Blonduos is the closest town to Helga’s farm. The small town sits where the mouth of the river Blanda meets the bay of Huna (Húnaflói). In the summer, the river sparkles blindingly as if flows over the catchments and empties into the deep cobalt blue of Húnaflói. Huna means young bear. The area is named and known for the occasional polar bear that gets stranded on drift ice from Greenland, then floats east to Iceland where the bear swims to shore. Well, hello!
It doesn’t happen often and the last time it did, in 2008, the authorities shot it because they didn’t want it terrorizing the town or livestock. Polar bears tend to be quite hungry when they reach land. Apparently, shooting it was fiercely debated in Iceland, maybe for the first time. Why not stun gun it and return it to East Greenland, whence it came (and where it could then be repatriated and legally hunted)?
Every year we hit the booming metropolis of Blonduos (population 700) and we alternate each year between visiting the textile museum and the sea ice museum, where the above-mentioned polar bear sits stuffed and benign behind glass.
This year at the sea ice museum there was a special exhibit documenting a winter in the 1960s when the entire harbor in Blonduos was closed for months, packed with “sea ice.” It was the worst winter of the century with the town cut off, marooned by the ice. We watched a video that featured old townspeople remembering the tough times. The video also showed actual black and white film of that frozen winter with the howling wind, all life temporarily stuck in chunks of ice until the slow crunching breakup of the harbor brought the town to life again in the spring. I am a huge fan of “Storm Stories” on the Weather Channel, so this exhibit and video was right up my extreme weather fantasy-fear alley. I wanted to reach out to my husband, who was an ocean away, as if I were home and on my couch: “Make some popcorn, honey, we’re in for a good yarn of weather and woe.”
I sat through two and a half loops of the video and phew it was exhausting, all that storm porn. I desperately needed caffeine. The textile museum, the sea ice museum—they’re interesting, but they are just the excuse we give ourselves to come into town. The real reason we come to Blonduos is to stop into our most favorite haunt, the Blue Cafe. It has another name, Vi∂ Arbakkann, but the outside is painted bright blue and its best not to confuse things too much.
Inside, the café is painted a muted green, the tables are covered in white tablecloths, and on each table sits a vase holding a single yellow rose. It’s a bakery by day; a family-style restaurant by night.
The previous night, in Reykjavik, our Icelandic friends Sibba and Ljótur took us to a tapas restaurant on the wharves. The menu was a pre-fix with three plate options, which led us all into complications. We had only been off the plane for maybe 12 hours and were still stuck in the rigidity of our homeland dietary dos and don’ts. In another country, this comes off as prissy at best, intolerable at worst.
“I’ll have plate #1 without the lamb, just chicken and fish.”
“I’ll have plate #2 but completely vegetarian, no fish, no meat.”
“I’ll have plate #1 but without bread, no gluten at all.”
“I’ll have plate #3 with just fish, no shellfish.”
The poor waitress got the full gamut of our dizzying array of self-imposed dietary restrictions. To be fair, sometimes this is due to allergies and sometimes it’s due to personal preference; sometimes it’s personal guilt about impending weight gain and sometimes its worldly guilt about ecological, economical, sustainable eating. All this gets thrown out, first pitch, at our first stop in a restaurant in Reykjavik.
At the Blue Café our order was mercifully uncomplicated. I could see the dietary limits of the night before recede. “Tea, coffee, cappuccino…” There was a lengthy pause as we looked at the list of cakes. Bev piped up and happily led us all into temptation. “Let’s get a large piece of the cheesecake and share.”
The cake came to the table with many forks. We each dug in with a feigned daintiness that failed to mask an impending frenzy. With the first bite, though, an ecstatic calm hit us. “This is like no other cheesecake I’ve ever had,” Bev said. We all shared the sentiment, it was like none other. The cake popped with airy butterfat and melted with soft love in your mouth. It wasn’t dense like New York cheesecake, but made from skyrr whipped into a puffy sweet yellow cream. There was flour in the cake, but it was almost undetectable. It was sweet but not sugary. A crust of dark chocolate under the rim of frosting provided a satisfying crack. This must be how Blonduos villagers make it through tough winters – with a cup of coffee, a piece of cake. Kat got up and stood over it, fork pointing. “This is the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten.” She shimmied her hips, “I just want to get inside that cake.”
We finished the cake, licked our forks dry, sat back and looked at the world a little differently. It was warmer, sunnier, altogether a better place. It was a sweet, sweet world in the Blue Café in the town of Blondous where the river Blanda meets the bay of Huna.
Where the river Blanda sparkles