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Posts Tagged ‘Icelandic sweaters’

(I’m aiming for 15 Highlights)

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6 Arctic Fox Center in Suðavík

When we went in 2010 the Center was closed, but there was a fox kit outside in a play structure/enclosure being cute, fuzzy, long-legged, and adorable.  Going inside the Fox center was a must do on my list this time.  At the end of a long time trapped by the weather in Ísafjörður, we forayed out to Suðavík, only 15 minutes away, to visit the Fox Center.  Our hostess at the gisthus we were staying refused to take our room keys back because she thought we wouldn’t get far, but we had already packed all our stuff into the truck intended to check out.  This proved fortunate.   Most of the roads in the area were still closed and there was no way out of the Westfjords yet, but this stretch was supposed to be fine.  There were flurries across the road, but it wasn’t too bad driving at all.  We called and brought the beautiful Ester out of her cozy house to open up the Fox Center for us.  We talked at great length, looked at the museum, watched a movie over waffles, discussed the building of the Center and Frosty, the first fox we met in 2010.  When we left, the weather had turned and a slide had closed the road behind us, a half hour after we’d passed.  Luckily, we found another cozy guesthouse in Suðavík, promptly getting stuck there in the blizzard for another couple days.

IMGP14447 Horse roundup

Buried in a local paper with a feature on the sheep buried in the snow at Akureyri, there was a sidebar on wild horse roundups in the north of Iceland.  We’d never heard of such a thing, and there was one scheduled a few days away.  Far in the Northeast, we asked someone (Erlingur at Hotel Norðurljos) about it.  He called a friend and came back with instructions to the place, his friend’s name, who would be there, and to pass on that we “absolutely must go.  A horse roundup is not to be missed”.  So we went.  The horses were all driven from a field into a corral, and then the horses were sorted out by the owners and dragged through gates into holding pens and then shuttled away in horse trailers.  We were possibly the only tourists there and were wholly ignored, sitting up on the wall of the corral and petting the few horses who were calm enough to be interested in visiting.  It was a loud, dusty, active event.  It was clearly an all ages social to-do.

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The people were all yelling at the horses and each other, trying to cut horses out of the herd, grab them by the head and drag them into a corner.  They were checking chips in their ears with a reader.  There was much drinking and public urination and snuffing tobacco and laughing and lists on clipboards.   Although they were whinnying and biting each other, the horses were less frantic than one would expect.  At first crowded tightly in and then once horses were sorted out and there was more room, they got harder to grab, and would stampede together from one end to the other, knocking people over, bucking, stomping on feet.  Some horses were incredibly upset at being separated from others, trying to go through the same gate as their friends, sometimes managing it and then being forced out.  Colts at their first roundup looked sad, trying to keep track of their moms and crying at being separated from them, getting jostled and nipped by the big horses.

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8 Icelandic sweaters at the thrift store

There’s a wonderful thrift store in a certain city in Iceland that we found in 2010 and went back to this time.  It was exactly the same.  Messy, crowded, tended by the same no-nonsense lady who can’t or won’t speak a work of English.  I found fabulous things there last time that became wardrobe favourites and it was no different this time.  I cleaned up on clothes that were like nothing I’d seen before, even though I’d have to toss some of the clothes I’d brought to Iceland with me.  Icelanders take unique fashion to a whole new level.  Even their leftovers are awesome.  Then there were the sweaters.  We had been checking out Icelandic wool sweaters on everyone and for sale at various places in the country, as I wanted to get one this trip.  Sweaters have a vast variety, and H.W. had put a specific request in to the universe: “I want a sweater with a hood, black and grey, with a zipper”.  Hooded sweaters are not very common at all.  And there it was exactly, in that thrift store, only it was a women’s version, a lovely charcoal grey and a perfect fit for me.  They had a whole rack of sweaters, some of them just as nice as the ones for sale down the street for hundreds of dollars.  So I got the sweater H.W. had ordered, and he ended up with one with no hood or zipper.

IMGP95249 Reindeer

Ever since I saw a movie of reindeer running, I’ve wanted to go to Lapland and see the herds migrating.  I didn’t even know there were reindeer in Iceland until I read it somewhere on our way into the Eastfjörds.  I was very excited to see reindeer and promptly, the deer delivered.  Riding our bikes into Höfn, there was a family unit of deer in the field.  The next day there were more deer, closer, walking along the other side of a fence by the road.  They have such beautifully swooping antlers.  But that was nothing.  In the truck later near Reyðarfjörður, suddenly we noticed a hillside speckled with snowy patches- that were moving.  We turned around and parked to watch and take pictures, and there were over a hundred deer on the slope, involved in every kind of deer behaviour.  Most were lounging, some were agitating and rousting up the loungers, some were sneaking into others’ territory, some were bullying, some were grazing, some were headbutting their moms in the belly, some bulls were harassing the ladies, and there were a couple full scale clashes over territorial disputes.  It was a city of reindeer, there in full sight of the road, as if they knew it wasn’t hunting season quite yet.  The reindeer were introduced to Iceland for a meat crop that never took on, and now the wild population is limited to the Eastfjörds for some reason (climate?) and controlled by hunting.

IMGP844410 Flight to Grímsey

To officially visit the Arctic Circle in Iceland one has to ferry or fly to Grímsey and then walk a hundred yards north from the airport.  There’s a signpost there to take pictures by.  We booked cheap flights to the island, arrived at the airport far too early (we left again to get ice cream for breakfast and then went back), and when I checked in I was startled that not only did I not have to provide any ID, he didn’t even ask my name, just handed me the three boarding passes.  Then he took our day packs (checked luggage) and we went to sit in the sunbright waiting room.  We could see the plane, a Twin Otter, pull up, and we saw the same guy who’d checked us in stroll out to the plane with our backpacks on one arm and stick them in the luggage hold.  With a total of ten people in the waiting room, when someone came on the loudspeaker to announce the flight, Derek said, “I don’t know why he used the P.A., he could have just come in here and told us all”.  But of the ten people waiting, half of them were going someplace else!  Only one local kid and the three of us were getting on this plane to Grímsey, which made the checkin process make a bit more sense.  We boarded the plane after holding everyone up a minute to take a picture, the same guy who’s loaded our luggage shutting us in and then flagging out the plane.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and as we rose up and turned from takeoff, the snow and the grey cliff edges of the fjörds were beautiful as we headed towards the open ocean for Akureyri.  Then the window one seat in front of us plopped out onto the seat.  The outer pane was intact, but it was still funny, and H.W. deadpanned that hopefully that’s the only equipment malfunction on the trip.

At the other end, the airport was even smaller- one room with a desk in it, and the lady who unloaded our bags and handed them to us talked a mile an hour asking us where we’re staying, pointing out the two guesthouses on the island, and commanding us to go to the Arctic Circle point, which was there in sight.  We had to go there before we could get our certificates (signed by the pilot).  We obediently went over there, lingering and posing.  We were waiting for the plane to reload and depart again, as Derek wanted to try for the very difficult shot of us with the plane taking off in the background (he did it).  Then we were snacking, when the lady from the airport, having changed out of her uniform and locked up the airport, came walking across the field to bring us our certificates.  They were unexpectedly beautiful things, with our names done in calligraphy and yes, signed by the pilot.

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Day 9 was worse.

The Galleri B&B was gorgeous.  Luxurious, in fact.  I highly recommend it.  It was a bit out of character on this trip, an extravagant exception to sleeping in tents, but it was necessary, especially since Derek’s cold could either get better or really bad at that point, so it was important to have a comfortable warm sleep.  We had long hot baths, drank lots of hot tea, and slept as long as possible.

In the morning, breakfast was served in the gift shop, a mixture of food that Icelanders eat and what they think Americans eat.  Very cute, and ample.  I had multiple waffles, still making up for lost time and perpetually hungry.  The gift shop was full of beautiful handmade things, lots of them made by the two beautiful (blonde) daughters of the proprietors, whom we saw flitting about and who’d let us into our room in the night.  We lingered there for awhile, bought a few things (made more mental notes), and reluctantly got on the road in the late morning.

I wanted to go to Geysir, because we were “this close”, Derek wanted to get into Reykjavík to catch some marathon day events.  For awhile we played both sides, darting across the road to stick out thumbs at any vehicle passing, either way.

This did not work out.

After finally committing to definitely going to Reykjavík, and then walking all the way out of town, we still waited, and waited, and waited…  We took pictures of the sheep grazing in the median, and laughed at them.  The sheep moved on.  We decided there was more traffic going off the split to Selfoss than the more direct way to the city, so we moved over to that arm of the roundabout.  And waited.  And waited.  What traffic there was appeared to be horse trailers going to þingvellir, to the pony show we’d heard about.  There was no bus, unless we got to Selfoss.

In the afternoon, we got a ride.  Partway to Selfoss.  It was starting to look dismal to get into Reykjavík in time for the evening fireworks.

Then the guy with the stuffed Komodo dragon in the backseat (some vague explanation involving a strip club) picked us up, and things started looking up.  He drove like a demon, and took us right into town.  We asked about a Pentax dealership, and he took us straight to an Elko, the equivalent of a Best Buy.  Unfortunately, they don’t deal in Pentax, but here’s the address of the place that does.

On the city transit to get to the campground (more waiting), and finally, to set up our tents and drop the packs we’ve been standing around wearing for hours.  On the bus again to find some food (more waiting) downtown.  Happily, we chanced upon this amazing quasi-Indian cuisine place with a mad salad and soup bar, all fantastic ingredients.  SO good, and the first time I got full in days, it seemed like.

We wandered along the crowded downtown Laugarvegur to take it all in, saw some good music (and some bad) and then I got the bright idea of taking advantage of the free Culture Day public transit, and going to pick up our suitcases from the BSÍ.  We went and got them, then got on a couple of the wrong buses going in the wrong direction, got yelled at by a power-tripping driver for standing too close to the door, and finally made it back to camp just after the more cautious couple who decided to wait for the right bus. note- two sweaters in the same picture, and that was an accident!

The buses were all off schedule, crowded, and unpredictable because of the holiday.  On the bright side, the BSÍ guy “remembered me”, remembered what luggage was ours (!), and then charged us for about half the time we’d left it there, with much winking.  I didn’t remember ever seeing him before, but I was grateful for the break in this expensive land, and happy.

Nearing dark, we headed back downtown for the fireworks.  Everyone was wearing Icelandic sweaters (a fashion statement that has no boundaries at all) and there were many handheld beers walking around.  Various street vendors and performance artists were doing their things.

One cooler art piece we noticed was spontaneously shed shoes and pants lying in little heaps in the street.  We didn’t see any pants actually being shed, but over and over, you could spot shucked clothes left behind.  We saw the rather talented blue ninjas tumbling and running through the street, and ran after them a ways to keep watching them, with several other kids.

Mainstage, in the heart of downtown, was blaring abominable music, but the hill above was the best place for the fireworks, so we joined the throng converging to wait and jockeyed for a place to set the tripod.  Children swarmed all over the sculpture of Ingolfur Arnarson and teenaged couples snuggled in the grass.

Icelanders even do fireworks differently.

In Canada, say, firework displays start tentatively, maybe with a bit of a teaser, then they escalate to the big stuff, with some pauses in between, with some attention to colour combinations, with some obvious planning of how two effects might overlap to best evoke ooh and aah, and then there’s a notable crescendo, culminating in an obvious finale- the big bang.  Then everyone knows it’s definitively over.

Well, Iceland fireworks aren’t like that.  They start cold, without warning, just as strong as they finish; just a full-on withering blast with no pauses, no crescendos, no altering in any way of pace, as though a small army of people is dashing around lighting fuses willy-nilly as fast as they possibly can, until they run out of explosives, at which point it all just stops dead.

It was possibly the most interesting display I’ve ever seen.  It was about as much TNT as three Parliament Hill Canada Day shows, all used up in an action-packed 15 minutes straight of constant explosions, just puking out fireworks until -pht- all over.   Derek and I look at each other like “WTF just happened?” then look around at everyone else, cheering and folding up the lawn chairs.   For them that’s normal.  The atrocious main stage act resumed belting it out, and the crowd started to disperse.

Wow.  Iceland.

This was the biggest party of the year in Iceland, but we just wandered slowly back to our camp, people-watching.  The streets were closed to vehicles; the crowds were as thick as a subway at rush hour; strollers were as thick on the ground as teenagers weaving among the crowd, and almost everyone suddenly had a can in hand.  It was like a family friendly folk festival, only with booze, blackouts, and an ambulance fighting through the crowds to reach an unconscious drunk.  Amazing.

It was a bit anti-climactic to make hot chocolate between our tents and go to sleep while a city-wide party raged, but Derek didn’t seem inclined to seek out a drunken good time, and I was more than happy to concur.

Yeah, boring.  Cities rattle me at the best of times, and crowds worked up to that pitch unsettle me big-time.  Even in this amazing place, I was emotionally exhausted by the whole thing; sad, shaken, tragic, overwhelmed with wanting and hunger to BE more.  I had a serious case of not enough; not pretty/young/successful/bold/talented/rich enough- a sure indication that I’ve let the city get to me.   I felt terrible too, guilty that my choices had screwed us up right and left, gotten us stuck and dragged us all over wrong turns for two days, and now my brother was sick and without a camera.  I went to sleep in my clothes, waking at 5am feeling like I hadn’t slept at all, resolved to surrender.  Surrender.  Surrender.

All night the wind chimes hung in the tree between our camp and the next sounded like cutlery clinking, and I dreamed our neighbouring campers were eating.

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