A quick update

We’re in the Faeroe Islands today. Unfortunately I’m not getting free roaming here so I can’t post using cellular comms. Right now I’m in a cafe in a small village on the northern edge of the islands that has good wifi, but I only have the iPhone and not the iPad on which several articles had been drafted.

Maybe I’ll be able to snag some wifi in Torshavn this afternoon, but if not further posts will arrive on Wednesday from Belfast.

Money matters

The cancellation of the call at Reykjavik has focused my attention on another topic – foreign currency. On most cruises it’s just a case of getting €s, either in advance or via an ATM from a credit card. But credit cards often charge fees, and on this cruise getting currency in advance would be difficult – we’re nowhere near €-land. In Norway we needed Norwegian Kroner, in Iceland we needed Icelandic Kroner, and in the Faroe Islands we’ll need Faroese Kroner – although Danish Kroner will also work.

A few months ago I got a Caxton currency card. This was actually before a non-cruise holiday I had in Singapore, Malaysia and Dubai, all of which have their own currency of course. The card has to be loaded with GBP beforehand, but once that’s done I can draw money from an ATM with it, or use it as a debit card in shops, etc, up to the amount in GBP that’s been loaded onto the card. Best of all, Caxton give very good exchange rates – the daily mid rate. (Although you do have to be aware that many ATMs will offer their own, generally worse, exchange rate first – you have to reject this and ignore the stern warnings that the ATM then gives you.)

Back to the current cruise. I drew N Kroner and spent almost all of them so that was OK. Then yesterday we drew out 4000 Icelandic Kroner (sounds a lot but it’s actually about £35), and we’ve only spent about half of them – the balance was for souvenirs from Reykjavik today, of course. Anyone going to Iceland?

The good thing about using the currency card is that I didn’t get any Faroese Kroner in advance. Should our call there on Monday be cancelled, I won’t be left holding currency that I don’t think I’ll ever need.

Although I do have some Danish Kroner from a previous cruise that I was hoping to spend tomorrow….

Reykjavik

…. has been cancelled!

Due to high winds Azura is unable to dock safely in Reykjavik so our call has been cancelled. So we have an extra sea day today,  a scheduled sea day tomorrow before our call at Torshavn on Monday.

Isafjordur

Yesterday (Friday) we were in Isafjordur. This small port is in the West Fjords area of Iceland, and is very sparsely populated – Isafjordur, with a population of 3,000 or a bit less, is the principal settlement in the whole area. Traditionally it made its living from fishing and from basic agriculture – sheep farming and, interestingly, eider duck – but in recent decades fishing especially has been hit hard by quotas. Professional services, administration and tourism have taken up some of the slack.

This was a cold (5°), grey, overcast, windy and occasionally rainy day. Our plan was to go ashore and explore the town. On a nicer day we could perhaps have enjoyed the views of the old port and sat on a bench and enjoyed the sunshine, but with the conditions as they were the town was revealed as being very basic. (But fully equipped as far as the local people are concerned, of course.) So we walked around, admired the handful of older houses (early 19th century), found the town beach but decided not to walk on it, and generally strolled around. We did find two places that we enjoyed. First was the local Cultural Centre, which was in fact the local library and art gallery, and was housed in what looked like the grandest building in town. This was the former general hospital and dated from 1927 but which was converted into the library,etc, in the 90s after a new hospital was built. Visitors were certainly being welcomed, and I had a brief chat with the librarian about the weather. She didn’t seem to mind it – indeed, she commented that the winter had been very mild.

We mainly wanted to look at the art gallery. There were some older paintings, and a handful of old maps of the town and the area. These showed the development of the town and also the change in circumstances – a map from the 1950s showed a lot more structures (quays and sheds) associated with the fishing industry – today they’re gone. Best of all was an exhibition of photographs of the area and its people, especially the farming community. The pictures – all mono – were excellently presented: large, and framed. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the photographer or where they came from, but I got the feeling from the images that he or she must have been local (and known to their subjects) and with long experience of the area. I imagine that the images on display were selected from a larger number – I suspect that the photographer had engaged in a personal project over a number of years.

After that we went in search of coffee and refreshment and found them in a busy cafe-bar near the library. Very much a local’s place, we felt – at one point the harbour master wandered in for his morning coffee – and we enjoyed it. Val had a large slice of a very tasty cake, with numerous layers including a meringue-like topping, chocolate chips, and a sponge. I had to help her finish it….

After that we decided we’d exhausted the charms of Isafjordur and headed back out to the ship. Alas, this involved a half-hour wait for a tender, queuing in the cold wind and the rain. If we weren’t cold when we joined the queue we certainly were when we got back to the ship. The whole process, including boarding the tender, the trip to the ship, and then disembarking the tender and boarding the ship took almost an hour.

Akureyri

Yesterday (Wednesday 22 June) we were in Akureyri, in North Iceland. This is very close to the Arctic Circle – the town is at about 66° N, and it sits at the southern end of a long fjord. The weather decided to smile on us – we arrived to broken cloud with patches of blue sky, and it improved steadily through the day. Temperatures weren’t high – it reached perhaps 12° or so – but the wind was very low so when we were in the sun it felt warm.

 

We were booked on an excursion, “Jewels of the North”. This was five and a half hours with visits to four sites, and included refreshments. The description promised 1 3/4 hours of walking, but in practice I don’t think it managed that. The sites included the Godofoss waterfall; an area of geo-thermal activity; and then two spots where there were strange lava formations in the landscape. These last two were in separate locations close to Lake Myrvaten, which is described as one of the highlights of northern Iceland. And of course the other highlight was driving through Iceland itself and enjoying the wide-open landscape.

I suppose that the excursion just about met its description. However, there was a lot of time spent on the coach and the “1 3/4 hours walking” was actually split between the various sites, so nowhere got more than 30 minutes. This was a pity as we felt a bit rushed everywhere we went. At Godofoss, for example, we’d have loved to have maybe an hour to enjoy and explore it, but that wasn’t possible – 25 minutes was it. It also didn’t help that there were at least three other P&O coaches doing the same excursion, so when we arrived at Godofoss we were among a good 200 people scrambling around. (I leave you to imagine the queue for the loo at one stop with three coaches arriving…) But it was better than not seeing the sites, and thanks to the weather everything looked wonderful.

The weather did produce one drawback. The sunshine and comparative warmth, together with the low wind, meant that Iceland’s equivalent of midges were out in force, especially at the sites around Lake Myrvaten. Fortunately the geothermal area, with its sulphur-accented clouds, was much less affected.

We got back to the ship at 3:45 which was actually about fifteen minutes late. Then we sat and relaxed for a couple of hours before sail away. This turned out to be very special – the weather had continued clearing and for most of our progress up the fjord we were in bright sunshine with excellent views over the mountains on either side.

The clear weather continued throughout the evening and I resolved to take a “midnight sun” picture at the appropriate moment. In the event the fog rolled over the ship around 11pm but I resolved to take the picture anyway. By 11:45 or so Azura was sounding her fog horn so I wasn’t expecting much, but just before midnight they fell silent and I got the image below. Not bad in the circumstances, and it certainly shows that there was still daylight at midnight. It’s possible that if I’d gone up to a high deck I might have been above the mist.

 

 

Tomorrow (today as I write this) we’re in Isafjordur. I’ll publish a post about it tomorrow, but here’s a spoiler: it was very different!

I took the pictures below during the departure from Alesund yesterday afternoon. As you can see, it was grey, dark and threatening.

 

We left Ålesund at nearly 6 o’clock, and after some manoeuvres near the harbour were heading out to sea shortly afterwards. Although the weather had brightened a bit over the town – it had at least stopped raining – out in the seaward approaches it was dark and unwelcoming, with what looked like rain over the mountains on the outer islands. I went out onto the balcony and took some pictures, a few of which seem to be ok. But I could see rain squalls in the distance and, wimp that I am, once we’d sailed into one I retreated back into the cabin. Hopefully I’ll be able to post them later on Thursday. (I’m hoping to be able to upload this post early on Thursday once I get a phone signal at Akureyri. Assuming I get a phone signal at Akureyri….) 

This is probably a good time to say that my internet strategy has worked well so far. Basically I haven’t bought a package on this cruise; instead, I’m drafting posts and preparing pictures offline. When I’m in port I connect to the internet via roaming on my phone, which since last week is free! I do this by setting up a Personal Hotspot on my iPhone and connecting the iPad and/or the laptop to that, mainly over Bluetooth. Then I can upload the posts & images from the iPad, etc, via the phone, effectively for free. Of course it does mean no connectivity during sea days but that’s no bad thing, actually. Best of all, Val is happy – she says it’s much more relaxing to not have me prowling the ship desperately seeking a good wifi signal and expressing my frustration when I was having connection problems. So it’s a win/win situation, and all for free – I’m on a 12 Gb monthly data allowance deal with EE. (Last word from Val – “there’s also no last minute panic as he tries to use up all his on-board internet allowance before we disembark!”)

Last night we went for a meal in Sindhu. On this cruise the charge is £20 per person; including drinks we spent just about £50. I think it was worth it, though if I’m being truthful it didn’t seem quite as outstanding as it has on other cruises. Nothing wrong with anything, it just didn’t seem as special. We’re going again later in the cruise when they’ll be offering a different menu and I’ll report back from that as well. We have decided to not eat in The Epicurean this cruise – that no longer seems a worthwhile deal at £30 per person which we believe is the current price – we’re actually having trouble finding the actual figure.

Today has been a sea day during the passage from Norway to Iceland. The weather has been pretty good, with high cloud with some small patches of blue sky, but it’s been cold – it was 9° when we last looked just after lunch. We’ve been quite busy. We got up early so I could bag a washing machine when the launderette opened at 8 o’clock (successfully done). Fortunately, the early rise was compensated by the fact that the clocks went back last night thus giving an extra hour’s sleep. Having been on European time for the calls at Norway we’re back on UK time now, and we’ll get another hour tonight. Later this morning we watched a film in the theatre – “Sully – Miracle on the Hudson” – which we enjoyed. After that we had lunch and once again got into an interesting conversation at the buffet table, and after that we attended a talk on Oscar Wilde, one of a series being given by guest speaker Priscilla Morris on well-known literary figures. We enjoyed it and just about managed to stay awake, even after what might have been a too-big lunch. We certainly did better than the chap behind us who was snoring away for most of the talk.

Tonight is the second formal night, and tomorrow we arrive in Iceland.