August 2010 -aboard mv Discovery
with some notes incorporated from Cruise Talks by David Baskott
Iceland is a little smaller than England and five times the size of Wales. It has a total population of 300,000. 98% of the Icelandic people are Lutheran.
The country is young – still being born or created. It is a very colourful land with four permanent icecaps. There are still very active volcanoes but few trees as the soil is not good enough.
There is clear evidence of plate tectonics - it is because the plates are separating that Iceland is gradually growing.
Due to the recent economic downturn, there is increasing unemployment.
The currency is now extremely weak and one Icelandic kronur is worth ½ p
Wednesday 4th August 2010
Akureyri was to be our first port of call in Iceland on this trip. It is in the north of the country – with the Arctic Circle in fact being only some 30 miles to its north. The city is reached via a 2 hour cruise down the Eyjafjordur fjord or inlet - 31 nautical miles. All surrounding mountains in the fjord are about the same height.
Akureyri, founded in 1778, is the second city in Iceland (Reykjavik, the capital, being the largest).
The population today is more than 17,000. It is a short one street town. It has a new hospital, the most northerly botanical gardens in the world, and a large church. The latter was consecrated in the 20th century and includes glass from the bombed Coventry Cathedral - bought by an Icelandic business man and then by a group of Icelandic women from Akureyri – thus it is genuinely medieval.
Akureyri’s water is heated by geothermal pools and many of the main streets have underground heating. There is a long bridge to get to the other side of the fjord – and the route goes past the airport. In the summer months there are scheduled flights from as far away as Copenhagen. When the volcano erupted earlier this year and Reykjavik Airport closed, this local airport suddenly became very important and busy as an alternative.
On our pre-booked tour, we had a long climb up to around 1000 metres to get over the flat-topped edges to the fjord. The road was constructed in 1983. Indeed, pre-War, vehicles were uncommon in Iceland and the road system almost non-existent.
Although the landscape was believed to have been wooded to about 50%, following settlement by the Vikings this gradually declined. There was generally a lack of wood for houses and ships and trees are only about 12 to 15 feet high. As with the other countries we have visited, the vegetation is mainly grass and we saw bundles of silage for the animals. Some of the farmers keep sheep and cattle in some instances taking electricity from their own hydro-electric plants.
The population is very sparse. In the days prior to improved transport, children attended boarding schools in remote areas of the countryside. In some instances these have now become motels as the population continues to drift to the towns. We were struck by the lack of traffic.
We passed many Icelandic horses – notable because they have a fifth gate – always having one hoof on the ground. They are very hardy animals but did have to be brought indoors when the Eyjallajokull volcano erupted earlier in the year.
Travelling on, we suddenly came across a large area covered with lava which had flowed some 10,000 years ago. There was also a flow of 1728 which miraculously had passed on both sides of the church without coming close enough to harm it.
In the 1870s the population of Iceland was only 60,000 and, following a volcanic eruption and further cooling of the climate, a quarter of the population – largely to the Manitoba area of Canada where there is still a strong Iceland connection today.
Our stop at Namafjall reminded us somewhat of Rotorua in New Zealand; as well as mud pools and steam from fumeroles, there were many colour variations. Sulphur was particularly dominant in colour and smell!
We continued on by coach around Lake Myvatn to Dimmuborgir. This was a strange landscape of exposed lava that had been sculpted by frost action after its initial creation into unusual shapes underwater (see photograph of noticeboard explaining this in detail).
The area had a number of craters which were not volcanic cones but formations of magma which had boiled under the water in a way similar to porridge! We stopped briefly for further photos in the general area of Lake Myvatn before moving on to a local Community Hall for coffee and cakes.
Subsequent to this we made a longer stop at the Godafoss waterfall having been tantalised by views of this from the coach window for some while. After Godafoss, we needed to drive quite fast to get back to Akureyri in time for the ship’s scheduled departure at 1.00 p.m. In the event, we were a little late and sailed off at 1.30 p.m.
5th, 6th & 7th August 2010
Thursday 5th August
Reykjavik is one of the most northerly capitals in the world and also one of the youngest capitals – having attained its charter in the late 18th century. It is a very expensive place and a very spread out city – home to about 180,000 – 200,000 people.
The skyline of Reykjavik is dominated by the typically Lutheran, Hailgrimskirkja Church, with stylised basalt-like columns (made of cement). There is a lift to the top of the tower. The organ dates from 1998 and is excellent. The cathedrals (Lutheran and RC) are much smaller.
There are very wide streets and avenues – plus motorways. Traffic flows freely and there is rarely congestion.
The first inhabitants of Iceland came in the 800s from Norway – and they had their assembly point on Thingvellir where the first parliament was established. The edge of North America (!) is found here.
The brand new cruise terminal was opened last year and has a bookshop/ tourist info office.
We docked, as scheduled, at 1.00 p.m. on Thursday 5th August.
Before doing so, we attended the fourth in a series of Photographic lectures in the Carousel Theatre. This was taken by Dr Philip Lawson FRPS and Janet Edwards, FRPS, M.Sc. They are both award-winning photographers and have a wealth of travel and natural history experience behind them. They are also senior lecturers at Loughborough University. Their website is http://www.el-image.com/cruises.Jill was very surprised to find that her photograph of Alesund had been selected for printing and display (as well as another 8 of her photographs which were on the digital photo frame in the Palm Court).
After lunch, we made up the diary and then decided to walk into the city – 5 km along the coast. The weather was actually quite warm and we enjoyed the walk (albeit along tarmacked walkways). We re-explored the heart of the small city – with much being familiar from our previous visit in June 2008.
We saw, again, the Hofni or Icelandic White House is where Regan and Gorbachev met and which marked the beginning of the melting of the cold war (re agreements on nuclear disarmament etc).
At the central Tourist Information Office we were told that the incorporated coffee shop offered free wifi and so we were able to enjoy coffee for about £2.00 each (with a free top-up!) whilst at the same time uploading all our Norwegian and Faroese photographs to Picasaweb.
We also were able to download all of our emails and write to each of the children!
At about 4.45 p.m. we started our hour’s walk back to the Discovery – despite Jill having acquired a small blister on the way in.
At Supper Peter, Fiona and Val were talking about their plans to go whale watching and the four of us expressed an interest in joining them. (We had been going to visit museums and the Perlan - one dome having been converted into the Saga Museum, cafeteria and viewing area –and the other 4 tanks still being used to store hot water).
Friday 6th August
We spent time sitting in the Palm Court area after breakfast – and Jill managed to download replies to her emails from each of the children. A read his book whilst J made up the diary before we had an early lunch at the Lido and set off for our whale watching trip!
Although we spent three hours on “the Andrea”, we unfortunately didn’t manage to spot much more than a shark’s fin – unless it was the fins of two sharks (we weren’t quite sure). We did see a large number of puffins on an island at the beginning of our voyage though.
The weather was pretty wet and cold and the experience was somewhat disappointing – but we were not sorry we had gone.
In the evening, Adrian went to the film but did not stay the course. Jill went with Brian and Ann to the Song and Dance Show which had a Wild Western theme. Later we took part in the Quiz but were not successful in winning a Discovery pen (as we had done on another evening!)
Saturday 7th August
Today we decided on the itinerary we had originally planned for yesterday. We set off walking along the coast with Brian and Ann and left them in the centre of Reykjavik to go our separate ways.
First of all we went back to the free wifi café at the Tourist Information Office and managed to send another email to the children and to upload all the Icelandic photographs that we have taken thus far.
Then we left, in quite heavy rain, bound for the National Museum. Enroute we re-visited Lake Tjornin where we had photographed terns two years ago.
We spent a couple of hours at the Museum and had lunch there. By then, Jill was beginning to battle with an upset stomach – presumably caused by something eaten at breakfast. However, she was determined to “soldier on” as she very much wanted to visit the Perlan which was quite a long up-hill walk away. It was well worth the effort though as the views over Reykjavik were tremendous and we took some good photographs.
We needed to be back on board by 5.00 p.m. and decided that we had time to walk. Adie studied the map carefully and lead us on a diagonal route across the city towards the coastal walk that we had used earlier in the day. By the evening, we had walked more than 19,000 paces!
We sailed off for Greenland at 6.00 p.m. that evening to begin our two days at sea before we will disembark next – which will be at Nuuk, on Tuesday.