Zegrahm expeditions trace Vikings' trek to Iceland

SEATTLE -- A thousand years have passed since Leif Eriksson and his Vikings ruled the seas, performing great feats of seamanship and adventure.

In celebration of those intrepid explorers and their many North Atlantic discoveries (including North America), Seattle-based Zegrahm Expeditions is marketing two Passage of the Vikings itineraries, following their route from the Scottish Isles to Iceland.

Slated for June 2000, the two 15-day trips offer something for everyone: history and culture, geysers and glaciers, fjords, farmlands and plenty of spouting whales, chattering puffins and wheeling clouds of seabirds.

Sailing aboard the 238-foot M/S Explorer, the first expedition, Voyage from the Scottish Isles to Iceland, departs from Edinburgh, Scotland, and continues on to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, home to significant archaeological sites.

From the Shetland's Isle of Noss, the ship will sail to the Faroe Islands, where passengers will have two days to explore the Viking ruins, small villages and scenery before sailing on to Iceland.

The colorful harbor at Reykjavik, Iceland's capital. Passengers will spend six days discovering the extinct volcano featured in Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," Reykjavik's Geysir area and towering seaside pillars of basalt.

Here, too, are countless seabird colonies of puffins (King Arthur hoped to come back as this colorful bird), guillemots and kittiwakes.

The second voyage, Circumnavigation of Iceland with the Faroe Islands, begins and ends in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, and offers customers 15 days to explore the fjords, glaciers, volcanoes and seabird colonies of this island country.

In addition to Zodiac excursions to remote beaches, fjords and cliffs dotted with birds, passengers can opt for a snowmobile trek across Europe's largest glacier, found in Iceland's southeast corner.

This voyage also includes two days in the historically and culturally significant villages of the Faroes, where sod-roofed farmhouses, Viking longhouses and an ancient Runic stone can be found.

Both voyages are timed for optimum wildlife viewing. Some 20 species of whales can be found in these nutrient-rich waters, where sleek seals lounge along the beaches of small islands and fjords.

Birds here number in the hundreds of thousands, most caught up in a seasonal frenzy of courting and breeding.

Early summer also brings a profusion of wildflowers to the fields and hillsides, providing a beautiful backdrop to the many Viking ruins.

The Orkney, Shetlands and Faroes, colonized by Vikings in the late eighth century, are known for their archaeological wonders.

Passengers will visit the chambered cairn of Maes Howe, which contains tombs dating from approximately 1800 B.C., as well as the 4,500-year-old Neolithic village of Skara Brae and the Standing Stones of Stennes.

Jarlshof, in the Shetlands, is one of Europe's great archaeological sites, which only came to light in 1905 after ruins were revealed following a storm.

Dating back to the Stone Age, this site shows evidence of habitation from the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Viking and Medieval periods.

Iceland, too, has its own Viking ruins, particularly the tiny hamlet of Sandvik, which was settled by an eccentric group of Vikings with an obsession for playing chess.

As with all Zegrahm voyages, a number of naturalists and lecturers will be on board the two expeditions. Among them will be Icelandic specialist Ragnar Hauksson and world-renowned ornithologist and Zegrahm cofounder Peter Harrison, author and illustrator of more than a dozen books, including "Seabirds: An Identification Guide."

According to Harrison, the scenery has not changed much in the past thousand years. "It's astonishing how little has changed in the waters since the days of the great Viking Age," he said.

"We'll see what the Vikings saw -- the gentle moorlands of the offshore Scottish Isles with grazing sheep amid historic archaeological sites, the Faroes' rugged seascapes packed with nesting birds and Iceland's sizzling geysers and icy-blue glaciers."

The M/S Explorer accommodates 98 passengers in outside cabins and suites, all with private facilities. Amenities include public social and lecture areas, a library, a fitness center and a sauna.

Zegrahm's Voyage from the Scottish Isles to Iceland runs from June 5 to 19, and Circumnavigation of Iceland with the Faroes is slated for June 15 to 29. Prices for each expedition start at $5,490, per person, double. Air fare is extra.

Zegrahm Expeditions
Phone: (800) 628-8747 or (206) 285-4000
Fax: (206) 285-5037
Web: www.zeco.com

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