Hello from Iceland
I have just returned from four days in northern Iceland, two hours drive from Akuyeri in the Troll Peninsular. It’s the most startlingly beautiful and rugged landscape. As someone who is normally so drawn to flora and colour, I was not expecting this trip to be much of a source of inspiration for my work… but I was blown away by the skies, the stark landscape and what little colour there was sang out against the surrounding white.
In January, it starts getting light at around 9.30am, with the sun only properly rising by 11am. It stays so low in the sky you find yourself in a perpetual sunrise/sunset situation and really do feel as though you have just walked onto a sci-fi set.
On our first day, we had ago at Nordic skiing. I am not much of skier having only been a few times in my life. There were a few feet of fresh snow on top of ice, which made the conditions extremely slippery and we fell over so many times it took a whole hour just get out of the driveway!
Once out in the valley, the sky and the ground were all pure white with occasional accents of black where the volcanic rocks showed through the snow. There wasn’t a tree in sight. It felt completely otherworldly, as though I was in a strange white globe with no sense of perspective or distance.
Four hours later and after umpteen falls, we’d made it 6km away to the inaccurately named ‘hut’, where we sat by a cozy log fire and had the most delicious posh lunch – all the yummier for the great exertion to reach it.
After lunch, we braved the -9°C temperature and the icy sleet in our swimming costumes to jump into the geothermal pool. I am famously the biggest wimp when it comes to cold (I blame my Greek genes and my Grandmother who used to plead with me to come inside least I caught a cold in chilly 15°C Greece winters). So I was the last in the queue to jump in, which meant I was waiting in the sleet for my turn to come. This made me quite hysterical, and I ended up pushing the person in front who I barely knew into the pool and jumping in behind her like a hippo. We all laughed until we cried.
Lukki, Loki and Yilur
The following morning, we got up early for a morning riding at Langhus Horse Farm, a family-run stables by the coast. Lukki and Loki (husband and wife!) spent the first hour giving us a little riding lesson and talking to us about Icelandic ponies. They are a protected breed, and no other horses are allowed on the island meaning they are virtually never ill and are purebred. If a horse leaves Iceland for a competition they are never allowed back! The horses live outside all year round, and in winter they huddle together like penguins. Apparently, they must learn to be nice to each other as being mean gets you excluded from the huddle! This is what makes them such sweet-natured animals. They also have an extra gait called a ‘tolt’ which is a very smooth trot, perfect for a beginner like me.
Me and my new pal Yilur
50 shades of grey
We set off for a two-hour tour of the area along the breath-taking coastline, and I was lucky to have Lukki (lol) riding next to me and telling all sorts of fascinating stories. The most memorable was about a polar bear drifting to the shore on an iceberg from Greenland in 1978. Apparently, it happens from time to time, and it takes approximately a month for the polar bear to arrive, by which time they are ferociously starving and would easily attack and kill a human. Lukki was only eight at the time, and he remembers his little bother running in saying “there is polar bear outside!” It was heading towards their neighbour’s house who had five children. Lukki’s father grabbed his rifle and shot the polar bear dead. We were all a bit shocked at this story and its cruel ending, but Lukki explained that there was absolutely nothing for the bear to eat except for humans and small horses, which made it extremely dangerous.
Colours standing out against the stark icy background
That afternoon, we experienced a Viking sauna, which involved sitting in a boiling hot sauna (it’s heated to 100°C) and then plunging into the icy water. This is meant to be great for the immune system. It took a lot of inner resolve and I have to say it was not really my thing!
On our last night, (or so we thought) we were woken up by our hotel hosts as the Northern lights had made an appearance. To the naked eye, these ones were only light green wisps, but when you took photos they look bright green. We took endless photos with pictures of us in front of the lights but as I had been half asleep and was in my pyjamas I don’t think it I’ll be sharing them!
Our travel plans were thwarted the next day as Iceland was besieged by icy storms and strong winds. We had a white-knuckle drive from our hotel back to the airport at Akuyeri from where we were meant to take an internal flight to Reykuvic. I was relieved that we were grounded for the day and we spent the day relaxing in our Icelandic Air hotel which was actually very comfortable with great food!
This was the storm we drove through
Akuyeri, then Reykuvic, then goodbye Iceland! I’ll be back for sure…
Bits and buds
🌸 Do you remember when Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson installed a giant sun inside the Tate’s turbine hall? Here’s a look back at his 15 most iconic projects