Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Icelandic Saga- or Down and Out in Iceland

A rock is never just a rock in Iceland. They are trolls who have been petrified by contact with sunlight
Iceland is a marvellous place, but I am not going to tell you much about it at all. This is partly because much of its charm cannot be conveyed this way - certainly not the undercurrent of myth and mystery that pervades all, but also because I am working on a longer version which may be published which means I can't use the photos again. I will however, endeavour to show you a few glimpses to whet your appetite - I just know how much you love looking at other people's holiday snaps!

I didn't actually see Snaefells Glacier, a place which is supposed to convey 
much spiritual energy - it was always under cloud

You may notice that many of these pictures are quite grey and grainy. This is because it rained for the first four days and I certainly got my wish for a bit of cold weather after the heatwave in Russia. 

 Traditional Turf Cottages - West Coast

 Iceland was so expensive that I had to hitchhike for the first time in twenty years. I am not blaming Icelanders for this. Since the economic meltdown and the ash clouds, every man woman and child owes around $33,000 and is paying 28% GST.
Though I don't recommend thumbing rides, I did meet some great people including many Icelanders, whom I probably would not have met otherwise. If the Icelander who gave me my first lift, hadn't mistaken me for Yoko Ono and given me a lift straight away, I would probably have given up on the spot. At least the crime rate was low. The only recent crime anyone could remember was a bit of sheep stealing somewhere up north.

I'm not sure, but I think this may be Danilo, another Italian
He and his partner spent a long time trying to find me accommodation as well as showing me around.
I wish I had pictures of all of the people who gave me lifts and had written down all their names (and not on little scraps of soggy paper), and also some of the hitchhikers like the two Serbians in Akureyi who asked the lady who had offered them a lift to take me too, or that unknown couple on the three glacier corner, who insisted that Marco from Milano take me not them, because I had been there first. Just know that I am eternally grateful. 
There is one other lift I just have to mention. 

 I'm sorry Heimir, I didn't realise it was social gaffe to eat that whole KitKat bar by myself. I only found out when I saw you all standing around open mouthed!

I thought I would never get out of Blonduos, pretty as it was. It was late in the day and I had given up on getting a lift - even the midnight sun sets eventually - so I hailed a taxi to take me back to the hostel, some few kilometres back. It turned out to be a couple of musicians who took me all the way to Akureyi and provided a very entertaining evening.

Siggi has a CD out, so I am giving him a free plug.
Loved the music and his singing isn't half bad either, but I stupidly forgot to ask him the name of the album.
Get yours today anyway at the Bad Taste Record shop in Reykjavik
Thanks guys! 

 This is the very spot where "Journey to the Centre of the Earth" was filmed. The plaque says you are 6371 km from the centre, but trust me, there are many places in Iceland where you would swear you were a lot closer. There are at least two places which were thought to be the gateway  to hell
Icelanders are the highest per capita movie goers in the world. Since the whole place looks like a film set, I am surprised that many more films haven't been made here,  particularly Lord of the Rings. Rumour has it that that J.R. Tolkien got a lot of his inspiration here and even used a lot of Icelandic names.
 On the Western Peninsula
A lot of the countryside looks like this -bizarre lava plains and craggy rocks lightly covered with moss and fringed by black sand beaches where birds nest and many ships have come to grief.  I thought Frida was joking when she said I could share her wet two (wo)man tent if I couldn't get anywhere to sleep. I almost had to, but when I called back at her place at nightfall after not having found a bed, she drove me to her aunt's place to stay in her guesthouse.

 In the Northern Highlands
Crossing the north with Cedric and Philippe reminded me very much of the highlands of Tasmania - the same glacially scoured lakes, the same isolation and the same misty moisty weather. While our volcanoes  and glaciers may not be active, there were a lot of other similarities too, like having a downtrodden economy, the reliance on farming, fishing  and tourism and both having a brewery that claims to make beer using the cleanest water in the world. Our fishing licences are much cheaper though, and we do have more trees.

 Blonduos, one of the fishing villages, by midnight sun
 
Akureyi was the sort of place where Microsoft execs. park their yachts
Didn't stay long. 

The unfortunately named Lake Myvatn, meaning midge lake (at least they don't bite) is one of the gems of the north and a geomorphologist's wet dream. There are temporarily dormant volcanoes, smelly, steaming sulphur vents, rift valleys where tectonic plates are tearing themselves apart, deranged lava formations and some very pleasant hot springs. Thousands of ducks were sitting motionless on the lake  getting ready to migrate when I was there and there were excellent blueberries too. 
Lake Myvatn 
 
Sulphur Vents 
 
 Hot Springs 
I couldn't afford to visit the new thermal pool here, but one of the 
local people showed me where they swim
The water was lovely, but you wouldn't want to be claustrophobic.
 I prayed the whole time that the earth wouldn't move
 
 The blueberries were delicious too 
 Husavik was another fishing village and is now a major Whale Watching centre. It has charming cottages and a picturesque church which made this museum seem all the more incongruous. Should you have ever wondered what a whale pizzle looks like, or perhaps a that of a fieldmouse, this is the place to go. It was raining in Husavik and several people were waiting for the museum to open. 

 
This is Jan from Germany. He has my greatest admiration. He travelled through Russia in his wheelchair. He said that whenever he asked for help to get his wheelchair up onto a kerb, people would just give him money and move on
I also got to know Jan's friend Tiina - Hi Tiina! 
Inside the Phallological Museum it was half serious, half fun. This man is admiring the anatomy of the entire Icelandic Football team. In its favour, the museum does have English language brochures
The trip to the east coast passed mostly in a rain spattered blur. This was a strange and terrible post - apocalypic landscape of ashfields, smoking cones and sulphurous fumes.  In places hardened lava cracked and buckled upwards as if something monstrous was about to hatch.
 Not even moss grew here and it had names like Grimstadir and Modrdalur which, with my limited grasp of Icelandic, I took to mean murderer's gully. It was a favoured spot for outlaws and, according to my map, a place of trolls and ghosts. Further down at Egilstadir there was said to be a monster in the lake.
On the way South
Everyone I met  told me that it had been sunny the whole time in the south. What they didn't say, was that when the wind blows off the glaciers, it is absolutely teeth -chatteringly cold.  Glaciers cover more than 11% of Iceland, and here indeed, it lived up to its English name -in Icelandic and in German of which it is an older version, it just means Island.   Shivering in my sandals I sorely regretted having sent those winter clothes home!

Glacier Country in the South East
A lovely lady in the tourist office at Hofn who made me coffee and fed me chocolate, told me about a hot pot (one person spa) five kilometres from town. I started walking and the wind almost blew me backwards. Luckily a man called Helgi picked me up before I got too far. After we had driven for about fifteen kilomeres and asked directions everywhere, we finally found it, just under the Hoffsjokull glacier. Now that is the way to appreciate a glacier! Soaking in a hot tub up to the neck in water at 38oC followed by coffee.
The hostel was full of Vale Vatchers dressed in designer Artic wear and about to do the $150  "In Harmony with Nature" snow mobile and jeep tour. I hated them! I'll bet they were all the people who drove past me in their large, near -empty heated 4X4's.

Though I had seen glaciers before, I had never seen them on this scale. Vatnajokull, the largest, covers 100,000 square km and is bigger than all of Europe's other glaciers put together and there are at least seven others. Many of Vatnajokull's outlet glaciers run down to the road and can be accessed easily, though it is dangerous to do it without a guide.
Fabiano and his Spanish girlfriend took me to Jokulsarlon where a glacier calves into the sea - spectacular and also freezing, and a fisherman named Benni mercifully took me away. The next morning everyone was turning off to go to the Skaftafell National Park and I stood on a corner facing three glaciers for about four hours before Marco picked me up and took me all the way to Selfoss. Were Italians really in the majority here, or were they just a lot more generous about sharing their hire cars?

 Jokulsarlon where icebergs break off and fall into the sea
Fortunately he was as interested in the scenery as I was and we stopped at every waterfall and rock formation along the way. The whole coastline is a spectacular rock formation so it comes as bit of a surprise to find that where the country has not been laid waste by ice or lava, that there are pockets of lush farmland, though most food in Iceland is grown in geothermally heated hot houses and barns.

Dyrholaey near the Natuarl Arch, South Coast

Skogarfoss Falls
 Between Glaciers and Lunar Landscapes there were pockets of farmland
It was so cold next morning that I took a bus to Geysir, which gave its name to all the others of its ilk and I also froze to death at nearby Gullfoss, another gigantic waterfall.  I tried the famous Icelandic lamb soup in this area. Although expensive at $17.50, it was deliciously warming and you could fill your bowl as often as you liked.

Geysir
 
Gullfoss

I was glad that I had already had the soup, because when I got back I found out that my gorgeous tenants were about to move out which meant my cash flow (more of a trickle really) was about to cease. The fly -by -night airline only did so on Mondays and Fridays, so I just had time to visit another couple of places.

The trip to Thingvellir was wonderful - glorious sunshine, no wind and I was taken almost the whole way there and back by Runa, an archaeologist who worked nearby.What is it with archaeologists? Do I look like a fossil? Oops no, that's palaeontologists (sorry Tegan). Obviously they both appreciate ancient and venerable things, though I 'm still working on the venerable bit.

 Thingvellir is one of the places where you can watch tectonic plates ripping apart
 
Thingvellir is also the birthplace of Western style democracy.

Beginning in 930 A.D. chieftains from all over Iceland would gather here for two weeks a year to hear laws being read, listen to grievances, swap gossip and punish wrong -doers. Places round about have quaint names like Scaffold Cliff, Execution Block Spit and Stake Gorge and there's a very pretty pool (not the one below) which was used for drownings

 The rift is still widening here. After an eruption in 1763, the lake floor dropped six centimetres and caused the lake to expand. Consequently the Allthing (parliament) met here for the last time in 1798 and moved to Reykjavik in 1845 
Main Street, Reykjavik 
I spent one day wandering around Reykjavik looking for some small thing to take home. It's a nice little town, Europe's youngest capital and about the size of Hobart. While there were many little boutiques,  designer studios and retro clothing shops, about the only thing I could have afforded was a lava fridge magnet or just possibly a can of Icelandic air. It did have excellent grafitti though and the architecture has a lot of pizzaz.

Icelanders are very creative. You can tell just by looking at the grafitti
Videy Island
Videy island is a ten minute boat ride from Rekjavik. It used be a farming community and have a big fish factory, a village and a school, but now it is mostly deserted except for birds and the occasional tourist. Yoko Ono has her illuminated tower here, dedicated to World Peace and the memory of John Lennon.

Yoko Ono's  Peace Tower. It doesn't look much by day, but on dark nights a beam is projected into the sky. Here workmen are getting it ready for John Lennon's 70th birthday celebrations which are to be held here
On the way back, I accidentally discovered the Sigurjon Olafsson Museum. The museum with his  formal works was nice enough, but I particularly liked the semi -wilderness of his studio garden where sculptures seemed to blend with nature to make something bigger than both.

In a Sculptor's Garden

I was really sorry I had to leave Iceland late that night because there were still many things that I had wanted to see, especially the very haunted and beautiful Northwest Peninsula and some of the saga sites, but who knows, next time I find myself at the opposite end of the known universe, I will still have things to look forward to and next time I'll be bringing my Explorers (big thick Australian -made socks), a raincoat and very possibly some food parcels.

Seriously though folks, apart from the weather, I had a lovely time and hope to see you all again. 
PS Since I won't be allowed out again for ages, let me just say that the weather should be quite nice in Tasmania in a month or so and I am sure you will feel very much at home, as I did in Iceland.

Best Wishes to you all!







 
 












































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