febrúar: rugby and cream puffs

Just a couple Iceland-related adventures I had during my absence from the blog earlier this year…


Icelandic Exiles Rugby

Back in February, I somehow learned that an Icelandic rugby club was heading to a tournament in Vegas and was playing friendly games in several cities along the way.  One of those cities happened to be Portland.  I know absolutely nothing about rugby.  Neither does my sister.  But we decided if our kinsfolk were coming all this way from the homeland, they should probably have a couple fans rooting for them.

So one evening in February, we bundled up and went to watch the Icelandic Exiles play the Oregon Sports Union Rugby Club.  It was cold.  It was dark.  We didn’t know anyone and really had no clue what was going on.  We felt a little silly standing there with our chattering teeth and our Icelandic flag.  I wanted to be brave and strike up a conversation with someone from the team but I guess my bravery was frozen by the winter weather.  But it was an experience.  And the ref’s Michael Bolton hair and teeny short shorts just about made it all worthwhile (unfortunately I have no clear photographic evidence; it was dark and he ran very, very fast). It was interesting to note that a great number of the Icelandic players/coaches/entourage were not in fact Icelandic at all, but British or Irish, which makes sense when you consider the origins of rugby.




Seven weeks before Easter, on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, Icelanders celebrate Bolludagur (Bun Day).  “Bun” refers to cream puffs topped with chocolate.  Traditionally, the morning of Bolludagur, children would wake early and creep into their parents’ room armed with a wand.  They’d yell “Bolla!” and spank their parents with the wand, and the number of spanks delivered before the parents got out of bed determined the number of cream puffs the child would get to eat.

The good news for parents is that the tradition these days is to skip the spanking and get right to the cream puff eating.  This year, I decided Bolludagur sounded like quite a delicious holiday and I wanted to celebrate.  I used a combination of recipes for my attempt at bolludagsbollur – a couple from the Internet and one from our Icelandic cookbook.  The dough I made was very similar to a French choux pastry – mixed up in a pot on the stove, then dropped by spoonfuls onto a baking sheet and split in half when cool.  I filled mine with freshly whipped cream, although some people also put jam in theirs.  And of course I topped mine with melted dark chocolate.  The verdict?  There’s room for improvement, but they were quite delicious and I intend to use this holiday as an excuse to eat copious amounts of cream puffs for years to come.




Ólympíuleikar í London: ‘handbolti er svo skemmtilegur!’

Handbolti 101


Handball, for those who might not know, is kind of a big deal in Iceland.  When Iceland competed in the gold medal match at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, nearly 85% of the nation’s population watched, and apparently a water-usage study determined that hardly anyone in Iceland used the bathroom during the last few minutes of the game.  The team won silver, and upon their return home, were greeted by 40,000 fans and were awarded the ‘Knight’s Cross.’  So yes, Icelanders take handball very seriously.

When I was in Iceland, more than one person expressed shock that I had never seen a handball game before, and my host mom told me repeatedly, ‘handbolti er svo skemmtilegur!’  So I was glad that the Olympics provided the perfect opportunity to check out Iceland’s favorite sport.  I have to admit, I still don’t really understand the rules and strategy, but to my untrained eye it looks like a hybrid of soccer and basketball.  Whatever it is, it is indeed entertaining.  I didn’t watch every game, but I happened to catch the match against Sweden, which turned out to be both incredibly nerve-wracking and incredibly diverting (they won 33-32).  Perhaps my favorite part, though?  The rather krípí Swedish coach:


Staffan Olsson


(No offense, Staffan Olsson; I understand you are a great coach and were a fantastic player in your day.  And no offense, Swedes.  After all, you are my fellow Scandahoovians.  But still, I won’t pretend I wasn’t thrilled by Iceland’s victory…  🙂

So, undefeated, Iceland made it to the quarterfinals.  To watch their match against Hungary live, I would have had to get up at 3 AM, and while I strongly considered it, I ended up choosing sleep instead.  I guess it was a good choice, because if I had watched them lose by one point, I might have been too distraught to go back to sleep.

Despite their defeat, the Icelandic team has been making headlines.  Apparently the Icelandic national handball team is the most important team at the Olympics, and longtime player Ólafur Stefánsson is the coolest guy at the Olympics.  Pretty impressive superlatives.


Other Pearls of Sporting Wisdom


Not only have the Olympics allowed me to explore one of Iceland’s national pastimes, but they have also helped me expand my Icelandic vocabulary.  I’ve been checking out the Íþróttir (sports) page on mbl.is every day.  The headlines are more or less the same as they are from American news outlets, so it’s generally easy enough to decipher the main point.  Even though I haven’t been able to listen to Icelandic much in the past few weeks, I figure continuing to read it is better than nothing.  Anyway, I’ve added some fantastic words to my vocabulary, including this gem:

Alþjóðabadmintonsambandið: The organization that sent home those cheating badminton players.


I’m not usually much of a sports fan, but, like so much of the world, I find myself captivated by the Olympics every two years, so I have to say I’m sad that they are almost at an end once again (especially because I never did get to watch race walking this year!).  But perhaps this will help me cope in the absence of the Olympics: mýrarbolti, AKA swamp soccer.