Backroads Beach Clean-Up Day

In honor of World Cleanup day coming up on September 15th, Backroads decided to join forces with SEEDS in Iceland to remove trash off a beautiful piece of beach on the west end of Reykjanes Peninsula. We were a group of nearly twenty volunteers, interested in giving back to Icelandic nature, protecting sea life and birds, and getting rid of all the disgusting pieces of plastic scattered along the coast.

the trash collection growing

Our meeting point was Grindavík, 10 am, on August 22nd. In charge of the project was legendary Tommi Knuts, founder of the Blue Army. He has been working for over 25 years to help clean and protect Iceland´s coast, and spent the day with us sharing insights into his project, vision, and environmental philosophies.

Tommi sharing his stories

The day started off optimistic – the weather had cooperated, and after getting the SEEDS van stuck in some sand for a moment, we were off on foot to scour the coastline for trash. Saga Films had a production team on site to document the project, interviewing Tommi and sharing his message with to others around Iceland.

clean up time

Tommi drove his bright blue Toyota Hilux (a donation to the Blue Army courtesy of Toyota) along the bumpy old road to the coast, where the only things around were a few birds and an old turf house ruin. And plenty of garbage – most of it has washed up on shore from the fishing industry. We used large coffee bean sacks to fill the larger white trash bags loaded on his trailer, and filled 6 or 7 metric-ton sized bags.

picnic time

At the end of a beautiful day on the beach, we filled our tummies with a true, snackroads style Backroads picnic, and the good deeds of the day filled our hearts. Backroads has donated to the Blue Army to help with the waste collection and processing, and plans to take part in Beach clean ups around Iceland every year from now on.

it´s amazing what you can find on a remote beach in Iceland

If you´d like to learn more about Tommi, the Blue Army, or World Clean-up day, then there are plenty of ways to get involved and help clean up garbage, either in Iceland or beaches around the world.

Advertisements

Rainy Days in Bergen

It was hot, dry and summery in the rest of Norway, and apparently also in Bergen until I arrived, but the rains came in with a cooling relief.

coffee at the harbour

Walking around in rain boots and an umberlla were welcomed changes, especially since I had both in my backpack, and I couchsurfed with some friendly students at the University of Bergen dorm.

cobblestone skipping

I spent the majority of my two days there jumping in puddles and finding cafe´s to write at, and I accidentally ended up at a couple of concerts. I saw an organ concert at St. Mary´s church, Mariakirken, and a brass quintet at Statsraaden Bar. I wanted to see a Grieg concert as well, but my vacation got cut short for a family emergency.

Mine and Steph´s reflection in the mirror ball

The photographer from Liv & Benni´s wedding was also in Bergen, so we took the opportunity of traveling together to try and get some more photoshoots done.

an American diner´s outside seating in Bergen

The original plan was to find a fake fiancé and do an engagement shoot, since she specialises in engagements and weddings, but tinder didn´t work well enough for that.

wishing that was my vespa

Instead we ended up roaming around Bryggen and old town Bergen in the first break in the clouds, and even managed to see the sun shine on us in rainy Bergen.

a Banksy-esque moment

Check out Zakas Photography for more photos, and if you know anyone getting engaged or hosting a destination wedding that needs a photographer, Steph is your lady.

Liv & Benni get hitched on the Aurdal farm

Liv and I studied geeky old Norse things together in a master’s program back in 2012. She’s from Norway, but had a special place for Iceland in her heart and never really left. Except for that one semester she ‘studied abroad’ in Oslo. A couple of years later, a fateful Tinder swipe right (that her gay best friend’s finger decided for her) led her to Benni, her Icelandic better half. Their ‘legal’ wedding took place in Keflavik a few weeks ago, but the ceremony and celebrations went down during a long weekend getaway to the Aurdal farm.

Liv & Benni say I do

Somewhere between Oslo and Honefoss is a little place called Aurdalsveien. The 100+ year old log farm house has been in her family for four generations, and her brother is the resident farmer, and her parents still live there. There are cabins all around, hidden among the forest and hills, and the nearby lake at Jevnaker makes a perfect beach. It was hot, I mean like tropical hot. Temperatures above 30°c, and one of the worst droughts in a hundred years.

Liv’s stagette party

The bride-to-be had a surprise bachelorette party two nights before the wedding in the nearby town, Honefoss, Her childhood friends from the region and college friends from Oslo joined the Iceland-era friends and a group of girls, plus one male guest of honor (he likes men too so he fit right in). We didn’t find any mens feathers to rustle, but we decorated Liv in some balloons, dined in Liv’s favourite, historic Brasserie, and had sunset cocktails with a view over the river.

dining at the far during prep days

I stayed in a guest house cabin across the field from the farm with the bestman and a few other overnight guests. We drank sparkling water with various fruity flavours, and filled the rest of us with joy, booze and grubs. The first few days were spent preparing for the wedding – name tags, decorations, slideshows and speeches, and the last couple of days were lost in recovering from the wedding. Lazing in the sun or a hammock, filling our bellies with more Norwegian home cooked meals, was the only way to survive the wedding aftermath.

bathing with the groom and honorary guest in the creek

The heat was wonderful, except for the fact that it dried up all the wells on the farm and surrounding cabins. Bathing in a shallow creek in the forest beside the farm was the most sustainable way to bathe, though I was never sure if I was cleaner or dirtier after stirring up all the leaves and mud on the creek bottom while washing my hair.

the barn interior before the wedding

My contributions to the wedding included a bit of artistic creativity – decorating the cold drinks fridge and writing name tags for the seating arrangement that didn’t include any real names. People had to identify with their personality type at each table, choosing from options like
‘the intellectual’ or ‘the lustful.’ I made potato salad for 100 people in a small kitchen that had more flies in it than potatoes, so the most difficult choice of the day was whether or not to keep the windows closed after killing them all and having fresh air or preparing the salad in a small sauna (we decided on the latter, for hygienic reasons).

wedding guests cure their hangover at Jevnaker

A large lake nearby in Jevnaker was a refreshing dip with a bit more success, which we finally got to on the day after the wedding. The bustling little farm started to empty, the first overnight guests leaving in their RV at 8 am. We started shuttling guests to the airport and I left a day later, and made my way to Bergen where my Norwegian journey could carry on in the cool rain.

The Westfjords and Flateyri, the Christiania of the Westfjords

I´ve been to the westfjords before, and the remote, uninhabited Hornstrandir has been pulling on my heart all summer. The problem is, summer hasn´t really arrived yet, with snowfall in June and average temperatures of around 6°C around the westfjords. Hiking for days with enough supplies for a winter expedition didn´t seem appealing, so I put together a last minute road trip instead.

the old school in Ólafsdalur

I drove from Reyjavik to Isafjörður in one day with a french couchsurfer/hitchhiker I call Tony. We drove in pretty much a straight line, except for one detour to Ólafsdalur, since its location, in Gilsfjörður, is the fjord that separates the Western Iceland and Westfjords districts. We crossed into the Westfjords and then the real adventure began – hunting down hottubs, and hotdogs, while avoiding the hundreds of runners taking part in the marathon festival we didn´t know was going on.

the only windmill in Iceland, looking down at the westjords from Vígur island

I killed a baby Eider duck and still feel remorse over it, which wasn´t helped by the fact that two passing roadtrippers stopped be just to wail and scream about this baby duck they saw me murder in cold blood, as if I had done it on purpose. The road was supper narrow and swerving would have either put me into the ocean or head on into their car.

desserted farms turned summerhouses at the end of the world, Skálavík

After trying and failing to get into the country´s smallest hottub (its now locked by the landowners), not feeling enticed by Reykjaneslaug (filled with 30 middle aged Germans), we passed by the little pool on the side road down Mjóifjörður and realized someone had just started refilling it. We jumped in, but left before it was filled, in fear of having to make someone else share that magical space.

turf houses in Bolungarvik

I camped a night in the rain in Tungudalur, and picked up a new roadtrip companion the next morning at the Isafjörður airport. We spent the day in Bolungarvík, driving to the end of the road to Skálavík. I lost 5000ISK at the Bolungarvik swimming pool, but it was still worth it – their dry sauna is spa worthy.

colourful Flateyri

We spent the rest of our Westfjords trip unable to leave Flateyri. Once an isolated, lonely little fishing village, an avalanche in 1994 nearly emptied the settlement. It wasn´t until a tunnel was built in 1996 (connecting it to Isafjörður all year round in under 20 minutes) that people really fought to stay, but a few years later, real life was breathed back into this dwindling town.

Hálfdan catching the first cod at 23:00

Hálfdan Pedersen bought a house back in early 2000´s after scouting it out on movie production. There was a roof, but no floor, and snow fell in through the glassless windows into the bedrooms downstairs. He bought it for 5000kr. Now the home is featured in architecture books and home design magazines, and a trail of artsy and alternative lifestyle seeking Icelander´s have trickled in behind him.

(c) Hálfdan Pedersen

Huldar Breiðfjörð, an Icelander who walked the whole wall of China and author of ´Múrinn í Kína,´ has a summer house in Flateyri. A man named Eyþór, photographer and filmmaker, also runs the oldest continually open shop in Iceland in Flateyri. Dagur Sigurðsson, coach of the men´s German Handball European champions in 2016, is currently renovating a house there. Designer Kórmakur of Kormákur & Sköldur men´s clothing has a bunch of homes there, and other film industry and random health-food/dietician stylists are also in the mix. All this in a town of only a couple hundred people.

Fishing under a midnight sun in Önunda

We were going to visit Hálfdan and his family, and went fishing in the fjord to catch dinner with him on the only sunny evening I can remember in July. Hálfdan and his partners run and own the only bar in town, Vagninn, and his chef was throwing her 50th birthday party that weekend. We weren´t actually invited to it, but Linda P was, and making the comment that even Linda P is attending is always brushed aside as a joke. The weekend we were there, we shared Hálfdans design home with Linda Petursdottir, Miss World 1988, and that sealed the deal: Flateyri is really the place for anyone who´s anyone to be  in the westfjords.

Iceland in the World Cup 2018

Iceland only formed their first men´s football association in 1947, three years after becoming independent from Denmark. Since then, a few talented souls have made careers as players abroad. The best known footballers were arguably Gylfi Sigurdsson and Eidur Gudjohnsen until 2018, but now a handful of faces from the national team have become international prodigies. Birkir Bjarnason has become the familiar face of 66°N; Rurik Gislasson has become a heart throb world wide, loved even by the enemy when Iceland tied Argentina in their first World Cup game; and Hannes Halldorsson the goalie definitely deserves MVP for that first game where Messi just coulnd’t get past him. Now, they have rewritten football history, becoming the smallest country to ever qualify for the world cup, and risen from being ranked 133rd to 22nd within FIFIA.

watching the World Cup games from Ingolfstorg

The World Cup hype started two years ago during the Euro 2016 qualification. We started by playing Portugal, Hungary and Austria. We tied Portugal and Hungary 1-1, but beat Austria 2-1 to make it into the quarterfinals. The newscaster reporting on the Austria game nearly lost hist sanity (and his voice) and this youtube video is definitely worth listening to: it gives you a glimpse of what every Icelander was feeling in that moment. Then we beat England 2-1, (that video is also a must see) another incredible victory, and France finally put out our unstoppable fire with a humbling 5-2 loss.

The World Cup in Russia 2018 crept up so slowly, but the hype never faded, and the planning and suspense was constant. 66°N designed special clothing for the games and Icelandair painted the plane into an Icelandic Flag that flew the team over. Both of our national airline carries made special schedules and flew direct routes to each one of the first three games. And a sea of Icelandic-blue fans flocked to the various stadiums in Russia to watch the games live, sing in the stands, and clap and cheer the ‘HÚH!’

The games started well: June 16 we tied Argentina 1-1, in an impressive display of defence. June 22 we faced Nigeria, perhaps with a bit too much offensive, underestimating their plans of kicking our butts 2-0. The Croatia game on June 26 was powerful, in fact, unbearable to watch, because we really had it. We played so well, and we had the chance to edge ourselves into the quarter finals if we had just sunk one of those goal attempts. It wasn´t until the last seconds of the game that we believed we weren´t going forward. However, watching Croatia make it to the final and knowing how we played them gives us all the more reason to be proud of Team Iceland and their first performance at the World Cup.

For the sake of Reykjavik´s very few reasons to congregate outside in the city centres and the prideful, social unity of a country over one sport we witnessed this summer, I sincerely hope we make it to every Euro qualifier AND world cup in the future. Thanks to the team for giving us such incredible representation, and even more reasons for tourists to keep flooding our talented little country.

Bocuse d´or Europe 2018

I´ve been following team Iceland in the Bocuse d´or competitions since 2011 and every other year, they place top ten in the European pre-qualifying competition. 2018 was no different, and chef Bjarni Siguróli, who was the assistant chef in 2011, placed ninth to qualify for the Bocuse d´or worldwide competition taking place in Lyon 2019.

candidate Bjarni Siguroli, Sturla Birgisson, Ísak Darri the commis, and Viktor Orn coach and bronze Bocuse winner 2017

The support behind each and everyone of Iceland´s chefs since Iceland started taking part, in 1999 with Sturla Birgisson, has been nothing short of amazing. As the smallest country taking part from Europe, we have edged out 13 other European countries in every pre-competition to qualify for the Mondial competition in Lyon every other year. In the finals, we are also nothing shy of top 10, and have placed on the podium twice with a bronze Bocuse to take home.

in the heat of the competition Bocuse Europe 2018

This year, the European Bocuse took place in Torino, Italy. Placed in the heart of Piemonte, the region itself was inspiring for any foodie or wine lover. Watching Europe´s best chefs and the cutting edge of haute cuisine on display for two days was motivating for anyone that took the time to watch – and thousands of people did just that.

beach day in Geneva

[Surrounding the competition is also a food, wine and kitchen expo – I went wine tasting from Hungary to Russia and tried all the newest technology to make the best ice cream or freshest espresso. I also made a small weekend trip out of the journey – there aren´t direct flights from Keflavik to Torino so I flew in through Geneva and out through London.

perfect timing to hit on the street food festival in Geneva

Both were worth it for different reasons – it was my first time in Geneva and I met three amazing couchsurfers and, by chance, two Icelanders that happened to be there the same day. I went to the beach, which I didn´t believe was actually a thing until I sat suntanning beside Lac Léman, looking across the lake to France. I drove through Mount Blanc to get to Italy, and flew home through London to pick up a new passport… I think its my tenth, and I´m never quite sure how many years until it fills up too, since I´ve only had two out of nine make it to their expiration date.

ÓX, the newest foodie hotspot in Reykjavik

The food scene in Iceland, especially Reykjavik, has literally exploded in the last eight to ten years. Since moving back to Reykjavik in 2008, I´ve first-handedly watched this little village of a city turn itself around from economic meltdown and exploit the infamous Eyjafjallajökull to its touristic benefit. We´ve turned the crises of other exploding volcanoes, incredible football victory in the European Championship, and more recently, the World Cup, into international fame, since all publicity is good publicity.

ÓX, the smallest restaurant in Reykjavik with only 11 seats

All corners of Iceland are explored now, all year round, meaning hotels are full in January and no more secret hotpots in the middle of nowhere are left untouched. While this comes with a small price to pay for us locals, I don´t know if I´d give it up for all the good tourism has done for us. Roads, historical buildings, deserted farms and countryside hotels are being fixed and built up at such a rate that our employment rates are virtually non-existent. With that comes a lot of employees from Europe and elsewhere, and every little piece of this puzzle is helping the culinary scene in Reykjavik grow up into a delicious food fare.

little bits of flavour explosion

ÓX is the newest addition, and already calling its own name to fame by being the smallest restaurant in Reykjavík. The publicity there is a bit special – the website gives no address, and even though you can now find a puddle of hot water big enough for two in the middle of a field off an unnamed road with a GPS point on google maps, ÓX isn´t findable. It´s a speakeasy kind of place, a back door secret entry through its sister restaurant, which guests only get directions to once they´ve booked one of the 11 seats for dinner.

Hafsteinn serving me from the chef´s table

There´s only one seating per night, starting at 19:00, open three nights a week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), and you book a seat much like you´d book a ticket for the theatre. You enter the space, alone or plus one or two or ten, and become dazzled with the food, chefs, and cosy space over the next 3+ hours. There’s one price per person, 12-13 courses with drink pairings, for a little over €200, with vegetarian friendly and non-alcoholic pairings as an option.

the craft housebrew, amber rye beer, made in collaboration with @ladybrewery

I finally got to dine at ÓX two and a half months after its opening, and it´s not worth waiting that long. If every Icelander tried to eat at this restaurant, it would take 203 years for everyone to get a reservation with a capacity of only 1,716 guests per year. Rumors have it they may start opening Wednesday nights too, but why wait to wind up your senses and start your journey at ÓX? As the website explains, its time to “set foot on a mountain of senses, dive into an ocean of discovery; Iceland is your playground, consume your exploration.”