Viðey

Yesterday was our daytrip to Viðey, an odd little duck of an island only about a kilometer off the coast of Reykjavik.

The walk to the ferry (about two miles) was longer than the swim to the island (not that we attempted it).

We’ve had many discussions about what is and isn’t Viðey.  There are islands all over the place here.

This is it from our walk, despite my raised eyebrow of doubt.  There’s water in between, promise.

We hoped the ferry and crossed in about five minutes.

Viðey was formed about two million years ago after a volcanic eruption (shock) and reemerged after water levels dropped after the last Ice Age (about 10,000 years ago).  It was home to a monastery around 900CE funded through a cheese tax (bastards) and then Skúli Magnússon lived here in the 18th century.  Never heard of him?  He was just the first treasurer of Iceland under the Danes and all.  Some farmers, the Stephensens, came later.

Skúli built Viðeyjarstofa (Viðey House), the first stone building in Iceland and home to a delightful restaurant now.  The church he built later (he was buried under the altar, after he died of course) is close by too.
One of the things we had read about was free bikes on the island. We thoroughly enjoy bike riding.  I saw one with a basket and got very excited. Unfortunately, free bikes means less than ideally maintained bikes. This one had a flat, that one had a permanently-down kick stand, that one’s wheel was bent like a Möbius strip. We eventually found two. These bikes had fullish tires, brakes that workedish and moved forwards. They were also clownishly small so our knees stuck out a bit ridiculously.

There are two pieces to the island, connected by a small isthmus. We headed north towards Vesturey.

We followed this sign for a bit.

Until we got confused.

(Icelandic lesson:  göngoleið means “scape”, like vista)

Biking was, well, less than glamorous.  (Sorry about the wind)

Brett handled it with a bit more grace (and perhaps a British accent?)

Still, the views were lurvely. Just a kilometer away and yet quieter and all nature-y.

We saw a couple shipwreck memorials, we saw Richard Serra’s sculpture work Áfangar, named after an Icelandic Saga and alternately called “Standing Stones” or “Milestone”. They dot the island with a mathematical accuracy I don’t really feel like getting into.  One woman, however, did feel like getting into it (and for that I thank her despite the bad capitalization in the first line of the article).  I did a terrible job appreciating them and documenting them.  Here’s what I can offer.

I was more excited to see Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower (not that I took an incredible shot of it either…they can’t all be Ansel Adams all the time).

The tower was to commemorate Lennon’s 67th birthday and has “Imagine Peace” in 24 languages.

It is illuminated in the days between his birthday and death.  We saw an older mustachioed man do a photo shoot with himself and a yellow plastic shovel.  Through careful eavesdropping by Brett we learned his messgae was “I Dig Peace”.  Right on, man.

By reading the wonderfully informative map you can get at the ferry desk we also learned that over half a million peace wishes have been buried in the area surrounding the tower in time capsules by Yoko Ono.  If you’d like to get your wish included, you can send one to:

Imagine Peace Tower
PO Box 1009
121 Reykjavik, Iceland

(And yes, I think you should.)

Yoko’s made a few guest appearances in our Icelandic experience.  On one of our first nights Systa’s son Oskar invited us over (not far, he lives in the apartment across the hall).  After viewing a series of Radiohead videos he showed us this.  Then this past week I was reading about the upcoming parole hearing for John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, scheduled for this week.  As the child of an ardent, ardent John Lennon (and Yoko) fan, it felt good to touch the white stone and to think about the father-daughter dance at our wedding to Lennon’s Watching the Wheels.  Hi, dad.

After our bike ride we headed back to the main house and decided we had earned a snack. Many moons ago Skúli Magnússon planted caraway seeds on the island and locals still head over in August (we were a day early, sigh) to pick wild caraway. So it was no surprise some lovely seeded bread came our way.

It felt like a soup day. I think there are few things as glorious on this earth as French onion soup.
Re-heartened, we had about an hour and a half before the last ferry home.  A path was chosen, this time the main drag down the southeastern bit of the island, Austurey.

The island felt really, really big and expansive even though it’s less than two miles in area.

While it is now a nature preserve, it was home to a little village on the eastern tip during the first half of the 20th century.  Most families (the maximum population only got up to a few over 130) worked for the Million Corporation, or Milljónafélagið, which just sounds like it could be up to no good.  It was thought to be worth a million krónur.  It was only really ever worth 800,000 krónur but who am I to criticize for a wee bit of hyperbole?

So, now the ruins of the town are a main site on the island.  Much like our trip to Heimaey, the idea of “ruins” from within the last century kind of tweaks me out.

But, ruins they were.

And this was one of the more impressive structures remaining.  Each house had a sign out front that told you about whomever lived there (including one widow with FOURTEEN kids).  The end tended to be “And then the house was demolished”.

One building stood in stark contrast.  The village school.

I was totally confused as to why it was in such good shape and contained a sign outside that told you how far it was to Rome and Jerusalem.

Inside was even more baffling.

Hello space ready to host some kind of professional development.

It turns out the school was remodeled in the last twenty years or so.  It now hosts a pretty incredible photo and document series about life in the village (I love me some census data).  Most of the photos were from a single resident and they are a touching view into the now-gone.  The school also had a functional bathroom…yay!

After visiting the school/photo exhibit/bathroom, we realized we had about a half an hour to get back before the last ferry of the day left.

So we hiked around the more coastal part of the trail.  Some photos were taken by Brett.  He likes the shmancy camera too.

A photo was taken of Brett.

One of the things we’ve come to appreciate about Iceland is the apparent lack of fear surrounding the litigious visitor.  We’ve yet to sign a waiver, be told not to walk along a precarious cliff, or have some view blocked by warnings and flags.  There’s an expected heartiness.  If you are here, you can handle yourself.  These people are descended from Vikings for crissakes.

Instead there are gentle reminders like this:

What is it saying?  Simply, “Hello traveler.  If you’d like to stay on the more well-worn path, it’s over here.  No?  That’s ok too.  Please don’t step on the puffin nests. Enjoy.”

Kids bound freely along rocks.  They roll down hills parents in the US would have fenced off in a heartbeat.  I’ve truly enjoyed the aggressive playfulness we’ve seen.  Kids younger than I’ve ever seen on two-wheelers, kids unfettered by their parents’ overworry.  Now there are moments when I balk, like at a cafe as we watched a small, small child repeatedly climb, then fall off his high chair.  But the rocking little tot bounding down two-stairs-at-a-time and the fearless kid barely up to my shin rolling down Laugauvegur on his scooter were great.  It makes me think they get their sealegs much earlier here.  Fall down, get scraped up, be awesome.

We finished our walk around the Seussian plants and headed down some stairs towards the steepest ramp ever to the boat.

Where we waited…

To bid adieu.


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