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.

Roadtrip…Monday 29th August Part 2

We arrived in Akureyri at around 3.45 pm, the reason I remember the time is because we wanted to go and visit The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum on the other side from the town. I was just the driver so went where I was told. Over the bridge and then we turned right and drove on for what I was assured would be about a 10 minute drive to the museum. Well the road went up the side of the mountain and after 10 minutes there was no museum. At the first available accommodation I stopped and we went into to ask directions. I now suspect that the girl we asked either does not know her left or right and has never been to the museum. Following her directions we ended up further into the mountains where there were only farmhouses and the road soon changed from tarmac to gravel. The museum was becoming bit of a holy grail for the person who wanted to go. Each new farmhouse roof in the distance became a possible until by 4.45pm it was mutually agreed that it wasn’t going to happen today since the museum closed at 5pm. The map now makes sense but at the time it was just plain confusing to us.

Now as I hinted at before I have a problem with certain parts of ‘The Rough Guide to Iceland’. While not every place is going to blow your socks off the writers are very dismissive of places. Now while I may be slightly biased this is the description of  Skagaströnd: ‘a terribly ugly place dominated by a hulking fish factory down by the harbour…’

Granted there may be not a lot to do or see with one shop, one petrol station, one bar, one bank and one cafe but I think my pictures somewhat go to show you can still find beauty and wonder if you take the time to look around you. I have the feeling the writers just drove right on through.

Windy day in the ‘terribly ugly’ Skagaströnd

Right let’s get back to Akureyri after securing accommodation for the night the four of us ventured out into Akureyri. Perhaps our expectations were too high or our imaginations had run away with us after spending time in Skagaströnd. Frequently billed as the capital of the North, Akureyri had became a metropolis of restaurants, bars and sophistication in our minds. We soon realized that if you get the right photographer and angle you can make a place look full of exciting possibilities. I congratulate the tourist board of Akureyri, you certainly fooled us. As did my current favourite book in the world, The Rough Guide to Iceland’ which calls it a ‘spot of urban sophistication’.

Now I’m not totally dismissing Akureyri since we had got there after business hours and the town had just had a festival the weekend gone.

We did actually enjoy having a choice of restaurants and the beer that came with the food at the time tasted like the best beer ever. I don’t if that was just down to having spent all day in the car or the beer coming out of a glass bottle but that was a good beer. I did ask our waitress what people did in the evenings but her only suggestion was bowling which we put low on the list.

At least there was a bookshop and that’s where we all headed en masse. Three of us stocked up on some materials mainly paper and some paint.

While I’ve been printmaking nearly relentlessly this year I’d made up my mind before leaving that I’d take a break from it. Instead I’ve making use of my time to try my hand at using watercolours but not necessarily in depicting traditional landscapes as one would associate with the word watercolours. The show and tell of that work will be another post.

Shopping done and feeling that it would be a shame to have an early night, three of us wondered what to do next…

We went bowling.

I won both times.

Odd but true, I have now been bowling in England, Iceland, Japan, Mexico and the United States.

In retrospect the beers in a bar opposite the bookshop after bowling were good and the quiet atmosphere there was good. Five days later while still a little disappointed initially with Akureyri, I find myself thinking about it with an odd mixture of affection and disappointment.

And so to bed for Tuesday would be a day of many sights.

Roadtrip…Part One/ Monday 29th August 2011

Somehow I’ve never really had to drive in another country other than very short trips that I don’t really count. So driving in Iceland I guess is another one of those things that was on my mental list of things to do.

Myself and three of the other artists decided to rent a car and go on a trip of the Northwest and Northeast.

We started early on the Monday or early relatively speaking in terms of our average daily routines and got a lift from Skagaströnd to Sauðárkrókur to pick the car up from the rental company. Now depending on your point of view I either drive on the wrong (left/right) side of the road while everybody else drives on the right (wrong) side of the road. That was actually more of a concern for my passengers than for me. I was actually looking forward to driving for several reasons. At the moment back in England I have access to a car but not a manual one so I was looking to driving a manual and also the opportunity to drive myself.

Shrimp factory in Sauðárkrókur.

Rather than take the most direct route we decided to drive around the peninsula to take in the scenery. I suspect in places it may not be the most dramatic of drives scenery wise and the fact that at one point I had three sleeping passengers probably attests to that. However, I’ll take the fact that all three fell asleep as a sort of compliment that they felt safe and secure enough with me at the wheel. I was pretty impressed with Icelandic roads at this point. There were hardly any potholes whereas in England we’re still waiting for potholes to be repaired from last December. The roads here are well maintained and while mainly single lane only there was hardly any traffic.

(It gets better…)

Armed with various general maps and The Rough Guide to Iceland which I disagree with in several parts more of which later we set off. Our first stop was Siglufjörður which was a small town with a harbour dramatically flanked by mountains on either side.

The more industrial sections of the harbour are further left and to the right of the picture.

Here comes the history part:

Siglufjörður was one of the world´s leading herring centers from 1900 until the herring stock disappeared in 1970 and there are three buildings that form the Sildmuseum detailing this past.

Rather begrudingly I paid for my ticket thinking it seemed a bit pricey for a museum about fishing. Boy, was I wrong, I throughly enjoyed myself!

The three buildings serve a different function:

The Factory where there was some machinery that looked like it came straight out of a cartoon with oversize dials…

The next building which I seem to have not taken a photograph of the exterior is the Boat House which houses boats from the era and you can board the largest. The lighting though and the indoor setting of a dock kind of reminded of a Scooby Doo episode and I half expected some old fella to be led away shouting: ‘Pesky Darn Kids!’

The third building and my favourite is The Salting Station and yet again I seem to have been spectaculary rubbish in not taking a good photograph of the exterior probably something to do with the drizzle. If you follow the link above you’ll get a good picture!

The ground floor is dedicated to the fishing and salting process and from a printmaker’s perspective I loved the old barrel and packaging stencils there. If anything they should be using those for T-shirt in the small gift shop area:

Slightly alarming fishy symbol although I’m pretty sure it was unintentional:

The next level has photographs of some of the other herring ports including Skagaströnd which at one point looked set to expand to a larger scale that it is currently until the herring disappeared. It was also where administrative duties took place:

Upstairs is where the real interest lies as this was where they housed the Herring Girls who would gut and salt the fish. Every space up there was used to house them:

From there we or rather I drove us onwards to Akureyri without any further stops along the way.

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.