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Around Iceland

Grundarfjordur

sunny 60 °F

We anchored out at our final port of call Grundarfjordur on a beautiful cloudless day - a fitting last day of the cruise.

Grundarfjörður is a small town, situated in the north of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. It is situated between a mountain range and the sea. The nearby mountain Kirkjufell forms a small peninsula. The town received the right to do commerce in 1786. Around 1800, French merchants came to Iceland and lived in Grundarfjörður, where they constructed a church and a hospital of their own. The town has become rich through the fishing industry, and this wealth shows in the style of the original, luxurious houses being built.

The road to nearby Stykkishólmur crosses a big lava field, called Berserkjahraun. The name of the lava field comes from the Eyrbyggja saga, according to which two Berserkers were slain here by their master, because one of them fell in love with his master's daughter.

Our excursion today was to Stykkishólmur where we boarded a boat to go birdwatching at the nearby islands, and sample some 'sushi' or fresh bay scallops pulled out of the sea in front of us. The scallops were exceptionally sweet and tender, having been out of the water for only a few minutes.

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Posted by rpickett 10:40 Archived in Iceland Tagged grundarfjordur Comments (0)

Around Iceland

Isafjordur

overcast 55 °F

Today's destination was Isafjuordur - a quiet little town. With a population of about 2,600, Ísafjörður is the largest town in the peninsula of Vestfirðir (Westfjords) and the seat of the Ísafjarðarbær municipality, which includes the nearby Hnífsdalur, Flateyri, Suðureyri, and Þingeyri. It is located on a spit of sand, or eyri, in Skutulsfjörður, a fjord which meets the waters of the larger Ísafjarðardjúp. According to the Landnámabók (the book of settlement), Skutulsfjördur was first settled by Helgi Magri Hrólfsson in the 9th century. In the 16th century, the town grew as it became a trading post for foreign merchants. Witch trials were common around the same time throughout the Westfjords, and many people were banished to the nearby peninsula of Hornstrandir, now a national nature reserve. The town of Ísafjörður was granted municipal status in 1786.

For our excursion today, we boarded a boat and took about an hour ride to Glacier Fjord and an old early 20th century town that has since been abandoned. It really gave us an opportunity to see some pristine Icelandic countryside. Before we landed we sailed by and old whaling then herring factory.

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Posted by rpickett 03:30 Archived in Iceland Tagged isafjordur Comments (0)

Around Iceland

Akureyri

overcast 54 °F

We arrived this morning at the end of a beautiful fjord at the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri.

The Norse Viking Helgi magri (the slim) Eyvindarson originally settled the area in the 9th century. The first mention of Akureyri is in court records from 1562 when a woman was sentenced there for adultery. In the 17th century, Danish merchants based their camps at the current site of Akureyri, which was one of the numerous spits of land in Pollurinn. The main reasons for choosing this spot for trading operations were the outstanding natural harbour and the fertility of the area. The merchants did not live at Akureyri year-round but returned home in the winter.

Permanent settlement at Akureyri started in 1778, and eight years later, the town was granted its municipal charter by the king of Denmark (and at the time Iceland also) along with five other towns in Iceland. The king hoped to improve the living conditions of Icelanders by this action because at the time, Iceland had never had urban areas. As far as the king was concerned Akureyri was unsuccessful, because it did not grow from its population of 12. It lost its municipal status in 1836 but regained it in 1862. From then on Akureyri started to grow because of the excellent port conditions and perhaps more because of the productive agricultural region around it. Agricultural products became an important sector of the economy.

Our excursion today took us through the countryside to the Godfass Falls, one of the most beautiful in all of Iceland and then to the small but wonderful Botanical Garden.

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Posted by rpickett 11:47 Archived in Iceland Tagged akureyri Comments (0)

Around Iceland

Seydisfjordur

overcast 55 °F

After sailing all day in the drizzle and fog, we arrived at Sedisfjordur, a small town of about 700 folks at about 5:00pm. The highlight of the evening was an included event of Iceland folk songs at the "Blue Church" followed by a reception at the small Technical museum. The fresh air and quiet was exceptionally enjoyable.

Settlement in Seyðisfjörður traces back to the early period of settlement in Iceland. The first settler was Bjólfur, who occupied the entire fjord. The burned down ruin of a "staf" church at Þórunnarstaðir has been carbon-dated to the 10th century, with earlier graves exhumed dating back to the 8th century.

Town settlement in the Seyðisfjörður area started in 1848. The town was settled by Norwegian fishermen. These settlers also built some of the existing wooden buildings in the town. Another now deserted settlement nearby in the fjord, Vestddalseyri was the site for the world's first modern industrialized whaling station. It was established in 1864 by renowned American whaler Thomas Welcome Roys and run by him and his workforce until 1866. Both settlements served primarily as fishing and trading posts. The first telegraph cable connecting Iceland to Europe was shored in Seyðisfjörður in 1906, making it a hub for international telecommunications well past the middle of last century. In 1913 a dam was made in the main river, harnessing power for the country's first high voltage AC power plant together with a distribution network for street lighting and home use, also the first of its kind in Iceland. Seyðisfjörður was used as a base for British/American forces during World War II and remnants of this activity are visible through the fjord, including a landing strip no longer in use and an oil ship SS El Grillo that was bombed and sunk. It remains a divers' wreck at the bottom of the fjord.

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Posted by rpickett 05:10 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Around Iceland

Heimaey Island - the Pompeii of the North

sunny 59 °F

Our first stop was Haimaey Island - one of the Westmans Islands. On the way we were able to watch a pod of Orka's feed:

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The Landnáma tells that after Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler in Iceland, spent a winter at Ingólfshöfði, he released his Öndvegissúlur (chief's pillars) into the water and followed them west. (These were pillars associated with the chief's chair. They were put into the sea and let float to shore. Where they came ashore, the Viking who followed it would build his farm.) At Hjörleifshöfði, Ingólfur found that his brother/close friend Hjörleifr Hróðmarsson was dead and his slaves were missing. Out at sea he could see boats going toward a small group of islands, and he set off after them.

Abducted from the north of Ireland, the slaves were called westmen (Vestmenn), as before discovering Iceland, Ireland was the most western part of the world known to northern Europeans then (c. 840). The slaves went ashore at Heimaey and took shelter in the hills. Ingólfur hunted them and killed them in revenge for their murdering his foster brother. In the process, he named various places and landmarks. For example, he named "Dufþekja", an area on Heimaklettur, Heimaey's highest hill (283 m; 928 ft), after the slave Dufþakur (the Icelandic version of the Gaelic 'Dubhthach,' Anglicized as 'Duffy') who was said to have thrown himself off Heimaklettur at that point, preferring to take his own life than to let Ingólfur take it.

At 01:00 on 23 January 1973, a volcanic eruption of the mountain Eldfell began on Heimaey. The ground on Heimaey started to quake and fissures formed. The fissures grew to 1,600 metres (5,200 ft) in length, and lava began to erupt. Lava sprayed into the air from the fissures. Volcanic ash was blown to sea. Later, the situation deteriorated. When the fissures closed, the eruption converted to a concentrated lava flow that headed toward the harbour. The winds changed, and half a million cubic metres of ash blew on the town. During the night, the 5,000 inhabitants of the island were evacuated, mostly by fishing boats, as almost the entire fishing fleet was in dock.

The encroaching lava flow threatened to destroy the harbour. The eruption lasted until 3 July. Townspeople constantly sprayed the lava with cold seawater, causing some to solidify and much to be diverted, thus saving the harbour.[3] The people were elated that their livelihoods remained intact, even though much of their town was destroyed. During the eruption, half of the town was crushed and the island expanded in length. The eruption increased the area of Heimaey from 11.2 km2 (4.3 sq mi) to 13.44 km2 (5.19 sq mi). Only one man died in the eruption.[4][5] The eruption is described by John McPhee in his book The Control of Nature.

Heimaey is home to around 4,500 people, and eight million puffins every summer.Many millions of other birds migrate there for breeding and feeding.

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Posted by rpickett 14:06 Archived in Iceland Tagged island heimaey Comments (0)

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