Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ísafjörður (Westfjords, Iceland)

Ísafjörður is the largest town in the Westfjords and is situated on a spit of land that is surrounded by water on three sides.  There are also tunnels on every roadway into town.  Q really liked the tunnels we went through -- they were mostly rough-hewn rock, rather than the more finished concrete or tile versions we've seen in the U.S.  At times, the tunnels narrowed to one lane, which was a bit unnerving, as we had to hope that cars would be able to use the pull-off enclaves and take turns without accident.  I couldn't get any decent photos in the darkness of the tunnel, but you can see what they look like here (you can even watch a video of driving through the tunnel).

We found a nice bakery in Ísafjörður that featured this classic car right outside. The poor woman who served us had to stretch her English skills to describe every item so that we could pick out our sandwiches.

"And it also has -- what is it called?"
"Cucumber?" I suggested.
"Yes, cucumber."

It wasn't too hard to guess, as cucumbers were served at every breakfast buffet.  They are one of the few vegetables that aren't imported, as they can be grown indoors year-round in Iceland.

We also got some tasty desserts at the bakery: A chocolate cake flavored with cinnamon and a chocolate-covered, strawberry-creme filled, gingerbread cake (which was really delicious and very sweet).

As we came out of a shop in Ísafjörður, we heard an odd noise. Looking up, we saw this pair of ravens perched on the shop building. We got to hear a number of different vocalizations -- do you know that scientists have identified up to 33 different vocalization categories among ravens? These two really seemed to be "talking" to each other. Ravens mate monogamously for life, so perhaps these were a mated pair.

Ravens have a prominent place in the folklore and mythologies of many cultures. In Norse mythology, the god Odin was depicted with two ravens (perhaps a mated pair?), Huginn (Thought) and Muninn (Memory). Every day, they flew forth to see and hear everything going on in the world, returning to whisper the information they had gathered to Odin. In this way, they were his eyes and ears.

There were a number of cloudy days on our trip, but the clouds were so often striking and sculptural that the sky just became another stunning landscape.

As we walked around the residential area of Ísafjörður that evening, we saw a pussycat across the street.  As always, Q made appropriate cat-welcoming sounds (he wants to pet every cat we find). With no hesitation whatsoever, the cat ran right over to me.  I wasn't even making cat-sounds!  Without waiting to be petted, the cat then skittered around us, moving up the street.  

We followed.  

If we turned onto another block, the cat turned with us, running until it was ahead of us, but looking back every once in a while to make sure we were still there.  In this way, we were leading and following this cat for quite some while.  She clearly wanted to be near us, but not too near us.  Her path was circuitous, weaving under and around parked cars, moving across the street and back again.  There was something mysterious about the persistent, ambivalent attentions of this creature in the twilight hours of an unfamiliar city.  Where did she want to lead us and why?  

We walked with her all the way out to the water's edge, but finally thought we should walk back to where we first saw the cat, so that she would be close to home.  When we did, we met a woman who said this was her sister's cat.  We were glad to lead the cat back home safely, though still perplexed by her behavior.      

Next up: The Arctic Fox Center in Súðavík

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