30 June 2006


I am about to embark on a totally new chapter of my Ice-life. As of this week, J and I are no longer J and I. It's just him, it's just me, and I'll be moving out to find my own place soon. I knew it was a risk that this would happen when I came here, but I somehow still kind of thought that given the effort of coming, given that we'd met in such a romantic way, that there was something extraspecial about us. Don't we all think that about relationships, just as they're somehow crumbling from the inside?

I'm not excited about being alone here, carless in a country and society that thrives on its big vehicles, having to restart everything again, less than a year after the LAST time I did it. I don't even own any spoons, or pots and pans of my own, having left them behind in my naive "he has them and everything will be perfect when we live together" assumptions. I know these are all details in the grand scheme of things, but when you're staring at the rubble of what you thought you'd built up it all seems like too much to do, especially when I have to negotiate everything with my crappy Icelandic plus English crutch. I also feel so strange having to rely on these few friends I have that were not first J's friends. I don't know how that works here. Do I stop seeing any of them since they were his first? There are only so many people to go around here.

Of course, the first thing my friends and family have asked is if I plan to leave now. First of all, in the grand irony of the world, the day that he finally said it was done with us was the same day I'd turned in my paperwork for my next year's visa extension. I've signed on the dotted line for the next year and damned if I'm taking that back. Furthermore, my move here was not just about him, so I guess it's my opportunity now to find out what all that other stuff was supposed to be. Finally, it was a lot of effort from me, my whole family, and many friends that got me here. I owe it to them to stay longer, and in its own strange way, Iceland HAS become familiar in a way that Boston or the US probably wouldn't be right now. Not to mention the money invested in coming here, which I am still trying to make up for. I can't afford to move back, for financial reasons, for gotta-be-tough reasons, and because I told myself I came here for more than a relationship. Now is the time to prove it, I guess. Expat life wasn't supposed to be easy, but that's what is supposed to make it worthwhile. Maybe I will learn something amazing about myself in these next months.

As for posting this all here, I know it is a departure from the normal news-from-Iceland, but I needed to say it somewhere, write down my intentions to stick it out so that I keep my word. I am honestly doubting my ability to do it, so new is the realization I'm on my own, and so overwhelmed I feel when I think about it all. Also, for those who move abroad partly for love, I hope for your sakes that there is more to the move than that. I can't believe I am the only person to experience this, so make sure you have a plan B, and as a friend said yesterday, maybe even a plan C.

Still, it is quite shocking to think: I am in Iceland, and I am alone.

Ship sighting: This part of the ol' blog is going to have to change a bit, since I doubt I'll have the same oceanfront view wherever I live next. Still, the boats continue to come and go. Today is a pretty light day, but we do have a fishing boat called Sebastes M coming. The name only turns up that it's the Latin name of Redfish in google search, so I guess they've got a good load from the primary distribution area, located just south of us.

28 June 2006

In the land of the gods

Over the weekend I did the fimmvörðuháls hike into Þórsmörk, a place that many Icelanders say is the most beautiful place in the country. I went with a bunch of people from my work, so on Friday the office was full of rucksacks and stuffsacks, fleece and hiking boots.

After work, we drove to the beginning of the trail, some two hours away, then, laden with water bottles, hiking poles, and many layers, we started in on the 20something kilometer trek. The hike starts at the base of an enormous waterfall, then follows the river up to a plain of glacial till to the edge of a glacier's tongue. After crossing the glacier in several sections, the hike continues along some narrow ridges, across a plateau and down the other side. The final descent is through a surprisingly lush forest (for Iceland, so that means the trees are the height of a suburban hedge) and into the valley of Þórsmörk.

Since the hike was overnight (the popular way to do it this time of year), we got to see the sun set and then rise again, and the weather was absolutely perfect, so the scenery was at its dramatic best. The hike was challenging, but there is nothing quite like hiking in this country, a place where you can fill your waterbottle straight from the stream of water freshly melted from a glacier, mixed by waterfalls, and filtered through volcanic rock. Moments like watching the sun rise over the impossible shapes of the mountains here as the damp air breathing off a glacier cools your face is unforgettable. It was hard to belive I was there, listening to the silence of these huge open spaces, watching the light change in the sky, and thinking about how few people know this all is here.

After the hike, we camped for the rest of the weekend in Þórsmörk, a weekend that included all the usual Icelandic útihátið activities- barbecuing, drinking a lot, singing songs around a bonfire while wearing a lopapeysa (thanks to J for giving me one last week so I was suited properly!), and then spending the next day either sleeping or getting a sunburn. It was kind of a letdown after the amazing hike, but I did do some exploring and found that Þórsmörk is indeed worthy of the name. There are dozens of entrancing paths through the forest, and little tucked-away glades that are bursting with buttercups and columbines at this time of year. Part of the charm of the place also seems to be the inaccessibility, and once again I understood why Icelanders are so excited by enormous jacked-up trucks when we drove out the day after. Unless you hike in, the way to get out of Þórsmörk involves driving through a plain of glacial till that is rushing with braided streams that come straight off the many glacier tongues in the area. There are no bridges, so you have to drive straight through. Fun times if you're in a Land Cruiser, but not recommended with a Jetta.

Ship sighting: More cruise ships yesterday and today. They generally seem to only arrive for a day, coming in the morning and leaving around suppertime, and they still are so huge and surprising on the horizon that last night I actually choked on the water I was drinking in my attempt to point the ship Aida Blu out to J last night. It's the biggest one yet, and the tadpole-sperm thing on the side was big enough to see from the living-room window.

Earlier this evening I also learned that the ship I mentioned last time, Song of the Whale is going to be back in Reykjavík in August, and they're offering educational tours. I'm SO there.

22 June 2006

Icelanders abroad

I went on my trip last week with 36 Icelanders, so I got a good experience of group travel and Icelanders abroad in the summer. For the most part it was like anyone else- everyone went crazy eating out, buying things, and forgot about sunblock, so on Wednesday night in the airport, it was a sunburned, slightly bedraggled planeful of people, expandable suitcases at full capacity, carrying shopping bags that clanked from the wine bottles inside.

We got mistaken for Finns in one place, since to the untrained ear the rhythm of Icelandic sounds Finnish (who knew?), but for the most part we were just a sprinkling among the millions of other tourists that barrage Rome in the summertime. The group travel was great for my Icelandic though, since I shared a room with someone that was not interested in speaking English. Also, all instructions about meeting times, departure times, and concerts was entirely in Icelandic. Who knew that the best way to improve my Icelandic was a week in Italy?

The only real mystery was the ice cream. These people could NOT get enough ice cream. When we were driving to and from Rome, every stop at a gas station was a chance for ice cream. Even when we were told to eat NO ICE CREAM since we had to get right back on the bus, sure enough, there they were all in a line, Icelanders slurping on popsicles. On our second to last day in Florence, we were all waiting fretfully for one last person before we could get back to the bus on a very tight schedule. He finally arrived, bearing an enormous double-decker cone trimmed with waffle cookies. It was dripping all over his hands and the ground, and as we headed back to the bus on the long hot walk along the river, he left a Hansel-and-Gretel-style ice cream trail the whole way back.

Part of it is certainly the delectable flavors of Italian gelato, part of it is the despicable heat of Italian summer, and part of it is that I'm told Europeans love their ices in the summer. And the last part? I think it's because in Icelandic, the name of the country is Ísland. And the stuff you buy dipped in chocolate and on a waffle cone? That's called "ís". So, as J pointed out last year, we're all living in ice-cream-land, and when abroad, I guess people have to maintain the connection with The Land by eating tons of ice cream. I can get behind that idea.

Ship sighting: Two days ago I went for a walk down by the harbor, and I saw a large sailboat called Song of the Whale. It's leaving today, so I did a little Googling, and it turns out to be a non-invasive marine research vessel dedicated to whales and porpoises and the like. In typical ironic fashion, it was docked right across the way from the old whaling boats.

20 June 2006

Summer camping

Iceland is a great place for camping in the summer. Lots of wide-open spaces, amazing views, no crowds, and the 24 hours of daylight means you don't have to bring flashlights. Plus, the lack of trees means you're never sleeping on a tree root. It can be a bit brisk though, so pack warm clothes!

Saturday was the big national holiday, where everyone is supposed to be bursting at the seams with national pride, so J and I figured the best way to celebrate was by being out in the middle of the land. We packed up the car with tent, grill, and plenty of warm clothes, and headed out of town, and straight into some pretty gloomy sogginess. We had planned to find a place on Snæfellsnes, but the south coast of the peninsula north of Reykjavík was shrouded in thick fog that erased the view and would have made for hard fire-lighting come grill time. Still, in hopes that somewhere, somehow, the weather would be ok, we crossed over the mountainous spine that runs down the center to find sunny weather on the north. It's nice that you never have to accept the weather where you currently stand as your only option here. We set up camp at a farm where the enterprising owner charged 500isk per person for a grassy field with a toilet and sink in a shed on the side. We were by ourselves when we arrived- not bad for a summer weekend where the view is this good!

After the usual camping dinner of lamb, potatoes and vegetables, we grilled marshmallows on the dying embers, then set out down the dirt road to a waterfall we'd seen a mile down the way. As we walked, the birds continued to wheel overhead, and an occasional sheep that had jumped the fence looked up from their busy eating schedule. The lambs were all leaping about in the way lambs do, like their energy has caught them unawares and they are not quite sure what to do with it all, and the surf whispered from below the cliffs to the opposite side.

We found the waterfall and watched it tumble between the buttercups and dandelions before we turned back to follow the same road back. We stopped to visit a small herd of ponies, setting off some kind of power-ballet between this one and another. They climbed a gravel hillock together, squealing and kicking, then tumbled down the other side to rear up at each other and pretend to bite fiersomely. As we strolled away though, everyone settled down to the grass again, having lost the audience. These few months of lush green makes gluttons of all the grazing animals here.

Back at the tent, we fell asleep easily, lulled by the waves, the wind, the birds, and the sheep in the adjacent field. The next day we went to the tiny nearby town of Grundarfjörður for coffee, and found that the only place open was the ubiquitous Esso station. We were the second customers of the day, and we took our white china teacups to the front window to sip slowly while we watched the town wake up. We decided it was time to move on when an eccentric fellow in a flower bedecked straw hat paused to put his cigar on top of the trashcan outside (for use when his shopping was done) and then gave us both some very suspicious looks with his rheumy eyes.

After a short walk to the church in the center of town, we continued our way on towards the main Snæfellsnes town of Stykkishólmur, taking a detour through the massive lava pile at Berserkjahraun (yes, that is the Original Berserk). At Stykkishólmur, we again fell into the small-town rhythm of the local bakery as we had lunch, watching as people bought their buns and snúður, bread and cakes. As with all bakeries of this type, it was tidy and functional, and we watched the shopkeeper dust the crumbs meticulously from the bread-slicer during idle moments.

Next, the pool, possibly a new small-town pool favorite for me. The lap lanes were wide and sparkling, and the waterslide offered a panoramic view of Breiðafjörður from the top, then whizzing glances at the multicolored houses on the ride down. There was a nice round body-temperature pool, and some decent jets in the nuddpottur. The only drawback: no eimbað! Still, if you're in the area, it's definitely worth a kikja inn.

Not wanting the weekend to end, we signed up for a bird-watching tour that left from the harbor. We joined the line of tourists and the trio of Icelandic ladies on their Girls Weekend to wind through a few of the hundreds of lava-formed islands in the center of this enormous fjord. We spotted a white-tailed eagle, and several other bird types, narrated in two languages by our capable skipstjóri.

We landed a few hours later after a surprise snack of freshly harvested raw scallops (I only could manage to eat one, but it certainly was the freshest I've ever had), slightly wind and sunburnt, our eyes filled with the images of the wide and quiet fjord. Back in the car, we headed back over the ridge to the south side, where predictably, the rain settled back over our heads.

Ship sighting: So many activities I hardly know where to begin! The summer cruise ship is in full swing, and I have spotted many of them departing. Athena was at the main dock in town on Saturday, and was properly decked in bunting for the holiday. She left late Sunday evening, blending in with the foggy drizzle like a ghost. Yesterday another cruise ship left as well, one I didn't even know had been here. Today we also have this cool research vessel in the harbor, leaving this evening, and I've even seen a few sailing clubs out on the water.

13 June 2006

Tortellini watch abroad

Greetings from Bologna, land of tortellini and salami, where the blogger page is all in Italian. I am back here after several days in Rome and a stop in Florence. I've kind of reached overload of Beautifully Decorated Old Things, and me the art history major here. It's just a lot to handle to have triumphal arches, Renaissance paintings, and gold leaf at every turn, especially when mixed with the din of mopeds and the constant plague of tourists.

Still, I've enjoyed the touch of heat and all that comes with it, especially yesterday when I bought the elements of my lunch at various stalls of a street market, and ate it on the balcony of my hotel room in the shade overlooking the garden below. The heat brings out the heavy scents of the thousands of flowers climbing the balconies and weighing down the trees too, so I have been walking in a daze of flower fragrance mixed with coffee. Yeah, parts of Italy ARE that good.

We sang in two churches, and the one in Bologna was so large that when we stopped singing, the walls whispered back to us with the echo of our voices for several seconds afterward. In Rome the church was decorated in the best Baroque style, laden with gold and trimmed with coffered ceilings. It was all I could do to focus on the singing with so much to look at in the building.

And so it's been this whole trip- too much to take in that I have reached a point of overload and want to do nothing more than eat cherries on the roof deck here that overlooks the tower-accented view of Bologna. I've enjoyed the trip, but it will be grand to be back in the Land tomorrow.

07 June 2006

hot places

Tomorrow I'm flying to Italy, so I spent the evening trying to cobble together some semblance of a hot weather wardrobe. When I moved from the States, I happily left behind all my shorts, my thin dresses, and my shoes that left my toes out in the fresh air. Summer was never my favorite thing- the inescapable sticky humidity of Boston in August, and the unstructured wardrobe of hot weather that always made me feel just a little too exposed. For most of the year, I pretended it didn't exist, and therefore never invested in summer clothing I actually liked. What little I did have, I left behind, forgetting that I might be visiting places where those items would be needed. As a result, I have one pair of sandals, but nine pairs of boots. Bring me sweaters, not tank tops! Still, I think I've managed to pack something creatively enough that won't scandalize any Italians (thanks to my sister-in-law, I will be fantastically shod, my only saving grace).

Iceland's not helping me imagine hot places today either- it was one of those low gray days where the breeze is fresh and invasive, carrying rain droplets in the gusts, and the cloud cover has actually made it feel like dusk is falling. It's hard to imagine all those hot places in the world where skirts flutter against bare legs, and jackets are accessories, not necessities. I'll be there soon, in the dark nights and everything, and the little streets of Reykjavik will once again seem like an impossible memory.

Ship sighting: It's been a mysterious and foggy few days after some spectacular pink sunset ocean on Saturday night, but yesterday I did see the cruise ship Athena on her way out, escorted by a harbor pilot. They parted ways in the center of the living room window view, and Athena continued to the east. She's operated by the same company as last week's visitor Funchal, and it looks like their Arctic cruise itinerary hits several towns here in Iceland.

02 June 2006

blanket issues

Since it's Friday after what has felt like a very long week, I'm still thinking lovingly of bed, one of the things that became a hot topic for J and I when we started living together. It's another lifestyle category where I unintentionally displayed obvious American traits I never knew I had.

Blanket usage, apparently has American and European techniques. I knew about the duvet thing being a more European preference, after staying at various guesthouses and from assorted non-American friends, but I didn't know about the double-blanketing style here.

J and I got a new bed in January, one of those tempurpedic Swedish numbers (and yes, they are as great as they're advertised to be). It's a vast terrain of bed, upgrading from a barely-adequate full to something almost two meters wide. Our bedroom became nothing but bed with a side of closet doors overnight, and the blanket we'd had before was like a single postage stamp on a magazine envelope. We wrestled with it, and each other, for a few days, then decided it was time to upgrade that too, and get one that fit the whole bed.

J told one of the guys at work about the challenge of sharing the tiny blanket on the new bed, and he gave him a strange look, saying "you use the SAME BLANKET?!!". When I mentioned it to a friend at work, she laughed and patted my cheek. "You Americans are so funny."

I grew up thinking that if you shared a bed you ALWAYS have one blanket. It's how it goes- share your house, share your life, share the blanket too, and spend half the night enfolding yourself in it while your guy lies shivering on the other side. It had never occurred to me that it's not like this way everywhere. When I started looking though, everyone's got the same technique going here- even the sheet sets at IKEA are designed for it. They all come as pillowcase+single-sized duvet cover, and finding top sheets, really huge duvet covers, or patterned pillowcases in pairs is challenge enough it's not worth sticking to the single-blanket style.

So that weekend, J and I went and bought exactly the temperature of duvet we liked best, picked out the twin-sized duvet covers, and gave it a go. I love it. We've got our space to sleep, and it's so much easier to change the sheets with the small blankets. Shoulda done it sooner.

But I still am left wondering why it's just not done in the States. Why is it that part of being in a couple means sharing the blanket too? I know so many people who share the bed with someone that has very different temperature preferences, and this would solve the problem so easily and comfortably. Is it not seen as being properly "together"?

Ship sighting: I saw the cruise ship Funchal arrived during breakfast the other day, and depart as scheduled later the same day. Gotta love all the light making it so easy to see the full cycle of a ship's visit here!

In other harbor news, I am sad to be missing Hátíð Hafsins (harbor festival), scheduled for the weekend I will be in Italy. Sunday, June 11 is Sjómannadagur (seamen's day) so there are all kinds of sea-related entertainments prepared for the whole weekend. It was a high point last year, so I was looking forward to it again, even if half the celebration seems to be about those inflatable jumping-castle things for kids.