Seasons

We have come full circle. Though we haven’t been in Iceland for a whole year, during our time here we’ve been through all four seasons. At the start of March we arrived in snow and next week, the end of November, we will leave in snow again. I have a lot of stories and pictures I’d love to share, to put a beautiful bookend to this icy sojourn, but I am going to be realistic – it’s unlikely I’ll get them written this weekend when packing is yet to begin. So, here is the place I would most like to share now as it forms a review of sorts of the whole year. The botanical gardens in their spring, summer, autumn and winter clothes.

Winter

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I saw the gardens first stripped of their own colour and lent blue by the sky. They seemed smaller than the name suggested: when I think botanical gardens I think Kew. Acres of glasshouse and border and collection. Reykjavik Botanical Gardens sit within Laugardalur, a park which also includes a swimming pool, the sports stadium and a concert hall. You won’t get exhausted walking from one end to the other. But their size didn’t matter. As I scanned the ground for labels I found many familiar names: Sorbus, Larix, Betula, Hellebore, Hosta, Hebe, Camassia, Crocus, Papaver… the trees were bare and to my rusty plant-identifying mind pretty indistinguishable. Some of the plants and bulbs named showed no trace, just a small white plaque in icy ground. So in winter the ponds sung the most, doubling everything, bringing the sky to my feet.

Spring

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There is not much to spring in Iceland, not in the city at least. It’s possible that my foreign gaze failed to pick up the subtler signs. I missed the progression of home enormously. The snowdrops giving way to crocuses making space for daffodils by which time pink and white blossom is festooned across cherries and hawthorns. The white flowers that bloom on Magnolia stellata, first of the Magnolias. It is slightly unfair to say I missed all these because to give Reykjavik credit there were snowdrops lining the paths through the park, then there were a few crocuses in decorative array, and daffodils finally. But it all took so goddamned long. Perhaps six weeks longer. And no blossom. When we left London at the beginning of March the snowdrops were fading and crocuses in full swing and even the very first few daffodils in bud. It was like being plunged back in time. Winter reigned here until mid-May. In my impatience to settle in I mourned the flowers I couldn’t wait for. And yet there were some gems in the gardens that I was grateful for. The Camassias in the photo above, which I love and have never seen a pale blue version of. And then this Daphne with the amazing strong scent, reminding me of Daphne the family dog (she smells quite nice but not as good as the plant).IMG_20170415_111217981

The rhododendron buds that survived the winter – you can see a picture of them as they are now in my last post – hunkering down for the long cold. The slivers of hot pink. Delightful.IMG_20170415_111038570

In the small glasshouse which houses a cafe in the summer months, a selection of favourites thrive against all the odds. As if by magic you can step in from the snow and smell immediately the Mexican orange blossom of the Choisya below. Plus wisteria and clematis, all flowering all powerfully bringing me home. Proustian plants.

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Summer

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The path is typical of the exuberance shown by all who make their lives here when summer finally comes. Months of dark and cold turn fairly rapidly to light, so much light, people race to the swimming pool to bask every hour they can and crowd the sunniest spots. Buttercups bloom abundantly across fields. The lupins, kept very definitely out of the botanical gardens (here they are an invasive species), turn the roadsides blue. Pots of pansies on windowsills produce more flowers then I’ve ever seen outside of an intensively-farmed bedding nursery. The botanical gardens are glorious and my pictures of this special season don’t do it justice.IMG_20170624_103544600

Here is the rock garden. Healthy spreads of alpine plants show that conditions here are ideal for them and a far cry from the anaemic rock gardens, mostly rock with spots of plant, of England.That might be a bit unfair but still I’ve never seen so many flowers and so much colour sandwiched in great slabs of stone. It is my favourite part of the garden, a world in miniature with a new discovery behind every rock, varieties and species I’ve never seen before from familiar groups – here this neon geum and campanula are shining stars. IMG_20170624_104151099IMG_20170624_102826319Beyond the rock garden is an understated zone where herbaceous perennials are shown off. It’s hard to believe they make it here. Each bed contains a variety of examples from a couple of species. Surprises – irises, thalictrums, delphiniums. It feels like the gardeners are desperately saying, look what we can do here! I don’t see many of these plants outside the confines of this garden. But perhaps it takes an awful lot of nurturing or perhaps Icelanders are not inclined to primp their front gardens or maybe they’re sick of seeing a prize hollyhock shredded by wind. Anyway, this tucked away place reminds me of visiting nurseries in the West of Scotland that produce sub-tropical beauties you don’t expect; it’s the same lush delight to find it here. IMG_20170624_110853757IMG_20170624_111206202IMG_20170624_111057916

Autumn

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We were treated with a longer-than-usual autumn this year, I’m told. IMG_20170930_111635504IMG_20171004_152834820IMG_20171004_153018153IMG_20171004_153038120

 Sorbus (Rowans) were the first trees beyond oaks, birches, chestnuts and beeches that I learned to identify (top tip: most branches end in one single leaf after pairs of opposite leaves along). There are many of them in the park and in autumn they come into their own. Berries yellow to red, leaves going up in flames, in succession because of the great number of varieties here. Rowans go unnoticed in summer but appear everywhere when the berries ripen and signal the beginning of the end. 

Autumn is not getting its full dues here because I’m now rushing to get this post posted. We fly to London in four hours time to start a new adventure. One that was not our original plan, but an opportunity that fell into our laps and gives us something we thought might take a few years to find: the chance to settle somewhere with meaningful work on a smallholding, time to work other garden and diy jobs and make things, and space for a few fruit trees of our own. It doesn’t look exactly how we pictured it- we will be working for someone else rather than owning a house or land- but we are hoping it fulfils the spirit of what we were looking for. It is not a dry acre in Portugal but a house in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, England and a job at an amazing self-sufficiency, permaculture, nature reserve that we wwoofed at last December. More on that later. Over and out Iceland, you’ve been a pleasure and a pain, a learning experience that I am so fortunate to have had. I’ve had the joy of meeting Joi’s family and seeing the land he grew up in. I’ve missed my own family and friends deeply and look forward to reconnecting. So long for now! 

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Colours of Seltún

There are no skyscraper plumes of steam here, the kind that burst from cloudy blue pools lined with cameras waiting for the moment to squeal in delight. Geysir, I’m talking about you. I saw you many times before I saw you in the flesh, as it were.  I saw you on screen, on Facebook and on Instagram. Even when I waited by that roiling water I saw you being seen through many lenses. As if the enjoyment of you was something to delay the gratification of, to wrap up and take home.

Seltún is quieter, both in terms of brash geothermal activity and number of visitors. It seethes and bubbles and unlike Geysir, it never gives the grand release of vast energy all in one go. But like Elliðadalur (an account of which will be coming soon!), the smaller, more intimate scale here allows for a different experience. Less of a wow than a slow burn.

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We peer in to miniature puddles of oozing grey-blue, the colour of storm clouds, but here in a red desert. The surface tremors. It’s energy is potential, not latent. It’s a tease.

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Shifting the gaze to the wider landscape the colours sit next to each other like scraped back layers of a fresco. Though their colour comes from the minerals within; not imposed on a blank space. The red emanates and ochre is shockingly yellow.

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The boardwalk leads through the steaming streams and cautions you not to step off it – perhaps a sedate section is bearable but segues signlessly into scalding water. There’s no way of knowing. IMG_20170617_140613464

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The absence of shooting plumes invites the study of smaller movements. Water rocking back and forth sending slops up the gravelly sides of it’s little pool. Quivering surface as if tickled by a strong wind. Curls of steam marking the breeze. The boundaries between colours, each intensifying the other, vibrating red and the milky blue of some crystal.

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A world in miniature. What greenery scrapes a living nearby is also a tapestry for close inspection.

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And even the concrete reinforcements bleed with ore.

By now I hope you are itching to go to Seltún. Travellers will be pleased to know it’s just around 50 minutes drive from Reykjavík on a particularly scenic route along the lower slope of some hills and passing a wide and beautiful lake, Kleifarvatn. I give these details halfheartedly because I don’t really think this blog is a very practical source of information, and this post in particular is more of an encouragement for close looking and a love letter to landscape . But on the off-chance you stumble across it and want to make the trip; take Road 41 through Kópavogur, Garðabær and Hafnarfjöður then turn onto road 42. Put it in google maps, it has you covered. For extra credit you could extend your drive around the Reykjanes peninsula afterwards.

Curiously, I am writing this on a day when the first snow of winter blankets the ground and casts everything white. It’s falling right now. What a perfect day to remember colours.

Seeking patience and the whole truth

So, living in Iceland, four months in. A watched pot never boils. Waiting to feel settled and at ease feels like waiting for your hair to grow, tugging expectantly at the ends everyday: for a long time, things don’t seem to change at all. Then sometime later you look up into a mirror, brushing your teeth, scrambling to be ready in time for whatever it is next: and notice that your hair has somehow shot past your shoulders and reaches down your back. Wasn’t it just yesterday barely long enough to tie back? So it is, here.

At first I had acres of time to fill up, with wandering and drawing and writing and thinking. Nowhere particular to be; no threads. My feet didn’t know my way home. Still a stranger in a strange land. I was on the outside looking in to this city with so much going on. Yet I was so eager to build a life here, I wanted everything at once: friends, a job, a favourite café, the whole tapestry. But I have had to weather my haste.

It took four weeks to find a place to live in the city. It took six weeks to find my job. Oh it sounds so little time now, in retrospect! But days stretched with uncertainty, with ‘maybe I’ll never make friends’, with ‘what if I can’t find a job’, with the creeping underlying worst doubt of all ‘maybe I’m too old, too sad and too tired to start from scratch’. Over the top, but there you go. That’s worrying for you.

A treat when delivering things from one cafe to the other branch

Then, after two months, I found I had enough threads to begin to weave together. I go to wonderful, challenging, nurturing yoga classes three times a week (which started as a perfect birthday present from Jóhann). I navigate the city enough to get where I need to go without checking my phone every thirty seconds. I go to work, I stumble over the same Icelandic phrases everyday, I know the recipes by heart and the quirks of the equipment: the sieve that leaks from the handle at a certain angle, food processor with lid that needs a little help to close. I know where tea and skyr and pesto are in the supermarket. I rack up library fines like always (bad habits don’t get left at the airport, unfortunately). I sleepwalk through the changing rooms at the swimming pool and am in my favourite hot pot before I know it. These routines, the paths I tread everyday grow like a cocoon around me. I am home, now.

And it seems that when I got busy working full-time, and going to yoga after work, and taking a trip out of the city at weekends to see nature, and so on, I stopped thinking so much about whether I would ever feel at home. And I just did.

On the road to Akranes

Acceptance of what is. Patience. Letting go of worrying. Lessons I learn and forget over and over again. Sometimes I rage at myself for making the same mistakes repeatedly, but my wise one reminded me once that when I learned to ride a bike, I most likely fell a lot of times. So every time I fall I get back on the saddle and one day, without even noticing it, I will just keep on going.
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In a perfect example of the tyranny of perfection, I wrote this post six weeks ago aiming to post it as a four months on review. But I thought I needed a drawing to go with it and I never got around to doing one, so the words were left by the wayside. I think that I will try and take my own advice: I will accept that to keep this blog going, I cannot wait around for the time and inclination to write the best words and make the best pictures I can. Because the expectations I have of myself get bigger and bigger in the meantime and then I can never meet them, and so another project is left in the dust.

So I return to this post. What I wrote for four months stays true for six months. I will add a little more. I have my moments of wailing ‘I want to go home!’ but more often than not I find my heartbeat slowed, and a calm feeling of familiarity here. I start to feel fond of Reykjavik. Fond; it feels almost like a sense of nostalgia for something that is still in existence. Perhaps in my heart I anticipate that I will leave in the not too far future, so I guard myself from a fatal head-over-heels tumble for the city. I feel affection for Reykjavik, not the zealous crush of a tourist, not love at first sight, but an amicable balance. I rather enjoy my walks to Sandholt bakery to pick up bread for work, I enjoy them even more when I go first thing and the streets are mine. I like hearing the relentless creak of the neighbourhood trampolines and the distant squeaks of children making the most of the summer sun. I like having a library card and wandering round the fleamarket on a Sunday and the routines of the swimming pool: card beeping at the turnstile, yellow rubber wristband opening locker with a click. I even like the showers where washing naked in the company of women of all ages and shapes and colours has become for me an unexpectedly affirming, relaxing and positive act. To undress and shower in a communal space is to say silently, I have nothing to hide, my body is acceptable, I am valid and the more I say it with actions, the more I believe it. Practice.

But let us be brutally honest, because I’ve been thinking a lot about the veneer effect of sharing things via social media and this blog and even in conversation too. Life seems all very wonderful on Instagram and I have had some time off sharing things on it because I became aware of a growing disconnect between what I posted and the totality of my experience. Not to negate what I have posted there, the coffees and sunsets and rhubarb and waterfalls, that all happened and is true, but I am guilty of editing. I tell the truth but it is not the whole truth. I make rhubarb tarts and custard-based ice cream and dandelion green pesto at work and then I plod home and I cannot face cooking anymore, cannot even face being in the kitchen where I might have to interact with other humans. Johann picks up the slack, all the time, makes dinner and washes up and brings me tea and porridge in the morning. Maybe we get a pizza. Maybe I spend all evening pondering the meaning of life and work myself up into a black hole and feel utterly despondent and lost and hopeless – and then, hey, I get up in the morning, feel a little silly for being so catastrophic the night before, go to work, and take a picture of the swirls I make on my latte. Who am I cheating with this narrative? EVERYONE. Myself, because I am hiding the sad and bad and mad aspects of my life and in doing so I am unwittingly telling myself and everyone else that it is unacceptable to feel sad and bad and mad. But it is okay. This practice of hiding the negative aspects of my life and showing only the sunny side of myself is not in keeping with my swimming pool shower revelations. It seems that as in yoga, I learn first with my body and it provides the gateway to learn with my mind. Or do away with the thinking mind altogether, perhaps.

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Normal me

Moving to another country does not mean leaving your issues behind, though it might feel that way at first. They are written over with novelty and might take a few months to appear. Then the same old patterns emerge. I have struggled with my mental health, wellbeing, equilibrium, whatever you like to call it, this whole year, since Calais broke my running streak of ‘good times’. In fact, I would consider that this year marks the second round (ding ding ding) of depression for me. It’s something that I could have expected, I think it’s commonly held that people who have one major depressive episode (2014-2015, holla) in their lives will be likely to have another one. To cut a long story short last time around I dropped everything and thanks to the incredibly loving and generous support of my family and large dollop of luck I was able to concentrate only on getting better- figuring out what that meant for me. There was swathes of time to simply learn to ‘be’ without the usual pressures of everyday life: work, a social life, a relationship.

This time around I am trying to do things differently. For the past six months I have been finding a home in a new country, attempting to make new friends, working full-time in a different job, and building a strong relationship with the one I intend on sticking with (aforementioned porridge-bringer). I have simultaneously been attempting to find my way out of depression and anxiety and back to full health again. Progress is slower and at many times seems non-existent. However, I have an inkling that recovering this way will give me even greater resilience;  I will have learnt how to nurture myself whilst keeping a foot in the maelstrom of everyday life, rather than needing to drop everything and hibernate.

A moment of beauty at the sea near our house. May I always have eyes for them.

So now I have aired all my laundry (metaphorically only, of course it’s all in a heap on the floor) I will sign off. I am intending to post some photos and words soon about some nice things that have happened this summer – funny that acknowledging the rubbish times makes me feel happier and more ready to share the good too. Honesty is the best policy. It’s hard to find the right words to talk about these things but I feel that it’s important to try so I will keep trying. Thanks for reading if any eyes make it this far 🙂

 

First month of living in Iceland

I have reached a small milestone today, four weeks exactly since I boarded the plane swallowing my nerves. I would like to hold a small review, more so I can look back and see how my perceptions change over the year than for anything these.

I have moved from a mildly northern European country to a very northern European country, and as such the culture is not vastly different. It’s not a big deal. I tell myself this in attempts to shake myself out of wallowing in embarrassment when I get something ‘wrong’. Not knowing I have to take a ticket with a number at the post office, so cutting the queue inadvertently (cheap to revert to national stereotypes, but surely this is every British person’s nightmare). Focusing so hard on trying to decipher a question in Icelandic that I miss the fact that I’m being spoken to in English. Getting into the hottest hot tub at the swimming pool by mistake and slowly boiling for a noble two minutes rather than losing face in an instant retreat. These are small things.

Over time, you get used to how things work around you, wherever you are. Thinking is not necessary. A visit to the post office is a chore, not an experiment. I am far from attaining this stage here, and everything takes up space in my brain. It’s a very interesting state to be in, most of the time fascinating, but sometimes tiring. I go between these states.

I have felt so alive when walking along the cliffs in Keflavik, poring over porous rocks, studying how the plants of last season straggle on as skeletons. Sitting in bubbling, warm water with snow falling on my face. Tasting smoked lamb in the Harpa centre. Eating skyr and berries for pink princess breakfast. Going on evening walks with Johann and seeing the pale green wisps of Northern Lights dance briefly over the sea. Swimming outdoors, in wind, rain and sun.

On the other hand.

firstmonthtopI have felt fatigue when sitting for hours scrolling ‘housing to rent’ facebook groups in a tongue I barely know, keeping a lookout for the few words I know to signal that it’s worth running the whole thing through Google Translate. The same experience, looking for jobs. Sometimes the uncertainty that makes things so exciting becomes too much and bursts its shell, becoming fear. I worry endlessly that we won’t find either of the above, but we have. Well, we have a place to live, and I just mangled my first job application, so it is a work in progress.

Yesterday I was feeling a bit anxious, waking up in our new place, not having met anyone else who lived there, feeling hungry, Johann at work. I got up the courage and set off for the shops. I walked a mile from our new home to Bonus, the cheapest supermarket. The way there required some effort, hood pulled close to my face against the cold, wet, windy weather, checking Google maps repeatedly to find the way, even though it was mostly main roads. Trying not to let too much rain get into the phone. I found it okay and enjoyed pushing my trolley round the supermarket putting in all the basics we wanted for the store cupboard. Choosing a trolley, not a basket, is a rookie mistake when you’re carrying the stuff home yourself. No surprise, my eyes were bigger than my muscles, and the journey back was a small farce. Walking into the wind, a rucksack full of tins and bulk quantities of things, two bags for life threatening to split with the weight of the shopping. Rain becoming sleet and I suspect hail. Soaked to the skin, though still warm in my coat; in fact, extremely warm. Too warm! Glasses showing not much through them, falling down my wet nose. Walking down the main road half fearing, half praying that a car would stop and offer me a lift, thinking – at what age does ‘don’t get into cars with strangers’ expire? Is it ever? This conundrum occupied my brain so much I failed to stick to the inner edge of the pavement and was a few times splashed with gritty water as cars passed. But at least I wasn’t forced to make a moral judgment on whether I should get in any of them.

This experience, though it wouldn’t kill me, is on paper vaguely miserable. But for some reason – perhaps the norse gods shone above the hail – at the time, it was okay. Funny, even. Infinitely better to be battling the elements on a busy road with my shopping perilously close to falling through the bottom of the bag, than to be curled up in my bedroom, worrying about what happens next. And it felt kind of like a small victory, and a sign that everything will be fine.

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I shivered my key into the lock on our front door, shuffling in and shrugging off my sodden coat into a puddle on the floor, greeted by the raucous sounds of bingo. Our landlady had a friend and their grandchildren over, and she was instantly friendly and welcoming. We chatted over some white wine, in English and some attempts at the odd Icelandic phrase from me, she handed over the kitchen to us as she doesn’t cook (hooray! a kitchen!). When Johann got home from work it was quickly discovered that she is friends with one of his uncles, producing a model boat he made from tin. This kind of thing happens all the time. So often, there are reminders of how small Iceland’s population is (roughly the same size as that of Croydon). We made afghan eggs – I think I’m going to write a whole post about afghan eggs, but suffice to say it’s a warming, comforting food perfect for sharing with new friends in new places.

So, in conclusion, though I’m just living in another affluent Western country, and as such the culture shock is minimal, there’s so many little different things to take in every day that I feel like an explorer still. And there’s the knowing that we’re here for a relatively long time, after moving around a lot the past 7 months, that tinges everything with a weight. The desire to make connections, to work out how to be happy here, to learn. It’s exciting, daunting, interesting, and it’s fine. After moving around France, Wales, England; caravans, parents’ places, farms, friends: we have a place to settle for a while. I hope I can keep the spirit of exploring with me over the next few months.

Foodie Fridays – the goat, the whole goat, and nothing but the goat

Today is the first in what I hope will be an interesting series on local food. While we’re in Iceland, we will be looking at Icelandic food and drink, from traditional, artisan, niche tastes to contemporary food culture. When we set off on the next chapter of our travels across Europe, it will be nice for the focus to shift to wherever we are that week.

We’re starting with the humble goat. Háafell Goat Farm had a stand at the food market we went to a couple of weeks ago in Harpa, and wrote about in this post. We wander up to their stand, beady eyes looking for bits to taste, and are introduced to their stock, which starts with boiled goat and gets progressively more interesting. I feign interest in the boiled goat because my English sensibilities forbid me from ever being honest and saying: hmm, i don’t really fancy that. It was ok, surprisingly tender. Next up, goat salami. Full of flavour, now I’m intrigued.  Beyond the meats are two types of cheese made from goats’ milk, one is feta swimming in oil, herbs and tomatoes. There is even ice cream, vanilla and chocolate, made from goats’ milk too, with none of the harshness I expect. There are lotions and hand creams made from tallow. Many yields from one source.

It feels to me that there is a respect for the animal when all parts are used, not just the most profitable cuts extracted and the rest dumped. It seems far from factory farming. I was surprised to read on the Grapevine that most meat produced in Iceland is produced under factory conditions. My surprise is, I think, due to two things. First, my rosy tinted new-country glasses, through which everything is wonderful. Second, Johann’s stories. His memories of sheep farming and horse-training tell of rugged animals, tough enough to survive the winter in the mountain. Of sheep that lamb without help. I think I will have to quiz him further on the matter. I guess things have changed.

But in other ways, they haven’t. Iceland has just one breed of each farm animal, directly descended from those the Vikings brought over on ships at the time of Settlement. One cow, smaller than usual, with much lower production of milk than British cows. One sheep; and of course one horse, the iconic, petite but strong Icelandic horse. The Icelandic goat is an endangered breed, the smallest in Europe. It’s very rare outside of Iceland, and pretty rare in Iceland too: it’s the only farm animal sponsored by the government to ensure its survival ($36 a goat as of 2014). When we were wwoofing in West Sussex, we walked past a neighbour’s smallholding. What are they? asks Johann, looking at the scattered animals grazing. Goats, obviously, I laugh. They are the most enormous goats I’ve ever seen! he says. To me, they just looked like your average goat. I hope I get a chance to go and visit Háafell sometime, to see what he means.

You can visit Háafell Goat Farm year round by agreement; though it’s main opening hours are in the tourist season, June 1st – August 31st, 1pm to 6pm. They say that most of their products are seasonal, handmade in small amounts and with no guarantee they’re always in stock. Háafell Goat Farm (Geitfjársetur Íslands, Háafelli) is north-east of Reykjavik: Háafell, 311 Borgarbyggð. You can follow their facebook page (in Icelandic, but cute pictures of goats that transcend language barriers). Website is geitur.is . There’s also a great, more-in detail, history of the goat farm here, which tells the story of their near collapse, and being saved by a crowdfunding campaign and a little help from Game of Thrones.

There we go, short and sweet like the goats themselves, our first Foodie Friday. I’d love to hear about any food tips for Iceland that I should investigate. What have you eaten here that’s special, or different to anywhere else? I’m thinking both traditional delicacies, and food you can get elsewhere that has its own particular customs here: ice cream, I’m looking at you.

 

drawing the coast

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I like to walk down to the small boat harbour here in Keflavik. It reminds me of family holidays in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland. Always visiting harbours though we never had an interest in sailing. Perhaps walking round a harbour is the land lubber’s way of sailing vicariously, peering through dark portholes, craning necks up to flags whipping in the wind and turning the names of boats on your tongue.

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It’s a small harbour for small boats; a whale-watching hut stands nearby, with few signs of life this time of year. It’s a quiet place and when the wind drops I have enjoyed going to draw there. One side runs into the town, and the other becomes a small cliff marking the coastline for a long while. There’s a hotel going up just above it, which will produce a small swarm of tourists, I imagine, on sunny summer days. They will outnumber the boats.

There’s a tide line on the rock piles guarding the harbour, below which the rocks are covered with beautifully draped seaweed. I find this hard to draw.

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East of the harbour, along the coast are car washes, warehouses, offices. Behind them I found this little rocky outcrop to perch on and draw. It was so incredibly windy that day.img_20170328_152703.jpg

In the other direction, a path runs along the cliff edge, a safe distance away should there be gusts. But yesterday there were none, and I could sit down in comfort to study the rocks and creeping plants that clung to them.

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Over the sea is the city, and a string of mountains on a clear day. There are birds to learn the name of. There is peace to find.

first impressions

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The drive to Reykjavik is different every time: though it’s mostly one long road, and on a clear day you can see your destination across the water even before you’ve left. We are staying in Keflavik , where Johann is from, where the airport is, a sprawling village in the Reykjanes peninsula. There is exploring to do here, but I have also been going in to the city quite a bit, meeting new friends and family, accompanying them on errands and doing some wandering by myself, which means a 45 minute drive (or 80 minute bus).

The day after we arrived, we got in the car and drove to the city. The road runs along the coast through the lava fields. A vast expanse of pockmarked rock, fairly flat, but when the late evening sun falls across the tiny hummocks of pale grass and small undulations it seems a mountainscape in miniature. That first drive, the plains were covered in snow, just a week after Reykjavik experienced more snow in one night than ever before. We pulled off the road onto a small roundabout where the road becomes a track and heads for the hills.

img_20170308_161028396.jpgI crouched down on the black rock, pressed my hands into the crunchy snow when I thought no one was looking. You could look for hours at this tiny world of moss and stone, snow shrinking from their forms, grass waving in the wind. That is, if it wasn’t so cold.

Every time we drive the land is different. When the snow has faded almost everywhere else, it lingers on in the far mountains to the right, making them bright. In the foreground there are a few pockets of it in the shadow of rocks, and these glow blue when all around is brown. One morning we are dazzled by sun shining straight at us, shades down, sunglasses on, but by evening the sky has come down close and it’s sleeting.

Flurries on and off this past fortnight speckle the ground now and again. The skeletons of low bushes show themselves, and I’m told if I’m here in autumn we can come and pick crowberries. Moss replaces snow as the oozing substance icing the rock. More colours appear: the pale, straw-coloured longer grass, the grey-green of the moss. All is golden brown in the sunset.

There is more space between everything here. Houses stand alone in aprons of goose-nibbled grass, they seem part of the landscape, not so much castles shutting it out. Fences are often low, gardens visible from the street. Echoes of Dungeness, in the UK: anchors and stone for garden ornament, if anything, with no boundary between house, land, sea. Maybe high fences blow down. It is extremely windy here. Maybe, probably, the Icelandic weather prevents the mollycoddling of an outdoor space, in the way we British tend to tend our gardens. The seafront has been extended so the waves no longer crash up to the buildings but rush to a halt out of sight. Even the mountains on the city-bound road are set back behind the wide lava fields, flattened into a paper cut out with no way to gauge scale. It struck me this morning that my memories of mountains are always of being amidst them, in the Scottish highlands, or the Swiss alps, and it feels strange and unfamiliar to view them at a remove. I expect there are answers to be found in the geology of this volcanic land, but I confess I am short of attention span for researching the science and prefer to look and wonder, content in not knowing how and why the landscape is, and enjoying only that it ‘is’. Drawing the shapes without knowing their past.

My first two weeks in Iceland are characterised by how I am taken up by small things. The difference in the everyday. The things I notice on walks – that scaffolding is made of wood! Yes, it’s more long-lasting. The ice cream shop is a drive through! Yes, ice cream is very popular here. These rocks look airy, and full of holes! Yes, they are made from lava. Always patient answers and explanations from my trusty local Johann. When we walk around the town I notice the subtle difference of things one takes for granted. The grass, pale ochre tinged, close cropped and having survived 20 hours of darkness a day over winter. Despite my pencil case full of greens for colouring garden designs, I can’t get anywhere near recording it faithfully. The walls of buildings being corrugated metal, an unfamiliar texture. In the harbour the wind pulls groans from the platforms the boats are moored to, a sound that won’t be caught in any holiday photograph but is so irrepressibly now and of this place. img_20170309_121035.jpg

I listen through swathes of language for the few words I recognise, hold them close, repeat them often. I get joy in being able to describe what I see, clumsily, with many mistakes, in Icelandic and now in long-form English on this blog.

I have been glad to stay in Keflavik and dip my toes in the city. It’s given me the opportunity to observe and savour the small, everyday new things, at a slow pace, unobscured by attractions on a checklist. I know we’ll be here for a good while so I have no rush to chain-visit waterfalls. Grand sights can be familiar through others’ photographs, guidebooks and film, and I sometimes find it hard to connect. Big Ben leaves me cold, the Eiffel Tower wasn’t as spectacular as the waffle we ate nearby. But when I kneel down on the stony verge of the lava field to survey snow, moss, stone and grass in miniature, the feeling of wonder bubbles up inside me and I see what is in front of me for the first time.

Welcome

Welcome to being and seeing. This blog will be a place to share travel tales, food stories, and the record of a journey trying to live in a way that’s good for ourselves, for other people and for the planet. There will be words, drawings, photographs. I hope there will also be recipes, discussions, and maybe even advice and how to’s, learnt from mistakes I’m sure we’ll make along the way. I would like to develop an honest and thoughtful space here, that documents exploring and sometimes falling, but always carrying on.

For those who don’t know us already, I’m Hannah, I’m 26, I’m an artist/gardener/wanderer from the outskirts of London and as of March 2017 I live in Iceland with my boyfriend Johann. You can read a bit more about us and our plan in the ‘about’ section, but here’s a taster.

We start in Iceland. On April 1st, we move to Reykjavik. Over the next six months, we will work and save whilst I explore and get to know this elven land for the first time. After that, we hope to buy a van and convert it to a home so we can travel across Europe. We want to volunteer and learn at different farms in the hope that we can, one day soon, set up our own place. So while the content of this blog over the next few months will lean heavily on topics such as cold, mountains, cold, pastries, and the cold, hopefully it should grow to encompass nerdy van build and tech, food growing techniques in different places, and travel adventures.

Thanks for reading. Follow along if you’d like, and please share your thoughts and any questions in the comments below. Do leave links to your blog to if you have one, I’d like to read!