Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kryžių kalnas (the hill of crosses)

A few weeks ago my mother went on a roadtrip with a friend through the baltic states in North-East Europe. They were travelling through Lithaunia, Latvia and Estonia. Driving through the countryside and forests over small twisting roads, visiting the old  medieval Hanseatic towns of Tallinn and Riga and many more sights along the way.

One of the places they were going to visit is called Kryžių kalnas (the hill of crosses) near Šiauliai in Lithaunia.
Over the centuries, the place has come to signify the endurance of Lithuanians during wars and occupations.  The Russians tried to destroy the hill a number of times, but the people kept coming back to place their crosses on this site. Since their independence the Lithaunian people have continued to pray for peace and for their lost loved ones, and left their crosses on this hill. There must be well over 100.000 crosses there. 

My mother asked me to carve something for her to leave there on that magical place and I made a small woodspirit cross from local Hazel. 
My little (pagan) contribution to the hill of crosses. 
As with all my carvings, there is a piece of 'me' in it and it feels pretty special to have that little cross hanging there on that hill.

Wandering between all those crosses, prayers and wishes, 
she found a good spot for the woodspirit cross, 

And she made a wish for peace and happiness in my life.

Immediately afterwards, a massive storm broke through right over the site,
with blinding lightning and cracking thunder. 
Heavy rain turned the day into night and hail the size of eggs 
made everybody run for shelter. 

Then, just as quickly as it started, the storm ended 
and light broke through the clouds.

It makes me wonder, was this a sign from the gods?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Finnish Summer Vegetable Soup (Kesäkeitto)

I like to cook and even though I'm nowhere near a chef, it is usually tasty enough.
Every once in a while, I tend to make some more effort and 'really' cook.
One of my favorites is a Finnish vegetable soup called Kesäkeitto.

Traditionally it was made from fresh summer vegetables and enjoyed as a light lunch soup.
I am not sure what the Fins call a light meal, but combined with some home made bread it makes a very tasty and filling dinner as well.

Now, let's get started.
First the ingredients for 3-4 servings.

- 500 gr (18 oz) fresh vegetables to your liking. Can be a mix of carrot, peas, broccoli, grean beans. Whatever.
- Some salt
- 25 g (1 oz) frying butter
- 25 g (1 oz) flour
- Some stock powder
- Peper
- 1 dl (1 3/8 fl oz) whipped cream
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch or something else to bind the soup
- 200 g (7 oz) peeled pink shrimps
- 2 tablespoons of chopped dill.


First boil up 1 liter (1/4 gallon) of water with some salt.
Then boil the vegetables for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, mix the egg yolk, the cream and the cornstarch until smooth.

Drain the cooking fluid (Don't throw away!!!) and separate the vegetables.

Then heat up the frying pan with the butter

 And fry the flour gently until light brown.

Pour in half of the earlier drained cooking fluid, bring to a boil again and stir until smooth.
Then pour in the rest of the fluid.

Add pepper and stock powder to taste.
Gently simmer and whip the cream paste through the soup.

Now it's time to add the vegetables and the shrimps and heat up the soup until just reaching the boiling point.

And it finished! Serve it with the dill and thick slices of freshly baked bread.
Best enjoyed in the company of good friends and family!

Eet smakelijk, Hyvää Ruokahalua!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Midsummer's Dream, Part 2: The Westfjords

With Reyjavik as a basecamp, Sif and I travelled to many beautiful places over the summer.

When I visited two years ago, we made a roundtrip around Iceland on the ringroad #1, taking us to all the major sights along the way.

This time though, we wanted to get of the main road and see the more remote places. So as soon as Sif could get a week off work, we packed our camping gear in my little car and took off to the Westfjords in the North-West Iceland.

The Westfjords are geologically the oldest part of Iceland. They are very mountainous and the coastline is heavily indented by dozens of fjords surrounded by steep hills.
It is a land where fairies and trolls are said to dwell. Driving through this remote peninsula, it is not hard to imagine just that.

The mountains are recipe for changing weather and
beautiful cloud formations.

Gently drifing over smooth gravel roads. Following the coastline.
You can see the Snaefelsjokul glacier in the background.

Sandy beach, blue sea.
But it is definitely not warm enough to take a swim!

Though we were very fortunate with the weather,
it often gets very gloomy here.

Wondering what lies behind the next rise...

Sometimes those gravel roads are a joy to drive over and slide sideways through the corners like a rally driver. Other times, the road is almost non-existing and my old car crawls over rocks and loose gravel.


We are on our way to a remote and now abandoned settlement where many Icelandic artists have lived at the very end of the Arnarfjordur. There was not much left of that settlement, but some ruins torn down by the merciless winds of the North Atlantic Ocean.

We continue, well actually head back on the same road. Around midnight we reach the beautiful waterfall Dynjandi. It falls down about 100 meter (330 feet) in many small stages. It is just magical to sit there and watch the water flow down.

Dynjandi waterfall

The next morning we head out to the most western part of Europe, Látrabjarg. After a long long drive over something resembling a washboard, the road goes no further. I park my car next to two big German 4x4 vehicles. The drivers look very annoyed that such a little old car has made it there over that same road.


This is officially the closest I have ever been to America!

Látrabjarg, the most western part of Europe.

Magnificent camping spot.

After a good night's rest, we continue our way to Isafjordur, the main 'capital' of the Westfjords.
Along the way we stop at a small fishing settlement near Bolungarvik, where time seem to have stood still for many years. It is actually a reconstruction of how the local fisherman lived in the old days.

Isafjordur is the largest town in the Westfjords, it even has an airport. It is a good place to stock up on provisions. We head over the mountain plateu on the way back to Reykjavik and find this old mountain rescue hut. You could definitely sit out a storm in this one. 
A few hundred meters away though, there was a modern bright orange one complete with radio and emergency supplies.

On the other side of the mountains, we find another beautiful camping spot, right next to the water and enjoy the midnight sun.

Midnight sun
And so ends our trip to The Westfjords of Iceland. A magnificent part of Iceland that has left it's mark in my memories.

To be continued....

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Midsummer's Dream, Part 1

In 2002, after dropping out of school, I decided to take my savings and get away for some serious off-time.
I purchased my very first car and a ticket on the ferry to Iceland.
The plan: To visit Sif and travel around Iceland for the whole summer.

That old Opel Corsa, with which I was going to have many adventures over the years, almost turned out to be a pig in a poke, with a worn camshaft and an overall sad composition.
With many thanks to my friend Bas, we fixed all the issues and prepared the car for the long journey.

The first leg to tackle was the 1000 km trip to the north of Denmark, where the Smyrill line ferry would leave for Seydisfjordur, Iceland. In later years I've driven the same distance a number of times, but no matter what you do, driving 1000 km in one go remains one hell of a liaison.
Anyways, I made it to Denmark well in time for the departure and secured my place onboard.
Being on a budget, meant that the only way to go was shared bunks... Up to 6 guys in cramped quarters, way below deck. It didn't matter, because it was an exhilarating feeling when the ship left the harbour to steam onto the North Sea.
Off to carry me towards those distant shores.

The Smyrill line ferries, being a company from the Faeroe Islands, made a stop in Thorshavn where all passengers  had to embark. The ferry would then leave for Bergen, Norway, to pick up more people and return the next day.
That leaves one with 1,5 days to spend on that magnificent group of islands halfway between Norway and Island.

Stunning scenery!

Thórshavn, The Old Town

The ferry sails between the typical Faeroese islands, on towards Iceland.

The next evening the ferry left Thorshavn again to sail Northwest toward Seydisfjordur, where we arrived the next morning. After a short visit for coffee at Sif's parents (who live in Seydisfjordur) it was finally time for the real adventure to begin. 
I had to drive to the other side of Iceland, 720 km along the south coast to Reykjavik, where Sif had a nice apartment in the main street Laugavegur.

The road went over several mountain passes and valleys of the South-east.

At some point I decided to find a place to camp, and found this fantastic and quiet campsite between the mountains and right next to a river.


Only some sheep for company

'Old Swing' feels right at home

Magical place

The next day I passed Jokulsarlon, and area where pieces of ice are breaking of the glacier and flow into the sea.

The road continues...

And goes on and on...

Then finally leads to downtown Reykjavik and Sif, And I am set to spend the best part of the summer exploring this magnificent landscape and the company of a loved one.

Hallgrimskirkja, Reykjavik

To be continued!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Winter in Iceland

After that first visit, I returned to Iceland a number of times.
The next visit was a birthday present from my mom, in February of 2001.
(Thanks Mom!)
Together we went to Reykjavik for a long weekend and travelled the 'golden circle'.
A visit to the Blue Lagoon, Krusivik, Gullfoss and the Geysir. We were very fortunate with the weather and Iceland in the winter is just as magnificent.

Geothermal area Krusivik

Stora Strokkur

Me and mom waiting for the next eruption

Thingvellir,  right on the rift of the two continental plates.

During the summer of 2001, Sif Sveinsdottir locked her apartment in Reykjavik and came to Holland for the summer. It was absolutely great to have her here. She found a job, we went to some music festivals and basically spend a lot of time together.

In the train, on our way to a music festival.

Around Christmas that year, I took off three weeks to visit Sif again.
Met her wonderful family during Christmas in Seydisfjordur. Spend time with her brother and his family and celebrated the new year.

Lonely Road in a vast landscape

New Year fireworks in Reykjavik

Coming up next, the summer of 2002