How to go to Hell

Monday, September 06, 2004: I got an email from my cousin in Florida:


Yes we experienced a "beauty" of a storm. Lost power for 28 hours so listened to battery radio and read a lot. We have hurricane shutters on almost all of our windows so it was difficult to imagine what was going on on the back (lakeside) of the house. The shutters are electric so we could not move them once the storm hit. Lost almost all of our banana trees and some screening around the pool area. But our neighbor lost two big trees and other people lost a lot more around here but the houses all seemed fine so we were all lucky. They are built to weather such storms but it was still somewhat frightening during the night with hurricane force winds for hours on end. But all's well thank goodness and now we wait for Ivan! Thanks for writing. Sounds you had a great trip to Iceland. I'll try to send a couple of hurricane pictures. Carol


Yes, Carol, my trip Iceland was induced by longing for adventure: going by boat to Iceland and feel the North Atlantic autumn storms and experience the distance for the brave Norwegians sailing out over the open sea. And like the more considerate ones of the Norwegians, stop at Iceland and not go further west. There is an additional bonus going there late August besides guaranteed bad weather: it is off-season and no need to book accommodation in advance, which gives full freedom to stop wherever you feel like it.

There was also specific reason to select Iceland among all countries: a Swedish artist, Albert Engström, wrote a book "Åt Häcklefjäll" about his Icelandic journey in 1911. About the central place in Reykjavik he writes: "Something that didn't appeal to me was Thorvaldsen's little silly (fnoskiga) bronze statue at Austurvöllur". I felt a compelling curiosity about how a fnoskig statue looks. Hence, Austurvöllur was the ultimate goal for the trip.

"Åt Häcklefjäll" means "To the Hekla Mountain" but it is also a common Swedish euphemism for "To Hell". The Icelandic nature provides indeed previews of hell with steaming sulfur springs and smoldering volcanoes.

Friday August 20, 2004: Kristina and I leave Helsinki. The ship was going to depart from Hanstholm in Denmark Saturday evening. Gone are the days when you go to a travel agency and buy tickets. Now you hunt for bargains on the net. SAS had a special offer for Helsinki to Stockholm, cheaper still when we included a return ticket (with no intention to use it) and cheapest if the imaginary return would be on a Monday. As you are going to throw the return ticket away anyhow, you specify a Monday return. The best price for the flight from Stockholm to Copenhagen was offered by Nordic Airlink. It is a low-price airline hated by the SAS so much that SAS refuses to transfer check-in luggage to them. So you have to drag your luggage yourself through Stockholm airport (Arlanda), not made easier by the refusal of SAS staff to tell where to find the Nordic Airlink gate.

Danish newspapers were handed out on the plane, and Berlindske Tidende recommended a Martin Riches exhibition in Odense, a town suitably halfway between Copenhagen and Hanstholm. Sounds good! We bought tickets for a train leaving from Copenhagen airport (Kastrup) destined to Odense. Gone are the days (again!) when a train had a restaurant wagon with white tablecloths and a three-course menu. Only a make-it-yourself coffee machine and free soda water during this two-hour journey.

Odense looks good on the map with winding streets, but only the street layout is left of the old town, the buildings are all modern. Except for a tiny cottage, the childhood home of the author H.C. Andersen, pathetically squeezed between gigantic parking towers in concrete. We selected a hotel in a grand old building where high windows had a semicircular upper part. The interior was, however, "modernized": all fake dark woodwork and the ceiling was lowered so the upper part of the windows could not be seen from inside. Yet, as everywhere in Denmark, you see many cozy restaurants when you walk around. A torrential rain speeded up our decision process where to have dinner and following the chef's recommendation, a tasty wild boar.

In the evening a FREE organ concert in St. Hans' Church: Bach, Mendelssohn and Tore Bjørn Larsen. It was a part of the 10th Odense Organ Competition. All competitors play through the same program, we heard it twice and that was a nice experience, especially as the two performer's temperament was quite different. But think of the seven in the jury, listening for two days, from 9.45 AM to 8.30 PM, to 30 contestants playing through the same program! And that is only the first round. More than a third of the contestants were from Korea, one from Finland, one from USA.


Saturday, August 21, 2004: Martin Riches' exhibition was in an abandoned textile mill, Brandts Klædefabrik. So many places are nowadays transformed from productive work to cultural display. We will end up with no factories but many galleries. Martin Riches invents wonderful machines, you better google him up. Quite close to the line of work my artist son Markus produces.

We were better prepared for the five-and-a-half hour train ride from Odense to Hanstholm, supplied with food and strawberries. We used up all the sugar at the coffee machine on the train. Strawberries taste better when dipped in sugar! In Hanstholm we were met by storm and rain. On the bus to the harbor, we met the first mate of the ship, M/F Norröna, returning from vacation. He told us not to worry; the ship is kæmpestort (damn big). Yet, the wind was to hard for the ship to land. We could see it waiting off the shore. Luckily the Sailor's Home in Hanstholm provided shelter and a most nourishing dinner. The ship came in five hours delayed, and it was not too kæmpestort, rather half the size of the ferries trafficking Åland. I checked the stem looking for a bow-port for cars, as a failing bow-port caused the ferry Estonia to sink in a storm. Luckily, the only carport was astern. We were fast asleep when Norröna departed after midnight to meet a roaring North Sea.

Sunday, August 22, 2004: We wake up in the morning with clear blue sky and a calm sea. Norröna was gently rocked by the swelling of the sea. Hey! Where is my adventure? On the other hand, an idle deck-chair life in the sun is not too bad either. But self-service hit again, you had to fetch refreshments from a bar. I imagine that when you come over the Atlantic with Cunard line, you were served on the deck by stewards in white uniforms. Otherwise Norröna of the Faeroe Smyril line was comfortable, built in Lübeck one year ago. The kitchen excellent, both the whale steak and the lunde wing where "lunde" stands for puffin. Lunde tastes something between bird and fish and is a Faeroe favorite fare. On Åland, seabird hunting is traditional, but nobody would think of eating the picturesque "lunnefågel".

Monday, August 23, 2004: Arriving at six o'clock in the morning to Tórshavn, the capital of the Faeroes (Føroyar), for a three-day stopover while Norröa is fetching passengers from Bergen, Norway. A morning stroll in the harbor, admiring the sunrise on a blue sky.

Some of the fishing boats looked quite small for the Atlantic. The out-board motors were cleverly mounted in-board in a wooden box. This construction is unknown on Åland, but obviously keeps the propeller away from the tackle.

The sea was calling again, this time with Palli Lamhauge who takes tourists to the Vestmanna bird cliffs. But first some shopping in Tórshavn. As the Faeroes are known to have more sheep than inhabitants, I had waited till now to purchase a woolen cap for the Icelandic expedition. We found many shops selling authentic Faeroe woolen goods, but the headgear was of the kind you meet on the pages of Vogue. Until we found ALV Sølubúðin who sells handicrafts made by handicapped, and bought a real warm knitted woolen cap. Most of the shops were on the luxury side. In preparation for the trip, I bought binoculars at Clas Ohlson in Helsinki. The cheapest pocketsize to be found, because it's easily lost anyhow. Of course, I had lost it already on Norröa, and found there is nothing cheap in Tórshavn. On the other hand, the kikàrì I finally bought was far better than the lost one. OK, second hand books are cheap, the Red Cross had a self-service used-books shop in the harbor. I believe it brings immensely bad luck if you leave an antiquarian bookshop without buying a book. Here, you simply put money in a box and walk away with your selection. In this case Sære Historier by Villy Sørensen, good absurd stuff for travelling reading. In fact, the Lonely Planet guidebook recommended "a couple of thick paperbacks to read during inclement weather". Then it was time to take the local bus to Vestmanna.

The boat touring Vestmanna bird cliffs passes through narrow straits...

... inside caves...

...and out. Through here we could not pass anymore...

...because last year a falling boulder blocked the passage. The helmet...

....would not have been of much use then.

Back to Vestmanna harbor...

...we could see that the boathouses here differ from Åland, where the boats float inside. Here they are hoisted up on rails. Enough for to day, bus trip back to Tórshavn and the hotel bed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004: Early wake up because of a strong blowtorch noise, the roof was under repair. The hotel was a modern low building on a hill overlooking the harbor. It had a grass roof, which luckily made the building to fade into the hillside. Unfortunately the grass roof had tended to leak, and the workers were pitching the seams of the underlying felt. Already in 1866, the Swedish geologist C.W.Pajkull complained in En Sommar på Island (A Summer on Iceland) that the ubiquitous Icelandic grass roofs leaked. He explained that the Icelanders did not have birch-bark available to lay under the grass turf.

As we could see yesterday in Tórshavn, at least the roofs of some administrative buildings...

...had birch-bark under the grass

Today there was soft drizzle. Better rent a car to go around. There are only two car rental companies, and we got their last car. The given goal was an example of clerical oppression: St Magnus' Cathedral at Kirkjubøur village. The fanatical and ruthless Bishop Erlendur, serving from 1269 to 1308, started the building of a cathedral, in size far above the means of his constituents. Lonely Planet tells that "arson and vandalism of church property hampered its completion".

We were not the only ones going to Kirkjubøur.

The cathedral ruin is now under restoration.

An insider view. Note Kristina's raincoat. No Faeroese is ever using umbrellas or raincoats even in pouring rain.

Some fragments of good stonework.

The nearby village church, which is indeed partly older than the Cathedral...

...had a colorful altar painting.

The lady selling us binoculars told that the Faeroes are more beautiful than Iceland, because in Iceland the mountains are always far away. In the Faeroes you get close to them. We experienced the latter during the day: driving on roads going around mountains, over mountains and, through mountains. And under the water, too. There is only one place flat enough for an airport and it's not on the same island as Tórshavn, and the connection is a tunnel under the strait.

We had dinner at the airport restaurant (there are not many restaurants outside Tórshavn). As we had seen sheep all the day everywhere, we ordered Lamb krona, lamb ribs formed to a crown. When we complimented the taste of the Faeroe lamb, the waitress told the lamb was coming from New Zealand. Something like that has happened to me before. It was in the restaurant wagon long ago (white tablecloths!) on a train from Jena passing by so many German wine yards. I was served the wine of the month recommended by Bundesbahn. Naturally, it turned out to be made in New Zealand.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004:A sunny day, but time for business. There is only one real factory on the Faeroes: Havsbrún Ltd. in Fuglafjørður, manufacturing fishmeal. K-Patents Oy process refractometers are already used by the fishmeal industry in Norway and New Zealand.

Ready for a sales call. In the background a ship supplying fish.

Hartvig, the production manager, explains the process: Pelagic fish (blue whiting, mackerel, and caplin) is pumped from the fishing boat by water (blood-water) that is recirculated. The fish is cooked and the liquid and solids are separated in a press. The press-cake is dried by steam and then by air, cooled and ground to meal. Water and fish oil in the liquid is separated in centrifuges. All waters (even the blood water) are evaporated and the remaining solids are returned to the press cake. K-Patents process refractometer would be useful in controlling the concentration of the liquid leaving the evaporation plant.

The whole production goes to fish feed for fish farms. The feed is a mixture of fishmeal, fish oil, grain, binder etc. EU rules forbid fish proteins for poultry and cattle feed. The feed goes nowadays mostly on export, as the Faeroe fish farming is in crisis due to fish illness. (Travelling around on the Faeroes, we had seen many fish farms lacking the telltale fish splashing and the presence of sea birds. From our Åland experience we knew it means they are not in use.)

An attractive view of Fuglafjørður by the local artist Øssur Mohr on the office wall. Afterwards we visited the local art gallery, but they didn't happen to have any painting by Øssur Mohr in stock. Instead we bought a poster, in any case a cheaper alternative.

An opportunity to study the laying of a grass roof.

A last look at the scenery on the way back to Tórshavn, where Norröna was leaving for Iceland at 6 o'clock in the evening.

The sea was blank as a mirror, when Norröna went north through the narrow straits we had already admired from the shore. The white dots are houses.

Thursday, August 26, 2004:Approaching Iceland in clear sunshine and a calm sea. Arrival at 8 o'clock in the morning to Seyðisfjörður at the East Coast of Iceland. We continued by bus to Egilsstaðir to pick up a tiny rental jeep. The first impression of Iceland was favorable, the flowers at the sides of the road were the same as on Åland: yellow bedstraw, nosebleed, fireweed (Gulmåra, Rölleka, Rallarros). We also come to learn that the Icelandic landscape is always steaming somewhere, if it's not a hot spring, it's a waterfall:

The small vertical dashes at the upper edge of the fall are people standing beside the brink...

...where Kristina is standing in this picture.

The river digs out a canyon and...

...displays multiple waterfalls.

Again, the sea was calling. In Húsavík, a town on the North Coast, we boarded the boat Knörrinn for "Whale Watching" (Hvalaskoðun) out in the open Arctic Ocean

In fact, you cannot really expect to see a whale on such a trip, the word "whale" is more for attracting tourists (but magnificent skeletons of whales can be seen in Húsavík whale museum).

The Arctic Ocean was disappointingly tame, but we saw lots of dolphins. They were racing the boat by swimming close to the surface beside the bow. How they swim remained a mystery for me, as they made full speed ahead with no discernable body movements.

Most important of all was the Knörrinn itself, a real beauty, built in oak. It is a preserved traditional Icelandic wooden fishing boat. When the plastic took over as a cheaper and low-maintenance building material for fishing boats, most of the wooden boats were burned. The Icelanders traditionally make huge bonfires for midsummer, and a whole fishing boat was considered a bonfire bonanza. We can see on Iceland the same revival of the wooden boat as on Åland, where we even build new replicas of long lost wooden boats and ships.

We found a hotel with harbor view in Húsavík and stayed the night. We had our dinner at a seaside restaurant, Gamli Baukur (Olde Tankard). With the meal, we bravely ordered a local wine made on crowberry, rhubarb and blueberry in Húsavík. The name, Kvöldsól (Evening Sun), is appropriate, because Húsavík is facing west. To make your own fruit wine is popular in Iceland, but Kvöldsól is the only one made legally.

Friday, August 27, 2004: Before leaving Húsavík, we bought a bottle of Kvöldsól in Vínbúðin, the governmental liquor store.

We also left without getting an explanation to this Shakesperian sign on the wall. We are also leaving Europe. Iceland is on the divide where the Eurasian and North American plates that are drifting apart. The drift is most obvious around the Krafla Volcano in the northeastern part of Iceland. "Here, existing ground cracks have widened and new ones appear every few months. From 1975 to 1984, numerous episodes of rifting (surface cracking) took place along the Krafla fissure zone. Some of these rifting events were accompanied by volcanic activity; the ground would gradually rise 1-2 m before abruptly dropping, signalling an impending eruption. Between 1975 and 1984, the displacements caused by rifting totalled about 7 m." (USGS)

The volcanic heat is utilised by a geothermal power plant generating 60 MW of electricity. The underground water temperature is about 200C (390F) at 1000m (3300ft) depth and 300 (570F) at 2000m (6600ft) depth.

The corrosive and highly contaminated pressurised water is collected from several wells to a central heat exchanger (the building in the picture), which sends clean steam further to the turbine station.

Close above the power station is Viti, the 320m (1060ft) diameter explosion crater (1724 AD), now a lake. People can be seen standing on the opposite rim. Viti means Hell according to the guidebooks, but beacon according to the dictionary. The dictionary translates Hell to Helvíti (Helvete in Swedish, Helvite in Ålandish). How the... would I know? Anyhow, compared to the serene lake Viti, the Leirhnjúkur crater turned out to look much more like hell. The trek to Leirhnjúkur gave us a welcome opportunity to stretch our legs.

Can you spot the bird in the picture above?

The gates of hell are opening.

In the middle of it.

Sometimes less smoke...

...sometimes more smoke. But, as we say on Åland: the place of the man is at the front in the church, at the back in the rowing boat, and in the middle of hell (Fram i kyrkan, bak i båten och mitt i helskotta).

Driving west around the lake Mývatn for Akureiry we left Europe behind and moved over to North America. Akureiry is Iceland's second largest town. At the parking lot of the supermarket, fat ladies came for shopping in huge four-wheel drive cars. So, we are in America now. Luckily, they obviously never go off-road exacerbating the earth erosion, which is a big problem here.

At our evening stroll we met two 10-year-old boys angling in the harbour. They did not recognise the first fish they got and asked us? Our answer that it's what we call simpa at Åland (bull-head? miller's thumb? sculpin?) did not seem to satisfy them. Yet, "simpa" sounds so Icelandic. Anyhow, I told them simpa makes excellent soup if you get more of them. Then they got a small cod that we all recognised. The semantic crisis was over. Everybody knows English here in contrast to the Faeroes were we had to communicate in Scandinavian (Danish/Swedish). Nobody understands Danish in Iceland, at least they pretend not to do; maybe they still remember the Danish oppression up to 1918.

Tired of the typical Icelandic restaurants with Soviet style interior and service, we spotted La vita é bella. We got a first-rate dinner, even if it turned out that the owner was no Italian but a local guy. The hotel Edda was to the cheapest but also the most luxurious during our journey. It was a college dormitory used as a hotel between the terms. They spend a lot on the college students!

Saturday, August 28, 2004: The breakfast was served in the student canteen furnished with Arne Jacobsen chairs! Nothing but the best was deemed good enough for college students aged 16-20. The bottle of cod liver oil on the buffet table seemed odd to us. But, the Mediterraneans pour olive oil on their morning toast, so why not...

Akureiry seems to have its share of extravagant priests and soviet-style architects.

I had the opportunity to indulge in my only sin, browsing in antiquarian bookshops, here Fornbókabúd.

Our next destination was west along the north coast: Sauðárkrókur. According to Lonely Planet, fish-leather tanning is one of the means of livelihood there. As Kristina is a bookbinder, well-prepared fish leather is attractive, indeed. Further, the valley south from Sauðárkrókur is the centre for horse breeding.

In Sauðárkrókur, the tannery Sjávarleður (Sea leather, fish leather) was not to be found. At last we asked a lady in a gift shop, and she said it rings a bell. Her husband knew more, and after he made a phone call, the managing director of Sjávarleður came to fetch us. Friendly indeed, considering it was on a Saturday.

We found the tannery, which is also handling sheepskin (Loðskinn means fur).

The managing director explained the process to us:

- They tan skins from salmon, spotted wolf-fish, and Nile-perch.

- The skins come frozen from fish factories that are processing the fish meat for food.

- A machine scrapes away residual meat and fat, scales are also removed.

- The skins are tanned in lime etc. in the large rotating vessel seen on the picture above.

- The tanned skins are preserved in water (picture below) before finishing: drying, dying, and optionally closing of the scale attachments.

The tanned fish skin is strong and supple leather used for shoes, handbags, clothes, etc. The production just now was for a Vietnamese shoe factory. Next week he was going to exhibit in Paris.

The look and feel of the finished fish leather was excellent. No wonder that Kristina bought a lot of them on the spot.

Now we left the north coast driving south. Paijkull, who visited Iceland 1865, tells that the farmhouses were built mostly of turf with grass covered roofs making them look like grassy hills. He found the dwellings damp, dark and unsound.

The Glambær farmstead museum provided a possibility to (briefly) share Paijkull's experience. The rooms are built like houses sharing the wall with its neighbor. The rooms are connected by a dark tunnel-like corridor. The oldest room being built in the mid 1700's, the youngest before 1880. Glambær farm served as a dwelling until 1947 (!).

Had the possibility to interview a young man (fluent in Swedish) about grass roofs. I learnt that the slope of the grass roof must be correct. If the roof is too steep, the turf will crack during dry period and further, the water will run off too fast and the grass stops growing. On the other hand, if the roof is to flat, water will seep through. That obviously was the problem with the roof of the hotel in Tórshavn, modern architects like flat roofs. But to my chagrin, I also learned that the Glambær museum farm had plastic sheets under the roof turf!

Now, time to experience the horses, the Icelandic pony. Both Paijkull and Engström traveled at a time when Iceland had no driveable roads. And both had much to tell about the character of the Icelandic horses. Based on that, a relative short experience seemed recommendable. We stopped for the night at a farm, Stóra-Vatnsskarð providing bed&breakfast. The farmer said he was a simple bóndi speaking only Icelandic. But I understood he had 250 sheep and slaughtered 100 lambs every year.

He had plenty of horses too.

Here the bóndi and I are riding up over the hills. Kristina preferred the rôle of photographer. When we were already luckily out of her sight, my horse had some private grudge against the other horse, they both started to neigh towards each other, and suddenly I was in the air. Shortly thereafter I hit the ground. The damage was limited to a broken thumb on the left hand, so we could continue the ride.

Here I'm back at the stable, looking forward to reach the ground in a more controlled manner this time.

Sunday, August 29, 2004: A great breakfast with newly picked wild blueberries (much tastier than the garden variety). We had a long drive ahead, crossing the Iceland from north to south over the highlands on the Kjölur route. Regrettably, Kristina had to do all the driving, because even if my thumb was not exactly broken, it was blue-black and swollen. It should be a great adventure anyhow; the car rental company told 4-wheel drive is a must, and the guidebook warned of flooded roads and summer blizzards.

No, the sun was shining from a blue sky and the sight was to the horizon on all sides. No adventure, but a marvelous feeling of peacefulness, of being alone in the world. For the first 40km (25miles) we saw nobody. Then we met a guy on a bicycle who wanted to now the distance to a crossing we had passed. The flat stone desert stretches to all directions and the mountains are far away.

Hot springs in Hveravellir and Langjökull in the background. The road passed between the two glaciers, Langjökull and Hofsjökull.

Here was a puddle in the road caused by a crossing little stream. Without the photo, I would have exaggerated the size of the stream a little in the good old tradition of Iceland travellers.

For the night we chose the town Selfoss at the south coast. The hotel overlooked Ölfusá, the Icelandic river carrying most water, and a riveted steel bridge of classical lines.

Here is the bridge from below. Turned on the TV for the first time during the trip. The Janne Holmén from Åland had participated in the Olympic marathon this afternoon. How frustrating TV can be! A lot of ads, both for consumer goods and for coming programs. Eurosport channel did show a couple of times when some bystander harassed the leading Marathon runner, but never bothered to tell the final result. Then BBC had a flash of the Marathon price ceremony without names, but I could see that all the three guys in question were too dark to be Janne. A place to have dinner was hard to find in Selfoss, especially on a Sunday when everything is closed. We found at last a small pizza bar, had our pizzas and a light pilsner (2.5%). Quite romantic, really.

Monday, August 30, 2004

The Icelanders assembled at Þingvellir and for the period 930 to 1271 all political and legal decisions were made here. Much of the Sagas are connected to the yearly assembly (Alþing) here. Even for a modern reader, Njal's Saga (written before year 1300)is a good read if you like pulp fiction. The frequent manslaughter is carried out by sword, which allows a most graphic language. But, there is more to it. Detailed descriptions of litigation fill half the saga, how the antagonists persuade Alþing participants to vote on their side. (I followed Lonely Planets advice at Helsinki airport and bought a thick paperback. It happened to be Grisham's The Runaway Jury. The likeness to Njal's Saga was striking). The verdicts were announced on a Lögberg (Law Rock), which is now marked by a flagpole. A guy at the visitor's center confessed, however, that nobody really knows the exact location of Lögberg but you have to put the flagpole somewhere. This uncertainty is understandable, considering that the terrain has changed during the centuries: the precipice forming the backdrop of the Alþing is also the American edge of the ever-widening crack splitting Iceland in two.

Part of the rift valley is filled with water, forming Iceland's largest lake, Þingvallavatn.

When we left, we met again the DIMENSIONE AVVENTURA caravan of twenty jeeps. We had seen the avventura guys along the whole trip, from Egilsstaðir to Húsavik and over Kölur, using the same roads as we. In some way I think you get more a feeling of adventure in a gang driving tough vehicles, than if you are on your own in a baby jeep.

In the afternoon I had an appointment with the local K-Patents representative. This company is situated by the harbor in Reykjavík and is known as the biggest steel importer. I was told they reached that position by storing the steel indoors, that way protected from the corrosive sea atmosphere. I could relate to that, as even stainless steel knife and forks tend to rust on my summer island in Åland archipelago. Páll, their analyzer expert, had been to Åland and seen Bomarsund, Sjöfartsmuséet and the four-masted barque Pommern. His question "Was Pommern's last voyage in October 1939?" made me wish I had studied the Åland nautical history more thoroughly.

During the evening walk in Reykjavík with Kristina, we tried to find "Thorvaldsen's little silly (fnoskiga) bronze statue at Austurvöllur" mentioned by Engström. We found the open place Austurvöllur but not the silly statue. There was a conventional statue of a modern time Icelandic politician not worth mentioning. Has our trip to Iceland been in vain?

No, not totally in vain. As a small consolation, we found another silly, albeit not small, statue of Leifr Eiricsson. If you are curious how the discoverer of America looked, go to Reykjavík. It goes without saying that Leifr went west because he had been involved in slayings and was on the run from justice. Facing the statue was a small nice hotel, Hotel Leifur Eiriksson, where we chose to stay for the rest of the trip. In the hotel bar I asked dinner advice from another guest, an English veteran travel consultant Richard. He spoke lyrically about a lobster restaurant in the middle of a fishing village Stokkseyri, with a warning not to go to the lobster restaurant outside the village. As we felt more for walking, he recommended the restaurant Hornið, a few blocks away. Generally, you should not consult an Englishman in gastronomical matters, but Hornið (means both 'horn' and 'corner', in Swedish 'horn' and 'hörn') turned out to be just what we wanted.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004: Business day. Visiting customers in the Reykjavik area together with Páll. We concentrated on food factories, because they represent the only industry making money here, with exception from aluminum melting (Alumina -> Aluminum) where K-Patents Oy refractometer has no known application yet. In Australia we have several refractometers at the mines (Bauxite -> Alumina).

The first customer was rather classified as pharmaceutical: a factory making fish liver oil from cod, tuna, and shark. The substances Squalene and Alkylglycerol distilled from shark oil are now much in demand. The most important product was Omega-3, subject to intense medical research. The most recent results indicate that Omega-3 could even treat depression and anorexia. I remember with horror the taste of my childhood's cod liver oil. I'm not alone. We were told that some of the factory's German customers still remember that disagreeable taste. Iceland sent cod liver oil as a humanitarian aid to Germany starving after the Second World War. In remembrance, Hamburg still donates a Christmas tree every year. Fortunately, fish liver oil has nowadays a mild oily taste, due to the deodorization process: hot steam is blown through the oil and stripping it of volatiles. K-Patents refractometer can be applied to discriminate between different oils, as e.g. cod oil has a refractive index differing from tuna oil.

The second customer was a soft drinks and fruit juices plant where the application is the sugar content of the finished product. The customer was a fan of Mika Häkkinen and asked if it is true he is planning a comeback. First time in my life I regretted always skipping the sport pages. The third customer was a brewery also bottling soft drinks. There I learned among other things that the tastes of Coke and Pepsi are indistinguishable if some lime is added to the Pepsi. The last customer was a large dairy with also some sophisticated processes as ultrafiltration ripe for refractometers. Kristina spent much of her day in Nordens Hus (The Nordic House) talking with the librarian about completing the library's Alandica collection.

In the evening we dined with Páll at the fish restaurant Þrír Frakkar (meaning three overcoats or three Frenchmen). Páll told this the only restaurant where he eats fish, because here it's fresh. Paradoxically, it's difficult to get fresh fish in Iceland; the shops are selling in a processed and packaged form. We had their specialty, plokkfiskur með rúgbrauði (a lightly curry-flavored fish stew with rye bread). Perfect!

We got the answer to the question why a bonði has so many horses. Most income stems from selling sport horses to Germany etc, but then the have to know all of the requested five gaits. Not all horses can learn and they are exported as horsemeat to Japan. In spite of horsemeat being appreciated in e.g. France, Icelanders don't have it on the menu because it's considered being the poor man's meat. Páll also gave a lively narrative of the Cod War between United Kingdom and Iceland in mid 1970'ies. Iceland had unilaterally enlarged its territorial waters and the coast guard started to cut the nets of British trawlers. The British navy sent over 20 frigates to defend the trawlers and Iceland responded by setting up a navy of its own, the fleet consisting of two stern trawlers painted gray. Iceland won the war, and is not easily willing to give up the fruits of the victory to Brussels. Hence the reluctance to join the European Union.

Páll had lived all his life in the center of Reykjavík. During our evening stroll through town he could tell a story of every house, or in many cases a story of a house that had been there. Many of the old houses left are harmfully converted to pubs. He pointed out a row of low wooden houses, among the oldest in Reykjavík. The authorities had prepared tearing them down by letting them fall in ugly disrepair. But one night green activists gathered and painted the derelict houses. Then they looked so nice, that nobody dared to tear them down. Páll lived himself in a hundred years old catalogue house. Because there was no threes on Iceland, Norwegian companies offered prefabricated wooden houses to be picked from a catalogue.

The evening was warm with a clear sky. We now learned that this had been an exceptional summer. Two weeks ago the temperature at Þingvellir hit an all-time high, 27C (81F). And that long rain-free period had not been recorded since 1939 (i.e. during my lifetime).

Wednesday, September 1, 2004: Some shopping in the morning. Bought a pedagogic illustrated book for my grandchildren where each facing pair of pages was dedicated to one specific color and contained a list in Icelandic of objects in that color. So, now they will learn that the color of wee-wee is yellow and that the Icelandic word is 'piss'. For the flight home, I bought a Reykjavík murder mystery, Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason (Mýrin in Icelandic, Nordmosen in Danish). It turned out to give an insightful picture of Icelandic life.

At noon we had an appointment at the Ministry for the Environment with Hrafn, Head of Division of Planning and Land use. Hrafn and I played in the same brass band, Humpsvakar, in early 1960'ies. He played the alto horn and I played the tuba. At that time Helsinki Technical University had three Icelandic students of architecture. I had not seen Hrafn in the intermediate forty years, but before the trip I googled him up. His reply to my email was "Det var katten!" (a Swedish exclamation of surprise, literally "That's the cat!" meaning "Holy mackerel!"). In the lobby at the ministry we picked up a brochure telling that Iceland follows the other Nordic countries in allowing everyone to cross uncultivated properties without seeking any special permission (in Swedish 'allemansrätt').

So there was Hrafn in his spacious but clogged office. We went for lunch and had 'Odd man fish soup'. In Icelandic tradition every kind of deciding body should have an odd number of members to avoid a draw (as when Esko and I founded K-Patents together, we let in a balancing third owner). The real challenge started after the lunch; to find Thorvaldsen's little silly (fnoskiga) bronze statue. Luckily, Hrafn knew the director of the National Gallery of Iceland (situated in a converted icehouse). We visited Olafur in his office, and after a couple of phone calls he could confirm the statue has been moved to the park Hljómskálagarður, still a quite central place.

Oh, yes, must be this one!

A statue of and by the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770...1844). In Denmark he is a Danish sculptor, Iceland too has a claim because his father was an Icelander. The statue is a bronze replica of the marble original in the Thorvaldsen museum in Copenhagen. (Later some googling revealed that an identical replica stands in Central Park, New York).

Meet Mr. Thorvaldsen as he wanted to be seen in some kind of Roman dress holding a mallet and a chisel...

...supporting his left arm on the Statue of Hope...

... and today looking out over the pond.

We have seen a real fnoskig statue, now we can go home.

On the way back, Hrafn pointed out an octagonal building, Hljomskalinn (Clang House) the home of the Reykjavík brass band. An opportunity to remember the old Humsvakar days.

On the walk back to the hotel, we passed this statue, which Hrafn's children had referred to as "the man with the remote control".

For the evening, we were invited to Silla and Hrafn for dinner on sole and wild blueberries. Their daughter who studies song in Stuttgart was visiting home...

...with her son Hrafn, here with granddad Hrafn. An evening of remembrance, and we did not leave until the bottle of cognac was empty.

Thursday, September 2, 2004: Relaxing. Driving around on the Reykjanes peninsula, which is apart of the dividing line between Europe and America as a part of the mid-Atlantic ridge (separating plates form ridges in oceans and rift valleys on land).

The peaceful lake Kleifarvatn, nobody in sight...

...but at a closer look reveals hot steam seeping through the sand.

An abandoned village church (with corners chained to the ground) opens it door for a moment of quiet meditation.

Pondering how the erosion eats the soil under the grass. Also relaxing, in spite of the crowd, was the swim in the geothermally heated outdoor spa, the Blue Lagoon. The opaque water is bluish and muddy. The text on a signboard provided an example of smart salesmanship: "The water is good for your skin because it contains blue-green algae". At Åland, there are signs warning not to swim in waters containing blue-green algae, scaring away tourists! No more new experiences: dinner at good old Þrír Frakkar. A pouring rain when we walked back to the hotel. Lots of people in the street, but I was the only one carrying an umbrella.

Friday, September 3, 2004: Dropping off the car at Keflavík, Leifur Eiriksson Airport. Made a mental not to remind Páll that deicing of planes is using glycol, and we have refractometers installed in airports all over the Northern hemisphere. Read Jar City during the flight. The detective Erlendur spending most of his time outdoors in the rain, and always feeling discomfort, longing for an umbrella. The flight back Reykjavík-Copenhagen-Helsinki took about 5 inconvenient hours compared to 6 pleasurable days by ship. Moreover, the airline lost our luggage.

Saturday, September 4, 2004: The luggage arrives.


PS Next week, we got a postcard from Hrafn...

...and finally we could see Thorvaldsen's staue in it's original setting:

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