Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It’s a Long Way to Akureyri

The breakfast tray arrived at 6:15 this morning. We’re getting up so early on shore days that we are tired by the time we leave the dock. Anyway, today we were in Akureyri [A-queue-RARE-ee] and planned to visit more geological wonders.

We got off to a rocky start. Despite our telling everyone to meet at the regular place at 8:25 for an 8:30 tour, Jay and Sharon were there before 8 and were outside waiting for the rest of us when we walked down the gangway at 8:30. Jay had commandeered the front seat of the van as if he had organized the tour, an action which did not sit well with the rest of us. [By the end of the day, we were playing ‘musical seat assignments’ so everybody had the opportunity to try all of the seats. Some people don’t play well with others.]

To complicate matters, our paperwork specified an 8:30 start time but the driver was told to be there at 8:00 and had booked an afternoon tour because he thought we would be through by 2:00. Jay got an attitude about our being late, too. But we were all assembled and off we went.
The driver was not a licensed guide [unlike his wife, whom we saw throughout the day], but he was still quite knowledgeable about the sites and sights. We really enjoyed our time with him. Today’s tour was supposed to be this:

Tour description - the tour heads off north along the east coast of Eyjafjordur which offers a panoramic view of Akureyri. We make a half hour stop at the waterfall of Goðafoss, known for its beauty and its historical importance. We then drive on to the Lake Myvatn area, famous for its combination of natural beauty and unique ecology. We will visit Skutustadir known for its unusually regular pseudocraters, Dimmuborgir a spectacular maze of weird lava structures, Hverarönd solfataras (boiling sulphur mudpits) at Námaskarð and a short stop at the outdoor nature baths (not enough time to take a dip in the waters). After a short stop at hotel Reynihlíð we return to Akureyri.
It was a surprisingly busy day as we visited and photographed everything in the itinerary except the hotel Reynihlíð and added some as well.

Our first stop was the Goðafoss waterfall. In Icelandic, foss means waterfall, and there are many throughout the country. Two days ago we saw the Gullfoss waterfall while on tour from Reyjkavik. The Goðafoss is not as large or impressive a sight but is much more historically significant. According to the legend, in the year 1000, the leader of the Althing, Iceland’s parliament, made the decision for the country to embrace Christianity. He emphasized his position by throwing all of his idols into the falls which became known as Goðafoss, the falls of the gods.

We continued to ooh and aah at natural wonders, but they all ran together by the end of the day, so the rest of the descriptions are in no particular order. We visited an area with what Auðen, the driver, described as pseudo-craters. These were created when hot lava from volcanoes hit standing water which then practically exploded leaving the craters which have become, in many case, lakes.

Obviously, Iceland is a volcanic island. In fact, it is still seismically active. Not only are volcanoes still active, but also the country is a geo-thermal haven. Most of the heat provided in the colder months is geo-thermal piped directly to homes, offices and other buildings. Indeed, Auðen made a stop at his house which sits by itself on a hilltop and explained that his house is heated geo-thermally. Installing the pipes up the volcanic hill must have been a real chore. As we drove, we frequently saw steam discharges in the distance, a sign that there were power plants at work. The island’s electricity is also produced by geo-thermal means.

The volcanism brings other discharges besides steam, so we visited a sulfur vent. Here, there were several areas releasing steam laden with the stench of sulphur. Two days ago, we could smell sulfur at Gullfoss, but here it was so strong as to be sickening. Luckily, though, we did not stay at the sulfur spring for very long. For many years, the sulfur was mined and sold for the eventual manufacture of gunpowder.

The Icelanders use the volcanism to their advantage, though, by using some of them as health spas. We visited one before returning to the ship and saw some folks swimming and cavorting in swimming pools filled with 105 degree water. According to Auðen, the spring water is actually moderated by the addition of cold water to make the pool safe.

The countryside is a strange mixture of farmland and lava fields. The color of the lava can be used to determine its age by amateurs, but all we remember is that some is black and some is not. We did spend time at a “craters of the moon” type of park. Although there were trees and other vegetation, the area was really a showplace for lava formations which reminded us of two earlier trips. Last year we saw strange formations when we visited Varna, Bulgaria. In 2001, we visited Timanfaya on Lanzarote where we took a bus ride through the lava formations [At Timanfaya, the volcano’s vent was used to cook food for a restaurant.]. Another feature of this area of Iceland is that there are trees. In the area outside of Reykjavik and on the hillsides over Isafjordur, there were no trees, just as there had been none in the Faroe Islands. Outside Akueyri, however, there lots of trees although they had been imported rather than being naturally occurring. Auðen even joked about the new growth – What do you do if you are lost in an Icelandic forest? You stand up! [His other joke concerned the giant hay bales wrapped in plastic to protect them from the weather – What was the difference between the green-wrapped bales and the white-wrapped ones? The green were for hay and the white ones were toilet paper for the elephants.].

Somewhere in there we had a picnic lunch on a semi-scenic overlook [scenic is relative in Iceland] near the sulfur fields. We had paid extra for the picnic lunch but were disappointed that it consisted of two thin sandwiches, a boxed juice drink, an apple and two homemade cookies [made by Auðen’s wife]. We were hoping for something a bit more exotic or ethnic. In a similar vein, we were disappointed in Iceland and the Faroes by the lack of old-style architecture; it seems that everything is corrugated steel and glass.

Anyway, we returned to the ship in time for trivia which we won again [In which country were sunglasses invented? What modern city was the first to have a population of 1 million?]. Today, the prize was key chains. We’re trying for the coasters, but have another 4 weeks to work on it. After trivia, MA got a latte and then we went to the Crow’s Nest to watch the ship sail through the fjord and out to sea. We left when it looked like we would fall off the earth.

At dinner, we surprised Marvin with a puffin magnet. All week, he has been complaining that there has been no puffin on the menu, so we got Eko, our waiter, to serve Marvin the puffin as his appetizer. We hadn’t even told Barbara we were doing it. Needless to say, we all laughed long and loud. We may be thrown out yet. We were scheduled to cross the Arctic Circle at 9:15 and we all pretended to feel the bump. Barbara went to the pool to photograph the crazies who swam across the Circle. Yes, grown people donned their swim suits to go through the pool as we passed above the Arctic Circle. Thom, the cruise director, walked across in a tuxedo with short pants just as he had “swum” across the Atlantic in 2009. We lose an hour’s sleep tonight as we plow north toward Spitsbergen, Norway, and the North Cape. Brrrrr!

Tomorrow and Tuesday – sea days and poor internet connections, so don’t expect any news for a few days.

1 comment:

  1. "What was the difference between the green-wrapped bales and the white-wrapped ones?"

    Our guide at Reyjavik explained these as marsh mallows left out for the trolls. The white ones are ordinary and the green ones are peppermint, which some trolls prefer.