Thursday, July 27, 2017

Iceland: Whales and Puffins

After our city walking tour, we were scheduled for a whale-watching tour in the afternoon, but the winds were intense, with 2 to 3-meter waves, so it was an easy decision to reschedule for the following morning, inspired, as it turned out because although we woke up to rain the sea was calm.

Our whale-watching boat. Reassuringly large.

A good supply of gear, enough for everyone.

See any whales?

Apparently, we saw harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins and minke whales, even some minke whale calves but, as they were in the distance, I felt lucky to just see a few splashes. So no photos of whales. But here's a whale poster. I think you must have to be very experienced to tell from a distance what kind of whale you're looking at. 

We saw this model during our lunch break

and later saw one like it in the distance.

You can see the kind of rainy weather it was, but LOOK! at the CALM SEA!!

This multi-hued glass Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre is a major landmark in the old harbour. The southern facade was designed by Icelandic-Danish artist, Olafur Eliasson, who "deployed light, colour and natural phenomena to test how physical movement, sensual engagement, and the interaction of body and brain influence our perception of our surroundings". It was proudly built to very high eco-standards.

Whale-watching was fun but I think I enjoyed the afternoon puffin tour more since we could get a little closer to our subjects. We headed toward this island in a much smaller boat than the Andrea. Still grey and showery but blissfully CALM!!

This rocky shoreline was a warren of puffin burrows.

Puffins were in abundance. Cute little guys, flapping madly about and sitting in front of their nesting burrows, gazing over the hillside.

from Instagram
You probably are already aware that puffins spend most of the year at sea, only coming onto land for nesting, so we were in the right place at the right time. 

I used binoculars instead of the camera.

Fortunately, people like UK wildlife photographer, Jack Perks, who I've mentioned before on this blog, go into the water for us. 

Puffins are popular little birds in Iceland, probably because we tourists are so enamoured. There are puffin stuffies, photos, paintings, books, key chains and figurines. You name it. A puffin economy.

However, we were both shocked by the display window below: these are actual puffins which have been stuffed. We had a quick look just to check that it was really so, then just as quickly departed, not wanting to give this store any more of our attention or business. 

We were also disturbed to find that some restaurants have puffin and also whale on the menu (and in fact other strange-to-us items such as fermented shark and roasted sheep skull, although not on any of the menus we looked at) and we declined to dine there. 

Anyway, sharing the island with the puffins were eider ducks, fulmars and Arctic terns, all beautiful.

Arctic Tern

Eider Duck


I did manage to get one photo of a curious fulmar.

On the flight home, I watched a very interesting video about eider ducks. I couldn't find exactly the same one on YouTube but found another just as good. Eider ducks are fascinating birds.

Our stop-over took place May 30 to June 3, 2017

On the blog:

Whales and Puffins

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Iceland: A Walking Tour of Reykjavik

Do you recognize this photo? This is Hallgrimskirkja, the large Lutheran church in Reykjavik, though not its cathedral which is much more modest. Construction of the building began in 1945 and the church was finally consecrated in 1986, the same year that Reykjavik celebrated its 200th year as a town/city. 

Iceland has become such a popular tourist destination that dozens of photos of this church pop up all the time on Instagram and travel blogs. We didn't see this church at night. And we didn't see the Aurora Borealis. The reason is that we were in Iceland in June when there is no complete darkness.  In June the darkest it gets is still light. 

We saw it in daylight as the meeting place for our walking tour of Reykjavik on our first full day, a cold and rainy morning. 

This statue of Iceland-born Leifur Eriksson is positioned in the front yard. It was donated to Iceland in 1930 by the USA to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Althing, the Icelandic parliament. You probably learned in school, as I did, that Leif Ericsson "discovered" North America long before Christopher Columbus stumbled over it.

As you might expect in a country where there are long winter days and nights, people are drawn to art, colour and handcrafts. Everywhere there are murals and sculptures and brightly coloured buildings. We started in the Einar Jonsson sculpture garden across from the church.



The King of Atlantis

From there we walked the streets and admired the murals, fences and other outdoor oddities along the way. 

Somebody had decorated a fence.

These folks have a cow coming through their garden wall!

Many murals on outdoor walls.

The artist's name:

Colourful balconies

Even the fire hydrants drew our attention!

Handcrafts on offer everywhere.

Whimsical displays at this restaurant in the harbour.

Even trash cans can be artistic/whimsical!

Important information:

Inspired use of colour everywhere!

We had a look at the old harbour, where, as in many places in Iceland, more building is in progress thanks to the huge increase in tourism, the country's main business now that fishing has declined.

Even the airport was fun to explore (no, not on the walking tour but I'm including it here just because I can)

Looking up at the ceiling:

Displays at the airport bookstore, made of books.


Another airport display window features Icelandic wool.


At one point on our walking tour, we passed the old prison, a sad empty building, built in 1874, that closed in 2016. It housed the courthouse and originally had room for 23 inmates. We were told that a new modern prison has opened up but that violent crime is rare in Iceland. Families living there feel safe. 


On returning home, though and remembering the clean streets and harbour area with no sign of indigent people or beggars or even buskers, I had to wonder about the occurrence (or lack thereof) of organized crime, drug use, mental illness and alcoholism in a country which is so dark for most of the year. 

Iceland is well known as a place where citizens are valued pretty equally, where gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and wealth are not measures of a person's worth. Unemployment is low and there is a strong sense of community, a working together to enhance each other's life. Maybe the small population of just over 300,000 is what makes this society tick so well, its people cooperating and taking pride in their creativity and resilience. 

It was a joy to visit.

Our stop-over took place May 30 to June 3, 2017

On the blog:

Day of Arrival
Golden Circle Tour
A Walking Tour of Reykjavik
Whales and Puffins
Last Morning