Shippensburg, Pennsylvania to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware

I often find myself unexpectedly in Washington DC – my best from from college days Ursula lives there and there’s always an excuse to visit her. There are direct flights from Keflavik daily to Dulles and Baltimore, Maryland, and I had never realised how close Pennsylvania, New York, Virgina and Delaware all are to eachother in that corner of the states. The east coast is a confusing place geographically.

Shippensburg University Main Building

This time around, I was making a pilgrimage to Shippensburg – the university town my father studied for many years and met my mother back in the seventies. I was taking parts of him and his memories back to the few remaining friends I found there, retracing some of his footsteps and rediscovering a history I had never known.

the last of dad’s ashes left in Shippensburg

I stayed with Charles, a retired, 81-year old professor who met Einar through friends. He never taught him, but they became close and Einar lived in his house for a year and spent some time helping fix up the 19th century home in exchange for Charles’ help in buying his first car – a Ford Pinto. Charles still lives in the same street on North Earl Street, and I stayed in the same room my dad lived in nearly forty years ago. He described dad as a womanizer. A glutton that always wanted immediate gratification.

my gentlemen hosts

Charles is a historian plagued with short term memory loss, and I don’t think theres anything more ironic or confusing than being obsessed with history while losing your memory. He walked with a cane made from a ski pole, and always wore a hat outside after recently removing some cancer cells from his nose. He has catalogued every belonging in his home, with binders of inventory that describe the origin, worth and inheritance of each item. I inherited Dads inheritance – a beautiful clay pot from Mexico.

my father in the same house I stayed

We visited the Franklin science Center where my father took all of his biology and chemistry classes on campus. We drove to the address where he first lived in a trailer with my mother. The trailer is gone, but the address still existed on google maps. We went to the pubs he frequented. I visited the home where my parents were married in 1978. We went to dinner with his college buddies who shared stories of my father and mother, and lunch with the best man from their wedding John, whose wife is also suffering from short term memory loss and rediscovered the date of her own mothers death thru a letter I returned to John from 2006 that I found in dads office. They described dad as a charmer, never free of a cigarette or a beer in his hand.

a common sight in Shippensburg

After a whirlwind visit and a roller coaster of emotions, I dried the tears from laughter and sadness with a solo roadtrip thru Amish country. The peaceful scene of passing farms and horse drawn carriages made it feel like time travel, and Rehoboth Beach was worlds away from small town Shippensburg. I spent three days there, a stones throw from the sea, in Ursula’s beachhouse that her grandmother frequented back in the 1940’s.

oysters for happy hour

We were three ladies, the mandatory cute gay guy and two purse-dogs to accessorise the beach by day, and danced every night away back to the beach where skinny dipping was no big deal in the warmth of the darkness. Our diet was mostly a combination of beverages, and a gaggle of men was never far away at one of the bars, nightclubs or drag queen shows we spent the evenings.

old time selfie

It was nearly 30°c every day, I got a beach tan, verging on a burn, and took an old time photo of our group as an inter-racial group of bandits from the 1920´s. I cant imagine a better way to have ended the week, a perfect, mindless holiday to distract me from the realities of yesterday and tomorrow.

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Winter is not coming

Today was the first day the nights are longer than the days. We had no summer in June or July, and finally it arrived in autumn. The first snow dusting the tops of Esja mountain Reykjavik fell last night, a month later than last year. But its still in the teens, and the sun has been shining more hours today than all 30 days in June.

looking for sheep in the highlands is easy to do when theres almost no snow

The sheep gathering has begun in most corners of the country. The north began rounding up the first week of September, but riding in a tshirt and getting sheep to waddle home one hundred kilometers in a wooly bunch is unusual. Wearing sunblock on a ride in the highlands when you know there’ll be frost at night seemed unconventional, but totally necessary.

some stubborn sheep have decided they wont be chased home and found an impossible place – a common problem when the weather is this nice

The northern lights, however, arrived much earlier than normal. This was the soonest I’ve seen them, August 15th, and again the 17th and 21st. The entire sky turned flickering shades of green on September 3rd, much to the delight of 29 Swiss tourists I woke up to see them.

biking by the Blue Lagoon on an extra sunny day

Biking around Reykjavik has been glorious, now that there’s finally good weather. Though its strange to remember that nightfall has crept up on us, and biking home at 9pm without headlights makes me feel uneasy, especially knowing that next week it will be dark by 8pm. It’s a shame that Nautholsvik, the local man-made beach with a hot tub and steam room, is open every day and free only during the summer season, which they’ve decided ends August 15th. That was probably the first day of summer, but now its only open 4 times a week and costs 650kr to use.

riding to the beach is a must on a sunny autumn day

Winter is not coming, since its finally summer in September. Autmn has yet to arrive, with the grass still green and the trees still full of luscious leaves. I hope autumn comes in winter, and winter gets skipped right to spring. But that’s pretty wishful thinking in a country that typically has 2 seasons – winter, and not winter.

Southern Greenland in September

Air Iceland Connect has the occasional package deals to Greenland, which are significantly cheaper than just buying a return flight, even though it includes a hotel for 3 or 4 nights. Steve and I decided to go to Ilulissat in February for a joint birthday celebration, and paid for a 3 night package that turned into an 8 day, all inclusive trip, courtesy of Air Iceland, because flights for grounded for 5 days after our original departure day, due to bad weather. The bad weather wasn’t in Ilulissat, so we didn’t mind the extension, especially considering the price of things to travel to Greenland.

Hej Greenland!

We tried our luck with fate again, this time to Narsarsuaq, for another 3 night trip. We flew low over the glaciers, with spectacular views of the ice fjords. Since it was southern Greenland in September, there were less chances that weather might delay us, but we had fallen so completely head over heels with Greenland (and a couple of Greenlandic people) that it was always going to be worth going again.

the taxi boat

We flew into Narsarsuaq airport, and took a one hour boat taxi to Narsaq where we’d stay at the Narsaq Hotel, run by an Icelander and his Greenlandic wife. The sun was shining and the sea was dead calm, and we had returned to a completely different paradise. We even went seaswimming, enjoying the icecold sea just fine knowing the sun would warm us dry.

Steve seaswimming, not so far from a skinned seal carcass we noticed later on the beach

The boat captain dodged small ice bergs as we watched the farms roll by, many only reachable by boat or horse, and noticed some familiar looking sheep and freshly rolled hay bales. This area of Greenland is the only place where Icelandic sheep and horses are kept, and we had planned on riding and spending as much time as possible on the water or hiking near it. The only problem was that roundup time had also begun here, and the few horses normally rented to tourists to ride were now being used by farmers and their friends to bring the sheep home.

newly cut hay fields and the colourful homes of Narsaq

Instead, we checked into our hotel where the view from our window looked straight down at the slaughter house. We fell asleep after a long night of barhopping, which involved moving between the towns only two bars a couple of times to catch a glimpse of the changing crowds and live music, and most of our drinking comrades were actually Icelanders who had come in on the same flight. The DJ adapted accordingly, playing a spotify playlist of top 50 Icelandic songs, and it was hard to remember where we really were. We woke up to sounds of belting sheep, and really thought we had come back home, when we looked out and saw an entire herd of sheep herded into the field adjacent to the slaughter house. Their numbers slowly dwindled over the next few days, so we tried some local lamb and felt good for contributing to the local economy, but slightly guilty for their murders.

the quant little harbour of Qaqortoq

We took a boat trip to Qaqortoq, the biggest town in Southern Greenland, and felt as though we had arrived in a metropolitan city. The town was cutely nestled in the slopes of hills and valleys, all meeting in a charming harbor, much more densely inhabited than anywhere I had imagined in Greenland. We visited the Viking ruins at Hvalsey, where the remains of a stone church still stand, but the last farm in the valley had been deserted a few years earlier.

Hvalsey church ruins

We learned a lot about the differences of West and South Greenland, and have east Greenland on our horizon soon, depending on Air Iceland’s next offer. The night before our flight back, rumours about strong winds started circulating among the hotel guests and a panic arose that the flight might actually be cancelled. The others, including the hotel owner himself, left that night on the latest boat back to Narsarsuaq to increase their chances of making the flight, but we grinned at the chance to be stuck again, staying put until the morning. We woke up to an empty field of sheep, and a perfectly calm morning, so grudgingly packed our bags and walked down to the harbour for our ferry to the airport. The boat temporarily broke down, and we thought we had cheated fate again, as half the boat moved over to a smaller one and left us at the docks. Only fifteen minutes later, the boat started, and we were off too, and made it to the airport where the plane would arrive on time. We chatted with Fridrik the owner, and Im pretty sure we were both offered a job at his hotel or soon-to-be brewery, so we may be back sooner than we know.

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.

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.