17 July 2006


I spent the weekend with three friends at a summerhouse below the lupine-covered cliffs of Vik. Saturday was one of those gray days that made the grass appear almost neon and shrouded the peaks of the cliffs in mist, so we were glad to be in a house rather than tenting like our neighbors were. The cottage was a mini Siamese-twin pair of cottages tucked among the buttercups and the cliff walls. Although the ocean was a five-minute stride from the front door, the roar of the waves and the screee of the hundreds of terns permeated the house, even with the door closed.

After we had arrived and taken the obligatory walk down to the black sand beach, I climbed up through the lupines to a wedge of moss-covered rock halfway up the cliff, where I lay down to face the sky. After lying still for a few minutes, the fulmar living in the cliffs forgot my disturbance, and resumed their soaring. They rode the unpredictable air currents, ruddering their tails, passing not an arms-length from where I lay. I watched them conversing in their nests tucked into the cliff walls, their chattering accompanied only by the roar of the sea and the seeping drip of water oozing from the stones above.

Later, we all tucked up inside, as the rain swept in and started to spatter the windows. The house was slightly tacky in the way summerhouses are- fake stone paneling on the walls, jumbled assortments of knickknacks, too many decks of incomplete playing cards, and a refrigerator that hummed just a bit too loud. Still, it was just the place for reading, and we all spent the afternoon lounging lazily.

Supper came late, when everyone was finally torn from their books, puzzles, or napping. We only had two burners, so we grilled everything outside, in spite of the sheets of rain outside.
We made salmon covered in chopped ginger & garlic, layered with lemon slices and salt and pepper packets taken from the Esso station down the street, potatoes with a skyr-garlic-cucumber sauce, and a gigantic salad.
After dinner, we cleared the table and set to the obligatory card-playing, letting German mint-flavored chocolates melt above our tongues as we played rummy, drinking herbal schnapps and wine from juice glasses.

The storm made it almost properly dark, so sleeping was cozy in the loft, just barely big enough for the four slim mattresses. We left the window to the back of the cliff open, so the croaking of the fulmar in the cliffs whispered with the wind and the sea through the curtains on the tiny window. Lofts are lovely for sleeping when the wind spatters the rain in patterns on the roof, and your nose is inches away from the slope, cozy, dry, and safe. A favorite feeling.

The next day dawned an arc of perfect blue, so we went to the pool, of course. The complex at Vík is just the right size, with a gaudy snake-shaped waterslide, a functional country-sized pool (not quite
25 meters but long enough to feel like you are Getting Somewhere when you do laps), and two temperatures of hot tub. They had flippers and floats to borrow, so we flipped and floated across the pool before retiring to the hotter tubs, basking in the surprisingly balmy air and wind-free sunshine.

After swimming we headed back for more reading and eating, with the intention to bake an apple cake using the only heating apparatus we had- the barbecue. While it was "baking" I climbed up the cliffs to see the view from above, and to follow the brook that created the waterfall near the house. It was nestled in a shallow valley, and the grass grew thick around its edges, obscuring it so much in places that the only evidence was the sound. The wind was calmer there, and I found a mossy rock to lean against. This is the Iceland I didn't know existed, blooming with purple and yellow flowers, scented of fresh summer grass, looking towards the wedge of ocean where the brook dropped over the cliff, warm enough to contemplate shorts and a t-shirt.

I headed back after a few minutes to check on the cake progress, and to join everyone else on the deck reading books. Unfortunately, we learned that a barbecue is not the most effective baking apparatus, so in spite of our best efforts, the thing was completely scorched on the bottom. We scooped what we could out of the top though, and eaten with a dollop of sour cream, it was actually quite delicious. Worth making again in a proper oven.

The day was waning by then and we had to drive the three hours back to town, so we packed up the car and hit the road after one final trip down to see the famous view in the spectacular weather. On the way back we joined the stream of French tourists at Dyrhólaey for some photos, then it was back to the road and reality, such as it is here in Iceland.

Ship sighting: Although the town I visited is called Vík, or "bay", there is actually not much of a bay there. It's probably the worst place I could imagine trying to land a boat, with the roaring surf and jagged cliffs. So the only boat I saw over the weekend was a distant fishing-boat, almost on the horizon. It looks like the past two days in the REAL V-Í-K was the usual summer influx of cruise ships though, and two are slated to leave today. One is the Costa Classica, and they have a webcam on board so you can see what the harbor looks like from their deck Right Now (at least until 7pm GMT when they leave here). If that view of our currently cloudy bay was tempting enough that you want to cruise here yourself, check out photos of life on board here.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,
You cannot have seen an Albatross as there are none in Iceland but you probably saw the Fulmar (fulmarus glacialis) or "Fýll" in icelandic.
Back when Vík got it´s name it most probably was a bay or cove but the massive eruptions of the neighbouring Katla volcano have filled the cove and the contours of the coastline in the area.

ECS said...

hi anon. Thanks for the avian correction- I was basing my information on an Icelander in Breiðafjörður who said that's what the birds were. It didn't seem quite right to me either but the birds are definitely not gulls and I didn't know what else they could be.

tsduff said...

Recently we went through Vik - and loved it, although it was around midnight when we passed through. How fun that you got to stay in that cute guest house. It sounds like a wonderful weekend. I forgot that it takes 3 hours to get there - the scenery just made it seem closer than that. Lovely photos.

Sarah said...

Looking at those pictures makes my heart ache... I've GOT to get there!

Mo'a said...

Your writing is delightful and along with your photos filled me with longing for Iceland. The south of Iceland is one of my favorite places and I love the black beach in Vik. Did you see the Puffins that nest in the cliffs above the beach? After reading this and being so homesick it is a good thing that I will be in Iceland after the 3rd of August. for a week.

dtw said...

A friend of mine also praised Vik's beach and told me I really need to go there at some point. I was already more than enough convinced, and now I can hardly wait.

Liz said...

E, Wonderful entry. It was like a page from Lady Murasaki's pillow book- full of easy pleasures and calm enjoyment. Can't wait to read more.

ECS said...

Terry- the landscape en route to Vik is pretty great, but I've taken that drive several times in the past two months, and some of that flat stuff gets pretty monotonous. This time of year is nice though, because they're mowing the fields (smells great) and all the baby horses are learning how to gallop. So cute!

Sarah- you know you HAVE to come visit. There are so many incredible views I didn't take photos of because no camera can properly capture how amazing it is to stand on this huge stone outcropping with the sun gleaming off the afternoon sea, and a glacier looming behind you. Truly, absolutely AMAZING.

M'oa- no puffins sighted over the weekend. The only ones I've seen were in Breiðafjörður. Last weekend was all about terns and fýll.

DTW- it's a must! The trip down is cool too, with plenty of waterfalls and potential glacier-viewing. Also look for the bumps of the Westmann Islands off the coast.

Liz- that's a lovely compliment. I haven't seen you around lately- thanks for stopping by! Come to Iceland sometime soon. It's a short(ish) flight from Baltimore!

Sarah said...

I know, I know... and guess what! I just talked to my husband and we're going to set up a trip to Iceland NEXT YEAR!!! I'm SO excited!!!!!!! I'm going to have to pick your brain for the best places to visit (Vik is already on the list), and if you have any suggestions on places to stay, too.

WOOHOO!!!! :O)

ECS said...

Sarah- YAY!! I will of course tell you all kinds of things as the trip comes closer and you're making plans. You'll love it and want to move here afterwards, of course.