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.

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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.

Gullfoss

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

Haukadalur

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!

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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.

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

Þingvellir

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.

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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.

Thoughts?

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