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.

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Weekdays in Paris

A weekend trip to Paris isn’t so expensive these days, with budget air lines like Wow Air and Transavia flyin for around €100 each way when you’re lucky. A weekday trip is even cheaper, with a one way flight as low as €80, so me and my sister, who has never been to Paris or France, decided to hop over for a couple of nights, Monday to Wednesday.

Me and Kristjana at the Sacre Coeur

We were lucky enough to miss the biggest day of rain in years, just by a few hours, so happily the metros and gutters had just stopped flooding when we landed. It also seemed the sky had been rained out, so for the next couple of days, which had been forecasted for rain, we were lucky enough to have only cloudy skies, with small bits of sun poking thru. It was perfect – never too hot or too wet or cold, and we didn’t get burnt or heat exhaustion. Which we were kind of expecting after spending more than 8 or 10 hours of each day outside walking.

The Louvre

We walked everywhere. And only walked. The only train or metro we took were to get in or out of Paris/Charles de Gaulle airport . In 2 days we walked nearly 55km, and my sister is still slightly limping from a cramped hamstring. But it was all well worth it!

Getting our obligatory Nutella crepes

We saw nearly all of touristic Paris, even thru the battling crowds of other tourists and half evacuated Paris businesses (Parisians start to empty in July for their summer holidays). The Sacre Coeur, the Moulin Rouge, the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre, Champs Élysées, the shopping at St. Michel, Galeries Lafayette, and Chatelet, and the neighbourhoods of Montmarte, St. Germaine and St. Denis. Just walking thru the Louvre took half a day and a few kilometers, and I randomly ran into a solo Indian/American-dwelling female traveler I met a year and a half ago in Somalia. It’s a small world, even in crowded Paris.

 

Shepherd’s Way Trekking in Kyrgyzstan

The far east has a lot of appeal – it’s the orient, the exotic, far away lands, the famous Silk Road, weird but delicious food, colourful décor, nomads, and also horses. I went to Mongolia last year for a horse trip, and found out the same was possible in Kyrgyzstan, but in totally different landscape. I had known the Gobi desert, and now I was going to the Alps of central Asia.

riding in Kyrgyzstan

I’ve always wanted to go to Kazakhstan, and the visa was just as difficult to get as Russia’s visa, except I knew no one in Kazakhstan to invite me. But, since Expo 2017 got scheduled in Astana, Kazakhstan changed the visa requirements and I was able to get one on arrival. Flying into Almaty, only a few hours drive from Bishkek, is a more common, cheaper route from Istanbul or Moscow, the two main hubs connecting Central Asia/former Soviet countries to Europe. I flew with Pegasus airlines, for very cheap, considering the distance, and carried on my luggage. I splurged another 15 euros upgrade to spend my layover time in the lounge at Istanbul airport, and drank enough Starbucks coffees, Effees and feta cheese  to well make up for it.

swimming in Issyk Kul

I was riding with a friend from France, Alicia who came on a tour with me in Iceland. We would only be two guests, but with 3 guides, and spend 10 days in and around Barskoon village on the shores of Lake Issyk Kul. We climbed up to 3900 meters, where the landscape looked just like the highlands of Iceland, except where we have frost at night and snow topped mountains all year round is between 600-900 meters.

camp at 3900m

We only had one horse each, and split all our camping gear, luggage and food in big saddle bags that each of us carried. We cooked on some old Soviet-time portable stove that ran on gasoline, and always had a hot breakfast and freshly cooked dinner. Our lunches were half-way stops, picnics full of biscuits, jams, wood-oven cooked bread, nuts and dried fruits. Although we had enough to eat, you always felt hungry – it was a combination of all the fresh air, hot days, cold nights, and perhaps the lack of oxygen at such high altitudes.

picnic time

We rode through valleys, pine forests, and even up to a glacier, and my favourite day was the Jukku Pass, a track even I became a little afraid of heights. We saw two rock slides, not so far from us, and both ended only a few metres from the road. Our guide figured we’d hear one coming before it was too late so we just carried on along the same treacherous road.

camping and trekking the shepherd’s way

If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind horse trip to add to your bucket list, definitely look up Shepherds Way Trekking, and they’ll custom tailor a trip for only 2 people. If you’re not a big horse person, they also have hiking treks, and you’ll still feel like a shepherd after all the other free-roaming shepherds, goats, sheep, cows and horses you’ll meet along the way.

Horse Culture in Kyrgyzstan

I’ve learned a lot about horses after trekking in Kyrgyzstan. In this country, covered 94% by mountains, a semi-nomadic people still maintain a co-dependent relationship with their horses. They use them to travel, they use them for sport and games, they work them as shepherds, they drink their milk, and also eat their meat.

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a herd of mares and foals drınkıng

Around central Asia, they play a type of team sport on horseback called Buzkashi that slightly resembles polo, except the ball is a goat, who starts out alive and usually ends up less living by the end. There’s also a game where a boy and girl on horseback compete, where the boys goal is to kiss the girl, and meanwhile the gırl can run away and beat him with a whip. The girl wins if he doesn’t manage to kiss her, although I wonder why the girls even bother to play – of not to get a kiss, then just to hit the poor boys.

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our brave mounts for the trek

The Kyrgyz horse resembles the Mongolian breed, a small but tough, colorful assortment of hard working horses. During Soviet rule, the Russians tried to prove the Russian horse was better, proving it to be stronger and faster in races, and then interbreeding them with the Kyrgyz horse. Today you have few purebreds and a lot of mixed blood, and both are incredibly adapted to the terrain – they define ‘mountain horse’ to a whole new level.

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climbimg up and down these passes was no problem for the horses, even wıth us and all the luggage on theır backs

Horses are often named after their colour or owner – a fun tradition also common in Iceland. Female horses used to be ridden only by females, but today mostly only geldings and stallions are ridden. The mares are used for milk, or ‘kumis’, and to produce hillsides full of fluffy foals each spring.

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riding through canyons and gorges in 35 degree heat

A horses age is not counted the first three years. First they are ‘tayi’, in the second year they are ‘kunan’, and their third year is called ‘Byshty’, which means ‘ready’. Then a 1 or 2 year old, which is actually 4 or 5 years old, is trained and used as a riding horse. Most boys are given a horse at birth, a new born foal they get to grow up with. This forms a lifelong partnership between a man and his horse, something too beautiful to describe but you know it when you see it.

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thıs 8 year old shepherd still can’t reach the stirrups, but his German Shepherd and his stalliıon don’t care how little their boss is

The stallions are ridden with other stallions and geldings without much fuss, and free roaming mare and foal herds are naturally protected by one stallion. I wonder what happens when herds meet… But I didn’t see any fighting or injured stallions.

Kazakhstan, nice to meet you

The first president’s park

I had a red-eye from Istanbul to Almaty, with the budget airline Pegasus who’s seats don’t recline and you don’t get fed in 5 hours, so I arrived a grumpy and slightly disoriented Katrin at sunrise, 4:50am Friday. After getting thru customs and finding some tourist info, I realized all the country was abuzz for Expo 2017. Public buses start at 5:30am so I slowly made my way into the city center. I don’t know why, but I was a little apprehensive about traveling alone there, a place seemingly so big but yet a huge question mark.

The President’s Palace

You can’t get your bearings that easily once you’ve arrived either. The faces are a mix of North and East, the language mostly Russian, the religion largely Muslim, and the streets and buildings a showy blend of big, efficient Soviet/communist architecture and Las Vegas wannabe. Shiny, glass towers and Dubai-like malls pop up between the concrete grey, and all the boulevards and blocks are twice too big. The cars are sometimes right-hand drive, even though the roads are too, and everyone has a brand new smart phone and is addicted to Instagram and selfies more than Chinese tourists are addicted to selfie sticks. There’s a significant minority of Koreans and Turkish residents, which also made race and language identification tricky. I barely heard Kazakh, and even ethnic Kazakhs sometimes speak only Russian, but only my couchsurf host and a few of her friends spared me with English.

My Kazakh friends

I saw faces which resembled ancient Mongol warriors, but with milky white skin and mouse grey hair. The city of Almaty was spread out below snow-topped mountains whose peaks make even the Alps and Rockies look small. The lush green-ness, even in the city center, slapped summer straight in your face, and a humid 30•c have warm tingly feelies to my barefeet toes.

Portraits by @ninachikova

The nightlife was slightly international but anonymous at the same time. I went to a whiskey bar that made Scottish choices seem limited, and a nightclub sigh exactly the same top40 as New York. I was randomly approached by two separate photographers to take my portrait, just because.

Kok-Tobe

I went on a roadtrip to two places out of the city, and it didn’t take long to feel like I was in the middle of nowhere. Only 25km away from the city center is Big Almaty Lake, a reservoir for the city’s drinking water nestled between white mountain peaks. I lucked out to be there at the same time a traditional Kazakh dance video was being made, and tried to photobomb it, just a little.

Big Almaty Lake

Me and my couchsurf host, her son, and a friend with his girlfriend took me to Lake Kapchigai, and nearby Ile river to picnic and swim. It involved an endless, open road, thru a semi-arid steppe where we only ran into horses and livestock, and one turtle crossing the road. We saw some petroglyphs of Buddah from some long-ago Silk Road traveling Buddhists, and marijuana weeds growing wild were just starting to bud. I didn’t try it, but I did have a horse pizza – not quite as exotic for an Icelander, but the local Kazakhs where thrilled I wasn’t offended or grossed out by horse meat, and even more surprised that it was also done in Iceland.

This river starts in China

I left Kazakhstan by road to Bishkek, a comfortable (and incredibly cheap – €5) 3.5hr drive away. The only stops were for a wooden squat toilet and to get gas, and this ‘Royal Petrol’ station whose service area and parking lot covered a plot the size of an American super Wal-Mart, but with only 6 pumps. I guess when you have so much space, why not be a little excessive.

Stopover Berlin

Traveling from Reykjavik to Bishkek isn’t so common, but you can get there in a pretty straight line as long as you have enough time for stopovers. I spent less than 24 hours in Berling but managed to visit two Icelandic horse fanatics (both Germans who I met on tour in Iceland) and their extensions (boyfriend, father, child, mother, horse). I got to ride a pony and a big horse, and I have to admit I missed the tolt a little.

Riding with Jana

I drank some German beer and ate a bratwurst, as well as some amazing Indian food, and the highlight of my trip was an interview at Fritz Radio in Potsdam. Here’s a link to it (it’s in German and English), you’ll find my name under interviews.

https://www.fritz.de/sehen-und-hoeren/audios/fritzaktuell/fritzaktuell-feed.html

Next stopover is Istanbul, but only a few hours in the airport, and then a weekend in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Its nice to be home

Beautiful Dalvik, in Eyjafjordur

I´m back in Iceland, as it turns out, year after year, this at least stays the same. Iceland is wonderful for Christmas and New Years, but otherwise, May to September, what some could call spring, summer and fall, (or rather, ´not-winter´), are wonderful months, where I always feel like I’m at home. The smell of fresh, clean air and drinking ice cold water out of the tap that tastes like nothing are always two of my favourite things to do the moment I land. Within a few hours after that, I’ve found some natural hot pot or public swimming pool with steaming water to soak my tired bones.

Grettislaug, in Skagafjordur

No return home would be complete without a drunken party with my old Norse friends, a roadtrip to some remote, northern part of Iceland, visiting my horses, and pretending to be young and hip down Laugavegur downtown. In two weeks, Ive checked all of those boxes (some twice), but the horse situation is getting complicated and being ´home´, which is now my dad´s house, has been a little lonely.

Into the Glacier!

But, staying in the same place for more than 2 nights in a row is quite the anomaly anyway, so I’ve already spent half my time traveling around Iceland with friends. A friend of New York was in town and we went north to Skagafjordur. My best friend wanted to celebrate his birthday in one of Icelands boutique countryside hotels in Husafell so we did that, just after visiting Langjokull glacier with a Venezuelan photographer friend. I had a crazy horse in the north I had to ´deal´with (don´t worry, he´s still alive), and two horses I tried to ride home from Borgafjordur. We got more than half way, but then it started to get cold again and dad had to go to the hospital.

my Icelandic father, brother, and nephew

Now my horses are home, but not dad, but both my sisters will be visiting soon. Its weird to feel so much at home and be the only one at home (dads house is kind of out in the countryside of Reykjavik), and even weirder to have all this free time where I’m not traveling or moving or planning anything.

my horses at home

Needless to say, Ive gotten some rest and expanded my livelihood beyond the limits of my backpack, but of course theres already another trip in the works. Before my horse riding guiding season in Iceland starts, I figure I´ll have to get get my butt in saddle shape somewhere before. Anyone else want to come to Kyrgyzstan in June?

fun with Steve in Haugsnes