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Saturday, 21 July 2018

Isafjordur and Akureyri

Always exciting pulling into a new port. These are Akureyri and Isafjordur respectively

Isafjordur - the port is functional and bleak.

Isafjordur, a walk along the fjord

We met a remarkable tour guide who told us how his grandparents had lived in a turfhouse, which were still being built in the early C20th, when, it was calculated, there existed over 100, 000 of them.  

Part of the reason may well have been that being partly underground they were well insulated; warmth being valued more than smoke and poor ventilation. There were other reasons, too, one being the scarcity of trees in Iceland. When the Norse first arrived, it’s estimated 30 % of the landscape was covered by trees, but deforestation and slow growth because of the harsh climate meant that wood soon became in short supply. Trees are still relatively scarce,  though many have now been imported, some from as far away as Siberia.

When someone asked about stone houses, the guide, a local geologist,  told us that the Danish king had forbidden the import of mortar and cement into Iceland for fear they might have built stone forts in a struggle for independence. Basalt, (the local lava rock) is apparently unsuitable for dry-stone walling. This and the unsuitability of bricks in the Icelandic climate made for interesting and ingenious alternatives. Forget IKEA, Iceland is the spiritual home of prefabrication.

Concrete has liberated Iceland, that and corrugated iron, and of course prefabrication. What could be utilitarian and bland is made less so  by an emphasis on colour. 

We walked through streets of beautifully painted houses, simple  but elegant and weirdly out of place in a bleak and over powering landscape, like beads strewn on hillside and meadows. The colour would be all they going for them in winter and darkness.  A tribute to the human spirit.

The first port we called in at was Isafjordur, where, in the tourist information office, a young bearded guy guided us on with a map of the town, linking various members of his extended family. to the places where we should visit. These included his mother and grandmother, his wife's family and the hospital where he was born. The town centre is marked by some cobbling and three trees.

Isafjordur Culture House, once the old hospital, now a beautifully equipped library.
With a population of just 2,551, this library would put most of our libraries to shame. It shames Monmouth (pop 11,000)  with a library staffed by volunteers and which doubles up with a 'One Stop Shop'


                         Isafjordur - a tad bleak just here,  but for the Germanic looking hotel.

                                                 Isafjordur houses

A bar in  Akureyri in Northern Iceland. 
I drank my first Icelandic beer here. 

* Courtesy of Lydur Skulason from Iceland

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