Friday, January 31, 2014

I'll be back!

Next trips to Iceland:

April 29 - May 18, 2014
June 25 - July 31, 2014

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Home sweet home

The backyard

The webcam in Ísafjörður looks good this morning, dark of course, but visibility is clear, and the flight is actually scheduled  instead of listed as simply “awaiting more information”. As I’m about to leave for the airport, I get a message saying there is an hour delay but the wording is different, we’re actually going to fly! The airport is packed and two flights to Ísafjörður are checking in at the same time with a third to follow soon after. Today is definitely landing day, although I really don’t want to get my hopes up too soon. I ask for a window seat and the plane is packed. There’s a very large but equally pleasant young man next to me, going to visit his grandmother. But to be fair, the seats in these planes are tiny and everyone is wearing a winter parka and I sort of get the feeling of what it must be like to be a sardine. When the weather is clear I look out the window, but every time we fly through a patch of clouds I stick my nose in a book, not wanting to feel the disappointment of possibly not being able to land. But the view over the Westfjords is grand today, the snow-covered hand stretches its fingers, forming the fjords. When the plane deploys it’s landing gear I lose all doubt and begin to smile. We’re actually landing!

I’m at the back of the plane and it takes a long time to disembark. The airport is so packed with faces pressed to the windows, looking for loved ones. I’d like to take a picture of the tiny plane dwarfed by the snowy mountains in the background, but I’m a bit self-conscious. Instead I push my way through the crowd to the 5-foot long conveyor belt to wait for my bag, then head out to the red van that serves as the bus. Usually I’m the only passenger but my seatmate from the plane is on it today too. The price has doubled since September, up to 1000 kr now, but it’s a fair price considering that the bus waits for every single flight, even when there are usually no passengers. I’m taken right to my doorstep, climb the icy stairs, and am greeted by neighbors and the cat.

My new home - not :-)
There are always surprises in an old house after being away for so long, but for the most part everything is instantly familiar. The knob for the hot water in the bathroom is broke and the connection for the washing machine is leaking, but considering the winter storms that pound the walls and windows relentlessly, this is nothing serious. The cat is constantly at my feet as I open my mail and unpack my suitcase.

Once I’m settled, I slip downstairs to return the neighbors’ cat, have a cup of coffee and catch up on things. The weather is beautiful so we continue our conversation on a nice long walk. Later I’m invited to Angela’s for dinner and a good chat. I spend the rest of the evening curled up in a chair reading and looking out at the ocean. The sound of crashing waves eventually lulls me to sleep.

Thanks for following my adventures! I won’t be writing every day now. I want to enjoy every day here to the fullest as time goes by way too quickly. I’ll post more as soon as I can, or maybe just a picture here and there.  

Friday, December 27, 2013

Still stuck

Tjörnin, Reykjavík

Eagerly awaiting the first weather information in the morning, a friend in Ísafjörður texts me with one word: “snowstorm”. An avalanche fell this morning in Hnífsdalur. A couple of houses were evacuated in the area due to avalanche risk, and tonight the road to the airport is being closed for safety reasons. The boat that normally takes summer hikers to Hornstrandir is now ferrying people between Súðavík and Ísafjörður since the road has been closed between the two villages for days.
Vesturbæjarlaug pool, -3°C air temp

Flights were cancelled by noon and at least we were able to avoid a sightseeing tour this time. Since the cancellation came early enough I could actually go out and enjoy the day in Reykjavík instead of sitting on a packed suitcase. It snowed this morning and it was nice walking in the fresh white stuff. By afternoon the sun comes out and turns the sky a pretty pink. After browsing the stores and a few stops in various cafes, I head to the pool today for a swim. There’s nothing like hot-potting when it’s -3°C outside. The only hard part is leaving the locker rooms, wet after a shower, and sprinting across the ice barefoot to the nearest hot pot. Before heading back to the locker rooms later, I always dip in the hottest pool for a minute or two, so walking back across the cold pavement actually feels refreshing. That’s the highlight of the day folks, and there’s not much else to tell. Will tomorrow finally be the day?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Another sightseeing flight to the Westfjords

I spend the entire day hanging out and waiting to see if I can get to Ísafjörður. The first weather report comes in at 8am and in a best case scenario I would have to be ready for the 10am flight. At 8am the flight is delayed with more information coming at 12. At 12 the flight is again delayed with more news coming at 2 pm. I sprint downtown for a bowl of seafood soup at the restaurant Scandinavian and a cup of coffee in the meantime. A 2pm the news is good – check-in at 2:45 with takeoff at 3:15. Thorey from the guesthouse is kind enough to take me to the airport. I have spent a fortune here in town the last few days, not least for guesthouse and taxi costs. I will not allow myself to get excited just yet. I know the weather forecast is bad and it’s been snowing like crazy in Ísafjörður.

The flight is beautiful and in Reykjavík it’s sunny, with the mountains covered in white. But the closer we get to the Westfjords, the more the sky becomes thick with clouds until eventually visibility is basically zero. I can occasionally see some whitecaps on the ocean between clouds. It’s strange being in such a tiny airplane flying in thick clouds so close to these high mountains and only glimpsing the ocean way too close below. We enter the fjord flying really slow and the pilot is waiting for a break in the clouds. The suspense is endless. Suddenly the pilot gives gas and we shoot straight back up over the mountain again. Landing aborted. The teenage boy sitting next to me clutches my arm and looks at me with huge eyes. He has a large wrapped Christmas package between his feet and it looks like he’s another one who didn’t make it home for Christmas. He then studies the safety card in the back seat pocket.

In general the plane is quite full this time. I only recognize one person from the Dec. 23 flight. I imagine it’s a whole new crowd now, the people who wanted to go home for Christmas probably gave up and cancelled their seats. Anyway we circle above the clouds for another hour. The sun is setting and it’s quite pretty. We dive into the clouds one last time. I can see the blowing snow on the plane’s lights. There’s no way we’re going to land. And we don’t. The plane accelerates again to above the clouds with another start. The flight attendant brings coffee, as if that would console us. There’s quite a bit of turbulence on the return flight since the wind is at our tail.

We land at 5pm, I check back into the guesthouse, and race straight to the cinema to catch the 6pm movie – Hross í oss. An Icelandic film. I don’t care for the director’s typical style and I have heard mixed reviews, so I don’t expect anything spectacular. And it’s not, but still a pleasant way to spend an evening. After a cup of tea at Babalú, I head back for an early night.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gleðileg jól!

Christmas day. I read until about 11 and then venture outside just as the first rays of light start to brighten the sky. There are 3 cafes open in town, and everything else will be closed. My plan is to walk until it gets cold and then go in somewhere to warm up and repeat that throughout the day to kill time. First I’d like a cup of coffee to wake up so I head to Café Paris again. It’s cozy inside and not too crowded so I have some brunch as well. It’s way over-priced, but I like the cute overly-polite waiters there. Then I venture out into the wind for a walk to the harbor. The wind is really strong and increases throughout the day, so that later it’s impossible to get near the sea at all. There are huge fishing boats docked and a couple of Coast Guard ships. Everyone has come to shore for Christmas. The cold wind soon drives me back indoors and I hang out a few hours at the Volcano House café. I get a comfortable spot on the couch and no one seems bothered that I sip on a cup of coffee for two hours while reading. I head back out for another walk down the main shopping street but soon head back to the guesthouse for a cup of tea and a nap. For dinner I’m invited to a friend’s house. Salmon and potatoes and good conversation. I’m back at the guesthouse quite early and read until I fall asleep.I am more than ready to leave here and hope the flights will go tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jólaóveður / Christmas blizzard

[I will post photos at a later date]

This morning, Dec. 24, I woke up early to see if the last flight before Christmas would start. I was just getting things packed up when the cancellation came through. No flights again that day and because of the holidays, no flights Christmas day either. Now the verdict is clear. I am stuck in Reykjavík for Christmas.

I venture downtown and walk around until the first café opens up at 9am, where I have some coffee and think about what to do. I need to buy some groceries and a few other supplies as almost everything is closed in town as of this afternoon and all day tomorrow. The weather is getting really windy and as I cross intersections or open sections of landscape, I can’t walk a straight line. So after getting some shopping done and buying a good book to get me through the holidays, I spend the rest of the day in various cafes, drinking coffee, eating, or reading and just wasting the time away. In between I venture out for some picture-taking until the wind drives me back inside. Later I’m invited to a friend’s for cookies and coffee, and then I have dinner at one of the only places open in town, Babalú. They offer one Christmas dinner plate, but by the time I get there the vegetable has run out and I get one of the last portions before it’s sold out. The atmosphere is hectic, the two people working there are obviously out of their league, not expecting the tremendous turnout for dinner. One manages with a perpetual smile and Christmas cheer, while the other plays the role of the sourpuss. Well, there are a lot of tourists in town and it’s not easy to find a place to have dinner on the holidays.

I follow the news and the weather. The weather in the Westfjords is bad, Ísafjörður is having a lot of avalanches and one of the generators has died, leaving the town sporadically without power. Déjà vu of the scenario last winter between Christmas and New Years. To be honest, I may not get there for a few days yet, as the forecast really doesn’t look good. But that’s all part of life in the arctic. I take it in stride, and although I’d much rather be in my own little pad curled up on the couch with a good book and the neighbors’ cat while the blizzard rages on outside, I have always had the talent of being able to make myself at home anywhere I lay my hat.  

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Arrival, and stuck

[I will add photos at a later date]

I arrived in Reykjavík on Dec. 22 just as the sun was setting; the sky was cloudless and the arctic light spread a magic glow over the mountains. There was a light covering of snow at -3°C/26°F with no wind, and the bus ride into town was beautiful. After checking in to the guesthouse,  I spent a nice evening browsing through the shops all festive for the holidays. The people were cheery and in good spirits. Not wanting to sit down for a meal, I grabbed one of Reykkavík’s famous hotdogs at baejarins beztu (meaning “The best in town”). In 2006 this little hot dog stand was even selected as the best in Europe by the UK’s Guardian newspaper. It does indeed sell a mean dog and a trip to Reykjavík is not complete without having one. But I was still a bit hungry after my long travels that day. My favorite pizza place on Bankastræti was closed so I chose another corner pizza joint for a quick slice. Big mistake! It was the nastiest pizza I’ve ever seen or tasted. Ah well, bad fast food also belongs to the Reykjavík experience.

After a comfortable night I took a taxi to the domestic airport for the morning flight to Ísafjörður on Dec. 23. A winter storm was approaching but the weather was pretty good in the morning and I was pretty sure the flight would be ok. We checked in and took off on schedule. There were only about 15 people on the plane, each wanting to get home before Christmas. But the weather worsened as we travelled further north. I couldn’t see a thing out the window, the clouds were so thick, and that’s not a good sign. To land the little plane on the runway surrounded by mountains, good visibility is necessary. We flew into the fjord already quite low and flying over town I could even snap a picture from above. But instead of turning the sharp curve into the final descent, the plane suddenly accelerated and shot straight up, back over the mountains. An announcement by the pilot said the runway wasn’t visible and we couldn’t land, but would fly around a bit and see if conditions would improve. We flew around in the clouds for about 45 minutes as I dozed, when another announcement came on that we were heading back to Reykjavík.

All in all, we were in the plane about 90 minutes. The ground crew chuckled as we got off the plane and said “hope you had a nice little sightseeing tour”. At the airport, we were asked to wait 20 minutes for the next weather report. When that came, it was bleak. All flights to Ísafjörður were cancelled for the rest of the day. Knowing that a big winter storm was approaching, this meant we would probably be stuck in Reykjavík until after Christmas. There was a slight possibility we could drive today before the storm closes the mountain passes. I found a group of girls willing to take me in their car but after an hour of talking things over with the road administration and other authorities, they decided not to drive. It’s a good thing since roads were closed just a short time later and we might have been stuck in the mountains in a blizzard.

I checked back into the guesthouse, spent another day downtown browsing through stores, drinking liters of coffee and eating all kinds of things, and meeting a friend in the evening for a glass of wine.