Steve Aldridge experiences Plan D and the Rotten Eggs
As we headed across the North Sea a storm kicked up, meaning it was unsafe for us to go to the Faroe Islands. A shame, but such is the nature of cruising. The Captain made the decision to “put his foot down” and try to outrun the storm, heading straight for Seydisfjördur in Iceland. Brilliant decision, as the worst we suffered in our overnight charge was 2 metre waves, whereas the storm was recording 7 metre waves (a much more uncomfortable ride). Without doubt there was much burning of the midnight oil, by the crew, as the schedule was reshuffled and Djúpivogur was added to replace the Faroe Islands.
Seydisfjördur sits at the end of a fjord and is overseen by mounts Bjolfur and Strandartindur. Sadly the steep sided valley has led to avalanches and in 1885 one from Bjolfur pushed a number of houses into the fjord and killed 24 people. There is a monument close to the church erected after the 1996 avalanche. It is made from some of the twisted girders (painted white) from the factory it flattened. Fortunately no lives were lost in this most recent avalanche. The pretty blue church and the nearby rainbow street offered the most visually attractive manmade features in the town, but there were other interesting elements to enjoy. A steep climb up the mountain paths at the end of the town (stout walking shoes/boots are a must) was rewarded by picturesque views over the fjord (there’s a bench part way up offering a rest and a great overlook). Further up we found a waterfall and Tvisongur (sound sculpture). It features five interconnecting concrete domes that could be art, or a monstrosity, that sits amongst the beautiful wildflowers.
Each of the fjords and its surrounding mountains often creates a microclimate at odds with its immediate surrounds. Such was the case with Djúpivogur, where the wind and sea conditions made it too dangerous to tender ashore, and we were now on to Plan D. Scenic cruising along the East Coast of Iceland was the new day’s itinerary and more time to enjoy the facilities of the ship.
Combining good views with great food was a real pleasure and with no fewer than eight different dining options, we were a little spoilt for choice. We went for a delicious burger at the pool grill, sheltered from the elements by the retractable pool roof. At this time of the year in Iceland the sun doesn’t set until after 11pm, so it was still light to take in the scenery during our dinner.
Like its sister ship Orion, Jupiter has a dome cinema (great facility) and we watched an excellent film about the aurora as we cruised along.
Akureyri, Ísafjördur and Reykjavík were our remaining three ports of call in Iceland. I have grouped them together because they were largely used as launchpads for us to tour some of the best that Iceland had to offer. Scenery and places so varied, from rugged terrain to tranquil beauty, but often displaying the true force of nature. Let me select a few highlights to share.
Waterfalls are sprinkled about the landscape but we visited two mightily impressive examples for a closer look. Godafoss waterfall (not the biggest but quite gorgeous) is named after a pagan priest and chieftain who threw the statues of the pagan gods he once worshipped into the waterfall, after converting to Christianity in the year 1000 AD. At Gullfoss (Golden Falls) around 80 cubic meters per second take a two-tiered 32m thunderous plunge into a narrow chasm, blasting spray high into the air.
It hard to think of a greater contrast between the Mývatn volcanic lake area and the Dimmuborgir lava labyrinth. The lakes sit flat and tranquil, whilst their mirror like surfaces reflect the fluffy clouds drifting across a vibrant blue sky. Quite an exquisite scene. The Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles) are the rugged and harsh aftermath of a 2,000 year old eruption. As the lava flowed over the marsh, boiling water and steam punched through it, creating dark towers like enormous termite mounds. Rough, bumpy, craggy but no less impressive.
Iceland is very much a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Underneath the picture postcard vistas is a fierce pulsating energy that can explode to life at any moment. There’s plenty of evidence of this as we tour around with plumes of steam escaping into the air. At Námafjall we saw the ground literally boiling as fumarole gas pushes its way up through the mud pots. The gas includes hydrogen sulphide, which gives the area a characteristic rotten eggs smell (can’t blame the dog for this one). We had to stay on the paths tough, some of the water and soil was 100C.
At Thingvellir National Park you can see the result of the land being torn apart at a rift caused by the movement of the North American & European tectonic plates (did the earth move for you darling?).
Visually, however, it’s undoubtedly the eruption of the Strokkur geyser that gives the most visually spectacular example of the power that lies beneath the earth. Pleasingly erupting every 5-10 mins, it shoots a 15 to 30m spout of water/steam into the air. Sadly the nearby Geyser, after which all other geysers are named, was dormant.
A visit to an electricity generating plant demonstrated how Iceland is harnessing this geothermal activity. Not only to produce environmentally friendly energy but also to use the surplus hot water to heat homes, swimming pools and even a few pavements. When they learn to export this energy, they’ll have Europe waiting with open arms to receive.
A magnificent cruise and a huge thank you to the Captain, crew, guides and many others involved in creating memories of a lifetime.
To find out more, visit Viking or call 020 8780 7900 to speak to a Viking advisor.