Postcard #4 – Iceland

October 19, 2014 at 5:06 am (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I’ve almost stopped noticing the smell.


It doesn’t help that my favourite place to sit and write is down by the docks. There’s a line of black rocks separating the harbour from the beach, and I love to curl up there with my notebook. I watch the waves roll in, and I write. It sounds idyllic, and while it is, here’s the thing: it’s really bloody cold. Minus ten this week, in fact. And even with my red riding hood up and a scarf wrapped around my mouth, there’s no hiding the ever present fish smell.

Ólafsfjörður is a fishing village, after all. It’s on the mouth of Eyjafjörður , the longest fjord in Iceland. And it’s so beautiful I can’t quite face the thought of leaving next week.




I was expecting a different smell. The last time I was in Iceland I stood half asleep in the shower that first morning, and turned the hot tap on. And immediately, overwhelmingly, the stench of sulphur assailed me. I shrieked, jumped back, hit my head on the screen – mornings are not my strong point – and ended up on the shower floor, one hand on the back of my head, the other up in bewilderment to stop the flood of rotten egg water pouring down on me.

Turns out the hot water comes from underground springs, which are plentiful, useful, and unbearably stinky. It’s the kind of thing you’d like to know beforehand, really, but never mind. I haven’t noticed that in Ólafsfjörður. Maybe it’s there and I just haven’t realised, I’m too spellbound.

It’s entirely possible.


Oranje''s pic
In the next village over I went to an exhibition opening, paired with a flea market. I bought a beautiful taxidermy dove and apparently kept stroking its head while I spoke to the artist. And I was told ‘You have the staring eyes of a bird yourself, you know.’ I didn’t know, but I took it well. In the car coming home, I rolled our village name around my Australian tongue and spat it out into the tunnel. Siggi shook his head. ‘You’re not saying ‘Olaf’s fjord, Rijn,’ he told me. ‘You need to say Ólafsfjörður.’

I watched my bird’s eyes glint in the semi-darkness.

‘I am saying that…aren’t I?’

‘No,’he shook his head. ‘You’re saying ‘Olafsfjöður – it’s different.’

He said both words for me. Again. And again. I understood the faces of my ESL students when I tell them the difference between St Kilda beach and St Kilda bitch, emphasising the vowel lengths, only to have them whisper ‘She’s saying the same thing, right?’ Ólafsfjörður and Olafsfjöður, whispered down to a dove’s head in the back of a darkened car.

‘What am I saying, then? Is it even a word in Icelandic?’

We came out of the tunnel, white mountains on all sides. The sky was so pale it was difficult to tell if the snow had stopped.

‘It is – you’re saying ‘Olaf’s feather.”

Of course I was. At least I knew what to name my bird now.



Three nights ago I was writing when Cilla called my name. I was listening to Big Mama Thornton, and thought maybe it was too loud. But then she bellowed the words I’d been waiting ten days for. ‘Rijn, it’s the northern lights! Quick!’

I stood up and turned in circles for a moment like a mad cat. Do I grab my pen, my coat, my camera? Olaf shook his feathered head and told me ‘Just run!’

So I did. And I stood under an Icelandic sky and watched the aurora borealis shimmer all over this village I’ve been calling home.

I did, I did.

I’ve been trying to find the words for you. My camera was useless and anyway, I was too fascinated to try more than one shot. Three glowing green ribbons shot out from the mountain behind us. They were iridescent in a way I’d never seen before. They fluttered in three enormous strands, then floated together and entwined themselves over our rooftop, and then let go again. They snaked all over the snow on the mountain tops, danced closer to us, then darted away. I stood barefoot in a singlet and totally forgot to be cold.

It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Little bit special, this place.




  1. laurenelisee said,

    Thoroughly enjoying the chronicles of your time in that mysterious land. I was so happy to hear the aurora finally decided to dance for you, I imagine there are few sights more mesmerizing and ethereal as that beautiful display. I cannot tell you how excited I am to see what your time there has birthed. Your writing is always a treat…

    Stay warm and catch a snowflake on your tongue for me.

    – Lauren

    • inkymouth said,

      So lovely to see you here, Lauren. I just went walking (skidding on the ice – when will I learn?) and caught a snowflake for you. It’s just all white, as far as the eye can see, so that I can’t tell where the mountains are anymore. And I love it, so fiercely. I’m going to look back on this as one of the happiest times of my life, I know it already. Thanks for sharing in that with me.

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