Sky as a Kite

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My workplace is Vifilstaðir, a house built beginning 1900s to be a tuberculosis sanatorium. Part of the structure is in disrepair, such as the old terrace, where patients used to lie for hours under thick blankets in the cold, fresh air, which was faultily believed to be beneficial. It is all very "Magic Mountain" a book I incidentally never finished to read.

Now the house is used as a temporary home for elderly who are waiting for a place in a nursing home. The house is spacy, with high ceilings and from all the rooms as well as the physiotherapy there is a great view of the surrounding landscape, which now in summer is in bloom.

From the house we can see "Gunnhildur", a hill which patients in the sanatorium climbed as a final test if they were ready to go home. There is also a trail called "Tuberculosis trail". It is connected to other trails in the area. There are many recreational areas. There are picnic areas, lava caves and Vífilstaðirlake, a lake where couples from Reykjavík meet in secret during lunch brakes, as me and my colleague found out when we decided to go for a short walk there.

In the pictures I tried to create the feeling of old photographs using Gimp. There are lots of ways to get there, but the one prefer is playing around with contrast and colour balance of the picture and then adding a layer in the hard-light mode and add a gradient in a pastel colour (yellow for daylight, violet for evening light). I feel I start getting the hang of Gimp.

My area - from woody hills to shiny glasstowers

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I live in 105 Rekjavík. It is a beautiful and diverse area. The neighbourhood was build in the 1940s. In summer flowers spring up everywhere around the grey, uniform houses. People are hanging out in the garden and the smell of BBQ is in the air. Last weekend we had a street party, featuring real live Icelandic horses in someones backyard for the kids to pat. The horses were standing knee deep in grass and flowers happily munching away.

Klambratún park is just around the corner. It used to be a school field, but now it is full of trees and flowers (see the picture of the week). I did some guerrilla gardening there and planted potatoes, but they were weeded out by diligent gardeners. There is a playground, volleyball field and a disc golf course. I did not even now disc golf existed until I walked home from work and had to dodge frisbees.
One can always find refugee in Kjarvalsstaðir and enjoy the awesome works of Jóhannes S. Kjarval.

For a full outdoor experience one can walk a bit further to Öskjuhlið. On top is Perlan, a building constructed out of hot water storage tanks, with an observation platform with great views over the city. People often go there on New Years to watch the fireworks and we went there in March to watch the solar eclipse. The hill is covered in woods, with a lot of fireplaces hidden behind walls. A good way to get a bit of outdoor feels in the middle of the city.

On the other side of 105 is the so called business district. Here you can find branches of all of the major Icelandic financial institutions, as well as upscale restaurants and hotels. The inaptly named "Beergarden" can be found here. The district is centered around Höfðatorg, a glass tower opposite of the historical house Höfði. Höfði was built for the French consulate in 1909, making it one of the oldest houses in Reykjavík. It is most famous for being the site of the Reykjavík Summit. It is also said to be haunted.

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Be safe in Iceland

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Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world according to the 2015 Global Peace Index. This does not mean that nothing here is out to kill you. It just isn't the people, it is nature. With time one adopt certain habits, such as checking the weather and road conditions before driving in the countryside. Tourists (and foreigners living in Iceland) regularly underestimate the weather and get themselves into trouble. I have several friends who have been in car accidents on icy roads in winter. Every year tourists die of exposure in the mountains and several more have to get rescued. Here is some information on how to be safe.

Check the weather. Icelandic people are obsessed with talking about the weather, so even if it does not safe your life, it will help to connect to the locals .
The website of the Icelandic Meteorological Office does not only have information on weather conditions, but also on dangers such as avalanches, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and floods. The front page displays alerts in case of acute dangers in any of these areas. They also have a Northern Lights forecast, which is nice.
The website of the Icelandic Emergency Response also gives warnings and advice on how to react in case of earthquakes, storms, eruptions etc. At the moment there is a warning of an impending M>6 earthquake, which I am excited about. The Emergency Response will also warn you of a Zombie (or any other kind of) epidemic.

Road conditions and useful information about driving in Iceland are found on the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration website. I used to check this website in winter even when going to the neighbourhood town to work when I lived in Blönduós. Even now in the middle of July some highland roads are closed due to bad weather. The map on the website will also indicate whether snow tires or 4x4 drive is required to travel on the road.

Below is a sign in Iceland that is found before any mountain pass or other areas usually met with challenging weather conditions.

The sign shows the wind direction (N=North, S=South, A=East, V=West), wind speed (in meters per second, >15=Gale, >20=Severe gale, >24=Storm, >28=DO NOT TRAVEL!) , temperature (important because it might be icy) and strength of wind gusts (in red). Wind gusts are dangerous, especially on icy roads, as the car can be suddenly pushed to the side.

Some signs that are good to know:

blind hill - it is not possible to see oncoming traffic. Drive slowly and as far right as possible and use the horn if neccessary.
paved road ends - reduce speed before the changeover to gravel
single lane bridge - the car closer to the bridge has right of way. If unsure stop and asses the situation
killersheep . Be aware that sheep on the side of the road might cross unexpectedly to join others. This is especially true beginning June, when the lambs are out with their mother before being herded to the highlands. You are liable for sheep that get hit.

One of the Icelandic Search and Rescue Organisations has created a website which every hiker should read carefully before venturing out. It has information on how to prepare for hiking, as well as services, such as leaving a travel plan and the brilliant 112 Iceland app, which I would recommend especially for single hikers.

The Icelandic Search and Rescue teams are volunteer organisations. Their members spent a lot of their free time training and even buy most of their equipment themselves. They finance their operational costs mainly by selling Christmas trees, fireworks and key chains at the end of the year. With the growing number of tourists getting themselves into trouble they are spread thin over the summer months. I encourage everyone to support them!

Phone numbers
1777 Road conditions
112 Emergency services, Police
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Vestmanneyjar - Iceland in a nutshell

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I was lying on my back in the wind and the rain, trying to concentrate on my breathing. I had thought that taking the ship from Landeyjahöfn, which only takes about 45min, would be a better experience than the 4 hour boat ride from hell I had experienced in 2001 from Þorlákshöfn. Just as I was wondering whether I should make my way to the reeling we entered the harbour of Heimaey. With its steep bird cliffs all around it and the turquoise water, it is like coming into a pirates cove.

The whole island had a mysterious atmosphere thanks to the fog and drizzling rain. We walked around the cliffs trying to find puffins, but they had been smart enough to stay inside because of the weather. We felt a bit sorry for the lone camper on the campground.

Even without puffins, there is a lot to see on Heimaey. It is an abridged version of Iceland, wild coastlines and green slopes dotted with sheep The town is right next to the crater from the eruption in 1973, which is still warm to the touch. Lupine flowers are now growing in the lava, which had destroyed part of the town.

The town itself is an active community built on fisheries. Thanks to tourism there are now a lot of restaurants and cafés in town, as well as art and designer shops. The first fab lab was founded here in 2008. Maybe because on has to brave the boat ride from hell to get away, the town does not seem to have lost all its lifeblood to Reykjavík.

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100 years women's suffrage in Iceland

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Today we celebrated the 100 year's anniversary of women's right to vote in Iceland. Iceland was one of the first European countries to enfranchise women, most did so only after the first or second world war. One kanton in Switzerland even had to be forced to do so by the constitutional court in 1991! Of course being a foreigner I'm not allowed to vote here no matter which gender I have.

An article on Iceland's accomplishments in women's rights can be found here.

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