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…

 

The End?

In no particular order…10 of my favourite images…

This was tough and there are loads more…the majority are from Skagaströnd which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since most of my time was spent there. The other two are from the south east.

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…

Kálfshamarsvík

Close to Skagaströnd is Kálfshamarsvík a small cove that at the beginning of the 20th century held a small settlement of no more than a hundred but was abandoned at the time of the depression around 1940. No matter how many times I see them in Iceland, I am fascinated and amazed by basalt columns. More often than not the cross-section is that of a hexagon.

There is also a lighthouse there striking in its stark whiteness and height. Sadly for us the weather was bad and the wind really was stingly cold on the hands and so we stayed only for a short time.

(Not a ninja mission or a scene from ‘Brazil’)

Open Studios 22nd September 2011

As the month draws to a close and many of us pack or have already left the studio, I find myself a little reflective although I know I will see a lot of these people one last time on Friday in Reykjavík at how lucky I was that I had the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people from around the globe.

Last Thursday we held an Open Studio and the studio was cleaned and each person put out work either in progress or finished in their space. It was a fairly good turn out and interesting as well for us to meet some faces and to receive feedback on our work.

We had been unprepared last month for a visit on the Open Studio date and I wish that we could have been more in the state we were this month when a party from Baer came to visit. We managed as best as we could and I met one artist Emma Lindsay from Australia and then through an evening class pamphlet that had a name that  was clearly not Icelandic, I also met Vicki also from Australia who I saw on her blog knew Emma. Does that make sense?!

I was fortunate to be able to meet Vicki at her home and to hear the amazing change she has taken in moving to Iceland from Australia. I also learnt another Australian term…’sea change’. I seem to pick up Australian-isms (that’s for Emma who loves -isms’ ;)) each time I’m in Iceland. There’s ‘Servo’ from Joseph, that’s petrol station or gas station if you don’t know. My favourite still has to be ‘Doona’ from Christopher in Melbourne. I first heard ‘Doona’ via text message when I was asked to get his ‘doona’ from his room. My reply was ‘WTF is a doona?!’ It’s actually nothing more sinister than a duvet.

So I was very pleased when Vicki came to the Open Studios that evening to see what we’d been up to…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The artists from September were:

Annika Bastacky | American | annikabastacky.wordpress.com
Ben Borden | American | myspace.com/solaryear
Dario Lazzaretto | Italian | dariolazzaretto.it
David Ertel | American | myspace.com/solaryear
Hideki Arichi | British | hidekiarichi.weebly.com
Ingeun Kim | South Korean | ingeunkim.com
Joseph Breikers | Australian | breikersacres.roxer.com
Lily Angotty | American | litlarottan.blogspot.com
Matthew Shelley | American | matthewgshelley.com
Mia Hochrein | German | miahochrein.de

There are more pictures at http://neslist.is/ from Ingeun.

Spákonufell

I have a new hobby, I like hiking up mountains! I will make it my new hobby to hike up a mountain wherever I go from here on in! In Skagaströnd overlooking the town is a mountain called Spákonufell.

A little history behind the name, Spákonufell which means Soothsayer’s Mountain is named after Þordís the soothsayer who built her farm by the slopes of the mountain. It is said that she hid her treasure in a chest high up on the mountain. However the treasure could only be found by a woman who had not been baptized in the name of the holy trinity or any of God’s other titles. According to the information in the municipal pamphlet the key to the chest would then be delivered by two ravens.

From my kitchen window I see the mountain and on the walk in to the studio or leaving the studio. Some days its shrouded by low cloud or the low clouds cast dark shadows upon it turning black. Throughout August it was one of those things that you say you’re going to do but never quite manage to do for whatever reason.

After 2 days in Skagaströnd, one of my first pictures of Spákonufell.

The rest are taken over the duration:

Last Wednesday 14th September, the weather was really fine and fearing that it may be the last of the fine weather I went up the mountain with Joseph. We got a lift to the local golf club which faces the North Route up the mountain. The technical data in the leaflet is as follows:

Distance: 3.3km to the top

Duration: 2 hours to the top

Landscape: Steep but fairly easy

Elevation: 570m

Highest Point: 639m

So off we set without the leaflet with the map in it…after a wrong turn at the base and 2o minutes wandering and muttering on the flat we found the start of the route and passed a water tank…

A rather odd sight…we carried on although it was evident who was the old man out of the two us as I found myself watching Joseph open up a sizeable gap on me yet he was still in sight.

He’d rest and wait so by the time I’d catch up, he’d had a good 10 minute rest!

It did start to get steeper at some points and there was still a little bit of snow up there from the previous 5 days. This is Joseph just before he started jumping up and down in the snow which apparently gave him an incredible sense of pleasure.

On we went at some points in the shade the ground was still a little frozen or a little slippery.

Getting closer to the top now…

The top is called Borgarhausinn its a huge mossy plain much larger than you imagine from just seeing the side from down below. Its a curious texture when you walk on it, yielding under your weight but springing back into place when you lift your foot.

We found the chest! Well alright not THE treasure chest but one with a guestbook where we both signed our names. I have numerous pictures from up at the top but somehow they don’t seem as good as being up there nor do they quite capture that sense of accomplishment that comes with walking up to the top.

Going back down should be easier…or that’s we thought. The trouble is the paths are not exactly marked in large, neon signs which you don’t really expect anyway but rather with small pegs or a touch or spray paint:

The only thing is while a rock with a touch of orange is kind of fun in a weird way, they get to be pretty hard to spot. Now if I thought Joseph was quick going up the mountain, he practically ran down the mountain. I had him in sight for a good amount of time but at one point as the terrain dipped down then back up into the sun, the last I saw was his silhouette go over the top. By the time I got there I couldn’t see him at all.

I saw these guys though:

I tried asking them if they had seen Joseph but they couldn’t hear me or were pretending to ignore me. I knew to head down and towards the sea but without any markers and a terrain that was increasingly unpredictable and with no sign of Joseph, I started to grumble to myself.

I had visions of Joseph drinking a coca cola at the golf club and was rehearsing the things I was going to berate him with. Like not even being a spot in the distance for me to follow and what kind of mate was he…etcetera and other choice words being with the letter ‘F’ amongst others.

As I came up over another ridge who should I see but Joseph wondering if he’d come back for me…I caught up to discover he’d also lost the path and had actually nodded off on a rock while waiting for me to appear. We walked back and made it back to where we’d started.

If anything it actually took us longer to get back down the mountain than to go up but was well worth it.

The next day I could still feel it in my legs and Joseph was hobbling around with a sore knee.

But we’re both glad we did go up to the top after saying it for a month.

Is going to up mountains going to be my new hobby? Nah, probably not.

Roadtrip…Tuesday 30th August 2011 Part 3 – Part (ii)

Are you still in Iceland!?

The next stop on our drive around was Hverir where a couple of things strike you. The first is how bizarre it looks as moss covered or lava fielded or grassy areas give way to an area that at first glance looks brown like a desert, this was further reinforced by the ridiculously good weather we were having. After you’ve stopped and got out of the car in awe at the change in colour of the landscape, you’re struck immediately by this pungent smell of sulphur. Dotted around are blue-grey mud pools bubbling away either quite gently or more agressively, parts of the ground are stained yellow from sulphur. I will give credit here to the Rough Guide book as it explains briefly yet in an  about the steam vents and pools.

It really is quite something to hear bubbling mud pools, smell sulphur all around and then walk past steaming rock piles where you can feel the heat radiating out.

Some great pictures from Joseph Breikers below:

From there it was onwards to take a look at Viti a deep crater up in the hills around Krafla. Although at this point we had all sort of had a lull in energy and such a sensory overload that the crater was not exactly a let down but just a blur. The most memorable thing was one of the coach driver’s trying one of the most idiotic driving  maneuvers I  have been witness to.

While driving up the hill one of the coaches obviously on some tourist bus time clock of his own decided to try and overtake us. First he blows his horn then he tries to overtake but lacks the power to do so and then stalls his coach on a hill. Well we called him various names…numpty, muppet and other things that I shan’t repeat…the closest we got to road rage that day!

We didn’t even have the energy to walk around it…

I’d even shrunk by then!

We also saw this and tried to imagine the phonecall to the rental company:

After passing through Mr Wonka’s factory…

(Actually Leirbotn Power Station)

Then it was onto Dettifoss which is Europe’s most powerful waterfall, I don’t know how you measure such things but to get there we walked through yet another slightly weird but wonderful landscape.

As you near the waterfall you hear it before you see it. I may not know about waterfalls and how you go about measuring how powerful one is but what I do know is that it was one hell of a sound and really quite something to see water moving that fast.

The World’s weirdest boyband/rock group also took their album cover photo here:

I found a comfy seat there as well:

Also there further back from Dettifoss is Selfoss which is probably spectacular in its own right in a different way but we didn’t go and see it up close. Goðafoss had been a real treat and of the waterfalls we saw that day, I’d have to say Goðafoss was by far prettier but in terms of raw power and the awe that can come from that Dettifoss was something else.

I took over the driving from Detifoss and we headed through the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park. The views were spectacular at certain points but the road very bumpy and I have no pictures as I was driving. We were getting more and more aware of the time as it was already close to 5 p.m and so things like museums would no longer be open except perhaps in Húsavík where a couple of museums wouldn’t be closing until 7 p.m.

One of the recommendations we had received before we left was to visit a place called Ásbyrgi. Getting out of the National park took much longer than anticipated as the road was not paved and so we drove much more slowly that intended. The surrounding area at Ásbyrgi is marked only by a small petrol station and there is no inclination of what awaits you. taking the turn for a golf club of all things and then following the road past it till the road ends takes you to a birch tree wooded area in itself unusual since there are hardly any trees in Iceland. The reward that awaits you after a short walk into the tree lined area is a pond at the back of which rises a vertical black cliff face. It encompasses you in a large horseshoe shape. Legend has it that it is the hoofprint of Óðinn’s eight- legged steed although of course their is also the scientific, geologists explanation but I prefer the idea of an eight-legged horse.

My reaction really was ‘F***ing Hell’ when I first came into the clearing where the pond was.

As is often the case with nature the photos really do not do the place justice but it is stored in my memory as one that rewarded me with true amazement as you came round the wooded corner. While it may have been modified to be somewhat tourist friendly with its wooden decking at the water’s edge and with a path through the tress clearly marked, it was a sweet reward. Only two us actually saw the pond area as the others rested back in the car park.

With the clock ticking we had an hour or so to get to Húsavík we set off again. We never really ran into much traffic at all during our travels but if anything I have now learnt is that it sometimes takes longer than you it will because of the landscape influencing the turns in the road or even just the landscape causing you to stop and to want to take photographs like this:

Húsavík museums for 7p.m was becoming a physical impossibility since we were in a rental car and not a time machine. We did make it to Húsavík before 7p.m…5 to 7 that is. We drove past the penis museum and all along the main street not being particulary impressed but turned around at the petrol station and went back to find somewhere to park since we were hungry and getting a little cranky. Well we found the whale museum as well also sadly just closed. Descending the steps down onto the harbour front our opinion of Húsavík changed. With snow covered mountains facing the harbour and mixture of commercial boats as well the ones that take people out whale watching and smaller pleasure craft, its a charming harbour. ( A ‘charming harbour’!? Who do I think I am?! Cary Grant! 😉  )

We ate a quick and easy fish and chips dinner from quite literally a hole in the wall sitting outside and reflected briefly a long, busy yet fulfilling day seeing a lot of things.

The rest of the day was spent driving us back into the dark on the ring road back to Skagaströnd via Akureyri and onto the Ring Road. A couple of white knuckle, prise my fingers off the steering wheel moments along the way though. Thanks to the tractor driver with the trailer that had no lights on in the dark, road repairs in one section where there were no reflective markers or road lines just black tarmac(at least it was tarmac), to the driver who decided to tailgate me downhill on the mountain yet on the flat road couldn’t be bothered to overtake me, to Ingeun for suddenly waking up and taking a flash photograph of me driving in the car (wasn’t really that mad with you when you took the picture) Eventually I got us all back and I got to drive one more time at 630 am to return the car to Sauðárkrókur.

I’m not entirely sure why I decided to start this blog partly for myself to see and remember where I’ve been and what I’ve seen. Maybe to inform and hopefully amuse those that came with me. To share with friends and family and with strangers who don’t know me or haven’t yet visited Iceland just some of the sights.

While I’m still playing catch up with all the other things I’ve done since the roadtrip in the last 2 weeks which has actually been quite a lot when I sit down and think about it or look at it on here…I am also aware that I only have a little over 2 weeks left.