Iceland with Saga - a hot destination
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“Hello, squawk, hello”
The unmistakable voice of Perla the parrot came over the
ship’s loudspeakers. Perla’s owner, Captain Kim Tanner, is Master of the cruise
ship Saga Sapphire. When not standing on his shoulder greeting passengers,
Perla’s home is the bridge. Popular with both guests and crew, she loves being
the centre of attention.
My destination on Saga Sapphire was Iceland. It covers
40,000 square miles yet has a population of just 360,000, of which two-thirds
live in and around the capital, Reykjavik. No surprise, therefore, that Iceland
consists largely of wide open spaces and empty roads.
Iceland straddles two tectonic plates, the Eurasian plate
and the North American plate, and is one of the few places above sea-level
where they can be observed. The plates are slowly separating and it is this
activity which causes much of the volcanic activity for which the island is
famous; the landscape is characterised by lava, sandstone, mountains and
In tourism terms, Iceland is a hot destination. Visitor
numbers are growing rapidly and the area around Harpa, the striking glass
concert hall in the capital, resembled a building site as new hotels were being
constructed. Despite the developments, however, Reykjavik is easily explored on
There are delightful places waiting to be discovered and
some old buildings with unique and personal designs. Dominating the city is Hallgrimskirkja,
a Lutheran parish church and the largest in the country. It is also one of
Iceland’s tallest buildings. Designed by Guojon Samuelsson in 1937 and built
between 1945 and 1986, the concrete edifice may not be to everyone’s taste but
the building certainly has a striking appearance. In front of the church is a
statue of Leifur Eiríksson, the first European to discover America, some five
hundred years before Christopher Columbus.
Heading clockwise around the island, the next port of
call was Grundarfjordur in Snaefellsnes. Situated on a peninsular on the
western side of the island, it is home to a number of visitor attractions,
amongst them the caves that inspired Jules Vernes novel ‘Journey to the centre of the earth’. As the weather brightened I
arrived at Arnarstapi and enjoyed a picturesque coastal walk from the statue of
the giant Bardur to the small harbour. Once an important trading post, in the
summer sunshine it looked more like a Cornish fishing village.
The area is also home to vast numbers of Arctic Terns.
They have the world’s longest migration, spending the summer in the Arctic
region then heading to the other end of the world to enjoy another summer in
the Antarctic. It’s a round trip of some forty thousand miles. The birds build
their nests on the ground but visitors need to be wary of getting too close. As
I approached one it gave a warning sound then took off and flew close over my
head. They regularly attack anyone who accidentally gets too close to their
Heading further round the island I reached the northern
port of Siglufjordur, a small fishing village with a population of around one
thousand, although in the herring boom around which the town was built, the
population peaked at three times that number.
Many buildings in Iceland are heated using the island’s natural
geo-thermal properties and it was from here that my journey took me inland to Namaskard
where mud pools bubbled and steam escaped from the rocks around the area. A
nearby lake was so hot that it was impossible to bathe in.
Another area created by the volcanic activity is
Dimmuborgir. The tall, black, strangely shaped volcanic rocks have led to the
area becoming known as the ‘black castles’. Formed just over two thousand years
ago, lava flowing down from a nearby volcano covered a lake and swamp area. The
water boiled and the rising steam formed pillars of lava, many several feet
thick. As the lava continued to flow downhill, the crust collapsed, leaving just
the pillars of solidified lava. The whole area has an ‘out-of-this-world’
appearance and has been used by numerous movie-makers as well as NASA, who
tested vehicles for exploring the surfaces of other planets.
My final port of call was the eastern town of Seydisfjordur,
a town surrounded by sea and mountains and with a population of under one
thousand. The pretty blue church is a central attraction, as is the preserved
home of Asgeir Emilson, a local folk artist, and other unusually decorated
buildings. In the summer there is
an active crafts scene and a nine hole golf course, and for hikers there are
plenty of mountainous challenges.
There are so
many reasons to visit Iceland. It’s a unique place with amazing landscapes,
friendly people and lots of surprises.
Mike Pickup travelled as a guest of Saga Holidays
who offer a wide range of boutique cruises; prices included door-to-door
transport, drinks, insurance, gratuities and internet access. Visit travel.saga.co.uk
or call 0800 051 3355.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Cruises.
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