The start of a real summer

Most people can agree that summer in Iceland isn’t much of a summer event. I’ve always said that my annual winter season is June-September in Iceland, and summer happens the other 8 months of the year in warmer, tropical countries south of here. But lo and behold, June came as a surprise.

the last of the snow hanging on after an early onset of a warm summer

Compared to last year, when it rained basically every single day of the month of June and the recorded sunshine hours for the whole month had already been surpassed in May this year, this June was hot, warm and dry, day after day. It was so dry the bugs didn´t make it out – there were no midge flies to be seen – and the dust clouds in the highlands would blow all the way to Reykjavik. We’re also talking about 24 hours a day of this – the sun never set so it went on and on and on and still, I woke up every day with a rain jacket and woollen lopa peysa ready to put on when the weather would finally crack.

Thingvallavatn

June saw the highland roads open early, but an emptiness remained on the well-beaten tracks of tourist trails, since tourism was still reeling from Wow air going bankrupt in April. Hotels and restaurants were still not at 100% operation, but finally there was breathing and playing space for Icelander’s to enjoy the best summer on record in over 40 years. The number of hotel rooms and tour operators may actually have been enough, for the first time since 2008, this June.

a beach day, under the glacier

However, there are always 2 sides to a story, and June was the worst month in 40 years for the salmon rivers. The most popular, productive fishing rivers had no water, and thus, no fish, and men who had paid over $1000 per day in fishing permits had resorted to just sitting in the fishing lodges drinking fine wine and smoking cigars on the patio. Some didn’t even bother to go, and fishing lodges all around Iceland sat empty for days at a time. But think about the salmon – where did they all go? Or didn’t they come at all? I hope they managed to spawn… or at least I hope they didn’t all die.

oh the places you’ll go… in a nice Icelandic summer!

I have to admit that the best part of the summer wasn’t the weather, but my life in it. I finally have a home I can call my own. It’s a wonderful place to keep all my stuff,  although I still feel very little need to be there with it all. That’s why I bought a second home on wheels – a Ford transit connect that used to be rented out as a campervan, fitted out with a sink, water pump, solar-powered fridge and a  couch that folds down to a double bed.

my home on wheels, the plumber car!

It kind of looks like a plumber’s car from the outside, a non-descript grey with no windows except at the front and back. I’ve added a table and chairs, a permanent stash of drinks and food, a yoga mat, hiking shoes and poles and a bathing suit and towel to make the car travel ready at the drop of a hat. I have probably spent as many nights in the car as in my own bed, and I’m still not sure which I prefer. Perhaps the winter will bring me back indoors a bit, we shall see.

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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.

Sunny Svalbard

dogsledding

dogsleds lined up for lunch break

Its strange to visit a place at the end of March and being told its the coldest time of year. But in Svalbard, where 4 months of absolute darkness have just ended, the sunshine doesn’t make it any warmer. Me and my photographer friend Mike have made it an annual tradition to travel to the arctic, and after a couple years in mainland Norway, Svalbard was the one place further north we could steal easily travel to, play with huskies, and roll around in the snow. We were there for 5 days and every day grew longer by half an hour. From the 1st of March to the 31st of March, the number of daylight hours increases by 8 hours!

Me and Mike in our arctic get ups

Me and Mike in our arctic get ups

We stayed at the Coal Miner’s cabin, where our room was in a different building than the breakfast room, and just walking across 50m wide, totally iced parking lot chilled you to your bones. It was more than minus 20`C with the windchill, and walking the 1km into town and back was always a fight against the wind not blowing us over, trying not to slip on the ice, and making sure we could still feel all our fingers and toes. The condensation of our breath would freeze on our scarves and any extra humidity from our faces would form icicles on our eyelashes and nose hairs.

the ship in the ice

the ship in the ice

A German student had been living in my room in Iceland all winter, and then spontaneously moved to Svalbard to study arctic foxes, so it was nice to say I new someone in town. Otherwise it was a small, friendly little population, mixed with Norwegians, Russians, scientists, and tourists. We had just missed a total solar eclipse, but that made it easier to get accommodation and excursions.

husky puppies

husky puppies

We went snowmobiling to the Ship in the Ice, a dutch sail boat that gets frozen in the ice over winter and serves as a hotel and restaurant. After lunch there we got upclose to some glaciers, reindeer, and seals popping through their holes in the sea ice. Another day we went dogsledding with Green Dog to an ice cave, and if was a pleasant surprise to feel so warm inside the cave which was only minus 4`C.

the warm and cozy ice cave

the warm and cozy ice cave

The first sights we saw after landing in Svalbard and driving to town was a camp ground (with people tenting there!), and a lone reindeer grazing beside some fluffy Icelandic horses. The airport in Longyearbyen is special because even though you’ve flown in from mainland Norway, and you’re still technically in Norway, you’ve left the European Economic Area and the Schengen community. So you’ll need your passport to go there, and alot of norwegian kronur – it might be the only place in Norway more expensive than Oslo! But alcohol isnt taxed so that can save your budget.