I know it. Looking at the cover image of Tallinn and its Christmas market in the Old Town, one would want to run to the airport and leave immediately! At least to enjoy the fresh air, the snow of Estonia and the atmosphere of its capital.
I remember a Christmas in Tallinn a few years ago. A truly special and particular city: The absolute silence of some streets broken only by the “cracking” of the snow under the boots that alternates with the more crowded streets of other areas of the center. Tallinn has a very special charm that will captivate you, especially during the Christmas period, when lights, snow and colors make this already magical place even more enchanted.
The Christmas tree
It is said that the first Tallinn Christmas tree was brought to the city as far back as 1441 by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads. If this were true, the Tallinn Christmas tree would be the first Christmas tree to be placed on the square in a European town. The event became of great interest for business and the nobility, so much so that during the installation of the Christmas tree of 1711, Peter the Great, the Great Emperor of Russia, was attracted.
Every year in Estonia there is a competition to decide the most beautiful fir that will go to Town Hall Square in Tallinn during the Christmas holidays. Here it will be covered with lights and decorations produced by the Adam Decolight factory in Rapla, Estonia, which creates lights for the tree but also for roads, airports and shopping centers all over the world.
The Christmas markets
You can see it from the aerial photo of the cover but, the Tallinn Christmas markets are a real splendor. All around the Christmas tree in the town hall square of the medieval center are the wooden houses with many flavors and aromas of the Estonian capital. If you happen to run into Santa on his way south, don’t be too surprised. Who knows he doesn’t stop around here to let the reindeer rest!
A few years have passed since that endless journey between Iceland, the Faroe Islands and then down, passing from Scandinavia to Spain. But only today, on a cold December weekend, I started scanning some of those wonderful photos taken with the old reflex to tell about that wonderful adventure.
It was a hot summer (not so hot in Iceland) in 2004 and I embarked on a long journey around Europe with no return (meaning that I ended up living over a year in Ireland). With me, at least the first few days, there was a travel companion, Matteo, with whom I shared the first tour of the Icelandic Ring Road by bus. We spent the first night inside our uncomfortable and cold runway tents at Keflavik Airport, after landing late in the evening.
n distant memories I still have in mind a fisherman from Keflavik who told us about his boat and about Baldur, a deity of Norse mythology. We will carry the memory of both for days and days. At least until our arrival in Höfn, the day of the legendary football match
Höfn was the first clear example of the contrast between the apparent desolation of Icelandic villages and the strong group life that binds this people. If you walk among the houses of some Icelandic village it almost seems to live in deserted villages but, it often happens to find yourself in small parties, places where people gather or meet. Despite everything, Matteo and I were invited by a group of kids to a football match between complete strangers. And it wasn’t the only time someone made us sweat despite the cold … On my first Icelandic trip, I had the opportunity, among other things, to try a fabulous fish soup in a small restaurant in Höfn. Don’t ask me for the name. I could never remember. I just remember the cold outside and the heat of the boiling soup.
In our infamous journey through the immense Icelandic lava fields, I clearly remember Landmannalaugar, if only for the difficult pronunciation we encountered in the early days and also for the absurd cold we suffered in the tents after the storm that welcomed us among the magnificent canyons of the Icelandic valley crowded with tourists. So crowded that when we got the good idea of renting a bungalow for the night, they told us that they had all been booked since March! (plan accordingly)
Equally frustrating but a little less spectacular from a landscape point of view was, a few days later, the night spent in Husavik. Matteo and I left for the usual walk around the village but, on our return, we found my tent completely destroyed. I don’t know how it could have happened. Maybe some kid playing soccer. The fact is that Matteo and I huddled for a couple of nights in his tent and, after a worthy Viking funeral at mine, we wandered among the caravans of Husavik’s free camping in search of the truth.
At this point there were few common stages left. We would pass Dalvik, then return to Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, where I would buy a new tent. From there I would have traveled alone around the island, while Matteo would have embarked for a flight from Keflavik towards Norway.
Dalvik welcomed us with the usual free deserted camping and the muddy soccer match with the local kids. Pratically a football field with changing rooms adapted to a public bathroom in which there was only Matteo’s tent, a few kids playing football (with us) and the usual summer rain. An absurd cold did not leave us even in the showers, but he forgot about us when, in the evening, passing in front of a village gym, we met a group of boys intent on taking part in a private party. Matteo had so many flaws, but the fact that he was able to get to know anyone and in any place did not displease me at all. There was even rumor that he was one of the few who had actually had sex on the legendary “hornet ship” (if the translation is correct), one of the ships of the Viking line steeped in legends and rumors that crosses the Northern seas. But he never told me anything about it. And I didn’t ask him for anything. I preferred the myth of youth to remain so.
Anyway… We were walking around Dalvik and Matteo stopped to talk to this group of guys outside the gym. He went out of his way to enter but, as you know, a private party is private for Icelanders. No it goes wrong. However, they brought out drinks and things to eat and talked to us all evening. The next day we met some of them around… and the welcome was almost better than the night before. I have heard that Icelanders are like their volcanoes: cold and icy on the outside, but hot and “fiery” on the inside. In Dalvik I really had proof of this side of their character.
The championship final
Back from Akureyri with my brand new and ultramodern tent, Matteo and I were getting ready to spend the last day together. It was a cold day in July 2004 and Greece were preparing to face the most famous Portugal in the final of the European Football Championships with very little hope of victory. Matteo forced me to take a seat in a very crowded pub in Selfoss, where we would have witnessed the probable victory of Portugal. In fact, Greece took home an inexplicable victory and we an exaggerated amount of Icelandic food and beer enough to get the 90 ‘.
I left Selfoss a couple of days later in the freezing rain. I was alone and eager to discover new corners of Iceland. In Vik I went back to the usual camping site and to the same wooden house where I had been a few years earlier. The tent was soaked in rain and weighed heavily on my back from these first few weeks of travel. So I decided for a more solid roof while waiting for the tent to dry. If during the first trip I was lucky enough to find the house all to myself, this time I shared it with a German family consisting of a mother, father and two daughters. Needless to say, I spent the night in one of the two double beds with the father, while a little ‘everyone disposed of the birthday cake of one of the two daughters, to which they sang cheerful songs in German all evening..
After leaving Vik I stopped again in Akureyri, where I wanted to embark for Grimsey Island, the only point in Iceland from which the Arctic Circle passes. I’ve always had a soft spot for Akureyri: a tiny little girl of extraordinary beauty once approached me and held out her hand. She then she opened it and handed me a black pebble. I asked her what she was and with perfect English equal to that of a university student she explained that it was a piece of Icelandic lava and that she wanted to give it to me. It’s really true. The heat of the Icelanders is like that of their volcanoes. Even when the lava turned cold.
Grimsey was a nice surprise and a perfect destination for a day trip. A small harbor and a very colorful church (inside and out) make this small island a little out of this world special. However, Grimsey was also the second place in which I aspired to the infamous skuas, very aggressive arctic birds, accustomed to attacking anyone who dares approach their territory from above. At both Jokulsarlon and Grimsey you will be given sticks a meter or more in length to keep skuers away from “flying” above you. However, the same thing did not happen when I arrived in Bolungarvik, in the fjords of Westfjordur. In Bolungarvik I was attacked by a rather “aggressive” group of skuas and, when my thin sweatshirt was going to shreds, a small family with an SUV came to my rescue. I saw myself throw open the back doors and heard shouting: “Come in, come on!” But in the back seats there were two very small and very blond children that I was afraid of crushing when entering. Eventually fear prevailed, I jumped in and that dark SUV and got to safety.
Meanwhile, time passed and August was approaching with the imminent end of summer (which in Iceland coincides with the middle of this month more or less). Once I explored Westfjordur and visited Ísafjörður, I would return south where I would stay among the lesser known villages on the island. I stayed one night in Blönduós to admire the small church turning orange at nightfall and the next day I took a mail van driven by a nice Icelandic gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English. My destination was Sauðárkrókur and I would stop here one night. It would be the last in the tent. The postal driver and I tried to communicate and understand each other in some way throughout the journey, until a few minutes from Sauðárkrókur he made me understand with his wide and varied gestures, that we should agree on the time and place of departure of the day after. His was the only semi-tourist vehicle that traveled to and from that village and, if I hadn’t left with him, I would have risked spending the rest of my life in a small tent “parked” in the middle of a meadow..
Upon entering the village, the intrepid driver of the van thus began to look for his nephew who, he made me understand, spoke very good English. A tall, very confident blond boy poked his head out the window and in a few words told me that I would have to wait for his uncle the next day at 10.00 am at the same point where he was leaving me. In other words, at an approximate point in front of the free camping of Sauðárkrókur.
My penultimate stop was the tiny and unpronounceable village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur (if you repeat it several times then it gets into your head), where an excursion to Þórsmörk was waiting for me. It was the wettest, wettest, most torrential and flooded excursion of my life. But I saw things that only in Iceland and in no other country in the world could I have seen!
A tip: if you are not Icelandic, carefully avoid going into too “undriveable” areas just because you feel strong in your super Jeep. Were it not for an old Icelandic 4×4 bus (yes! The one in the photo above), now I would be talking about a jeep being pulled away by the river, rather than a brave Icelandic driver who pulled a group of tourists out of the raging river. terrified!
Wet but happy I could go to Seyðisfjörður, the colorful village where the Icelandic port of Norröna is based. If you don’t know it, it’s the ship, or rather the huge multi-storey building, which travels between Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. I slept one night in a village school and the next day I embarked for the Faroe Islands. Iceland has so many tourists in relation to accommodation that, in peak season, some schools are used to accommodate travelers. That evening, I arrived when the village was now sleepy and deserted. The local gas station vending machine was the only one that still had something to eat. I took a snack with the last few coins and walked between the houses in the village. After a few minutes a car stopped and the driver asked me if I wanted a ride. I cannot hide that, if the girl of my dreams had happened, I would have stayed to live also in the North Pole but, after a short conversation and some attempt to speak with the few words of Icelandic that I had learned in these 60 days, we arrived in front of the school . I thanked, got out of the car and understood (once again) that this journey had to continue. Starting with the crazy group of Italians who arrived late at night offering me all the good things to eat …
The Faroe Islands
Although we were now approaching September, the days I spent in the Faroe Islands were the prelude to summer. A phase of high pressure with splendid and warm days (for the area to be clear!) Invaded the islets in those days. I had booked a bed in a hostel in Torshavn, the tiny but charming Faeroes capital and had run out of money before I even got off the ship. My old credit card could not withdraw in such a remote place (for her) and it took me two or three days to get some money sent from home. Something similar happened to me in Turkey and in Trujillo, a very small village in the Extremadura in Spain. I shared the mixed dormitory of the Torshavn hostel with 4 other people: Antonio, was a Spanish boy with whom I shared long walks around the capital every evening and long chats about the habits that bound Italians and Spaniards (such as not being able to stay too closed in the house in good weather). Then there was an American woman who offered several times to lend me money to continue the journey, but I preferred to manage alone and not spread debt around the world. Finally, there were two Swedish guys who continued to show their desire to move to Italy… and I never understood why..
Ever since I started traveling, Mykines has always been one of those legendary islands I wanted to visit. Together with Foula in Shetland. Because I had seen photos, read stories and this distance from everything attracted me more than anything else. And, I must admit, the journey here was absolutely worth it.
Mykines is permanently inhabited by about fifteen people and an incalculable number of seabirds who come to lay their eggs on the island’s cliffs. When the tourists arrived, part of the inhabitants sat waiting at the small port, while some men fixed the grass roofs of the houses. I don’t remember ever seeing so much beauty and simplicity put together in another place.
In the following days I continued to explore the islands by walking through the deserted streets or by taking some small postal or tourist boats. I particularly remember the Gjógv hostel and the people lying in the hot September sun admiring the sea. In my memories of these beautiful islands are the sheep eating grass in every corner of the islands and the thousands of seabirds flying free in the sky. A fisherman told me that at the beginning of summer the sheep were brought to the top of some hills to eat the grass and prevent it from overgrowing. I think all the other animals came more or less spontaneously and will never go away …
I have never made such a long journey again and, if I could, I would do this in exactly the same way. The people, the places and the climate have marked the beauty of everything that happened in those “moving” months. The photos I managed to recover are only a small part of what I took (two heavy books of old prints on photographic paper), but resurrecting the memories of yesteryear with today’s quality is not always possible. But then, let’s face it … some memories are nice to carry inside: like the driver of an Icelandic bus who sang a typical song on the road that led to the Viti volcano, which in Icelandic means hell (it’s not a name given at random!) , or chats with the many people met along the way… There is no need to always photograph everything … the beauty will still remain within us…
My two favorite books on Iceland and the Faroe Islands
Last places. A Journey in the North by Lawrence Millman I have read and reread (the Italian edition) this book several times because it is a journey that the author travels starting from the Shetland Islands, then to the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland following the route of the Vikings to the extreme North America. One of my favorite books ever!
101 Reykjavik by Hallgrimur Helgason The story of Hlynur is a bit peculiar. Unlike many of his peers, 30-year-old Hlynur still lives with his mother and struggles to take the reins of his life in a serious and mature way. Life in the Icelandic capital is made for him of pub nights and wake up late in the morning. An unusual Reykjavik described in an original way by Hallgrimur Helgason’s “pen”
Skagen is a magical city. The northernmost of Denmark. Skagen is the city with the most daylight hours in the whole country. A light that has inspired international artists and Danish impressionists who have lived and worked here since the 19th century. Skagen’s light illuminates the evocative landscape drawn by its picturesque old town, yellow houses, red roofs, wild nature and the sea. And if all this light and these colors have not satiated you properly, try going to the Skagen Odde Naturcenter, known as the desert fort. Here you will discover many things about light. And not only.
And if you are one of those for whom light is never enough, here there is also that of the sea. The two seas. Up here the Skagarrak (Baltic Sea) and the Kattegat (North Sea) meet, coming from opposite directions and meeting producing an evocative, absolutely natural chromatic effect. The two seas have different density, salinity and temperature and cannot mix with each other.
Beyond the dunes, the sand and the seas, Skagen is much more. Here art and culture are everywhere. It will not be difficult for you to discover that the Skagens Museum houses 1,800 works by Danish and international artists from the period between 1870 and 1930s. They are all paintings “born” from the Skagen School, with works by PS Krøyer and Anna Ancher. Anna is the only artist from the Skagen school to be born and raised in Skagen, daughter of the founder of the famous Hotel Brøndums, where famous artists who passed through here have stayed. It is no coincidence that in the dining room of the hotel there are many paintings that passing artists donated in exchange for accommodation.
To the south of the city, however, it is possible to see the Buried Church, a sacred building built in the second half of the 14th century and over time buried by the sand, of which only the tower is currently visible
The picturesque little harbor of Skagen is full of fish restaurants where you can taste the many local gastronomic specialties. In addition to seafood, you can enjoy traditional Skagen ham, organic Angus steaks or a wide range of other local specialties.
Summer for Skagen becomes the season of festivals and outdoor events:
The Skagen Birdfestivalis a festival for bird watchers. Every year in May this event is celebrated which establishes a unique opportunity to observe about 350 species of migratory birds.
Sankt Hans is a typically Danish suggestive tradition. On St John’s Eve, June 23, the Danes gather with friends and family around bonfires on the beach. For the occasion, the song of Midsummer Night, written in 1885 by the national poet Holger Drachmann, is sung, while the flames reflect on the calm sea and the mild evening air begins to cool. In Skagen, Sankt Hans is celebrated on Sønderstrand beach at Vippefyret – Skagen’s first lighthouse, built in 1626, from which there is a great view of Skagen and the coast.
The Skagen festival, born in 1971 is dedicated to popular and folk music, and the oldest of its kind in Denmark. The atmosphere is festive, with concerts in different locations in the city and at the port, both outdoors and indoors, and with a truly unique mix of musical styles.
The World ballet in Skagen is presented near the buried church. Some of the most prominent dancers in the world perform in a repertoire ranging from classical to modern. The program also features opera and classical music with Danish artists and musicians.