All flights to Iceland from the US land in Keflavik, about 45 minutes from Reykjavík and on the peninsula. Reykjavík is Iceland’s capitol and the city where the majority of the population of the country lives (the Icelandair magazine said 75% of the population, although I think that’s also counting the people who live in other cities nearby on the peninsula), and since we had just barely stopped on the drive through on the geology trip last August, I wanted to spend a few days seeing the city.
Despite being the largest city in the country, it’s still fairly small by American standards (for reference, Wikipedia lists the population of Pittsburgh as larger than the total population of Iceland, which is 309,700). There are lots of parks and walking paths and just wandering around with the free map from the airport looking for interesting things to see and do, the city was very navigable.
The walk from the youth hostel where I stayed to downtown was about half an hour along a nice bike path by the coast.
And a view from the same path at sunset – taken at 11:38pm (remember that Iceland is very far north - Reykjavík is the most northerly capitol city in the world at 64°08' N – so it’s light almost all the time in summer).
This is the house where Reagan and Gorbachav met in 1986, which the signs claim was the beginning of the end of the Cold War. It looks out over the water, and I passed it on my way to and from the hostel.
One of the best views of the city is from Perlan (The Pearl), a fancy restaurant and lookout point at the top of a hill. I walked up the hill to see the view on my way to the south side of the peninsula to walk along the shore on the less urban side of the city.
Also on this same walk along the south side of the peninsula, I found a geothermal beach where I went swimming. Iceland is known for its spas, as there is an ample supply of hot slightly-sulfurous groundwater due to Iceland’s incredible amount of volcanic activity being located on both a hot spot and the midocean ridge (geologists: my apologies for the gross simplification). Iceland is not, however, known for ocean swimming, as the water temperature here is much more conducive to hypothermia than seabathing. At this beach, however, hot water is pumped into the bay, making the water temperature much more conducive to swimming.
In addition to sightseeing in the city, I also found a few people and places related to cod and fishing. I went to the Icelandic Culture House to learn a little about the country’s history, and among the illuminated manuscripts of eddas and sagas was one from around 1400 that contained the Saga of Archbishop Nicholas, which became popular with the rise of the fishing industry as St. Nicholas is the patron saint of seafarers. I also went to the maritime museum, which is located in an old freezing plant on the harbor. Among the objects on display were on of the warp cutters used as the “secret weapon” in the Cod Wars with Britain in the 1970s while Iceland was fighting to expand its exclusive right to fish the waters around the island and a breeches buoy used for rescuing sailors from sinking ships, just like the one we used with the demonstration squad at Mystic.
Really, though, fishing is everywhere. My favorite example was meeting a Russian man fishing on the pier with his wife, who talked with me about recreational fishing in Iceland and his former travels in the United States. Not only is it not necessary to get a license to fish in the harbor (“The ocean is for the people,” he told me), but the fishing is also very good: he caught four fish (three gadiform-looking fish which he said was similar to cod, and one flatfish) in the 45 minutes I spent talking with him.
I also went to the Marine Research Institute offices, where I talked with a number of different people who talked with me about their research and cod fishing and management and gave me quite a number of relevant papers to read, most in English but some also in Icelandic. Björn Björnsson told me about cod aquaculture and the idea of cod “ranching” by feeding and conditioning the cod population in an area so that they grow larger and are easier to catch than normally in the wild, which is a radically different approach to cod fishing that I’m curious to learn more about. Jón Sólmundsson told me about the annual groundfish survey, where samples have been taken from over 500 sites twice a year since 1985, providing the data that is used to develop the MRI’s recommendation on the yearly fishing quotas. Vilhjálmur Þorsteinsson told me about his research with fish tagging, which shows that there are multiple different cod stocks in Iceland – both inshore and migratory offshore stocks – which behave differently, although they are all managed as one stock through the quota system. I’m still reading the information they gave me and trying to figure out what if anything I can conclude about what it all means for the Icelandic cod stock and for management, but I certainly learned a lot and they were all very nice and I enjoyed our conversations immensely.
I also met (very briefly) G. Skúli Bragason, who is in charge of the shrimp survey I will be going out with in two weeks, and I’m sure I’ll be getting to know much better by the end of the survey. Also, thinking of the survey, while I was walking around the port, I saw the Bjarni Saemundsson, the ship I will be on for the survey.
I’ll have more pictures and stories from my trip to Akureyri and first few days here coming soon, but until then, my best to all of you reading in the US and beyond.