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.

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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.