Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 10 Greenland, Sunrise at Sea and Sisimiut

Post 285: 7 August 2018, At Sea

At night I tend to leave my porthole curtains open in the hope of capturing a good sunrise next morning. There was a slight problem as sunrise was due at about 4.45am, which was a bit on the early side even for me. But it was a sea day and so I could always catch up with sleep later in the day.

Looking out of the porthole at about 4.00am (I seem to have an internal alarm clock for sunrises) I realised it should be a good one and got dressed and went on deck, trying not to wake my wife Celia.

I wasn’t to be disappointed as the sky was blood red and somewhat surprisingly I wasn’t the only person awake and up. P1050714Photographing sunrises and sunsets is one of my favourite subjects. I love this time of day when many others are asleep and I seem to have the world to myself, quiet and serene.

I tend to revert to manual settings on my cameras alternating from focal lengths of 24 to 600mm. The latter can give a completely different perspective, almost getting to the ‘heart’ of the sunrise or sunset and capturing images and shapes that the eye finds difficult to see without some magnification from a zoom.P1050727

P1050725 But sunsets, especially at sea, look good on a broader view too as they change colour, tone and shape over time. P1120757

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P1120761And if you have a mountain peak and/or an iceberg in as well you have hit the jackpot!P1050728

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P1050724After such a good start to the morning I then retired to the Marco Polo Bistro for tea and pastries, where I had a very enjoyable chat with Lawrence Robinson who was the excellent opera singer on the ship. He has even sung with Katherine Jenkins so must be good!

Little else happened on the sea day other than in the morning when we passed what looked to be where the Greenland ice-cap met the sea. At first I thought it was clouds in the far distance, but on further looking realised it must be a part of the ice-cap where it reaches the sea. P1050738

P1050735We arrived in Sisimiut next day at 8am in the morning. The second largest city in Greenland, situated 25 miles (40km) north of the Arctic Circle. 

It was billed in the ship’s daily information sheet as ‘offering plenty of opportunities for us to make exciting experiences that are highly unusual – even to Greenlanders themselves. There are a wide range of options for being active in nature – taking relaxed hikes or checking out activities for the more hard core traveller’.

I couldn’t wait to explore those opportunities………..but more of that in the next blog.

Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 9 Greenland, Narsarsuaq, Viking Eric The Red, a Walk with Large Mosquitos towards a Glacier too far.

Post 284: 6 August 2018 (PM): Narsarsuaq

Having survived hitting an iceberg at 3.15am, we arrived in Narsarsuaq at 7.00am. In 2010 it had a population of 158 and in 2015 only 145.

P1130168We passed Qassiarsuk where, according to Icelandic sagas, Greenland was discovered in 982 AD by Eirikr Porvaldsson (Eric the Red). He had been exiled from first Norway and then Iceland. According to legend Erik’s father was also exiled from Norway in 960 AD as a result of  ‘a number of killings’, and Erik’s entire family thus settled in Iceland. Here Erik the Red married Tjodhilde, but history repeated itself and his father’s fate also befell Erik. In 982 he was sentenced to exile from Iceland for three years for murder. He came to and named Greenland. The settlement at Qassiarsuk has been reconstructed.P1050665

P1050667This saga had particular interest for me as on 21st January 2017, as a birthday present consisting of a DNA test, I discovered, whilst on a ship to Norway, that I was 32% Viking.

I have yet to discover which 32% of me is Viking?! The remainder being mainly GB 38%, Ireland 25%, Europe West 4%. I have been following the Viking routes from Scandinavia to Dublin, Iceland and Greenland, hopefully eventually ending up in Newfoundland, Canada.

Like a true Viking I wished to explore the area and walk towards a glacier.P1120711Our route took us past the small airport.P1120714

To the Blue Ice Cafe, which has tourist information and maps of the area as well as wifi and refreshments.P1120717Adjoining is a museum recording the period of the USA and Danish development and use of the airport since the Second World War

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P1120718The bus service and petrol station are interesting! The bus takes people from the airport to a nearby hotel. My bus-pass wouldn’t get me far in Greenland! I think the petrol station was self-service, with only two choices!

There is also interesting art work on one of the buildings.P1120743

As we left town we saw that old airforce buildings had been put to other uses.

One possible walk is to ascend Signal Hill, which gives beautiful views over the fjordP1050668

P1050672Suprisingly there is also an arboretum and unique ‘botanical garden of the Arctic‘. The aim is to establish a live collection of trees and bushes heralding from both the arctic and alpine tree-lines of the entire Northern Hemisphere. There are 110 plant species and over 50,000 trees of various provinces. P1050671We decided to press onto the glacier on an increasingly hot day and with an increasingly higher number of mosquitos. We passed an interesting structure, which looked like a fireplace. Behind it was a dam for hydro-electric power. P1120738We enjoyed seeing the plant life in the area.P1120727

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P1050652Fed by water from the glacier.P1050644

P1120726A cairn indicated the variety of rocks in the area.P1050643We then passed an interesting snow fence experiment. P1120731P1120732Before climbing to a viewpoint.P1120733However, the glacier had retreated and we had insuffient time to reach it. I later got a peep of it and a photograph from the ship.P1050674In a day that had begun at 3.15am with the ship colliding with an iceberg, followed by a stunning trip to icebergs/ice flows in the morning (see previous blog) and then a 12.6 mile walk towards a glacier, I thought it only fitting to finish with icebergs and mountains photographed from the ship after we departed the port at 18.00 hours.

Mountains, glaciers and icebergs are intertwined and give life to each other. There is a strength to the glacier as it pushes forward in a creative but destructive way. It carves the mountains, valleys, rivers and ridges in a way that humans can only watch in awe.P1120750

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A sleeping giantP1050701

P1050705And in these remote and poor areas man can only struggle to dispose of his waste and rubbish by burning it. Or just leaving it to ‘soil’ the earth. In the wealthier countries with re-cycling facilities he often does worse, throwing it out of the car or throwing it on the floor or leaving it in a plastic bag to ‘stain’ the countryside for years to come. P1050708

 

Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 8 Greenland – A ‘Titanic Moment’ when hit by an Iceberg, Narsarsuaq, Iceberg boat trip in the Qoroq Fjord.

Post 283: 6 August 2018 (AM), Narsaruaq

I woke up abruptly in my dark cabin, only slightly lit by light from the moon through my porthole. I looked at my watch and it was 3.15am.

The ship leant over and my glass of water tipped over towards the drawer of my desk, which had now opened. The ship then lurched the other way and the large water bottles went hurtling across the cabin.

I then heard a crunching sound like breaking glass and what I thought were my wife’s cosmetic bottles crashing. It was all confusing.

Then the ship engines appeared to stop. I jumped higher onto the bed to look out of the porthole and saw land not so far away. Then an iceberg with red paint on it passed the porthole. The plimsoll line of the ship is painted red.

I then got some tissues to soak up the water in my drawer and remove my tie, which had got wet, and my bow-ties, which were still dry, and anything else that was in the drawer. A bit like on the Titanic some people carried on as normal, until the ship sank.

My wife had also woken up and we concluded we must have hit an iceberg. We later learnt that we were in a narrow passage on our way to Narsarsuaq, probably along either the Narlunaq or the Tunulliarfik fjord.  We were due in Narsarsuaq at 7am.

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My main regret is that I didn’t photograph the offending iceberg. The photograph below, taken later, is an example of an iceberg going through a narrow passage and shows how difficult it would be to avoid it. It was rumoured that the ice pilots couldn’t avoid the one we had just hit so went for the weakest part, in this case the middle. This is supported by friends of ours who were on the other side of our deck and also saw the iceberg float past their porthole with paint on it. It is also believed that two parts of the iceberg were above the surface of the water and joined in the middle under the water.

With no water appearing in our cabin and no alarm, Celia and myself went back to bed. We put our faith in the ice-strengthened ship, which on this occasion had done its job. However, other passengers did get dressed and went to more public areas. Others fell out of bed due to the jolt. A Titanic Moment!

P1050540 The next day our Captain announced that the ship would be checked in port followed by another more major check with specialist divers at the next bigger port. He did say we had hit a growler (a small ice-float). There was some doubt in some passengers minds that it was a growler, especially from those who saw it.

Icebergs do come down the fjord from the Qoroq (also spelt Qooqqut) glacier as shown in this map. P1130168It was an early start in the morning to go on an excursion at 7.45am to the icebergs in Qoroq Fjord, where they congregate. I had a walk planned for the afternoon.

Icebergs tend to be larger than ice-flows. Greenland’s inland ice cap produces millions of tonnes of icebergs and ice flows each year.

We were allocated to small local fishing boats, which took us from the ship to the ice-flows. We were blessed with perfect weather. P1120708

P1050630To get amongst the ice in small boats is quite magical and humbling. Each iceberg/flow is different and unique. Nature is a wonderful sculptor. Here are some black and white photographs I took.

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P1050619We then went further up the fjord to see the source of these icebergs/flows. Our local ‘captain’ switched the engines off and we listened to the silence – it was so unlike anything else I had ever done. The scale of it was overwhelming. P1050615

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P1050622The icebergs and glaciers are magical in colour too!! I will not apologise for the number of photographs as each ice flow is unique and carefully created by nature. To be amongst them overwhelms the senses and results in the mind constantly turning over to take in all the shapes, sizes and colours not normally seen. Many hues of blue and white, some intense, some transparent and some dense and snow packed.

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IMG_E2979The imagination wanders – a snowplough?P1050580 A strange pointed eared animal?P1120710A monster from the deep with an eye, small mouth and flippers. P1120686At times we sped between the ice P1050635and then stopped suddenly close enough to touch it.

Then blue ice surrounded us. This is millions of years old and turns blue due to the pressure it is under.

Then a ‘space ship’ appeared to land from outer space. P1050590Then it was time to get close again, at times almost underneath them.

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P1120692Before scurrying back to our ship with our tails between our legs as nature showed us its power and supremacy. P1120707

P1050640Such moments are etched on the mind and soul, never to be forgotten.

Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 7 Greenland, Prince Christian Sound Passage and Huge Icebergs

Post 282: 5 August 2018, the Prince Christian Sound Passage and Huge Icebergs

Having departed from Tasiilaq at 15.00 hours the previous day, we sailed through the night and began encountering huge icebergs at about midday.

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Given that you can only see nine tenths of the iceberg above water, they do create an imposing site, particularly when you are on a ship.

We were due to enter the Prince Christian Sound Passage which would avoid going around the southern tip of Greenland, Cape Farewell. The passage is 62 miles long (100 km) and its maximum width is 1.7 miles (2.7km). It joins the Labrador Sea and Irminger Sea (North Atlantic Ocean).

We arrived at the entrance to the passage at about 14.30 where a small communication settlement was evident and the entrance to the passageway soon started to reduce in width.P1050437

P1050438It was time to get dressed up for the passageway, which was likely to be cold and out of the sun. Also to get cameras and binoculars ready. The order of the day was lots and lots of layers, including goose down body warmers and fancy warm hats. I was now grateful for my new thin gloves for photography, which I had bought in Akureyri, Iceland earlier in the voyage.

There would be no walking today other than around the ship, but the great thing about cruising is that the ship takes you to the dramatic scenery. This day we would be entering real ‘Lord of the Rings’ scenery. Quite staggering and stunning. For someone whose favourite subject was geography at school it was to be arcadia; a cold arcadia with many of the following:

The edge of the ice-cap (only found on a ‘continental’ scale in Antartica and Greenland; in the latter it covers 660,000 square miles, (1,710,000 square kilometres) with an average thickness of 1.74 miles ( 2.8 kilometres), length 1650 miles (2,650 kilometres), maximum width of 650 miles (1,050 kilometres).

In addition, huge glaciers, ice-flows, weathered icebergs including tabular icebergs, berg bits, ice blink, shuga, growlers (small ice-flows), consolidated ice, open ice, ice islands, close ice,  grease ice, finger rafting, rind ice, terminal, medial, lateral, ground, sub-glacial and other moraine, firns, ice-sheets, glacial valleys, erratics, bergschrunds, crevasses, randklufts, seracs, mourns (‘glacier mill’), ogives (dirt bands), glacier snouts, cirque-glaciers or glacierets, wall-sided glaciers, tide-water or tidal glaciers, piedmont glaciers, mountain aretes and peaks, truncations, trough-ends, rock steps, roche mouton (abrasion, plucking), drift, till (boulder clay).

There is even a baby seal!!

I will say no more and let you sit back, relax and watch it pass you by on the screen………………

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P1120625Baby seal hitching a liftP1050470

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Hanging glacier.P1120630

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P1120665Aappilattoq with a population of approximately 150, 132 in 2010 and 200 in 1991. The average age is 31.5. Only accessible by boat or in an emergency by helicopter. It again suffers from the difficulties of disposing of more modern rubbish. P1050523

P1050534Not a good idea to meet one of these in a narrow passage as we were soon to find out next day at 3.15am! P1050540Simply stunning aretes. P1050543

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P1050550Leaving the passageway  of Prince Christian Sound, we entered open sea, where the icebergs just got bigger. P1050554

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P1050575We were due to arrive at Narsarsuag at 7am next morning, but were to have a startling awakening in the night…

 

 

Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 6 – First Iceberg ‘Titanic Moment’ and Landing on Greenland at Tasiilaq

Post 281: 3 August 2018, Sea Day and Iceberg Encounter.

For those who missed the introduction to this series of blogs, here the first ‘Titanic moment’ is repeated on the actual sea day.  It occurred at 18.15.

I banged on the shower door of our cabin on our ship Marco Polo and shouted “ICEBERG. ICEBERG” as loud as I could. A huge iceberg was just passing our porthole and it was the first one I had ever seen. This photograph was taken later but shows the ship and the sort of iceberg that was passing us. Nine tenths of an iceberg are hidden below the sea.

P1050642My wife Celia came dashing out of the shower naked and dripping wet. It was the nearest I would get to the ‘Titanic moment’ when Leonardo DiCaprio drew Kate Winslet completely nude, except for a necklace. Celia didn’t even have a necklace on.

Celia passed me by to jump on the bed to look out of the porthole to see her first ever iceberg. Well we have been married 44 years what else did you expect!

This was not to be our last ‘Titanic moment’ on our journey to and around Greenland.

Arrival in Greenlandic waters meant more and bigger icebergs would appear day by day……. was it by chance that our Staff Captain and Safety Officer was featured on this day in the Daily Information Sheet?

We had left Akureyri in Iceland the day before at 19.00 and were due to arrive in Tasiilaq, Greenland at 7.00. P11205724 August 2018, Tasiilaq (formerly Ammassalik until 1997) 

It was a murky and cool Tasiilaq we arrived at as a boat was winched out to set up the gangway to the tender boats. P1120574

P1120606Tasiilaq only has a population of approximately 2,062 people, but is the largest town on the eastern coast of what is the world’s largest island! It is the seventh largest place in Greenland. It is 65.9 miles (106 km) south of the Arctic Circle. It is one of the most isolated settlements in the world, where to the west the ice sheet rises up to 8202 feet (2,500m).

There are a number of walks in the area and John (trail name Cumbria Man) and myself decided to walk to lake 3 shown on the bottom maps, which promised a flower valley. P1120583P1120584The local children were first to greet us with interest on our landing.P1120576The Saqqaq culture was the first to reach Eastern Greenland arriving from the north. Thule migrations passed through the area through what is known as Peary Land and Independence in the 15th century, finding the south-eastern coast uninhabited. Due to back migrations to the more densely populated western coast, the south-eastern coast was deserted for another two hundred years. The region wasn’t settled until the late 18th century, with the village surviving as the only permanent settlement in the 19th century. This was founded in 1894 as a Danish trading station.

Traditional hunting and fishing is very much a part of daily life, with tourism in the last 20 years increasingly important.

As we passed through the town there was still remnants of ice and snow in the river that covers much of the town in winter.  P1050336 We soon reached a new football pitch shrouded in sea fret. Will Greenland qualify for the next World Cup?!P1120580One of the sad and surprising things we found in Tasiilaq was an abundance of litter. One can speculate on the reasons but it is to be hoped that something can be done about it. It is clearly a poor area and pride in what must be an incredibly tough environment to live in appears to have disappeared.  It may be the change from a subsistence culture of hunting and fishing to a culture mixed with a modern culture is a factor.  Alcohol and drugs are now more readily available and hunting and fishing is becoming more difficult with climate change. Greenland is unable at present to provide recycling facilities and so has to burn rubbish. Modern products such as tin cans, metals and bottles can’t be burnt and they tend to pile up near the ports.

Here are a few examples of litter and neglect we found on our walk to the lake, but there were many more:

We had been warned about the mosquitos and black flies in Greenland and most of us had brought protective nets and repellent with us. Apparently on previous trips a passenger had been hospitalised due to black fly bites, which can cause ulcers and cysts on the skin. The mosquito nets were needed in TasiilaqP1120599Following the river valley we passed the husky dog area. These, pulling sledges, are used for getting about in winter in the snow as there are no roads out of Tasiilaq. P1050355

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P1050373Known as the the flower valley there are indeed a number of flowers to be found.

Shortly the cemetery is passed with its distinctive white crosses and artificial flowers.

The valley broadens out. P1120598We decided to head up higher.P1050363 Before descending to a waterfall and the lakeside area.

We headed back along the valley to the settlement.P1120603Where our ship could be seen with passing icebergs and ice-flows.

We returned to the ship as the sea fret began to clear.

Fine views were apparent as the ship prepared to depart.

We headed back out to open sea, the mist and bigger icebergs

The next day the icebergs would become huge………………………..but it would be two days before we collided with one.

 

 

 

Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 5 – Akureyri, Iceland and the First Sighting of Whales

Post 280: 2 August 2018, Akureyri and the first sighting of whales.

Having left Eskifjordur in eastern Iceland the day before at 16.00 hours, we were due in at Akureyri in north-east Iceland at 9.00am. However, I knew we would be sailing in along Eyjafjordur where I was later booked to go whale watching. Perhaps there might already be whales about? I also noticed from my porthole that there was a good sunrise at just after 6.00am and so I got up.  Opportunities not to be missed.

P1120571After an early cup of tea in the Marco Polo’s Bistro (there tended to be a few regulars there on opening at 6.00am each day!), I was rewarded with a good sunrise at 6.35am.P1040760Followed by some dolphins and possibly a whale.P1040761\P1040787The impressive surrounding sheer granite mountains are tipped with snow all year round. P1040782

P1040805Akureyri has a population of about 18,000 and on this day the population was to have an increase of 4,500 people due to the MSC Meraviglia being docked there. P1120505I have already expressed my view that these huge ships are inappropriate for docking at small ports as they tend to detract from the characteristics of the place you are visiting. Even a passenger I met from the MSC ship said it was just too big. New cruise ships are being built that are even bigger. In contrast the 848 on our ship (to the left behind the big one in the first photograph) can easily be absorbed by small towns and villages and not detract from the experience of the visit.

My whale watching trip was booked (privately with Elding) for the afternoon and so I had chance to walk around Akureyri. P1120506A quick walk along the dockside and through the town’s main pedestrianised shopping street of Hafnarstraeti (I bought some thin gloves suitable for photography, but didn’t dwell there unlike the ladies who I left there) quickly brought me to the church and the ‘must do’ 100 steps, from which there are good views.  P1120511 P1040807

P1040809I soon discovered that Akureyri has a microclimate and it was much warmer than anticipated, hence the surplus of clothes! P1120554The Lutheran Church was designed by the architect Gudjon Samuellson. The centre window in the chancel was donated by England’s Coventry Cathedral – it was one of only a few parts that survived the bombing during the second world war.

There is a model ship hanging from the ceiling next to the organ, the latter which has 3200 pipes. P1120516The gardeners near the top of the church had distinctive hairstyles and nice smiles and beat Alan Titchmarsh anyday!  P1120512 I then walked uphill past the church,P1120553to pass some rather nice houses built in the 1920s.

I  continued ascending past a sign indicating the location of the first television in Iceland, which managed to link up with Crystal Palace in London between 1934 and 1936! Remarkable experiments were conducted at Sojonarhaed, the house at the bottom of the hill. Two communications enthusiasts received television transmissions from Crystal Palace with equipment they had partially created themselvesAt the time few Icelanders had even heard about television and most were still absorbing the magic of radio that had only recently been introduced.

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P1120522A little further on I came to the college and the ‘road to destruction’. P1120525

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P1120526Near an old tractor I found the entrance to Botanical Gardens famed for its 7,000 species of local and foreign flowers, which bloom outside in Akureyri’s warm microclimate. There were certainly a lot of plants to see.

In addition there was a cafe, another old tractor and some photography displays.

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P1120544A new rock garden was under developmentP1120543All that remained was to walk back to the ship for lunch, encountering some trolls en route.

The afternoon was taken up with a whale watching trip, which proved successful having close encounters with two humpback whales. We passed our ship and Astoria (built in 1948 with 600 passengers) as we headed out to the fjord with other whale viewing boats.

We had a cool and at times a bumpy journey along the fjord,  during which bobble hats ‘bobbled’ P1040817We were then fortunate to have good sightings of the two humpback whales and their flukes (the two tail lobes that go up as they dive).

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All that remained of a very enjoyable day was to have an ice-cream from a shop that had only just opened. They must have heard we were coming!

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Walking in the Orkneys, Faroes, Iceland and Greenland – Part 4 – Eskifjordur, Iceland.

Post 279: 1 August 2018. Eskifjordur

We left the Faroes at 14.30 heading for Iceland, and in particular Eskifjordur in East Iceland, which has a population of about 1,043.

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We arrived at Eskifjordur at about 9.30am

Somewhat isolated from the ring road that circles Iceland, Eskifjordur feels a little bit on a limb, located on a fjord by the same name. It has a large fishing industry, immediately apparent by the fishing boats and fish processing plant alongside us at the small harbour. P1120477

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Although there is a mountain of 985 metres (3231 feet) called Holmatindure opposite the village, with the limited time we had until our departure at 14.00 and the apparently difficulty of climbing the mountain (described as extremely difficult but possible), it was beyond us. We therefore decided to walk to a waterfall past the church. Over the years the village has been badly hit by avalanches but has now built an avalanche breaker. P1120480

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Leaving the road followed by a short ascent, the path soon became fairly indistinct. At least one walker had however found his way to the top of the waterfall.

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P1120487We descended to look at the church. On both the ascent and descent there were fine views towards our ship. P1120484

P1120483There was a lot of light in the church and a fine painting of the fjord. P1120490

P1120489Leaving the church and community centre, we visited the cemetery further up the valley. There were some interesting gravestones.

 

Finally, we had a walk around the village past some artwork and the Maritime Museum situated in an old building built in 1819. There is also a small 9-hole golf course, a fishing shed dating from 1890, a geothermal swimming pool and a sports complex with hot tubs, and a mineral collection.

 

We returned to the ship in time for lunch.P1120500It had been a relaxing morning walk.

Departing at 14.30 our next stop was Akureyri in the north-east of Iceland