Category: northern notes

one-way ticket

Iceland, 25.04.2017, Tuesday, Reykjavik Roasters.

A blond girl at the table and me with both our macbooks. She’s an Online-Nutrition Coach from NY, enjoying to work wherever she can, a few days in Iceland right now, then jetting over to Oslo (“so close and cheap to relocate here, in Europe!”), afterwards a couple o’weeks in Ireland. Nice choice! We’re both tucking in on some fancy sourdough bread and delicious volcano-force (!) coffee. Cosily nestling inside, watching slow rain and quick people drizzle past, some cars tick-tick-tick by, spikes still mounted. To my right the grinding arm of the coffee roaster monster is continuously turning the beans, the sour smell lingering in the room, a stylish-haircut-girl behind the counter, two women in skirts and cool cardigans sticking labels onto freshly sealed coffee bags, the room filled with vinyl tunes and grinding machinery.

When heading down here, I passed that tall, slim basalt-column cathedral up the hill. When stumbling out of the rain and into the airy, clean design of Hallgrímskirkja I was met by sweet tunes in full blast by the morning session of the famous church’s organist. What a treat! So whilst watching Japanese big bunches and Spanish selfie hordes hurrying in and out, I leaned back and soaked in those soaring tunes.

It’s as if I’ve been here for a while already, everything feels so familiar. But I just arrived yesterday. On a glorious flight from Arlanda (Stockholm) to Keflavik (Reykjavik), marvelling at miles of snow-covered mountains and white glacial tongues licking the dark blue sea. When staring out of the window down on that massive island of fire and ice I had some time to dwell on that special encounter on the way to the airport. There was this guy, extremely good looking, btw, whom I already had noticed at the station. His luggage was small, his grin quite broad, his style relaxed. And so was his attitude. On the bus he was sitting behind me, next to a quite handsome other Swedish male and I happened to eavesdrop on their 40 minutes conversation. Well, actually, I HAD to listen. My Swedish is not very brilliant, beware, but I understood that he just got sacked, had his last day of work on friday, got rid of everything, just kept his spotify list and was going to throw away his Swedish Sim card at the airport. He was on his way to San Diego – on a one-way ticket. He needed to get away, got six months in the US, and had determined himself to hike (the entire!) Pacific Crest Trail. Puh! – “I just like friluftsliv a lot” he confided to his seat neighbour, and when he added that he also loved dogs a lot and might want to go and find a place in Canada to work with huskies in autumn, I constrained myself hard to not just swivel around and beg him to take me along. But also a fight of “keep quiet, it’s none of your business, and by the way: you’re much too shy to take up a conversation with two smart guys at the same time” and “I just MUST talk to him” went on in my head, until we had nearly reached the terminal. When he got ready to get out, I finally turned around and addressed the two men. “Sorry to interrupt you – I happened to overhear your conversation, and I just wanted to say: Good luck. What you’re gonna do sounds great, and it’s surely the right thing to do – I think it will be a brilliant experience.” (Ha, always easier to encourage a third party than believe it yourself.) Their astonished faces came to no surprise. When I told them then I didn’t really have a plan nor booked a return flight either, the other guy smiled in disbelief (he was the one with the office job, three kids, a wife and recently acquired house): “Two one-way tickets!”. Yes. – Just wonder, if one day it might be two tickets – one way.


… and out


Spitsbergen – flying in …


Ja, jeg elsker dette landet *


* Yes, I love this country. Like poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (the sound of that name!) probably did when back in the 1860ties writing the lyrics to a song that made it straight into the top10, eventually even moulding into THE Norwegian National Anthem:“Ja, vi elsker dette landet”. (Fancy getting into some real festive nordic mood, too? Then tune in here.)

And for sure, there are many people who love that country. Foremost Norwegians, maybe. Norwegians living abroad, feeling a strong sense of place, holding up their traditions and onto their roots even if they´ve emigrated years, or generations!, ago. But then there´s trillions of tourists, too, who, once having set foot on this extraordinary scenic rugged-coast scandinavian country, cannot but return year after year. And then there are people that come to stay. Or try to stay. Like refugees, in need of a safe country. Like nurses and care workers, in search of some decent salary. Like students and researchers, indulging into bountiful wildlife and rare meteorological phenomena. Like you and me, who feel an undeniably urge to live up north, by the sea, breath fresh air and dwell on the beauty of those superb natural surroundings.
It might not always be easy to reconcile everybody, as it may not always be easy for everybody non-norwegian to live up there in this at times cold and harshly location.
But then, it obviously works, too. Or at least: it runs very smoothly on Svalbard, the far flung utmost outpost of that long stretched northern country.
On those lonely islands, in 2016 there´s a population of around 2.600 people. 500 of those are Russians or Ukrainians working in the old mining town of Barentsburg. Then there´s quite a few Swedes and next come: Thai. (Yes, that´s quite a stretch, but: good for the cuisine! There´s nice curries and even sushi in town, and always plenty of rice with the fish. Oh, and then some real thorough Thai massage after a trip out in the wild is maybe not such a bad idea either). Then there´s Polish people, and Germans. Brits and folk from Iran, … you name it.
It´s a very mixed community and the great thing is: everybody´s got the same rights. Because there´s an international diplomatic agreement, that in 1920 conceded Norway sovereignty over the up til then no-mans-land ‘Spitsbergen’, but kept the Archipelago open to any other nationality that signs the ‘Svalbard Treaty’ (up til today over 40 nations did). The paper e.g. states that everybody from an associate country has to have access to Svalbard, may fish and hunt, live and work there. Norway has to take care of all environmental protection and military bases (of any kind, of any nation) are not allowed. Sounds like a very wise and nifty deal. – Wonder, why, or IF, for that matter, not more countries could follow suit?

So, despite bleakness, darkness and emptiness, this arctic abode can be a very colourful place indeed. Especially in Mid-May, when everybody puts on their elaborately embroidered national costume (Bunad, in Norwegian) and people gather together in joyous celebration of the biggest date in the Norwegian calendar: syttende mai. (17. May, Norwegian Constitution Day). And I? Called myself very lucky to happen to be up there on that very day! It was great to watch and join in – though I kinda quit in late-afternoon and went for a hike whilste the partying was still in full swing. Or shall we say: the whole festive action during the day was neatly carried out in the sober consciousness of preserving long-standing traditions – and obviously tends to end in not quite such a sober very late evening …
It all started with a solemn morning service, after which everybody filed up into a procession of fluttering flags – lead by the governor herself! A children´s parade was followed by a full-size marching band in orange overalls of STORE NORSKE (the local coal mining company), pursued by captain and crew of the MS Fram (the international Hurtigruten gang were thrilled to take part in the Longyearbyen celebrations and had especially painted a banner for the occasion), finally taillighted by the local inhabitant´s infantry blazoned in Red, Blue and White.

Next important item on the agenda: the home-bakes buffet at the local leisure centre, where everybody flocked right after the parade and patiently stood in queue to get their fair share of pølse (sausages), kake (cakes) and is (ice-cream). I bet most of the kids were seriously unwell that evening – even I had to struggle with that marzipan-covered norwegian-coloured cream-filled cake (I swear I only had ONE piece)…  ahem, and a pølse, allright. There were spring rolls, too, come to think of it – a little taste of Thai pimping up the traditional Norwegian buffet – and a gentle reminder that it´s actually SPRING out there now – despite the crisp air and chilly wind (sorry, no pun intended) in your face.

Talking temperature, I actually wondered how all those beautifully outfitted girls would survive in minus degrees in just a dress – a shivering sacrifice being made in favour of national spirit? – Talked to a Lady at the Ladies to investigate matters and she kindly not only explained to me some individual patterns and shapes of those mostly flowery ornamented bunads (each region, maybe even village, has their own design. The two girls on top of this post proudly wear their Svalbard bunad – here they even got icebergs embroidered on it – ICEBERGS!) but also the deeper secret beneath the festive outfit: a proper set of woolen undies! ‘Skiing underwear – that always does the trick for me’. – I quite like that seasonable Svalbard take on traditional national costume.


from white to green – from sparse to spruce

It´s not yet easy to grasp. And will probably still take a while to get used to.
It´s very green outside. The trees lush, boisterous blossoming all around. It must´ve all happened throughout those last 18 days, when I was up & away in The White, starting out from just a sparsely springy city at 53° into a frozen and barren landscape at 78°, 2.800 km further up North (Alaskas northernmost point sitting at ‘only’ 71° by the way – guessed completely wrong on that one …).
Travelling from spring into winter – and now straight on to summer. BOOM. Still confused and slightly struggling with those + 25 ° C difference in temperature (having just gotten used to the quite pleasant and crisp 0 ° C up there – and, bother, no chance to wear my lovely new woolen hat any longer!)

But even up in the Arctic, during last week, there were timid signs of spring to be seen. First snow melted, stretches of shore line slowly surfaced from under the ice and here and there half-frozen grass from last summer gingerly began to poke its antennae through the evermore crumbling white blanket.
So, yes, I´m back, and I have to confess that all those upcoming Spitsbergen posts still in queue (yes, there will be DOGS! and more Ice!(cream) …) will rather be written from the cramped confines of a noisy town than in a breezy spot of silent snowed upon solitude. Alas.
But, promise, I´ll try to keep up the spirit – quite literally, let´s hope.

IMG_1243IMG_2392IMG_1207The beach club´s open! / With plenty of deckchairs … / … and there´s still enough ice for drinks on the rocks!

View towards Adventfjorden / Summer´s just around the corner!

IMG_1281IMG_2848IMG_2854Re-erected former hospital stairs (= ‘Sykehustrappa’) next to the church. When the first beam of sunlight hits those on 8. March (after gradually having made it over the mountains and into the valley) the sun is declared back after a long polar night and enthusiastically greeted with a week of frisky celebrations. (There´s no light between 27. October and 14. February – but behold, then there´s a quick turnaround of night and day, and the sun stays up a crazy 24 hours from 19. April til 23. August!) / One of the oldest buildings on Spitsbergen: the parcel-sized wooden post office (out of use today), in front of … / … very welcoming Svalbard Kirke (the worlds northernmost, of course!)

morning classes


Can´t sleep. Still bright & BLUE outside. Well, rather not ‘still’, but: finally. NOW that I should really put my head onto that pillow, the sky, after a cloudy, snowy day, shamelessly clears up and presents its teaser: Come on, go play! Don´t even think of touching that blanket! You tired? – Don´t be ridiculous, GET OUT!


gone with the wind


So this is what I’m gonna do for the next 6 days (which means: no internet for a week, no mobile connection, no reach into modern world life (well, I do hope that our guide will, just in case, carry some GPS-device or maybe even some sattelite telephone, you never know…). But, apart from that, I’m very much looking forward to this week of silence (except for a bunch of barking dogs and the scratchy sound of sleighs on snow), and, hopefully, beautiful light up on the glaciers. We’ll be heading over to the east coast – where there has been a lot of polar bear sightings lately (they like to munch on seals – seals like pack ice, and both are, apparently, to be found over there right now).

Well, I do really want to SEE such a magnificent animal, the ‘king of the arctic’, as they call him, but let’s just say: maybe rather from a distance, that would be nice. Thank you.
Oh, and it’s not that you couldn’t look at them from close quarters up here: there’s bears (stuffed, after having been shot in self-defence – otherwise they are, of course, very strictly protected) at the airport, the museum (of course), even in church, and: the local supermarket.



just another day at the office #wishful thinking

working away silently at my desk at home i, all of a sudden, felt an urgent longing for those fluffy furry colleagues i worked with between this summer, doing research on sheepy business on the island of öland.
gentle ladies these were, quite cuddly, too, i have to say. and oh that SMELL: is there something nicer than summery grassland garnished with the tartly odour of fine pure wool? ah, i bet not.
so here and right now, i tell myself: take a deep breath, get on with your stuff, but, one day the sooner the better:
do swap some of all that mac for some nifty meadows. and: GET OUT.

silence is golden …

… nevertheless, I have to confess being rather ashamed and taken aback by my own sweeping negligence of: this blog.
I suppose it’s not a blog if there’s nothing being blogged – so, the only thing that will bring this baby back to life probably is: get a grip – and get writing.
And please: excuse the silence.Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 14.22.25

So there’s a year that wants catching up with, and nothernly stuff stacked high up in boxes that wants to get out there …
But first of all, right now, I’m working on a peerie article (will tell you once it’s published …) on those wonderful silvery creatures called ‘gotland sheep’.
well, to be precise, these beauties here dwell not on gotland, but on neighbouring windy öland, just off the southern coast of sweden. we spent some summery weeks down there, camping, driving around, looking for sheep. and here they are: wooly wondrous bundles, that, these autumnly evenings, will cater for a brilliantly warm (plus rather itchy) new scarf ’round my neck. I’m very fond of using material that comes straight from the farm, well, flock, that carries the look and feel of its surrounding landscape all through and right in it. Now, there’s still some rows to go, and some lines to write … – so on we go!

one hour

One hour, 60 minutes, the very last bit of our travels north has come, after all. Some last miles at sea (luckily calm, again, after quite a wobbly journey overseas), then we’ll set our feet on danish soil, and therefore, mainland, again. Will be a weird feeling to walk on firm ground, to navigate through streets and lanes stuffed with people and cars, no horizon any longer, the open view which is so friendly to the eye bluntly cut out by bustling hastyness and buildings, low and high.
After nearly a month spent on water and on islands: Iceland, and Flatey off its west coast, the Faroe Islands, with Esturoy, Streymoy and Vidoy, after a month of maybe meeting one human a day, and far more sheep, after living outside, cruising and sleeping in a car in very empty places, having breakfast overlooking some sund or sea, I just can’t help the feeling of reluctance setting in, to go back to stressful indoor-life, crowded places and the aggressiveness of much feared (by me, but maybe by others, too?) german autobahn.
But, well, before getting all pathetic here, lets leave you with a beautiful poem by Peter Christoffersen, an apparently Danish, or Faroese (sorry, couldn’t look that up right now) writer, who created this aptle verse on those benign and remote Islands out in the North Atlantic.

“If you ask me,
How the Faroe Islands are,
I’ll tell you:

They are …
Like wading stones in a wide creek,
Like ships in a rough sea,
Like swaying water lilies
In a calm lake,
Like dewdrops
In the cobweb of September.

And the sky above the islands …

Light rays penetrating
The heavy, dark blue clouds,
White wads of wool scattered over gentle mountains,
The screaming of a thousand birds,
And deep, deep silence.

The Faroe Islands are …

An after-taste of time,
Only remembered by the old,
An invitation to you.”

wet wet wet / wer wie was

Lately i wonder if sheep (akin to woolen garments) may be prone to shrinkage – if they will be washed (or showered, for that matter) every few minutes, day after day? Well, probably not, if you just hold the temperature low, no tumble-dry!, and just an gentle windy breeze to get their furry coat in sheepshape again.
Whilste roaming through this amazing landscape (faroe islands, still), you really do wonder all kind of stuff: will the wings of seabirds be sufficiently water-repellent to make them fly savely through raging wet storms? Did ever a puffin fall down the cliff, when trying to land (legs widely spread, orange feet dangling a bit clumsily in the air) in front of their burrow, then being fiercely blown backwards by suddenly appearing currents unseen?
Do sheep get in a bad mood when constantly being rained upon? (They certainly pull a face in ugly weather).
How come these mountains look so much like minty-marzipan covered baumkuchen? (last ice-age, and glacial erosion of a huge basaltic plateau seem to be accountable for that fact, at least.)
But most questions will be unanswered, I suppose. And maybe I don’t even care – asking questions, being curious, observing things, and just taking in: views, moments, glances (and, not to forget, big amounts of coffee and chocolate whilste lying in bed…), that’s just enough to make me smile.

typical faroese weather in july

… can be nice, too

sporty hair-do on a windy day

baumkuchen-berg (view from klakkur, backyard mountain of klaksvik, 2nd biggest town on the islands)

seemingly cannot stop to take pictures of those green mountains, just love the ever changing light, hurrying clouds, dancing sunbeams, shadows and light spots on the grass changing quicker than you can get camera at hand