21 December 2016
Yesterday afternoon the snow got heavier and heavier and the wind stronger. Just as we were beginning to panic about the prospect of a two to three hour trip in a boat to see the aurora (or probably not given the snow clouds), Commando got a text to say the trip was cancelled. Winds of almost seventy miles an hour were the problem. To be honest it was a relief more than a disappointment. We’d already resigned ourselves to not seeing the aurora through the thick snow cloud. The trip was rebooked for tonight, with no guarantee the weather would be any better.
For a while it looked as if we were beseiged in the hotel and we even had a cursory glance at the restaurant menu. In the end though, we decided to brave the blizzard and try to walk back to Ingólfstorg. It was less than a mile, how hard could it be?
The wind was so strong we had to hold onto each other to stay on the ground but the snow was blowing at our backs, helping us along, even if we couldn’t really see where we were going. Surprisingly, it was nowhere near as cold as we’d expected, although this could have had something to do with all the layers of Arctic clothing. The Yaktrax helped, as did the Icelandic drivers stopping to let us cross roads. We ate another scarily expensive meal, this time in Cafe Paris. The food prices in Iceland would make your eyes pop out of your head. No reindeer were harmed, we had chicken and Commando even had a small beer, despite the price.
This morning I woke early. There was thick snow on the ground and clear sky overhead. How long it would stay that way was anyone’s guess. For a while I sat on the bed willing Commando to wake up, itching to get outside. When he finally stirred I said, “it’s beautiful out there, all virgin snow and clear sky, just right for your run and my walk.”
“What time is it?” he asked, not quite opening his eyes.
“About six thirty.”
“Mmm, I need a bit more sleep first.”
“But it might not stay like that. There could be another blizzard later.”
“I’ll take my chances. You go for a walk though.”
So I did.
The street lights were sparkling on the soft snow when I left the hotel and the streets were empty. My plan was to head away from the city centre towards the sea. Earlier I’d been looking at the maps and it wasn’t far away. If I could get away from all the street lights, with the darkness and the clear sky, I thought I might even strike it lucky and see the aurora. When I put my hand in my coat pocket to check the direction on my phone though, I realised I’d left it behind in the room.
For a while I stood looking at the dark snowy landscape and thought about going back for my phone. Going back would wake Commando up though and, from memory, I had an idea if I walked to the back of the hotel and kept going I’d eventually come to the sea. What I actually came to was a main road. It didn’t seem right from my memory of the map. Perhaps I hadn’t been going the right way at all?
Being alone, with nothing to help me navigate, and no phone to call for help, I was afraid to take too many turns in case I got hopelessly lost. I tried to cast my mind back to the map to work out whether I should turn left or right but walking around the outside of the hotel had confused my senses and I wasn’t sure. In the end I decided to turn left. A short while later I reached a roundabout and an even busier road. Ahead was a walled park of some kind thick with pine trees. I crossed the road and kept going forward.
The road beside the park was quiet and fairly dark apart from the odd lit window and the fairy lights in some of the gardens. Since I set out I hadn’t seen a single soul apart from a few car drivers on the main road. The cold, crisp air and the virgin snow crunching beneath my feet made my heart feel like it might burst with joy. When a young lad struggled up the hill towards me, pulling a small toboggan topped by a bag I imagined was filled with morning papers, I grinned so widely at him he must have thought I’d lost my mind.
The paperboy turned up a side road to my left and I kept going forward, half hoping to see the sea at any moment. Then, between the houses to my right I saw water. I stopped and looked. There were lots of lights reflected and something that looked like a bridge. It was almost certainly a pond or a lake and not the sea at all. On I walked, but now there were more and more lights in the darkness I’d been walking towards, more houses.
A tree festooned with fairy lights looked familiar, but one tree with lights is very much like another. Then, just after I stopped to photograph some graffiti featuring a unicorn and a rainbow, I reached a junction. By this time I’d been walking for half an hour, albeit fairly slowly, and I seemed to be heading towards civilisation rather than away from it. Now the sky was beginning to cloud over. Much as I’d have liked to keep on walking I thought it was time to turn back.
Following my own tracks in the snow I retraced my steps. The sensible part of me said to go back the way I came but I really didn’t want my walk to end so soon. When I came to the road where the paperboy had turned I decided to turn too. The road seemed to follow the perimeter of the park and I figured I might be able to walk right around it and get back to where I started or find a way in and walk across.
Before I’d gone very far I thought I spied the lit spire of a church between the houses. Curiosity overcame my fear of taking too many turns and getting lost and I turned right, thinking I could always follow my own tracks in the snow to get back if need be. A man was standing by a snow covered car a little way along the road. As I approached he opened all the doors and slammed them to get rid of the snow. It looked as if he’d done this many times before. Then I spotted the spire again behind the houses to my left. At the next junction I turned left, telling myself this would have to be the last turn I made whether I found the church or not.
Soon I came to a gap in the houses and I could see the church spire clearly. It was flat topped and looked very familiar. In fact it looked just like the church we found yesterday although I was positive I’d been walking in completely the opposite direction all this time so it couldn’t be could it? There was a path leading through shrubs and trees to the church and, feeling slightly confused, I walked along it. When the trees opened out and I could see the church in its entirety I realised it really was Dómkirkjan í Reykjavík, Reykjavik Cathedral. Somehow, all the twists and turns I’d made at the start of my walk had led me towards the city centre rather than away from it.
About then it began to snow. Now it really was time to turn back. There was no way to tell how heavy it would get or how quickly and any tracks I’d made would be quickly being covered. As the snow got harder I began to worry about being lost in a blizzard. We may have been to the church just yesterday but we’d walked miles before and after that and I had no sense of where it was in relation to our hotel.
By the time I got back to the road bordering the park my footprints were nothing but a memory. Thankfully, I had a good idea where to go next. In fact, I was so confident I decided to take the road running along the other side of the park, feeling sure it would lead me back to the main road.
About half way along the road a young man came out of a park gate in front of me. When I got to the open gate I looked into the park and discovered it wasn’t a park at all but a graveyard. Obviously, I couldn’t resist going in. There was a snowy path leading right through the centre and, on the other side, I could see another open gate meaning I could walk right through. At least the trees would shelter me from the snow a little.
Maybe walking through a graveyard in the dark when there’s a blizzard going on isn’t everyone’s idea of a good thing? I was in my element though. Because of the street lights on the nearby roads and a few lights scattered about the graveyard itself, it wasn’t completely dark and the snow turned it into a beautiful, if slightly eerie, place. Sadly it was too dark to read the inscriptions on the graves and, as they were written in Icelandic I wouldn’t have understood them anyway, so there were no stories to find here. Even so, it was almost a disappointment when I reached the far gate.
On the other side of the graveyard I stopped to look at a sculpture half hidden amongst the trees at the side of the road. Sadly, the lack of light and the snow meant my picture wasn’t the best which is a shame because it’s a stunning work by Einar Jónsson called Outlaws. It was inspired by an Icelandic folk tale about an outlaw condemned to live in isolation in the mountains. The sculpture shows him carrying his child in his arms and his dead wife on his back, taking her to be buried in hallowed ground. When the statue was originally unveiled in Copenhagen in 1901, the Danes were not impressed with it. Icelanders though, identify with the outlaw as a free spirit who does not walk the beaten path and feel it encapsulates their own spirit.
Out of the shelter of the trees the snow was rapidly turning into a blizzard. There was no time now for further delay so I headed for the road, surprised when I realised I was opposite the cake shop Commando and I had passed several times now on our way back and forth. I was far closer to the hotel than I’d thought. Apart from one little fall when I stepped down a kerb so covered with snow I hadn’t known it was there, I arrived back covered in snow but otherwise unharmed.
Commando was awake and preparing to go out for his run when I got back to the room.
“There’s a blizzard going on outside,” I told him, taking him to the window to show him. When we looked out though, the snow had stopped completely. If it wasn’t for my photos I might have thought I’d imagined it.
Commando wanted me to take a photo or two of him out in the snow in his running gear so, rather than stripping off my wet things and getting into a warm shower, I followed him back outside. The snow may have stopoed but the air was frostier than it had been and the streetlights now all had haloes of icy air. As he ran off into the distance in little more than leggings, shorts and a long sleeved t-shirt, I wondered if he was completely mad?
For a moment or two I thought about going for another walk, despite the cold, having been out for over an hour already and my wet leggings. This time I had my phone with me and I was pretty sure I could easily have found the sea. I even crossed the road by the roundabout and took a few photos of the church opposite with the branches of the bare trees making shadows on its walls. The sky was clear again now the snow had emptied it of snow cloud but, in the end, the lure of a hot shower, even one that smelt of sulphur, was too strong so I turned back to the hotel.
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