Yarns from the north

Day 10. Thursday 23 May. 

We’d decided to have an easier, shorter day, ahead of some planned trips that involve longer drives. The day started with a cup of tea, and this is proof that it’s not only D who sits up in bed playing with his device.

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After the usual shopping for fuel and small food items (its almost subsistence living) we headed pretty much north, towards the eastern side of a marine area called Hunafloi (Huna Bay). We passed through some impressive lava flows, covered in a soft lichen or moss and a constant was the burbling of the snow-melt streams (but not a fisherperson in sight).

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The scenery became very similar to driving across the Monaro, which made it hard to take any spectacular photos with our limited cameras, although the vista was awesome. Some land was cultivated, with what seemed to be improved pasture, and there were herds of sheep and cattle, but in both cases in small numbers.  Farm buildings seemed to be in excellent shape, with no signs of derelict or abandoned properties. Given the isolation, T did wonder whether the younger generations are willing to take on family farms.

After a detour to Stadur intending to find a coffee shop but rather finding not much of anything that was open, we headed for a larger town called Hvammstangi (Arctic seal watching) on the small Midfjordur, passing the larger Hrutafjordur. Both were enclosed by relatively sloping land, although we were up quite high on the road. The icy wind was a constant and the sea was choppy: we were not going swimming today.

After driving around in circles, searching….searching….we eventually found a restaurant for coffee and a sweet treat. On to the Woollen Mill factory.  Apart from hand-knitted and machine -knitted garments, there was a selection of yarns and within this T noticed some with a crinkly thread. Enquiring, it turns out that this yarn is due to the efforts of ‘an elderly man in a nursing home who unpicks Icelandic sweaters’ and the yarn is then sold for re-cycling/upcycling. T was taken by this story and the price was SO right… no idea what it will become but the shopkeeper said cheerily, ‘You’ll figure it out’.

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We left without any other purchases: the lovely Icelandic sweaters were a tad too expensive. And as we left, we noticed several signs pointing to coffee shops.

Although not planned, we decided to continue north to Blonduos, on the Hunafjordur. There was a small craft shop, and T engaged the woman knitting at the counter about techniques, but she apparently didn’t speak English (the other woman, that is) and between them, language differences notwithstanding, some explanation became partly clear. D reckons it’s a ‘women’s business’ thing.

Dropped in to check out the camping ground: again, beautifully appointed and only one caravan. It was pricy though: around $40 per night for two people, plus another $10 for a powered site. The facilities were in excellent condition, and included a washing machine and drier. Guess that’s on a par with OZ. Loved the roof of the ablutions block!

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Retracing our steps, as this was mostly an out-and-back journey, we took an alternative route involving about 20 kms of gravel road. It was in great condition, and the only hassle was the last five kms or so, which were undergoing extensive roadworks. Other traffic was considerate.

Temperature, according to Yaris, ranged from 8 to 18 degrees. In the north the wind chill factor was high: these trees suggest it’s a constant!

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The cross wind tried to push poor Yaris from the road, occasionally to T’s consternation as D adjusted.

So the day was longer than originally planned and we’d again spent big time in the car. T decided she needed a walk into town and suggested to D that he come too, and find a pub to have a beer. Too good an offer to refuse! In town T dropped into the Tourist Information Centre to ask some questions (namely about fishing, agricultural cropping, and Icelandic utilities). The young woman behind the desk, who just wanted to shut up shop and go home (or to the pub) claimed that she didn’t know the answers because she was just there to tell people where to go (as in nice places to visit). T got partial answers and was recommended to go to a farm and a fish co-op and ask there, so there will be another interrogation of someone else tomorrow.

Finding a pub was not so easy. Accosted a young woman who knew exactly what we wanted – but she was a tourist too, and had just arrived in town, literally stepping out of her car, so she couldn’t help. We were outside a large hotel, but wanted something with atmosphere rather than an indoor bar: we spotted a cafe up the road and hallelujah, it sold beer and wine.

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We sat on the deck in the sun enjoying our beer and a garlic and cheese flat bread. The walk home took a long time.

D has been determined to sample local beers, so bought three samples earlier in the week They have all been tasted, and a fourth was added at the café tonight. Judgement? They are all ‘general purpose’ beers (like VB, say) very pleasant and refreshing, but not intriguing or challenging like craft beers (Oh dear, sounding like a hipster now!).

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Tonight’s dinner was a cod thing with fennel, tomato and zucchini, with enough leftover to get started tomorrow. It was delicious, according to D, who has written this comment. At 9pm, the sun is super bright and there’s not a cloud in the sky..!

Basalt, broomstick and birds

Day 9. Wednesday 22 May.

A road trip today to the west, the peninsular immediately to the north of Borgarnes called Snaefellsnes (the a and the e should have been conjoined). Good roads circumnavigate it, and there is a National Park at the far (western) end.

First stop was to get a couple more ‘surdieg’ bread rolls for lunch – and we also picked up a sweet roll, although no one in the shop seemed sure about what was in it – the advice came from the baker in the backroom that it was only cinnamon, but it looked suspiciously like chocolate chips. As T had missed out on chocolate last night when she’d had a craving (no, she’s not) this didn’t matter.

Our map noted some significant basalt outcrops, so we took the dirt road in. The Yaris didn’t like the stony surface – it wasn’t overly rutted – and slipped a bit here and there. We slowed down to calm it down. A walk up a steep dirt track took us to the top, providing tremendous views once we’d recovered our breath and D’s knees were back in place. A strong wind threatened to blow us off the plateau, and the 14 degree day at the bottom had shrunk by quite a bit due to the wind chill factor.

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We dropped into what would be called in Australia a ‘locale’ called Bouir. It had a lovely little church with an interesting history: when the original church ceased to be used (in the 1790s?) a local noblewoman fought to have it continued – and won. South Woden doesn’t have any noblewomen???

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It had a cemetery attached, and there seemed to be two sections. One had many headstones with birds on top, usually peering over at the inscription. We weren’t able to find out the significance, although one source indicated that two birds meant that a couple were buried together: that didn’t seem to be the case in the photo below.  Perhaps it was just a link to the abundant bird life in the area? Any ideas?.

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And the really scary bit……

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On to Arnarstapi, a small commercial fishing port, very like Port Campbell. Dropped in to a café for coffee – no espresso machine (we are so picky now) but we were too embarrassed to leave without ordering, as the woman behind the counter explained the lack by saying that it was because when the tourist buses come in, it takes too long to work the espresso, and she’d have to put on extra staff, which she couldn’t afford. D’s extra shot long black was fine, T’s cappuccino not so.

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We lunched on a deck overlooking the port, with fabulous views – and not one of the millions of gulls came to join us to beg for food!  A fishing boat came in and unloaded several large ice chests filled with rather large fish – but no idea what they were- and then cleaned the hold ( too cold for sharks?). By the way, the roll we’d picked up in Borgarnes was just cinnamon, and it was delicious.

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The day turned out to be mostly about birds and in the spectacular landscape and bright sunshine, it was glorious. There were nesting areas on cliff faces and cliff tops all around.

A 2.5 km walk took us along the cliff top, with a couple of lookouts along the way and the stone troll.

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Here we met an American lady and a young man, and with phones in hand, they were examining and moving the lower stones about. T thought this rather odd. So she asked the woman if she was looking for something. ‘Yes’…She was a geo-cacher, and was trying to find the cache in the troll with no success – she knew, according to her device/app, that she was within 11 feet, but that was all. She was about to give up.

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So, after we were given a detailed explanation of this activity (complemented with some rolling of the eyes from the young man and repeated disclaimers that he wasn’t one), D couldn’t resist the challenge and started to search for something ‘unusual’ within the rockface. Being the ex-spy, yep D produced a green jar tucked in above head height. Inside was a mixture of stuff (coins, a button, papers). The woman then put in her own geo-caching card (laminated of course) and gave a spare to T.  Another travel activity for us to pursue????

The nesting areas were bizarre. Birds seemingly hang off sheer cliffs.  Google later informed us that the nests were created using grass cemented together with saliva. Some nursery! Needless to say, with the wind in the wrong direction, the smell was overpowering: a bit like nurseries everywhere.

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T was desperate for a proper coffee, so we dropped into Hellisandur, but by now it had passed 5 pm, so nothing much was open. Nevertheless, we drove around, into a dead end that was a fish factory, and eventually cut our losses and headed for the next town, which appeared, on the map at least, bigger.

T advised that in this town there was the largest colony of breeding Rifs in the world. There were signs warning us to be wary of birds as we approached, and we turned in to see large groups in several ponds or grassed areas. They looked familiar, so we continued to search for the Rif colonies. At about this time it dawned that we were in the town of Rif, and the birds were Arctic Terns and we’d been seeing them all day. Why can’t the mapmakers make the text just that little bit bigger for senior’s eyes? Rif didn’t offer much other than an even stronger birdshit smell so, after re-filling our water bottle at the campground, it was time to head home. We posted a picture of the campground just down the road from where we are staying in an earlier post – these facilities seem to be peppered all over the island. Not sure what they might be like in peak season, but currently they are occupied by just enough campers – not crammed in. The facilities, that look more like overnight stops rather than caravan parks, including toilets, showers, power, dump point and fresh water are completely adequate – T reported that the toilet block was immaculate.  It looks like a great model.

Olafsvik, the next town, was bigger, so we were able to buy some additional supplies for tonight – but not the giant single turnip that D had been chasing for the mash ($3) – including the chocolate that T had missed out on the night before. Despite having watched and enjoyed the two seasons of ‘Trapped’, the real crime level in rural Iceland was probably better demonstrated by the car left with its motor running while the driver was inside the supermarket.

By now it was late, and although we knew that light wasn’t a problem, we’d driven enough, so we cut through the centre of the peninsular, across the mountain and lava field back to our cozy apartment via a final spectacular waterfall.Waterfalls abound in this lava landscape.

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Mind you, that was over 100 kms and took the best part of an hour and a half. Time for a beer and a wine.

Another day of discovering/identifying birds: Great Ringed Plovers, Tufted Ducks, White Wagtails, Common Snipes (with their surprising goat-bleating sound overhead), Black Cormorants, Ravens, Fulmars, and Kittywakes.

 

A capital time

Day 8. Tuesday 31 May. Borgarnes to Reykjavik.

A slow start today – not quite a rest day, more of a relaxed one. Having decided to discover Reykjavik, an hour’s drive away, T wanted to cook the gold-plated lamb shanks ($30) ahead of time- so as not to be cooking at 10pm at the end of a day out– to discover that the shanks had no bones…turns out they were lamb fillets & enough for at least two meals. Our Icelandic language skills need some development. This kitchen moment was followed by the discovery that D’s ‘sourdough’ had some kind of berries: cranberries?? Unexpected, but delicious with T’s gold-plated goat’s cheese.

The drive to R is beautiful, following the fiord, flanked by black mountains (still shrouded in cloud) and water and green farmland. Rain accompanied us and after eventually arriving at our destination of Old Reykjavik despite our map reading, parked, donned wet-weather gear, got wet….then the sun appeared! But we were delighted that we needed to use all the wet weather gear we’d carted with us, even if only for 10 minutes. First stop: coffee at ‘the oldest café’ in town. The coffee was good, as it has been everywhere, but the service was ‘laid back’.  There were a few locals ‘extras’ on the set who added colour to the scene.

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Continued through a pedestrian area, lots of Icelandic design shops, cafes, and several Op shops, probably mostly targeting the tourist traffic. T can’t help herself and entered the Red Cross shop: you never know what treasures await, but when the scarves are priced at about $15+, you know you are out of your depth. Conversations with a couple of retail staff gathered info about the recent collapse of a discount airline that is already having an impact on business; the summer season is fast approaching and tourist numbers are DOWN. So far on this trip there has been little evidence of homelessness (only once in Helsinki) but today there were quite a few – not glaringly obvious in most cases, but there in the background.

Historical learning today came from the Settlement Exhibition, an archaeological dig in the centre of town preserving the arrival of the Norwegian Vikings pre-1000AD. ‘Raiders and Traders’ was the theme. A small display, but a comprehensive explanation, and the actual site was the centerpiece.

Our walking gave an opportunity to enjoy the city buildings: stylish but understated.

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The house above was built to have electricity and running water connected, but well before either was available. That’s forward planning!

The one below has been adapted to the local scene.

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We then strolled a bit, felt the funky/punky scene and T finally braved it down the staircase to the Punk Museum to snap some slogans….spoke to the heavily pierced, green-mohawked guy, rolling a smoke at the bottom…’Is it ok to take a pic?’ & didn’t wait for an answer. That’s punk for you.

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Hard to disagree with any of that apart from the ‘No Disco’.

Some street art moments, including city sculptures (plentiful, and a great range of styles), the very understated cathedral, and the Art Gallery.

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Then a short drive around the foreshore to park near a lighthouse and walk beside the beach. The birdlife was plentiful, swans, geese, ducks, purple sandpiper, terns, plovers, oyster catchers, gulls and godwits as well as cyclists (and as in Canberra, they mostly refuse to use their bell to alert walkers) and walkers taking in the late afternoon air.

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As we have found in Finland, Estonia and Iceland, a nod of greeting is rarely returned – usually impassively ignored. On the other hand, if a direct approach is made to ask a question, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Shop and stall staff are an exception: they have been very keen to engage in conversation, often initiating it, and haven’t seemed disappointed that we leave without buying something!

The day got to around a very pleasant 12 degrees after a low of about 8 degrees and the wet-weather gear was not required beyond that first 5 mins!

Driving back in rush hour was not too hairy but there is little heed paid to speed limits, no one uses an indicator to change lanes (except D) and tailgating is an art form. However, there has been no display of ‘road rage’ even in situations where an Australian would have worn out his or her car horn – we have yet to hear a blast of frustration, anger or impatience. There are speed cameras on the main highway – D thinks that on three occasions he may have been ‘slightly’ over, for a good reason of course. It would be suitably ironic if the pedantic speed limit obeyer was pinged for speeding! There are also seemingly more roundabouts in Reykjavik than in Canberra, but they work better. The driver is mostly super cool, outwardly at least, and the passenger is settling in, outwardly at least.

You’ll be pleased to know that the lamb shanks, transformed into fillets, ended up Moroccan style in turmeric, ginger, lemon, coriander plus onions & garlic, cauliflower and potatoes and it was delicious. Leftovers on toast for D’s breakfast.

Under the ice

Day 7. Monday 20 May.

T is dangerous in the morning with a cup of tea in one hand, iPhone in the other and Google at the ready. D was vulnerable: catching up on the news from Australia online, he was ready to agree to anything. So the plan for the day was settled: we’re going to go to Husafell to go under the glacier into a man made cave. D immediately went online to book, securing a 3 PM spot. With a drive of about an hour to get there, we had some time to fill and some vital tasks to complete – visit the state-owned liquor store being number one on the list (a cask of Chilean red won out) and some olive oil (well down D’s list but T can’t operate without it).

Ventured out to find that the liquor store and the supermarkets didn’t open until 11, not 10 AM as we’d thought. Never mind, we’ll drop into the next door bakery to get some bread. D asked for a sourdough loaf and received a blank look. ‘Surdeig’, said D, comprehension dawned and we bought a loaf and a couple of rolls for lunch. Amazing what you read on labels the day before and more amazing what sticks!

To fill in time we dropped into the next-door Farmers Market, in reality a craft outlet targeting tourists. T started up a conversation with one of the women running the store (it is perhaps a cooperative) mainly about wool, but the discussion ventured into the cost of living. It seems that revenue is now mainly from tourism, and although fishing is still big, it’s nowhere as significant as in the past. Salmon, for example, is all imported or farmed (or both). Wild salmon is available, but is hideously expensive, and the once abundant stock from the rivers is no longer readily available. But things are good for the rich – who can afford to buy, or fish for in closed rivers, this delicacy. Another woman joined the conversation, and then took over. She had definite opinions about tourists – cruise ships in particular – and the negative effects, notwithstanding the positive impact on the economy. She complained that they didn’t buy anything because the cruise ships had warned them against doing so, purportedly for insurance/warranty reasons, but really so that the money would be spent on board. We quickly advised that we were a ‘nice’ type of tourist, disassociating ourselves from cruise ships.

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Stocked up, we headed for the glacier. Because we had time to spare, we did a U-turn to revisit a small location named Reykholt. We had driven in earlier but as there didn’t seem to be much on offer, we drove straight out but T subsequently found some information that suggested a visit was worthwhile.  What we thought was a church was indeed so, but it also accommodated a library and a big research facility/display focused on Snorri Sturlusan, a thirteenth century poet/writer/law teller, politician, and (although this is not how he was described) a bit of a philande

The man in charge, an enthusiast, seemed surprised that we’d not heard of Snorri, because he is the foremost and most famous figure in Nordic literature. We felt suitably chastened (a bit like someone asking in Britain: who was Shakespeare?)

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The display was very comprehensive – and afterwards we visited Snorri’s Pool. It was interesting that concepts, ideas and practical applications of physical/mechanical/infrastructure needs were so well advanced in that age, without the internet to help. We’ll have to catch up on some medieval Nordic stuff.

Then to Husafell to visit Langjokull Glacier, the second biggest in Iceland and the third biggest in Europe (as Inga, our lovely Alison G look-alike told us several times). The rough terrain transporter (a US missile carrier in a previous, Cold War life) transported 12 tourists up to the ice. How fantastic, we were the only people on the glacier this afternoon.

D was not so convinced: being underneath 50 metres of ice, slushing through pools of melt-ice, water dripping from above…but he was suitably impressed by the colours and guarantees of environmental etiquette. Interesting that the tunnel/cave has a shelf life of only about 12-15 years, due to its constant downhill movement and regardless of any climate change factors. Nonetheless, Inga made a passionate, sensitive plea for us to join her in a ‘reduced-plastic-/reduced meat-eating/more bike-riding world’. Fortunately, that’s all we had to commit to. T wondered about the 2 lamb shanks waiting in the fridge. D thought that for them, it was too late.

This operation, now privately owned but set up with government assistance, is apparently environmentally sound (if you don’t count the diesel trucks going to and fro, the diesel generators, the thousands of tourists and the cost of getting them (& us) there, etc) but we were assured that when the cave finishes its useful (i.e. commercial) life the glacier will, over a relatively short period if time – about 5 years – simply absorb the cave and it will return to its pristine condition.

 

 

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On the return trip we decided to drop in to check out the waterfalls at Hraunfossar and the thermal hot spring at Deildartunguhver. The early evening was glorious, with late sunshine. The first stop had several waterfalls and cascades, reminiscent of New Zealand, water emerging from a lava field – a beautiful sight and unique. Others were more ‘traditional’. The water was that light turquoise usually found in glacial streams and the power in the narrow sections was awesome.

Apparently there was once a stone bridge that crossed the river to which a sad tale is attached (which may be an Icelandic ‘saga’): there were two children in the Hraunsás household who were supposed to stay home while the parents went to church for Christmas Mass. When the parents returned from mass, they discovered that the children had disappeared – possibly because the children got bored and decided to go out.

They then followed the children’s tracks to this waterfall at the stone natural bridge where the tracks disappeared. The mother concluded that the children must have fallen into the river and drowned. The mother had the arch destroyed in order to ensure no one else faced a similar fate. The waterfall is now named Barnafoss: Children’s Waterfall.

Deildartunguhver is Europe’s most powerful hot spring producing 180 l/sec of 100°C.  Most of the water used for central heating in the nearby major towns of Borgarnes and Akranes, as well as other locales, is taken from here. At Borgarnes, where we are staying, for example, the water is still at 77 degrees C after travelling 34 km. Iceland has a big advantage in being energy autonomous, perhaps mitigating the high cost of other items. T had a chat with two women from Austria, who highly recommended the adjacent Krauma spa, fed from the same hot springs: they’d spent two and and half hours immersed.T commented on the quietness, as it’s still not tourist season, but the Austrians remarked that their spa had been busy with a group of ‘Brits” who were apparently not quiet. Who would have thought ? D was surprised that the Austrians didn’t look like dried prunes (there’s a disconnect there).

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It’s now 1045 and still very light…most confusing! No idea what we’ll do tomorrow – a cup of tea will probably generate some ideas.

Day 6. Sunday 19 May. Iceland.

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We received sad news this morning of the death of a dear friend. John had coped with his cancers and associated conditions for several years, always stoic and accepting, and never losing his wry, subtle sense of humour, nor his compassion and quiet, questioning faith. He was a gentle, wise man – a husband and father, teacher, preacher, historian, author and cricketer (good enough to play in the Prime Minister’s Eleven) and a friend and mentor to many.  Like many from SWUC who are travelling, we will miss his funeral, but will be there in spirit to farewell a lovely man and to offer our thoughts and prayers to his family.

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T was totally disoriented on waking; the day looked bright and although there was some wind movement in the garden, and a weak sun just casting the shadow of the trees, the silence was extraordinary. We had gone to bed with light (10:30) and it had been light most of the night. D suggested a cup of tea and then announced that it was 0600!

After donning layer upon layer of merino, the down puffer jackets, beanies and gloves, we set out to locate and investigate the town. It was indeed cool, and even icy when the wind blew, but as we walked into Borgarnes we were ‘over toasty’.

There is a stillness here that is almost unnerving. We saw very few vehicles and just one jogger as we walked the couple of kilometres into the centre of town. The views were stunning –black mountains with snow streaks, a dark, cold sea, black sand and a range of different building types.

The little church commands the highpoint in town, there are a few hotels, a few supermarkets, a small hospital facility, pool & sauna (we’ll get to this later in the week) and the Red Cross Op-shop. Borgarnes is not really an island, being at the end of an isthmus connected to the mainland by a long causeway, but it certainly has an island feel.

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At the camping area just out of town, at least one camper was ‘freeze’ camping rather than free campin

 

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The cottage is very comfortable – and overly warm, thanks to the use of natural thermal heating which also provides electricity – we saw the steam from many fissures during a later drive.

 

 

Oh, to have this luxury at home! One downside: the hot water stinks of rotten gas. And no TV, not that we’ll miss that – only just noticed its absence at lunchtime!

Over breakfast D explained a way of very roughly estimating the Australian dollar equivalent of the Icelandic Krona (1 AS$ equals 84 K): divide by 100, then by 2, add the latter to the former and…..so T wrote it down and off  we set to Netto, an IGA equivalent, to get food for the next couple of days. Total confusion about pricing, not helped by a plethora of labeling, none of which seemed to apply to the goods displayed, not to mention THAT formula (it works for D). Now there was a new way to calculate.…A helpful shop assistant showed us where the barcode scanner was so that we could check any item. She was then keen to discuss Eurovision, of which we had little idea except that an Australian singer was involved (Kate Miller-Heidtke, who was 9th). Somewhat dismayed by the high prices, albeit that some are roughly equivalent. The wedge of goat cheese bought in total ignorance yesterday, comes in at about $25 (we don’t even want to think of what that means per kilogram!) and later there was more pain when T chose a pack of 2 lamb shanks, figuring that she’d finally got the currency exchange sorted, and discovered at the checkout that they came to about $30!!!!! Generally the cost of essential consumables (based on our limited and non-scientific assessment) would seem to be up to twice, and in some cases three times, of those items in Australia. T wonders what kind of incomes the locals must have. We topped up fuel in the hire car this afternoon at a cost of roughly $2.80 per litre.

That being said, we knew that when planning the trip based on the excellent advice from the Fairies – not the bottom of the garden types but real ones, who are experienced Scandinavian travellers. If you read this H & K – thank you, you’ve been spot on so far.

So after that confronting reality moment, we simply had to go for a coffee and sweet treat (hang the budget) before heading out on a Sunday afternoon drive. First destination was Akranes, a bit south of Borgarnes, which had a history as a fishing and salted-cod-processing town. We’re not sure whether that industry continues, but the smell certainly suggests this. We stopped at a parking area short of the two lighthouses, the older of which ceased operating in 1947, when it was replaced by the newer one. A bunch of boys were being boys in the rock pools.

The bird life was fantastic, although much of it would have been missed without binoculars – identified were Eurasian Oyster Catchers, Arctic Terns, Sand Pipers, Elder Ducks and of course various gulls. And T saw a dolphin repeatedly cresting the surface. Magic. And at 12 degrees without wind, it was a glorious afternoon.

From there we opted to travel through the 6 kilometre underwater tunnel – D as always anticipating a cave in – to  loop around an inlet named Hvalfjorour, which on the map looks to run about 40 kilometres inland. We stopped at a viewing site for no particular reason, to learn that it was where a significant military establishment had operated during WW II. It was set up by the Americans, with British forces involved in supplies and the anti-aircraft capability, to support the convoys sailing to and from Russia. There were a few signs of that time, primarily concrete bunkers and then a bit later there was a compound of Nissen huts in very good condition, so perhaps something military still happens here, or perhaps the locals, in the time honoured way, had simply ‘appropriated’ them. Amazingly, there were a few hardy cyclists on that part of the road, powering up the steep hill, but not acknowledging our waves of admiration and support.

We hit the main road north, but the traffic was heavy (and lots of caravans) fortunately heading back to Reykjavik but it was still uncomfortable enough for us to decide on a loop off Highway 1, taking in farming country and the occasional ‘steaming fields’. Farms are small holdings, super tidy, for small flocks of sheep, sometimes cattle…geese… and a couple of wild sheep wandering unconcernedly down the road.

T finds being a passenger in a little car quite disturbing, with the yellow road posts coming at her, feeling that D is too far over to the right (cliffside). Some of our friends agree that D is often too far to the right. They are all wrong. She will need to focus differently: D suggested she might get into the back, immediately behind the driver! And become a real back seat driver.

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A cool change

Day 5. Saturday 18 May. Helsinki to Iceland.

A gremlin got into the post yesterday and inserted the photos of the Rock Church after those of the Wintergarten. No idea why, and no idea why we couldn’t correct it!

Helsinki continued to bless us with fine weather – a very sunny 21 degrees. Our early start had us packed, breakfasted and out by about 8 AM – that’s very early for us. First stop after dropping our bags at the Central Train Station was the Old Market Hall for a coffee and a shared cinnamon bun from Story – taken in the sun overlooking the South Harbour ferry terminal.

To get there we walked through Saturday markets in the park, which included celebrations of the 100 year old Finland-Japan relationship. Lots going on, but as we understood neither Finnish nor Japanese it was a bit over our heads.

T had a senior’s moment, and began talking to a bystander who had a remarkable resemblance to D. Furthermore, like D, he didn’t talk back.  It was all sorted out eventually.

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And what an appropriate name!

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It is the name of all the Government liquor stores (yes, truly, trust me).

Then on to an exploration of Finnish design and manufacture (although D noted that some was made in China) at Marimekko, Artek and Tre. Lovely work, although very expensive, a bit like everything so far! T had a few moments of temptation, but couldn’t quite find the right item. At Marimmeko, the women went one way and right next door the men the other – something for everyone.

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Walking in circles, we visited the Lutheran Cathedral overlooking Senate Square. Huge and impressive, but understated, without the gilding and stained glass of some equivalents. It was actually a far more spiritual experience, as much as could be had sharing it with the selfie-snappers from tourist buses, because it invoked less questioning of what else the money could have been spent on.

Returned to the Old Market Hall to share two seafood lunches on rye bread – one smoked salmon and the other crab meat. Delicious.

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But by now we’d had enough, so back to the main railway station to catch the train to the airport. D stressed almost all of the way there ‘is this the right train?’ but T calmly reassured him that it was passing the same places we’d seen on the way into Helsinki. She was right, of course.

Check-in was smooth – except that T was inspected for explosive residue rather than D for a change – but our flight was delayed about an hour, so T would have had time for that exhibition at the Art Gallery (a local resident had told her it was a must-see)!

Boarding was chaotic, with a group of Chinese passengers jostling for position and avoiding the otherwise orderly queues as we got on buses to take us from the terminal to the aircraft. The jostling continued along the gangway, the time taken to stop to take a photo outside the aircraft obviously necessarily made up by clambering past the rest of the passengers patiently waiting their turn on the steps!

We recognized an Aussie accent in the queue and passed on the early election results but they were distracted (as you would be) by having left their duty -free scotch behind in the terminal. Although they explained the loss to the cabin staff, who tried to help, it could not be retrieved.

There were no formalities on arrival – no immigration or customs, just baggage collection, duty-free wine and scotch purchased, and car pick -up and we were on our way to our Borgarnes Cozy Apartment. Outside it was 8 degrees, breezy and gentle, intermittent rain.

Google maps (bless them) advised that it was a one and a half hour drive to Borgarnes, north of Reykjavik.  We stopped for essential supplies at a Kronan supermarket and were on our cautious way, seemingly the only car on the road travelling at the speed limit  – as much as anything trying to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Lots of roundabouts – D had to concentrate as he had horror memories of trying to enter one in Spain years ago on the left!  ‘Keep right, give way to the left….keep right, give way to the left…..’ was the mantra. T’s knuckles were white. The guidance was simple – Route 41 until it joined Route 1, then continue.  About two hours later doubt started to creep in – were we on the right route? What does Route 1 N mean as opposed to Route 1 S? Why are the signs pointing to Reykjavik when we had left it behind half an hour ago? D was confident – well, outwardly. Pulled over to check the map in Lonely Planet, which was of no use, so took the next roundabout into a Service Station to check. ‘Yes’, said the young girl with a wave of her hand in the direction we were heading, but with a look that said she was surprised that anyone was going to Borgarnes, ‘straight on and into the mountains’. T was wondering at the choice of location, but the idea of being ‘in the wild’ had been appealing back in the January planning phase! After two and a half hours we arrived, found our cottage (a recently converted garage) but it is warm, super-quiet and very stylishly appointed: T’s first comment was ‘its like being in an Ikea showroom’, but later revised to observe that this seemed to be very much an interior designer’s project – which has worked beautifully.

Tomorrow will probably be a rest day, as we try to adjust, once again, to different time zones.

Almost Finnished

Day 4. Friday 17 May. Helsinki.

A slower start after our long day on foot yesterday. Having got the transport system sorted, we took Number 4 Tram to Central Park, which has a lovely lake in the middle, with numerous walking/running/cycling tracks. Stopped at a rustic lakeside café for coffee, to be joined in conversation by a local who thoroughly agreed with T that chocolate on a cappucino was excessive, and who noted that in Belgium they also added cream. Across the lake were some examples of earlier-times wooden Finnish homes.

Wandered on to the Wintergarden (conservatory/hothouse) displaying some fascinating flowers. A group of students, either secondary or college level, were taking innovative photography shots around plants and garden items such as chairs, benches, alcoves etc.

Then headed for ‘Rock’ church, with D confidently navigating. Having walked for about a kilometre, we stopped to re-examine the map, turn it around a few times, and scratch our heads. The street names seemed wrong, and D wondered how the authorities had mucked it up. A policewoman saw our confusion, explained we were heading in entirely the wrong direction, and without any hint of derision sent us in the right direction. She apologized as she rushed back to her duty station, which we shortly saw was part of the traffic control for a foreign dignitary (D thinks the flag was Turkey) being escorted with a large police escort, lights flashing and sirens sounding. Must have been important.

We made it to the Rock Church (Lutheran) and by wonderful chance, found a quiet moment in the tourist day. Described accurately as exemplifying the spiritual essence of Finland (nature, simplicity, beauty)…wow!

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Hewn into rock, glass roof allowing for the combination of sky, sun, shadow, birds overhead, a domed ceiling of copper strips and a piano recital… a totally sublime experience. T thought she’d gone to heaven.

Onto the highly recommended gourmet street food locale. We were a bit disappointed as we sat down at an outside table overlooking a square that had a small flea market operating. T went inside to check out the menu, to then beckon D inside: the food stalls were all in there, and were well set up to provide a range of options – pasta, Portuguese cuisine, Filipino, Peruvian and so on. We opted for bowls of soup – a bouillabaisse and a beef borsch, both of which were satisfying – not least because it was by now 3 PM. Only disappointment was that we were too early for the craft beers that had been recommended – they only became available at 4 PM.

On to the Finnish Design Museum. T did suggest that D might prefer to sit in the little park nearby, but as tempting as this was (and the outdoor bar just outside was even more so) D decided that his cultural and artistic education should continue.

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T wished that she had done some design studies; the concept of combining functionality, aesthetics, excitement & pleasure (ingredients for mental health) in the production of things is easy to understand.

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Happily a Number 10 tram stop was adjacent so we could rest our weary legs. The 24-hour supermarket gave us a ready-made dinner: roast chicken & salad mix. The range of prepared meals was more than adequate: fish in various guises, pork cuts, chicken cuts and a salad bar for mix& match. After picking up supplies, a dilemma: which way was ‘home’? Help came from the strangers nearby who confirmed the direction. The kindness of strangers has been notable.

As we write this, Art Pepper played ‘Patricia’ for us. It seems she’s everywhere.

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