Not the Iceland I had in mind…

Well, it’s been a month and its strange the things you miss.

I missed London’s Chinatown not for any spectacular or elaborate meals  just the lunch staple of Crispy Pork & Chicken on rice, decent pub carvery lunches and pie, mash & liquor.

What do I miss about Iceland?

Definitely the quiet, I miss the kids coming to check on the artists, I miss going into Reykjavík to meet friends for drinks, I suddenly missed those rectangular biscuits filled with vanilla flavoured cream today, chocolate with liquorice in it, hot dogs, Appelsin, bitafiskur and even Fiskbúðingur!

I miss the sea and the open landscape and the big skies that fire the imagination.

So where am I?

I’m back in England dividing my time between Hatfield and London…


On the road again…Sauðárkrókur to Vík to Jökulsárlón Part One

I got to drive three different cars during my stay and I think a big part of the pleasure of it is that there is no traffic on the ring road. Its only in the city where you have the bane of driving…other people!

As some of you may know, this was my third visit to Iceland and there was still one place I hadn’t been to and have to admit to being very jealous of others who had made it there.

At some point in any stay in Iceland you will see pictures from Vík and Jökulsárlón advertising a trip or in any guide book. Jökulsárlón has also been used as a location in Hollywood films.

So on Thursday morning, September 29th, I left Skagaströnd early in the morning for Sauðárkrókur to rent another car. It felt a little like leaving like a thief in the night as I didn’t physically get to say ‘bye’ to some people but also knew I’d see some of them in Reykjavík before I left Iceland.

I made up an itinerary of sorts that would take in both places and casually noted other places along the way that I wanted to see. Joining me on this trip was one of the September artists, Annika.

It takes approximately three hours and a bit to get to Reykjavík by car depending on how many stops you make along the way to either take photos or to go to the toliet.

The drive down was pleasant enough and the weather held with a slightly overcast sky with some drizzle.

We stopped in Reykjavík for a quick lunch of lobster soup at the harbour in Saegreifinn – The Sea Baron. They also have fish kebabs ranging from cod, redfish, plaice, shrimp to whale and other catch as well veggies. I had the whale and a potato kebab by way of a congratulatory dinner back in August. I think I had lobster soup there at least 4 times in 2 months.

Then it was back onto the Ringroad heading in the direction Vík, a prelude of the upcoming weather was to come as it turned wetter and more windy. It is those times that driving becomes a lot harder than just driving on a different side of the road although that’s not so bad when there’s so little traffic. However, the monotony of the wipers and the inability to see what’s around you is taxing and hypnotic and almost sends you asleep. At times the ‘psycho’ mode of the wipers came into use. In England its pretty rare that we use ‘psycho’ wipers, you all know the setting…when the wipers seem to be moving comically fast.

One of the amazing things about driving in Iceland is that you’ll find yourself suddenly driving alongside some amazing landscape that invariably will amaze you. The first place I stopped at was suggested by Ólafía, the residency co-ordinator and Annika woke up slightly dazed but in turn amazed by Seljalandsfoss.

It drops 60 metres, 200 feet over the edge and has the added wonder of letting you walk behind it…

A little way on from here is another waterfall Skógafoss, different and no less spectacular but in a different way. It has the same drop as Seljalandsfoss but is much wider at around 25 metres and the water appears almost as one white fast moving curtain.

Rain does make for interesting pictures…:s

Just to prove I was there!

Then it was onto Vík, we did pass Eyjafjallajökull, yes, that one, the one that grounded everything in 2010. The rain was getting worse as was the visibility and we arrived in as most things were closing and went to the only place that was open…a grill at the petrol station.

I had the Commissionaire’s Burger which consisted of bacon, ham, burger in a bun topped with a fried egg accompanied with fries and fried vegeatables and drunk with an Appelsin. I did manage to eat all of it, guess I was hungry!

Then it was onto the hostel which we eventually found after a false start and by driving back to the petrol station to confirm the location as being down a short curving gravel path.

The rain continued to lash down and the wind was not exactly howling nor whistling nor singing but making its presence known to all…

Of Rideshares, Reykjavík & Menningarnótt. Part Three – Sunday 20th August 2011

There was a break in service since I was feeling a little under the weather for most of this past week.

Another reason that I didn’t want to drink too much on Saturday night was that I had a breakfast appointment. My younger brother back in England had worked for a  woman who was married to an Icelandic artist and when word of my travels had got round I was asked if I would like to  meet the artist.

I met Magnús first in London in December briefly and then again in February when he was kind enough to take some time to show me his work in some of the city buildings. Magnús and his wife were also very generous in inviting me to  dinner and I assisted with part of the installation of one of his pieces at the National Museum of Art. A real thrill was to be had by those at the SÍM house when he came to the evening show that the residency artists hold.

It was great to see Magnús and his family again over coffee and breakfast and to be able to catch up with what he and the family have been up to.

I bid a fond farewell to the city and headed off to the bus terminal where I’d arrange to get a ride back with the same driver.

This time though the passengers were different, this time there there was a young boy and his dad. They offered me the front seat and off we went back north. The dad and the driver spoke in Icelandic, I couldn’t tell you what about but they obviously were on amicable terms. The boy sat singing to himself quite happily and only once asked what my name was.

I took a few shots from the front passenger seat which doesn’t do the landscape real justice.

As we neared the end of the line for me the rain started to fall and I was starting to dread the idea of trying to hitchhike back. I asked the driver which direction I needed to head for the turn back to Skagaströnd, instead we reloaded my bags and headed off again in the car. He decided to take me all the way in for which I was very grateful and during that short period I was asked what I was up to in Skagaströnd.

After a long journey I was kind of relieved to be back in Skagaströnd with its empty streets.

Of Rideshares, Reykjavík & Menningarnótt. Part Two – Saturday 20th August 2011

I woke on Saturday after a reasonably early night to be greeted by a gloriously sunny day and got myself downtown to one of the places you are guaranteed to find me in if Liverpool FC are on the TV. Back in February I had discovered that there are a great many LFC fans in Iceland (I’ve already met two in Skagaströnd) and I watched several matches in Bjarni Fel Sportsbar and for a while Liverpool kept winning. As many semi superstitious sports fan knows you don’t mess with a streak and so it was that I watched nearly all of Liverpool’s matches until they lost there. Liverpool were visiting Arsenal at The Emirates and playing in their black away kit. I sat there eating my cheeseburger lunch and watched enthralled as Liverpool went  to win 2-0. The day is always a little bit sweeter when Liverpool win, a good start to the day then.

A small preview of the day to come was the marathon as the street was closed from traffic and runners were cheered on as they neared the finish line.

My observation from the previous night that I might be in Reykjavík, USA and not Reykjavík, Iceland wasn’t exactly quashed when I spotted this arrangement of flags by the pond!

But what is Menningarnótt? I hear you cry…since that was one of the reasons I came to the city. Reykjavík has festivals throughout the year ranging from Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride and Menningarnótt. All the galleries and museums are open and hold demos and tours as well as outdoor stages are erected for bands to perform on. Menningarnótt (Culture Night) is pretty much an all day and into the night event.

The first exhibition I saw was at the National Gallery of Iceland which is showing ‘Femme – Louise Bourgeois’ until 11th September. While in now way a fully comprehensive retrospective its a good show encompassing sculptures, prints, drawings and textile works. I took great interest in the presentation of the works on paper as a way to display a narrative or a cohesive process of thoughts. The works were shown together literally side by side in frames. Any working through of an idea of theme from a personal standpoint has been normally restricted to sketchbooks but here the sequence of images were placed side by side. The vitality of line in the looser works on paper by Bourgeois did make me wonder if I worry too much about the ‘finished, polished’ work before showing anything. There was also one of the spiders, while not as large some of the others I’ve seen in the past, it was still memorable.

I am now convinced that there are indeed elves or the ‘hidden people’ operating in the Reykjavík area. This is due to the fact that the flat where I was staying has what the landlady has described as old locks that need looking at. The first night after I went out and returned, I couldn’t open the door with the key and sent a text message saying that maybe I had the wrong keys. Of course the door then opened straight away on one turn after that even though I’d spent 5 minutes earlier getting frustrated and half expecting the police to turn up. This happened more than once for me to now be pretty convinced that behind the door was some little guy holding onto the handle with two hands when I put the key in the lock.

After I’d eventually got back in around 330pm and stopped f***ing around with the door and picked up my portfolio, I headed back into town and stopped by the Reykjavík Art Museum to see the shows there. I wasn’t overly engaged with what was on there and can’t actually remember that well what I’d seen there!

In February I had visited and subsequently used the workshop at The Icelandic Printmakers Association and they were also having an open day with printmaking demos. There I was able to catch up with members that I’d met earlier in the year and to show them the work that I’d made since my last visit. I also got to meet other members and to see the work in the exhibition space next door. As an added bonus I sold a print as well! While showing my work to one of the members, one of the visitors had spied my work and wanted to see it. One of the observations that people have made about my work is that its often monochromatic although recent work has seen an injection of colour. Strangely, I showed her the colour workfirst but she wanted to see the work in black and white before spying a red version of a print and deciding decisively that she wanted it. That seemed as good as a time as any to take a break and I headed out to dinner with a spring in my step for the second time that day.

I decided to have dinner at the harbour that evening although with so many people in the city, I had to wait longer than I wanted to for dinner and had to resign myself to missing some of the events that I’d hoped to go to.

Down the street from the harbour is the SÍM house which includes an exhibition space for artists participating in the residency. SÍM is The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists and I met the August artists and saw their work. By this time there was a real buzz and the streets were starting to fill up with people.

I’d found just coming back into the city slightly weird this was a whole another level of weird. I’d never seen this many people in Reykjavík before.

As the sun started to set the crowd seemed to swell as did the noise and the level of expectancy rose.

Harpa is Reykjavík’s new concert hall and it was still being constructed back in February and was opened in May. It has had about three official openings since it opened and Saturday was another one, the glass facade was designed by the artist Olafur Eliasson and it was to be illuminated for the first time. Since this is my blog and I can do what I like 😉 I’ll jump back in time and show some photos from 1st August when I first got to the city and went to visit Harpa.

However, next to the fireworks the illuminated facade seemed a little bit disappointing or maybe I was too far from the building. At intervals parts of the facade lit up in primary colours but somehow I was expecting more. The fireworks were good though.

Harpa is on the left.

I did have a couple of beers after that and was amazed at how crowded the bars were. However, I was fully aware that I had a coffee appointment on Sunday at 1030 and didn’t want to miss that or be hungover.

If I’m perfectly honest despite looking for familiar faces which I didn’t find for a second night in the bars, I’d had a pretty damn good day already with one key ingredient missing which would have made it even better but you can’t have everything…till next time.

Of Rideshares, Reykjavík & Menningarnótt. Part One – Friday 19th August 2011

There are numerous ways to travel around Iceland ranging from those who cycle round, hitchhiking, taking the bus (expensive), domestic flights, asking around and letting people know you’re looking for a ride and then there’s also the carpooling website. There are no trains in case you think I’ve missed that one out.

I placed my ‘ride’ wanted notice on the website on a Monday and waited and waited. I’d already booked my accommodation in the Reykjavík for Friday but by Wednesday still hadn’t found a ride. Thursday was spent trying to find a ride and emailing potential rides. Some answered in the negative, others I never heard back from. I pretty much gave up and resigned myself to a bus ride or to trying to hitchhike. Thursday was also the night of the Potluck farewell dinner (see below) and so I went back to prepare my dishes but having finished my food prep, I had a nagging feeling that I should check my email one more time.

My luck was in! One of the drivers I had emailed still had a spot left in the car, I got a lift from the administrator at NES and waited at the petrol station at Blönduós for my ride. All I had was a visual description of the car though believe me suddenly you become very aware of every make of car. Then you start to wonder if grey means silver.

My ride arrived and not really having any idea of what to expect, I found myself sitting in the back behind the driver in car full of teenage passengers. One teenage girl sat in the front passenger seat and I sat next to two teenage boys. The boys periodically chatted to each other or sent text messages on their phones. I couldn’t tell if any of them were related or not. Otherwise the only other sound was the radio which would drop in and out depending on the section of road…the only song that we heard completely was ‘Instant Karma’ by John Lennon. I found it slightly unnerving if I’m honest that nobody asked any questions, I know its tourist season and all but I really expected a few questions like: ‘Do you like Iceland?’, ‘What are you doing in Iceland?’, ‘Where have you come from?’ or ‘What is your name?’. How often do you get a 6ft tall Japanese guy in Northwest Iceland with a British accent?!

I will say this though, I saved more than a 1/3 using a rideshare and it was a good hour quicker than the bus.

After 17 days in Skagaströnd, I really found the city weird with the noise and amount of cars and all the different voices. I honestly wondered at one point if I was in Reykjavík, Iceland or Reykjavík, USA?! Where had all the Icelanders gone? I know I’m just as much a tourist but honestly was it a buy one get free special in the US?!

In February this year I was lucky to be one of the artists to stay as part of the residency run by SÍM, The Association of Icelandic Visual Artists in Reykjavík. I had a great time then, thanks in large part to the other artists with whom I was lucky enough to share with. Although not staying in the house this time round, my accomodation in the city was actually in the same part of  town. The neighbourhood was very familiar and after a quick dinner I did head downtown to check the bars for any familiar faces. I didn’t find any and headed back earlier than I intended to and was rewarded with this view. I  do love the view in that neighbourhood when the sun sets…