byrjun júní: tónleikar, kaffitími, vestur-íslendingar, og rob barber

There is no lack of daylight in June and there is also never a lack of things to do. The month so far has been full of friends, coffee dates, sunny (and not-so-sunny) city walks, travels, hiking, concerts, birthday and holiday celebrating, and Snorri events.

At the beginning of the month, I got to meet up with my Canadian Vestur-Íslendingur friend Lois. We met in Seattle in 2012 at the INL Convention and I hadn’t seen her since, but with Vestur-Íslendingar friends, that doesn’t matter at all. There is always plenty to talk about. She was on a trip with her 90-something-year-old mother, who traveled here about seven years ago for a “final trip to Iceland,” and then last year declared that she wanted to take another “final trip to Iceland.” So they did!

I also met up with Audrey, a classmate from Corban, who was on her way back from the UK with her husband and one-year-old son. Sadly, their Iceland stopover was tainted by unexpected illness and visits to the doctor, plus one trip to the ER for stitches, but we were at least able to meet up for an afternoon walk with the kiddos (I was watching Nói) on the windiest afternoon in recent history. Here’s hoping if her family is ever brave enough to return, their experience will be a bit less dramatic the next time around.

 

Svavar Knútur, take three

When I first met Svavar Knútur and he played for our Snorri group, I became an instant groupie. I’ve now seen him three times since moving here in August, and I have plans to see him at least once more before I leave for the rest of the summer. He always delivers beautiful music and incomparable humor, so I know that using my limited poor-student funds to buy a ticket will be worth it. This time around, Steffi, Hanna, Emil, and Flor joined me at Café Rosenberg to see Svavar on a Saturday night. It was a relaxed evening of beautifully played music and beautifully told stories, plus one (not so) beautifully drunk old man who was swaying and clapping along to every song by the end of the night.

Anyway, if you want to get a taste of what the evening was like, grab a beer (preferably an Icelandic one) and take a listen:

 

Og eitt lag á íslensku:

Sjómannadagur

Sunday June 7 was Sjómannadagur (Fishermen’s Day), which, as you can probably guess, is intended to honor fishermen and their families, who play such a significant role in this culture. My friend Hanna and I wandered down to Gamla Höfnin (The Old Harbour) to explore Hátíð Hafsins (Festival of the Sea). There were games for kids, live music, a pop-up market featuring local artists, and food. It was possible to wander around the docks and go on board a couple of big ships, including one of the Landhelgisgæslan (Icelandic Coast Guard) vessels. There were also big plastic tubs lined up, all filled with ice, each one displaying a different variety of (really dead) fish.

Anyway, all in all it was definitely a more kid-oriented event, but it was still nice to spend the afternoon wandering around by the harbour and taking it all in. That’s one wonderful thing about this city – it seems as if there is always another festival or concert or event going on.

Fulbright móttaka

One of the perks of being a Fulbrighter is you are regularly invited to events which you feel singularly unqualified to attend. This month, I was invited to attend a reception in honor of the 2015-2016 Icelandic grantees. It was held at Ráðherrabústaðurinn on Tjarnargata. Formerly the prime minister’s residence, the house is now used to host official receptions and other events. It’s a house I have walked past probably hundreds of times now, so it was fun to finally peek inside and learn a bit about its history.

The house was originally built in Öndunarfjörð by a Norwegian whaling magnate. It was given as a gift (purchased for a token 5 krónur) and moved to Reykjavík. A number of prime ministers called it home up until 1948. From that point on, it has been used for receptions and other official events.

Anyway, I should have learned this by now, but events hosted by Icelanders at Icelandic locations are almost guaranteed to be about 10 times more formal than what I would expect of a similar event in the Northwest. I never feel like I am poised or formal enough for events here, and I’m getting the feeling that that might not change no matter how long I live here.

In any case, this year’s Icelandic grantees were introduced, and they are certainly an impressive bunch, heading to schools like Columbia and Yale to study law, classical guitar performance, engineering, social entrepreneurship and more. Brian from the US Embassy said a few words on behalf of the US Ambassador, who was detained at a meeting. Minister of Education, Science and Culture Illugi Gunnarsson gave a short speech. And Belinda congratulated the grantees, acknowledged the outgoing American grantees, and encouraged us to chat amongst ourselves. Easier said than done.

As an introvert, social occasions such as this make me want to hide in a corner. I am not painfully shy, but I have a very hard time knowing how to begin conversations – a task made all the more difficult by having to slip in and out of a foreign language. But after spending too long in the huddle of Americans, wine glass in hand, I forced myself to approach one of the grantees and start a conversation – in Icelandic. And you know what? It wasn’t too bad. We chatted for quite awhile, all in Icelandic, and I survived.

Also in attendance were a number of Fulbright board members. I enjoyed chatting with a man named Albert who has lived in Iceland for 17 years, and I met a professor from the university who teaches in the Old Norse and Medieval Icelandic programs.

But the most exciting person I met?

US Ambassador Rob Barber. Or, as we call him, Rahb Bahbah! (He’s from Massachusetts.)

I and my fellow Fulbrighters have just been dying to meet him since he arrived here in January, and especially since we saw this great video put out by the US Embassy:

 

Ambassador Barber was finally released from his Important Meeting and got to stop by to meet the grantees before being whisked away to his next Important Event. It didn’t leave us with very long to get to know each other, but at least I can now say that I’ve met him and shaken his hand. He is, as expected, very tall and very American.

Sofar Sounds, take two

My wonderful fellow American Leana volunteers for Sofar Sounds, which puts on intimate, secret concerts every couple months somewhere around Reykjavík. You might recall that one of the highlights of my first weeks in Iceland last August was a Sofar show held at one of the HÍ dorms. Leana offered me a spot at last night’s show, and although I knew it would be a full day with babysitting and then the Fulbright reception, I said yes, because I am practicing saying yes more and no less.

The show was held in an old warehouse space at Grandi (down by the old harbour) which is now a workspace for several local artists. The first artist to play was Kyle Morton of Typhoon, an eleven-piece band from Portland, Oregon. Kyle is passing through Iceland on his way to backpack Europe, so he played a solo acoustic set. His music was very folksy and Northwesty. Exactly what I like. I talked to him afterward and he said he actually grew up in Salem, which is where I went to college. Small world.

The second act was Icelandic band VAR, which consists of solo artist Myrra Rós, her husband Júlíus, his brother Egill, and their two friends Arnór and Andri (yes, it’s really true that most Icelandic musicians seem to be in at least five different bands, and usually at least one involves a relative). There was an Italian girl sitting next to me who said they were one of her four favorite acts who played at Saga Fest. I had never heard them before so I had no idea what to expect, but I was blown away by their set.

One of the tenets of Sofar is that attendees should be 100% engaged in experiencing the music rather than in chatting and taking endless photos and videos. So I took zero photos at the concert, but you can find some on the Sofar Sounds Reykjavík Facebook page if you’re curious.

Did I mention that the weather that evening was fairly awful? Grey, drippy, bone-chilling wind. The walk down to Grandi was less than pleasant, but by the time the concert was over, the weather had calmed quite a bit. So I did the only logical thing: went to Valdís and bought a giant ice cream cone to eat on the walk home.

So, that was the first part of June, during which, as you may have noticed, I neglected to use my camera, because I was too lazy to delete the photos off my full memory card. There will be plenty of photos in the next post, however, which will cover such delightful occasions as my birthday and 17. júní (Iceland’s national holiday). Bless í bili!

maí, take 2

Suddenly June is almost gone and I never even finished writing about May. Here are a few of the slightly more noteworthy things I did in the second half of May:

I hiked Esja for a free Ásgeir concert.

Mobile phone company Nova and helicopter company Helo sponsored a mountaintop Ásgeir concert. Nova customers were notified by text message, but news also leaked onto the internet, which is how I found out. I told a few friends and I think Steffi started packing before she’d even finished reading the message.

I was babysitting that day, but I was able to find a ride out to Esja through Facebook. And in true small-world-Iceland fashion, it turned out that this girl and I have three friends in common – in the States. Of course! We arrived at the foot of Esja a bit on the late side and my friends had already started hiking up, so I ended up on my own after not too long (well, on my own, along with hoardes of Icelanders streaming past me in their impeccably dressed glory, because Esja is totally No Big Deal for alvöru Víkingar). That was all well and good, until I slipped and fell face-first in the mud. The upsides? Apparently I’d had a premonition of disaster to come, because for some strange reason I had tossed a pack of baby wipes into my backpack, which came in very handy. I also managed to fall right next to a little stream, which made it easier to de-mud. And perhaps best of all, I can proudly say that I kept my cool enough to understand when people asked me, in Icelandic, if I was okay, and to reply in Icelandic. So, coordination fail, but language win!

I actually don’t have a single photo from the concert, because I forgot my camera, which turned out to be a good thing as it probably would have ended up in the mud along with the rest of me and my stuff. So I suppose you will have to take me at my word that I was there and that I didn’t just make this up.

Had all my warm clothes not have been mud-soaked, I would have enjoyed the show a bit more, but as it was, I was rather freezing cold and in a bit of a sour mood. Still, it was a memorable experience, not the least because of what happened a couple days later on Facebook. There was a video of the event posted on Ásgeir’s official page, which my sister saw and commented on. Then this happened:

Ágeir kennir mér um Ísland

Yes, Ásgeir himself scolded me for my whining. With a smiley face.  So it was all worth it in the end.  ❤

I started jogging.

Flor and I started jogging (semi-) regularly around Tjörnin in the evenings. Some nights the weather is better than others, but with basically twenty-four-hour daylight, we figure the weather can’t be an excuse.

I started babysitting.

Since returning from Cyprus, I’ve been babysitting my 18-month-old cousin Nói more or less full time. I think he is the cutest Icelander I know. We dance together and play peek-a-boo and play in the sandbox and draw with chalk and go for walks and to the park and swing together. He likes me quite well as long as mamma and pabbi are nowhere in sight. He’s a little blonde ball of nonstop energy and he keeps me on my toes.

So, that was the end of May (which, coincidentally, was apparently the coldest May since 1979). June has been full and lively and beautiful and I am grateful to be here and filled with nothing but love for my home  ❤

dagsferð til þjórsárdals

In the spirit of my newfound spontaneity, what did I do after returning from my 24-hour Snæfellsnes trip and sleeping eight hours? Turned around and left the city again, but this time just for a day trip. Steffi and her friend Emil were planning a day trip to Þjórsárdalur, a lush valley speckled with waterfalls in The Middle of Nowhere, South Iceland. Steffi invited Hanna and me to come along, so around noon Emil fetched us one by one and we headed out. We road-tripped in true Icelandic fashion: with no strict itinerary, stopping wherever we felt like it along the way. Emil (the lone True Icelander among us) was extremely patient with our constant touristic ooohhing and aaaahhhhing, and although we left the sun in the city, it never rained and was not windy and cold, which for Iceland means the weather was beautiful.

Kleifarvatn

Seltún geothermal area

sometimes in Iceland the rivers are hot
sometimes in Iceland the rivers are hot
“how to be a stereotypically stupid tourist,” exhibit A

Litla Hraun Fangelsi

Litla Hraun
Litla Hraun
not the ugliest surroundings for a prison
not the ugliest surroundings for a prison

Okay, so we didn’t actually stop at Iceland’s largest prison, but we did see it from the road and admire the lovely surroundings. Not a bad view to have as a prisoner, eh? Emil works in the film industry, so he was constantly pointing out locations that have been used for various films. Our final destination, Þjórsárdalur, has been used as a location for Game of Thrones, which I have never seen, but I know it is a Big Deal, so I mention it for those of you who might be intrigued and impressed by this fact. —

Þjórsárdalur

Þjórsárdalur is located down a long, windy, one-lane bumpy gravel road that almost gave Steffi a heart attack when we met cars coming the opposite direction. When you arrive at the parking area, all you see is nothingness, but then all of a sudden, a big beautiful valley appears out of nowhere like something out of Middle Earth or, yes, Game of Thrones, filled with waterfalls and striking rock formations. IMG_5356 We descending into the valley and spent the next hour or two exploring. We had to wade across the river four times, which was a bit challenging for the less coordinated among us (not to mention chilly), but it was more than worth it.

Steffi og Hanna, vel klæddar
Steffi og Hanna, vel klæddar
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nörd

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zen
mountaintop meditation

I can always string more words together, but I think I’ll just leave it at that. The photos speak for themselves.

Snæfellsnes

Warning: The following post is chock-full of photos. If you like photos, you will be happy. If you are on a slow internet connection, you will probably be angry. If you are not in Iceland right now, you may experience jealousy. Consider yourselves warned.

Sometimes I let my fears and my dislike of spontaneity ruin opportunities for me. This was almost one of those times. My friend Steffi wanted to take a road trip to Snæfellsnes, a beautiful peninsula not too far from the Reykjavík area, and she invited four of us to come along. We met Thursday evening at a coffee shop to plan the trip. We would be gone for twenty-four hours. We would camp somewhere even though we only had one three-person tent for up to five people. We would send an inquiry to the rental car company that night and count on them having a car for us the next day. We would all get our stuff together by 5 pm on Friday, even though most of us were working that day. It would all work out. Þetta reddast.

The “þetta reddast” mindset does not come naturally to me. Spontaneity makes me nervous. I left the coffee shop unsure if I would join on the trip or not.

On the way home, I ran into my friend Elliott (for the second time that evening, actually). He asked what I was up to and I told him about the maybe-trip. “Well why wouldn’t you go?” he asked. “Well, because it’s tomorrow. And I don’t know if I have the right clothes and shoes. And I don’t have a warm enough sleeping bag. And there might not be enough room in the tent. And I just don’t know.” “Excuses excuses,” he said. “You live in a city the size of a postage stamp. You need to get out of it sometimes. Stop making excuses and just go. You won’t regret it. Trust me.”

I needed that pep talk. I listened to Elliott and went, and he was right. I didn’t regret it for a second.

It was a magical 24 hours where even the things that seemingly went wrong ended up turning out right, starting at the very beginning. When we picked up our teeny tiny rental car, for instance, we could hear a noise that definitely didn’t sound right. We were frustrated to lose time going back to the rental office and waiting for them to decide what to do, but when we ended up with a huge 4×4, we were nothing but gleeful.

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amusing ourselves while waiting for our replacement rental car

After stopping for provisions at Krónan, we hit the road and within minutes were in the middle of Iceland’s beautiful nowhere. Continuing the theme of things that could have gone wrong turning out right, we also ended up taking a wrong turn somewhere on the way, but that detour ended up being a beautiful road through the mountains.

If we were a girl band, this would be our album cover. Also, look at that big car!!!
If we were a girl band, this would be our album cover. Also, look at that big car!!!

Steffi, armed with her Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland, was the tour master. Dörthe and Hanna were our fearless drivers (although if the rental company asks, Hanna never sat behind the wheel. Never.). Flor’s stuffed dragon was our mascot. And I was along for the ride.

drekinn
drekinn

We set up camp under the midnight sun in Grundarfjörður (that is, after asking a drunk man how to get to the campground. To his credit, he gave good directions even in his inebriated state). Grundarfjörður is a tiny town west of Stykkishólmur with a glorious view of Kirkjufell, this striking peak:

Kirkjufell
Kirkjufell
not a bad view to wake up to
not a bad view to wake up to

With Steffi giving the orders, we managed to pitch the tent pretty quickly. Three of us squished into the tent and two slept in the car. Usually it takes me hours to fall asleep in a new place, but once we stopped taking awkward selfies and laughing, I fell asleep almost immediately and woke six hours later when the bright morning sun had heated up the tent so much that I was actually hot.

Pretending like I know how to pitch a tent
Pretending like I know how to pitch a tent

We wandered over to a little waterfall next to the campground to fill our water bottles, took the tent down, packed up, and headed west to Ólafsvík. We stopped at the gas station for coffee, ice cream (Flor’s breakfast), and wifi, then got back on the road. For the rest of the day, we basically just drove the ring around the peninsula, stopping whenever the Lonely Planet guide told us there was something to see or whenever we felt like it.

Among our stops were:

Ingjaldhólskirkja

A classic red-roofed Icelandic church under the glacier. Steffi and Flor may have sort of broken into the church and allowed two other tourists to enter as well. Maybe.

Ingjaldhólskirkja
Ingjaldhólskirkja
eternal rest under the glacier
eternal rest under the glacier

Skarðsvík

This beautiful little red-sand beach reminded me very much of Rauðasandur, just in miniature.

Skarðsvík
Skarðsvík

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Öndverðarnes

On Snæfellsnes blocky yellow-orange lighthouses seem to be all the rage. Öndverðarnes is at the westernmost point of the peninsula and was apparently populated until 1945.

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never far from poetry in Iceland
never far from poetry in Iceland
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Iceland needs no filter

Vatnsborg

I mean, does this lighthouse not look like a loaf of Tillamook cheddar cheese?

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There are bird cliffs at Vatnsborg and everyone was excitedly searching for puffins, but alas, the cliff seemed to mostly house seagulls.

Saxhöll

It was a short but rocky walk up to the crest of this ancient crater, which offers a 360-degree of the surrounding lava fields (Neshraun) and of course ubiquitous beauty Snæfellsjökull.

IMG_5211

IMG_5206
Saxhöll crater

Djúpalónssandur

Djúpaslónssandur was our longest stop. We took our time wandering around the beach, climbing around the lava columns, mustering our strength to heave the lifting stones and see which of us is seaworthy, and resting on a grassy knoll in the sunshine. Everything about it was blissful.

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Our planned route back was disrupted by a serious car accident which completely shut down the road that runs along the southern coast of the peninsula. So instead of taking that route, we had to turn around and take a road that cut across the peninsula somewhere east of Snæfellsjökull. It was a minor kink in our plans. For the most part we were just grateful to have had a marvelous day and to be safe, knowing that there were two children and two adults who were not. But our one big concern was getting the car back to the rental before they closed at 7 pm.

We arrived in town about 6.45 but still had to fill the gas tank, so while we were stopped at a light on Sæbraut, the other girls basically pushed me out of the car (okay, a bit of exaggeration) and told me to run ahead to the car rental place and explain (in Icelandic, because they thought it would go over better) that they were on their way. So I arrived at the car rental all out of breath, only to find out that they close not at 7 but at 8 and are completely unconcerned about us being a few minutes late. Of course. Við búum á Íslandi.

Twenty-four hours of sunshine (really, since it’s almost summer solstice). Twenty-four hours of friends old and new. Twenty-four hours of gas station coffee and pylsur. Twenty-four hours of spontaneous exploring. Twenty-four hours of wonder and awe and thankfulness.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, thank you, Elliott. And thank you, Iceland.  ❤

fjórar af fimm stelpum í Borgarnesi
fjórar af fimm stelpum í Borgarnesi
Takk fyrir yndislega ferð, stelpur
Takk fyrir yndislega ferð, stelpur

L-H article: Saga Fest

When I bought my tickets to Cyprus, there was only one major drawback (besides, you know, spending money that I could have put toward paying off my student loans, but that’s another story): I would have to miss Saga Fest. Saga Fest, as you may recall from previous mentions on the blog, is an innovative music and arts festival. The first annual event was held May 23-24 on Stokkseyrarsel farm near Selfoss, South Iceland. Based on values like community, sustainability, and vulnerability, the festival was built from the ground up by friend and fellow Fulbrighter Scott Shigeoka and his fearless team.

Back in March, I sat down for a chat with Scott to discuss his vision for Saga Fest, his progress with it, and his experience living in Iceland. In anyone else’s hands, I would have worried that a project like Saga Fast was far too ambitious to accomplish in the time allotted (about nine months), but anyone who’s met Scott knows he is not someone to underestimate.

While I am disappointed that I couldn’t be there this year to support Scott and the Saga Fest team in their first year, I am glad that I was at least able to help spread the word.

You can read my article about Scott and Saga Fest on the Lögberg-Heimskringla website by clicking here.

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maí: á Íslandi, 1. hluti

In May, I split my time between two islands: Iceland and Cyprus. This post will cover the first part of the month here in Iceland, which included final exams, cold weather, academic presentations, and more cold weather (I’m really selling it, eh?). The next post will cover my time in Cyprus, which included no school work and plenty of beautiful weather.

fleiri lokapróf og fulbright kynning

Our last two exams were May 4 and 5, both for our “talþjálfun” class. One day we had a written exam and the other a group oral exam. Both went swimmingly, I am pleased to report. It was a relief to finally be finished with finals, but I felt like I was not completely finished because I still had to prepare my final presentation for Fulbright.

Most Fulbrighters spend their grant year working on a research project, which lends itself pretty easily to presentations. What were you researching, what were your expected results, what were your methods, what were your actual results? But for me, my presentation material wasn’t quite so obvious, as my “project,” per se, was simply to be a full-time student in the Icelandic as a Second Language program. My number one dilemma was whether to present entirely in Icelandic, entirely in English, or in both. I knew there would be some people at the presentation who do not know Icelandic, and I didn’t want to be rude and leave anyone out, but I also felt like it would be absurd to stand up there and claim, in English, that I had succeeded in making great strides learning Icelandic.

I talked to several people and went back and forth about it, but ultimately decided to speak in Icelandic for the first third of the presentation and then do the rest in English.

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Speaking in Icelandic, I explained my motivation for learning Icelandic: my family history and my experience as a Snorri participant. I then summarized the same material in English, and continued in English to discuss some of the joys and challenges I’ve encountered in my quest to learn the past nine months.

Public speaking is so far down my list of attributes that there aren’t many things below it, except drawing, whistling, and snapping my fingers (what can I say, I’m defective), but I think the presentation went about as well as I could hope. While I’m sure I made plenty of grammatical errors, I was able to speak fluidly without staring at my notes, and by all accounts my pronunciation was at least understandable.

The other presenters were Sophie, Alyssa, Scott, and Dr. Dan Shain. Of course I had some idea of what each of them had been working on the past nine months, but it was great to hear their presentations and get a clearer understanding of the work each one does. Sophie described her fisheries research, Alyssa enlightened us on economics, Scott shared his passion for Saga Fest, and Dr. Shain turned us all into fans of a microscopic creature called a rotifer (seriously).

Overall, it was a great afternoon of celebrating the work we’ve done this year and thanking Fulbright and the others who have supported us along the way.

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As some of you may recall, my grant was not only funded by Fulbright, but also by the Árni Magnússon Institute here in Iceland. Grantees from the Institute do not give final presentations, so I invited the staff who help manage the grant to come hear my Fulbright presentation. It was an honor to have Guðrún in attendance and I was happy to be able to acknowledge the role the Institute played in my grant year.

Guðrún og ég
Guðrún og ég

I know there are people who wanted to hear my presentation but couldn’t attend. I don’t think it was recorded at the event, but some time in the near-ish future, I might put together a version of it to post here. Stay tuned, if you care.

fjölmenningardagur og hárið á degi b eggertssyni

There is always something going on in Reykjavík, and this month was no exception. The city celebrated Fjölmenningardagur, or Multicultural Day, on May 9 with a parade from Hallgrímskirkja to Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (City Hall), where various clubs and organizations had booths with food, activities, and information. I only found out about this the morning of, but I ended up wandering down Skólavörðustígur to see the parade and ran into my friend Alwin, so we walked along the parade route together, stalking our most handsome borgarstjóri (mayor), Dagur B. Eggertsson. Well, maybe it was just me who did that. Alwin simply put up with my shenanigans. Anyway, Dagur’s hair is truly remarkable.

Hárið á Degi B. Eggertssyni var stjarna skrúðgöngunnar á Fjölmenningardegi
Hárið á Degi B. Eggertssyni var stjarna skrúðgöngunnar á Fjölmenningardegi

ég er alltaf að drekka kaffi

One wonderful thing about living here is that it seems like there is always someone you know from abroad passing through. In May, my formerly Seattle-dwelling friend Leana and I got to enjoy a coffee date with Sonna, a mutual friend of ours and former president of the Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle. Her mom was born in Iceland, and Sonna had been here before, but not for many years, so I know she made the most of her trip. It was lovely that she took time out of her busy schedule for us to have a little Washingtonian reunion at Reykjavík Roasters. Best coffee and cinnamon scones in town, plus fellow Washingtonians, all on a sunny day? What could be better?

Washingtonian women
Washingtonian women

There were more May happenings in Iceland, but they were after my Cyprus trip, so I will save them to recap later. In the next post we will travel to Cyprus, an island nation thousands of miles away from and thirty degrees warmer than Iceland, and yet in some ways not so very different. Until then.