Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reykjavik, Iceland and the Blue Lagoon--Sept. 13

Here's Iceland's flag...looks like Norway in reverse!

We made it into port in Reykjavik. Thank heavens or I think there would have been a mutiny on board! It was cold and rainy…just like the last time we were here!

The Canadian flag is flying…always makes you feel good. All the cars lined up are taxis hoping for a fare.

Some interesting facts about Iceland…

• The population of Iceland is about 330,000. Most Icelanders live along the coast as the interior (or highlands as they call it) remains ice covered year round.

• Two tectonic plates rest side by side on a pool of boiling mud. As they slowly move and grind against each other, they release vast quantities of geothermal energy and volcanic activity. Iceland owes its origin to volcanic eruptions which continue to this day.

• Most of the eruptions are in the interior and therefore don’t cause any major problems. There is an eruption about every 5 years, and Icelanders take this in stride.

• The temperature is never very cold or very hot. In the winter it stays at about 0ºC and in the summer it only gets to about 14ºC. Surprising!

• All Icelanders retire at age 67, both men and women. There is no early retirement.

• Income tax is a flat rate of 37% and sales tax is a whopping 24.5%! Icelanders accept this as part of living in a small country where money is needed to maintain the social infrastructure.

• How Icelanders name their children is really interesting. If a man’s first name is Peter, and he has a son and names him Hans, his name would be Hans Petersson (Hans son of Peter). If he had a daughter and named her Greta, her name would be Greta Petersdottir (Greta daughter of Peter). Woman always keep their maiden names so they are always somebody’s daughter rather than someone’s wife. So a family of four (with a boy and a girl) would all have different surnames! It sounds confusing, but our tour guide assured us it was very easy.

• The unemployment rate had been a steady 0.2 to 0.5%; however, the recent financial crisis has seen the rate rise to 9.5% and it may possibly rise to 15%. This is unheard of in Iceland.

Our tour today included a visit to the Blue Lagoon and a city tour. We hadn’t planned to swim at Blue Lagoon as our tour in Akureyri was to include a swim in the thermal baths there. Unfortunately, we didn’t dock there, so no swims!

We snagged the front seats in the bus, so most of our pictures will have a blue band across the top courtesy of the sun screen in the bus. Here is Reykjavik’s cityscape…a very modern city.

Swimming is Iceland’s most popular sport. All the water for the swimming pools is sourced from the hot springs created by the volcanic activity. The water for the pools is so hot that it must be cooled down as it is normally around 80ºC. Beautiful sports facilities…

Very modern city…

This is typical Iceland landscape…lots of lava flows from previous volcanic activity.

These are Icelandic horses (don’t call them ponies, we were told!). They don’t import any other horses as they wish to keep this breed pure.

You can see that people don’t let the lava flows stop them…they just build where they can.

There was a lot of construction underway in Iceland, but most of it has come to a halt because of the economy. This is a typical construction for a new apartment building using corrugated aluminum siding.

This is the home of the President, who is basically a figurehead. A very modest home by most country’s standards, but that is typical of Icelanders. The Prime Minister walks to her government office every day unaccompanied by any security, something which the tour guide was proud to point out.

So here we are arriving at the Blue Lagoon. It is very wet and windy!

The mineral rich waters of this man-made lagoon are heated by waste water from a nearby geothermal plant. The water’s temperature is 37-39ºC. The lagoon holds 6 million litres of water which is renewed every 40 hours. Sampling shows that common bacteria do not thrive in this environment, therefore chlorine or additional cleansers are not needed. The water is reported to be very therapeutic.

The lagoon is huge. This part is not used for swimming as the bottom is very rocky and sharp.

Inside the visitor’s centre, you can see how a business has evolved, complete with spa treatments. They get 100,000 visitors each year.

Look at how windy it is!! A basin has been created for swimming, while the area at the back of the lagoon is not used for this purpose.

I think it would have been a lot nicer in the water!!

The area around the lagoon…the lava flows eventually are covered in moss and some hardy flowers manage to flourish.

Stunning view…the steam from the geothermal plant can be seen in the background. The power plant generates electricity using the steam from the geothermal activity to power its turbines. The waste water flows into the blue lagoon and then back to the sea.

Very rugged landscape!

Inside the visitor’s centre, you can relax in two restaurants. The line-up in the souvenir shop was crazy!

We headed back to the city under ominous skies…

Icelanders, like Norwegians, also have to be good spellers!

Here we are heading to the Pearl. Icelanders are very proud of this building. The Pearl rests on six hot water tanks. Each tank holds 80,000 litres of water which is used for all of Reykjavik’s building heating. All homes are heated with hot water, so it is very inexpensive and clean. The 6th tank was made into a museum.

Statues outside the Pearl. We concluded they represent a band.

Here is a geyser outside the Pearl that erupts about every 10 minutes.

And there it goes!

View from the observation deck at the top of the Pearl. Reykjavik is a lovely city…

Airport nearby…

Inside the Pearl…palm trees in Iceland!

Jim beside a man-made geyser inside.

It’s a beautiful building. No wonder they are very proud of it.

Part of the museum. I think this Viking looks quite modern…something got lost in the translation!!

Our bus driver…he definitely has a Nordic look.

The financial district…there were lots of new buildings going up, until the downturn. Iceland has gone from being one of the richest countries to declaring bankruptcy.

This house is famous as it is where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev shook hands at the start of the end of the Cold War. It was chosen partly because it was very easy to monitor security wise.

Here we are back at the ship…a Murano in the foreground!

We’re getting ready to set sail. The employees from the visitor centre are holding the Iceland flag and waving good-bye. The captain was hoping to get an early start to get ahead of a storm that was approaching.

Quite often just before we set sail, they will make an announcement looking for passengers. You have to use your cruise card to get off and get back on the ship, but sometimes people will bypass the system. Usually these passengers just phone passenger services to say they are on the ship and away we go. This day, they called several times for the passengers and then we left.

The captain is quite dry with his British humour. He made an announcement shortly after we sailed saying “I guess the two errant passengers have decided they wish to sail with us after all, so we are just waiting for the tugboat to bring them to the ship.” You could tell he was not amused! Here comes the tug…

A cheer from the passengers greeted them. I would hate to think how much this cost these two!

With a wave from those onboard, the tugboat was off and so were we!

We have two days at sea now before we arrive in Greenland. We love sea days!

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