Category Archives: Iceland

Oh yes, we are back from Iceland

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Iceland II, complete.  We left after a full 60 days and the ubiquitous dip in the Blue Lagoon on the way out.

America rudely welcomed us back, into a world bristling with security cameras, roamed by sniffer dogs, and blaring with videos about how great the police are, keeping everyone safe.  It was a real culture shock.

We took the Amtrak (I have nothing good to say about Amtrak) back across the country from the Eastern seaboard to the west, and I went home to Canada.  Back in the PNW!

In a way I think I got Iceland out of my system.  I don’t feel the frantic urgency to return as soon as possible that made me strive to make this trip happen, but if the opportunity arises, I will definitely go again.  Perhaps for another season.  We’ve done fall; winter, check; maybe summer next time.

Complete story of my Iceland adventures

66.5N, here we come!

On board a Twin Otter to Grimsey for the night and to officially step into Iceland’s only bit of territory that lies within the Arctic Circle.

The most laid back airport experience ever.  We watched the lone ground “crew” carry our checked “baggage” (our packs) out to the plane and stow it before calling our flight at the one “gate” (door). The mystery of how the guy at check-in seemed to know who we were, without even asking our names, was cleared up when we were nearly the only passengers on board (one other).

Shortly after takeoff, a window in the next row fell out.  It just plopped in onto the seat.  Thankfully, the outer window held, or it would have got very windy.

Two days in Reykjavík

We made it!

It’s a whole different season here.  We’ve skipped fall and gone straight into early winter.  It’s colder than I expected, and that’s a little alarming, to think how wild the weather might get over the next two months.  Icelanders so far have only winced and made dire comments about cycling at this time of year.  But the Northern Lights should be good.  They’ve already shown.

Day one: after a predictably sleepless, and crowded,  flight over, the usually drab ride from Keflavík to Reykjavík was beautiful in the dawn, with the mist rising from the dry grass and the column of steam over Bláa Lónið.  We wandered around the city, getting groceries, overdosing on sugar at the first bakari we saw, and finding the best value ever on sim cards and the most pleasing cell phone service ever (from Tal), so we are all mobile-ly connected.

Totally demoralized vis-a-vis Icelandic.  So much for enhanced eavesdropping; I can catch scant words per conversation.

After a long nap (I slept through HW reassembling his bike) and on a late search for something to eat we saw our first Northern Lights- a band of green that circled the whole sky, but faded quickly.  We found ourselves gravitating to the things we did first on our last trip, and ended up at Gamla Smiðjan again for exceptional thin crust wood-fired pizza.  Their menu is full of interesting topping choices like cream cheese, peanuts, and bananas.

Sunrise is about 7am and sunset 12 hours later.  Temp +4C.  Not so bad, but coming from uncomfortably hot weather, it´s a contrast.  The locals are still eating plenty of ice cream, and there are still many cute cats out and about.

Day two:  another familiar spot for breakfast (premium waffles at Perlan), another beautifully sunny day.  We took our bikes out unloaded for some sightseeing (the harbour, Hallgrímskirkja, and Einar Jónsonn museum), then discovered that the water slide at Laugardalslaug is for grownups.  In fact, it’s sort of scary, with parts of it blacked out completely and disco lights in other parts.  At 500 kr. admission, Laugardalslaug is officially the best value in town, after the free walking tour of course.  Unfortunately, Toby doesn’t do those free walks after Sep 14.

Finished with the exceptional soup and salad buffet at Kryddlegin Hjörtu, my favorite meal maybe anywhere in Iceland, I think.  Awww, stuffed with good food.

Finally sinking in that we are actually here.  Against all odds, including a few daily odds thrown at us in the last week of traveling.

Simplest of transactions conducted in Icelandic: two.  Conversation by necessity in Icelandic: one.  Times chickened out of attempting Icelandic even though I thought I knew what to say: countless.  Humbled by communicative expertise of barely verbal toddler: once.

After trying to learn their language, I’m just in awe of how well they (nearly all) speak English, which is supposedly not so easy to learn either.  Clearly it will take more than a dedicated year to speak Icelandic half as well as the average Icelander speaks English.  That’s just depressing.

Complete story of my Iceland adventures

Æ, þad mikið um að vera!

I’ve been learning Icelandic.  Rather, now that we’re going, I’m cramming with a vengeance, trying to make up for a year’s procrastination.  Less than three hours a day is nearly no progress, and I’ve spent upwards of six hours (up early/up late) trying to feel like I’m getting somewhere.  It is hard.  It is so hard (and I usually put an obscenity in that sentence), I don’t think I’ve ever done anything more difficult with my brain.  Nothing in school, nothing at work, not even writing websites in HTML in 1991.   It requires such a complete concentration that time just flies, while the subject matter and exercises do NOT.

Icelandic is so different and complex that it makes a passage of Spanish or French look positively relaxing to me now.  After hundreds of hours, no exaggeration, I am probably able to make a sentence as elaborate and clear as I was able to in Spanish on my first day “studying”.  There is a little improvement.  I’ve got a vocabulary learning system that shows me the words I knew last time I checked, and now, and every time I run through my list of words, there are more that have become naturally available to me.  I’m glad for that, at least, because my overall progress is positively slothish. Continue reading Æ, þad mikið um að vera!

We’re going to Iceland

I have failed.  I have not finished the online story of the last time we went to Iceland, before we’re going again.  Even though it was getting a bit ridiculous to travelogue a trip we did two years ago, it was a mission I was determined to accomplish.   We have such great pictures and adventures from 2010.   I’m gonna let it go, though.  Oh well.  I don’t finish all my projects, I guess.

Although my brother and I were smitten with Iceland the first time and planned to go again in 2012, time trundled right along and 2012 showed up without us having produced any concrete plans, like tickets.  The pressure built; if we’re going to go, we have to start making it real… Then all this unexpected upheaval happened, which made Iceland recede into the distance and off the priority list so the likelihood waxed and waned.  Just when we’re getting back on our feet, H.W. and I got some welcome fall work that lands right when it would be ideal to be in Iceland.  So it seemed to be on the outer edge of possibility.

I wanted the relief of saying, Oh, let’s just go next year, but when I thought about waiting until next year, I got a knot of sadness in my chest.  Besides, if things go according to our plan B or C, we’ll have animals and gardens to care for, so now is the time to travel.  Even though it’s neither ideal timing nor convenient, I figured I’d rather just go while the going was possible.  My brother concurred, H.W. shrugged (he doesn’t know what there is to get excited about yet), and so we’re going.  It’s on!

Just when I surrendered all planning, because nothing, ever, at all, went according to plans, the probability field seemed to tighten up and now plans seem to be working again. We get things done, less falls through, it’s safer to have an expectation… I think it’s safe to make plans again.

Here’s hoping!

We’re going late in the year, in the rainy season, possibly well into the cold weather.  Oh well.  We’re cycling around the island, hopefully doing the ring road, plus all the good stuff that isn’t on the perimeter.  We’ll be camping all the time, like last time, and this time we’ll know all the things that we can miss and many that we must do.  And we’ll have more time, not be racing around everywhere to “fit it in”.

Bicycle travel will do that for you.  Slow things right down.

This time, I’m taking my little Rite in the Rain journal, and I am NOT making grand plans to write an illustrated diary of our every moment there.  No way.

Iceland II preps

I’m getting mentally prepared to make Iceland 2.0 a reality.  We’re tentatively planning to go again in early autumn this year.

It’s a three pronged attack.

1.  prepare physically (plan is to cycle tour the Ring Road plus) by bicycle training and gearing up.

2. study hard at learning the Icelandic language (one of the more challenging of the world’s languages, IMO, up there with Zulu).

3. finish my travelblog(ue) about our last trip to Iceland (which is now quaintly dated but still rewarding and satisfying to revisit in memory as I work on it).  Really, it would be too embarrassing to not be done describing the last trip before embarking on the next.

Fortunately, I’m rabidly motivated to do all three.  My keyboard is set to Icelandic and my heart is tilting all my memory towards it.

Unfortunately, there is no time, there are more pressing agenda items, and, because of the long-term fruition, these are all things which are easy to get shunted for the projects that dominate the here-and-now.

So I’m dredging up old learned techniques for “finding the time”, like those pitched at new mothers.  “Set priorities; collect scattered moments; let the housework go; fit into existing routines”, etc.    Aside: one suggestion I’ve always remembered for its strange perversity is “Use your grocery basket to do bicep curls while you shop”.   However, all these techniques usually devolve into “stay up later”, and “get up earlier”.

Good advice about bike touring Iceland:

http://userweb.eftel.com/~wheelbuddies/iceland/

http://www.masterlyinactivity.com/ivan/iceland.html

I got a package from Iceland today!

It’s fresh!  It still has Iceland all over it; Iceland air inside of it!  Pretty Ísland stamps, and the Posturinn box with the ubiquitous postal service logo and colours- just a few days ago, this box was thousands of miles away in that magic volcanic island nation.  I was even thinking the bubble wrap was special, as I reused some in a package going to Cuba.  Two islands, completely different.

Here’s the little critter that was inside the box…


I haven’t been fulfilling my Iceland tale project, but Iceland has been following me.  I turn on the radio for the first time in a week and they’re just about to interview an Icelandic archeologist  who has isolated a piece of genetic info that, incidentally, may have come from Newfoundland.  The tires I want are “Icelanders”.  Iceland Moss is first element of a herbal mixture I’m supposed to take.  All of a sudden, runes are popping up in my life everywhere (again).

Our photos from Iceland that are cycling on my desktop continue to take my breath away, and bring me right back, to the sun warmed sand on Hornstandir; the magic of the moon over Snæfellsjökull.  Although it was only a few months ago, it seems like a dream far removed from my daily life, yet it is vivid and present.  Every day I smile at something that happened there, and I can’t wait to write about it (however, even one day at a time, it is so big a project that it’s still daunting).

Can’t wait to go back.

Back in BC

My milk run flight back home bounced up and down off the major cities like a ping pong ball.  Three takeoffs and landings; enough to make one sick.

It’s nice to fly over BC’s green-carpeted mountains and remember that I love this place. So much wilderness, so close. And Vancouver doesn’t look so badass from the air, just squeaked into the flat space of the river delta where the mountains shrug aside.

All the verdant abundance we have here, this surfeit of trees and resources and adventure, makes me wonder why Iceland took such a hold on me in comparison.  Just look at the gorgeous Keremeos valley, a pastoral landscape and serene photo ops like many we just saw.  In this whole country, we have so much more than little Iceland, about the size of Newfoundland, does.

All I can say is that there’s something about Iceland that defies description or definition that exists only there, and I can hear it calling me back…

Complete story of my Iceland adventures

Iceland concluding.

Almost time to leave this place.  My suitcase is packed (full of books and wool), and our last night promises to be too cloudy for Northern Lights.

I’m still here and I’m already starting to mourn for it and longing to come back.  I love this place so much in ways I can’t even define.  Time to start learning Icelandic.

It’s a good thing photos don’t take up physical space anymore.  We have many, many gigs of pictures that I can’t wait to start sifting and playing with, not to mention posting more about what we actually got up to here.

My newest prize possessions

The Prophet in Icelandic!  In Icelandic!  The Prophet!  I cannot describe my joy at this.

Closely followed by the delight of The Handmaid’s Tale in Icelandic (Saga of the Handmaids).

I can report that used bookstores are the same everywhere; I want to stay in them all day and cart home a box of books.

The logic of the high prices of books in Icelandic revealed itself today: any foreign book translated into Icelandic is being translated, published, and printed for a total audience equaling maybe the population of Victoria, BC.  So that’s a very expensive prospect and it’s only done for a few of the most popular books.  “Eat Pray Love” is prominent in bookstores right now.  Most books don’t get translated into Icelandic- most Icelanders will just read them in English if they want to.

Complete story of my Iceland adventures

Iceland at your own risk

Iceland is a very helmet-free society.  They eschew guardrails, frivolous warning signs, and regulations.

You just will not get hit over the head with explicit, blaring signs warning of things that will kill you (like buckets, or hair dryers).  Not here.

I was sitting at the edge of a 100 ft cliff, that I’d just walked up to after watching an arctic fox sprint across the flat land, getting high on the vertigo of the height and the beauty of the distant waves below me,  and my brother walked up behind me and said “Oh, did you notice this sign?”   It was basically a 4×4 inch pictorial suggestion that it was possible to fall off of the cliffs here.  In case you didn’t figure it out for yourself.  One sign for 100s of meters of cliff.

And that’s what I love.  They expect you to figure out for yourself that if you step or slip off the edge into the waterfall almost the size of Niagara that’s thundering over the edge, right there, that you probably won’t make it. If you lean too far over to see the birds, you could die.  You shouldn’t need a sign to tell you so.

If you’re stupid or careless enough to trip, slip, fall, or drop your camera or your kids over the edge, well, that’s your business.

Icelanders are not in the business of protecting anyone from themselves.

I. Love. This.

Our lives are in our own hands all the time, and you can get numb and forget that if you’re always walking paved paths surrounded by lines that tell you you’re safe within them.  Stay safe, stay between the lines, behind the rail… not here.  Iceland doesn’t play like that.  It’s more “take care of your own damn self, you should be able to figure this out, you decide what’s safe for yourself.”

Complete story of my Iceland adventures

Ísland

There is wild magic here.  The dreamworld is very close.  Everything raw and numinous lives here, and I feel magic in everything.

The wildness in everything is dangerous and thrilling, and this feeling of being completely alive seems somehow close to death.  As I clamber around, I find myself breathing gratitude with every step.  Thanks to the seaweed, to every rock I touch, the grass, the rain, the wind, to the spirit or life in it all for supporting my feet and my life, when everything could turn with one trip or a stumble or a moment’s loss of balance.  Balance, in fact, feels like it’s always hovering on the edge of a blade in Iceland.

I feel this sense of peace and belonging that I’ve rarely felt.  I did in the Yukon as well, but I’m reluctant to say that it’s the almost-Arctic north that does it.  Perhaps it’s the space- there’s so much of it, not enough people to fill it with energy and thought-noise.  Maybe there’s still room here for the spirit world.  Perhaps it’s the youth of the landscape.  The earth is literally still creating itself here.

There is so much elemental power and energy flowing around, it’s no surprise that the locals accept the existence of “hidden people” as obvious.  I regularly get my hair raised and that “walked over my grave” feeling.  Oddly, today I felt as if I’d walked over my own grave.

Complete story of my Iceland adventures

Land of Ice

Random awesome sunset at home. Lasted about 3 minutes with this colour.

I’m going to Iceland.   With my bro.  Just like the Olympics, our X-Canada trip, Europe – I know it’s going to be spectacular, life changing, totally overwhelming and joyous, and I won’t be able to document it at all.  A: because there will not be enough time to write in proportion to the all the time spent doing fabulous stuff, and B: because … well, I was just going to say A again in a different way.  In fact, I know already what I’ll have to say about Iceland when I get back.  I can write it now.  “Iceland was amazing!  Extraordinary!  The trip of a lifetime and all those cliches- Words cannot describe (they really can’t).  We took thousands of pictures and I made lots of notes to be able to remember it all.  Fantastic adventures and stories and people and hiking, just too much to put into words.  Really, indescribable.  I’m so grateful to have been able to go on such a trip.”  So there you have it.  That’ll be the first post ever that I get up early, before it’s even happened, in fact.

Complete story of my Iceland adventures