On Monday, 2023-07-10 it was time to leave Iceland, and to head to the Faroe Islands. Excitement that morning consisted of an earthquake warning, followed almost immediately by a few earth-shaking moments that appeared to do no damage. We were up and showered before breakfast at 8:00, with a departure at 8:30, in order to return our rental car before the 10:30 deadline. The only problem was that our flight’s departure was delayed by four hours. So we had lots of time to explore the town of Keflavik.
A minor volcanic eruption had already begun as we drove across the Reykjanes Peninsula. We were told that no volcanic ash has been emitted, but noticed an unusual mist as we approached Keflavik Airport. Later, we learned there was a 200-meter long fissure on the slopes of the Litli Hrútur mountain, from which lava emerged as a series of lava fountains.
Unlike the day when we first rented our car, there were more staff than customers at the Budget/ Avis airport office. Alasdair reported the broken windshield, and paid the deductible for the damages. His travel insurance later refunded this amount.
We spent much of our time in Keflavik visiting a municipal park. Photos on our way there are shown below. There were many children in the park, and their activity of choice seemed to be standing in front of robotic lawn mowers, waiting for them to stop, then turn to avoid the human obstruction.
Later, we also walked into the business district, where we found a store that sold flags large enough for our flagpole, a typical souvenir for us. We were surprised to find that it was cheaper to buy an Icelandic flag in Norway, than in Iceland.
Höfn is the Icelandic term for harbour. It is also a place in the south-east of Iceland, which has a model of the solar system. This weblog post is about this model. It is fairly accurate in terms of relative distance between solar system bodies, with the exception of the location of Pluto.
There are several characteristics to enjoy about a model like this. One of the most important is that it can be reproduced almost everywhere in the world. So, you too could create one, at a smaller scale in a room or garden, or at a larger scale across your county/ state/ province/ country. In this particular case, it is 2.8 km long. However, it could be any length desired. Then there is the data, with all sorts of interesting facts about the sun, and each planet. An example is the sun’s diameter in real life (1.4 million km = 1.4 Gm), and on the model (45 cm). The solar system model bodies are illustrated in two different ways. There is a photographic representation, as it would be seen through a telescope. There is a more naive representation, made by a pupil at the local school.
Not everyone is able to respond to scaled proportions appropriately. I remember one test to see if people understood the scale of the universe. Ask them if the moon or an elephant is larger. I thought it was a dumb question to ask, until one person seriously replied that an elephant is larger.
The Asteroid Belt
Weaknesses. I may criticize others for not knowing the true size of the moon. Yet, I have my own failings. No one would describe the photographs of the solar system information panels as professional. They were taken with a smart phone on a sunny day, which meant that because of my light sensitivity, I had to wear sunglasses while photographing them. Most of the time, I failed to capture the entire sign. Even when I did, it was not centred.
I explored the first part of the solar system, closest to the sun, with others, then went out on my own to explore the rest of it, some hours later. I was able to trace it, but unable to retrace the route back to our accommodation. I hadn’t recorded the accommodation address, so had no reference point to use on my smartphone map. Fortunately, I was able to give my location to Alasdair, who rescued me. It was totally undramatic. Yes, I may understand scale, but I don’t have a geographic sense of position, a fact well known to the others in my family.
Venturing into Seyðisfjörður involved about 20 km of driving in fog. While there, much of the fog lifted, so the return drive only involved about 10 km of fog over the 600 m high Fjarðarheiði mountain pass.
The area has a history dating back to the tenth century. It has also been the site of the world’s first modern industrialized whaling station, established in 1864. In 1906, the first telegraph cable connecting Iceland to Europe (and the world) made landfall here. In 1913, it was also the location of Iceland’s first high-voltage AC power plant, that included a hydroelectric dam. During World War II, it housed a British/ American military base.
While for most of the post-war period the economic focus was on fishing, today, it is tourism. the Icelandic port for the Smyril Line ferry M.S. Nörrona, built in 2003, that connects Iceland with Hirtshals, Denmark and Tórshavn, in the Faroe Islands.
The village was also a filming location for the Icelandic crime series, Trapped.
On 2020-12-18, the largest landslide in an Icelandic residential area hit, destroying thirteen houses and the Technical Museum of East Iceland! Many other buildings also suffered damage. Within hours, the entire village was evacuated.
Now, near the Smyril ferry terminal, a display explains the landslide in detail, especially the fate of individuals, complete with photographs by Katja Goljat and Matja Rust.
Yes, there are about 30 additional images and text like the previous two!
The traffic lights in Akureyri feature red hearts for stop. Pedestrian tourists like this, and comment on them waiting for the lights to change. As with most second-largest cities they have to do something, preferably positive, to shift the focus away from the largest city and onto themselves. Akureyri had a population of 19 219 in 2021, occupying 138 km2.
The Aviation Museum of Iceland is located in Akureyri. A Wikipedia article provides insights into the museum. This weblog post provides some photos!
In Akureyri, Fashionista Brock was also pressed into a photo shoot to show off his yellow glasses, in the yellow frame. Credits for the shoot are extensive.
It took almost a week to find it, but should fate necessitate a move from Inderøy to Iceland, I think I have found a location that would meet my needs, Húsavík. It is a village on the north coast, with a population of 2 307 people, its own airport, the oldest flock of free ranging sheep (from 874) and one of the best museums I have encountered in the world, the Whale Museum.
Of course, such a statement is based on first impressions. That is all one has on a road trip. There is no time to encounter places a second time. This encounter with the town almost didn’t happen. Driving from the outskirts of Akureyri, we visited the waterfall at Goðafoss. We then took the most direct route towards Húsavík, only to find the road blocked by highway crews, who couldn’t be bothered to move their truck from a bridge to allow other traffic to pass. This added an additional 30 km to the trip, which meant that we discussed missing Húsavík altogether.
Wikipedia reminds people that Húsavík served as the setting of the 2020 Netflix film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, a comedic story of two Húsavík natives representing Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest, with one of the film’s songs named after the town. The song itself was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 93rd Academy Awards. Both of my children have commented positively about this film.
More on climate. There is no advantage to living at Húsavík during any other season. While we have grown used to winters in Norway, I could appreciate less cold weather and less snow. On a theoretical level, Madeira has appeal. However, unless other family members wanted to move there, it would not be an interesting place. As long as our daughter Shelagh and her husband Derek are living in California, it is more appealing to visit there. Canadian citizens are generally allowed to live up to six months each year in the United States. The most appealing months are November to February.
After eating dinner at a Macadonian run B & S Restaurant, we needed to walk off our meals, walking along the banks of the Blanda River in Blönduós, Iceland. We stopped to admire a modern building with a sod roof, and unusual siding.
At the mouth of the river, we walked away from the river for a block. Then we walked along a street, one block from the river, on the way back. Here we encountered the Icelandic Textile Centre, a research institution, and the Icelandic Textile Museum. It was in the same building that we had appreciated previously.
The museum was officially opened at the centennial of Blönduós in 1976, and has been a private foundation since 1993. In 1976 the museum was in a small and narrow building, a former stable of the Women’s School (Kvennaskólinn) in Blönduós. Construction of a new building was started in 2001-10. It was designed by the architect Guðrún Jónsdóttir. It occupies about 250 m2, integrated with the old building. This new building was opened 2003-05-09.
I liked the modernist design of the Textile Museum, and felt that the architecture contrasted with the textiles. The underlying theme of all exhibitions at the museum is the Þráður = thread. The thread is the basis for all textile crafts and connects the past with the present, and the future.
Halldóra Bjarnadóttir (1873-1981), made significant contributions to the museum. She was employed by the National Farmers Union in Iceland and published the „Hlín” magazine for 44 years. Moreover, she founded and operated the Wool- and Textile College at Svalbarði in South-Þingeyjarsýsla. Halldóra dedicated herself to the social and educational affairs of women and was an eager representative of their culture. She collected varieties of weaving and knit patterns as well as many types of small objects related to wool- and textile processing. Many sources point out that she never married, and did not have children.
I had an interesting conversation with a young woman employee at the museum. She explained that Icelandic national costumes are not owned by any individual, but by a family. One person, usually an older woman, is usually responsible for the garment(s). It is considered an honour to have this position. People may ask to wear one or more parts or all of a national costume for various events.
I asked her about male costumes. She could show me photographs, but not the garments. They were not well enough kept to put on display, she said.
A life in Blönduós would offer people an opportunity to pursue the study of (Icelandic) textiles in depth, and an opportunity to meet others with the same interest.
Do I enjoy travelling? The answer has to be no, especially when it involves class Y (economy) travel in cramped seats on airliners. Once I actually get to a destination things are fine, as long as everything is identical to the way it is in Inderøy. This sentence is being written at precisely the minute I eat breakfast in Norway 09:00. Except, I am in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the time is 07:00. Two hours difference. It must be summer. One hour difference, in winter, because Iceland is smart enough to avoid time changes twice a year.
Travel used to be fun, opening my mind to new experiences and ways of doing things. As I approach another milestone in my life (3/4 of a century in four months) I note how closed I am to appreciating new experiences.
On the bus trip from KEF airport to downtown Reykjavik, I wondered how my mental health would survive the trip. The landscape could be described in one word, desolate. I am used to forests and hills and a fjord. I do not think that I would ever choose to move away from those elements. Iceland is largely treeless. I need trees to thrive. Because Iceland is more appreciated for its natural beauty, most people write, photograph, draw and paint the natural landscape. This weblog post is going to be the exception. It is going to concentrate on the low culture of Reykjavik.
Alasdair and I are stayed for four nights at Baron’s hostel, for the price of staying at a well equipped large, twin bed room with bath at a hotel in Norway, we were offered bunk beds without any opportunity to sit in the room, with a shared bath.
The building itself gives off severe vibrations. It was an orphanage, as well as a medical centre, in a previous incarnation. Today, there are two hostels vying for attention. B47 attracting upmarket hostel users occupies the first to third floors, while Baron’s, occupies the fourth and fifth floors. It attracts other, lesser souls. Asking a 50ish woman from Oregon what she was doing at Baron’s, she quickly answered: slumming. Her answer resonated. We met many others in the same age group, some older: A man with parents in North Vancouver, currently living in Chicago, working on his PhD in creative writing, and heading off to a writing retreat; an American musician; an entire theatre troop from Perth, Australia, with a parody of Dizney; a Polish marketing specialist who explained that the economy was booming in Poland, with the lowest unemployment rates ever.
The artwork at the top of this post, signed by Hugo Forte, dominates the common room of the Baron’s Hostel. This obviously represents the Beatniks of the late 1950s. By the mid 1960s, bell-bottom trousers had replaced the slender ankle trousers.
The Lebowski Bar
The Lebowski Bar is a typical low culture place to eat. The Lebowski (cheeseburger) and the Walker (bacon burger) tasted good. At first I found the music obnoxious, but decided to put that petty concern aside, and to listen to it as if I had chosen it myself. One track, especially, attracted my attention positively. Alasdair, using Shazam, the music discovery app, was able to tell me it was Going Nowhere, by Toma. At the hostel, I was able to listen to it again on YouTube. It was part of an album, Aroma, self-released using the name Tangible Animal Records on 2017-03-31. The day before, 2017-03-30, it had been uploaded onto YouTube by Distrokid. In the 6.25 years/ 75 months/ 2282 days since then, it had been listened to 1 042 times. I became the second subscriber of Toma’s music, and am sure I will listen to their other eight tracks made available. Toma is a four-piece band from Austin, Texas. Band members are: Waldo Wittenmeyer (keyboards/vocals), Jake Hiebert (drums), Neil Byers (bass), and Willy Jay (guitar/vocals).
The first major museum that we visited was the Reykjavik Maritime Museum. It explained the role of people with ships, especially in modern Iceland, especially with respect to fishing.
There are so many museums in the Reykjavik area, that we could not afford the time to visit all of them. One of the first not visited, was the Museum of Icelandic Punk/ Pünk/ Punx. Asked what distinguishes this type of music from Rock, I was forced to invent a suitable answer: There is no difference musically, for both encompass a wide range. It is an ethos rather than an aesthetic. Despite this, a notable feature of Punk musicians is their clothing/ fashion/ uniforms that in some way show a disregard for social conventions. It was exemplified by the Sex Pistols lead singer, Johnny Rotten (born John Lydon, 1956 – ), who wore safety pins as earrings. Yet, the safety pins were not merely decorative, they codified punk, but were also practical, holding together clothing including Elizabeth Hurley’s (1965 – ) THAT dress in 1994, and to affix patches to the backs of jackets since the mid 1970s.
One may wonder why Hallgrim’s Church, a landmark in Reykjavik, is included in low culture. The petty reason is that its height of 74.5 m was not chosen for design purposes, or even the glorification of God, but to ensure that this parish church was taller than Landakot’s Church, the Catholic Cathedral in Iceland. Construction of the church was a slow process. It took 41 years from 1945 to 1986 for it to be constructed. The crypt beneath the choir was consecrated in 1948, the steeple and wings were completed in 1974, and the nave – used by ordinary parishioners – was consecrated in 1986.
The same day we visited Hallgrim’s Church, we also visited The Grand Mosque of Iceland, a more modest building, open to the public, but not attempting to profit from visitors. The visit was a much more rewarding and spiritual experience.