áramótablogg: ringing in 2016 in reykjavík

It’s 2016 and I have now rung in the past two years here in Reykjavík. Last year, I arrived back in Iceland the morning of the 30th, which means I spent the day severely jet-lagged and did not so much appreciate the constant barrage of fireworks that kept me awake until 8 AM. This year, thankfully, was a very different story. I celebrated the old year and rang in the new alongside my Icelandic family and friends new and old.

In the morning I carefully assembled and decorated the champagne cake I had made the night before and helped Ásta clean up the house. Then I headed out to Vínbúðin (the state-run liquor store) to grab some last-minute libations. The store was only open until 2.00 and we arrived around 1.45 to find a line out the door. I have to say, I’ve never waited in line at the liquor store before, but hey, there’s a first time for everything. On the way out, I heard a tourist arguing with the security guard that it was only two minutes past two and he should really let her in and I commented to my friend that we should have bought extra wine to sell to desperate tourists. Business idea for next year, I suppose.

I headed home to bake another dessert and help Ásta with other last-minute preparations. Around six, guests started to arrive for dinner. We had a full house – an interesting blend of family, Snorris, and a couple friends.

It was practically a Snorri alumni New Year’s party, as there were five of us former Snorris: Erin (2013), Stefán (2011) and I, who all live here, and Other Erin (2013) and Mallory (2011) who were visiting from the States.

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Of course Ásta’s family was in attendance, including her father Kristján, stepdaughter Elena and Elena’s boyfriend Ketill. My friend Victor and Stefán’s friend Sam rounded out the guest list.

classy black and white new year's eve
classy black and white new year’s eve
less classy new year's eve
less classy new year’s eve

Ásta and the other Snorri girls cooked dinner, I provided dessert, and there was no shortage of wine.

My second-ever attempt at champagne cake, inspired by my favorite cake from Konditorei in Salem, was an undeniable success, at least according to the tiniest critic. Nói was the first one to sneak a taste and he seemed to enjoy it.

champagne cake before
champagne cake before
champagne cake after
champagne cake after
You're looking at about $4 worth of California raspberries. I sincerely wish I was kidding.
You’re looking at about $4 worth of California raspberries. I sincerely wish I was kidding.

After dinner and dessert, we gathered around the TV to watch áramótaskaup, an annual comedy show that pokes fun at the year’s happenings. It was quite rewarding to see that I understood almost all the dialogue this year, although a few of the cultural references still went past me. Most of the things I expected to see were included, such as Justin Bieber, Naked Almar in a box, and IceHot1.

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gathered around the TV to watch áramótaskaupið

Áramótaskaup airs from 10.30-11.30, and this hour is practically a holy time. The sound of fireworks all but ceases, and the only people out and about are tourists, as all the locals have tucked in somewhere to watch the show. At 11.30, though, the noise picks up again, culminating, of course, at midnight. Although to be honest, it’s kind of hard to tell when the clock strikes twelve, because there are pretty much constant fireworks from 11.40-12.15. I actually think it makes midnight rather anticlimactic. In any case, we all wandered up to Hallgrímskirkja to experience the insanity. Victor and I found Katleen and her friend and the four of us went back to my house and hung out for a couple hours, finally succumbing to exhaustion around 3.00. The greatest gift of the new year was that I was actually able to sleep that night.

I have a bright pink point-and-shoot camera, so no fireworks photos from me, I’m afraid. Perhaps I will borrow some from Addi to add to this post later though.

All in all, it was a lovely way to say goodbye to 2015 and welcome 2016 in a beautiful place and in good company.

Gleðilegt nýtt ár og takk fyrir það gamla!

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news from januarys past

I’ve been spending some time diving into history and practicing my reading by exploring old articles through the fantastic searchable periodical database timarit.is. I thought it would be interesting to see what has made the front page of the first edition in Januarys past. The general themes? Pretty photos of fireworks, stories about the occasional fireworks mishap or other New Year’s incident, and of course the first Icelandic baby born each year.

They also seem to have a penchant for tallying up how many Icelanders passed away in accidents in any given year.

timinn 3 january 1990

In 1989, 49 individuals, including three foreign citizens, passed away in accidents in Iceland. Seven died from drowning or accidents at sea, thirty in traffic accidents, one in a plane crash, and eleven from other fatal accidents that don’t fit into any of the aforementioned categories.

timinn 3 january 1991 - 1

The next year, 1990, 57 Icelanders died in accidents, including seven who passed away abroad.

Is this sort of tally a normal thing for tiny countries? Or is this a uniquely Icelandic tradition? Someone please shed light on this.


On a less depressing note, I found this tiny gem from the front page of Tíminn, 3 January 1986, in a section titled “í stuttu máli” (“news in short”):

Bretar

It reads: “Britons were greatly surprised to discover yesterday that they are a very happy nation. According to a public poll that was shared yesterday, nine out of ten Britons are content with their position, 98% of homes have a television, 78% have a telephone, 68% have central heating, and there’s a cat or dog in every other home.”

I don’t know why this amuses me so much. Perhaps it’s the fact that it was actually printed on the front page of an Icelandic newspaper. Perhaps it’s the claim, completely unsupported, that Britons were terribly surprised by these findings. Or maybe I just have a strange sense of humor.


It seems January 1978 was an exciting time for ABBA fans, as Vísir announced that it would run a sort of comic strip about the band’s history and career. It was created by two Swedish artists and apparently Iceland was the last of the Nordic countries to translate and publish it. It was pointed out that readers could clip each edition and glue them onto size A4 paper, therefore creating a tremendous keepsake and a way to relive the glory of ABBA over and over. Who wouldn’t want that?

ABBA myndasaga


On a more serious note, I thought it would be interesting to read some of the old presidential new year’s addresses, as President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson just delivered his new year’s address, remarkable because he announced that he will not seek reelection in June. After twenty years as president, he will finally make room for someone else to take over at Bessastaðir.

Those who understand Icelandic can read his full address here. The economy (and specifically the nation’s remarkable recovery from the 2008 crash) is a major theme, as is Iceland’s relationship to Europe and within the Nordic nations. The country’s abundant natural resources, particularly rich fishing grounds and other marine resources, are emphasized, as well as the beauty of nature in general and Iceland’s increasing popularity among tourists. In fact, there’s more than a little smack of “Ísland best í heimi!”

“Fegurð landsins, samspil elds og ísa, litadýrð náttúrunnar, tign og víðerni öræfanna laða svo sífellt fleiri hingað; ferðaþjónustan komin í fremstu röð tækjulinda. Ísland er í vitund milljóna víða um heim áfangastaður sveipaður dulúð og ljóma, landið þar sem sérhver gengur frjáls um götur og stíga, lýðræðislegt samfélag sem byggir á öryggi og jöfnum rétti, andrúmsloftið laust við þá mengun sem hrjáir erlendar borgir.”

The beauty of our land, the interplay of fire and ice, the rich colors of nature, the glory and openness of the highlands attract more and more here; tourism is now a leading source of income. Iceland is known to many around the world as a mystical and glamorous destination, the land where each and every man walks free, a democratic society built on safety and equal rights, the atmosphere free of the pollution that plagues foreign cities.

 

I’ve been reading some old addresses from former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and the similarity of their content is striking.

In her 1989 address, she touches on economic concerns, remarks on the importance of a shared national identity and cultural heritage, praises Iceland’s abundant natural resources and warns agains misusing them. There’s even an almost identical statement about Iceland’s pollution-free air: “Þetta land er laust við mengun. Við erum ein fárra þjóða sem andar að sér hreinu lofti” (“This land is free of pollution. We are one of few nations that breathes clean air”). She also warns about the difficulty of seeing the big picture when we demand constant news, something that seems remarkably applicable to the present day:

En má það ekki vera augljóst að erfitt er á stundum að öðlast heildarsýn yfir málefni lands og lýðs þegar setið er hverja stund um þá stjórnmálamenn sem þjóðin hefur kjörið og þeir fulltrúar eru krafðir sagna um hugsanir sínar frá andartaki til andartaks. Er svo komið að mörgum ofbýður atgangurinn í harðri samkeppni um tíðindi sem helst þurfa að vera æsifréttir. Gæti ekki svo farið að við hættum að taka mark á þó hrópað væri, “Úlfur, úlfur.”

 

As one would expect from Madame Vigdís, she also takes the opportunity to address the Icelandic language, describing it as the nation’s greatest collective possession and most valuable treasure.

And she seemed to make a habit of quoting poetry in her New Year’s addresses, if I can extrapolate from two. Can you imagine anything more Icelandic?

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Jæja, that concludes today’s trip into history, but I think there will be more in the future. This sort of nerdery is right up my alley.

 

 

desember

Christmas has already come and gone, and I’ve recounted my first Icelandic Christmas, but now I’m going to backtrack and quickly recap the first three weeks of December.


 

Final Exams

Of course the biggest event of early December was final exams, which this time around were spread out over nearly two weeks. That meant that we generally had a decent amount of time to study between exams, but it also meant that it was really tiring and got more and more difficult to maintain focus toward the end of exams.

By far the easiest and most enjoyable exam, both in terms of studying for it and taking it, was our oral exam for Málnotkun (“Language usage”). For these exams, we form groups of 3-4 students, practice discussing certain topics within our groups, and then each group has about 10 minutes to hold a discussion in front of our teachers and a prófdómari (a proctor, I guess). My group met up at Katleen’s to practice on one of the snowiest days of the winter, and when we’d had enough practice, we decided to wander out in the snowstorm for ice cream, because why not?  We trudged through snowdrifts down to Valdís, perhaps the best ice cream parlor in Reykjavík, and of course we took a selfie to commemorate the occasion:

ís í snjónum
ís í snjónum

After our oral exam, a few of us wandered down to Norræna Húsið (Nordic House), where we (tried to) read some children’s books in various Scandinavian languages and enjoyed the jóladagatal (which I described in this blog post).

This sort of started a tradition of communal eating or drinking to both celebrate the end of each exam and dull the pain of knowing there were more coming…

After our third exam, several of us enjoyed a jólabjór in Stúdentakjallarinn. After our fourth exam, a few of us had a pönnukökur and jólaglögg party at Gamli.

The night before our last exam, Erin, Katleen and I decided to hold a taco party, because why not? Erin was already done with finals, so she kindly offered to make tacos while Katleen and I studied together. So we munched on homemade guacamole and tasty tacos and in between discussed fascinating theories of second language acquisition and word formation. I think it was quite an effective combination, really. Every finals season should involve a taco party.


A gentle Christmas breeze

In between two of our final exams came a “snow hurricane,” a nasty winter storm that swept over the entire country and brought hurricane-force winds to Reykjavík (although the weather was much more severe in other parts of the country, including the Westman Islands, where several houses lost their roofs, and the Westfjords, where an entire abandoned house blew away). Residents of the capital area were warned to stay inside after 5 pm and not venture out until midday the following day. So I traipsed to Bónus to stock up on food, then hunkered down inside and studied while I listened to the wind howl outside. It was really quite convenient timing, in a way, as it essentially made me housebound at a time when I had to study anyway.

The other great thing about the storm was the flurry of headlines including variations of my favorite Icelandic verb, að fjúka, which means to be blown by the wind.


End-of-semester celebrations

We had jólabjór with a few of our professors at Stúdentakjallarinn after our very last final exam. Sadly we won’t have these professors next semester, but we decided that we’ll have to organize regular Stúdentakjallarinn get-togethers. I’ve been fortunate that the instructors at both my universities have been warm and approachable and have taken an active interest in students outside of class time.

I made apple crisp to celebrate our last Hitt Húsið meetup of the year. Hitt Húsið is a multifaceted community center for young people located downtown on Austurstræti. One of their newest programs is a Tuesday night meetup for young people learning Icelandic (which is actually a continuation of a group that my friend Siggi started last year). I’ve been going regularly since September, and it’s a great opportunity to practice Icelandic with actual Icelanders (and an every-changing group of fellow learners) in a cozy and supportive environment.

A few friends and I held a pönnukökur (Icelandic pancake) party to celebrate the end of final exams. We invited ourselves to Katleen’s cozy apartment, Erin showed off her pancake mastery, we drank jólaglögg, ate way too much sugar, and watched the jóladagatal and way too many Norwegian YouTube videos. In other words, it was a warm and cozy evening with friends, the perfect way to bid adieu to finals.


And yet more merry-making

We celebrated Vita’s birthday with a lovely dinner party at her dorm, which was interrupted by some fairly drunk language students a couple hours in.

I accidentally left my purse at Vita’s, which turned out to be a good thing, because it gave Vita and me an excuse to meet at Bókakaffi the next day, where we did what all respectable young ladies do: color!

By the weekend before Christmas, most of my friends who were going home for Christmas had left. Thankfully, a few delightful friends remain. Last week, I invited myself to my friend Vita’s dorm for my annual vínarterta making endeavor. Erin came along too, and we also made dinner, enjoyed a serendipitous bottle of wine leftover from Vita’s birthday, and watched Snjókríli, an adorable documentary about baby animals in the snow.

Erin, Vita and I met up for a dose of Christmas cheer at the university choir’s Christmas concert at Neskirkja. Choirs are incredibly popular here, and joining a choir is a great way to meet people and pass the time during the long dark days of winter. Somehow in the year and a half I’ve been here, I had never made it to a choir concert, but this free Christmas concert seemed like a good opportunity to change that. Afterward we went to Stúdentakjallarinn for cheap beer and fried food. It was less depressing than it sounds. Kind of.


Other than that, there’s been a lot of reading, coffee shop sitting, city wandering, and knitting since the start of Christmas break. The first couple days after finals I always find it a bit difficult to wind down and shift gears, but since I settled in to a rhythm of cozy and quiet days and no more exhausting study sessions, it’s been lovely. There are still almost two weeks of break left, which means more cozy days, but the new year will also bring new adventures, as I’m starting a new job next week and then classes resume on the 11th. That means I should have plenty to blog about in the near future. But first I have to go make a champagne cake for New Year’s…

 

jól í Reykjavík

Last week I experienced my first Christmas away from my family. It was a Very Reykjavík Christmas, filled with traditional foods, good music, Christmas cheer and a healthy dose of chaos, as every good holiday should include. Here’s a little glimpse into an Icelandic Christmas as experienced by an American.


Þórláksmessa (23. desember)

December 23rd is called Þórláksmessa here, named after Saint Þórlákur Þórhallsson, bishop of Skálholt. (You can read more about the history of the day here thanks to my friend Sunna.) I woke in the early-morning darkness on Þórláksmessa and walked to Vesturbær for a job interview, then walked to campus as the sun was slowly rising. I met Erin and Leana at Norræna Húsið for the last day of the jóladagatal, because we knew the band Árstíðir would be playing.

On Þórláksmessa, many Icelanders eat skata, fermented skate fish. They say a lot of people cook this in their garages, because if you cook it in your kitchen, the smell might never escape. Apparently a recent poll suggests that just under 40% of Icelanders eat skata, and many of those are out in the countryside outside of Reykjavík. However, it is readily available at many restaurants in the city, including at the bistro inside Norræna Húsið. The smell that greeted us when we opened the heavy front door was just about as acrid and potent as I expected, and it kept getting worse. It permeated the entire top floor of the building. Thankfully, the jóladagatal is in the basement, so when we took the elevator down, we were greeted by the much more pleasant Christmasy smells of piparkökur and jólaglögg. Still, whenever someone would ride the elevator down, the doors would open and a tiny puff of fermented stink would emerge.

I don’t have a photo of the cooked skata, but here’s what it looks like before it’s cooked, when the stink is blessedly contained within plastic tubs:

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appetizing, isn’t it?

In any case, Árstíðir put on a lovely short show in the Black Box theater.

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I think Erin and I did some last-minute shopping and gift wrapping that afternoon. In the evening we headed to a free concert at Reykjavík Roasters and enjoyed a cozy hour or so of music from Axel Flóvent and Myrra Rós.

We strolled back home along Laugavegur, along with hundreds of other people. I’m not sure where this tradition comes from, but on the evening of Þórláksmessa, people in the city stroll Laugavegur, doing last-minute shopping and enjoying free treats from some of the local merchants (Erin and I took cups of what we thought would probably be wine or jólaglögg, but it turned out to be some sort of sweet, sticky lamb gravy…). Iceland being Iceland, everyone sees people they know, and it’s almost like some sort of warm community reunion.


 

Aðfangadagur // Christmas Eve

In Iceland, Christmas begins at 6.00 PM on the 24th. Christmas Day is almost more of an afterthought; the twenty-fourth IS Christmas. This is not terribly different for me, as my family has always celebrated on the twenty-fourth as well. We go to the Christmas Eve service at church, eat lasagna (no one knows how that became our tradition, it just is) and then open gifts.

Here in Iceland, just about everything shuts down on the afternoon of the 24th (if not before) and is closed for at least a couple days, whereas in the States, there’s always at least one store open somewhere within an easy distance. So there was a lot of pressure to make sure you got all your errands taken care of. It’s a similar atmosphere to when people stock up on groceries before a storm, except a bit more festive. I went out on the 24th to buy one last Christmas present and do one last Bónus grocery run. Erin came over in the afternoon and we finished wrapping presents and tried to help Ásta a bit with some cooking and cleaning. The relatives started arriving in the afternoon (Ásta’s parents and Addi’s mom were here) and it was soon a full and noisy house – a truly authentic Christmas experience, I think.

Erin and I monopolized the TV to watch the last episode of the Danish jóladagatal. We were unreasonably excited:

Ásta and Ólöf were furiously cooking away in the kitchen. Traditionally, people sit down to eat when the clock strikes 6.00, but we are a bit less traditional in this household. When the clock struck 6.00, everyone exchanged hugs and kisses and said gleðileg jól (Erin and I learned that you’re not supposed to say this before 6.00 – oops!). And then we continued cooking and hanging out. Eventually we sat down to eat a wonderful Christmas meal: hamborgarhryggur (smoked pork), brúnar kartöflur (caramelized potatoes), rauðkál (red cabbage), grænar baunir (green peas), green salad, asparagus, and of course sósa (sauce). The sauce Ásta made might have been the most Icelandic thing on the table – not only was it sósa (which is like a holy part of any True Icelandic Meal), it was made with Coca-Cola (which is like the Holy Soft Drink in Iceland). We had some Danish hvítöl (non-alcoholic Christmas ale) to accompany the meal.

jólamatur
jólamatur
Mía begged for Christmas scraps from Amma Ólöf all night
Mía begged for Christmas scraps from Amma Ólöf all night

After dinner, we gathered around the pink Christmas tree and opened gifts.

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tiny pink Christmas tree

Erin and I were truly well taken care of and had plenty of gifts to open, including a number of matching gifts – matching panda sleep masks, matching coffee mugs, matching wool socks. Leon and Nói were of course the most excited members of the family. Christmas seems much more festive when you get to watch little ones open gifts.

Jólasveinninn sjálfur mætti!
Jólasveinninn sjálfur mætti!

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the most beautiful and unexpected gift - knitted wool socks from Amma Ólöf!
the most beautiful and unexpected gift – knitted wool socks from Amma Ólöf!

By the time we finished opening gifts, I think it was nearly midnight, but we still had to eat dessert. Ásta and Ólöf prepared a special creamy orange dessert, and it was the perfect opportunity for the Scandinavian tradition of the möndlugjöf. The möndlugjöf, or almond gift, is a small gift given to the person who finds an almond hidden in his or her bowl. Erin and I were entrusted with the solemn duty of securing this year’s möndlugjöf, and we took it seriously, deliberating for quite some time and finally settling on a kaleidoscope from Tiger. Somehow there was a little almond mishap and both Leon and Addi found almonds, but amma had brought another möndlugjöf, so it all worked out.

the almond gift, ready for the finder of the almond
the almond gift, ready for the finder of the almond

 

Jóladagur // Christmas Day

Erin and I woke late on Christmas Day and lazed around for a while. We had planned to hold a Christmas brunch with some friends at Vita’s dorm, but we ended up canceling since a couple people couldn’t come and since I injured my foot and didn’t want to make it worse by walking too much. So we had our own little brunch of bacon and eggs, then Erin headed out for Christmas dinner with her Icelandic relatives. I joined the family for Christmas dinner at Amma Ólöf’s house.

Amma Ólöf cooked up another very classic Icelandic Christmas meal: hangikjöt (smoked lamb), boiled potatoes in cream sauce, peas, corn, roast veggies, and of course Icelandic jólaöl, a fascinating blend of malt extract and appelsín (orange soda). Oh, and also laufabrauð – intricately carved rounds of deep-fried dough. So fried, so tasty.

I walked home a bit early so I could Skype with my family in Washington, who were holding their Christmas on Christmas Day since my brother and sister both had to work on Christmas Eve. It was of course lovely to see all their faces.

I didn’t take any photos on Christmas Day, it seems, so you’ll have to imagine.


Several people asked me whether I was homesick this Christmas, and I am thankful that I can truthfully answer no. Would I have loved to be with my family in Washington? Of course. But I was excited to experience something new, and grateful to be surrounded by loving family and friends here as well. Spending Christmas in Iceland was the plan last year, but that didn’t happen. I’m not sure if I ever wrote about it here, but basically what happened is that I had a pretty rough first semester. When finals were done and the reality and loneliness of Christmas break set in, combined with health issues I was dealing with at the time, I just had to go home. I bought a ticket on a Tuesday night and left Wednesday afternoon, I think.

I am indescribably grateful to be in a much better place this year than I was at this time last year. I’m thankful for Ásta and her family being so welcoming, and thankful for Erin being here as well. It was nice to experience Icelandic Christmas with someone else in my shoes.

Christmas may have passed, but the holidays are far from over. New Year’s is a huge deal here, and we’re going to have another big family and friends dinner at the house, watch áramótaskaupið (an annual TV sketch show that pokes fun at the year’s happenings), and wander up to Hallgrímskirkja to ring in the New Year with a never-ending volley of fireworks.

Gleðileg jól!

 

 

allt er jólalegt: jólahefðir á Íslandi

Jólin eru að koma!

In Icelandic, there are some words that exist only in the plural, even though there’s no plurality implied in the meaning of the word. For example, balcony, concert, and award are all plural words (svalir, tónleikar, verðlaun). Another such word is jól, Christmas (a cognate of yule, of course). So if I translated the sentence above literally, it would be “The Christmases are coming!”

In fact, the Christmases have already arrived. The holiday season is in full swing here in Reykjavík. The jólatré (Christmas tree) was raised at Austurvöllur (and then removed prior to the snow hurricane, and then returned). There are jólaljós (Christmas lights) in every window, bringing a warm glow and cheer to the long, dark days. The jólasveinar (yule lads) can be found throughout the city, projected onto various buildings. And it seems that anything and everything now comes in a jóla- (Christmas) variety.

There’s jólasíld (Christmas herring), jólajógurt (Christmas yogurt), and jólaöl (Christmas ale, a strange and inexplicably popular blend of orange soda and malt extract). You can basically make anything Christmasy by adding “jóla-” to the front of the word (which makes it a samsett orð, an eignarfallssamsetning to be precise, in case you cared).

We have the adjective jólalegur, which means “Christmasy.” But we also have the verb að jólast, which in English would be something like “to Christmasify” or “to make Christmasy.” And someone who adores Christmas is called a jólabarn, a “Christmas child.”

Here are a few more interesting jóla-things:

Jólabjór – Many breweries, both here in Iceland and abroad, produce special Christmas beer. It’s like bubbling, fermented Christmas cheer, or something like that. I’ve had my fair share of Christmas beer already, but there are always more to sample. Another alcoholic Christmas option is jólaglögg, red wine mulled with sugar and spices.

Jóladagatal – Apparently in Scandinavia, an advent calendar is not a piece of cardboard with cheap chocolates behind each little window. The concept of an advent calendar is a lot broader here. There are “advent calendar” TV shows for kids, where one episode is shown each day in December. Apparently the Nordic countries recycle each other’s jóladagatal shows. There is currently a Norwegian show (Jól í Snædal) dubbed into Icelandic being shown daily, as well as a Danish show (Tímaflakkið). The Danish show stirred up some controversy as it is not dubbed but rather subtitled, which makes not a whole lot of sense for a show aimed at young children who neither understand Danish nor have the reading skills to keep up with Icelandic subtitles. I’ve watched some of the Norwegian show and it’s quite amusing. Perhaps it will warrant its own post one of these days.

Then there’s the living “advent calendar” at Norræna Húsið (Nordic House), where people are invited every day from December 1-24 at 12.34 to enjoy jólaglöggpiparkökur, and whatever entertainment is revealed that day. I went with a few friends after our oral exam last Friday and behind the little advent window was stand-up comedian Snjólaug Lúðvíksdóttir. I love the idea of a living advent calendar, because you get to experience the excitement of peeking behind the window with other people, and there’s a certain joy in the unexpected, in hearing a comedian or a musician who you otherwise may not choose to go see.

Jólalest – A few days ago I learned that there is a twenty-year-old tradition called the “Christmas train,” which involves a parade of Coca-Cola trucks decked out in holiday lights and decorations parading all around the greater Reykjavík area. Apparently up to 15,000 people now make this a part of their holiday tradition, lining up along the parade route to witness this odd blend of commercialism and Christmas cheer. Santa himself rides in the first truck, Christmas music is blasted from the truck speakers, and members of the björgunarsveit (Iceland’s beloved volunteer search and rescue squad) lead the way to help keep everyone safe.

And of course there are the jólasveinar (yule lads), their mother Grýla, father Leppalúði, and the jólaköttur (Christmas cat), but I think I will save that dysfunctional family for another post.

 

 

Jólakveðjur (Christmas greetings) from Reykjavík!

Turkeys, snow, and other frozen things: An American Thanksgiving in Iceland

or, How many grown-ass women does it take to extract giblets from a semi-frozen turkey?

I’ve only lived abroad for a year and a half, and only in one country, so I’m hardly an expert on expat matters. But I’ve been here long enough to form the opinion that it is important to find a balance between experiencing the culture in which you’re living and preserving that which is most important to you from your home culture. I love experiencing Icelandic holidays and traditions, but there are also some American traditions that are harder to miss than others. One such tradition is Thanksgiving, which I think might be my favorite American holiday (food-wise, anyway!). It just doesn’t feel like you can properly enter the Christmas season without first enjoying a Thanksgiving feast.

This year, Erin (fellow American, Snorri alum, and Icelandic as a Second Language student) and I hosted a semi-authentic American Thanksgiving at my place for an international bunch of friends.

Thanksgiving is not too difficult to pull off here, because Iceland is quite Americanized and Thanksgiving products roll into several stores here mid-November. It’s not too hard to get your hands on a turkey, or canned pumpkin, or evaporated milk, if you know where to look (but it is certainly more expensive than it would be in the US of A).

Thanksgiving preparations always take more time and effort than you expect, but that was especially true for us because 1) we’d never cooked Thanksgiving dinner before, 2) we have no access to a vehicle, and the grocery store that was selling whole turkeys is a half-hour walk away, over snow and death ice, and 3) we had to prepare this feast in a rather tiny kitchen.

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a blurry photo that shows the risk we took upon ourselves, trekking across death ice with a 10.5-pound turkey and a literal sack of potatoes

But with the help of Google and a couple Skype-calls to my mamma, it all worked out.

Did you know that you’re never supposed to thaw a turkey at room temperature? That there are two primary methods for thawing a turkey, one being in the fridge, which can take a few days, depending on the turkey’s girth, and the other being the “cold-water method”? Well, Erin and I know all these things now. Because we bought our turkey on Friday and had to serve him on Saturday, we had to thaw him quickly, which meant bath time for Kári (yes, we named him – Kári Kalkún).

So we traipsed down to the basement, found a cooler, brought it up to the bathroom, filled it with cold water, and slowly lowered Kári down. We baptized him repeatedly, and eventually made enough progress that I felt okay sticking him in the fridge for the night.

The next day came the súper fun part: removing the giblet bag. Remember that neither Erin nor I had ever done this before, but it seemed fairly common-sense: there’s a big hole in the turkey, and there’s some gooey stuff you have to remove from the hole. No big deal, right? Well, the only problem was that Kári was still a bit frozen on the inside. So our first attempt resulted in a torn giblet bag (the good people at the far-away turkey factory had already squished the giblets into a paper bag). But eventually we got it figured out, with the help of a flashlight and the “help” of Ásta taking mocking photos of us.

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disrobing Kári
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how many grown-ass women does it take to remove giblets from a turkey?

After Kári’s frosty beginning, we were worried he wouldn’t be done in time, but in fact he cooked so quickly that he was done early and actually got a bit (okay, a lot) dried out. Oops.

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Well, at least no one got food poisoning?

Also on the menu, in case you were wondering: garlic mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green salad, roasted peppers, bakery bread, two varieties of gravy, plenty of wine. It was truly a team effort, and as is fitting for a Thanksgiving feast, there was an overabundance of things tasty and good. We forgot to buy a stuffing mix at the store, but thankfully Ásta stepped in to save the day with her stuffing-making skills. It simply wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without stuffing!

And for dessert, two of the most quintessentially autumnal American desserts I could think of: apple crisp and sweet potato pie.

It was a bit chaotic, and I certainly developed a new appreciation for my mom and her ability to get everything on the table, hot, at the same time. But overall it was a lovely joyful evening, a small respite between the end of classes and the beginning of finals, tucking into a feast inside, the outside world covered with freshly fallen snow (we got our first big snowfall of the winter a couple days earlier).

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trying to look vaguely normal
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letting our true selves shine
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Kaetlyn, Erin, and Vita

After dinner, we were so stuffed that we could only muster the energy to remain seated and socialize. As is fitting for language students, we had international story time, in which Vita, Alwin and Katleen told stories in their native languages (Russian, Afrikaans, Flemish) and the rest of us tried to guess what the stories were about. Yes, we are dorks, and yes, I love that.

The next morning I ate leftover pie for breakfast. That’s when it truly felt like an authentic Thanksgiving.


Bónus Language Lesson!

The Actual Icelandic Word for “Thanksgiving” is Þakkargjörðarhátíð (“thanksgiving holiday” or something like that) but as is the case with many Actual Icelandic Words, no one ever says it. Which is good, because it’s a mouthful.

norðurljós, tónlist og kjötsúpa: október/nóvember

Suddenly it is mid-December, I just wrote my last final, I’ve finished my third semester studying in Iceland, and I’ve barely written anything since the school year started. The rhythm of life is different every semester here, every season, with the coming and going of both people and daylight hours. Compared to last fall, life has been fuller and happier, the health problems that followed me to Iceland finally behind me as well as the stress of adapting to life in a new place. Along with the stress and anxiety go some of the joy and surprise of new discoveries, but they’ve been replaced with richer experiences and deeper friendships. Another thing that’s disappeared? My desire to document everything in photographs. My words will have to carry more weight this time around, with fewer photos to support them.

So, what have I been up to the last few months? Here are a few snapshots from October and the first half of November.

October

I got the house to myself. My Icelandic family was in Greece for three weeks, from mid-September to early October, so I took advantage of having the house to myself to do more cooking than usual and invite friends over. One such lovely occasion was taco night with KSF friends Anna, Samúel, Colin and Hulda, which ended with northern lights hunting in the first snowfall of the season. We didn’t find them, but it was a lovely evening nonetheless.


 

I went to a concert. I went with Anna, my dearest KSF friend, to see Tina Dico and Helgi Hrafn Jónsson in concert. Tina Dico is a Danish singer-songwriter who married an Icelandic musician a few years ago. They live in Seltjarnarnes, the town just west of Reykjavík on the peninsula of the same name, and tour regularly in Europe, but have hardly played in Iceland since she moved here. In September, they announced two shows at a community center in their current town, and Anna was kind enough to tag along with me, having never heard their music. It was a small, beautiful show and lovely to enjoy it in good company.


 

I celebrated winter with free soup. While many major holidays are the same in the US and Iceland, there are several uniquely Icelandic holidays, and some are tied to the old Icelandic calendar. One such holiday is Vetrardagurinn fyrsti, the first day of winter according to the old calendar. On this day, several restaurants set up booths outside on Skólavörðustígur and offer free íslenskt kjötsúpa (Icelandic lamb stew) to locals and visitors alike. Last year, I arrived to the party too late and all the soup was gone, so this year I made sure to arrive nice and early. A few friends and I met and got our first bowl of kjötsúpa, enjoying it in the appropriately chilly winter air.

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Adela, Alasdair and Katleen excited for free soup!
1st soup
1st soup

Then some more friends appeared, and more, and we got second helpings, this time from the booth in front of the prison (did you know there’s an actual working prison on Skólavörðustígur? Well, there is). The prison soup was a bit too salty, but hey, free food!

hungry throng queuing for prison soup
hungry throng queuing for prison soup
Apparently no one else knew this photo was being taken
Apparently no one else knew this photo was being taken

Eventually we were 8 or 10 people and ended up back at my house for board games and conversation, and, later that night, a pile of frozen pizzas. It was the kind of impromptu get-together that gives me the warm and fuzzies, not to mention makes me incredibly grateful for Ásta Sól and Addi and their willingness to let me spontaneously invite 8 friends home.  ❤


 

I played the piano. I made new friends and got an opportunity to play the piano when I got involved with KSF (Kristilegt Stúdentafélag). I went to a couple meetings last year but didn’t really get into the groove before they stopped meeting for the summer. Besides my family and friends, I think the thing I’ve always missed the most when I move away from home is my piano. When I saw the beautiful baby grand piano at our meeting place, I commented to my friend Anna that I would be happy to play some time if they ever needed another pianist. As it turns out, they only had one pianist playing regularly, and he didn’t want to play every week, so my offer was immediately accepted. I only played a few times this semester, and it was a bit stressful; I haven’t played in quite some time, let alone with others, and beyond that, there’s the language factor. My brain kept getting confused, hearing the melody to a song I know but with lyrics in a different language, plus I hadn’t ever built up a music-related vocabulary in Icelandic before. But my fellow musicians were gracious and my hands and heart were happy to play again.

 


November, part 1

I off-venued at Iceland Airwaves. Of course the biggest musical event of the year here is Iceland Airwaves, which takes over downtown Reykjavík for about a week at the end of October / beginning of November. Last year, I did my best to avoid the long lines and crowds, but this year, I decided to embrace the opportunity to see some free off-venue shows (which make up more and more of the schedule every year). On Friday, I saw Svavar Knútur at the Laundromat, Morning Bear (a Denver-based duo) at Bókakaffi, Myrra Rós and Johnny and the Rest at Icewear, Rebekka Sif at IÐA, and Ylja at Slippbarinn. On Saturday, I tried to see some more shows, but with locals off work for the weekend, the crowds and long lines destroyed my positive attitude and I gave up for the day. I did make an effort to see one more artist on Sunday, though – Axel Flóvent at Landsbanki. I heard his song “Forest Fires” in a TV show that I had to watch for class, fell in love with it, listened obsessively to it on YouTube, and then discovered that he was playing a free off-venue show a few days later. Only in Iceland.


 

I met some wonderful tourists. One Friday during our regular language meet-up at Bókakaffi, a woman who was sitting by herself at a nearby table turned around, apologized for eavesdropping, and asked us what it’s like to learn Icelandic. She introduced herself as Adela from Germany, and we struck up a conversation and got along swimmingly, so the next day I met up with her for an adventure at Kolaportið and then she joined us for kjötsúpa. It was the kind of meeting I like to have when traveling, if I’m brave enough to strike up a conversation with a stranger. (This was actually in October, which is why Adela appears in the soup day photos, but oh well.)

I also met Brendan, a fellow Washingtonian who came here for Airwaves. We have a mutual acquaintance, an Icelandic woman who teaches Icelandic in Seattle. She put us in touch and encouraged us to meet up if we could, so Brendan and I met up for coffee and talked about Iceland and our beloved evergreen state and all sorts of things. He ended up coming to a couple language meetups and we did some off-venuing before he left to return to Seattle after far too short a visit. I also did my best to help ensure that his visit was complete by accompanying him for his first trip to Bæjarins Beztu.


I’ve seen the northern lights. There have been times that the aurora forecast was high but I was too busy or lazy to go out, but other times I’ve lucked out. I went out one night to wander in search of northern lights with my friend Katleen, and we found them dancing over the university. They disappeared for a while, but my friend Victor and I kept wandering for a bit, and just when we reached Hallgrímskirkja, the lights returned, green and shimmery. We laid on the frozen grass and watched and for a while I forgot the bad and the scary and the uncertain and just marveled.


 

I went to Bókamessa, a sort of book fair celebrating new releases for the Christmas season, at City Hall. Vita, Katleen and I stopped at a table of children’s books and I commented about the cute cat on the cover of one (Hulda Vala dýravinur: TöfrahálsmenniðAmy Wild, Animal Talker: The Secret Necklace). We started chatting with the woman at the booth and told her we’re learning Icelandic, and before I knew it, she’d pressed a copy of the book into each of our hands. I started reading it, and it’s pretty riveting. I can’t wait to finish it over Christmas break.

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November and the first half of December have brought all sorts of other adventures but I will save them for a separate post. To be continued…

 

 

fréttamolar frá klakanum: ashley madison, syrian refugees, and dunkin’ donuts

I started classes today, but since my homework for tomorrow is done, I thought I would bring you some random bits of news from Iceland.

Ashley Madison reaches Iceland’s shores

You could label this one “worst of the internet”:

The most absurd headline I read today was “Bjarni kallaði sig Icehot1 á Ashley Madison.” The Bjarni in question is Bjarni Benediktsson, AKA Bjarni Ben, Minister of Finance. He registered for the site using a Florida address, which reportedly belongs to his father. His wife has come out in support of him, claiming that they registered for the site together in 2008 out of “curiosity.” Mmhmm.

Anyway, it seems Bjarni was not the only Icelander swayed by the company’s creative slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.” Rumor has it that over 100 Icelandic email addresses were found in the Ashley Madison leak.

Flóttamenn til Íslands?

In stark contrast, you could file this under “best of the internet”:

With thousands of refugees fleeing war zones every day (this article predicts 3,000 a day for the next several months), Europe is facing a humanitarian crisis. Many countries are preparing to accept refugees, and officials have stated that Iceland will welcome fifty. Many Icelanders believed this number to be entirely too low, and a campaign (on social media, of course) was started to convince the powers to be to accept more. But this isn’t just another sign-your-name-blindly petition. Rather, individuals are writing personal messages to Welfare Minister Eygló Harðardóttir on the page Kæra Eygló Harðar – Sýrland kallar (“Dear Eygló Harðar – Syria is calling”) offering to open their homes and to provide clothes, food, kindness and support.

This came to my attention when musician Svavar Knútur’s post to Eygló popped up in my news feed. I can’t find it again, but in it he stated that he and his wife have an extra room in their home and would be willing to take in anywhere from one to three refugees. He emphasized that they are not rich, but they do believe they certainly have enough to help someone who has nothing.

Among the others stepping forward to offer their homes are couples, families with children, single mothers, and a gay couple who ended their offer thus:

“Þó að mörgum kunni að finnast að við eigum alls ekki að eiga börn, þá hlýtur að vera margfalt betra að búa hjá hommum út á landi en í flóttamannabúðum!”

“Although many people think that we shouldn’t even have children, surely it is much better for children to live out in the country with homosexuals than in refugee camps.”

A twenty-five-year-old woman wrote a moving post explaining that she was forced to leave home (Kosovo) at the age of eight. As she played outside, she saw black smoke rise from the next town after a bombing, and she remembers soldiers marching in to her school during math class. Seventeen years later, she and her family are living a happy and peaceful life here in Iceland.

“Öll börn eiga skilið að sofa í friði á nóttuni og vakna með vekjaraklukku en ekki sprengingum,” she writes. “All children deserve to sleep in peace at night and be woken by alarm clocks rather than bombings.”

Of course, this movement is not without its critics. Several people have posted on the page commenting that Icelanders seem more willing to help out Syrian refugees than those in need among their own people, and others have pointed to the problems that countries like Sweden and the UK have encountered after welcoming refugees.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Dunkin’ Donuts

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Because you were wondering, Dunkin’ Donuts’ popularity shows no signs of waning. There’s been a line out the door approximately 9 out of 10 times that I’ve walked past this week. And you know what I’ve observed? The majority of the customers seem to be Icelanders. So for those (mostly non-Icelandic) people who have been whining about an Evil American Corporation ruining Icelanders’ Pure Health and downtown Reykjavík’s Perfect Aesthetics, it’s time to give it up. The Icelanders have spoken, and they want donuts. And maybe there will come a day when they no longer desire these beautiful sugared rings of fried dough, and Dunkin’ Donuts will go the way of Icelandic McDonald’s. But until then, my friends, get used to seeing those pink and orange boxes.

Shit tourists (don’t) do

And finally, in this week’s installment of what has NOT been happening:

I haven’t seen any recent news of crapping tourists. In fact, I haven’t noticed any hilarious, bizarre, disturbing, annoying, horrifying, or otherwise notable news about tourists. Perhaps this means summer is finally coming to an end, or tourists are behaving better, or we’ve all just accepted that they’re going to behave badly so we’ve stopped considering it as news, or I’ve simply been too busy to notice the latest tourist shenanigans. In any case, one thing I know: there will be more pooping tourists. Or iceberg picnicking tourists. Or joined-her-own-search-party tourists. All in good time, friends. All in good time.

UPDATE: The magic ice cream fairies at Valdís waved their magic wands and gave Reykvíkingur a wonderful gift today when they announced a new flavor: white chocolate with chili, also known as Icehot1. Algjör snilld.

mamma kemur til Íslands: 1. – 3. júlí

My mamma is 68 years old and twice as Icelandic as I am. Her father, although he never once stepped foot on Icelandic soil, grew up in an Icelandic community in North Dakota, spoke Icelandic, and identified as Icelandic even as he embraced the country in which he was born and lived his life. After my Snorri trip in 2012, I returned to Washington and told my mother she had to come to Iceland. Her response was rather noncommittal – at least, it was until I announced my intention to apply for the Fulbright grant. Then her story changed to, “if you move to Iceland, I will come to visit you.” I don’t want to accuse my mother of anything less than full support of her daughter, but I’m not sure she fully expected that she would have to keep that promise just a few years later. But here we are, three years after my Snorri trip, almost one year after I moved here, and my mamma has come to Iceland for the first time in her life.

1. júlí

Mamma’s flight from Seattle arrived at Keflavík early Wednesday morning, so after sort-of sleeping for a couple hours, Flor and I woke up at 4.45 and stumbled up the street to catch the bus to the airport. We arrived a bit early and I caffeinated myself while we waited. I also put the finishing touches on this sophisticated welcome sign:

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We ran into our friend Alix by arrivals, because Iceland. She was waiting for her best friend to arrive from Minnesota. We spent some time chatting and then all of a sudden my mamma emerged from the jaws of the automatic doors. After greetings, we headed to the beloved FlyBus and the journey back to Reykjavík began.

Tummies full of goodies from Sandholt, Flor headed to work and Mamma and I took some much-needed naps. In the afternoon, we went for a walk around the city and I started to introduce my mom to the streets and cafés and views and sights and sounds and people that make up my day-to-day life here. We opted for a low-key evening in, so Mom experienced her first trip to Bónus, I cooked soup, and we lounged around for the evening.

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obligatory Bæjarins beztu tasting and photo op
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first encounter with Icelandic sheep

2. júlí

We took our time getting up and ready this morning and then headed out without any specific itinerary. We first stopped by the Fulbright office, where we had coffee and a lovely chat with Belinda and Randver. Then we walked down to Harpa and were pleased to see the sun emerge along the way. Of course, we ran into my teacher Ana, because Iceland, and then while we were sitting drinking coffee at Lækjartorg, we saw my friend Mike, because Iceland. We wandered down toward the Old Harbour and ended up getting fish and chips for lunch (for the record, Icelandic Fish and Chips is much better than almost-right-across-the-street Reykjavík Fish).

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On the way back to the house, I was absolutely delighted to spot a red-headed Icelander sporting the world’s (well, at least Reykjavík’s) most magnificent purple jumpsuit, which Kelsey and I had seen several times at Gyllti Kötturinn and been oh so tempted to purchase. Seeing this woman totally own that purple jumpsuit as she strutted confidently up Bankastræti in the sunshine was truly a sight to behold.

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After resting a bit at home, we headed to the day’s big event: the US Embassy’s Independence Day celebration, which was held at Listasafn Reykjavíkur – Hafnarhús (The Reykjavík Art Museum). Elliott had told me that this is the Embassy’s biggest event of the year, and he did not lie. They went all-out: red, white, and blue necklaces, top hats, and headbands; red, white, and blue balloons; the ubiquitous Obama cutout, plus a Lady Liberty one; an add-your-face-to-Mount-Rushmore photo op; good ol’ American barbecue food; a display of all fifty state flags; and more.

There was a lot of America going on in Reykjavík
There was a lot of America going on in Reykjavík

Thankfully I knew a few people there: Brian from the Embassy; my fellow Fulbrighters Scott, Sophie, and Elliott; Guðrún from the Árni Magnússon Institute. It was rather loud and crowded and I think my poor mother was a bit overwhelmed (but she was a good sport about it and incredibly patient while I talked). Not to mention, the room was filled with so many politicians and other public figures and just plain old imposing and important people that I felt incredibly undeserving of attending.

Mamma got Rushmored
Mamma got Rushmored

Case in point: right at the beginning I noticed that none other than Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was in attendance. Yes, the same Vigdís Finnbogadóttir whose election to the office of president 35 years ago was just celebrated a few days ago. I saw several people walk up and talk to her, so I decided I could do it too. I awkwardly introduced myself in Icelandic, explaining that I am a friend of Sunna from North Dakota, who I know had just met with Vigdís recently. Vigdís asked if I was a Snorri program participant and I said yes, I had been. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure what all I said, but I’m pretty sure it was awkward. In my defense, it was loud in there. But still. Is it bad to say that I hope she won’t remember me at all? In case we meet again, I’d rather pretend we’d never met and just start over, hopefully less awkward the second time around.

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There was a brief ceremony: Gísli Einhversson (sorry, can’t remember his full name right now) sang the American and Icelandic national anthems and the Ambassador gave a brief speech. I felt like it was readily apparent that Icelanders do not understand the concept of military-related ceremony, as the majority of the crowd seemed largely uninterested and it was difficult for the presenters to hold the crowd’s attention (but that might also have had something to do with the complimentary alcohol). Anyway, during the ceremony, none other than Borgarstjóri Reykjavíkur Dagur B. Eggertsson and his splendid head of hair walked up right behind us. The universe was giving me a second chance, I thought, after I chickened out on June 17 and didn’t ask him for a photo after following him for like half an hour along the parade route. My stomach did flips every time I caught site of his beautiful curls. I can do this, I thought. You have to do this. But then the ceremony ended and he was talking to Important Icelandic People and started moving fairly swiftly toward the door and just when Elliott and I had agreed to ask if we could take a selfie with him, we turned around and the curls had disappeared. Two chances in two weeks and I still don’t have a photo with Dagur. I am ashamed of myself. I am determined to redeem myself on Menningarnótt. Stay tuned.

I did, however, finally get a photo with Rob Barber, thanks to Elliott’s genius networking skills.

Sophie and I finally fulfilled our dream of getting a photo with Ambassador Barber (100% thanks to Elliott)
Sophie and I finally fulfilled our dream of getting a photo with Ambassador Barber (100% thanks to Elliott)

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Random note: I knew I was at a US event because there was a visible security presence; I was forced to display my actual invitation email (the reminder one wasn’t good enough); and we were not allowed to linger by the entrance after checking in but rather herded through to check our coats, shake Rob Barber’s hand, and enter the main party zone. Good ol’ American rules.

Anyway, it was certainly a memorable evening, and I will definitely go again in the future if I am lucky enough to receive an invitation.

3. júlí

Friday was our last full day in the city before leaving for our road trip. We walked up the street to Hallgrímskirkja and peeked inside (Mom was happy to hear and watch the organist play) but opted not to take the elevator to the top since it was so overcast. We walked over to the university so I could show her the center of my academic life and Flor just so happened to be in the neighborhood so she joined us. We decided to walk down to the Old Harbour and Flor treated us to a tasty late lunch of fiskisúpa at Kaffivagninn. Though it was quite filling, we managed to make room for the best ice cream in Reykjavík at Valdís.

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On the way back to the house, we rambled leisurely through Vesturbær and through the cemetery on Suðurgata, which I have come to realize is one of the most beautiful places in the city. There was no one else around except a few teenagers doing some gardening work and a tall, rather distinctive-looking redheaded Icelander. Yes, the day after seeing Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and Dagur B. Eggertsson, we ran into Jón Gnarr (actor, former mayor of Reykjavík, generally well-known Icelandic dude), in the cemetery of all places. He seemed to be doing some sort of interview as he was speaking with a woman in English while another woman snapped photos, so unfortunately we didn’t get to annoy him by introducing ourselves. But after I convinced Flor that it was definitely him, she took a couple paparazzi photos. Just another normal day in Reykjavík.

So I think we managed to pack quite a lot into my mom’s first few days in Reykjavík before embarking on a six-day road trip around Snæfellsness and the Westfjords, which shall be recounted in annoyingly painstaking detail in the coming entries.

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.

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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