Saturday, 26 August 2017

Reykjavik by Tuk Tuk! ... #1 Cruise Diary

Cruising Iceland, Greenland, and Norway #1

Reykjavik  24th August 2017

The grey, seriously overcast morning was no different from what I’m used to in north east Scotland so that didn’t put me off from watching the ship come into harbour at Reykjavik a little before eight o’clock in the morning. Like many fishing towns, Reykjavik is highly dependent on the fruits of the sea and the dockside is probably very like many you can visit worldwide. What might be different to some other ports is the cleanliness I saw around and about. There are medium height cranes but these don’t dominate the surrounding area. Other dockside machinery is unobtrusive.

As I write this post, I’m sitting in the Observatory Lounge on The Black Watch, a Fred Olsen cruise ship, on Deck 9 of 10 and I’m overlooking the harbour near our mooring point. The height means I have a fantastic vista over the city of Reykjavik. The buildings of the city are mainly low rise though there are a few modern apartment blocks dotted here and there, none of which look to be more than ten stories high. The city appears sprawled out from the harbour but the streets are very narrow and traffic tootling along on roads just above the harbour don’t travel too quickly.

Containers are to be found stacked in neat arrays at strategic places along the quayside. The modern container sheds are well designed for filling the containers, the one facing me as I type organised with bays in numeral order. There is movement below me on the dockside but nothing busy or bustling. It’s now four p.m. so perhaps I’d need to be viewing this at an early morning time to see the landings or maybe even on a different day when landings come in all day. The trawlers and whalers of today, I’m told by a local guide, are full processing ships and what comes to the dockside is already frozen or refrigerated and ready for distribution from the warehousing storage units. 

The city of Reykjavik’s tallest building is the spire of the modern white Cathedral. There are many other white buildings so being white doesn’t make it distinctive but what does make it stand out is its pinnacle shape that is so Viking like. The fabulous statue in front of the modern cathedral, started more then 20 years ago and not yet completed, is of Leifr Eiricsson who may, or may not, have discovered America before anyone else.   

The tour we picked for today (Thursday 24th Aug) wasn’t a long one but it was a novelty to go by Tuk Tuk. The city of Reykjavik gets its electricity from geo thermal plants and I’m told is completely free to residents.  The Tuk Tuk vehicle is essentially an electric bike with sufficient power to tow a weather proofed trailer for seating tourists. The ride is supposed to be large enough for 6 people but thankfully there were only four of us inside mine, though perfectly comfy for the purpose. The ride itself is very smooth but less so when driving over cobbled streets.

The first part of the tour was around the harbour area which like many traditional fishing villages has fishing related/ industrial buildings cheek and jowl with habitation. There’s a very clean feel about the areas but I was protected from any fishing odours inside the plastic coverings of the Tuk Tuk so I can’t comment on that.

Leifr Eiricsson 
The city of Reykjavik that I saw today doesn’t seem very old from the visible buildings but habitation of the site of Reykjavik goes back many centuries. Icelandic Sagas tell us that the area was first settled by Ingolfur Arnason (apologies for the lack of accents) and Hallveig Frodadottir back in 874 A.D. The Book of Settlements (Landnamabok), written by Ari Borgillson in the late 11th or early 12th Century, records the first people to inhabit to Iceland. Details of where they settled and who their descendants were are recorded in meticulous detail. (Look out for more of Ingolfor Arnason in a later blog post.)

In such a harsh climate wooden buildings have limited lifespans so what is now visible as the oldest buildings are much more recent than those built by Ingolfor and his descendants. By 1786, the city was an official trading post and buildings and the city grew from then on. A tour of ‘The Old Town’ provides a view of the colourful older buildings along with newer ones which have been recent replacements to fill gaps. Many areas along the shoreline are being redeveloped for commercial or for local leisure uses.

The newer buildings on my tour showed a preference for more neutral colours which in winter must make them disappear in the snowy landscape. However, many of the gable ends of buildings have very decorative street art (see above image) which maybe makes them easier to recognise in a white out! I didn’t see many large houses but those which would have been originally used by one large or extended family, I was told by our guide, now tend to be sub-let into smaller apartments.

Public buildings are small with little embellishment which seems very in keeping with a practical community living in a harsh winter environment. During my tour there were occasional glimpses of the pedestrian shopping area, larger retail outlets which were dotted along the streets between harbour and centre of the city. The city isn’t built on a grid system so it felt a little as though our driver was weaving back and forth to get to the main tourist spot by the cathedral.

Our Tuk Tuk guide’s English wasn’t very fluent but since she was an Italian from Turin and had only lived in Reykjavik for two years it was great she was able to point out anything at all. (A commentary was not guaranteed on the Tuk Tuk tour anyway so some info was a bonus)

More later on the photos from my trip to Reykjavik since my internet connections are not reliable and I'm probably chancing it trying to post the above. 


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