Out Now!

Friday, 27 July 2018


I had promised faithfully not to get drunk or be embarrassing in anyway during the cruise— the latter being a bit of a tall order. I majored in embarrassment. The problem was, we had signed up for a £200 drink’s package to cover our ten days. This took some careful and methodical planning, but I am glad to report that at the end of the cruise I was in profit by the princely sum of £80. 35 p. As they say, you can take the boy out of Liverpool . . .

It was easy to sip lager staring out at as fjiords and mountains slipped by, sometimes harder to read as landscapes merged into reverie and the occasional whale. We are in Northern Iceland, touching the Arctic circle. 

And reading was one of the great attractions of the cruise. Unless you paid an exorbitant sum for Internet connection, you were cut off from every distraction, other than planning when you’d have your next drink. Truth was, I was on the verge of being burned out after a prolonged period of writing – scripts, novels and short stories. It was good to just do nothing and read, and sip drinks and eat and put on significant weight (all of which has since gone, though that required serious amounts of porridge and water.)
This is my last post on Iceland, so I’ll end up with our one significant walk from  Seydistfjordur to the Vestalseyri valley and waterfalls in in the mountains. The photos speak for themselves. I hope.

The walk starts

A gentle incline at first. I'm not fooled.

And now we're pretty high up. A river but no waterfall as yet. 

In winter there can be some devastating floods.

Call that a waterfall?

Hmm, a bit better

My favourite picture 

So good, I snapped it twice.

These three pictures of the plateau cannot capture the absolute silence - when not broken by an 
Curlew or Arctic Tern

Okay, Okay another waterfall but are we getting any nearer yet?

Promising. The noise is deafening.

And we've arrived. 

Homeward bound. At least it's down hill.
The ship! Looking forward to that first drink and then dinner

A nice ice cold lager. And ooh look, a whale albeit a shy one.

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

Friday, 13 July 2018

Trolls, Geysers, and Waterfalls

The Thingvellir plain is a geological marvel. Southwest of Reyjkavik, it is where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and, geologically you can walk from Europe to America in a matter of minutes.

It is also the birthplace of Icelandic democracy. The Althing was founded here as an open air assembly in 930 AD and is the oldest continuous parliament in the world. Held in what is now part of the Thingvellir National Park, all the most important men of the island gathered to meet, change and make laws. All free men were allowed to attend, and the assembly continued to meet even after Iceland was annexed by Norway in the C13th. Only when Denmark took over was its power significantly reduced, but even then the Althing continued to surprise – giving women the vote in 1915.

It perhaps makes up for what I termed the ‘murder pool’ a stone’s throw from the Althing, and where justice was summarily meted out on – primarily on women. There they were drowned.

The white house is, coincidentally, the holiday home of Iceland’s Prime Minister. A story, perhaps apocryphal, involves an American tourist exploring the church and the house and accosting a stranger for information about the two buildings. On being told it was the Prime Minister’s private residence he was surprised, telling the Icelander that in America, the President’s private residence would have been well guarded with no tourists allowed anywhere near it. As they said their goodbyes the tourist introduced himself, as did the Icelander. ‘I’m the Prime Minister,’ he said.

Next to the house is Thingvellir Church built in the C10th but destroyed by a great storm in 1118. This present church was built in 1859 and had three bells, the original ancient bell, a bell from 1968 and the 1944 bell installed when Iceland got its independence from Denmark.  

The circular green to one side of the church, is the National Cemetery of Iceland holding just two graves. The first grave is that of Einar Benediktsson, a C20th nationalist and poet. There followed a period of headscratching when it transpired that nobody else wanted to be buried in the middle of nowhere. Then they decided they would dig up the body of an even old poet Jonas Hallgrimsson who died in Denmark in 1845. Such a great Icelandic poet must surely be buried in Iceland! Unfortunately it is likely that they exhumed and transported the wrong body – that of a Danish baker. So, poet and baker lie side by side in the National Cemetery of Iceland.

When you see for yourself the bleakness, and imagine it at night or in mist, it's easy to imagine an alternative world.

The Huldrefolk or  hidden folk are the Icelandic equivalent of elves seen by few but believed in by many. One story traces their origins to Adam and Eve, and yet again blames the woman. Eve was washing her four children. Two were clean, two were not when God came a calling. Ashamed of showing her two dirty children, Eve hid them from God’s sight. To prove a point, perhaps, though God knows what, the Good Lord decreed that henceforth these two children and their descendants should be hidden from man. A variant of the story explains how the Elves were neutral in the great conflict between Lucifer and God. Lucifer was bound to Hell, the Elves were punished by being hidden from man. One thing for sure, those stones associated with the Hidden Folk are treated with huge respect, to the extent that roads are narrowed or skirt around them.

Volcanic gorges like these resemble roughly hewn castles, perhaps built by Trolls.
Trolls were or are, man-eaters,  slow and dull-witted,  but on occasions, surprisingly helpful and loyal to those who come to their aid. Their big problem is sunlight, which turns them to rock.

And of course there are geysers and waterfalls. Lots of waterfalls

Gulfoss (Golden Falls)