Reykjavik and surroundings

The main photo is a pretty good example of what Reykjavik is like, but it misses this certain je ne sais quoi…

Oh yes. This.

But also this:

Reykjavik makes me think that someone took a few towns I know – Warsaw, Cracow, Birmingham, and Berlin, then threw them all in a cauldron, stirred just a tad, then threw them in one spot, and surrounded by incredible nature for no reason at all. You can walk past a butt ugly building site with view on the mountains. Buildings that are nearly falling apart will be found right next to new and shiny ones, and both will be covered in breathtaking graffiti. Or in the “Bjarni was here lol” graffiti, of course. A super pricey jewelry store will be found next to something that looks like a neighbourhood cinema from an early Almodovar movie. And then Sun Voyager in front of, I kid you not, a gas station. Actually scratch the rest, this is what Reykjavik is like. (The sight of Sun Voyager puts tears in my eyes no matter how windy or sunny the day is.)


Confession: I don’t really like people in large amounts.

I’ve always wanted to see what being in a hot geotermal pool/hot spring feels like. I’ve also always wanted tourists to cease existing while I was having my bath. This resulted in us taking a 2.5 hour trip (one way) to Guðrúnarlaug, a very well hidden place in West Iceland.

The trip itself looked mostly like this:

It’s easy for me to say, because I was not the person driving, but Iceland just…shows off. You’re on a motorway, surrounded by all this for no reason other than that Iceland can. And then you find yourself on a brink of actual precipice. Without anything similar to barriers. This country will kill you just because it can, too. Be careful, or be dead.

Northern lights

We booked a Northern Lights Special Tour Amazingness Mostly Guaranteed Three Decks And Free Overalls for Thursday night. Weather prediction was “not a single cloud on the northern hemisphere”. The aurora forecast – 3 (moderate). Which unfortunately has been the best so far. But it was also 3 on the Wednesday night. When, as you might remember, we were back from Seltún and, frankly, rather tired. We played cards for a bit before sleep, and on our way to bed I just took one look at my messages, and discovered our landlady sent us a few…

As we walked the street – with complete set of street lights, of course, and the streets of Reykjavik are BRIGHT – we already saw it. But we were aiming for the Sun Voyager, which was the darkest spot we could think of at such, er, short notice.

There was a bunch of people. Scots, Poles, Brits, who even knows. They were behaving like tourists, i.e. making noise, taking photos of themselves, etc. I tuned them out.

Seeing Northern lights on YouTube or photos just doesn’t prepare you for the reality of them. The photo above is maybe one percent of how bright they were; I just took a snapshot with the phone to remember the moment, the timestamp is more important than anything else. I know they are some sort of magnetic blah phenomenon of physics yada yada. To me they are Earth rubbing edges with Midgard. And the worlds were very near that night. As tourists squealed, trying not to fall in the water, cars passed by roaring, I stared at the stars, the sky, the magic.

The dance lasted about 45 minutes. We walked home, still casting looks up at the sky, awake like we’ve never been before. Upon our arrival home I felt as if someone punctured and deflated me. I dropped into bed and fell asleep. I dreamt of friends from many years ago, somehow connecting with people that are in my life now. Those I haven’t been in touch with for a decade hanging out with those who are dearest to me today. Finding old posters of music concerts that never happened. There were no Gods or auroras in my dreams. But there was magic of very different sort.

As you can guess, this built incredible expectations in us for Special Magical Northern Lights Tour On A Boat With Free Overalls. We arrived in time, joined the crowd, some of whom immediately started putting the Free Overalls on top of all the layers they already wore. This was an aurora equivalent of the sort of people who queue at the gate at the airport before the plane even arrives. The boat departed on time. We stood on the deck, waiting. The sky was cloudless. The further we were from Reykjavik harbour, the more stars we could see, and the more I realised how difficult it really is to escape light pollution. We waited.

And then we waited some more.

And then we returned to the harbour at 1am. Some people who wore Free Overalls got so overheated they fell asleep. But other than stars in the sky and shockingly delicious waffles they missed very little.

I have grown to respect nature. Not just Icelandic, nature in general. Because nature doesn’t give a fuck about what you planned or paid for. You can’t make Northern lights appear because you booked a tour. If the Gods so decide, you’ll be subjected to the magic in the middle of the city, with a bunch of half-drunk Scots shouting around you. The aurora forecast which says “moderate” may be incorrect. The “quiet” (this is when we saw the lights a day earlier) may be equally incorrect. We fly to the moon – well, not recently – carry supercomputers in our pocket, access all pornography music ever recorded via invisible waves going between phone towers and our pocket supercomputers. But we still don’t know how to get rid of mosquitoes, or cause natural phenomenons to happen because we booked them.

Earlier today I have rewritten the entire scene in which an American girl witnesses an aurora for the first time. I might have overused the word “magic” a bit. But if you haven’t seen it, you’ll have to trust me – there is very little that compares to Northern lights chasing the stars as you stand next to Sun Voyager, watching.


Despite my near-death experience with manflu I decided we couldn’t spend a sunny, warm day sitting at home and fiddling with our laptops, and dragged husby out to Seltún.

Google Maps and Iceland don’t really cooperate very well. Entering “Seltún” into Google Maps led us more or less in the right direction until we arrived at a gravel path wide enough to accommodate one Victoria Beckham, and covered in “DO NOT ENTER, ESPECIALLY BY CAR, BUT GENERALLY DO NOT ENTER AT ALL” signs. What you need to know is that Icelanders don’t fuck around with those signs. This is not a country where a coffee cup says “may contain coffee, and said coffee may be hot, which you will recognise by the fact you ordered a hot coffee”. If they put warning signs on everything that’s actually dangerous for you, you wouldn’t be able to leave Reykjavik, and from what I know about its nightlife even that might be doubtful. If a sign in Iceland says “danger”, that means “while everywhere else you can break a leg and die a slow, painful death, here you will break your legs and arms, then die a very slow, painful death, being forced by elves to listen to ‘My Heart Will Go On’ on repeat”. If it says “DO NOT ENTER”… that means you do not enter.

We did not enter.

The website fortunately provides more than just names of the spots: it has geographical coordinates. Which is how we managed to get to Seltún. Husby was dripping with sweat – apparently driving in turns on ice, gravel, and ice mixed with gravel is not very easy. But nevertheless he decided to put on his winter jacket. And that’s how we discovered he left it at home.

Luckily I have yet again proven that I am a diva who has no clue how to dress in Iceland. I brought along my new-old sweater, my old-old sweater, a winter hat, a lumberjack baseball cap (don’t ask), and two pairs of gloves. Plus, of course, my own coat. And that’s how it’s been proven once again that we truly complete each other. Suitably dressed, we spent two hours walking through the snow and mud, inhaling the beautiful smell of rotten eggs, and…

Ég er á Íslandi (part 2)

Note: the grammar of this post is going to be absolutely atrocious even for my standards, because I am nearing death. By which I mean I am suffering from manflu. This is where I thank the Gods for not spending four days here, like last time, but four weeks. Therefore the only natural phenomenons we witnessed were nearby stores.

At Mal og menning I tricked a local into believing I was one of THEM. For approximately five seconds. And the joke was on me. I asked, in what was apparently perfect Icelandic, “do you have ‘Litla, gula hænan’ for me?”. I did not understand any part of the response, not even punctuation. At the end they didn’t have it, and I bought a book about Vikings. Written by a Scotsman.

From there we moved on to Spuutnik, where I purchased a very pleasant sweater. While not a lopapeysa, it’s going to keep me warm while my actual lopapeysa lingers at home waiting for my return. (It did, however, cost less than 20% of the lopapeysa‘s price. I WIN.) After this we moved to a pharmacy, where I exclaimed “I have a cold! Get rid of it!”, and obtained throat lozenges plus Icelandic version of lemsip. Which could be accurately described as blood-coloured-toilet-cleaner-sip. It does clean my nose (and toilet), allow me to breathe, and unfortunately it also improves my ability to perceive taste.

While we’re on the topic of taste: Icelandic water is a true natural phenomenon. Cold water comes straight from glaciers. If you buy mineral water in Iceland you’re either underinformed, or you just like throwing money away for no reason. Cold water from the tap is possibly the most delicious beverage I have ever tasted. Hot water, on the other hand, will make you smell of rotten eggs forever. It will also turn your teeth yellow, split your tongue, and melt your fingernails. You’ve been warned. If you’re about to come over, start getting used to taking baths in ice cubes.

After I spent a few hours dying, I demanded that husby drives my snotty royal highness to Forlagið. When you look at the photo above, exactly one book (“Víkingarnir”) was not bought there, and I feel I made a major mistake by leaving some books unpurchased. We’ll be going back once the buyer of my kidney sends the PayPal transfer. Upon our return I went to bed, where I spent the next hours hallucinating that someone is knocking on the door, and grabbing the door handle. Obviously, I reasoned, my manflu was truly bringing me to the gates of hell. The truth was worse. A Chinese couple rented out an apartment. They came over. The apartment was already rented. To us. I didn’t even walk to the door, because I knew I was hallucinating (duh), and husby went for a walk. The poor, lovely, non-English-speaking couple waited outside until he returned. It took both them and us good few hours to realise that this building actually has a first floor and a ground floor, and the entrance isn’t shared. We were sorta kinda aware that there are two apartments, but since they had a printout featuring the photo of, err, our entrance, we assumed that Internet exploded something.

All’s well that ends well. They are currently downstairs, hopefully warm and dry. I am on the sofa, preparing for my impending funeral. Husby is watching the news. I spoke four languages today, which has somehow become a daily occurence. And the biggest problem (once I am resurrected) that we are facing is that aurora forecast for Thursday night is “moderate”. Pray to Gods you believe in for the number to go up. And, obviously, for me to make it alive.

Not much writing, other than this post, was completed today, because I AM DYING.

Resource for today: Iceland Magazine.

Ég er á Íslandi (part 1)

I assure you that I have travelled before (even to Iceland), but you wouldn’t guess it from the way I planned this particular trip.

First, the timing. I missed the fact Easter exists. I don’t know (yet) what Icelanders do to celebrate Easter, but one thing I know is that they do not open supermarkets, and our arrival was 3pm on Saturday the 31st. But the supermarkets closed at 6pm on Saturday, so we just needed everything to go smoothly.

The plane left early, arrived without a hiccup, we found the exit on the second try (accompanied by me excitedly trying to read every single word in Icelandic out loud without getting arrested), got the bus, and arrived at the car rental spot with plenty time to spare. We produced the paperwork, the lovely gentleman behind the counter took husby’s credit card, and that’s when we discovered it was “unauthorised”. The terminal did not divulge what for, by whom, or why exactly it was “unauthorised”. It just refused to cooperate. Obviously, I also had my credit card with me. (Ég á kreditkort!) I also didn’t not, nor had I ever known my PIN number, because I had only ever used this card for online purchases. After some shaking and crying we came up with the idea to call the bank, and find the answers to all our questions. The gentleman behind the counter waited patiently.

The customer service of our bank seemed unimpressed by our adventures, nevertheless explained that it was the limit that was too low, and after some grumbling and complaining bumped the limit. We managed to pay for the car. “Why don’t you have a coffee?” suggested the lovely guy behind the counter, as he watched tears flowing down husby’s face. While husby got busy swallowing the coffee together with the plastic spoon, then eating the paper cup, I tested my four Icelandic words on the guy. He understood me. (Yay!) Then he responded. Using words that I did not know. It would have helped if he wanted to have a drink with me at my place or the hotel, but he didn’t.

I had a suspicion this might happen more often.

We got into the car, and I pet husby’s hand as if it were a terrified guinea pig. When his shakes subsided, we got on the way, and thanks to Google Maps found the place. Our usual schtick, perfected through six years of our relationship, is that husby refuses to trust Google Maps, I remember we should turn left when in fact we should not only turn right, but also do so three streets further, then he apologises to Google Maps, and I pretend not to gloat. We performed it perfectly – experience will do that to you. Which is how the trip to a supermarket located 200 meters from our place took us half an hour.

We filled our basket and waited in line, while I made comments on other people under my breath. I currently use four languages on daily basis, which results in me speaking English with Icelandic accent, using Oxford comma in Polish, and applying Dutch grammar to all other languages. But it was time to test the effects of my course, and I was ready.

The lady at the counter: You have to pay thirty four thousand and four kronur.
Me, seductively: Or is it…þrjátíu fjögur þúsund og fjögur kronur?
Her: *says words in Icelandic*
Me: Afsakið?
Her: *word in Icelandic*
Me: …
Her: *sighs* Would you like the receipt?
Me: Nee, bedankt (“no, thanks” in Dutch). Ehhh… nei, takk?

I could tell she was thinking “one more hour and I can go home”, only of course she was thinking that in Icelandic, so I only understood the last four words.

We now had groceries, parked our car safely outside the house, had the keys, and everything clearly went right. At this point I started feeling very self-congratulatory.

This was a mistake.

I managed to travel to Reykjavik equipped with the following:
– one thin sweater, according to which I am a member of Swedish track and field team;
– no other sweaters whatsoever (I remember myself thinking “jeez, I don’t even know how many of those I packed” – ONE. YOU PACKED ONE.);
– two pairs of leather trousers, one of which is leather cargo pants, and one is a gay porn star type black shiny thing;
– thick winter boots, regular leather boots, Converse;
– card reader, four USB cables, USB-A to USB-C cable, two Macbook chargers and two cables, three USB-A chargers for phone, tablet, e-reader, cable for the fitness band, I think you know what I am trying to say here, which is that I don’t really understand how priorities work.

But I could rest assured that while freezing my tits off I would be able to do so while thoroughly charged.

We spent the Easter Sunday in the haze of jet lag. After adjusting for time zones, sunshine accompanied us for approx. four hours longer here than it had in Amsterdam. I had a headache, head cold, an aching toe, depression, and Gods know what else, if it was awful, then it was safe to assume I had it. (I also have hypochondria, by the way.) We went for a short walk just not to be stuck inside all day, and I discovered Reykjavik wasn’t actually all picturesque. It was an odd mixture of modern and old, ruined and pristine. Hallgrímskirkja didn’t represent it any better than its numerous building sites did. I haven’t noticed that before, because we didn’t have enough time to hang around town.

And then on Monday morning, after 9.5 hours of very bad sleep we got out of bed, and when we looked outside we saw snow. It looked like in children’s movies, floating down in large clumps, silently, slowly, ruthlessly.

“I am not driving,” said husby.

Amsterdam winter is either the Song of Hail and Rain hitting you in the face very hard, or just rain hitting you in the face very hard. Sometimes snow falls, melts, freezes again, then paralyses the city. This snow looked like a fairytale. Yesterday the depression made me think “you shouldn’t have gone anywhere”. Right this moment there was nowhere I would rather be.

As long as we stayed indoors, of course.

Bjørn again

Today marks six months since I sent what I thought was the final draft of the book to the editor I asked to just look at my grammar and spelling (Crystal Clear Resources).

I haven’t started looking for a publisher yet.

I’ve learned a LOT in those six months. One of those things was that blogging for many years hasn’t prepared me to write a novel. But also that my hunger for knowledge was larger than my fear of rejection or feedback that was something else than ‘OMG you’re the most impressive human being I ever met’. I’ve also learned what an editor can actually do, and why it is a good idea to listen when I am told ‘this starts rather slowly’ by two people, one of whom happens to be a professional.

The entire novel consists of 21 chapters. I started on chapter 7 a few weeks ago, and we did not alter the story much. The last six months taught me that the amount of ways you can write the same story is infinite. That when in February I think ‘this is the most hilarious phrase in the world ever’, there is a good chance in March I will suddenly be struck by the thought ‘this must go‘. That just because some characters only appear on five pages doesn’t mean they can be completely interchangeable. But also that sixteen years after my last university exam I can still learn so much I will be impressed with myself. Not in the ‘OMG I’m the most impressive human being I ever met’ way. Just due to the discovery that I can still be open-minded, and there is some space left in my brain among the lyrics of 80s songs, and Pet Shop Boys related trivia.

The bad, horrible, no good thing is that I fell head over heels in love with Iceland. This is problematic, because I don’t like cold weather. While Iceland is not completely made of ice, it is not an oasis of sunshine and warmth either. When they say ‘land of ice and fire’ they generally mean ‘land of ice, strong winds, low temperatures, oh – we also have volcanoes but you’d better pray they don’t erupt, and if you insist on fire don’t forget we can’t afford to actually burn wood the way you like, which is constantly. But here’s a lighter’.

I don’t know why I couldn’t have fallen in love with, I don’t know, Australia? (This might be because I haven’t visited Australia. Please stop me from visiting Australia.)

There will be Iceland-related stuff appearing here, and on my YouTube, Twitter, Facebook in the coming weeks.

Takk og bless!

Resource for today: Janet Reid, Literary Agent (blog).

Currently reading: “Barbara The Slut and Other People”, Lauren Holmes.

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