Monday, October 9, 2017

Iceland: Of horses and watches

Christine Cunanan recalls some of her favorite experiences over the summer in Iceland.

Last month, some friends and I flew to Iceland for a week of good food, fresh air, lots of camaraderie and cross-country driving, living a #Travelife.

Most people journey to this part of the world in the winter to see the Northern Lights, but I’ve always maintained that Iceland should be seen in its summer glory when the ice, the mud and the gray skies are largely gone, replaced by vibrant moss on dramatic landscapes, searing sunshine, and skies and seas in hues that blend together so well that it’s often impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

You can see the aurora borealis from anywhere extreme in the world in places as disparate as Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Russia – and, yes, Iceland. But when you do go and see it, most likely all around you will be generic layers of snow, and the attractions will be upwards towards the heavens instead of on the ground; so where you actually are will not matter as much as how clear and dark the skies are and how warm you can manage to be.

Summer experienced the Iceland way
When to visit Iceland 

This is all pretty wonderful, but this is not the way to experience Iceland, a beautiful country unlike any other. Nature is lovely everywhere, but the waterfalls, cliffs, lakes and hills of this country at the edge of the civilized world are truly too spectacular in the sunshine to only be seen under a mantel of white.

Interestingly, one of my favorite memories of this trip involves not the glorious outdoors, but an Icelandic horse, which is a small and bulky animal with a strong constitution and a gentle nature. For their size, these horses are remarkably tough creatures, having been bred in Iceland and literally used as workhorses by generations of settlers in a harsh environment.
A horse named Boy
Riding gently into the morning

One morning, we drove to a farm just outside the capital of Reykjavik for a ride. I was given a horse with kind eyes named “Boy” who immediately began seeking friendship and pats of approval when it became apparent that he and I were stuck together.

In spite of my initial apprehensions about getting on this horse – I’d been kicked in the face by my own horse as a child, you see, and so I’d never quite ridden any animal again after that, save for a couple of donkey rides in exotic places like southern India and Petra – Boy proved a wonderful companion. He never strayed from the volcanic paths and he adopted a slow and steady canter that soon soothed my fears and enabled me to actually appreciate the typical local scenery of scrub bush and pine trees in the hills outside the city.
With Iceland's Gilbert Gudjonsson, a keeper of time
Time after time 

In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that I was disappointed when it was finally time to get off my low horse and head back into town. We had an appointment with Gilbert Gudjonsson, Iceland’s famous watchmaker, you see, and I’d already set my heart on taking home one of his iconic masterpieces.

Boy actually looked sad when I said goodbye – or at least I imagined then that he did, since I’d spoken to him nonstop during our ride together. The horse trainer who’d handed the reins to me had suggested I do so to calm him down so that he, in turn, could calm me. This had worked like magic, and that zen feeling of riding this Icelandic horse with an ancient provenance through some equally ancient countryside had done wonders for my 21st century nerves and stayed with me long after I’d dismounted.

However, this calmness was soon replaced upon returning to Reykjavik by the excitement of entering a tiny old-fashioned shop and then an even tinier old-fashioned workshop, and meeting the man behind the under-the-radar but stylish JS watches found on the wrists of aficionados the world over. And when I spotted a simple black one on the counter – the most basic of his timepieces actually – I just knew this was going to be mine. Call it another Icelandic sort of feeling.

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