Northern Europe 2023: Iceland

posted by Jeff | Saturday, August 5, 2023, 1:01 PM | comments: 0

After two days at sea, we arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland. I don't know what time we arrived, but I would have liked to have been up to see us sailing in, were it not for the fact that I was already still adjusting to the time changes. It wasn't just going from east US to UTC, but it changed going to France and then twice at sea. Waking up and looking out my window, it was like looking at a different planet. It's totally different from the waterways around the Alaskan coast, which are very green with trees. The soil in most of Iceland is very shallow, because under that it's mostly volcanic rock. There isn't a lot of matter for plants to cling on to.

Our bus trip was in the afternoon, so we were able to be fairly leisurely in the morning. After lunch, we boarded our bus and headed out through the city. A bit over 100,000 people live in Reykjavik, and it accounts for about a third of Iceland's total population. As we navigated away from the port, we passed through a number of residential neighborhoods, and immediately I was struck by the percentage of cars that were EV's. Many of the modest houses we passed had car charging apparatus in the driveway, and even some of the multi-family units had them. I saw one right on the street, on an arm above the sidewalk, plugged into a Tesla. They're clearly all about making it work.

The tour guide pointed out these metal shacks all over the place, and these are bore holes that surface steam from the ground. Cold as Iceland appears, it's sitting on all kinds of volcanic and geothermal energy, so heating homes is cheap and efficient. We passed several outdoor swimming pools, and this is a big thing, apparently, year-round. The guide said that many young people prefer the pool over the bar in social settings. To deal with the dark winters, many people use UV lights at home to keep their energy up.

Once we were outside of the city, the landscape reminded me a lot of parts of Hawaii's big island, only with a bit more color, since many of their lava fields are much older. Our first stop would be an overlook on Lake Kleifarvatn, south of town. It kind of reminded me of the Columbia River Gorge, in Washington and Oregon, only more rugged. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Just down the road a bit, we stopped at an active hot spring, where the "boiling mud" was bubbling. The first thing the tour guide said prior to exiting the bus is to stay on the path, because one wrong move could cause third-degree burns. Noted. The smell of hydrogen sulfide was strong in the air. The more active pools were filled with boiling hot gray liquid, and it sounded like you were next to a giant pot of water on the stove. It was completely strange. Around the far end of the path, there was a mountain stream, and it was quite cold. That's the crazy thing about Iceland, is that it's cold and hot at the same time. Were it not for the latter, I imagine the place would be uninhabitable.

Our last stop was at a very underwhelming viking museum. This sounded super cool because they had a "sea worthy" replica of a viking ship, but that wasn't at all what I thought it would be. This excursion would not have been our first choice, but we were pretty slow booking shore-side stuff. The thing you really wanted was the Golden Circle tour, which hits all of the best waterfalls, geysers and such. But even a cursory exploration of the third-party offerings showed that these were all booked. In addition to the Disney Dream, the super gigantic Norwegian Prima was in port, so that's easily 9,000 tourists in town just from the ships. The other big attraction is the various swimming lagoons, but as a former hot tub owner who used it in Cleveland winters, this seemed less interesting to me.

We had a day at sea after this, because the port of Isafjordur was cancelled a few days before we left. It's kind of a sore subject for me, because it meant that half of the itinerary was now at-sea. We got like $45 in port fees refunded, but I felt like there should have been something else, even a credit for a future cruise. It changed the value proposition of the entire itinerary. We had a third-party bus tour to, you guessed it, a waterfall in that port, and there would be food on the trip.

So 32 hours after leaving Reykjavik, we landed in Akureyri. The town itself is a little more friendly to large plants and trees, so the immediate area actually has Pacific Northwest vibes. Unfortunately, it was also unseasonably cold even for that area, with the temperature in the low 40's. I was already dealing with a sore throat from snoring in the very dry air stateroom, so I was already concerned that I might get sick.

We grabbed a little breakfast, then headed out for our tour a little before 8. Despite the cold, it was oddly humid, 95% according to the weather I looked up. After crossing the fjord, we passed a tunnel that we could plainly see from our room on the ship. That tunnel crossed through the mountain, but we were taking the pass over it, because obviously there's nothing scenic about a tunnel. The pass is often not passable in winter, but even with the fog, the views were extraordinary.

It wasn't long before we arrived at Goðafoss Falls. These falls are about 40 feet high and put down a very impressive amount of water and sound. The photos don't do it justice. I know you think that waterfalls are waterfalls after you've been to Niagara, but it's something completely different with the landscape around it seems so alien.

There's an old footbridge just down river, and then a single-lane vehicle bridge after that. They ask you to stay on the trails, because the vegetation is pretty fragile, given the shallow soil.

Once we got back to town, we stopped at the Akureyri Botanical Gardens. This felt even more PNW-ish, as the trees and vegetation largely sheltered the area from the wind off of the fjords. We didn't stay long, but the gardens were quite lovely.

On our drive back to the ship, we passed a massive swimming pool complex, complete with the kind of waterslides you'd expect at any decent water park in the states. As I said before, swimming is a big deal in Iceland.

I also noticed, prior to our return to the ship, that all of the traffic lights had a little heart for a red light. As if you needed a reminder about how nice the people Iceland are.

That night, I had a short bout with a fever, and I ended up being up a fair amount of the night. The next day, at sea, I barely got out of bed during the day. I watched movies and slept. Fortunately I felt good enough later that evening to get up and about for a short time.


No comments yet.

Post your comment: