Day 8 (Last Day) of our Icelandic Cruise

We’re still in Reykjavik, but we left our ship at 8:30 am, saying good-bye to the wonderful crew and staff.  Here’s a final shot of the harbor as we headed out.

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For our final day of the cruise, we chose a shore excursion that took us through the geothermal landscape of Krysuvik-Solfataras.

We also visited the famous Blue Lagoon for a warm dip, followed by a farewell lunch at the Lagoon’s Lava Restaurant.

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Before going to our hotel, we visited the Viking Museum, which included a replica of an ancient 70-crew Viking vessel.

At this point, Terri went to the airport for her flight home, and we went to the Grand Hotel for one night in downtown Reyjkavik.

Day 7 of our Icelandic Cruise

Our blue dot has docked in Reykjavik again, and our shore excursion was an 8-hour tour of the “Golden Circle.”

At our first stop, we visited Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO site. We walked along the rift valley between the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate.  So, we stepped on two continents today.

A word about the flag above… The “normal” Icelandic flag is rectangular, but if you look closely, you’ll see this one has a notch.  That’s because the national park is an “official” place so they can fly this “official” flag.

Next stop was Gullfoss Waterful, meaning “Golden Waterfall”.

Then on to the geothermic area of Geysir.  We enjoyed lunch there, along with a little tourist shopping.

The next visit was to a power plant where they harvest the energy of the hot water and steam to create much of the island’s electricity.  Electricity is so inexpensive here that other countries send their raw materials to the aluminum smelting plants here.

Finally, before returning to the ship, we had a surprise visit to a horse ranch.  This was a family affair with youngsters as young as six displaying their Icelandic horses and putting on an exhibition, where we were able to view all five gaits these horses use.  Beautiful!

And, to show us how smooth the horses’ gaits are, a couple of the adults rode around the rink several times holding full beer steins without spilling a drop.

Back at the ship, the evening was spent packing for tomorrow’s transfer to the Grand Hotel in downtown Reyjkavik.

Addendum to Day 6 of the Icelandic Cruise

I must have been in a rush this morning, because I missed a couple of things from Day 6.

First, here’s the Norwegian church in town and the local cemetery:

AND…  A little before dinner we were visited by a pod of orcas (killer whales)!  Jay’s photos are in a format that I can’t use until we get home, so here are some super shots by Richard, one of the other guests:

That should cover Day 6.  See you on Day 7!

Day 6 of our Icelandic Cruise

Today, our blue dot is located at Heimaey, an island off the southern coast of Iceland.

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It is the only one of 15 Westman Islands inhabited by humans, but since they’re in a very active volcanic area, there is definitely a risk!

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Here are some shots around the island:

In 1973, an eruption on the island covered one-third of the houses in lava and most of the rest of the homes were buried in ash.  Fortunately, the fishing fleet was in the harbor and the entire population was evacuated without loss of life.  The following map shows in red the areas covered by lava.  The black area is new land created by the eruption.

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Six months later, the inhabitants returned and rebuilt the town.  The Eldheimar “Worlds of Fire” Museum gave us interesting perspectives on the island’s volcanic history.

In the evening, we had our “farewell” dinner a night early because tomorrow night we’ll be busy packing..  Two ladies gave Jay “the bird” – a puffin hat!

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Day 5 of the Icelandic Cruise

Our blue dot shows we’ve docked in the fishing town of Isafjordur.

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In spite of its relative isolation, the town is known for its rather urban atmosphere, flourishing cultural life and rich heritage of music and art.

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We started our shore excursion with a scenic bus drive bus drive to a hike.  This is the first shore excursion that really required boots.  The hike was fairly flat but we had to cross several small streams.

At the end of our hike, we discovered a waterfall named Valagil.

On the way back to our bus, we had our first close up encounter with Icelandic horses.  These are small horses – the size of ponies, but they are true horses. They apparently have an extra, unusal gait, but we didn’t have an opportunity to ride one.

Next, we drove to the Arctic Fox center.  This is mainly a research center, but there are two foxes living here.  They were found as orphaned cubs.  Now that they’ve become accustomed to humans, they can never be returned to the wild. They seem happy, though.

There are two color “morphs” of artic foxes. The white ones are very white in winter and live mostly in the hills.  During the summer, their coats are more tan.  The two foxes we saw are called “blue”  and that type  lives mostly at the coast.  During the winter, they become lighter brown.

Before dinner, San Simeon Travel hosted a cocktail party on the bridge.

After dinner we had a surprise visit by whales. The tail flukes below are humpbacks, and the dorsal fins are orca (killer whales).

More to follow tomorrow…

Day 4 of the Icelandic Cruise

Today we’ve sailed just a short distance, and as you can see, our blue dot is at Akureyri, back on the mainland of Iceland.

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Often called the capital of northern Iceland, Akureyri has been a major trading post since the 9thcentury and has become the administrative, commercial and cultural center of the north.

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The outing we signed up for was a trip to a warm mineral bath, but on the way we stopped to visit a waterfall called Godafoss, which means waterfall of the gods.

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Next, we went to Myvatn Nature Baths.  These pools are warmed by natural hot springs. They say they’re good for your health… Don’t know about that, but they sure feel good!

When we got back to the ship, Jay and Terri walked a mile or so into old town Akureyri.  They discovered two important trolls.  I’m sorry I don’t remember their names, but they are the parents of 13 little trolls who come 13 days before Christmas.  (They also have names I can’t remember, reminiscent of the 7 dwarves in Sleeping Beauty.)  The one on the right with Jay is the mother, and the Icelandic tale says she makes broth of the bad little boys and girls!  The second photo shows a typical stoplight in Akureyri — After the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008, some women in town started making the red lights into hearts to symbolize how the people were helping each other.

Then we had a surprise at about midnight:  a large iceberg from Greenland was in our path, and the  captain circumnavigated it so those who were still awake could take photos.

Tomorrow, we visit the Westfjords Peninsula in the NorthWest corner of Iceland.  See you there!

Day 3 Puffins (Cont’d)

Here are the REAL photos of the puffins from Grimsey Island.

As I mentioned, terns and puffins share cliffs — and sometimes gulls do too, so if you see any white birds, those are either terns or gulls.

Puffins are not especially graceful on land…

But they ARE beautiful!  Notice how the parents hold the fish they’ve caught for their chicks?  They have ridges in their beaks, so they can dive and catch a fish, store it across the beak — and repeat the process until the beak is full.  Makes a very organized offering, don’t you think?

Here’s looking at you!

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Day 3 of the Icelandic Cruise

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Today we’re on Grimsey Island.  You’ll notice that the blue dot on this map is as far north as we’ll go.

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It’s a very small island with a summertime human population of less than 100 and a bird population of probably more than 1,000,000!

We were taken to the Island by tender.

In addition to having fascinating wildlife, this island is significant for tourists because the Arctic Circle passes through the middle of it. So, the first item on the agenda was to document the crossing!

Then, we headed toward the nesting sites of Arctic Terns and Puffins. On the way, I got a shot of the Icelandic sheep.  This breed is tough (as all Icelandic animals must be) and it produces a really warm, dense, and practically waterproof wool.

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Cute animals, but I passed on buying yarn because it is very rough on the hands, and way too warm to wear in Cambria.

So, on to the birds.  Please note, however, that I am using only a cell phone camera.  Today’s post will give you an idea of the nesting sites, but the REAL bird photos will be posted after I upload the shots from Jay’s big camera.

If you see white birds in these photos, they are Arctic Terns.  And the white, messy spots on the cliffs are their nests.

The terns and the puffins often share cliffs.  The terns take the lower perches, and the puffins dig burrows at the top of the cliffs.  They mate for life and return to the same burrow year after year.

And, here are my best “puffin” shots from the cell phone: The two women are Tauck representatives completely in puffin mode, and the last one is a fuzzy souvenir San Simeon Travel gave to each of their tour participants.

“Real” puffin photos will come in the next post.  ‘Til then…

Day Two of the Icelandic Cruise

Yesterday we were in Reykjavik and today we’re in Grundarfjordur.  (See the blue dot?)

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We slept a little late this morning, and almost missed breakfast!  Here’s my first shot from our cabin’s deck:

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About noon, we docked at Grundafjordur, nestled on the banks of a fjord and ringed with mountains.

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The three of us had signed up for a 4 ½ hour tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.  (No, I haven’t learned about to pronounce the Icelandic names of these places yet. They’re very difficult for English speakers.)

Unfortunately, Jay had a little bit of upset stomach and decided not to go, so Terri and I forged ahead.  It was a scenic drive along very rugged coastline, passing through fishing villages.

Our first stop was Djupalonssandur, with strange rock formations.

We learned about how villages used “lifting rocks” to determine who was capable of working on a fishing boat.  They even named these 4 rocks:  the smallest was “Weakling” and wouldn’t qualify you for a job.  If you could lift any of the other three, you qualified for a job, and the heavier you were able to lift, the higher your pay!

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When we reached the black sand beach, we found pieces of a 1948 wreck of a fishing trawler.  Since that time, the winter storms have broken it apart and moved the pieces inland.

Next, we visited Arnarstapi, where migratory birds stop to rest, and Budir with its lava landscapes and black sand beach.

A final stop brought us to the Black Church.

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When we returned to the ship, Jay was feeling better and it was time to dress for the Captain’s Dinner, the one “dressy” dinner on this tour.

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Tomorrow:  Stay tuned for…  PUFFINS!

Day One of the Cruise

Our cruise itinerary began (on land) in Reykavik with lunch in the restaurant of Harpa, the Music Hall.

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Next we had a brief bus tour of old town.  We visited the Lutheran Church, which Jay, Terri and I had visited yesterday when NONE of us had a camera!  (We happened to arrive during an organ concert, which was fantastic.)  Today there was no concert, but we had the cameras, so here’s a couple of pix.

We also visited the National Museum  of Iceland, then we boarded our ship, Le Laperouse.  She is a brand new French ship and all of the passengers on this cruise are with the Tauck Tour.

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We set sail at about 9pm.  As you can see from the pix, it was still very light.

Our destination is Grundafjordur for tomorrow’s program.  See you there!