Whale Watching and Home

By David Whelan

Published: May 5, 2013

This is part of a set of posts on a trip to Iceland by our family of 5.

Saturday was our last full day in Iceland and we were finally getting the hang of the slow start in the morning.  We had visited the museums the previous day and today’s big activity was whale watching.  We walked through the city a different way today, away from the Laugarvegur main street and instead up the hill towards the Hallgrimskirkja, or Hallgrim’s church, near our apartment.

We continued our walk west, which took us down past the Tjornin Lake again.  We came prepared today and emptied a bag of bread in small bits for the feasting bird hordes on the water.  Once the bread was gone, we headed on across the town and up the hill on the west side above the harbor.  The Catholic church’s bishopric is based here.  They ran a school as well until 2005 but it is now privately run, although it is still located on church land.

We slowly made our way down to the harbor and picked up our tickets and confirmed where we should board the boat.  We then walked back into town and had a hearty lunch at Geysir.  It was our first real restaurant meal and it was worth the splurge.  I must admit I was a bit worried that someone might lose their lunch from being sick on the boat, but in the end no-one had any problem on the boat.

Whale Watching

A trip to Iceland can be tricky for families with smaller children.  There are plenty of interesting physical things to see in Iceland – waterfalls, glaciers, volcanic remnants – and many interesting museums.  But there are some activities that might be fun as a family that are limited by age.  We had come up with a short list of things we’d like to try and one by one had to eliminate them.  Hikes on glaciers have a minimum age of 10-12.  Horse rides have a similar minimum age requirement.  I’m not complaining about those sorts of restrictions – no-one, including parents, would want to get started on an activity like that only to find it wasn’t appropriate – but it meant we needed to find other things.  One of the remaining activities on our wishlist was to go whale watching.  It’s easy for the whole family and having both enclosed and open decks, means pretty much everyone should enjoy themselves.

elding-whale-watching-boat-underway-harbor-buoy-reykjavikWe booked over the Internet for a specific day and then picked up our tickets on the pier.  The company we used blogs about their sightings but we didn’t really have any idea whether we’d be fortunate to see anything.  In a way, part of the adventure was just to be on a boat going out towards the ocean.  We all had our coats and hats as we were assuming it would be cold at sea.

The boats were remarkably steady, without any of the roll that I would have expected.  The company sent out two boats together and there were about a half dozen boats from this and other companies on the water at the same time.  Our boat had a full complement of passengers, most of whom headed topside as soon as we left the harbor.

There was nothing to see except the other boats, the occasional gull, and of course the lovely views of Snaefellsjokull to the north and Reykjavik to the east.  After about 40 minutes, the staff spotted whales and we were off to the races.  Whale watching is a lot of hurry up and wait but I was surprised how often we saw something.  In the end, our boat watched 4 humpback whales moving through the water, sometimes quite close to the boat.

humpback-whale-elding-whale-watching-iceland

Humpback whale near Elding boat Hasfulan near Reykjavik, Iceland

It was definitely a high point for our trip.  To be honest, it was nice to have some photographic evidence of the whales, but mostly I just watched them, and for the signs that the staff were calling out.  After we got back to our apartment – and collapsed again! – it was interesting to look at a picture of a humpback whale and realize how little of it we’d seen above the surface!

The Pearl and Home

Sunday was our last day and not a full one.  We definitely took it easy.  Well, most of us.  My wife was up early and packing while the rest of us eventually emerged.  We cleared out the refrigerator and slowly worked over the remnants that had survived previous meals, polishing off the last of the delicious skyr among other things.

We packed the car and drove down to Tjornin Lake one more time, feeding the birds again.  It was still early on a Sunday morning, so it was mostly children and parents and a quite boisterous bunch of birds! There was one more sight on our list before we finally headed south to Keflavik for our plane home.

The Pearl – Perlan in Icelandic – is a building with a dome sitting atop four hot water storage tanks.  We picked it for two reasons.  First, it would be a good place to have another sit down meal and second, it was home to the Saga Viking Museum.  This one’s a bit too far to walk from where we were staying, although there is probably public transport to it.  The museum has wax figures and depict the Viking settlement of Iceland, focusing on a number of particularly significant figures.  Some are historically significant, like Snorri Sturluson.  Others, like Freydis Eiriksdottir, are notorious for other reasons.  Freydis is thought to have been with the settlers of Vinland (Newfoundland, Canada) and frightened off natives during an attack.

In any event, the Saga Museum is a great depiction of fights, plagues, a bit of blood and gore and a different look at Viking history in Iceland.  We thoroughly enjoyed it.  Just as at the National Museum, there were some clothes to try out, including full chain mail.

saga-viking-museum-viking-warriors-spears-reykjavik-perlan-iceland

We climbed back in the car and headed south.  It was an easy drive to Keflavik and the airport is very manageable.  In no time, with a wait in line at the Iceland Air counters, we had checked our bags and heading for the gate.  The airport is being renovated so there was nowhere to sit but we just sagged against the walls and waited for our flight to be called.

I looked at my notes but nothing remarkable must have happened on the flight home.  It was a daylight flight so that we took off during the day and, with the four hour change, arrived back in Canada in the early evening.  We found our bags, learned that the train to the parking lot wouldn’t be working for a few months, and rode a bus instead.  It was an exhausting 6 days but we’ve spent many weeks since remarking on the variety of experiences we had in Iceland.

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