Friday, October 14, 2016

Finna leið okkar í Iceland

Coming into Iceland
The Republic of Iceland is a sparsely settled (about 9 people per square mile) island that just touches the Arctic Circle and it was one of the places I always wanted to visit. If you put Hawaii and Yellowstone in a sack, shook them up and dumped them out, you’d have the countryside of Iceland (without the palm trees). There are volcanoes, black beaches, geysers and other geothermal features. Differing from these two places are the glaciers that formed valleys and that persist over 5,000 square miles of the island’s interior.  Because of all of the geothermal energy almost all of the energy used is from this renewable resource; it also allows production gardening in greenhouses. Within these greenhouses are enough banana trees to make Iceland the largest supplier of bananas to Europe. However, since its founding in 874 by Ingólfr Arnarson, most of the economy was based on fishing and agriculture; now one of the biggest money-makers is tourism, even though this is an expensive place to visit. Islandic culture has its roots in Scandinavian and Germanic heritage, which isn’t surprising since most Icelanders are descendants from these groups. What’s interesting is how people are named: usually a person’s last name signifies the first name of the father or in some cases the mother. This is a hereditary tradition that is distinctly different from that of Europe. If a man is named John Smith and has a son named George and a daughter named Mary, their last names will not be Smith. They will be George Johnson for the boy and Mary Johndaughter for the girl. It works in the same manner if the children are given the mother’s name. So Sally Jones’s children would be George Sallyson and Mary Sallydaughter. Iceland became a sovereign country under the Crown of Denmark, the Kingdom of Iceland on December 1, 1918; in 1944 Iceland became a republic with a president as the head of government. Chilly and windy, all three towns we visited in Iceland reminded us a great deal of Tasmania and of Scotland.

Arriving in Akureyri

Our first day in Iceland was at Akureyri. Although it is a small city, it is Iceland's second largest urban area. Cold, wet, and filled with sheep, it echoed Scotland/Tasmania for us.
Top L to R: Godafoss waterfall, Squirrel rock, Mid-Atlantic Rift
Center L to R: Riding Icelandic horses, Geyser
Bottom L to R: Geyser field, Skútustaðir
Akureyri was originally settled in the 9th century by the Norse Viking Helgi magri (the slim) Eyvindarson. By the 17th century, Danish merchants based their camps here because of the excellent natural harbor and the fertility of the land. The king of Denmark hoped to improve the living conditions so he granted permanent settlement status to Akureyri started in 1778. During World War II the town was the site of Allied units which protected convoys traveling from the United States to the United Kingdom and Murmansk from attack by German submarines. As the population grew, so did the fishing industry. This along with tourism is the basis for the town’s continued growth. We took a bus tour out to Godafoss waterfall, a cascade made even lovelier by the surrounding black igneous rock, then on to Lake Myvatn, a rather shallow lake created by a series of volcanic eruptions near Krafla volcano. We heard a lot about how the environment was impacted and created by the volcanoes and the mid-Atlantic ridge. The part of the mid-Atlantic ridge that we saw was not all that impressive since it looked a great deal like a lava tube; however I did get to step from the North American Plate to the Eurasian plate and back again several times. Under this lake are hot spots that still throw steam into the air. Repeated explosions created groups of craters on the shores and formed crater islands within the lake; these are called pseudocraters or rootless vents. The pseudocraters at Skútustaðir are a natural monument and a tourist attraction. There are wetlands surrounding the lake supporting a wide variety of ducks. Many of the plants looked like what you’d see in the American northwest as did the trees. Although it was still summer in Texas, it was already fall here and the trees were changing colors. We also heard stories about trolls who didn’t like humans and were so delighted with their plans to get rid of them that they partied too long and forgot that when the sun rose they would be turned into pillars of lava. The guide also told about the ‘little’ people and how these beliefs still impact the manner in which things are done on the island. The people of Iceland have just gotten permission from the government to practice their traditional religions that name Thor (Odin) and other Norse gods as icons, particularly in matters of births, deaths, and marriages; interesting stuff. I didn’t get up close and personal to any of the Icelandic horses, but I still had hopes. We also visited one of the active volcanism sites; it reminded me of the Yellowstone geyser basins. However, instead of walkways and barriers everywhere, folks were warned of the dangers and then turned loose. Some were doing stupid things, but most were acting reasonably. Had it been sunny the day would have been pretty close to perfect. As we came out of the fjord, we were waved to by a young humpbacked whale; pretty cute! Although we were just off the shore of Iceland, there was no cell phone signal and the internet was out of range, even with the ship’s satellite uplink.

Top: Asparagus soup
Bottom: Arctic Char
Lunch was at the very nice Lacks Hotel on the edge of the lake. We were presented with hot cream of asparagus soup and Arctic Char, a local white fish that was fresh and broiled to perfection, on a bed of green leafy vegetables with a side of hot roasted potatoes. We weren’t sure just how much there was to eat, so we were polite; I wished I’d eaten more of the fish! Lunch was at a hotel/restaurant and was very good. The heavy brown bread was a nice accompaniment to it all.

Back on the ship we had a lovely dinner. This evening I had chilled apple vichyssoise and
Top L to R: Vichyssoise, Fritters, Sundae
Middle L to R: Schnitzel, Curry
Bottom: Tort
curry coconut chicken, followed by a mango chiffon tort. Dave had salmon and corn fritters, a traditional Weiner schnitzel with a cherry ice cream sundae.

Into Isafjordur

Ísafjörður, fjord of ice, is a town of about 2,600 people in the northwest of Iceland. It was
Left T to B: Corrugated houses, Red house
Right T to B: Maritime Museum, Dried fish, Accordions
nice not to have to be up at the crack of dawn to get on a bus, but I don’t know that I really liked riding the ‘tender’ from the ship to the dock. It was cold, windy and damp. Of course the Icelandic people talked about how this was a typical summer day – ha! I think it made it up all the way to 50oF. The scenery is spectacular and the town, itself, easily walkable. Many of the houses are made of corrugated metal, painted bright colors. It’s a tidy town and folks are accustomed to tourists wandering down all of the streets. The people in and out of the shops are friendly. The Maritime Museum, housed in one of the oldest buildings in the town, had lots of information, a short film, and a large collection of accordions. There were actually four levels with displays on each one, the top being a lookout point. Most displays were about the town and the fishing industry. Fishing has always been the main business here, and one of the largest fisheries in Iceland is located in the city. The other exhibit that took up much of the museum space concerned accordions. These jewel-toned music boxes had histories that showed the development of the music culture in Iceland. From these it was easy to see what lead to Iceland being recognized as an alternative music center with globally known artists. There were lots of places to shop including a book store and a shop that had local handcrafts (knitted goods). Once we had explored the town thoroughly, we came back to the ship and spent some time on the top deck reading and looking out at the scenery. We think that we saw some Arctic terns and know that we saw lots of seagulls. We did see a very nice sunset! Being out in the wind is exhausting. Everyone seemed tired after supper and looking forward to hitting the beds.

Since we had only the morning in Isafjordur we came back to the ship for lunch. Again we
Left: Burger, dog and fries
Right: Baklava
indulged in a burger, a hot dog with bacon, and fries. The fries were outstanding! I happened to notice that there was baklava on the dessert table, so Dave and I shared a serving.

Dinner was equally good. I had the chicken pho that was lightly spicy. My main dish was
Top L to R: Pho, Carrot soup
Middle L to R: Fish, Brisket
Bottom L to R: Rhubarb, Tart
roasted saithe, a white fish, with a scampi sauce. Not surprisingly I indulged in dessert that this evening was rhubarb crisp worthy of its name. Dave began his dinner with a thick and hearty carrot soup. The brisket, that had a good flavor but more of a roast beef texture followed. He ended his meal with a very nice plum tart.

Running around Reykjavik

Reykjavík (loosely translated as Smoke Cove) is the capital and largest city of Iceland, as well as the world's northernmost capital of a sovereign state. It is among the cleanest,
greenest, and safest cities in the world. The first permanent settlement in Iceland by Norsemen is believed to have been established at Reykjavík by Ingólfur Arnarson from Norway around AD 870. As with Akureyri, King Frederik V of Denmark hoped to stimulate domestic industry by donating his estate of Reykjavík to the Innréttingar Corporation in 1752.  In turn this created a need for workers in the wool industry and for establishment of a town to supply the workers’ needs. Industries that grew up subsequently were fisheries, sulfur mining, agriculture, and shipbuilding, all of which encouraged the growth of trade between Iceland, Denmark, and eventually Europe. We had an all-day bus tour that was very good. Although the city appears rather tightly packed with housing and businesses, outer residential neighborhoods of Reykjavik are widely spaced from each other with farms and ranches in between and the main traffic arteries tying everything together. It was obvious that our tour guide loved his job and was very knowledgeable. He actually walked with the group and talked about what we were seeing rather than dumping us off and picking us up. This trip was centered on Thingvellir National Park with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and how it appeared in this part of Iceland. While what we saw in Akureyri was tiny, this part of the rift was huge. You could literally drive between the plates. Thingvellir is also the site of the Speaker’s Rock from which leaders talked to the populous, giving them directives and to some extent a voice in the governing of Iceland. In the valley below are some relatively new (less than 100 years old) buildings, including a church and housing for visiting officials. Icelandic leaders still come to the Speaker’s Rock for ceremonies. On down the road we saw Gullfoss waterfall
Top L to R: Geothermal power plant, Gullfoss waterfall,
Church and houses
Center: Walking on the Mid-Atlantic Rift
Bottom L to R: Geyser eruption, Mountains with ice sheet behind
with its mists and rumble from the dropping water. I was surprised at the height and asked if there was a problem with the falls moving from erosion of the rocks beneath, but evidently not. The major erosion problem is from wind and the desertification caused by that. The government imported Alaskan Lupine that are nitrogen fixing plants with a short spreading pattern (grow for 10 – 12 years then die off) to combat erosion and desertification; however with any sort of intervention that brings non-natives into an area, the outcome may be positive at first, but become a problem. The lupine are not dying off as expected but living 30 to 40 years instead; and of course, nothing on Iceland will eat them. Geysir geothermal area was our final stop. There are several large and small geysers in the area; one erupts every five to ten minutes. Although the ones in Yellowstone rumble and hiss before they spew, this one did not. An elderly Australian lady standing next to me said, ‘Well that burst was sudden and short, like some people I know!’ We had a good laugh together and the next time it blew we got our pictures. It was a gorgeous day and not nearly as cold as it had been, making it a good day to be off the ship. We came hauling back to the ship with minutes left before it actually sailed and luckily weren’t the last bus to arrive. There were about 100 of us who got on at about 4:55PM when the boat was due to leave at 5:00PM. Needless to say, the crew checked us on-board in a hurry and we got underway almost immediately.

Since our tour lasted eight hours, we had lunch on shore. At the Geysir Hotel restaurant we
Top: Coconut soup
Bottom: Fish
had a nicely warmed paprika coconut soup that we sopped up with fresh herb bread. That was followed by salmon, catfish cakes, and haddock stew. This was a pretty setting with a view of the garden and some of their statues. 

Dinner on the ship began for Dave with a smoked seafood sampler,
Top L to R: Salad, Sampler
Middle L to R: Meats, Mango sorbet
Bottom: Baked Alaska
followed by prime rib, and a baked Alaska. I had a roasted beets and goat cheese salad, veal tenderloin and mango sorbet.

In all three towns in Iceland we heard stories about trolls and ‘little people’. One, in
Left to Right: Cow thief, Yule Cat
particular, caught my attention. The Yuletide-lads have become the Icelandic version of Santa Claus. These are thirteen trolls who put rewards or punishments into shoes children put on their window sills during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve. Depending on the stories, these trolls may be merely mischievous, or they may be monsters. Some tales have them putting rotten potatoes in the shoes of naughty children, while others have them stealing the farmers’ cattle or sheep, and still others tell about the trolls eating children who have been incorrigible. In some accounts the lads are accompanied by the Yule Cat that devours children who don't receive new clothes for Christmas; perhaps that makes getting underwear instead of a toy more appealing.

Iceland was one of the places I always wanted to see and I was not disappointed. The rugged landscapes, volcanoes, glaciers and geysers all lived up to what I had imagined, if not more so. If I were to go back, I would rent a car and tour the entire island. I’d also ride one of the Icelandic horses.
Sunset from Iceland

©2016 NearNormal Design and Production Studio - All rights including copyright of photographs and designs, as well as intellectual rights are reserved.