Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 11 - Akureyri, Iceland




Yesterday was the first of four days in northern Iceland. Last night, and the next three nights we will be hop-scotching this territory. Northern Iceland is penetrated by numerous glacier-carved fjords. The Icelandic Fjords are different from the Greenland fjords. Whereas the valleys in Greenland were steep-sided and stony, the Icelandic fjords are soil and grass covered, and have an altogether softer aspect, as seen in yesterday’s photos of Isafjordur.



The Icelandic Hop-Scotch


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Soft Green Mountains Backstop Akureyri

Today will be our first shore tour, where we will explore the interior of this mountainous land. Akureyri is located at the head of Eyafjordor, the longest fjord in Iceland. We entered the fjord at 4 this morning. Keith had planned to be topsides to view the passage, but failed due a couple of reasons. First is the 4 hours the HAL line recently stole from us. At 4am ships time, Keith’s body thinks it as about 1am, which is the middle of his body's sleep cycle.

Second is a thick fog. Couldn't see nuttn’ anyway. Keith knows this because he was up briefly at 4, and at 5, and at 6. We won't mention why Keith is up hourly every night, but it might account, at least in part, for why Keith is perpetually tired and grumpy these days. The other cause is a chronic back ache.

It's now 7:30 and the fog is starting to lift. We hope that trend continues, as we are touring today.

Akureyri is one oh hundreds of cute villages which litter the coasts of Greenland and Iceland. At 15,000 people, it is significantly larger than most villages.



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A Pretty Icelandic Village


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This Modernistic Cathedral is the Pride of Akureyri

We've seen hundreds of cute villages all over the place, so don't get much fussed if we miss one on account of illness, rain, etc. We are touring from Akureyri to see the countryside. We are anxious to see some of the interior of Iceland. There is supposed to be a pretty lake and waterfall at the destination, but it's the ride through the countryside that Keith is looking forward to. If we glimpse some of the town on the way, so much the better. But Keith says no shopping!

9:12am and we are on the bus. Quite a nice luxury tour bus, not a school bus. The Maasdam is docked on the west side of the fjord. Our route takes us around the tip of the fjord, then north up the east side. Our first stop is a turnout where we can view Akureyri across the water.


Tour Route, Shown in Yellow


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Icelandic Tour Guide

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The Maasdam Seen from the Other Side of the Fjord

On leaving the turnout we reversed and returned to town so that one of our passengers could pee. Kathy was surprised that it wasn't Keith. But then, Keith doesn't hesitate to walk across the road and disappear into the bushes for a few moments.

Proceeding back around the tip and north along the fjord, we are reminded of other places we have been. The scenery looks like Newfoundland. Kathy says the fjord reminds her of Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage.

About 10 miles north we turn right and head up into Vikurskard Pass. We are told we are on the ring road, which goes all the way around the Iceland. The pass is low and gentle, and we are through in the time it takes to write about it. We hate to harp on weather, but it really is delightful to have a partly sunny day for touring.



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Eyafjordor Seen from the Road to Vikurskard Pass


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A Beautiful Farmstead Seen Climbng Up the Pass Road

Descending into the next valley the scenery is very pastoral, with no trees and broad, verdant green valleys between low tabled mountains. Nestled on the hillsides are small groves of Mountain Birches. Most of the indigenous trees were burned for firewood a century ago. The forestry service is working to revegetate, mostly for erosion control.


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A Pastoral View of the Fnjoskadalur Valley


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A Pretty Waterfall Seen Along the Way

Driving through the Midwestern US in the fall, one sees bales of hay scattered about the fields. In Iceland, one sees what appears to be marshmallows. We are told that these are also hay bales, hermetically sealed in white plastic. We are told that one tourist insisted that they really do grow marshmallows in Iceland. How dumb do they think we are?



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Marshmallow Farm



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These Creatures Eat the Marshmallows

We are told that Iceland should be completely covered with ice, based on latitude (almost on the arctic circle). Instead it enjoys a relatively mild climate because of the Gulf Stream.

Our next stop is Godafoss falls. Not a large waterfall, but very picturesque, by virtue of having carved it's way through volcanic rock. Every tourist trap stop has it's story. The name supposedly means waterfall of the gods. The story is that the Christian Monks raided the homes of the heathens and threw all of their statuary into the falls.


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Icelandic Goddess Poses in Front of Godafoss Falls

Riding next to us on the tour bus was a fascinating lady. She had a 400 page notebook which she was filling with notes, interspersed with some of the most exquisite sketches Keith has ever seen. Turns out she is a professional artist with a studio in New York. She pointed out that her professional work is much more modernistic than her personal sketches. When blunt Keith thoughtlessly expressed his view of modern art, Liz good naturedly responded with her frank view of totally unimaginative engineers. A day of off and on good natured but pointed exchanges followed. At the end of the day, Keith felt totally outclassed by this very sophisticated lady.



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Kathy Poses Next to Liz, Sketching the Falls


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Godafoss Falls Outflow

Keith is fascinated by license plaes. He has photos of license plates from all over the place. Shown below is an Icelandic license plate:


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Our next stop is Lake M’yvatn. We are told that this lake sits in a valley created by the spreading of tectonic plates. The east side of the valley is part of the European plate, while the west side is part of the North American plate. The valley is slowly widening as the plates drift apart, at the rate of about a centimeter a year. It is similar to the San Andraus fault in California, except that the relative motion is spreading instead of sliding.

Once one starts to travel one is struck that many areas look similar. This countryside resembles North Dakota, as well as Newfoundland. Unique to this landscape is the volcanism associated with being on a plate boundary. We are told that the entire area is heated with geothermal energy.

Lake Mytavn is named for the ubiquitous midges which infest the area. Keith recalled this factlet when he found a dead midge in his soup bowel at lunch. Lunch was at a small hotel. On the menu were mushroom soup (3), salmon (2), and mixed vegetables (1). Midges optional.

One of the features of Lake Mytavn is the pseudo-craters on the side of the lake. The pseudo-craters are formed by steam explosions when burning lava encounters lakes or wetlands.



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A Pseudo-crater at the Edge of Lake M’yvatn


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Keith Poses in Front of the Lake



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Midge Soup for Lunch at Lake M’yvatn

After lunch, instead of napping, which would have been the sensible thing to do, we drove further to visit the Dimmuborgir lava fields. The overlook was perhaps the most scenic place to view the extensive lava flows, but Keith was a bit disappointed that this spot did not display the diversity of solidification features seen along the road. I've been looking for the columnar crystal structure produced by directional solidification. I have seen this in other lava fields, but not this one. We do see occasional examples of "orange peel" skins that form as the outside of a blob cools and freezes.


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Dimmuborgir Gatekeeper


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Dimmuborgir Lava Fields

Our next site is a rift name Grjotagja, where Mid-Atlantic Rift is clearly visible. We were excited to see this special geologic feature. Keith has been wishing to see the mid-Atlantic split since he first read about the then new theory of plate tectonics 35 years ago.

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The Mid-Atlantic Rift; North American Plate to the Left, European Plate to the Right


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Geothermal Energy Installation

Next stop is the volcano which erupted for 10 years starting in 1975, and a nearby older caldera from the early 1700's. Next stop a fumerole. Ho hum. It really is interesting to see all these geothermal features, but, for the most part they are not as impressive as Yellowstone. The thing that makes this area unique is the mid Atlantic ridge, which is under the Atlantic Ocean most places. You can tell we are starting to become jaded, can't you.

A comment on Icelandic roads. They are excellent. The circle road is quite narrow, in keeping with European tradition, but it is well graded and well paved. Signage is excellent. There seem to be a lot of campgrounds, but they mostly have tents.

Factoid: the ring was road completed 1972.

Back to the boat at 5pm. The weather has deteriorated to scattered showers, but no fog. We are looking forward to being able to see the fjord as we sail away tonight.

We're also looking forward to supper!

At 10pm tonight we shall cross the arctic circle. Appropriate ceremonies are planned poolside. Something involving a swim across the arctic circle, in the pool. We may be there, and we may not. Right now, Keith is in the Crow's Nest watching the scenery roll by, at 8mph. Watching scenery roll by at 8mph is like watching grass grow. I love it!

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Maasdam Sails North out of the Eyafjordor Fjord

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