When we anchored a few hundred meters off the coast of Qaqortoq after two days at sea, we couldn’t see anything. Not even the slightest hint of the settlement with 3200 inhabitants was visible through the thick fog. It wasn’t until the afternoon that the mist started clearing up and a picturesque little town with brightly colored houses was revealed. We got on the tender boat and started exploring.
At the historical center of Qaqortoq, we found the Frelserens Kirke. This church was built in 1832 out of prefabricated walls shipped in from Norway. Just about a century earlier, the Danish-Norwegian missionary Hans Egede arrived on Greenland to convert Viking settlers from Catholicism to Protestantism. Sadly, there weren’t any Vikings left on Greenland. Perhaps he should have expected as much, as there hadn’t been any sign from them in over 300 years. With no Danes to convert, Egede decided to convert Inuit inhabitants instead.
From the church, we walked to the Tasersuaq lake. At its shore, we got acquainted with a large family of ducks and uncountable mosquitoes. If you’re sportier than Rik and I, you can set aside five hours of your time and hike around the entire lake. We decided to only walk a small portion of the way around. Afterwards, we strolled through Qaqortoq which turned out to be a very charming village. Its colorful houses, surprising number of wild flowers and tiny brook make it easy to imagine it as the setting for a Astrid Lindgren novel.
If you ever go to Iceland (which you absolutely should), you’re bound to notice: Iceland smells bad. More specifically, the water in Iceland smells like rotten eggs. Why is that?
Geothermally heated water
One of the side effects of the volcanic activity in Iceland (besides the great sights it provides) is that it gives the Icelandic access to an inexhaustible source of warm water. This means that warm water – as well as electricity – is very affordable and environmentally friendly in Iceland. The downside is that it results in water that contains sulfur, which smell likes rotten eggs.
But there is good news too:
It is completely safe
The amount sulfur found in the water is not at all harmful. More importantly, it only affects the warm water; cold Icelandic tap water is actually some of the purest and tastiest you can find anywhere in the world.
Now that you’ve read up on this peculiarity about Icelandic water, you hopefully won’t be surprised by it the way we were. When you go to take your first shower in Iceland you won’t think the plumbing might be mouldy. You’ll know that the cause is entirely harmless and actually one of the great things about Iceland.
Our first port of call was Isafjordur – or Ísafjörður as the Icelandic spell it. The small town in the northwest of Iceland has only about 2’600 inhabitants and is quite close to the arctic circle. We booked a horseback riding tour with Fosshestar and were picked up by one of their guides which happened to be a young girl from Switzerland. I think it is good that we’re not “echte Basler” (real Basileans) because for them it would probably the worst to take a bus for half an hour, fly for 4,5 hours, be on a ship for an entire night only to end up being greeted by a “Zürcher” at the pier of Isafjordur!
We however enjoyed making fun of the Icelandic for thinking they have good chocolate with a fellow countrywoman 😉 After a short ride into the countryside we arrived at the stable and met the Icelandic horses – don’t ever call them ponies around an Icelandic, they don’t like that at all. Icelandic horses are strong and sturdy animals, known for their ability to navigate on difficult terrain and the fact, that they are not only able to walk, trot and gallop but are able to perform two additional gaits. One of them, the “tölt” we got to experience on our tour. It’s similar to a trot but more comfortable because the back of the horse stays more stable. You can check it out in this video.
Meeting the horses
First we got to know Blossi (my horse) and Lokkur (Rik’s horse), cleaned them up and saddled them. We practised riding in one of the stables until we were kind of able to signal the horses where we wanted them to go and how fast – not that they listened to us, but at least they knew what we wanted. Then we embarked on a ride through the beautiful countryside that led us over willows and rocks, through rivers and past the most adorable sheep.
These are Blossi and Lokkur looking glorious after the ride and us, well… not so much: