réttir og gullhringurinn, or, getting out of RVK

(Preface: I guarantee that this post will make up for the lack of photos in my recent posts.)

On Saturday the 13th, I got out of the city for the first time since arriving a month ago.  The University of Iceland offers several “Introduction to Iceland” trips throughout the year, intended to provide international students with an affordable, convenient, and fun means of exploring the country.  A few of the other grantees and I all signed up to go on a day trip to visit a réttir (an annual tradition of rounding up sheep) and sightsee around Gullhringurinn (The Golden Circle).  I did the Golden Circle while on my Snorri trip, but it’s been more than two years, I was eager to get out of the city, and I thought the réttir would be an interesting experience.  So I sucked it up and willingly woke around 7:00 on Saturday morning so I could get myself over to the university and catch the bus.  I discovered that the only people up and about at that time are hard-core athletes, tourists just arrived or heading to the airport, and maybe a few people still stumbling around after partying the night before.  Otherwise, it is like a ghost town.  (One of these Saturday mornings, I’m going to drag myself out of bed early and go on a little photo walk around the city.  There won’t be crowds of people around to get in my way or to judge me for taking tourist photos.)

Anyway, by some miracle I got myself to the university on time, met up with Kelsey and Giedre, and before long we were on our way to our first destination: visiting Reykjaréttir.

The Réttir


During the summer, Icelandic sheep roam free, grazing and enjoying their happy little sheep lives.  Every September, the sheep are rounded up, sorted, and claimed by their respective farmers.  (In case you’re wondering, they can be sorted because their ears are tagged to indicate which farm they belong to.  It is kind of like how Hogwarts students are sorted into houses, except with sheep instead of human schoolchildren, farmers instead of a sorting hat, and no magical powers.)  For several days before the actual réttir, people have been out on horseback rounding up the sheep and driving them back toward home.  During the réttir, local farmers and families gather to help sort the sheep.  There’s a festive atmosphere; families come clad in lopapeysur and 66 North gear and some of them bring food and thermoses of coffee (or something stronger) and basically have tailgating parties, which was very interesting and amusing to discover.

To Kelsey's left, you will see a réttir tailgating party, complete with 66 North gear, lopapeysur, thermoses of coffee, and all sorts of Bónus treats.
To Kelsey’s left, you will see a réttir tailgating party, complete with 66 North gear, lopapeysur, thermoses of coffee, and all sorts of Bónus treats.

The sheep are sorted into pens that are separated by concrete walls, maybe 10 feet high.  The whole area is shaped something like a wheel, with the walls as spokes separating different pens.  If you want a good view of the action, you can climb up on one of the concrete walls to watch.  Just know that you are at risk of being knocked off by an overly exuberant tourist with a huge backpack.

Réttir runway
Réttir runway

Speaking of tourists, it was interesting and a little disappointing to see that the tourists just about outnumbered the locals at this réttir.  I realize I was one of those tourists, and it’s not that I think the event shouldn’t be open to visitors, but it was still kind of a strange thing, to feel like myself and all these other visitors were there to watch this community tradition.

As far as the sheep go, I mean, for the most part, they were just sheep.  But!  There was one teeny tiny itty bitty baby lamb and it was definitely the cutest creature there.  Kelsey and I climbed up on one of the aforementioned spoke-walls to go stare at the lamb and take pictures of it.


When we tired of watching the sheep, we wandered over to see the horses.

Fallegir hestar í sveitinni
Fallegir hestar í sveitinni
Giedre tried to share her snack, but the horses rejected it.
Giedre tried to share her snack, but the horses rejected it.

All in all, the réttir was certainly an interesting event to witness, although we had a bit too much time there and were getting quite cold by the end of it.  But it was all worth it for the little baby lamb.


After we said goodbye to the sheep and left the locals to their festivities, we began our Golden Circle tour.  The first stop was Gullfoss (“Golden Falls”), one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls located along Hvítá (White River).

When we arrived, we were quite chilled from two hours standing around at the réttir, so we piled into the visitor’s center and bought some overpriced coffee to warm up before heading down to view the falls.

The weather was certainly cooler and cloudier than the last time I was at Gullfoss, but it wasn’t raining so there was nothing to complain about.

Me, Kelsey, and Giedre getting misted
Me, Kelsey, and Giedre getting misted


The next stop around the Golden Circle was Haukadalur (“Hawk Valley”), a geothermal area best known as home to Geysir, the geyser from which the word “geyser” has been taken but which is, ironically, no longer very active.  By the time we reached Haukadalur, the weather was beautiful and getting better every minute.  I wandered around with Giedre, looking at the bubbling mud pots and hot springs, waiting in anticipation for Strokkur to erupt, and climbing a rickety old ladder across a barbed wire fence to hike further up the hillside and get a wider view of the geothermal valley as well as the river and farmland on the other side of the hills.  I think I will just let the photos speak for themselves.

fallegir litir! / beautiful colors!
fallegir litir! / beautiful colors!



Strokkur ("butter churn") erupts every 3-8 minutes.  I wish I had gotten a photo of the people holding cameras on sticks out in front of them, smiles frozen on their faces, waiting to get their perfect "I'm in Iceland!" pictures.
Strokkur (“butter churn”) erupts every 3-8 minutes. I wish I had gotten a photo of the people holding cameras on sticks out in front of them, smiles frozen on their faces, waiting to get their perfect “I’m in Iceland!” pictures.


Haukadalur was dressed in its finest for us this lovely autumn day


The last stop around the Golden Circle was Þingvellir, famous both for its historical and geological significance.  It is the site of the world’s oldest parliament; Alþingi was established there in the year 930.  It is also a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.  The plates are slowly pulling apart, and you can actually see the rift between them above ground.  And that’s all I’m going to say, because, once again, the photos more than speak for themselves.


Þingvallakirkja (Þingvellir Church) peeking through the trees

It was a long, full day but I am so glad I went.  Getting out of the city, spending time with friends, and seeing some of Iceland’s most famous sights decked out in autumn colors and sunshine was good for the soul.

tíu dagar á íslandi, part 3

It’s a grey but mild day in Reykjavík and I am planning to enjoy a low-key weekend of homework and coffee drinking. I’m already a few weeks behind in my blogging, and more blog-worthy things just keep happening, so I better start getting caught up.  And I don’t actually have any coffee at home right now, so I think I will bribe myself into being productive by saying that I will allow myself to go out and get coffee after I finish this blog post and perhaps read a chapter from my grammar text.

So, my caffeination (and therefore my overall well-being and sanity) depends upon this.

Let’s get going and try to recap August 25 – 29.

mánudagur / monday (25. ágúst)

On Monday morning, there was an orientation at the university for all Icelandic as a Second Language students.  We all gathered in a classroom in Háskólatorg and were given an overview of the placement testing and the two programs – the one-year practical diploma program (for students who don’t pass the placement test or just want to do a shorter, slower-paced, more practically-focused program) and the three-year BA program (for students who pass the placement test and are interested in studying the language in a theoretical as well as practical manner).  This meeting was the first time I got any idea of the variety of students in the Icelandic language programs.  There were students from all over the world with a wide variety of backgrounds and reasons for learning Icelandic.

At the end of the orientation, we were each asked to fill out a sheet with our contact information; information about previous studies in Icelandic and/or other languages; self-assessment of our current skill level in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding Icelandic; and our goals for learning Icelandic.  They never told us, however, exactly how that information would be used.

I had already gotten some tips regarding the placement test from Elliott (last year’s Fulbright-Árni Magnússon grant recipient) and other friends who’ve taken it in the past, but after the orientation, I was feeling more confident than ever about not wanting to fail the test and place into the practical program, and less confident than ever that I actually could pass the test.  So I spent the rest of the day studying and studying and studying some more.  It was difficult to know what to focus on, but I tried to review verb conjugations, case declension, etc., and I spent a fair amount of time pushing through Icelandic Online, level 2.  And while perusing Icelandic Online, level 2, I happened upon this photo:


That is, in fact, the house where I now live, and the woman in the middle is my cousin.  Did you know that Iceland is a pretty small place?

þriðjudagur / tuesday (26. ágúst)

Útlendingastofnun, or, the joys of being a foreigner

I hoped to spend Tuesday morning studying as much as possible before the 2:00 stöðupróf (placement test), but I got an email in the morning that the photo-taking contraption at Útlendingastofnun (The Directorate of Immigration) was finally back in working order and I really needed to get over there as soon as possible so as not to delay the process of establishing legal residence any further.  So I gave my brain a rest from studying and walked over across Hringbraut (and this time, I managed not to get lost or defeated by a door).  There were probably 12-15 people in the waiting area when I arrived, and I was nervous about getting done and over to the university in time.  No, I didn’t want to be deported, but there was no way I could miss the placement test either.

Thankfully, before too long, the employee (I swear she was the only person working there) asked if anyone was there just to have their photo taken for a residence permit.  Several of us raised our hands, and she directed us to form a line.  She said nothing about forming a line based on the numbers we had already taken to determine our order of service, so, feeling fully like an entitled American, I scurried right up to the front of the line.  Within 15 minutes, I was done and on my way over to the university to determine my fate.

Stöðupróf, or, the determination of my fate in two hours and ten pages

I had been warned to expect zero English in either the written or oral instructions for the placement exam.  For better or worse, this was not the case.  The instructions were written in both Icelandic and English, and the proctors were willing to answer questions in both languages.

Apparently the exam has changed just since last year, because Elliott said there was no listening component, but our exam began with a short listening portion.  We were given the opportunity to read through the first ten questions, then we listened to a brief (and, thankfully, very slow) dialogue.  We had a couple minutes to think and try to answer the questions, then they played the dialogue a second time.

After that, there were maybe 40-50 multiple choice questions that tested our knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and overall comprehension skills.

Finally, as I had been warned, there was a short writing section.  We were asked to write 8-10 sentences about what we’d like to do in Iceland this winter.  My writing was extremely simplistic, and I tried to write simply enough that I could control my grammar, but also to throw out a few more difficult words and sentence constructions that, while grammatically imperfect, hopefully showed a slightly wider range of knowledge than I would have otherwise.

Anyway, when all was said and done, I felt fairly good about the exam.  I was certain about probably 80% of the multiple choice questions.  The listening section, to my utmost surprise, was actually the easiest component of the exam.  The most difficult thing was not knowing exactly how the exams would be scored.  We were told at the orientation that there are no grades; you either pass or you fail.  But they gave next to no information as to how the exams would be scored.  They also didn’t explain if/how our written self-assessment/statement of goals (see Monday, above) would be taken into consideration.

I left feeling like I had done the best I could given my current level of knowledge.  I did wish that I had not been sidetracked by health problems in the months before I moved, though, because that kept me from having more time and energy to study.


After the placement exam, all of the new 2014-2015 Árni Magnússon Institute grantees met up at Háskólatorg.  We had been emailing each other over the past couple months, but this was the first time we had all met face-to-face.

I already knew Kimberly, a fellow Snorri alum from Canada, and I had met Kelsey a couple days earlier.  The other grantees we met that day are Giedre from Lithuania, Matyas from Hungary, Piotr from Poland, John from the UK, and Aurora from Italy.  (There are two other new grantees, Lucie from the Czech Republic and Franzi from Germany, but they were busy that week taking exams to pass directly into the second year of the BA program.)  It’s always a little bit strange meeting people for the first time and knowing they will be a part of your lives for the next however many months and perhaps beyond.  And it’s difficult now, just a few weeks later, to remember that first conversation and those first impressions.  There’s something about moving to a new place and embarking on an adventure like this that turns acquaintances into friends very quickly, and perhaps not even friendship in quite the same manner as I would normally describe, but camaraderie, familiarity, ease.  It’s difficult to explain, but I’m sure others have experienced this and understand what I’m trying to say.  In any case, it was great to finally put faces to names, to start getting to know one another, to speculate about the placement test results and to meet other people going through the same challenges (and fun bureaucratic rigmarole) of assimilating into a new culture.

Kvöldmatur, bjór, og Captain Planet

After kaffitími, I walked over to Daniela’s and we decided to make dinner in her dorm’s IKEA showroom kitchen.  Dylan, famous founder of Sofar Sounds Reykjavík and fellow inhabitant of Daniela’s dorm, joined us to talk and sample Daniela’s stores of Icelandic beer.  And at one point Dylan and I sang the Captain Planet theme song.  It was a good night.

miðvikudagur / wednesday (27. ágúst)

On Wednesday morning, there was an orientation for all international students held at Háskólabíó (the interesting public movie theater / university classroom hybrid on campus).  I recognized the building from Icelandic Online, Level 1, when Daniel and Ewa go there on a super awkward is-it-or-is-it-not-a-date?

Anyway, there are a LOT of international students at HÍ.

I was talking to someone and mentioned that I am from the States, and this guy sitting in front of me overheard and turned around.  “You’re from the States?!” he asked exuberantly.  I confirmed.  “Me too!” he exclaimed.  I asked him which state he’s from and I believe it was Virginia or another state along that other coast.  Then this guy got out of his seat and came to sit right next to me.  “Is this your first time living away from home?” he asked.  “Uhhhh, no, not exactly,” I answered.  “Oh.  It is for me,” he stated, clearly both thrilled and terrified by this fact.  It was a rather amusing exchange.  We did not become best friends.

After the orientation, we were treated to complementary appelsín (an orange-flavored soda), lakkrís (licorice) straws, and Hraun bars.  Mmm.  Hraun bars might just be my very favorite Icelandic nammi.  I am sure I will end up discussing them multiple times in my blog this year.

I had lunch at Háma with some friends, then went home to decompress from the overly social morning (As an undeniable introvert, I can only be around other people – especially huge groups of other people – for so long before I feel the need to enjoy some solitude).  I spent the afternoon resting and learning some new vocabulary from the IKEA catalogue.  I also learned a great word from Ásta’s father: grallaraspói.  It’s a combination of grallari (clown) and spói (a type of bird).  I can’t remember exactly how he explained it, but I think it conveys a notion of frivolity and ridiculousness.  When I googled the term, the first thing I came across was an article about Justin Bieber.  Grallaraspói.

fimmtudagur / thursday (28. ágúst)

Thursday was a pretty low-key day because I woke up with a sore throat.  I think I was just exhausted from everything.  In the afternoon, I went to meet Kelsey at Ingólfstorg, but that didn’t actually happen due to miscommunication and the lack of established cell phone communication at that point (we all had to go get Icelandic sim cards).  I ended up wandering around the square for a while, buying some olives from a guy who was selling Mediterranean food, and going home to make pasta salad.  In the evening, I met up with some friends at Loft Hostel, was schooled by Daniela in how to pour a proper German beer, and realized once again that I don’t understand the point of going somewhere loud and crowded to talk.  Not my favorite thing.

föstudagur / friday (29. ágúst)

On Friday morning, I was surprised and very happy to find a piece of mail from Útlendingastofnun addressed to me delivered to the house.  Finally, I had my dvalarleyfi (residence permit/ID card) and kennitala (my national identification number).  I was finally a legitimate, Iceland-dwelling person!

Results from the placement test were supposed to be posted on campus and online in the afternoon, so I met some of my friends on campus and we all wandered around waiting and worrying together.  I was simultaneously trying to figure out why my registration for the university hadn’t been finalized.  The institute that awarded my scholarship was supposed to pay the registration fee on my behalf, but the day before I had gotten an email stating that I needed to pay as soon as possible.  I was standing at the student service desk trying to sort this all out when my friends noticed the results had been posted.  So I was trying to focus on figuring out the money problem, while sort of watching out of the corner of my eye to gauge what the results were.

Finally, I was able to walk over to the lists and discover that my name was on the lists for the BA program courses!  It was a relief, but unfortunately I couldn’t fully enjoy the moment since I still had to figure out the money issue.  Thankfully, with help from a very kind and patient woman at the Árni Magnússon Institute, we got it all sorted.

A bunch of the other international students were going out that night to experience Reykjavík nightlife, and while I didn’t want to go with them, I did join them for a “pre-party” in what has been dubbed the Gamli Garður party attic.  When I had had my fill of socializing, I walked home and enjoyed a quiet evening with the house to myself as Ásta Sól and her family were gone overnight.  I happened upon “Austenland” on TV and learned some good words from the Icelandic subtitles while eating a box (not a whole box – not quite, anyway) of mini Hraun bars.  That evening was my first introduction to the legendary Icelandic wind.  It was so noisy all night that I kept waking up and was quite tired in the morning.

Well, that might not be the most thrilling note on which to end, and I apologize for the lack of photos in this post.  Bear with me; I promise there are some beautiful Iceland photos coming soon!

adventures with bárðarbunga: bunga goes to kolaportið

In this edition of Adventures with Bárðarbunga, our fearless little eldfjall joins Kelsey and me in exploring Kolaportið, Reykjavík’s famous indoor marketplace by the harbour.

Bunga found a book full of suggestions of crazy things to do in Iceland. Bunga is well on his way to completing #21.
Bunga found a book full of suggestions of crazy things to do in Iceland. Bunga is well on his way to completing #21.

Bunga blushed when he saw this photo; he is glad that he is a volcano and does not have take showers.
Bunga blushed when he saw this photo; he is glad that he is a volcano and does not have take showers.

Been there, done that.
Been there, done that.

Almost as appetizing as Krap: Emmessís!
Almost as appetizing as Krap: Emmessís!


adventures with bárðarbunga: reykjavík landmarks

A year or two ago, my friend Hannah stopped over in Iceland on her way back to the States from England, and she brought me a a few treats: a Prince Polo bar, a cute little puffin postcard, and a tiny little knitted volcano she made herself.  At the time, I thought it would be cool to take photos of him if/when I ever returned to Iceland.  Well, friends, the time has come.  Named Bárðarbunga (Bunga Bunga for short) in honor of recent volcanic activity, he is my little co-explorer on this great adventure of living in Iceland.  Over the past few weeks, he has enjoyed exploring Reykjavík.  Sadly, I forgot to take him with me yesterday on a trip around the Golden Circle.  Anyway, you can check the news to find out what The Bárðarbunga is up to, and you can check here to find out what Little Bárðarbunga has been up to.

In our first installment of Adventures with Bárðarbunga, our little eldfjall explores a few Reykjavík landmarks.

Bunga goes to Hallgrímskirkja
Bunga goes to Hallgrímskirkja

Bárðarbunga and the iconic lime green house.
Bárðarbunga and the iconic lime green house.

Bárðarbunga at Tjörnin
Bárðarbunga at Tjörnin

Bunga Bunga found an Icelandic "forest"!
Bunga Bunga found an Icelandic “forest”!

Even though Bunga is an educated little volcano and knows that "Krap" is a slushie (like a Slurpie in the US), he still can't help but giggle when he sees Krap cups lying around. (Just to clarify, Bunga does not endorse littering, but he does endorse laughing at litter when the litter is hilarious.)
Even though Bunga is an educated little volcano and knows that “Krap” is a slushie (like a Slurpie in the US), he still can’t help but giggle when he sees Krap cups lying around. (Just to clarify, Bunga does not endorse littering, but he does endorse laughing at litter when the litter is hilarious.)

Next time: Bunga goes to Kolaportið!