Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Birthdays remembered

Most of my adult life, birthdays were nothing special. I’ve always had a great time and good friends who think of me in one way or another, but I never really thought of it as a special day. When I turned 40 back in 2011, I decided to change all of that. After all, I am very grateful to be alive and healthy, I have a wonderful life and I think that’s worth celebrating. Instead of being just another day on the calendar, each of my last birthdays has been a special day in one way or another. And I’ve spent most of them in Iceland. 

I kicked off the tradition on September 13, 2011 with a birthday trip to Þórsmörk. I wrote about it here in my blog if you care to reminisce with me. What I didn’t write about is the birthday party I threw afterward. I rented a whole luxurious apartment at Hlemmur square in Reykjavík and invited my closest friends who were around at the time. Mainly I celebrated my plans to start a new life in Iceland, because it was right around then that I decided to make this my second home. I want to name my dear friends here who attended, because even though I’ve lost touch with some of you, you made that day very special for me and I still think of you often: Ómar Már (who made really tasty finger food for everyone), Björg, Krista, Sigrún, Kristín, Súsanna, Steini – I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone! 

I’ve spent the last few birthdays at my new home in Ísafjörður. I love this time of year and I really am an autumn child. I love the beautiful fall colors, the amazing sunrises and sunsets, the berry-picking season, the first frost and the smell of winter in the air. 

I start the day as usual. Get up at 5:40 am after hitting the snooze button twice on the alarm clock.  I go for a walk on the beach at 6:15 and it seems like every morning there is something new to discover. Today there are hundreds of tiny, clear jellyfish scattered absolutely everywhere. Although it’s sad since they’re all dead, it’s a bit funny to observe how they all leave skid marks in the sand as the tide goes out and drags their slimy little bodies along with it before finally giving up and leaving them on shore. I’m quite amused and lose track of time. Later I discover a nice plate of homemade cinnamon buns at my doorstep from Bernhild, the upstairs neighbor. At lunch I meet Angela for Thai food. I rarely go out for food so it’s a nice little treat. Afterwards we take a nice walk before I head back to my desk. But first I open some wonderful cards and presents that have reached me by mail.

At 3pm I can finally relax. The downstairs neighbors are letting me use the car – a birthday treat. As I slam the front door behind me and jump in the driver’s seat, I wave to Helga who is dressed in old attire, giving a tour of the city to some tourists. I stop at Angela’s for some wonderful birthday cake with candles and the works. I probably haven’t blown out candles on a cake since I was ten years old. But it’s a beautiful sunny afternoon and we’re eager to get outside. We hop in the car and drive just a short distance out to Arnarnes. We meander about for a while in Arnadalur valley, looking for a way to cross the river without getting too wet, but there’s no sun there in Arnardalur so we drive on further to the path by the lighthouse. 

After a short climb we’re at the top and the view is simply amazing. We climb up the ladder to the lighthouse and enjoy the view. The skies are blue and we can see clear across the Djúp to Snæfjallaströnd. The sun is shining on the church at Unaðsdalur and the beautiful waterfall Möngufoss is a majestic gouge in the cliff. Just then the airplane from Reykjavík comes in and we wave, thinking someone might see us. 

We want to watch the plane take off again, but it‘s cold and windy and we can‘t just stand around and wait – so we walk. We hike up the back ridge of Arnardalsháls and have fun taking a bunch of pictures. Finally the plane takes off but it climbs up real high quickly and out of view. On the way down, we spot some nice blueberries that are too big to simply ignore. I can hear them calling to me: “Hey, don’t leave us just hanging here!” After all, they’re going to freeze off soon and that would be a shame. Just as our bellies and containers are full of berries, the sun dips behind the mountains and it gets instantly colder. Time to head back. 

Thank you all my dear friends and family for making this day memorable!

Friday, August 18, 2017

The adventurous drive home

I’m wide awake at 6:50 so I get up and shower to avoid the morning rush. I try to be quiet but the wooden floors and doors squeak. I’m out the door by 8:15. There’s no other life sign in the guesthouse, although all rooms are full. How can anyone sleep so long on such a beautiful day?

It’s 4°C and drizzling up on Steingrímsfjarðarheiði pass. My first stop after the descent is the old abandoned house at Arngerðareyri. It‘s a shame part of it has been covered in graffiti not too long ago, but it‘s still a pretty photo-stop. The wind prevents me from staying long, although I do take the time for a quick sandwich in the car. 

There are a few more sights in this fjord that I‘ve always wanted to stop and explore, but the weather is not too inviting to step out of the car for long. There‘s a small roadside stand advertising "eggs and more" at Svansvík though that I‘ve always wanted to look at, so I poke my nose into the box to see what‘s on offer. No eggs, but Iceland moss (fjallagrös). This is a real treat! I purchase two bags according to the price on the sticker and put my coins into the designated can. This will make nice healthy addition to soups in the winter. 

As I pull away from the stand, I suddenly notice the car is quite loud, much louder than usual when I step on the gas. Going up the mountain seems slow and endless, something just isn’t right. Luckily Reykjanes is just down the road and I’m certain the owner knows a thing or two about cars and can have a look. 

Jón has a good look at everything, confirms that it’s a really good car despite being so old, and says it’s only a hole in the muffler. Although it’s loud, it’s no problem at all to drive home. I happen to know that a hole in the muffler can also cause carbon monoxide to seep into the car’s interior. I’ll just make sure the ventilation is good and pay attention to any potential symptoms. In any case, I’m relieved and decide to relax with a swim. After all, Reykjanes has one of the best pools in the Westfjords!

I continue my loud journey at noon with no further major stops until Súðavík where I decide to have a quick burger at the sleepy fast food joint before entering the hustle and bustle of town. As I munch away, I see someone I know drive by. It feels good to be home!

Thursday, August 17, 2017


After two quick cups of coffee and a handful of blueberries, I’m on the road by 9:15. But I pull over at the first nice stop for some real breakfast. It’s a nice driftwood beach and although the wind is pretty wicked, it’s a pretty spot to enjoy a peanut butter and raisin sandwich.  

Drangsnes is just a few minutes away but I don’t plan on stopping long. I have a quick look at the hotpots and use the toilet there. Somehow I manage to lock myself inside and after a few minutes of tugging and panicking, and two girls on the other side trying to help, I finally break free. After that adrenalin rush, I’m ready to get out of town quickly so I drive straight on through to Hólmavík. 

I soak in the amenities of civilized life for an hour or two – get gas in the car, check the air in the tires, give it a wash, go to the grocery store, enjoy a fresh bottle of juice, and then drive on to the Museum of Sorcery. I’ve been here before and am more interested in the book corner than in the actual exhibition, which I’m sure hasn’t changed much. After all, I don’t think any more witches or sorcerers have been persecuted in recent history to add to the collection. 

I go in the museum anyway (950 kr) and it’s exactly how I remembered it. I don’t think they have changed a thing since the year it opened here in Hólmavík. It’s very interesting in my opinion, but then again, I have a crazy interest in this sort of thing. I actually spend a lot of time reading in the book corner, which contains a strange collection of old occult literature from around the world in various languages. Afterwards I enjoy a really good cup of hot chocolate, made with love, in the museum café. The menu is also quite nice, with vegetarian options in addition to traditional lamb or fish, kjötsúpa or seafood soup, but I’m not hungry just yet.  

Later I take a long walk around this dreary and almost ugly place, however the village definitely becomes more charming the closer I look at it. I like its simplicity, although it’s spread out over a large area and on a big hill that it’s hard to get anywhere without a car. 
After seeing the harbor, I walk up the hill to the church and discover a series of marked and well maintained hiking trails. I follow one of them until it branches into an intersection. I don’t have a lot of time since I have to check into the guesthouse. Unfortunately this place has the lupine pest, just like many other places in the Westfjords. Lupine is spreading quickly and suffocating all the other plants and trees in its wake, especially the blueberries. Up in the mountains there are nice views of the village and fjord. 

But my stomach is rumbling and I head back down to Café Riis for something warm to eat. The menu isn’t quite as healthy as the museum’s, but I stay anyway and order a huge bowl of pasta with mushrooms, which is quite tasty. The place is cozy and I enjoy just looking out the window. With a full belly, I check into the guesthouse and then go for a swim at the local pool. It’s a really nice pool (800 kr) with a steam bath, 2 hotpots and a wading pool in addition to the large pool for swimming – all outdoors of course. There are less than 5 people there and it’s fun to hang out and relax. But all the heat gives me a craving for ice cream, so I satisfy the urge at the Kaupfelag. Not the best stuff, but nothing to complain about either. 

I take another hike behind the village before settling into the guesthouse. I like my room with a view of the museum but the prices here are not even close to fair. 15,000 kr, (€120) no breakfast, shared bathroom, not even a towel, in a creaky old building where you can hear every footstep and door opening of the other guests. The guesthouse itself is cute and cozy, the kitchen is nice and well equipped, and there’s a comfy sitting room – it’s just way overpriced. It’s by far the most expensive room I had in the last few days with the least to offer for that money.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A cold and windy paradise

I’m up at 7am and slept like a baby. It’s so quiet in the hotel. I enjoy my breakfast of oatmeal with fresh blueberries, and two cups of coffee. I can enjoy the luxury of an electric kettle that I take with me when I travel. It’s all I need to make all of my meals and even a hot water bottle for bed if necessary.

I’m on the road by 9:15 on my bike. At first glance, it doesn’t look like there’s much choice on where to go. I poke my nose going up the pass to Bassastaðaháls, but they’re paving this road this summer and there are construction vehicles kicking up a lot of dust. I decide to head down the regular road to Drangsnes, which is only 18km away. If it weren’t for the nice pool and hotpots at the hotel, I might even be motivated to go there for a swim. But I would much rather explore everything along the way. The road is smooth and easy. I stop for a long walk along the beach, talk to some curious sheep, poke my fingers at various shells and stones.

On my map I spot a church and declare that my next target. As I turn into the driveway, a car pulls out and gives me a friendly thumbs up. Kaldraneskirkja is an old and simple weather-beaten wooden structure right on the ocean. The wind is wicked, the view bleak yet beautiful. The church is open and the interior is quite plain. The ceiling is painted baby blue and dotted with gold stars. The altar is simple and functional. In a corner, the priest’s robes hang in plastic waiting for their next use. 

Although I would love to have a sheltered place out of the wind to eat my lunch, I won’t abuse this sacred little place that way. As I pedal away, I secretly hope someone in of the houses will spot me and wave me inside for coffee. That’s something I often dream about when I’m out on my bike. I would love to sit over a steaming hot cup with the locals and chat. But that’s not gonna happen.  

On my map I spot an interesting track that goes up into the mountains to a series of lakes at Urriðaborg. It looks like mountain bike paradise. As I turn onto the track, I can feel my bike Roadrunner smile. He’s in his element, this is what he was made for. A jeep track in horrible condition with big rocks and holes and a bit of water here and there. It’s easy to pedal uphill on the big rocks but difficult to navigate. It requires concentration to not spill headline into a ditch. It feels like my bike has taken control. He’s so happy that I don’t have to do any of the work.  

But it’s lunchtime and I need a bite to eat, so I tear Roadrunner from the trail and find a secluded spot in the grass, out of the wind to make a sandwich. I’m surrounded by blueberries and can graze while I’m sitting. It’s too cold to hang out long though and I continue on my way. So far all day there have been no fresh rivers for a drink of water. I’ll have to ration the water in my bottle. 

I continue up the trail until it ends at a tiny little lake. The spot is so high up with a fantastic view and it’s really a magical spot. The wind blows ripples in the water’s surface and the long reeds along the shore hum an interesting tune. The terrain is covered with small mounds that are covered with the sweetest blueberries I’ve ever tasted. I pick my fill and walk around a bit. I wish it were warmer so I could rest here a while. Instead, I need to keep moving. I walk a bit further, leaving the bike behind but soon turn back and head down again. I’m riding against the wind now and I have to watch my speed since I nearly went tumbling a few times already. I see a nice secluded spot and inspect it closer. It’s perfectly sheltered from the wind. I spread my tarp and lie down for a little nap. With my down jacket wrapped around my legs, I’m snug as a bug in a rug. The sun tries to poke out and it feels good though it’s just a miniscule drop of warmth. The fall colors are so pretty, I could look at them for hours. Orange, red, brown – Indian summer, Iceland style. I graze on some more blueberries  before heading back down, wind back in my face.

I’m happy to reach the main road and have the wind at my back again. I’ve got a huge grin on my face. That trail was totally awesome. Now I’m singing a made up tune about wanting some hot coffee and a hot pot. Just then, the ice cream truck (ísbílinn) passes me by and for a split second I consider changing my priorities. An ice cream bar sounds quite good right now, in the freezing 8°C/46°F wind. My blood has long since turned polar blue and eating ice cream when it’s cold out like the locals do is no longer foreign to me. It often sounds quite appealing. The lady smiles and waves. I don’t have anything on me that would could as hard currency so the decision is easy. I continue my song about hot liquids.  

It’s been 24 km today, and now it’s time for the coffee and hot pot! It’s as good as I had imagined. Afterwards I take a nap and treat myself again to the hotel buffet. I’ve earned my dinner today. I walk behind the hotel again in the evening and discover a marked trail. I can’t go far since it’s getting late and dark. I’ll just have to come back one day! I eat more blueberries on my way back.