The Beauty of Iceland - photo taken as we made our escape towards the airport as "Covid Lockdown" loomed.
The plan was to “commute” by bike from a meeting in Scotland back to our house in Italy as a form of slow, low impact travel. The trip was due to take place in June, commencing with a short hop across Scotland and northern England, a ferry to the Hook of Holland followed by a cycle tracing the course of the river Rhine to its source, and finally a traverse of the Alps via a route to be determined upon arrival, based on mood, fitness, time and hunger. I was super excited and had even bought a new bike for the trip but Covid, as with many things, meant it remains but a dream for the foreseeable.
I was giving a photography workshop in Iceland when lockdown came. We were at almost the furthest point from the airport at Keflavik photographing icebergs when it became abundantly clear that we had to get out. And pretty fast. Our Australian client was warned by her Government to get home immediately (it ended up she was on one of the last flights to transit to Australia through Singapore before it shut) so we cut the trip by a couple of days and in a predawn gloaming sparked the ignition and headed west, rearranging flights as we went. As I gazed out of the window of the car at the spectacular landscapes of one of my favorite places on earth I couldn’t help willing the car to break down so we could be stuck here a while!
Heavy snow is typical, and exquisitely beautiful, through the winter months in Iceland.
But our annoyingly reliable car was annoyingly reliable and returned us to a deserted airport that resembled a scene from a 1970’s zombie apocalypse movie. The shutters to the duty-free cave were firmly shut (no licorice or Brenavin to take home this year then) and the cafes empty so we took refuge at a deserted bar, where a lonely barmaid offered us half price cocktails as we waited and chatted about nothing in particular, a comedy moment in a surreally real world. With half-price cocktails on offer, I was again inclined to stay but our flight was announced and from a window seat I gazed down on an ever more distant, perfect frozen landscape for the last time.
As we finally touched down in Edinburgh and with the acknowledgment that getting stuck in Iceland was well and truly over it was strangely good to be heading home to the comfort of the familiar in a way I have never felt before. This truly strange phenomenon was becoming global and the outcomes unknown and the thought of being in the comfort of our own house was very welcoming. And so it came to pass that, following a 600-mile journey halfway round the UK to pick up our dog (a long story for another day) and another bizarre zombie apocalypse adventure at several supermarkets devoid of toilet roll, pasta, and other norms, we returned to the security of the familiar.
Beauty is All Around Us, If We Choose to Look.
But as our quarantine progressed we began to recognize that we are actually very lucky compared to most. We have consciously chosen to live pretty much centrally in the middle of nowhere, in landscapes with no immediate neighbors. We have made several lifestyle choices favoring life over a more convenience approach. We are lucky enough to have a house in rural southwest Scotland and another in Liguria in Italy near the border with France and Monaco and we share our time between the two, making income holiday letting when we are not present and photographing the local hills, dales, and coasts while running our photography workshops in the process. The bizarre thing is that you can live this way for the price of a small flat in London, and whilst devoid of galleries, bars and shopping malls - and it can be pretty brutal in winter - we do in exchange have glorious views across the surrounding area, little to spend money on, peace and lots of air to breath.
Exploring reflections in water whilst on a short walk from the house.
Over the years most friends and visitors quietly think that whilst nice places to visit when on vacation we are slightly mad for such a choice of location as a permanent residence. I can sense the “how could you possibly live without the conveniences of the city” crossing their minds. They wonder how we could possibly earn a living in such a remote environment and I feel sure some even think the local kids have six fingers and play an excellent tune on the banjo. But it suits us. The air is clean, the people kind and have a bit of time to say hello and the hills are there to be climbed and ridden and are yours for the day if you make the effort. Don’t tell anyone but it isn’t actually all that horrific.
The beauty in the details that are all around us when we start looking.
But all of a sudden this year we are hearing comments such as “you’re so lucky” and “I wish”. Staycation is the buzzword on everyone’s lips. Maybe local isn’t so bad after all. And in at least in some people’s thinking, there may have been a small re-evaluation of core values. That the latest TV or shiny car or kitchen, 3 hour commute through emission filled streets maybe aren’t the fundamental necessities of life. That you don’t actually need to fly half the way around the world for a two hour meeting. That you don’t start physically disintegrating if you cant shop for two weekends on the trot. Who would have thought that those banjo playing locals with six fingers might only have had five all along! It’s a strange old world we live in.
As restrictions lifted we returned home to our house in Liguria 3 months later than envisaged.
So my bike ride didn’t happen. And I am sad about that as I do love to travel (though we are now looking to give up air travel where ever possible, another recent decision). And eventually we did return to Italy, though not by bike. And as restrictions lifted we were able to head out and about again, if not with the complete freedom of before. But strangely, we did not rush off to distant quarters but instead have continued our discovery of the beauty that is all around. Quarantine forced me to slow down, intensifying my exploration of, and appreciation for, the beauty that is local. I have stopped using Strava to analyze my walks and cycles and instead I now savor the journey and not just how quickly I arrive at the finish. I care less about the amount of sweat dripping onto my iPhone as I check to see if my device tells me I am “king of the mountain”. I realize I am exactly that for just being out there. And in this funny old world, that is really rather nice.
Photos and words by Ted Leeming.