Iceland, we’ve finally arrived. We made it.
The moment we arrived in Akureyri, our first scheduled port in Iceland, I was overcome with such joy and excitement. As many of you may remember, Iceland has been a destination that I’ve included on every single wanderlust list that I’ve made since this blog started up. I’ve never experienced such serious wanderlust as I have for Iceland. I never could put my finger on what kept compelling me to go. Maybe it’s the movies, maybe it’s the travel blogs and the repeated stories of the holy Viking land. Maybe it’s those stunning photographs of the Blue Lagoon, the waterfalls, and the mountain rock.
I think why I’ve been drawn to Iceland this whole time is because it’s different from everything else. It’s not your typical European city with bustling local streets, street vendors, and your ancient cathedrals and monuments. It’s full of life, of untouched earth and of all four elements. Everywhere you go, you’re surrounded by mountain or volcanic rock that has experienced so much more than you have. You can see the breathtaking, heart-stopping things that deeply rooted city folk have only seen on a screen or in stories. And at the same time, Iceland is different than Canada. Comparing Iceland to the West Coast of Canada, Iceland almost seems bolder. The landscapes, the nature, the atmosphere – it all seems more relentless. The waterfalls roar louder. The rocks protrude higher, having remained untouched from the incessant human activity. The geysers spout with more fury. Iceland is all that. It is exhilarating, yet calm, and all so different at once. I couldn’t wait to start exploring.
We docked in Akureyri and for this port, we had arranged for a ship-organized shore excursion, again. Less hassle, more relaxation. We were going whale watching! Yes, whale watching in this stormy, cold weather. No matter how hard I tried, I guess I just couldn’t escape the inevitable Canadian weather. Iceland is famous for its whale sightings and the whales are very common, so it was the perfect opportunity. There certainly was no complaining, in spite of the weather.
The whale-watching departure was scheduled for around noon, so we spent the morning walking around the city centre of Akureyri. From the boat terminal to where most of the shops and attractions are is only about a 10 to 15 walk.
One of the main sights (and one of the only significant sights) you want to pay a visit to is the Church of Akureyri, or Akureyrarkirkja. Try saying that 10 times fast! This is a very prominent Lutheran church. What makes it so special is that it contains a huge 3200-pipe organ inside the church.
There isn’t too much to do in the city center (A very, very, very, VERY, tiny, tiny, TINY version of Times Square. Bad metaphor?) so after walking around for about a half hour, we headed back to the pier to wait for the whale-watching tour.
Along the way back, I did take a few moments to sit up on a stone platform by the water and simply look out at the view. Just look out, nothing more.
I breathed in the fresh air, admired the mountains in the far distance, listened to the crashing of the waves, and I closed my eyes to let it all in. A brief meditation in Akureyri, almost. Zenning out in the land of the Vikings. I think sometimes this is what we forget to do. We forget to just be still and do nothing.
Now, it was time to join the whales. We boarded the boat, donned our official whale-watching safari outfits (mostly to protect ourselves from the bitter chill of the high winds) and found the best spot to get some scrapbook worthy photos.
Our tour guide was amazing. Throughout the trip, her eyes never strayed from the sea. Her head was constantly going left, right, forward, backward – all so she could point out any whale sightings. The first few minutes were slow as we left the harbor. I was starting to worry we wouldn’t see any whales.
But then, their tails went up and the hope came back. For a long period of time, we were following two whales that were traveling together. Lots of tails, lots of fins, and lots of slick black bodies.
Watching a whale dive down and point its tail up to the sky before plunging below the water’s surface is such a sight to see. We probably saw about 20 or 30 “tail tricks” during the two-hour long boat ride. What’s even more interesting is that the humpback whales who were there each had different tail patterns so each time the tail went up, the tour guide could identify them by the name the locals had given them.
It’s unbelievable how magnificent whales are. As I watched them come up to the surface and dive back down again, it was hard to imagine how big they really are since I could only see their tail – a mere fraction of their body size. I couldn’t even picture a huge adult whale right below the surface, and so close to our boat.
The most special part? We got to see one of the whales breach. Breaching is when the whale lifts its body, jumps high out of the water and then slaps the water as they come back down. This is something only the humpback whales do, and it’s when they do this that you get those really nice, stock image whale photos. One of the whales that we were following suddenly jumped right out of the water, but instead of a vertical jump and twist, it jumped out a little bit, angled its body horizontally, and came crashing back down. This is not easy for the whale, that’s for sure. According to the tour guide, a humpback burns about 2,000 calories each time it breaches. So I’m guessing the pattern for the whale is breach, eat, sleep, and repeat.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture the moment with my camera because it all happened so fast. But, I guess that’s life. Not everything you can capture with a lens. There are some things, and moments, that you can just witness and store in your memory.
So, that was Akureyri. Our first (chilly) taste of Iceland.
Next up is the FIRST blog post for Reykjavik (yes, there will be more than one!) You’ll get to swim with me in the Blue Lagoon for this first one, so unless you’re against warm, blue geothermal springs, you’re not going to want to miss this one!