culturally bobbing Belgrade, and Croatia’s exquisite Dalmatian coast.

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Białowieża Forest, Poland

3. Australia & New Zealand

Australia & New Zealand have always been a popular destination for families, couples and backpackers alike. Sydney boasted the “best fireworks in the world” at the Opera this New Year’s Eve. Tazmania might just be the next prime hiking destination, with multi-day excursions and luxury ecolodges. And NZ has an array of fun food-themed fetes to enjoy, kicking off with Auckland Seafood Festival in January and then Marlborough Wine & Food Festival come February. Though the Northern Lights have attracted some fair attention these past few years, the Southern Hemisphere has it’s own bragging right: the unparalleled Southern Cross!

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River Boat sailing through Chicago, USA

4. River Cruises in North America

Domestic travel usually has to offer something unique to attract travelers, and we believe river cruises are that unique option. There seems to be no end to high quality river and lake cruises: the Great Lakes, roundtrip Nashville on the Mississippi River, Montreal and the eastern seaboard, and the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. Themes range from southern style comfort on the Mississippi to the pioneer history of the Oregon Trail. River cruises are small-scale, comfortable, unhurried cruises in American history that often sail year-round–without the spectacle afforded on ocean cruises. Plus one major advantage over Europe or South America: shorter flights to get there (if any)!

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Lisbon, Portugal

5. Portugal

Warm beach weather, delicious cuisine, and a charming ambiance makes Portugal a global destination. Lisbon has all the Old World beauty of a European small town, and the coastline draws its fair share of beachgoers and world-class surfers. In terms of food and wine, Portugal will certainly peak your interest, and the easygoing temperance of the locals will make you feel at home in no time.

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Oslo, Norway

6. Scandinavia

Though oft-cited as the most expensive destination in Europe, Scandinavia remains one of the best “bang-for-your-buck” destinations in the world. Thanks to recent trends following the Northern Lights and Iceland’s natural attractions, the region is receiving all the attention it deserves. World-class restaurants, leisurely cafes, and interactive museums still place it at the top of the list (and the map!). Not to mention how easy and accessible most travelers find Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Reykjavik–most of the population are friendly, curious, polite and speak English.

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Reindeer in Finland

7. Finland & Estonia

Finland celebrates 100 years of independence from Russia in 2017, and a spirit of unity will be rampant in every town and city. Wander 39 national parks or visit the laid-back seaside capital, view the Northern Lights or take a dip in the local sauna. Helsinki has the familiarity and design-conscious layout of a Scandinavian town, with a cultural flair that’s uniquely Finnish. Estonia is also growing on the tourist horizon–Tallinn as a leading city of technology and entrepreneurship. Its heritage is part Baltic, with smatterings of Soviet Union and Finnish influence. A popular way to visit is via a cruise to the Baltic region–many of our clients have come back from a cruise excursion with tales of Tallinn’s enchanting city center.

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Paris, France

8. France

Throughout the centuries, France has never lost its charms. Even through recent security issues have scared off some travelers, the Loire chateaux, Bordeaux wines and sun-baked sands of the Riviera are still there and thriving. After a shaky 2016, France is bouncing back in a big way, and tourist bookings have increased exponentially for 2017. Tourists seem to have their eyes on provincial towns and the hidden secrets of the countryside. Is this the time to finally check out the Champagne region, or go wine-tasting in the Dordogne Valley?

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1950s/60s Cars in Cuba

9. Cuba

With relaxing entry regulations, Cuba has received quite the attention these past two years. The response from group travelers and cruise ship passengers has been wildly enthusiastic. Over 2 million travelers visited the island in the first half of 2016, compared to just 63,000 in 2010. But that may all change soon–some travel industry experts fear that the Trump administration will restrict travel there in the future. So now might be your only chance in a while to travel to the “Pearl of the Antilles.”

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The Majestic African Elephant

10. Africa Destinations: Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.

Africa remains an ever-popular destination, with senior couples and large families booking safari trips in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. These regions are still within reasonable budget to catch a glimpse of wildebeest, lions, antelopes. South Africa is world-famous for their natural diversity and local cuisine, catering to all flavors and styles. Immerse yourself on a game drive in Kruger National Park, or indulge in wine-tasting in Boberg or the Breede River Valley. We’re proud also to include Namibia on our list. As some of our readers know, WIT Owners Christina and John guided a merry band through the red sands of Namibia. The landscape is like no other, with miles upon miles of arid desert, dotted with unique wildlife and local tribes who paint themselves with ochre. We expect to see a rise in interest for Namibia in 2017, and now you can receive firsthand travelers’ experience at our office in Portland.

Do you have a favorite travel memory or photo from 2016? We’d love to hear about it! Share with us in the comments!

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Filed under Africa, Baltic, Croatia, Cruises, Cuba, Estonia, Europe, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Namibia, North America, Norway, Poland, portugal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, tanzania, USA

Iceland’s Crystal Caves

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The Ice Tunnel at Langajökull

Ice Caves in Iceland are truly a unique experience, as they appear only in winter. The summer heat carves out dramatic holes and caverns in the glacier. By late autumn, they freeze again into caves of dazzling beauty, so resplendent that they’ve been dubbed “crystal caves.” Since ice is an ever-changing element, ice caves often change from year to year, or disappear altogether. Officially, the season runs from November to March. 

Iceland is known for its breathtaking and photogenic crystal caves. Streaks of black silt tattoo the brilliant cerulean blue of the ice. Only a handful of reputable guides will take you on an adventure of ice and glaciers—ask your agent at Willamette Intl Travel who they recommend. Continue reading

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A Day in Elliðaárdalur Park

From the desk of Iceland (soon to be Sweden) correspondent Wailana Kalama: 

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After you’ve been in one place for a while, or you’ve visited one place again and again… you begin to discover all those little nooks and crannies you missed the first time ’round.

For me, Elliðaárdalur was one of those places—a little piece of wildlife in the middle of Reykjavik, Iceland. Virtually unknown to tourists, this peaceful cluster of trees and streams makes a great afternoon getaway from the hubbub of Reykjavik.What better time to visit in the beginning of June, when the glacier waters have melted to reveal beautiful cascades and blooming lupin?

Elliðaárdalur is only 10-15 minutes drive from downtown, or approximately 20 minutes by bus. Pronounced (rather roughly) “et-lee-tha-aur-da-lure,” the name means something like the “Valley of Elliði’s River.”


The park runs from north to south, follows the banks of the Elliðaár river, and culminates into two small but graceful waterfalls at the end. Hikers can hug the waterside or go exploring on the shady forest trails. Walk among birch, fir and pine trees, and keep a lookout for swans, ducks, thrush, and wild berries. You can even take your bike there—just watch out for stones on the path!

I found myself singing “While Strolling through the Park One Day,” although technically it is the merry merry month of June, and not May as the song would like to convince you.

The park is just next to Arbaer Museum (Kistuhylur 4), the open-air folk museum that depicts the traditional Icelandic way of life.

Would you like to know more about the hidden nooks and crannies of Reykjavik? Email info@wittravel.com to plan your one of a kind trip to Iceland today! WIT Blogger Wailana lived in Reykjavik for little over a year and loves to share her tips. 

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A Drive through Snaefellsnes Peninsula

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WIT Iceland Correspondent Wailana embarked on a trip to Snaefellsnes Peninsula (in Iceland) this past weekend. A day trip includes pick up from Reykjavik hotels, and a guided drive through this spectacular national park. Check out her photos and overview from the trip!

Trip Highlights:

  • Snæfellsjökull volcano glacier
  • Gerðuberg basalt columns
  • Bird cliffs at Arnarstapi
  • Kirkjufell church-shaped mountain
  • with Kirkjufellfoss waterfall

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There were about 18 people in our cozy van, we drove from Reykjavik downtown through Hvalfjordur out to Borganes town and Snaefellsnes, the westernmost peninsula in Iceland. We stopped frequently to check out the dramatic landscape of bird cliffs, sloping mountains, black sand beaches and the occasional coffee/bathroom break. We stopped midday for lunch at Grundarfjörður and picturesque views of Kirkjufell. The guide was very friendly and knowledgeable about the history of the region; he even shared some of his family history with us–turns out he can trace his lineage all the way back 1200 years to the west coast of Norway!

Though it was a long day, starting at 8:30AM and ending around 7:30PM, it was definitely worth it! My recommendation: bring a bit of water and your camera.

For more day trips through Iceland and other hot destinations, contact Willamette Intl Travel at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. We can connect you with the best guide services to make your trip all the more memorable!

 

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