29 July 2010


this post inspired by Maya's comment about the smells of Iceland

A few days ago we had unusual weather for Iceland- a light, low drizzle with absolutely no wind, the kind of day that I think is perfect for walking. I threw on my trusty Iceland-made raincoat and headed out towards Öskuhlíð's tiny forest. The path there is close with pine trees and moss, all sharply scented in the mist.

From there I came out near the thermal beach at Nauthólsvík, where the delicious dinner smells from the newish café there wafted across the path. Then came the sweet smell of the white clover that clusters along the airport fence. A plane came in to land overhead, along with a cloud of jet fuel. Moving on, I came to the stretch where one can look over Bessastaðir and the completely slack sea. The water there is so clear I could see ducks as they dove on their underwater path through the seaweed. To the right, rainwashed rose bushes gave off velvety clouds of perfume, their heads heavy with water. Then comes the grassy stretch on the other side of the airport where they'd just mowed the soccer fields on both sides- warm and grassy smell there.

Further on I turned onto Sörlaskjöl, past houses hiding behind the pointed sharp smell of arctic birches, and then through the center of Seltjarnarnes. The walking path continues beyond the pool and heads through a thicket of sea grass, fresh and airy in the drizzle. I passed the golf course and detoured through the beach where the eider chicks have grown up so much they look like adults, but still peep like babies. A few wading birds scurried along the lackluster tide, but the smell of the Atlantic was strong and familiar from all my summers on Martha's Vineyard.

Turning at the lighthouse I wandered past the rank reek of seaweed in low tide, beyond the miniature seaside hotpot to the part where nothing smelled particularly interesting but the view was enough to keep me busy. To my left, Esja with a loaded cargo ship gliding in, straight ahead the skyline of Reykjavík, still happily dominated by Hallgrímskirkja (and not skyscrapers), to my right a dilapidated garage where a band was raging through a song that definitely did not need more cowbell.

To finish off I took the sneak-path that leads almost directly to the pool in Vesturbaer, then past my old house (new pavement smell near there), then through the park near Tjörnin where it was already so late they'd turned off the fountain spray. When I got home it was well and truly dark and my three hours of walking made me drowsy and happy to be inside with a hot cup of tea.

In other news of this walk, I finally also saw Björk in her native habitat. It's often one of the first questions people ask when I say I live in Iceland and until now I've had to reply that I hadn't spotted her in spite of living in the same neighborhood for years. At the beginning of my walk she passed me on a bike wearing gold sparkle shoes, blue velvet leggings, and enormous headphones, doing her usual Björk face contortions. She passed me short after going back towards her house, apparently just out to enjoy the misty air like I was.

22 July 2010

exploration at a different pace

One of my favorite mini features of the pools here is the hlaupakort (running map). It's not exactly the kind of thing one goes expressly to visit at the pool but I think it's a brilliant idea. Each swimming pool has a large map tacked to the wall by the door where they've described running loops that start and end there, marked with distances and a short explanation of how to do it and what kind of terrain it offers. The map's available on their website too, so if you're in the mood to try something different, it's easy to pick something there.

Today I decided that although I love my usual loop through Öskuhlíð and by the sea, it was time to explore a new neighborhood, so off to Grafarvogslaug went I. It's one of the unsung great pools, with a splendid Esja view, an extremely calm and spotless lap pool, and one of the most thrilling waterslides in town (it's totally enclosed most of the way so you're riding in total darkness oooo). It also happened to have a nice short running loop that promised to be auðrötuð (a word that I don't know and haven't yet found the definition for in my usual methods). Sounds fun.

I set off into the unknown and found that the area behind the pool was laced with walking paths that went behind yards strung with laundry and smelling of grilling lamb. The path I was on dropped quickly to the bay that gives the neighborhood its name where the pavement turned to gravel and then dove into a tiny birch and lupine forest (of typical icelandic proportions, the trees were about twice as high as me). After a short distance the trees disappeared to the right and I could view the whole bay and a small open-fronted hut that I stopped in to inspect. The walls inside were plastered with information on all the birds in the area, depicted in both summer and winter garb and a paragraph describing their habits. Cool!

Off I went again, crossing the broad river entering the sea via a pedestrian bridge that was handily suspended between the two lanes of the road overhead, and then looping back towards my starting point. As with other running loops I've tried, there was the setup if you wanted to do some pushups or situps on a dry platform, and then back to the pool I went.

Overall I have been quite surprised and impressed by the thoughtfulness that can be found in these rather ordinary spots of the town. Great paths, spots for extra workouts, bird watching huts, and planning for bikes and walkers makes me really enjoy living here. Plus, exploring a place via running paths gives everything a whole new dynamic. S and I have gone running in odd places in Germany and it definitely has given me a different feeling for the place than I would have if I'd just gone for the usual tourist visit. After today's explore I'm also excited to try the running loops from other suburban pools. I've got sea, they've got trees.