October, 2023: Once More, Into the Ice

By Corey Sandler

I am told that this past summer was a particularly hot and uncomfortable season in much of the United States and Europe and elsewhere. I cannot testify to that, because as chance would have it we spent much of that time in places that ranged between cool and cold.

For the month of July, temperatures soared in the American West, the big cities of the central states, and much of Western Europe. In Athens, Greece authorities shut down the Acropolis for much of the month for the safety of tourists, guards, and various caryatids.

During the heart of the summer, we were in Sweden, Norway, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland, and wearing sweaters and jackets.

We returned to Boston for a three-week rainy and relatively temperate break in August and then departed for a cruise from New York to Nova Scotia, Greenland, and another circuit around Iceland. By the end of the cruise aboard Viking Saturn, we were in winter coats watching the first snow of the season land on the peaks of eastern Iceland.

Here is some of what we saw in September.

Down the Hudson River

We boarded Viking Saturn at New York’s historic cruise terminal along the West Side of Manhattan, near what used to be known as Hell’s Kitchen and later was the site of the tenements that formed the backdrop for “West Side Story.”

Today mid-Manhattan is mostly populated by soaring office and apartment towers. Our ship backed out of the pier and then headed south, down the Hudson River toward the open ocean.

Lady Liberty in New York harbor as we began our journey in late afternoon. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

Halifax Puts on a Show

The handsome city of Halifax, Nova Scotia always sparkles.

It is home to one of the world’s largest natural harbors, vying for second place (behind Sydney, Australia) with Cork, Ireland or perhaps Poole in Dorset, England or Falmouth in Cornwall, England.

It is big by any measure, and it also holds the astounding story of the Halifax Explosion on December 7, 1917 when a munitions ship collided with another vessel creating the largest manmade explosion until the dawn of the Atomic Age.

Among its gems is the Public Gardens, a formal Victorian garden established in 1867, the year of Canadian Confederation. No matter what the season, they always have something wondrous to show.

Thinking of its long an illustrious history, on this visit I applied a photo filter that mimics the look of an oil painting.

The Bandstand at the heart of the Public Gardens is used for public performances. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

Small Towns on the World’s Largest Island

We moved east to make two calls in Greenland, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark that they used to refer to as Grønland. To be politically correct today, its official moniker in the Kalaallisut language is Kalaallit Nunaat. Kalaallisut is a dialect related to Inuktitut spoken by many Inuit tribes in northern Canada.

The vast island is home to only about 57.000 people and nearly all of them live in small communities that ring its west, south, and east coasts. The interior is still nearly unpopulated, with about 81 percent of the land covered by the vast Greenlandic Ice Sheet. Huge pieces of glaciers calve off every summer and mostly head west and south down the coast of Atlantic Canada and New England; it is believed that the iceberg that met the S.S. Titanic followed that route.

The economy is based on fishing and a bit of tourism, as well as the operations of an air base established by the United States during World War II and now under local control.

Scientists are concerned about the loss of the ice cover of Greenland as the climate changes; along with the effects on the global sea level there is also the mixed blessing of possible exposure of mineral and petroleum deposits in this otherwise nearly pristine place.

The village of Qaqortaq, Greenland as the island began to put the summer behind it and prepare for the cold and dark winter. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
A ship’s tender navigates around an iceberg to return guests to Viking Saturn at anchor off of Qaqortaq. The blue hue of icebergs is caused by the compression of snow and ice over time, allowing only that color to be reflected. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

The even-smaller town of Nanortalik lies near the entrance to Prins Christian Sound, an inland route amongst the glaciers and mountains at the south end of Greenland. The locals have maintained a former whaling and sealing station as an outdoor museum. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

An Aqueous Version of Iceland’s Ring Road

We arrived at the West Fjords for a visit to the port of Ísafjörður and experienced Iceland’s version of summer all in one day: chilly and cloudy, heavy rain, and then a brief but uplifting glimpse of blue sky and sun.

The Dynjandi waterfall near Ísafjörður is one outlet of a massive snowfield up above. On the west side of Iceland, most of the mountains are flat at the top, bulldozed by the weight of snow and ice and the movement of glaciers. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
Dynjani drains into Arnarfjörður, which leads to the sea. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

Iceland’s East Side Story

We twice crossed into the Arctic Circle as we circumnavigated Iceland. When we pulled into Djupivogur on the country’s east coast, it seemed as if winter arrived with us, coating the hills with the first snow.

The pyramid-shaped Búlandstindur mountain, the most recognizable site in this part of Iceland, bore a fresh coating of snow from the night before. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.
Viking Saturn at anchor in Djupivogur. On the east side of Iceland there are fewer glaciers and more young volcanoes and many of the mountains come to a sharp peak. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

Offshore to Heimaey

Our final port of call before the cruise came to its end in the capital city of Reykjavik was at Heimaey in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago. This was near the original home of the West Men, Irish monks who were likely the first settlers.

Fifty years ago, in 1973, a long-dormant volcano on the island came to life and destroyed much of the town. Even worse, a long tongue of lava headed for the mouth of the harbor threatening to close it off completely.

A small cadre of locals, aided by international reinforcements, fought against the volcano pouring huge amounts of sea water on the lava and eventually stopping it before it completely closed off the harbor.

Viking Saturn found a spot outside the harbor–the sea bottom too deep and rocky to allow putting down an anchor–and hovered in place all day while tenders threaded the narrow opening into town.

VIking Saturn held her place outside the narrow entrance to the harbor at Heimaey. Photo by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

All photos copyright 2023 by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved. If you would like a copy of an image for personal or commercial purposes, please contact me.

Westward, Ho

In October, we will head west for a trip from Tokyo through the Japanese islands to Taiwan and on to Hong Kong. I hope you’ll visit me here in these pages.