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.
After 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.Followed by some dolphins and possibly a whale.\The impressive surrounding sheer granite mountains are tipped with snow all year round.
Akureyri 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. I 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. A 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.
I soon discovered that Akureyri has a microclimate and it was much warmer than anticipated, hence the surplus of clothes! The 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. The gardeners near the top of the church had distinctive hairstyles and nice smiles and beat Alan Titchmarsh anyday! I then walked uphill past the church,to 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 themselves. At the time few Icelanders had even heard about television and most were still absorbing the magic of radio that had only recently been introduced.
A little further on I came to the college and the ‘road to destruction’.
Near 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.
A new rock garden was under developmentAll 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’ We 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).
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!