Sunvacation to Spain

I´ve been to Spain a handful of times, and returned to Alicante this time with a slightly different mission. Me and my roommate were flying with a paralyzed man, as his personal assistants and caretakers. He is paralyzed from the chest down, and has limited use of his hands, so we have to help him with nearly everything. He has 3 different wheelchairs, one for bathing, one for traveling, and one electric one he can drive himself in his home, and we were on our way to his vacation home in Valencia province.

Just the drive from the airport to Villa Martin was a small culture shock. Seeing flamingos with their heads deep in salt flat ponds and endless fields of orang groves was so exotic to me. Coming from the woman who usually travels for 8 months a year but has only traveled 6 weeks in the last 13 months. I´ve actually spent more time in quarantine than abroad, a total of 6 weeks and 5 days after I´m done quarantining from this trip.

Spanish lockdown was slightly stricter than Iceland. There are mandatory masks everywhere, even outside on the street, and curfew at 10pm. You would be fined for walking without a mask or driving after 10, and the police were all around. Restaurants and bars had to close at 6, but the sun didnt even go down until 8, so it was fun daydrinking and then going home and sunbathing. There were 3 pools at his residence, but not very much sun.

We were surprised at the cool weather, temperatures daily below 20 degrees celsius, and a lot of rain. It doesnt normally rain in the area, but it rained every other day for two weeks for us. We still got a tan, and some beach time, and even though the ocean wasn´t quite warm enough, we went in anyway and enjoyed people´s stares. The palm trees and deep purple flowers in gardens brought smiles to our faces everytime, and the price of wine and tapas made our wallets especially happy.

We shopped til we dropped, not only because it was cheap, but because there were things we found that you couldn´t buy in Iceland. A foldable bike, a Nespresso machine for 64 euros, a blow up stand up paddle board… our suitcases will be heavy on the way home. It will take me 3 covid tests to get back, and 20 hours of travel through Stockholm where covid´s on fire. I just have to make it home, uninfected, and finish my quarantine since its finally my turn to get the Pfizer vaccine. Only a few more weeks and travel will start to get easier and more worthwhile for me… yay!

A second volcano in Geldingardalur

Another eruption started around noon Monday, only 500m from the original volcano in Geldingardalur. I was so lucky to be there at that exact moment, after booking a helicopter trip for 11:20 that day and being offered an extra long stop (45 mins instead of 30) by Noona.is. We sat and watched the original volcano site, listening to melting earth splatter and flow, and felt 3 earthquakes in a matter of minutes.

The search and rescue team then interrupted us to say the area had to be evacuated around 12:08, after the new eruption starting spewing lava and gases just behind us. I´m super grateful to have been there in good weather, and not standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. The perfect wind conditions kept gases at a minimum, and the patient search and rescue team didn´t chase us away when the helicopter couldn´t pick us up at its original landing spot.

We went from sharing the view with hundreds of people to only a handful of staff until an hour and a half later. We hiked up a hilltop, where we could watch both eruptions at the same time, and the helicopter eventually found us, landed and evacuated us. Apparently a third fissure has showed up since, so there´s plenty of lava to flow around!

Volcano erupting in Iceland

The website https://www.erkomideldgos.is/ has been waiting to post “yes” to the question we’ve all been asking: is the volcano erupting? And finally, tonight, it tells us what we’ve all been waiting to hear.

At 9:45 pm tonight, the national news announced officially that the volcano on Reykjanes peninsula has begun erupting. After thousands of earthquakes since February 24th, dozens felt daily in Reykjavík, the show has finally begun on Fagradalsfjallið – slightly easier to read out loud than Eyjafjallajökull.

the volcano 75 hours later

Looks like we’ve got yet another reason to predict Iceland’s tourism to start booming again!

Bye, Dubai!

During COVID, flights and border closures have unpredictable and unexpected, but basically we´ve learned to stay put. I had already surrendered to no more traveling for the rest of 2020, but the chance to go to Dubai on a work trip for New Years eve was impossible to say no to. What did I have to lose? For even the 1% chance that covid tests were negative, airplanes flew and borders stayed open between Reykjavík and Dubai, I would have taken the chance.

face mask tan – a real first world problem

And I did, and I made it, and I came back a new person. It was physically, emotionally and mentally rejuvenating, to feel the sun on your skin, meet strangers and be in a foreign place with new and exotic things. We played proper tourist, and I saw more of Dubai this time around than the last 2 visits I made.

Global Village

I was with my roommate Guðný, and we were assisting a paralysed man from Iceland meet his girlfriend for vacation. We spent most of our time third-wheeling their dates, and keeping her a happy tourist. We went to the ´Miracle´botanical gardens, the Global Village, the Palm Jumeirah and Atlantis, also visiting the Lost Chambers Aquarium.

We went on a desert safari, let the girlfriend do some quadbiking, and had a bbq buffet watching a belly dancer, fire dancer and a yowla spinning dancer.

yachting in Dubai

On our free time, we were able to rent a yacht for a cruise around the Dubai Marina and the Palm Jumeirah, we met friends, old and new, and networked with some couchsurfers. We dined and wined and watched the fireworks at midnight on New Years eve from the rooftop of our hotel, taking in the Atlantis and the Burj Khalifa from a distance far away the noise and smoke was tolerable.

giddy-up

The highlight was definitely riding a crazy Arabian stallion from sunset and into the night through an open, sandy desert nightscape. The owner didn´t think I could handle him, and I enver quite let him go 100%, but we teared that desert up. Just another perfect piece of the therapeutic experience of finally traveling again.

Traveling in the pandemic

We can all agree that people are getting a bit stir crazy, dreaming of their next trip and excited for traveling to return to ´normal´, but I´ve got to say its worth waiting for. Traveling during covid times is awkward, stressful and boring. Let me explain why.

Firstly and most importantly, the stupid covid test. Have you ever had someone tickle your gag reflex so long? Or a q-tip so far up your nose that it touched your brain? Ew, even writing about it brings back tears to my eyes and makes me want to cover my nose.

a typical day at KEF airport

It’s a bit stressful waiting to find out if your flight is cancelled or delayed, or if border rules change and you can no longer enter Finland or mandatory quarantine begins again in London (both true examples for Icelanders).  Worse than that is the policy of the airlines, to wait until 48 hours before departure to tell you about any changes, which screws up connecting flights and hotel bookings but no one is insured or responsible for lost cost because it’s a ´pandemic.´

at least I got a window seat

The airports are eerily empty, most shops are closed, and they ask you to wear a mask the entire time while keeping a 2m distance. Then you board your plane, which Icelandair has filled by cancelling every flight the days before and after your departure to get everyone on board at once, and you have to keep your mask on while sitting mere centimeters away from strangers. The flight attendants do little or nothing, not even sanitize your seat, but may sell drinks and pick up garbage. So then the guy beside you has his mask off as he drinks his beer and you end up breathing the same recycled air unprotected.

Tallinn, finally

Then you finally get to where you are, and think its all been worth it (which it is), but as your vacation comes to an end, remember that you have to do it all over again to get back home. And go thru two more covid tests and another week or two in quarantine.

the M2 to Kastrup

Its been so long since Ive traveled that I actually felt jet-lagged, maybe for the first time in my life. With only a 3 hour time difference, I still couldn’t adjust to Estonian time until basically my last day, and now Im home in quarantine still on Estonian time. Which is actually pretty great – Im more productive waking up with sunrise! The worst thing about returning home was definitely the border control for covid tests. I couldn’t get that q-tip far enough up my  nose again that I opted for a longer quarantine, which everyone should have the choice to do, but was drilled by two different police men as if I was surely sick, contagious and on a witness stand guilty until proven innocent. They barely let me thru the border, and reminded me 5 times about the 250.000kr fine for breaking quarantine. Luckily for me, theres not much open or happening anyway, so ill do just fine at home writing and preparing for my photo exhibit at Flæði next month.

A covid-free trip to Tallinn & Copenhagen

I´m lucky to call some impressive chefs my closest friends, and the only way out of Iceland this October was with their help. I jumped on the Bocuse d´or team bandwagon to the European pre-competition, held in Tallinn October 15-16 after being postponed twice since the original March date. Instead of 22 countries competing, border closures and rising covid numbers meant 7 couldn´t make it so 16 countries gathered in Estonia to compete. Team Iceland just made it thru the cracks, not knowing if they would compete or not until all ten team members were actually landed in Tallinn and their second covid test came back with a negative result.

Bocuse d’or European preliminary

Good thing we did got to participate, since it was one of Iceland´s best results ever. We won the best fish dish, beating all the heavy hitters normally on the podium: Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Overall we landed in 4th place, which has happened a couple of times before, but now we´re motivated to beat the normal podium takers and go for top 3 in the worldwide Bocuse d´or next summer in Lyon.

the quiet streets of Tallinn

Tallinn itself was pretty relaxed, covid cases next to none. Things were definitely noticeably quieter, as every city center is that relied heavily on tourism, but at least people felt safe in the streets and restaurants. Even bars stayed open with no social distancing rules, and wearing a mask was the only requirement at the Bocuse competition.

nighttime stroll

We wined and dined our way through some great restaurants – Nok Nok, Noa and F-Hoone to name a few. We stayed at the Tallink Spa hotel, complete with an indoor pool and half a dozen different dry saunas and steam rooms. We shopped at malls and walked thru markets, enjoying the simple pleasures of being tourists in a foreign city. Falling leaves met green grass and crisp autumn nights made our surroundings feel exotic. It´s a beautiful thing to see a different angle of the sun, smell slightly warmer air, and feel like a stranger in the most familiar way again.

leaving the Baltic

On our way home, after a couple of hours flight delay in Tallinn, Icelandair cancelled our flight to Reykjavik and we overnighted in Copenhagen. We were politely asked to stay in our hotel, which we got to without any facial intrusions, but we had to leave to get food (and wine). We dined at Barr and I ran into an old friend for a glass of wine, and rode the M2 train back to Kastrup the next morning at a civilized hour. It was almost too easy to stay… I am surprised I actually made it home.

The Faroe Islands and Olafsvaka

Its been a long and productive summer so far, having started traveling around Iceland since March, but after three and a half months in the same country, my wanderlust genes were calling for a trip abroad. Covid had lightened up enough for flights to resume, but I didn’t quite trust small spaces and airports yet.

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Gásadalur on Vágar

Lucky for Iceland, we’ve got the Smyril line ferry, connecting us to Europe thru the Faroes, and they had some killer sales on for return trips with a car. My silver fox campvervan finally got to go on a trip with me 🙂

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Guðný in old town Tórshavn

My roommate Gudny was my partner in crime, and we set off to see and do all that we could in the Faroes. With covid virtually non-existent, we knew we’d get a glimpse of nightlife and street partying since we were visiting exactly during Olafsvaka, the Faroe Islands biggest national holiday.

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the KOKS chefs

We had to try KOKS, the two-michelin star restaurant in an old farm house in Streymoy. We were definitely the only guests who got ready in a campervan and then camped after such an expensive meal, but it wasn’t exactly fine dining the way you know it – the smell of ‘ræst´, the Faroese umami, was akin to aged, salty and smelly things one thinks twice about eating.

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hiking out to Trælnipan

We visited most islands, regrettfully missing only Mykines and Nólsoy. We have to go back for Sandoy and Suduroy too, but our  favourite was probably Bordoy. Every island had a magical view and a special corner, and we tried our best to hike as much as we would.

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pretty small town homes

In Klaksvik, we went swimming and spa-ing, and made a bunch of friends, from 3 young French sailers, to the Icelandic owner of Roystkovan bar. We ended up in an afterparty with all the staff eating cheese platters and drinking Faroese cider, a perfect warm up for the coming festival in Torshavn.

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Olafsvaka outdoor singing

We made friends at KOKS who connected us to good people in Torshavn, where we could camp park outside their house and finally use a civilized toilet. The festivities began with everyone dressing up in beautiful, traditional clothing, complete with some expensive bling bling buttons. There were Icelandic horses and choirs in the street, and for the first time since Mardi Gras, I felt like I was really in a non-socially-distanced crowd of drunk people. What a good way to travel back to pre-covid times, reliving those good old days!

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Olafsvaka opening ceremony

After enough new friends and missed islands, and an extremely pleasant sailing with Norraena ferry, Faroes is high on my go-back-to list, and it may be one of the only places that will stay easily accesible to Icelanders during this pandemic – and I highly recommend it!

The fall and recovery of Covid-19 times in Iceland, summarised so far

The rise of a pandemic in Iceland was awfully creepy, watching the city of Reykjavik first, then the whole country, spiral into one big ghost town. We never made it to complete lockdown, but as the number of cases ticked higher and higher, our voice of authority Víðir pushed us off the streets and into our homes. The first public hit was March 15, when a gathering ban was put on meetings of 100 people or more. This affected some events and some businesses, but people took it quite light heartedly. Then, only a week later, March 22 saw the gathering ban crash down to 20 (except for basic needs like grocery shopping), which affected everyone. The day to day lives of people, especially with a 2m social distancing rule, was taught, and learned, but every day we realised more ways in which this could affect us. We couldn’t´t get our hair cut. We couldn’t´t go to the bank without an appointment. There were no bars or pubs left open. The pools had shut. Hotels were deserted. Flights were cancelled, and even the airport became empty.

the abnormally empty streets of Laugavegur and Skólavörðustígur in downtown Reykjavik

The new cases of Covid-19 spread faster than people were recovering, and at our highest rate of infection just before easter, around 1600 people had been affected. But, the pandemic then began to fall, with Icelander´s having the quietest, loneliest easter weekend imaginable, and a full 6 weeks later, the total number of people infected with Covid stands only at 1806. Today the numbers show only 10 deaths, with a mere 2 active cases left. The statistics and numbers on covid.is website are worth checking out for more facts and stats and to keep up with the rest of Iceland´s recovery news.

quiet and calm times like this means everyone is home looking for a new hobby. Seakayaking was mine, what about yours?

After the first week of April, we were still holding our breath. The numbers were going down but there were still new cases every day. It wasn’t´t until May 4th that we saw the first real light at the end of the tunnel shine, and at midnight that day the gathering ban was increased to 50 people and salons and some spas could reopen. Many people went for a manicure or to meet their chiropractor, and lots of sanitiser and latex was still floating around. At midnight on May 18th, the public pools reopened, and lines of people (with 2m distance between each other) waited outside thru the night to get in for an overdue soak. The pools are restricted to 50% capacity until tomorrow, and then 75% capacity from June 1 until June 15 when they can open at 100% capacity. June 15th will also be the day tourists may begin trickling in, with a promised test-on-arrival system put into place to replace the mandatory 2 week quarantine currently in place for all new arrivals to Iceland.

On May 25, the gathering ban was increased to 200 people and public gyms and bars could finally reopen. The 2m social distancing rule has become a guideline instead, and people are asked to follow it if they want, but restaurants and bars are not expected to accommodate the rule for everyone. With 200 person events now allowed, there seems to be a funeral in every church, and some postponed baptisms, birthday parties and weddings are beginning to fill up the empty venues.

the height of covid lockdown was a perfect time to get out to the quiet countryside. Here is Hofsós in perfect peace and tranquility.

Though Covid is not over, Reykjavik feels a bit like Covid never happened. It´s hard to hear all the struggles others around the world are still in, and watching the number of cases still grow some places. Even in Iceland we had 1 Covid-case confirmed only two days ago, and though it wasn´t announced on the radio every hour like it used to be, we are all still aware. Icelander´s are tough, and being resilient means we are still careful, but its nice to start being able to touch and hug people again. Not everyone is there yet, but things have almost returned to normal in my day to day life. And what impeccable timing – I believe I speak for all locals when I say we are so ready for summer, especially a whole summer in Iceland without tour guiding and no tourist traffic in all our favourite places!

How many countries are there in the world?

From lowest count to highest, here is the range of differing opinions on what makes a country a country, and more importantly, what counts as a ´real´country.

Although the UN is often the default count for people to believe, its not that clear what their official number is. I´ve seen both 193 and 195, since Taiwan and the Vatican have some strange non-member observer status. Then there´s Kosovo, which over a hundred of those member states recognize, but not the UN body. UNESCO, a branch of the UN, has a member list of 195, including Palestine but excluding the Holy See and Taiwan from the UN list, plus 11 associate members.

This pushes the count up to 206, which the National Olympic Committee also has, but they no longer recognise Curacao, Gibraltar, the Faroe Islands, Macau or New Caledonia. Though they used to be part of the International Olympic Committee, they now have to compete through their parent nations (Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, China, France) though the Faroes and Macao are allowed to athletes as their own in the Paralympics.

FIFA says there are 211 registered football teams in the world from different countries (the UK is split into its 4 countries), excluding some UN countries, since not every country in the world has a national men´s football team (ie. Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Monaco, Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu and the Vatican).

Couchsurfing has over 230 countries, and claims to have a registered host in every country in the world. With 2 million users, this is definitely possible, but the truth is its hard to find hosts in countries where the site is illegal, like Iran, where there is only one host, like in Wallis & Futuna, or where the site is nonexistent, like in North Korea.

The highest count is over 300. The Centenary Club, an elite members only group of travelers, counts 327 countries and territories.

If you ask me, the definition of a country isn´t rocket science. If you pass a border or showed a passport, had to apply for a visa, or use a totally different currency and maybe a new language, then you´re probably in a different country. I definitely stand by the fact that every time I went to Greenland, I was not in Denmark, and French Guyana is nothing like France except for the euro currency. I actually think its strangest that everyone can agree to call the Holy See a separate country, but others have more problems with territories and their status. I’m somewhere in the middle, with about 245 countries on my horizon, of which 25 I have left to visit.

Madeira

I was keeping on with a Portugese, Atlantic-island hopping trip when I decided to go straight to Madeira. The airport connection was seamless, as if I was going to another Azorean island, and being further south, it was warmer and sunnier.

on the top of Madeira

Hiking in Madeira is supposed to be amazing, but the size and steepness of those mountains was a bit daunting. Driving up to the Pico do Arieiro was painless and fast, and getting above the clouds still offered views to the sea.

wine tasting at H.M. Borges

Chef Thrainn met me there, with the intention of learning (and drinking) as much of Madiera wine as we could in 5 days. We drove thru dozens of vineyards on our roadtrip around the island, but only Funchal had actual bottlers and tasting rooms we could seek out.

Funchal tourism has a lot to thank Ronaldo

Our road trip started at Madeira airport, where we drove north to Sao Vicente. We stopped when we felt like, eating lunch at Seixal, and got lucky with a cheap room at Porto Moniz. Our seaside room balcony was above the natural pools, where they’ve concreted in the gaps between the jagged sea cliffs and made sea water pools.

Porto Moniz

We drove west and south, stopping at the not-so-impressive mand-made-beach of Calheta. Funchal was a food and wine highlight, eating at the Michelin recommended Boho Bistro and 1 star Williams restaurant. We learned about Madeira wine making at H.M.Borges, and tasting some excellent examples at Blandy’s wine lodge.

the cable car of Santana going down to Rocha do Novio

Our last day was set aside to drive to the northeast of the island, visiting Faial and the Santana houses. The cable car down to Rocha do Navio was being repaired, so we simply looked down on it, wondering how it is to live there. We drove to the east extreme of Sao Lourenco before calling it a night at Machico. We got the music room at Modern and Recycled guesthouse and had melon proschuitto and seafood on the black sand beach, paired with a perfect rosé, so we felt content to wake up the next morning at 5:30 am to head back home.