The Old Friend

Day 2. 16 June 2004

Wednesday. A good night’s sleep later – should I say ‘night’ when it never actually got dark? I rise and wash quickly before settling down to breakfast. the house is empty -the family having departed for work, though Adi does return briefly for his own breakfast.

Icelandic breakfasts are good. Sadly there is no skyr on offer, still, I do laiden several kinds of mjólk and fruit compôte onto the BÓnus muesli. Orange juice, coffee, toast and rhubarb jam accompany the fair.

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Following breakfast I wander up the road past the local shops and the school to the leisure centre. I wash and shower at the swimming pool – taking note of the graphic instruction chart for washing – before descending into geothermal bliss. I first try out Hot Pott 1 with it’s 100° heat, move up to Hot Pott 2 at 106°, but shy away from Hot Pott 3 and it’s 109° temperatures. I take a plunge into the main pool, with it’s outside temperatures – or at least so it seems – and swim a few lengths before plunging again into the hot pots and trying out the alarmingly exhilerating water slide.

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Finishing up with a second shower, I walk back down the road smelling sweetly of sulphur – yes, I do mean sweetly! I linger briefly at the house on Funafold before heading back out to catch the #15 yellow bus into twon. As I wait I see tow #14 hydrogen powered buses pass venting out steam from their roofs. I like the idea of hydrogen buses. More please.

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The main bus stop in town is a few short steps from Snorresbraut, the street of ramshackle, pebble-dashed housed that I know from my previous visits to Iceland. I walk up the stree to Snorres Guesthouse to tak some photos, not only of the pace where I have previously stayed but of the kind of house that is the family home of Hanna Katla BaldursdÓttir in my novel.

Then I take a turn down the main street, keeping my eye trained for good pictures and stopping in at Skífan to browse Icelandic music. I stop also at the Sandholt Bakery for a delicious Kleinur – a sweet bread – twisted doughnut kind of cake.

Almost turning back on myself I turn left back up the hill towards Hallgrímskirkja, the big Luthean Cathedral with the crooked spires, and the basalt-inspired concrete columes to flank it’s tower. Some interesting sculptures of figures seated on benches and standing aroudn the entrance adorn the square outside the entrance. Inside, sitting towards the back of the knave and slightly off-centre, another figure, seated in quiet contemplation of his faith.

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For IKR350 I buy access to the tower – and, expecting a climb of many steps, I am surprised to be be shown to a lift. Riding it to the 8th floor I step out into a white-washed room furnished with rather fine, carved wooden furniture, ready for council and discussion. On each of the four walls are a single large, round window – I realise later that these are the clock faces. A staircase in the centre of the room leads up a further level to where the bells are housed. On all four sides are narrow, tapering windows, from which can be had fine, panoramic views of the city, spread out below, a patchwork of coloured roofs.

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The bells chime. I almost fall over backwards. Thankfully it is one o’clock and not the hour earlier, as the huge bell above my head rings out the hour. For a moment, my mind is cast back to last year, and to that day in Tallinn, up at the top of the Town Hall clock tower.

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One o’clock. Time for lunch? I descend down the clock tower and strike back out down the road to the main street, and meander my way down int the heart of the old town, and towards the harbour. At Bæjarins Bestu I buy my hot dog from arguably the best hot dog vendor in town, and cross the road to eat it near the sea wall, sat at the feet of the sea watchers.

From the harbour, I cross to the other side of the main street and discover the lake with the imposing stilted façade of the Civic Hall, reachable by way of a causeway. By now the breaking clouds have been pushed aside to reveal clear blue sky and sharp northern sunlight. I head down to the harbour to draw out exciting photographs of the harbour-side sculptures – the polished metal of the Viking ship gleams in the light.

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Heading back up into town I pass a little old school where some young children dressed like Viking warrier-maidens are rehearsing their act for tomorrow – maybe someting for the Independence Day celebrations tomorrow? I can but wonder…

Finding my bus again I journey back to the Funafold subhurbs. Back at the house I repack my smaller bag for the weekend, and we have a simple meal of chicken and potato in a sauce before heading out onto the road.

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The light is beautiful, setting off the striking and irridescent colours of Iceland – the lush green pasteurs, the blue of lupins, the pale of cowslips, the scree, the moss, against blue skies and the heavy, dark clouds on the mountain top.

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Driving out through the new subhurbs of Reykjavik we are soon on the far side of the harbour, with the city are a strip of civilisation on the horizon. Then the Hvalfjórður tunnel, long, deep and 6km long, it goes under the fjórd, hollowed from the rock.

And on to the bridge at Borganes – where Adi has relatives who he always passes but never visits. At Dalsmynr we turn off the main HÓlar and Akureyri road take the new road I have never before travelled on towards the western fjórds.

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Descending down from this high pass it is a wide, flat valley to the sea on the far side of Snæfellsness peninsular, and we arrive, a little after 9 o’clock at Adi’s grandfather’s old farm at Brautarholt.

Set back from the road with a gravel forecourt, the blue-roofed farm, symetrical either side of the entrance hallwayh and door, this was an early example of a service station. Now the middle of three houses the farm was once a shop, post and telegraph office and bed breakfast, the first place to rest in warmth and refill your car before arriving at Buðardalur, 9km further along the road.

The house itself is a much altered, and consequently, higglety-pigglety affair. Creaking linoleum floors and rooms leading off rooms. There’s a main room, a combination of grandmother’s best room and the old post room. At the back of the house is the kitchen with access to a new deck, hot pot and the garden all with fine views down towards the sea, the west and the setting sun.

What is now a dining room was grandfather’s study and office, a room at the back of the house behind the old shop still with it’s 1909 shop, still with the old lables on the draws. Upstairs, bedroom leads off bedroom, door leads to door, an ever on going maze of rooms beneath the pitched, corrogated iron roof.

We choose our rooms, and make the beds before heading down to the lounge to enjoy a cup of Swiss Miss hot chocolate and a Kleinur or two before bed.

Day Three: Independence Day, a night in the House of Correction, and an attack from Arctic Terns…


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