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!

The Azores Islands

Planning a trip to the Azores is daunting, especially in off season when islands are less easily accessible, and picking which islands to go to and how to get there takes time.

Lago do Fogo, Sao Miguel island

It wasn’t hard to get to Sao Miguel, with direct daily flights to Ponta Delgada from Boston, and it was quick and inexpensive. It’s a red-eye flight, so arriving at sunrise meant booking a hostel was tricky. I managed to check into Bruma Hostel at 8 am, and got to shower and have breakfast before snuggling into bed for a day nap.

ocean arches at Ferreria, Sao Miguel

I met up with a couchsurfer from Lisbon at a taberna for some 80 cent beer and bifana, then he drove us to Lago do Fogo for a picture perfect view. We watched the sunset at the western point of the island, Ferraria and then taberna hopped our way back to Ponta Delgada. I was always the only woman inside, a smokey and dodgy lit space, so I preferred the outdoors and Nordeste much more. My favourite places in Sao Miguel were Cete Cidades and Furnas Lake, especially bathing in the nearby geothermal springs, Poca da Bona Beija.

Pico island and the peak on a clear day

I then visited the triangle islands – Faial, Pico and Sao Jorge, each for only a couple of days or nights. I flew to Horta, Faial and couchsurfed there with an Italian who had the flu (a sensitive time to be close to anyone sick) but a gorgeous view over Pico island. The first 2 days I barely even saw the island, but the last day I could see the entire mountain, all the way to its peak.

the west end of Faial, Farol of Ponta dos Capelinhos

Faial had some dramatic landscapes on the west end, where Capelinhos volcano erupted from 1957 to 58. Horta was the most charming town, with art and cafe culture thriving among the charming facades, and houses being rebuilt and refurbished all around.

Madalena church, Pico island

When I went to Pico, I only hiked up until the Casa de Montanha visitor center, since everything higher up than that was fogged out. I tried some local wine from the wine co-op in Madalena.

one of Sao Jorge’s many faja towns

Sao Jorge was my personal favourite, at least for the outdoors. The hiking, dramatic sea-cliffs and fajas made you want to stay outside all day. I rented a scooter, since a car would keep me too much inside, and drove some of the crazy roads from the coast to the cliffs and across the island. The deserted lighthouse Ponta dos Rosais on the north tip was creepy, but the whale lookout and Sete Fontes forest nearby were worth visiting. Sao Jorge is the king of place you can hitchhike a taxi, and a man still plows his field with rope, steel and oxen.

the milk man delivery truck

Terceira was a brief 1 day and 2 night stop. I slept at Hostel de Palmeira, quite likely the best hostel I’ve ever seen, in Praia da Vitoria, and had an entire 8-bed dorm and sea-view balcony to myself. In the morning I ran on the black sand beach, and it was always warm enough, even in the rain.

Angra do Heroismo central square, facing the beach

I rented a car from the Lajes airport on Terceira to get to Angra do Heroismo, considered by some to be the first city of the Atlantic. Its an historical place, beautifully located and has a beach in the city center. It had great restaurants, Tasca das Tias especially for steak, and I tried sea barnacles for the first time at O Pirata.

Great seafood and oceanfront seating at Bar Caloura, Sao Miguel

There were a lot of other mentionable things I did there in 10 days, and a lot more things I didn’t get the chance to do. Ideally, plan to go there for 2 or 3 months and simply go to every island, for a week each, and then you wont have to worry about planning in advance. I definitely plan on returning, specifically to see Corvo and Flores, and hope to see a whale next time.

Mardi Gras & Ash Wednesday in NOLA

I knew, since 2009, that Mardi Gras would fall on my birthday in 2020 and I´ve literally been avoiding New Orleans until now because of that. Turning 33 isnt a big deal really, but having 3 wonderful women and close friends fly in from all around the world for it was a big deal to me. Coincidentally, I also knew someone thru work thats from NOLA, and an Icelandic friend happened to be visiting NOLA at the same time for Mardi Gras, so I can say I had 5 special people to share time with.

feeling blessed with this company

I haven´t even been to Louisiana before, and I was excited about the weirdest things like oysters and Tabasco sauce. Both of those were great things, in fact the fresh oysters I had at Crescent City Brewhouse are the best I´ve ever had, and the other touristic thing to must-do was sail on the Mississippi on a steamboat. Unfortunately the Natchez was docked for some repairs so a horse-drawn carriage ride thru the French Quarter was the most touristy thing we did.

our carriage was actually dragged by a mule

Then of course there was Mardi Gras. We missed the weekend before, which is a highlight for many, but arriving on a the Monday night before Fat Tuesday was already completely and utter culture shock. We followed Krewe de Poo from Rosalia Alley around Bywater, with drums and music to parade to, stopping occasionally for shopping cart wars. As you do.

straight out of my dreams

Mardi Gras day we watched the truck parade come down canal street and meandered down Bourbon Street trying to find the coolest beads. You usually had to flash 3 sets of boobs for a good necklace, so we had to be content with our normal beads. I settled for a yellow, green and purple feather boa and some face glitter, and when we had king´s cake in the Musical Legends Park, I got the baby!

king´s cake and the baby

I felt like I was on drugs just from watching the festival goers around me, but keeping a buzz all day wasn´t hard with the fishbowl cocktails. At midnight Bourbon street emptied from some chaotic scare (someone pulled a gun?) so we rang my birthday in at a bar on lockdown with a few tequila shots.

riding the street cars around, just for fun

Ash Wednesday was recovery day, and my wonderful friends took me to the Ace hotel rooftop for rosé and fish tacos. We went out that night to the oldest bar in Louisiana, Lafitte´s Blacksmith Shop Bar, and the first stand up bar in the country, Tujagues. The music and architecture constantly surrounding us was so memorable everywhere – it felt like I was in Disney themed park for an imagined New Orleans. The cajun food was delicious, since I love anything spicy, but I can´t quite figure out why King´s cake is so bad. And the baby really is a choking hazard.

 

Winter season in Iceland

I’ve been working with Backroads for a couple of summers now, and this was my second winter. It’s been a good winter – snow storms, minus 10 degrees and plenty of northern lights. The day light is short, with sunrise after 11 and sunset before 4, so there’s a small window of opportunity to be active outside. We’re meant to hike, snowshoe, glacier walk or horseback ride, and the weather doesn’t always cooperate. But when it does, its a winter wonderland out here.

Ion Adventure Hotel, the first night of our Northern Lights trip

I had a week of trip preparation, where me and the trip expert practiced all the hikes and visited all of our vendors. Hotels, restaurants and farms took us in with open arms and we had luck with weather almost every day. Once the first trip started, we lucked out with northern lights 5 out of 5 nights, and the trip couldn’t have gone better.

our hike at Skalakot Boutique farm comes with free dog company

The second trip ran over the worst storm Iceland has seen in years, with power being cut off across the north of Iceland, and up to 4 meters of snow burying horses alive. We were on a small spit of the south coast where the only open road in the whole country was a 10km stretch of highway 1 exactly around us. It was incredible to be able to stick to the plan, hiking and glacier walking despite the rest of the country being on lock down, and our only inconvenience was staying an extra night at Hotel Ranga since we couldn’t get to Umi Hotel.

a nearly completely frozen Oxarafoss, a special site even for Icelander’s

The third trip was over New Years, and we rang in the New Year together at Hotel Ranga with our group and the staff that have become more and more like family after so many nights at the hotel. There were two guests with birthdays on January 1st, so there was plenty to celebrate, and we saw Northern Lights in the morning before sunrise on our way onto Solheimajokull.

Thorsmork covered in White and a sunrise turned sunset to make it even more beautiful

The next trip won’t be until March and April, when the daylight hours are triple what they have been so far. It’s better for flexibility and certainly makes driving thru snowstorms easier, but there’s a certain charm in visiting Iceland in its darkest hours, and the feedback from guests has always been rewarding – what a magical country we live in to be able to enjoy it in the midst of horrible winter storms and still come home smiling.

Photo Highlight: Winter in Vestmannaeyjar

My father was from a tiny island on the south coast of Iceland where men proudly call themselves the first and most original Icelanders, since Iceland is their biggest colony. My father was born January 7th 1952 and both my grandparents were born January 11th, so January seemed like the best time to go and visit their communal grave. The cemetery in Heimaey is always lit up with festive lights until January 23rd, the anniversary of the 1973 volcanic eruption start date. If only everyone could Rest In Peace in such a paradise as this.

Katrin Sif likely the most traveled Icelander in Icelandic history

In an interview taken by Björn Þorfinsson, he claims I may be the most traveled person in Icelandic history. Whether or not that´s true, I definitely enjoyed his take on my mission. Here is a translation of the article, which you can find on dv.is:

It´s possible that Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir is the most widely traveled Icelander of all time. Despite being only 31 years old, Katrín Sif has traveled to 217 countries on the globe. It is worth mentioning that there are 195 recognized United Nations countries, but by, for example, counting Greenland and the Faroe Islands as countries instead of Denmark, it is possible to list about 230 countries.

Katrín Sif started traveling at a young age. Her father is Icelandic but her mother is from the South American country of Guyana. After her parents’ divorce, she grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but visited Iceland regularly. Just over a year ago, DV covered Katrín Sif’s milestone in being able to travel to 200 countries before the age of thirty. She succeeded when she stayed in the Mauritius over her birthday but then realised that she had thought wrong and was actually traveling to country number 201!

A journalist took the opportunity when Katrín Sif was in the country the other day to sit down with her and discuss the travels and lifestyle that she doubts she can ever give up. She is at a turning point because her father, Einar Óskarsson, died this summer. “Of course it was a big shock and it has taken a long time to complete all the loose ends.”

It´s not about competing in checking off countries
It is very unusual for Katrín Sif to be in Iceland during the winter months, as she says she is not a big fan of the Icelandic winter or the darkness that covers most of the day. “I often experience Icelanders as semi-bears, who go into hibernation in the winter but then play extra hard in the summer,” she says. Despite loving Iceland, she is more fond of following the sun. “Iceland has the biggest place in my heart. The more I travel the world, the more I love the country. Despite the fact that I have connections in many places, Iceland is always the place I call my home and that will never change, “says Katrín Sif.

For the past twelve years, Katrín Sif has taken on various types of tour guiding, especially horseback treks, during the summer months in Iceland, but then leaves the country in the autumn and travels around the world for 8-9 months. It is far from being a “check list” of countries by only stopping a short time. She takes her time in each place and tries to get to know the natives and their culture.

“I’m not in any particular competition to try to travel to all countries in the world in the shortest possible time. Of course I think about the number of countries and places I have visited, but I am doing this for myself, first and foremost. I often experience that others are more excited about the number more than I am, “says Katrín Sif.

She says she plans her travels so that she stays in similar cultural areas. “I do not jump between continents as it is expensive and very cumbersome. Not only the journey but also the thought of constantly adapting to different languages, customs and habits. For example, I traveled around West Africa on one trip, North Africa on another trip and so on, “says Katrín Sif.

I still have left to visit a handful of recognized countries, including Libya, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. “I have been having trouble getting a visa for the first three. The situation is unsafe in the other two, so I have only waited to visit them. I don’t mind “says Katrín Sif.

Her annual income never exceeds one million
Asked if she never gets enough of these trips, she says: “No, I really appreciate this lifestyle. I love to be free and do not invest much in worldly goods. ”According to Katrin, her paid annual income has never exceeded one million Icelandic kronas, so she has to travel very sparingly. She says she almost has a doctorate degree in finding cheap flights. “I am often hired to help family and friends find cheap fares. The thing is, major search sites often do not have a contract with the same low cost airlines. It is therefore necessary to search on several pages and in this way it is possible to put together a trip in the best way, “says Katrín Sif.

Since she has to keep track of the finances of her travels, she often chooses the cheapest option, so she travels a lot by bus. “It has not been a luxury to go on long bus journeys in Africa and most recently in India. But it is a great experience and you get more insight into the lives of the natives. However, this is probably not for everyone, “she says with a smile.

When it comes to accommodation, Katrín Sif takes unconventional paths. “I usually stay free with the locals through couchsurfing. It all depends on how conditions for hosts are, but in my opinion this is a very fun way to travel, “says Katrín Sif. For example, she visited Bangladesh for the first time recently and stayed with a Turkish pilot who lived in the country’s capital, Dhaka. “I had only been staying in his apartment for a few days when he was suddenly called to work. Then he just handed me the keys and asked me to lock them when I left, “says Katrín Sif and smiles. She says that such trust and friendliness is the rule rather than the exception in her travels and that is one of the reasons why she appreciates this mode of travel.

She expects to take on even more tasks as a tour guide abroad in the coming years. “This is what I know and live for, to travel. I took a group to South Africa a while ago and it went very well. I will work in some way in tourism in the future, “says Katrín Sif.

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.

The Maldives

Maldives, country #212, doesn’t have much land to call home. Little spits of coral reefs and raised atolls make up an island nation in the middle of the Indian ocean, and luckily one island is wide and high enough to land airplanes. When you walk out of Malé International airport, instead of a curbside pick up, theres a wharf with many boats parked and ready to shuttle you to your island paradise of choice.

the view of the Maldives from the plane

Many islands are completely private, with only one hotel or resort, and still the bedrooms are built on stilts, in various sized bungalows. Many have outdoor showers, private pools, and your own entrance to the sea, and others have jacuzzis and butlers to make your stay even more luxurious.

sundowners and tapas

The Maldives are popular for honeymooners and destination weddings, so make sure you’ve got a good excuse to be there if you’re just there for fun. Going alone seems like a great idea, but be wary of all the lonely looks you’ll get from the staff whose job it is to ensure you’re showered in hospitality nonstop.

home at the blungalow, comlete with a hammock and an infinity pool

Coco Bodu Hithi was home for five nights, for a price tag that could have housed me for 5 months in East Africa. But the dining options and wine list on this tiny island spit could have kept me happy for weeks if I was a rich girl.

the hotel lobby

The view from the bungalow was a turquoise blue sea, with coral reefs and colourful fish right below the step ladder. You didn’t even need to snorkel to see the sea life – I saw a sting ray, a coral shark, and a Mantaray just from the patio. Once I finally got in the water, I followed a green turtle grazing at the edge of the reef for as long as I could before he disappeared into the deep blue.

Coco Bodu Hithi island

It’s hard to have an impression of the Maldives as a place – I only met a couple of Maldivians, and set foot only on one square kilometre of land outside of the airport, but I can definitely recommend the Maldivian fish curry and Coco Bodu’s spa as things not to miss. I doubt I’ll ever see the latter again…