Culture, churches, chook….and cold

Day 17. Thursday 30 May.

Church bells rang and rang. ’Maybe it’s a funeral’ said T. ‘No idea, but there’s lots of people over there at the church,’ said D.

The day looked bright enough, so the thought was to take a short ferry ride across to Nolsoy, have lunch in the café and then get the late afternoon return. If rain set in, it would be a long afternoon in a picturesque village, sipping coffee or perhaps something else. So, having sorted out routes and parking beforehand, down to the wharf to find out. And discovered a neat way to turn an outboard motor into an inboard motor.

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Everything seemed quiet…including the ferry terminal. A few staff were at desks, but there were no passengers/tourists about. T approached a guy at a computer, behind a desk, behind glass…the ferry we wanted would leave at 1300, as ‘today is a Sunday timetable’…?     ‘Why?’     ‘It’s a public holiday’   ‘Why ?????’…get translation from another staff member… ‘It’s, how do you say it… Ascension Day’…hence the church bells, hence the quietness in town.

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So, perhaps a revised plan, since most establishments were closed – even the Tourist Office, supermarkets and many cafes were, so perhaps the café on Nolsoy would also be closed: too great a risk.

A coffee to decide on plan B. Found a café and had an interesting chat with a couple from Austria who were finding the Faroes culturally so different from their own. When pressed for more detail, the explanation seemed to be based on a Protestant vs Catholic cultural difference. They were finding that the Protestant churches were so unfamiliar, so ‘simple’, no saints, no ornamentation, no ‘Mary focus’, none of the ornate artwork of the Catholic tradition. T has appreciated the minimalist approach, the pared- back references to Jesus, the lack of saints…, a recognition of the environment.

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So, somewhat inadvertently once again, our day took in some more churches; after coffee, a visit to the Torshavn Cathedral and then at day’s end, to St Olav’s and the 16thcentury remains of the Norse Cathedral in the tiny village of Kirkjubour. D was not allowed to pull on the rope to ring church bell. More later.

In between church visits there was a terrific display of the natural and cultural history of the Faroes at the National Museum and the adjacent Outdoor Museum which had preserved a farm & its outbuildings (dated from the 1700’s). (Dad joke warning) D particularly liked the Peat House – was that Pete standing outside?

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The bull pen was another significant site.

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The afternoon wind was so severe that even the chicken seemed so frozen in the rock lee that it couldn’t muster the effort to move out of our way.

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The car said the temperature reached a high of 7 degrees – with a very strong wind chill factor, we reckon it was hitting minus.

A late afternoon drive took us to Kirkjubour and alas, 2 tour buses had just arrived, with passengers rushing to the WC just as Gudrun had said back in Iceland! So we headed in the opposite direction, walking into a fierce headwind and came across a small shelter (farm outbuilding) where 2 young women in lycra streaked with mud, and running back- packs, had sought refuge. We invaded their space as they munched on muesli bars and learnt that they were sisters from Sweden, were on a ship travelling back to Sweden from Iceland and had 5 hrs land time in Torshavn. One sister was studying Mechanical Engineering and had completed an exchange – the other had come to bring her home. They wanted to visit the village of Kirkjubour in that time and were keen on running, so had run ‘over the mountain trail’. After 10 mins chatting with us, they were off…back onto the trail, albeit with one false turn.

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St Olav’s was suitably minimalist (T loved the painting behind the altar) and the cathedral ruins were impressive (T couldn’t help but think of the eerie symbolism…the demise of the Catholics..)

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The last highlight at Kirkjubour was coming across a local resident who was cutting up and preparing whale meat from ‘a hunt’ that had happened yesterday. We had seen the hunt while on our road trip yesterday morning; T had commented on power boats chasing fins (we presumed dolphins) somewhere around Kollafiordur. We had not stopped to join what we thought was a tourist attraction, as all viewing points were full. It turns out that this had been a ‘hunt’, which happens randomly, perhaps several times a year, obviously depending on the Pilot Whales coming near to land. Someone sees a pod of whales and phones a network of fishermen + also the police chief to get permission for a hunt. Yesterday we saw maybe a dozen boats, herding the whales toward a beach. From today’s account, we didn’t grasp whether 150 were in the pod, or whether 150 had been killed, but the process is that their sonar is confused by the boats, they are herded onto a beach (apparently they can only kill them if they’re beached) and are then speared through a hole at the back of the brain causing instant death – a justification that ignored any panic and suffering that might have occurred in the herding and the beaching. Then, according to a formula possibly based on the number who are involved in the hunt, or the number of whales or the number of residents in the village nearest the beaching, the whales are equally divided up. We learnt that if we’d been on the beach and involved in the killing part, (we would have needed to sign our names on the hunt register), then we would have been eligible for a share of the meat. Thus, the ‘whale butcher’ was preparing his share although he hadn’t taken part, some of which would be salted, some frozen and some air-dried and would be good for his family to eat for a couple of years. He was happy to talk, bloodied hands, bloodied jumper (T admired the traditional knitting pattern) and mentioned that he’d spent some time working on a dairy farm in SW Western Australia 30 years ago…It had been a good experience. T’s dinner menu tonight is still undecided!

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Some great views bfore we departed, as the sun was setting (no, it wasn’t!)

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Island hopping

Day 16. Wednesday 29 May.

Today’s plan tackled the north-eastern islands, Vidoy, Bordoy, and Kunoy, accessing them via Eysturoy – the one we’ll ‘do’ tomorrow. They are linked by either tunnels or bridges, and there are tunnels through mountains. The double lane tunnels were fine but the single lane ones were a different story, as we found out later in the trip…in one direction, the driver must give way, and pull-over bays are spaced at roughly 150-200 metres (they weren’t as closely spaced as D would have liked!) At one stage on our return journey, with an oncoming school bus we had to back up to the previous bay, D having misjudged the distance of the oncoming bus, with a couple of anxious drivers waiting in the bay behind who were not amused at our misjudgement, and an intent bus driver in front staring us down as he kept coming. There was no grace. And of course the automatic alarm in our car would signal ‘too close to the rock wall beep, beep beep!’. And it was very dark! ‘The light at the end of the tunnel’ is a very apt and comforting expression. But there was no aggro, horns or gestures – that we were aware of, anyway.

The day was icy cold mostly (3-6 degrees without the wind chill factor), plenty of rain/sleat and wind, so we scuttled between showers and waited for the worst to pass. It usually did after we’d given up waiting.

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At Klaksvik we recognized the coffee shop when we saw the prams lined up outside.

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Peering in (the prams) we decided that the mums were not having free time. However, it turned out that most were! We sat by the café window, admiring the view of the church and T commented on the bouncing movement within the prams…D said, ‘It’s the wind’…nope, at different intervals, a mum would exit the café and lift a baby out! ‘Toughening them up’ said D.  That seemed to be a theme: we later saw a group of half a dozen very young kids shepherded by two adults, walking along in sheeting rain, all rugged up in their wet weather gear. And later Do noticed what appeared to be a child care centre with a bunch of kids happily playing outside in the sleet and rain, and as we write this we can see local kids on the soccer field kicking a ball about, oblivious to the weather.

There was some modern building and some modern sculpture in Klaksvik – and some more traditional activity.

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The young woman who served us was a ‘foreigner’ – we apparently stand out as different – she was Danish. Her mother was Faroese, so she’d come over to lean the language and to understand her origins. She remarked that the language wasn’t difficult – it was the culture that was most challenging. She didn’t say why.

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We don’t go out of our way to track down and visit churches ands/or cathedrals – they are just there! The impressive church at Klaksvik had a room downstairs with a collection of Biblical scenes from Jesus’ life, all carved in wood, jigsaw-style, by a local artist..

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Each scene contained a couple of elements that were not of the main wood, for example, metal or driftwood, a key, a ram horn…We had a lovely conversation with a local church attendant about the ‘dying church culture’. She reported that although around 150 people attend on Sundays, the age group is 40+ and it’s difficult to attract the young. Like all the churches we’ve seen, crosses do not appear to be emphasized, and seem to be mostly absent inside.

The road took us to Muli (a hamlet of 5 houses – we’re not sure if they’re occupied, are holiday houses (why?!!) or just abandoned) which is described as the last settlement on the Faroes to have been connected with electricity and a road.

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The status of ‘road’ is arguable – a sometimes bitumen, sometimes gravel, pot-holed, narrow, steep, windy goat track might be more accurate.

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And the last settlement that we saw today, opposite Muli,  was at the top of Vidoy Island, where the North Atlantic pounds the cliffs, and a little white church stands bravely. Fields and stonewalls rise up the slope…The wind and rain were fierce at this end of the world. We can only assume, by their absence here that it too tough even for the hardy sheep.

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The return journey brought us back to a fairly sunny Torshavn, interspersed with a shower to remind us of where we were; we ventured out of the car, stretched the legs for a stroll around the harbor, taking snaps of the early merchant settlement and the fort, which had been the HQ of the British forces during WW II. Not sure if this was a sinecure or a hardship!

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Rain, shine, snow (repeat)

Day 15. Tuesday 28 May.

Started the day with cultural matters: Nordic House (no, it’s not a museum as we thought, but a concert/events hall.) But a fantastic facility – and needless to say, all the events had either just finished – or will start next week.

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Then the National Art Gallery: all artists of the Faroes, a lovely space and a fabulous exhibition of linoprints, watercolours and oils, and some sculptures, by artists such as Samal Joensen-Mikines, Janus Kamaban, Ruth Smith (drowned tragically at age 35), Steffan Danielsen, Zacharias Heinesen. A large exhibition was devoted to Elinborg Lutzen – it consisted of linographs and paintings and was terrific, with many Grimm fairytale like. We hadn’t heard of these artists before – like Snorri Sturluson in Iceland our education is limited! Did we mention that this apartment is full of artworks (all originals) of Faroese artists, oils and watercolours?

Elinborg 1     Elinborg2 A few from the permanent collection took our fancy. T particularly liked the installation of the knitted jumpers, titled ‘Babyboom’, by Astrid Andreasen, each jumper with a traditional pattern.

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A few from the permanent collection took our fancy. Then, as the sun was momentarily bright, we strolled through the (treed) park toward the old part of town.

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Snow flurries then took over, so we ducked into a café for the usual, critiqued it, then hurried back to the car to move on with out-of-town sightseeing.

The remainder of the day took us over the main coastal road (#10) and two of  the ‘Buttercup Roads’ of this island (Stremoy), through tunnels, gasping at view upon view. 

Not sure what the little ‘cellar’ in the churchyard at Tjernuvik is, but this far-north village (settled in medieval Viking times) faces the North Atlantic and now surfers come for a good ride and maybe the coffee and waffles. They would need very good wetsuits.

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The need to tie down stored caravans is perhaps an indicator of the wind here?

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Sheep everywhere, including on the road, narrow winding cliff-top and bottom- roads, with pull-over bays at regular intervals. 

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Salmon pens below. Sheer cliffs, terraced cliffs, waterfalls everywhere.

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Villages and hamlets are picture-postcard, houses tumbling together and many with turf roofs, holding fast to the cliffs and clustered at the bays. T couldn’t help but think of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood.

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D coping with a largish manual car, narrow roads and unknown destinations. One terrific driving aid is an indicator that beeps if you go too far left or right. Could this perhaps be implanted into humans?

And a gift at the end of the day.

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Just a hop across the Atlantic

Day 14. Monday 27 May. Faroe Islands

Although we were leaving at a reasonable hour to catch a 1 PM flight – well, D thinks 8.30 is reasonable, T has some lingering doubts – we both still awoke at odd hours, our disorientation made worse by the light all night. As it turned out we rose earlier than planned – the alarms didn’t even get to go off! We had a drive, according to Google Maps, of one and a half hours, but as the trip in had taken two and a half, D was not taking any chances, hence the seemingly excessive travel time allowance. And as you’de expect, because we’d allowed plenty of time, everything went smoothly, so much so that we had time to detour into the dock area of Reykjavik for a coffee and a small snack. Just as well, as it turned out, because we had nothing more to eat until a small snack after 6 PM.

Handing over the car, checking in, and clearing security were a breeze. Well, not quite. We entered a lift with a Chinese couple and another young Asian man, pressed the Floor 2 button – nothing. The young man pressed the door button – they opened, then closed. There were four door buttons to choose from – they were all to open the doors, none to  close. We all had a turn – pressed Floor 1, then Floor 2, then Floor 1 again – nothing. Eventually D pressed several of them one after the other in no particular order and the lift rose. ‘It was a special code’ said D. The older Chinese couple chuckled, the young man was deadpan – he may not have heard about Dad jokes.

We’re not sure we even had any immigration check, although that might have been incorporated into the airline check in. The closest we got was a requirement to announce our nationality, but not prove it (perhaps the accents were enough?) as we passed through a gate after security – the attendant clicked us off on her screen with a nod.

The one-hour flight was smooth and although the air was bitter there was no rain on arrival, although we had anticipated it – and it is forecast for the next two days. Picked up duty free (D’s calculation of the wine component required  is different to T’s – we’ll see) and car – an upgrade to a Nissan Qashqai (is that a Scrabble word?) but unfortunately a manual – D has enough to worry about without remembering to change gears, and headed the 45 km or so into Torshavn. On the way discovered that the vehicle had GPS – oh what joy to be told where to go, rather than struggling with maps that were so clearly wrong. The route that the stern lady in the GPS took us on didn’t seem to gel with Google Maps, so D was starting to have doubts but T reassured him that the road signs all pointed to Torshavn. Another feature of this car is that when it veers too far to the right, it beeps a warning. T figured that out, and said nothing until, after the second beeping warning, D felt that he needed to explain what it was, just having worked it out (but there was no need to explain). But the stern lady came good, delivering us to the front door of our apartment, to be met by the owner’s girlfriend Olivia – the owner is a ship’s captain, away on a four-week job in Norway. Olivia lives in a village an hour away but assures us we can call her at night if we need to, as she is accustomed to patients doing just that. We’ll try not to bother her.

T was gobsmacked by the scenery: we’ve come to a collection of minute, sheer rock islands in the north Atlantic, with a road snaking its way at the base, sub-sea tunnels connecting the islands, turf-roofed cottages straight out of a fairy tale, sheep grazing precariously,…and they’ve been inhabited since medieval days?

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The reception and the facility were/are outstanding and Olivia, a psychiatric nurse, was ultra-helpful. D did wonder whether she was assessing us, but we seemed to have passed.

There were ‘start up’ supplies left for us, along with fresh bread, a thermos of coffee and one of hot water for tea, fresh fruit, and an invitation to use whatever we needed. D started to look for the wine cellar (just joking – and he couldn’t find it).

Initial supplies are in, and after Iceland the prices are a relief.

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T claimed the kitchen and has prepared a surprise in the oven (Rose not Eve).

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PS. For anyone with a life, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_Eve

The induction stovetop, by the way, took all of D’s skills to get turned on. He’s had a great day as a code breaker for lifts and stoves.

And now, as dinner smells fill the cosy apartment, snowflakes are falling and it will be light all night, but that’s alright.

Faroewell to Iceland

Day 13. Sunday May 26.

Our last full day in Iceland – on our way to the Faroe Islands tomorrow, and it’s nice that The Weekend Australian has chosen to do a feature on that destination this weekend. It was somewhat disturbing: ‘To help mitigate the impact, the islands’ Prime Minister, Aksel V. Johannesen, announced last month that major tourist areas were being shut for a weekend. At the same time, he offered “voluntourists” free room and board for the two days if they came to mend paths, build cairns and dig drainage trenches.’ Not quite what we had in mind, but T is pretty good with a shovel.

Yesterday, T discovered a fellow wool tragic who dyes her own wool, using a variety of witch’s brews, chemistry and some other additives, all foraged from Icelandic plants apart from indigo and cochineal (sourced via internet) – all the while being very careful of the impact that waste products might have on the environment. And she has a studio only 15 mins from our apartment! Gudrun was totally flexible about our visit (arranged on Saturday evening and scheduled for Sunday morning), despite the official opening season for her studio being 1 June, and was happy to add us in with a group of Americans who were due to arrive on a special tour this morning. We really hoped to get in and out before the Americans.

We duly pulled in at 9.45 – exactly between the 9.30 and 10 indicated (D was driving – what else did you expect?).

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No Americans. We were approved by her Border Collie/Labrador cross dog, who apparently vetted all visitors and would only let in those who smelled right.

Still no Americans by about 10.15, so Gudrun decided to start her spiel without them. D suggested that they might have had a night on the town in Reykjavik, but this was dismissed as unlikely, with Gudrun offering the more likely scenario that they’d detoured into Borgarnes to use the toilets, as was usually the case with her visitors who were over 50 years old. She also said that when and if they did arrive, half would immediately head for the loo and the other half to cluck at the chickens.

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Gudrun lectures in botany (and a few other related things we think) at the nearby Agricultural University. She developed this passion for dyeing, and in particular using mostly traditional Icelandic materials and methods, when doing her Masters in Science: ‘my interest significantly delayed the completion of my thesis’.

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T was wrapt and was mentally already planning how she could have a workshop like Gudrun’s – D’s workshop in the garage is under siege.

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We received about a 40 minute interactive brief until the Americans eventually arrived, covering the process, the chemistry, the passion and quite a few tangential topics. And yes, the Americans did pretty much as predicted. We took the opportunity to leave, T armed with a few treasures.

We headed for Stykkisholmur, a port town on the northern coastline of this beautiful Snaefellsnes Peninsula. T had read about a Library of Water there, a special church and the fact that the town was renowned for its architectural restoration/preservation.

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Again we were blessed with an endless blue sky and bright sunshine (lap it up we think, as tomorrow will be different). The church was indeed marvellous and not a crucifix in sight, not even in the steeple, instead three bells. Inside, the effect would be extraordinary with darkness and the pendant lights.

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Strolling through the town and port was like stepping into a children’s picture book! Traditional architecture, exquisitely restored, not a blade of anything out of place (no litter) and the sea views were magic. It’s another fishing town and yes, the crates full of fish and ice were forklifted about.

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Up to the Library of Water…an art installation created by Roni Horn of 24 ceiling to floor glass cylinders, each filled with water from a different melting glacier and the floor embossed with words relating to weather – one of the cylinders being of historic significance as it is all that remains of a glacier that has disappeared. Again, the effect was extraordinary and the views beyond the room out across the sea spectacular.

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We were the only visitors; a couple of young guys who stepped into the gallery asked Renata, the gallery attendant ’What is this?’ Renata attempted an explanation but then came their next question: ‘Is this art?’ Renata said, ‘Yes’ and the guys quickly turned around and departed. Clearly, art was not on their agenda today.

It was easy to engage Renata in much more than gallery talk – like another South American close to us, she enjoys a good conversation. She is a Brazilian girl, now married to a fisherman and living in Stykkish, only from a few years ago. When asked how she finds the change, she happily described the way shehas changed her husband: she remarked on the relationship between Icelanders and alcohol and the liberal behavior of the women, in particular. She has no children, just a stepson – and that is quite enough – but she claimed that Icelanders did have large families of three to six kids. She referred to Icelandic women as being ‘complicated’ and for that reason many men choose to remain single…at least that’s D’s interpretation of Renata’s account. He also reckons that it’s not all that difficult to live with a complicated woman.

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Mid- afternoon and feeling peckish, we followed Renata’s advice and went back to the wharf to the fish and chips van. D enjoyed his fish: T remarked that there is always something of a gap between the idea of fish and chips and the reality: is she complicated?

Some impressions of Iceland, gathered in our eight days here, and therefore very much initial thoughts:

  • It’s been our experience that Icelanders initially appear aloof, usually not returning casual greetings, but if engaged they respond politely and eagerly often wanting to continue a conversation beyond the inquiry. They have invariably been helpful.
  • Iceland is a beautiful, unspoiled country and its people seem to really cherish it. There was virtually no litter of any sort and houses/apartments are well maintained.
  • Everything is expensive in our terms, up to three times what we’d expect to pay back home. That may be a result of higher wages, or maybe there’s compensation because some essentials (power and heating in particular) are low because of geo-thermal energy production;
  • Anecdotally (several times, and unsolicited), over-consumption of alcohol is a problem: we didn’t experience that at all (T has just chortled);
  • Tourism is a (the?) major money earner, but Iceland has a small population, about the same as Canberra. Tourist numbers could, as in other prime locations such as Venice, end up being a curse rather than a blessing. We did not enjoy the experience on the Golden Circle as much as our trips in the west due to the press of numbers, all out to get the best selfie (apart from us, of course: we’re different!) Staying at a small town away from the capital also gave us a sense of living in the community, albeit in a limited way – we did wave to the neighbours a couple of times;
  • Driving was easy, after getting used to being on the wrong side of the road – and D was once. It appears that speed limits are only advisory, just like in Canberra. However, drivers were very patient and forgiving: we didn’t hear aggressive horn- blowing or see angry gestures at all, even when it might have seemed inevitable.
  • Fresh food, particularly meat, was limited. Most meat (fish, chicken, red meat) was frozen, and we think mostly imported from the UK.

We loved it.

Resting

Day 12. Saturday 25 May.

It was time for a (mostly) non-car day, so we started with a beach stroll, taking in the campground, watching birds and then chatting to the Icelandic motor-homers who, like back home, arrive at campsites in the late morning. A group of 4 seniors who live just outside Reykjavik and who love travelling with the long daylight hours at this time of year. When we raised the topic of the months of darkness, the response was that they fill the time with cultural activities: choir, reading and heading to the Canary Islands for a sun fix!

Next, to coffee on a terrace overlooking the sea (more birds) but no new ones.

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The barrista seemed taken aback by D’s request for an ‘extra hot’ cappucino (for T): ‘I don’t make it cold.’ He could have been taking the mickey. Learning that we were from Australia, he showed D a photo of the Northern Lights on his mobile, taken just 30 kms from Borgarnes where he has his second job, telling D that we had missed them. D dutifully said how beautiful it was, but that we hoped we might see it in northern Norway, to which the barrista responded that as he saw it every day it was really pretty ordinary. D wasn’t going to let this one-upmanship slide by: he replied that he’d been married for 50 years and has seen his wife every day (that’s stretching it) and she was still beautiful to him (that’s not).  The barrista was quite taken by the idea – it will probably get some re-use soon!

Then a stroll onto the harbor breakwater where a guy was playing with a drone, photographing his family as they drove the red-RIB around the bay. One of the children (a boy about 12 yrs) in a cumbersome-looking suit and life-jacket proceeded to jump off the wharf, then tried to get into the RIB but he was too heavy to be lifted, so needed to paddle to the wharf steps. His dad explained that the outfit was an immersion dry suit (for very obvious reasons).

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The Red Cross OP shop was open and T ventured in, exiting without a purchase but prices seemed comparable to OZ. The place next door wasn’t open, so D had to settle for sitting outside….waiting.

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A visit to the Museum was a great choice: 2 permanent exhibitions: one was a chronological spread of photos using mainly children in Iceland over the past 100 years to tell the story of the times interspersed with poems and exhibits from the period.

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Children were used because the curator felt that the experiences and attitudes of children were universal, and could be understood by all cultures. At the end, T commented to the on-duty staff that it was a marvellous story of how the perspective of children, their roles and status had changed; they had been the ‘slave labourers’ in a subsistence farming culture until WW11. Then everything changed because the country was flooded with American and British serviceman who brought goods and technology: the population of Iceland at the time had been around 125,000 and 225,000 servicemen were stationed here! Post-war brought a new society: electricity +++  ‘And today’ said the woman, the circle has come around with ‘adults being the slaves to children’!

There were a couple of photos that were eerily familiar and perhaps explain D’s Duyputren’s Contracture.

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The second exhibition was of Iceland’s birds, a comprehensive display but unfortunately, for us, all the names were in Icelandic. We did however recognize quite a few. The underlying message, again deliberately a universal one, was linked to the shared expression ‘free as a bird’.

T discovered that close by there is a textiles artist who deals in botanical dyeing. So, an email has arranged a quick visit tomorrow even though the studio is not officially open for the season until next weekend.

The penultimate planned activity in the slow day was a trip to the local swimming complex: 3 hot tubs, sauna, 25 metre pool, waterslides all outdoors! All for a senior’s admission of about $4. Here, we discovered the rules (and transgressed a couple of times): shoes off before changing, shower & soap before putting on bathers, towels pre-positioned near showers, modesty dispensed with, shower again afterwards, (picking up towel and drying off before entering change area), and hairdryers, foundation, mascara put back on. Noone seemed to stress at our transgressions.

It was wonderful! Sunshine & 13 degrees, hot tubs at 36, 39, 42 degrees (the latter lobster stuff), a lapping pool at 29 degrees and a wooden sauna with views over the sea. A totally social activity and how marvelous it would be to soak in the dark of winter!

Special treat with dinner out tonight: a walk to the local pizzeria – La Collina. We had expected to sit outside on the deck, with sunshine pouring down, but we couldn’t access the deck as some of the inside customers were blocking the door!!!!!!! Basic pizza, good crust but limited toppings and a glass of red and T is very puzzled about why Iceland has such a high standard of living (high prices on everything) when it doesn’t seem to produce/export much and is a heavy importer…..need to find out. Looks like another Tourist Information attendant is in for an interrogation!

D discovered another Icelandic beer to sample tomorrow, as well as an Estonian one. This is all in the intersts of research.

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With a little help from our friends

Day 11. Friday 24 May.

1 AM, 4 AM…it’s light enough, maybe we get going? The constant light still confuses but 7 AM was OK.  Today was the famous (not Pineapple) Golden Circle Day, taking in the foundation of Icelandic Parliament (10thcentury) at Pingvellir (excuse Roman alphabet), Geysir (self explanatory) and Gullfoss (big waterfall), albeit with hundreds (if not thousands) of our newest friends. We were joined by busload upon busload of others – what a change from the past few days in the west.

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Yes, Pingvellir was impressive; a big, big beautiful lake and the site of the first Commonwealth of Iceland, a place where people gathered to have legal disputes settled, laws delivered, punishments delivered (capital – drownings, beheadings and hangings: take your pick – and fines)…as well as being the place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet or rather push against each other, moving apart at 2 annually – as one tour group guide was heard to say ‘making Iceland slightly bigger each year’.

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The demarcation canyon lines are very clear and the rift valley between is periodically flooded, subsides, etc. It’s also the summer residence of the Icelandic Prime Minister (and sadly in 1970 the then PM, his wife and grandson died in a house fire).

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The church (another unpretentious building) had an important role in being the initial custodian of the measure of length, the ell (which corresponds to about 49 cm). The initial method, the distance between the tip of the fingers and the elbow, obviously allowed for too many variations, so a standard measure was determined, and this was ordered to be marked on the church wall. Other churches were required to copy this exactly to likewise mark the measure. The standard, however, remained in this location and was this was where disputes were settled.

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And quite early, as we stood overlooking the canyon wall, there was a loud cry from a (Chinese) tourist “Hey, he’s a pickpocket! That guy just tried to take my wallet!” There was then a spurt of expletives and a cry to photograph the accused, call the police…. The accused and his companion just sidled off, denying any wrongdoing, while the ‘victim’ continued his outrage, explaining what he’d felt/observed…the tour guide was clearly shaken in his blurb and since there was no real evidence of a crime, the best he could offer was a promise to speak to staff at the Information Office. Meanwhile the Chinese guy continued to swear and sought sympathy from fellow tourists, ending with the comment that he had been targeted because he was ‘Asian’ …” Holy f…!”

We moved away, and sought a ‘quiet’ pathway down into the valley. It was a bit like being at Macchu Picchu, thought T. After a shortish, quietish walk admiring the space, taking in the birds and a waterfall (no champagne for us) we moved on.

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Three birds of note today: the Golden Plover, the Greylag Goose and the White Wagtail. T remarked that it was a stupid name for the wagtail, until she saw it in flight – Ah, yes, that’s it.

We were tracking with the tour buses towards Geysir. But we managed to avoid most of them (apart from a small but loud group from North America): coffee happened at a hostel (Fawlty Towers) restaurant – it even looked the part inside and out.

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And then, as we arrived at Geysir, there were the buses (and hundreds of cars). The steam was rising, the tourists crawled, zig-zagged, lined up beside the main geyser (guaranteed to ‘blow’ at 8 – 10 minute-intervals) and unapologetically pushed in front of other cameras to get that best shot.

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And yes, the geyser performed as promised, although sometimes its performance didn’t live up to expectations.  Just like real life!

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Back over the other side, by contrast, a scene of serene rural beauty – not a tourist in sight.

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As we walked towards the top of the bluff overlooking the geysers, we were intrigued by the sound of a Police siren in the distance, and then a car being pulled over, partially blocking the main access road. The situation continued for perhaps three quarters of an hour and was still ongoing as we left: the two police officers unhurriedly doing something in the back tailgate of the vehicle, the driver and passengers getting out in turn while a policeman or woman looked around. We left still not knowing what it was all about: filming another season of ‘Trapped’? A drug bust? Someone having a baby? A medical emergency? D had to restrain T from going over to ask.

Clouds threatened as we moved on toward Gullfoss (waterfall) and yep! There were the buses and cars – and the rain. But very impressive.

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The ‘circle’ route home was more of an oval; having missed a vital turnoff, we ended ‘geographically misplaced’ at the harbourside in Reykjavik. T had a feeling that we were in familiar territory from Wednesday’s excursion (i.e going the wrong way) and the Friday rush-hour traffic added another element of interest. D was confident: ‘there’s the sun, that must be west, so we’re heading north, which is where we want to go.’ Wrong. But the driver was SO cool…just go around the roundabout (and the next one, and the next one….) and all will be well…and so it was. Did we mention that Reykjavik has more roundabouts than Canberra?

Safely back in Borgarnes, blue evening sky, glass of red…what’s the problem? Well, there is one – the red has run out.