Thursday, 28 May 2015

Akureyri- Iceland's capital of the north Iceland

Today finds ourselves in the bottom of a deep fiord called Eyjafjordur, in Iceland's second largest city- Akureyri. The city of about 18000 people boasts a university, an international airport (the only one in the north), many shops, restaurants and hotels, a vibrant folk and arts culture, wonderfully sheltered harbour, and spectacular scenery. The area was settled by Vikings in the 9th century- that's a long time ago! There is no evidence that peoples settled in Iceland before the Norse arrived here, so Icelanders are true native peoples of this country. People originally traded in Akureyri in the summers and went home for the winters. However, by the late 1700s a permanent settlement was established. Today, fishing is still big business with two of Iceland's main fishing companies headquartered here. It is also a centre and jumping-off point for travellers to explore what the northern part of the country has to offer, which is much!

Our guests were able to join an excursion in the morning to enhance their knowledge about the land of fire and ice and see a little more than just the town of Akureyri. The buses gathered on the parking lot in front of the ship and our Expedition Team welcomed the participants along with the local guides. Our trip started by a little drive through the city which gave us an impression about the size of the capital of the North (of Iceland). On our way outside the city, our guides told us everything there is to know about Akureyri in general, its economy and of course the history. The road took us up in the mountains where we drove through a winter wonderland complete with snow! 

While admiring the scenery we were told a few short Icelandic Sagas in relation to the nature we were seeing. We soon arrived at the Godafoss falls - the "waterfalls of the gods". Legend has it that Thorgeir of Ljosavatn, a chieftain present at the Parliament meeting at Thingvellir in the year 1000, was given the authority to decide which religion was to be adopted by the Icelanders. He was a pagan himself, but after a period of thought, he decided that Christianity was to be the religion here. Upon his return home, he took the statues of the pagan gods he used to worship and threw them into this waterfall near his homestead. From this time, the waterfall has been named Godafoss (Waterfall of the Gods). The views over the falls were stunning and the sound from the water even so. Many of us took beautiful pictures and enjoyed the fresh humid air hanging around the falls.

On our way to the Botanical Gardens, we stop at a viewing point of Akureyri, on the other side of the Island Fjord, which gave us an even better understanding of the city´s location and size. Once at the gardens, we observed many of the locally growing wild flowers of which some were already blooming. Many of the other exposed flora included trees and bushes from all around the world and flowers endemic to the region. The gardens offered an opportunity for a peaceful walk surrounded by nature´s finest. A perfect way to end our tour here in Akureyri. 

In the afternoon, we had a rare opportunity (rare because in places like Iceland, there is very little free time or sea days) to hear our expedition staff give lectures on a variety of interesting topics such as history and sociology of Iceland, its geology and birds.