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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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.

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.”

Happy Birthday to me

This year’s attempts to celebrate my birthday with a party or gathering of more than one other person failed miserably after my ability to chose where in the world I’d be was taken from me. Air Iceland and Icelandair seemed to gang up and make sure my birthday plans couldn’t be made until hours before my actual birthday, when I finally landed back in Reykjavik after being stuck in Greenland for five extra days.

I’ll have my cakes and eat them too

We only planned to go to Greenland for three days, so we nearly tripled our holiday. I was there as part of a birthday celebration precursor, since Steve and I had bought the trips as birthday gifts for each other. After the fourth flight was cancelled, it meant I had missed my onward flight to Denver, where I was meant to celebrate my birthday with a Canadian friend for the first few hours, and then fly to LA for a red-carpet movie premier and meet Oprah. It’s hard to replace Clio, or Oprah, but we started planning a birthday party with the other stranded passengers in Ilulissat since we’d slowly started to accept we were never getting home.

cocktails at Sushi Samba

After I finally landed in Reykjavik a few hours before the 26th, I learned the Denver flight had been cancelled, and I was rebooked two days later. This now meant I had all 24 hours of my birthday in Reykjavik, but it was a Monday and noone even knew I was in town. Even with last minute notice, I still got taken out and treated like a princess Sunday night, to dinner at Sushi Samba and a suite downtown, complete with a bubble bath full of bath salts and a bottle of cava at midnight.

At Sumac, post-birthday

I spent February 26th at home with my father, who is more often a resident at the hospital, so that was the best birthday present in itself. I went thru some memory lane moments, eating lunch and dinner at restaurants my parents had owned when I was a child in Iceland. Katrin’s culinary birthday saga went from Italia to Austur India Felagid, the East-Indian company, and ended at the Grill Market for a desert only kings and queens deserve – I’ve never had a more beautiful or complicated birthday cake! Before finally flying out the 27th to Denver, I ate lunch at Reykjavik’s best new restaurant, Sumac Grill + Drinks, with a couple of friends from New York, making it the second smallest birthday event I’ve ever planned.

The 26 days of Christmas

Christmas in Iceland is special for a lot of reasons, like the food, weird yule lads, short days and northern lights nights, but nothing beats Christmas in Iceland because we have 26 days of it.

Christmas starts 13 days before Christmas eve, when the first yule lad comes down from the mountains. After all 13 have come down, one by one per day, we celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve evening, usually around 6pm. We have smoked and boiled lamb with green beans and red cabbage, and open all our gifts that night, and Christmas day is spent at home with friends and family doing very little except eating the leftovers and cooking and baking more Christmas food.

Christmas Eve was spent eating smoked lamb with these two handsome men

The smelliest night of Christmas is arguably December 23rd, what we call Thorlaksmessa, when people boil pots of fermented stingray for hours without ever adding water, so the ever-increasing, pungent smell of ammonia quickly absorbs into your hair and clothes (and takes a couple of washes to get out).

The loudest day of Christmas is New Years Eve, which Icelanders more appropriately call Old Years night. Iceland is the only country in the world where you can actually hear the New Year arrive, since the intensity of fireworks climaxes at midnight like an out-of-tune percussion symphony. It’s also a pretty smelly night if there’s no wind, since all that smoke from a million kronur of explosives creates a fair bit of pollution.

The last of the fireworks

The hottest day of Christmas are the “brenna” or bonfires. On New Year’s Eve and the last day of Christmas, various neighborhoods around Reykjavík collect huge piles of inflammable junk – furniture, pallets, Christmas trees and even mattresses – and create fires as big as houses. It’s a way to clean out your closets, literally and figuratively, and burn away all the baggage from last year to start clean.

The last day of Christmas is the “Thirteenth” (þrettándinn), January 6 when the last of the 13 yule lads has returned back to the mountains. As I write this, Reykjavik has started to light up again, as everyone finishes the last of their fireworks. It’s only legal to fire fireworks during Christmas, so after midnight tonight you could technically be fined. The city will be even darker tomorrow since Christmas lights and decorations will also get put away. The sidewalks of Reykjavík have already started filling up with Christmas trees that won’t be needed to be cut down again til next year. The radio will stop playing Christmas music, and the harsh reality that the last day of Christmas does not mean the last day of winter will start to sink in. A couple of days ago, the street lights never shut off automatically because the cloudy skies and lack of snow meant the daylight never became bright enough to convince the sensors that it was day time.

the first Saturday ride of the year for these horses and horsepeople

For most, this is a time to buckle down the budget, face impossible new years resolutions, and start the year fresh and optimistic. We do have the assurance that days are getting longer, already for 2 weeks now, and we finally start to notice the difference. For the horse people in Reykjavik, its time to bring the riding horses into the stables and start training. For me, its a time to hole up and write a book, and book the cheapest one way ticket out of here until summer.

Winter is Coming

Yesterday was Friday the thirteenth, and I can be a little superstitious sometimes, so I was wondering what kind of bad luck could come up. It´s been an incredible autumn, a season we Icelanders aren’t so used to having, so basically it seemed like an endless summer. Usually we have winter, and not-winter, and in a week from now, the nights will officially be longer than the days. But, as luck would have it, winter came blowing in, with snowfall on the mountain tops, the leaves blown to sunders, and the last of the green grass has actually died overnight. The first frost has arrived.

Autumn colors for Freyfaxi’s fashion

I´m a little like the geese in Iceland, who start heading further and further south as winter nears. My nickname has recently become Katrin Snow, because of my constant Game of Thrones reference, “Winter is Coming.” But it really is coming.

My view from home, under Esja

I’ve seen northern lights three times this week, but somehow the handful of tourists in town for nearly the same amount of time haven’t been lucky enough to spot them. The grass has turned yellow and the trees have lost their leaves. The sheep have all come down from the mountains, and even the last of the horses are home. The foxes have turned white, but the snow has only reached the mountain tops, so the foxes aren’t blending into the countryside so well.

Watched a fox try to camo into this field (unsuccessfully) and then later watched the northern lights from this hottub at Ion Adventure Hotel

I’m no longer working with horses, and my main riding horse has gotten his irons taken off for his 8 month winter vacation. Now I’m working a bit at Sumac Grill + Drinks, Reykjavik’s newest and hippest restaurant (and home of Icelands Chef of the year 2017 Hafsteinn Ólafsson) to save up some extra money for a long season of travel. Working at such a trendy place has lots of perks – the President’s wife came by, the former mayor´s (leader of the ´Best Party´) daughter, actors and actresses from the last TV series I watched have popped in, and all the city’s best chefs and bartenders come to check us out. Björk didn’t get in, because she didn´t have a table reservation, and sometimes there are over 70 people on the waiting list. But there´s always someone from a past travel time passing thru Reykjavik, and they all manage to visit at Sumac.

Hiking from Glymur waterfall in fall

You know winter is coming when ads for Christmas concerts start airing on the radio and the holiday section of stores start selling Christmas stuff. I´m ready for a one way ticket out of here, and Cape Town on Wednesday sounds like a plan.

Ölverk: Pizza and Brewery

Hveragerði is definitely a happening place this summer, not only for me and thousands of scouts, but also for Laufey Sif and Elvar at Ölverk – the first geothermally powered brewery in Europe! They´ve just opened a pizza restaurant there, complete with the real-deal, wood-fire oven, and the family-run feeling couldn´t be cozier in this steamy hillside, country town. Their 9 month old son is often running around the restaurant, while Laufey works the front and Elvar in the kitchen. Elvar´s real speciality will be the brewery, set to open in September, since he worked for many years as the brewmaster at Ölvisholt brewery near Selfoss.

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Elvar checking on the wood-fire pizza oven

Since the brewery isn´t up and running yet, Elvar and co. are featuring a selection of craft beers from Ölvisholt, and a few international craft beers (one 750ml bottle with an alcohol percentage of 20% sells for a cool 14.900kr!). Once the brewery opens, there will be a daily tour and tasting (with food pairings too) of their 6 home made brews, and groups can also book private tours or events in their tasting room.

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Laufey and I checking out the brew room

If you can´t wait til then, go now to try one of their 15 savory (or 3 dessert) pizzas, cooked in an Italian wood burning oven. Definitely start with the breadsticks or zaatar flatbread with baked beercheese dip, which goes well with an ale called Sleipnir, appropriately named after Óðinn´s 8-legged horse. They have some typical pizzas (No. 5 is the most popular), as well as some vegetarian and stranger creations including bananas and coconut flakes as toppings. The dessert pizza toppings include nutella, salty liquorice sauce, mascarpone cheese, and an assortment of fruits, including some locally grown green-house strawberries.

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Ölverk beercheese dip, breadsticks and Ölvisholt pints

If you´d like to pop in, check them out at Breiðumörk 2 in Hveragerði (the kitchen is open til 22:00), or give them a call to book a table +354 483 3030. Find Ölverk Pizza & Brugghús on Facebook and Trip Advisor, and follow @olverkbrugghus on Instagram if you want to see more pictures of their delicious pizza creations or soon-to-open brewery.