A Postcard from Iceland

Iceland gets much of its heating from geothermal activity; this coupled with electricity is the basis for their energy supplies. Their utility bills are very cheap. At Akureyri, we saw the large metal pipe that runs uphill alongside the road. This pumps hot water into the houses for heating purposes. A pity I didn’t take a snapshot. I thought a pipe a boring thing to take a photo of but later realised that it was a good example of Icelandic life. While these cheap energy bills sound wonderful, let’s not forget they do have a cold climate for most of the year although it is far milder than many expect, but changes quickly. All four seasons can be experienced in one day (so not entirely unlike Britain). They also live with the threat of volcanic activity. At the time we were there, they were awaiting another ‘event’ anytime ‘soon’. During the summer, they have very long days, and during the winter very long nights. During our visit, the sun was setting after midnight and rising about three hours later.

The landscape is one of bleak but fascinating lava fields — there’s a reason many refer to it as a moonscape — and bright green verdant rolling hills up into the mountains. Just to make this clear: Iceland is green. Greenland is ice. Iceland is second in size to Britain as the largest island in Europe, situated roughly 235 miles off Scotland. The land area is approximately 40,000 square miles. Not all of their small off-shore islands are inhabited. The island of Surtsey appeared in 1963 owing to a volcanic eruption, which lasted four years. Largest of the glaciers, Vatnajokull, is eight times the size of Mount Etna in Sicily with ice half a mile thick in places. The coastline consists of numerous inlets and fjords.

There are no trees to speak of. The first settlers made the mistake of not realising their native species were very slow growing and they cut down all their forests. They are making headway into the replanting, but the trees are still young and small. There’s a saying in Iceland: if you get lost in an Icelandic forest, stand up.

Lava Landscapes

Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, and the only capital city in Iceland, holding around one-third of the population of approximately 300,000. Everything in the city is modern — it’s the main centre of government, industry, culture and commerce. The oldest building (originally a storage shed) dates back to 1752. Most places of historic interest can be found in the ‘old’ sector, and the city is overlooked by Mount Esja.

We also visited nearby Halnarfjordur — a town situated on an ancient lava flow. Kleifarvatn Lake is one of Iceland’s deepest and is on the way to the Krysuvik geothermal fields. Here bubbling pools of water and mud, and jets of steam blip and hiss away from a red and grey landscape more suited to a science fiction setting. While visiting the site, the advice is stick to the paths. The ground can look solid where it is not and every year they have incidents of tourists not paying attention or thinking they can go where they like only to sink their feet into acid or boiling water over 200 degrees. This will mean the loss of skin and in some cases even amputation.

The Blue Lagoon is a famous natural hot pool situated on the Reykjanes peninsula near the village of Grindavik and can be visited both to view or to bathe in. We chose not to bathe, but the view of the surrounding lava fields and nearby geothermal power station adds to the feeling of this being an alien landscape. The waters bubble up from 5,000 feet below the earth’s surface with, it is said, excellent therapeutic benefits. The products made from the geothermal mud are extremely pricey. The water looks very pale blue, even blue-grey.

At the Viking World Museum (Vikingaheimar), you can stand in an authentic replica of a Viking ship, Islendingur. The exhibition has been produced with the co-operation from the Smithsonian.

Isofjordur (population 3000) situated in the Westfjords is the largest town of this remote and beautiful region. Indeed, it’s one of the most sparsely populated areas in Iceland with a total of inhabitants numbering under 10,000, and with less than 5% of cultivated land. The town sits on a curved inlet surrounded by towering mountains.

Isofjordur and Hesteyri

Although the Icelandic shrimp industry certainly began here, the fishing industry is in decline (one of the reason the village of Hesteyri, which we visited, became abandoned when the herring up and ‘moved’ as they tend to do). Historically the Westfjords are famous for their witch and wizard trials with the last wizard being burnt at the stake in 1656. It’s a great area in which to spot dolphins, terns and puffins among other wildlife.

Taking a boat from Isafjordur, we were ferried over to The Abandoned Village of Hesteyri, instantly falling in love with the peninsula that many mistake for an island. It is possible to get to Hesteyri by other means, but a boat is the easiest if one does not wish to hike. Back when Hesteyri was occupied a local said he did the hike from the nearest inhabitants in three hours. More recently some extremely fit hikers planned to break this record and took five hours to complete the same walk. The people who originally occupied the area were extremely hardy.

The people lived here without telephone, electricity or roads. They made the united decision to leave in the late 1940s, and the village has been abandoned since 1952. Life here was difficult. There was little to live on — some livestock the people brought with them, ‘sea cabbage’ (aka seaweed), and what little they managed to grow. However, there used to be a herring factory — today only the tower can be seen standing — but the herring has a habit of ‘moving house’. When the herring went away, so did the industry.

There is a cemetery on the headland with the last person to be buried here in 2006 — an original resident who loved it so much she wanted to return even in death. There are other stories like hers, including the one where a cow that was taken from there immediately stopped milking. It’s said the owner returned with the cow and even before reaching land, the cow jumped out of the boat, swam to shore, and immediately began milking again. Whether there’s any truth to the story, it’s easy to see how people could fall in love with the place. It’s simply beautiful, peaceful, and memorable. As our guide said, take a moment to enjoy the silence. Travellers stopping there today are guided by the descendants of the original inhabitants who still own the houses and end their visit with coffee and pancakes at the former doctor’s house. The sand here is black.

Akureyri is 272 miles from Reykjavik and is a thriving centre of commerce. It’s only 60 miles from the Arctic Circle, yet is surprisingly warm in summer and boasts much in the way of industry — a freezing plant and shipyards among others (and an airport landing strip) — with what some would claim a superior economy and sophistication in its selection of shopping, culture, entertainment and sporting facilities. It is here that a large silver pipe can be seen running along the side of the road — this pumps hot water into houses for heating.

Whales and Godafess Falls

Godafess waterfalls are approximately 31 miles from Akureyri. The ‘Falls of the Gods’ can best be described as a mini-Niagara in shape; although the volume of water cannot compete it still has to drop 30 feet and flows in such torrents to make a spectacular sight.

Husavik Harbour sits at the base and length of the pretty town and houses the award-winning Husavik Whale Centre. We often find many museums in Europe quite peculiar; however, this was educational and interesting. It’s also home to many whale skeletons obtained from washed-up and stranded whales who have died. We found these quite surprising — they were very ‘prehistoric’ in appearance, something we would not have discovered had we not visited.

We stopped for a meal in a local seafood restaurant here — just a white fish and rice dish that was delicious. Not sure what the fish was but we were being careful as we had been warned in Iceland they (rightly) waste nothing, so dishes with offal are not uncommon and even broiled puffin can be found on some menus.

The highlight of Husavik was Whale Watching. The area boasts a high chance of seeing whales with over half of the world’s thirty-six species to be found in Icelandic waters. On the day we went out, we were told we had a 98 or 99% chance. We witnessed the rare sight of breaching humpbacks. Then the most amazing OMG extremely rare moment of ‘follow that whale’ — yes, the ‘captain’ of the boat did as good shout we were going to follow that whale when he spotted the air spout from a distance and ‘went for it’ because what he had seen was a blue whale. We saw not one, but two blue whales that day — very uncommon. Though the true heart plummeting moment arrives when you realise how difficult this is to capture on film, no matter how good your camera.


A Postcard from Norway

Bit of a re-post: our first experience of Norway not so long ago:

Norway is a rich country in that it has low unemployment (3%) and has far more jobs available than it does population to fill them. They have many workers coming from the EU, sometimes for a few weeks or six months. Few stay. Many come for a season and then return home. They employ many Polish during strawberry-picking time. They’d never get the crops picked if they didn’t. Everything in Norway is pricey but then they earn high salaries, so what may seem expensive to outsiders isn’t so much to those living there. There is a zero tolerance for alcohol abuse, and it is very heavily taxed. Around £6-8 for a beer is not unusual.

The landscape is one of contrasts from the cities to Norway at its wildest. It’s green with many forests, snow-topped mountains, and ice-blue glaciers, deep waters, turquoise lakes, and tumbling waterfalls.

Alesund in western Norway sits on one of seven islands connected by bridges and a tunnel beneath the sea. Much of the town is new; however, it has been rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style after 850 of the wooden houses were destroyed in a blaze that began on 23rd January 1904. Alesund is a leading fishing port and commercial centre and has growing tourism owing to its fine situation boasting many local scenic fjords and mountains.

The Troll Road

The town itself is good to wander around, with everything a tourist could want of historical interest, galleries, restaurants, shops and cafes, and the local Atlantic sea park just out of town is apparently worth a visit. We didn’t have long to linger here, and it had been a hard choice between visiting the town and taking a trip out. Deciding that Alesund is mentioned in many trips and that we may well one day return, we took a coach excursion out to Trollstigen (Land of the Trolls road). When we returned we discovered we had made the right choice. The weather had been especially bad, and the town obscured in a murky fog for much of the day. Had we gone up to the viewing point, we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the sights.

Our trip began with a drive through the picturesque countryside. Unlike Iceland, Norway has plenty of forests among deep valleys surrounded by mountainous countryside, capped with white. We stopped at Andalsnes for the famous Troll Wall — a vertical mountain face, approximately, 3,280 feet high. The rest of the trip was through Romsdalsfjord over the Orskog mountain plateau.

Most reactions to our saying we were going to take the Troll’s path were, “Hell, no!” We ascended this mountain peak with its 11 hairpin bends, stopping to admire the tumbling waterfalls, and take some snapshots from the viewing platforms at the top — after being told they were made of rusty metal. While this seemed to be stated with some pride, it hardly inspired confidence, but the photos we took were well worth the ‘risk’ and walking the 138 steps to reach there.

Somehow, a Troll ‘married couple’ managed to find their way home by smuggling themselves inside our luggage.

During the day, we stopped off at ‘the Strawberry Cottage’ and enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve ever had on a trip out in a long time. The owner is apparently very proud of her establishment and seems to have the right. A buffet of fresh prawn salad, feta salad, pasta salad, potato salad, salmon mouse, baked salmon, smoked salmon, flat bread, fresh bread, and hot: potatoes, smoked ham, pork, meatballs, and yes, even reindeer stew — probably cheap and definitely normal to the locals (numbers hunted are regulated). Dessert was nut cake, cloudberry mousse, and bowls of fresh Norwegian strawberries. We thoroughly recommend Norwegian strawberries!

Although set in typical beautiful Norwegian scenery, Olden doesn’t have much going for the tourist, but many stop here in order to visit one of the nearby glaciers. Three villages lie in the area, each with their own lake and an associated glacier. Of the local population (under 7000 — 1000 in Olden) the region’s trade mainly consists of farming, fruit growing and other types of industry, and tourism. It’s situated amidst towering mountainside in a wide valley. The closest glacier is Briksdal, although we decided to head further out and visit another — the Kjenndalen Glacier above Lovatnet Lake.

Lake and Glacier

Although the day was changeable and we had some rain this did little to detract from the beauty of Lovatnet Lake, with its stunning surrounding scenery and turquoise waters — the colour is an illusion. After ‘lunch’ of local waffles eaten with strawberry jam and sour cream (although their version of sour cream is creamery than ours in the UK), we carried on to Kjennadalen Glacier. The weather cleared up just in time to view the torrent of water leading from the surrounding mountains and for us to photograph the ‘fantasy’ spectacle of the blue and white glacier.

Our final destination in Norway was Stavanger…and the sun came out. In fact, after feeling comfortably ‘cool’ for so long it felt incredibly hot, although nothing like the 30+ degrees people were suffering at home. While at the port we decided to spend our time walking around town, which is a strange mixture of old and new. Behind the delightful road of old Stavanger, modern apartment blocks soar, although while exploring the pedestrian streets of old wooden buildings it’s possible to forget the rest of the town exists. There are 173 of the 18th-century wooden houses, all painted white and connected by lines of cobbled streets, retaining their old-fashioned charm even down to the lampposts. If looking for local crafts, this is a good place. There aren’t many artisans, but at least what you see is made here and far better than most items aimed at tourists, which often consists of jumpers no locals ever wear, socks, and strange knitted hats.

We then headed around the harbour, spotting a couple of the many statues situated in the town, passing the local fish market (feeling sorry for the caught crabs sitting in the tanks), avoiding the market stalls (tourist traps), to the cafes, restaurants and shops painted in contrasting bright colours. We eventually bought some more strawberries and ate them by the cathedral. Sadly, this was the final day visiting Norway, and it was time to head home to the UK, but this is sure to remain one of our favourite destinations for future travel.

So You Want to be a Writer

I’ve been asked a few questions on how to write, or what it’s like to be a writer, so I intend to includ the occasional post in an attempt to answer the impossible. Just like marketing, what applies to one person, won’t be relevant to another, though some things are common to all. So for a first ‘you want to be a writer’ blog…

Don’t. Go and do something else. Anything else. Go and do something less soul-destroying.

Still here? Good.

That’s 50% of the battle won. Now I’m going to contradict myself and say if you want to write, if you possess any ability, it’s one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Also, one of the hardest.

Writing is WORK. Anyone ever tells you a different story doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. The task should be, and is, fun. Equally, it’s a job.

Publishing is a chore, and may influence the decision to continue as a hobby writer or to try for publication. The option of self-publishing exists these days, and there can be reasons for careful consideration, but that’s a separate subject. Hardly anything worthwhile in life is easy, and even when published, the hard work never ceases, doesn’t get any easier. No one throws rose petals at your feet. In the decade of the internet troll, you’re more likely to find manure tossed into your path. I’m not joking. Go read a few reviews of classic well-loved books and soak up the vitriol. No matter how successful, or good someone may be in any field, unwarranted abuse is guaranteed.

Some may be reading with a frown, images of Diane Keaton sitting in front of a large desk, a panoramic view of the beach through the window dancing in their heads (trust me, Something’s Gotta Give may have been a good film, but it did nothing to give a realistic outlook of what it is to be a writer). Some reading this blog will be thinking of J.K. and a certain wizard, the author sweeping down a red carpet at a London première of a blockbuster made from one of her publications. This kind of success ‘can’ occur, but ask any novelist if life started out that way and they’ll tell you a very different story. King remembers  deciding whether to buy medicine for his child or to pay the telephone bill. He rightly chose the medication. Many authors understand poverty — poverty may have even been one of the things to push them, kept them going when refusal and harsh words made them wonder why they were putting themselves through the suffering.

That’s the problem with writing: heartache is involved. Rejection. Edits. Reviews. A writer runs the gamut of emotions at every level, and even when they achieve a flourishing career, the despondency doesn’t cease unless one learns how to cope. Maybe not even then. Writers are risk-takers. They risk rejection every day.

Hearing all this, you may well ask if writing is worth the time and effort, or a mug’s game. It depends on opinion but, alas, some restrictions to the industry bode ill and creates angst for novelists, editors, publishers, and agents alike, most of which the majority of readers remain unaware. First-time writers often learn the hard way.

If you have ever heard someone of an older generation say, ‘If only I knew back then what I know now’ you will recognise the true meaning of the adage after writing for a few months, when ready to submit.

To simplify: if this is only a passing fancy, you don’t adore books, and you aren’t one of those who understand that writers write because they ‘have to’ rather than want to, I advise to go find a less distressing occupation. If you’re someone who cannot envision a life without writing, then jump right in with the rest of the wonderful crazy authors who create magical worlds, entertain us, and make us question life by turns. It’s good to be here.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good part of living in a refurbishment project is seeing progress, a job well done. The bad is having to do the work at all. This is not our first renovation. This is the first we’ve lived in while doing this much labour and the only one where we needed major help. Some of the jobs were beyond us, this time; we had to hire a builder. Good thing we knew of one well-respected.

People keep asking if the house required so much work why we bought it. Almost every house demanded restoration. We even upped the budget and were shocked to find homes seldom in better condition. Sometimes the properties were no bigger so the higher price tag was often confusing. We chose this house because, as with every move, it’s hard to locate a decent garden.

When I say refurbishment, I’m not talking redecoration. The trials of painting and wallpapering hold no fears. We could have finished a simple facelift in a month. Any relocation will likely require more than pretty embellishments. In these economic times, it’s difficult to judge how much someone should spend on their home, but owners will find that neglect may hit them in the resale value of their property; conceivably, this will also affect the price when the survey arrives on the purchaser’s doorstep. Any offer should be ‘subject to survey’ though buyers often ignore points that arise in the report. Even if they try to renegotiate the expenditure, the seller is angry because we all consider our homes to be worth more than they likely are in reality if not maintained. We’ve never sold a home with a serious defect, yet frequently experienced the frustration of a buyer ‘trying it on’, haggling over inconsequentials (in one instance a non-existent never-having-existed shed). Insignificant details aside, ignore real flaws, pocket all profits, and homeowners are going to be in for a shock when claiming on home insurance. Everything is ‘regulation’ now. We know this personally. A friend tried to apply for compensation for a broken window only to be told, “Not Fensa? Sorry, not covered.”

On a more serious note, if a house fire caused by ancient wiring doesn’t bring about a loss of life there’s likely to be a forfeiture of property because if insurance can find a way to back out of paying, they will. What better way than owner responsibility? An ugly truth doesn’t make it less true. So yes, apart from a couple of trifles, we’ve done everything that came up on the surveyor’s investigation…for our own benefit, and also for resale; we want no problems.

This weekend we removed the dirt from almost all of the woodwork (I could swear the last owners hadn’t cleaned this house in twenty years) and the base layer of the stairway is finished. We won’t do the second coat until the builder revisits. Which brings me to the bad points of the weekend — there’s still a lot to do. The kitchen units arrive soon. Both major rooms need upgrading before Christmas as per our original plan to finish the house by then. We’re cutting the timing close, and it may mean completing the bathroom during the seasonal holidays. If we can get the kitchen finished, though, at least we can have a festive break. I cannot even imagine dragging out and festooning a tree in the present mess.

We do our best to rest, which, unfortunately, proved a low point in time wasted watching a film called Extinction. If I dislike something I tend to say nothing, but on the good and bad theme, Extinction makes a good juxtaposition (it should be ‘extinct’). A cross between The Blair Witch Project meets Jurassic Park, think ‘noises of things unseen’ and rubber non-frightening dinosaurs. One of the funniest scenes (mild spoiler) is when three of the explorers trying the old ‘if we don’t move, it can’t see us’ routine when confronted by a dinosaur and the fake reptile chooses its dinner. While two ran away screaming, we sat sniggering — not the reaction likely intended by the film-makers. I think the only reason we saw it through came from neither of us wishing to admit we’d picked such a flop even at random (three-star rating and the question is how?), coupled with a tiredness that prevented us rousing ourselves to choose something else. I felt sure I would be asleep before the conclusion, but I woke to full alertness when we flicked onto standard television and caught the start of a lovely film entitled Marion.

This is the sweet tale of an aging couple where the wife is told there’s nothing more that can be done for her. One of the joys she clings to is singing with a local amateur choir — something her husband, played by Terence Stamp, is against, preferring she rest. Stamp plays the perfect grouchy spouse, and brings emotion to a performance that I would dare anyone but the hardiest souls not to shed a tear over.


With a new look site, I thought I’d have a whole new start. Some old posts will be re-appearing along with some new over time, but for now I’ve cleared all posts. Some need a re-edit, some no longer apply. I’ll be blogging here a bit more than usual, not just ‘news’, and for those interested in my writing I’ve divided my Dark Fiction, and my Romance. They are now on separate sites that can be linked to from here. Just check out the relevant pages from the menu.

Thanks for stopping by. See you soon!