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.

“Katrin has been to around 222 countries and plans to finish them all”

In this article by Stefán Árni Pálsson at vísir, he recaps a radio interview I had a couple of days before on Bylgjan radio station.

“Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir is probably the most widely traveled Icelander and she has traveled to over 220 countries. She plans to complete the remaining 25. Katrín talked to Heimi Karlsson and Gulla Helga in Bítin á Bylgjan this morning.

“Right now I’m in Iceland and I’m in quarantine,” says Katrín and laughs.

“I was coming from Estonia and was with a cooking team that was competing in a cooking competition. I got to come along as a cheerleader. “

According to formal records, there are only 195 countries in the world, but that is a defining factor and there are actually more.

“I aim to go to about 25 more countries. I’m good at traveling with a backpack and even camping in some places. I do not spend a lot of money on accommodation and I often travel between countries by bus or by hitchhiking. ” She says that it is always cheaper to be abroad than in Iceland. “The cost of food and small items, it goes up so fast at home, but outside I can live on a thousand ISK a day for three meals.”

She says that she has been in some danger during her great journey around the world. “It can be dangerous to be anywhere and it has never stopped me. What stops me is just simply getting to the place. I have for example come to North Korea where it is not difficult to get in. It was still a bit scary to start with, but then when you realize its no problem and I was probably the safest woman in the country, because everyone is watching you and following what happens with you, therefore nothing can happen to you, “says Katrín, who has traveled to the most dangerous countries in the world.

“It is always possible to find places in these countries that are not dangerous and I have been to the countryside a lot, e.g. in Afghanistan, “said Katrín, who has traveled to Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries. Her favorite country is simply Iceland, but she is also very fond of Argentina.

Here is a link to the interview recording.

“Almost visited every country in the world”

Birna Dröfn Jónasdóttir called me for an interview, and together over the phone we experienced a 5.6 richter scale earthquake. ´Did you feel that?´she asked, and later laughed and said ´we´ll never forget this phone call!´

Here is a translation of the article “Almost visited every country in the world” that you can find in its original Icelandic version on Frettablaðið:

Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir has traveled to 222 countries and has few countries left to have traveled to all countries in the world. The pandemic has put a temporary stop to it, but Katrín Sif enjoys traveling in Iceland while it passes.

It’s okay to be in Iceland for a while, but just take a break, not to stop forever,” says Katrín Sif Einarsdóttir, who can probably be called the most widely traveled Icelander. Katrín, 33, has traveled to 222 countries in her lifetime. She set a goal to travel to 200 countries before she turned thirty, and she made it a few days before her big birthday, which she celebrated in Mauritius.

“There are few countries left that are new to me. I have, however, traveled a lot lately and was very diligent in visiting countries I had visited before until COVID hit, “says Katrín. She is used to traveling many months a year and finances it by stopping in Iceland for a few months where she works as a tour guide. Before the epidemic, for example, she recently traveled to the United States, Italy, France, and Argentina, which is one of her favorite places.

The epidemic has put an end to travel for now and Katrín says that March and April have been the most difficult for her. “I had a hard time with this this spring because there was so much uncertainty, it was very difficult for me not to even be able to worry or plan about where I was going next,” says Katrín, but adds that she did enjoy the summer in Iceland.

“I love the summer in Iceland but now there was no work for me in the tourism industry so I could travel here myself and see all the places I wanted to see,” she explains, but Katrín owns a small campervan that she traveled around the country this summer .

During her travels around the world, Katrín has taken a myriad of photographs and she aimed to set up an exhibition with her photographs and the history of her travels in Flæði on Vesturgata next weekend. However, the show has been postponed until November due to the epidemic.

“I have chosen about 200 pictures that I was going to show along with cards and money from the places I have visited,” she says, but Katrín has in her possession currency from all the 222 countries she has visited.

Asked where she intends to go next, she says she is happy to stop for a while back home in Iceland, but she has started planning her next trip. “I’m not going to stop traveling and have a baby tomorrow, but I’m quite willing to stay here for a while,” she says. “Since then I have been planning a trip to Sao Tome and Principe in West Africa which I was going to go to in April but I will go there as soon as I can.”

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.

Hydraflot, the deprivation tank spa in Reykjavik

One of the things I missed most when covid first hit, was being able to go to the spa. Not even pools or physiotherapists could open for some time, so it was hard to find a way to truly relax. Once things started to return to normal, I was hungry for a new kind of experience – I wanted to pamper my mind and body and experience something sensational. What I found was kind of the opposite, it was truly sensation-less.

Deprivation tanks have been around for a while, and I knew some people who had tried them. I had heard good and bad things, but still couldn´t wrap my head around the idea. What is it like to be totally deprived of all the senses? To see, hear, smell and hear nothing, and feel nothing except your weightless self floating in a salty, dark bath?

the deprivation tanks remind me of a hippo´s mouth

I found Hydraflot, a spa in Reykjavik that has 3 float tanks. I reached out to the manager Kevin and wanted to learn more about it, and he suggested I try at least 2 floats before coming to any conclusions. Of course I took his advice, and the second time around was certainly better.

There are a wide range of benefits believed to come from each float, and each person will experience it differently. Some go to deal with anxiety or inability to sleep, others go for increased focus, clarity of mind and to reduce headaches. Floats can be so relaxing that 1 hr inside can be more productive rest than deep sleep, and you leave feel rejuvenated and reenergised. Some claim it helps general fatigue and even depression, and its been proven to improve allergy symptoms in some cases. It´s a great thing to do after a red-eye flight or general travel jet-lag, and I cant forget to mention the wonderful things soaking in 400kg of epsom salts does to your skin!

completely weightless in 400kg of epsom salts

I came out both times with baby skin, and even my hair was happy despite all the salt. I opted for floating once with lights and relaxing music, and once in complete silence and darkness. I will have to try going a third and fourth time to see what works best, and once I´m hooked, I´m sure each session will become more and more productive. Learning to really let go and trust without any sensory information is uncomfortable at first, but getting used to it and truly relaxing is much easier in such a calm, safe and controlled environment.

Check out Hydraflot on instagram @hydraflot or their website www.hydraflot.is, where they´re currently offering 15% discounts on visits and gift cards. They´re doing everything right when it comes to covid measures, so enjoy it guilt and risk-free. Say hi to Ryan if you see him!

How to Pack Light

We’re all getting sick of those airline policies that charge for checked baggage and limit our carry on to some unusual dimensions weighing 8, 10 or 12kg. But, those same budget airlines are still keeping travel possible for a large majority of students and lower-income countries, so I have nothing bad to say about those rules. Instead, I’ve figured out how to work the system, since flying from London to Budapest for €24 is cheaper than taking a train from London Heathrow to London town and who wouldn’t rather fly across Europe than commute in the slow, expensive London underground?

I’ve also learned that whatever you need with you for a weekend getaway, is the same things you would need for a week-long trip. And once you have what you need for a whole week, those things don’t change week to week so you can definitely survive off the same supplies for months – if you’re good at handwashing clothes in the shower.

my backpack is light enough to carry anytime, anywhere

What I pack:

My passport(s)

A wallet with credit cards + $500-$1000 in cash, a mix of $ and €, or £

A pair of Freewater sandals, one pair of dancing flats (or heels, if Im going to Argentina)

2 changes of clothes, and just a couple pairs of socks and underwear that i can hand wash. 

Travel towel and bikini

a scarf that doubles as a shawl and blanket

One warm jacket, and one waterproof jacket or umbrella

Hammock (with a built in mosquito net)

Sleeping bag (the carrying bag, when empty, can be filled with clothes and double as a pillow when sleeping)

If Im camping, I bring a mummy tent and a flashlight

A toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and a few other toiletries thingys

A water bottle, some bags of tea, and a spork or swiss army knife I can fly carry-on with

My diary, notebook and a pen

A book or my kindle

A deck of cards and/or a mini magnetic chess board

My smart phone and earphones, sometimes my MacBook

chilling in a hammock on long boat trips is life-saving

I wear comfortable shoes I can run/hike in, yoga leggings, a reversible lululemon sweater jacket and a black camis with a built in bra. And thats basically it. All in all, my bag is usually around 10kg, with a bit of empty space left to buy something on my way home, and also enough small heavy things that I can shove in my pockets to bring the weight under 8kg if I need to. Always a good trick to wear a jacket with big pockets or travel with a fanny pack purse that, when attached as a belt, doesn’t count as a piece of carry on.

The Westmann Islands in August

My father’s burial anniversary was a year ago last week. And this is the same week when pufflings start to appear all over the streets of Heimaey. When leaving their tunnel nests in the cliffs, they are meant to fly out to sea with the moonlight as a guide, but they get confused with the street lights in town. So they end up flapping up and down the streets looking for a way out to sea, but still unable to fly.

Setting pufflings free on Herjólfur

Its become a custom to catch these little pufflings and release them, by throwing them off a cliff, which is the best way to get them safely to fly to sea. They will then live on the ocean until they come back to the cliffs around Iceland next spring, and dig more tunnel nests to make more puffling babies.

Henri releases his first puffling

I went with 4 friends, 3 of which had never seen a puffin, and we all got to release a puffin. My cousin had caught 2, and a friendly family also puffin throwing from the same cliff gave us 2 more to release. I think they were excited to see tourists, a life of the outside world still in Iceland, and we were so warmly welcomed on the island. My aunty invited us in for coffee, despite covid fears, and the swimming pool was open (and empty) but they still turned on the slides for us to race down over and over like little kids.

Hiking up Heimaklettur

We had an amazing meal at Slippurinn, and hiked up Heimaklettur for some stunning sunset views. We were lucky with incredible weather, and managed to eat brunch the next morning outside in the garden of my father´s childhood home. My paid my father´s grave a visit, paid our respects and lit some candles. I think he would have been happy to see us. 

RIP

Wilderness Expedition

Its an annual tradition to make it out to Hestasport, once a summer, for the most epic of all horse trips. Appropriately, they call it the Wilderness Expedition, and it is one of the longest and most difficult journeys you can make on horse back – 7 riding days, 25-40km per day.

Hestasport

Despite covid tests and limited flights, eleven people still made it to Iceland for the trip. Every single person was German or German speaking, and luckily two of our staff were too. Unlucky for me, I only had the two horse men and two super jeep drivers to speak Icelandic with, although everyone forgave me for english.

into the wild

We were meant to ride north over Hofsjökull but didn´t quite make it as close as we wanted. Ingólfskáli was our destination, but we made a bit of a shortcut from Vesturdalur to Laugafell.

our team of riders

We had the most incredible rain when riding 50km back out Austurdalur, soaked completely thru and thru to the bone (us and the horses), but we made it to the abandoned farm of Merkigil where a hot shower and elctricity finally awaited us again.

Merkigil

We rode down and up thru ´amazing canyon´, as the name suggests, before taking the last sprint back to civilisation. I had two friends with me who lost quite a bit of weight and put on some muscle instead, but how grateful and respectful I am to these amazing animals – the Icelandic horse truly is the Icelander´s best friend.

Gordon and Mjölnir, my transport

Covid returns, tourism departs – keep calm and carry on!

July was a fast and a furious month of summer living in Iceland, and with the borders open, covid was just as quick to return. Its been amazing to watch how adaptive, and respectful, society is, picking up where things left off last time, but this time with less hysteria. Covid living has normalized somehow, and hopefully others also feel the anxiety melting away as real life keeps keeps on keeping on.

It seemed like a blurry dream, when things were just getting better and better and everyone had almost forgotten the 2 m rule, but instead of taking the next step to open up more (people were so excited for concerts, street festivals and late night bars), the 2m rule rule and a gathering ban returned.

a mini brekkusöng – a bit of music festival feeling on Heimaey with my relatives (and Víðir!) during goslokahátið on the 4th of July

Þjóðhátið on Heimaey in the Westmann Islands was cancelled, which was probably simpler than trying to hold it for only 5,000 people when the regular attendance is closer to 20,000. Weddings and baptisms have been delayed for a second time, realistically not earlier than September or October. Airwaves in November has little or no chance of being organized, and worst of all, Gay Pride and Menningarnótt will cease to be in 2020.

this was the hardest hotspring to find in the westfjords

Hiking and natural hotspring hunting continue, and my one and only horse trip as a tour guide just barely slipped thru the cracks – two weeks later and it wouldn´t have happened. A mandatory 5 day and double covid test requirement will kick in August 19, deterring the majority of tourists to come visit Iceland at all.

kayaking is solitary and socially well distanced

I had gotten used to kayaking, biking and horse back riding alone, or in small groups, and the covid friendliness of those activities made them feel extra familiar to return to. I didn´t miss the lines to the swimming pools, but at least the swimming pools stayed open this time.

Nauthólsvík, before the gathering ban rule returned

Nauthólsvík beach is a charmed destination, in any weather, and fishing on the sea or on a river bank also does something for your sanity. Water is a type of landscape therapy to me, and it makes me feel less stranded on this island.

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!