People want to know what’s the big deal about Iceland, why go? I think the appeal lies in its remoteness, exotic in an orderly, Nordic way. Iceland is, at least for now, still a place where you can get away from everything and find quiet solitude in its raw, wild beauty. It’s possible to imagine how the planet used to be before overpopulation. You can escape the frantic busyness of American life, and in the most literal sense breathe clear, fresh air. It’s exhilarating and invigorating and relaxing all at the same time.

Iceland is modern and progressive, and Icelanders are friendly and pretty chill. There is no crime to speak of. Even small towns pride themselves on their green approach to recycling and energy. Electricity is nearly free, endlessly provided by Iceland’s geothermal abundance of hot water and steam. (On the other hand, gasoline is around $6/gallon. Electric cars are increasingly popular.) And the coffee is good– at an average price of $4/cup!

We spent most of our time out of doors, walking as well as a bit of hiking and biking, with a backdrop of dramatic landscapes and changing weather. Morning fog melting away as we leave Westfjords.

Ready for the Reader’s Digest version of our trip?
(warning: this is almost as long as an Icelandic saga.)

Ch. 1 Reykjavik

Reykjavik, a hip, small city. Everyone is so relaxed, even with all the coffee. A walking tour and a coastal cycling tour provided good overviews of the city and an opportunity to learn about Iceland, chatting with our local guides.

We checked out the Reykjavik Art Museum and the Maritime Museum (history of cod fishing, Iceland’s raison d’être for centuries) and major monuments, but also walked the city’s neighborhoods. Chilly temperatures and exercise required us to sample the delicious soups, fresh bread and seafood, the basic elements of local cuisine.

Some Reykjavik snapshots:

Sun Voyager, by Reykjavik harbor, designed to represent a “dream boat and an ode to the sun.” Created by Jón Gunnar Árnason.

Left: Hallsgrímkirkja, built between 1945-1986, inspired by the basalt columns that comprise much of the Icelandic landscape. Designed by Gutdjón Samúelsson.

You never know what you’ll find, peeking into the tiny back gardens of Reykjavik. A mosaic representing traditional Icelandic houses or an alarmed-looking cat and a cow walking through the garden wall.

Cool murals are all over Reykjavik.

Love how this fence is painted.

Re-siding old houses with brightly-colored corrugated steel is a hallmark of domestic architecture. I love the juxtaposition of ornate antique trim with the clean, modern style of the corrugated striping.

A very literal intersection of modern and traditional.

Braut & Co., the best bread in town. Locals line up as soon as they open. Freshly baked bread is a mainstay of Icelandic meals. Served with butter, always. I never said no.

On our last day in Reykjavik, we braced ourselves to leave the city and join the tourist throngs driving the Golden Circle. Unfair to bemoan the crowds when we were part of it, but still…

Thingvellir (my keyboard doesn’t include the unique Icelandic dipthongs, so some spellings are Anglicized) was indeed impressive in spite of the crowds on the main trails. Located in a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates collide, this site is the soul of Iceland, home of the Althing, the original parliamentary-style assembly which began in 930 and continued in this location until 1798. Any Game of Thrones fans out there? Several episodes were filmed in this evocative landscape.

Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), absolutely breathtaking in its terrifying beauty and power. Look through the mist on the left and you can see tiny ant-like shapes of people standing above the falls.

This skinny cable is all that separates you from the abyss!

Ch.2 Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Road tripping ended up involving more hours in the car than we’d anticipated — take a look at the map for a sense of the convoluted geography! We chose a northwest route from Reykjavik, away from the hordes of tourists and many of the big-name destinations. This region and Westfjords are “cold”, that is to say volcanically inactive, so no hot springs here. Staying mostly in airbnb lodging, we were able to meet a few locals and get some sense of Icelandic life.

Stykkishólmur, the main town on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. A fishing town once known for its scallops, residents still fish and are involved in tourism. This photo of the harbor is entirely unedited. The air really is this clear, the colors this bright. Everything appeared as if in ultra-high-def, it was astounding! This was taken around 8:30 pm.

In Stykkishólmur’s lone bakery/ coffee shop. Kind of a relief to unplug.

We spent a day circumnavigating the peninsula, stopping for short hikes along the way to explore beaches and mountains. This is the golden sand of Skarsvík beach, framed by tumbles of blocky basalt rocks.

Heading up a rocky gravel road into Snaefellsjökull National Park, we stopped to check out the view and the patterned basalt mountainside.

At the top of the road, we hiked out to a view of the glacier, and could see how it has shrunk. Still, the distant ice-blue crevasses were alluring and retained a sense of the wild earth.

Djúpalon Beach along the south coast, composed entirely of polished basalt pebbles.

You guessed it, basalt boulders. On this beach a Viking grave was discovered, and there is still an ancient well dug into a grassy hillside that you can squeeze into far enough to see the pool of fresh water.

Maybe because my mother taught me to search for wildflowers in the woods and shells on the beach, I always remember to look around my feet when exploring.

~Wild blueberries!
~In the tundra that covers the mountainsides of Snaefellsjökull you can find the tiniest of mushrooms and flowers, and here, a moth. These were maybe 1/4″ across
~ Unconfirmed botanical ID, but among the mosses what looks like a miniature type of heather.

~Gull feather on the golden beach.

~Fragment of a 1948 shipwreck still rusting on the basalt pebble beach.

Ch. 3 – Flatey Island

Flatey was the best! If you scroll back up to the map, you’ll see a small circle sketched in the middle of the big blue expanse of Breidafjördur, a huge fjord populated by nearly 3,000 small islands. The circle I drew indicates Flatey, located 2/3 of the ferry ride from Stykkishólmur to the Westfjords, a remote area visited by only a small percentage of tourists.

I know most of you are looking at this photo and thinking, Huh? Doesn’t look like much, and a 2km-long grassy island with a handful of houses and some sheep really isn’t much. Which is the whole point. One hotel, one restaurant, no wifi, the only sounds are seabirds. Heaven.

This charming hotel (the red building) has the only vehicle on the island, a van whose sole purpose is carrying luggage back and forth to the ferry dock. The ferry took our car across to Westfjords where we would pick it up the following day.

A traditional Icelandic turf-roof house, summer home to a few of the hotel and restaurant employees.

A couple of the fun-loving summer staff, relaxing and waiting for their co-workers to finish up for the night so they could swim in the ocean at around 9:30 pm. While we all put on our jackets, these Viking queens headed for the frigid water to exercise their Nordic genes. (The girl on the left is Icelandic, but lives the rest of the year in Phoenix where her husband is getting a PhD.)

Sunset reflection, facing east.

Fish bone

Sea glass

Barnacle-encrusted shovel.

Gravestone.

A contented sheep.

Small gull (?)

Ch. 4 Westfjords

It looks like a giant clawed hand jutting off to the northwest of Iceland. To travel through Westfjords mostly means tracing the outline of each rocky finger, so you can’t quickly cover distance as the crow flies. Sometimes low fog filled the fjords, and while it obstructed the views, it also lent a mythical, magical atmosphere to the remote, empty roadways between tiny fishing villages.

Stark, rugged mountains and tundra, crosshatched by streams and waterfalls. Long, narrow fjords looked like blue silk scarves tossed onto the rocky landscape.

Falls, one of the most beautiful in Iceland, cascades over a terraced cliff.

Ísafjördur, the main town of Westfjords. If we’d only had more time there!

Tjoruhúsid (Tar House), a culinary highlight! Each enormous pan contains a gorgeously seasoned fish dish. While I longed for a bigger appetite, Craig managed to sample everything and gave glowing reviews. Dining was family style at long wooden tables decorated with vases of wildflowers.

Leaving Ísafjördur by bike, we navigated this road which has been closed because it was too dangerous (see photo!) and replaced by a 9km tunnel.

Our ride took us around one arm of the fjord to a fishing town and a small roadside museum which replicated an original fisherman’s house and boat. Orange lighthouses!

Leaving Westfjords, we zigzagged around the coast through the morning mists as we continued north and east for our last couple of days before returning to Reykjavik. More fjords, more waterfalls, sheep and horses along the grassy coastal plains, and on to Akureyri, Iceland’s second city, less than 20 miles from the Arctic Circle.

Epilogue

This is the most epic newsletter I’ve written, and I haven’t even gotten into jewelry or my upcoming show calendar yet! If you’ve stuck with the story to this point, thanks for reading. I hope you’ve enjoyed a little taste of Iceland. There’s so much more: the quirky museums we “collected” all along the way, whale-watching, Lake Myvatn in the northeast where we finally saw some live geothermal landscape, the eccentric hostel with its bizarre collection of “art,” where we were served trout caught by the owner, and salad grown in her greenhouse. I’ll leave the topic of Iceland with one last photo:

Throughout Iceland, swimming pools and hot pots (hot tubs to us) are an integral part of social culture and wellbeing. Every kid learns to swim at an early age. Going to the pool for exercise and socializing is what Icelanders do in every town. The pools are comfortably warm, used year-round, and they all have hot pots off to the side. This infinity pool in the village of Hofsós in the north was one of my pilgrimage destinations on this trip. Looking out at the fjord and distant island while swimming in geothermally heated water is pretty close to perfection.

Trunk show in Carmel next week!

I’ll be in Carmel next week on September 13 & 14, for a trunk show at European Jewelers. The store is located in Crossroads shopping center, if you’re in the area. I’ve been making some new one of a kind necklaces that are casual and easy to wear, and will have a large collection of all of my work in the store for two weeks.

Labradorite and an aquamarine bead.

Dendritic quartzes.

Earrings and Cascade necklace featuring one of my favorite new finds: Russian emeralds, pale green with beautiful patterns of mineral inclusions.

New! double chain necklaces with an asymmetrical balance. 18k gold-studded pearl with morganite drop, and faceted labradorite with bronze Tahitian pearl.

My Moment of Zen

Bonnie Raitt played in Lincoln last night and had invited me backstage after the show. She bought a ring from me at the American Crafts Council show in San Francisco two years ago, and hasn’t taken it off since! It means a lot to me because Bonnie’s music was a major part of the soundtrack of my years in Boulder in the 70’s, and her concert in Lincoln hit it out of the park. She’s warm and engaging, and we might have talked all night if her assistant hadn’t reminded her it was time to pack up and hit the road.

So if you’re in Carmel, DC or Atlanta this fall, I hope you’ll have a chance to come to one of the shows and say hi,
–Sydney

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