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Published: September 25th 2021
Days 12 & 13 from 22
Akureyri, Iceland's 2nd city - "city", self-titled and also referred to as such by my brother, but Pip objected to that, so Phil fired back with municipality 🤔😂 - by population (but to then get really, really picky Wiki says that as a "municipality" Akureyri is only the 4th largest in Iceland 😂😂😂) .
We didn't travel far at all today, just one brief out of town trip, but still filled a good day (though unfortunately the main museum we wanted to spend time at, Into The Arctic, seemed to have permanently closed).
We treated ourselves to breakfast today at TripAdvisor's No 1 recommendation - waffles for Pip, porridge / raisins / cinnamon sugar for Paul. Delicious.
This morning we did manage to get into the church. Consecrated in 1940 is was designed by architect Grudjon Samuelsson who also designed that church in Reykjavík. Fairly plain, Lutheran, but with some lovely, old English stained glass plus Icelandic glass too.
If we had visited and blogged 6 or 7 years ago we would be telling you how the English glass was originally in Coventry Cathedral but removed
for safe keeping before the war, and then somehow found for sale in London by an Icelander and bought for this church. Because that is how the story went.
However, fresh research in 2014 found that the "Coventry Cathedral" part of that story was a fallacy and that the glass probably originated from some London church. What is proven is that it was made in Exeter.
The area around the port had many information boards explaining a lot about the history of Old Akureyri and info about many of the old houses - around 100 to 150 years old - which are still standing. Akureyri was first mentioned in 1602, and later in the day we saw a very early map which showed 2 "noticeable" buildings, a couple of small dwellings and a sheep pen. This first settlement, 1778, was when Danish merchants were first allowed winter residence. Major development was around 1900. The buildings from that time are now all protected.
About a mile beyond that area we had seen a landmark on the map - Giant Viking Beer Can. We were up for it, it added distance to Pip's walking target. The disappointment on arrival
was to find that whilst "large" it was not giant when compared to the factory silos it was near to - why had they not just painted one of those? And it was only half a can anyway.
Into the car for a quick trip to The Christmas House. On arrival Pip declared this to be "the best part of the holiday" but pretty certain this was a fib. Some nice hand made things but the prices were awful even by Iceland standards. The separate gift shop was weird. It was full of mostly imported goods including Staffordshire jams and preserves, Cornish blue ware pottery, flavoured coffees from Darlington, hand bags from St Ives, Cornwall, Wilkin & Son preserves.....
Needless to say we didn't buy anything.
We walked out from town to the Akureyri Museum unsure as to whether it was open or not. There was conflicting info about this on the boards nearby. But, turned out it was.
3 rooms in the museum.
A map exhibition, focusing on how - innaccurately - Iceland was depicted in the 15 and 1600s.
An "old Akureyri" exhibit on the bottom floor with a whole series of
fascinating vignettes and info about personal life in Akureyri over the years.
And a large room about "the music scene" in Akureyri which seemed totally misplaced, especially as it seemed to focus on the 1950s.
The ticket price got us, supposedly, into 3 other museums.
The Toy Museum - but it wasn't until we were leaving and asked that the reception lady told us that had closed for the winter.
A writer's house in town.
And an homestead /farm museum 20 miles north of Akureyri (wrong side of fjord/wrong direction for us) that at this time of year wasn't open until 1pm Saturday.
With a meal out that was a filling day in town.
Today and tomorrow are designed to take small chunks at a time on the journey on Monday to the far reaches of the Westfjords.
Rather than the direct route west we headed to the furthest reaches northwards, with some geocaching on the way.
First stop at Hjalteyri where we watched a rickety, old, wooden, former fishing vessel whale watching trip depart. We have chosen not to fit one in on this trip as we are a) not convinced that
it's the best viewing season, b) not liking the thought of the current weather out there, and c) any trip was almost inevitably going to pale against our Hawaii whale trip.
The departure site is the location for what was a major herring oil processing factory, the largest in Iceland, which closed in 1966. There were still some fish drying racks to the rear. We took the opportunity for a breakfast and brew up overlooking a lagoon of birds who showed no interest at all in our attempts to feed them.
The location is also a popular dive departure spot, particularly to see what are probably earth's only shallow water underwater hydrothermal vent chimneys.
As we moved slightly further on we spotted that there was a cluster of boats in the fjord. Stopping safely - it is illegal on Iceland roads to just randomly stop, you have to use an actual pull-off - through binoculars we could just glimpse that they were following a whale. But it was barely surfacing whilst we watched.
A brief turn into Hauganes mainly because Paul wanted to at least see its "famed" ocean view hot tubs. Mission accomplished.
through Ólafsfjörður we were surprised to see a ski-jump slope on municipal land next to the road. Research shows that a local became national champion and it was built in the 1960s to encourage children. In the summer it is used by bikes 😎😎😱😱😱 and as a water slide.
Our main target was to Siglufjörður, Iceland's most northern town, what we were headed for...
The Herring Era Museum 🤔🤔😂😂
And what a great museum it was too, seriously.... one of the very best we have visited on our travels.
At the turn of the last century herring, originally caught just to be salted as a foodstuff but then mostly caught for fish oil and fish meal, became big business in Iceland. Processing plants and associated ports sprang up all around the country but the biggest centre was here in Siglufjörður.
Thousands upon thousands of tonnes of herring were processed from hundreds of ships by armies of workers. It was described in expressions such as "Iceland's Klondike" or "gold rush" and herring were the "silver of the ocean".
There were many examples of major industrial processing plants which recouped their build costs within 12 months! Fortunes
But, the fish and so the industry, were very fickle. It's not really like farming. The quantity of catch is really beyond man's control. At its best year, 1966, herring accounted for nearly 40% of Iceland's exports by value. At its worst, barely 2%.
In 1969 the herring had buggered off elsewhere. They didn't appear. Catch that year essentially nadda, nil, zilch, finito,...
But, the establishment of the enormous herring industry in the first half of the last century gave Iceland sufficient financial independence that directly led to its ability to secede from Denmark and become independent.
The museum, spread over 3 original buildings, is beautifully laid out, had sufficient but not over wordy, captions and wonderful original exhibits. Building 1 focused on the industry, the workers, especially the 1000s of itinerant female processors, and their lives and living conditions. Building 2, a former processing factory, had the original processing equipment. Building 3's focus was on the fishing fleet.
Life must have been hard out here then. No road links. Only 40 km from the Arctic Circle - the same latitude as mid - Alaska and Baffin Island.
It was a long
loop north from the Route 1 ring road to up there but well worth it, and the drive around the edge of that peninsula was spectacular too.
Just a further brief stop on the journey to our lodgings tonight, at Iceland's oldest church. A cute little turf roofed building, from the late 1700s, rebuilt in 1953, just stuck in a field remote from any obvious settlement.
We are now at a remote place, Skagaströnd, in a purpose built guesthouse perched above the Arctic Ocean waves - middle of nowhere really, but only for the 1 night.
Crashing waves not far from our window to lull us to sleep.
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