mæðgur á ferðalagi: ísafjörður og bolungarvík

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The drive from Patreksfjörður to Ísafjörður was the longest and gravel-iest of the trip. We backtracked east to Flókalundur and then took Route 60 over the mountains. The road is gravel, yes, and there are some mildly terrifying sheer drop-offs and sharp turns, but the weather was splendid and we only met a handful of cars along the way. The scenery was spectacular and had me constantly slowing down (even more, that is; I was already granny driving) and saying “wow!” repeatedly.

I took a few photos from the (stopped – safety first!) car, but none of them do the views justice.

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After a couple hours of dusty driving, we were rewarded by the sight of the Westfjords’ most spectacular waterfall: Dynjandi.

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Dynjandi

Dynjandi (“thundering”) is actually a series of waterfalls, the largest of which is called “Fjallfoss” (“Mountain Falls”). The smaller falls all have names too, but I am too lazy to look them up.

Here’s a charmingly shaky video I took (with my bright pink point-and-shoot camera) that shows what a marvelously beautiful (and windy) day it was:

 

We took a nice long break at Dynjandi, and we were far from alone. That’s the strange thing about driving in the Westfjords; you can drive across the mountains for hours and meet just a few cars along the way, and then all of a sudden at a place like Dynjandi there are dozens of cars that seem to have materialized out of nowhere.

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We continued on past Dynjandi and made it to Þingeyri, where the road is paved once again (my mother was thrilled). From there it was smooth sailing on to Ísafjörður. Well, almost. Just before Ísafjörður you have to drive through Vestfjarðargöng, a long tunnel (about 6 km, I think). After dozens of one-lane bridges, my mom, when she saw the upcoming tunnel, said, “well, as long as it isn’t a one-lane tunnel.” As the sign (which was in Icelandic, of course) came into view, my eyes alighted on the word “einbreið.” “Well, actually, Mom…”

I vaguely recalled having gone through this tunnel back in 2012. Thankfully, heading east, we had the right of way; westbound traffic has to use a series of pull-outs to yield to eastbound traffic.

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Ísafjörður

We arrived in Ísafjörður around dinner time and checked into our AirBNB accommodation (which was incredibly easy to find – such a welcome contrast to our experience in Stykkishólmur). I mentioned to our hosts that we were planning to go to Tjöruhúsið for dinner and they asked if we had a reservation. “Uh… no,” I said, realizing it had never even occurred to me to make a reservation. This is Iceland, after all.

Gurrý immediately offered to call the restaurant for us, and thanks to a last-minute cancelation, she was able to book us a reservation for about ten minutes later.

Dinner at Tjöruhúsið is an experience. Tjöruhúsið and the surrounding buildings are some of the oldest in the country, built by the Danes in the 1700s. The neighboring Turnhús is now home to a museum, and Tjöruhúsið is home to what I think I can safely say is the best seafood restaurant in the country.

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I hesitate to use the word buffet, since it carries such negative connotations, but that’s essentially how dinner was served. The line of people snaked around the long tables and benches that make up the dining room as we all waited our turn for seafood soup and bread. Then it was time for the main course – there were about ten side dishes, ranging from green salad to barley salad to plokkfiskur. And then the main attraction: a dozen gigantic iron skillets, each one filled with mouthwateringly delicious fish – cod, haddock, blue ling, wolffish, catfish, cod cheeks.

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The dining room at Tjöruhúsið consists of just a few long tables, so it’s a communal dining experience. Our nearest tablemates turned out to be a family from Arizona who had just arrived in Iceland that morning. We also sat across from a guy whose two friends’ unfortunate car trouble and subsequent delayed arrival was the reason my mom and I were able to get last-minute reservations. (We expressed our apologies and our hope that the car issue would be quickly resolved, which it was – the friends arrived in time for dinner.)

After a cup of strong coffee (never a good idea at that hour, but hey, when in Iceland) and some Nói Siríus chocolate, we walked back to the car, full and content.

To the several people who recommended Tjöruhúsið – I owe you. Mmm.

After dinner, Mom stayed at the guesthouse while I wandered around town. Peaceful, calm, quiet, illuminated by the late-night sun… the perfect way to explore a new place, if you ask me.

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Gamla Bakaríið

In the morning, we had treats at Gamla Bakaríið (“The Old Bakery”) and wandered around the town a bit. We wanted to go to (what we thought was) the Westfjords shop (where I got my beloved Westfjords t-shirt in 2012 and where we planned to buy souvenirs for family), but since it didn’t open until 1.00, I suggested we drive up to Bolungarvík.

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I had no idea what there was to do or see in Bolungarvík (if anything), but I knew it was just a short drive north of Ísafjörður, so I figured it would be a good way to kill a bit of time. It turned out to be the best little detour of our trip.

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Hólskirkja, Bolungarvík

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You see, when we drove into town, my mom noticed there was a church up on a hill. I drove up there so we could get a closer look and snap a few photos. There also happened to be a home right by the church, and a man outside in the garden. While I was taking photos of the surrounding mountains (and all the rocks that tumbled down the mountainsides last winter), my mom started chatting with the gardener. By the time I walked over there, he was inviting us in to see his house.

He spoke good English, but my Icelandic also helped a bit as he showed us around his house. We learned that he was a tæknifræðingur (which the dictionary defines as a “technologist,” whatever that means), born and raised in Bolungarvík. He lived and worked in Kópavogur for most of his adult life and had also lived in Sweden but moved back to Bolungarvík after retiring. He has a daughter who made the lovely quilt on his bed, and he has a son who lives in Hveragerði but was at Landspítali in Reykjavík after a recent heart attack.

Our new friend Siggi told us that he is 92 years old, and initially I thought have misunderstood him, because he is energetic and youthful and doesn’t look a day over 75 (Seriously, I didn’t believe it until I found this article confirming his age.) Despite his age, he still draws and paints, grows pears, and works in his woodshop. And, apparently, occasionally makes friends with tourists.

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Mamma og Siggi og gjöfin sem hann gaf henni – handsmiðaður diskur

After saying goodbye to Siggi, we drove around the town a bit more. Siggi had recommended that we check out the avalanche barriers. Most towns in the Westfjords are nestled next to incredibly steep mountains, putting them at high risk for avalanches. In fact, 169 people have been killed in snow avalanches in Iceland since the beginning of the 20th century. After avalanches in nearby Suðavík and Flateyri killed 34 people in 1995, the government created a risk assessment process to identify which residential areas were at highest risk. A large portion of Bolungarvík was determined to be a high-risk zone, which prompted the construction of avalanche defense structures between 2008 and 2012. The structures are intended to keep snow from reaching the town and to redirect the flow toward the sea.

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IMG_6184The most fascinating thing is that these structures, while serving a critical defense purpose, double as a recreational space: there are walkways across the dams that provide stunning panoramic views of the surroundings. Apparently the thought was that if the town’s landscape had to be significantly altered in order to impose these safety measures, the least they could do was turn them into something that can enrich people’s lives on a regular basis, not just potentially save their lives some day (not that this is a “just,” but you know).

Oh, and because the Icelanders are a people who greatly value language and names, it should come as no surprise that the town of Bolungarvík held a naming contest when the two dams were erected. The winning names? Vörður and Vaki (Guard and Watchman).

Besides the avalanche barriers, we also saw a woman out for a walk with her child and her cat. Seriously, she was pushing a stroller, and there was a little orange cat following her. We thought it was a coincidence at first, but then noticed that she kept turning around and waiting for the cat to catch up.

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I didn’t want to get too close and be too obvious that I was taking a stalker photo.

Back in Ísafjörður, we were disappointed to learn that the Westfjords shop closed a couple years ago. The woman we spoke to told us that the guy who ran the shop lives in Flateyri and we should just go talk to him, but we were not convinced (our decision may or may not have also had something to do with the fact that we didn’t want to have to drive westbound through the one-lane tunnel).

So we said goodbye to Ísafjörður and continued on our way toward our next destination: Heydalur.

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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.

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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

janúar

Well, January was a blur of fireworks, snow, school, and friends. The days lengthened, mornings brightened, and all sorts of adventures kept me busy.

Without further adieu, here are some of the highlights from my first January in Iceland.

áramót

Having only arrived back in Iceland the morning of the 30th, I was pretty jet lagged on New Year’s Eve, but I still managed to enjoy the festivities. I walked up to Alyssa’s for an early dinner with my Fulbright family, then back home for another dinner with my Icelandic family. After we ate, we of course took part in the time-honored tradition of watching áramótaskaup, sort of an SNL-type comedy sketch show that pokes fun at the past year’s happenings. Since we arrived in August, Kelsey and I had been speculating about what might appear on áramótaskaup, and our predictions were pretty much right on. There was plenty about the crumbling health care system, the never-ending barrage of tourists, and of course Justin Timberlake made an appearance.

Shortly before midnight, Ásta, Kristján, Leon and I bundled up and walked up the street to Hallgrímskirkja to watch the ridiculously long and loud amateur fireworks show. It’s basically a free-for-all that somehow manages to seem almost like an organized show. It was festive and wonderful… that is, until it kept going and going and going and I couldn’t fall asleep until about 8 am. Yeah, that part was less than festive.

Janelle and Sophie telling New Year's Eve secrets in their sparkle-attire.
Janelle and Sophie telling New Year’s Eve secrets in their sparkle-attire.

Hannah hops islands

My Lopez friend Hannah officially became the first person to visit me in Iceland when she stopped over on this icy rock on her way to England. She arrived dark and early on the seventh and stayed for about a week. We stayed in the city while she was here, as it was too expensive to do a tour or rent a car (not to mention driving conditions weren’t exactly ideal, especially for someone not used to driving in snow). But we managed to find plenty to do. We visited Baktus at Gyllti Kötturinn, sent postcards, bought tourist gifts. Hannah fell in love with Nói. We went to Harpa to see Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands (The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra) perform Austrian music. Afterward, we walked over to Bæjarins Beztu for hot dogs. It was a very Icelandic evening, and a perfect combination of high culture and not-so-high culture. All in all, it was a lovely week. It’s always a bit strange when one of my worlds collides with another world, but Hannah-world and Iceland-world got along quite swimmingly (although we never went swimming).

Dinner with Sophie and Kelsey at Glo
Dinner with Sophie and Kelsey at Glo

Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands í Hörpu
Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands í Hörpu

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selssjálfsmynd

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Ég á líf… og líka ost

By some miracle, Bónus started stocking halloumi, a delicious grilling cheese from Cyprus. Our family friends the Panayiotides stayed with us in Washington several years ago and introduced us to halloumi one night, serving it with a simple but tasty Cypriot dish called moujendra – basically just rice, lentils, caramelized onions, and plenty of olive oil. It is so delicious that it is definitely worth documenting the occasion of its consumption. Also worth noting – while we ate, we watched American Idol (“Henry Connick’s Legs!”) and talked about Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina steaming habits.

Kelsey was eagerly watching the cheese grill to a chewy, crispy, salty perfection.
Kelsey was eagerly watching the cheese grill to a chewy, crispy, salty perfection.

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I may have also intermittently been playing and singing (badly) "Ég á líf" whilst we cooked. Possibly.
I may have also intermittently been playing and singing (badly) “Ég á líf” whilst we cooked. Possibly.

Ég þekki Sjón í sjón

In the fall, I read a book by Sjón. In January, I saw him three times in the span of maybe ten days. The first time, he was heading into Brynja, the hardware store on Laugavegur, while I stood outside chatting with Elliott (whom I had just happened to run into, because Iceland). The second time, he was at the post office getting some packages ready to send with a woman who I would venture to guess is his wife. The third time, he was just walking down Austurstræti heading the opposite direction as I was. I haven’t seem him in a couple weeks now, but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Maybe I will always have Sjón sightings in threes. Only time will tell.

I suppose in such a tiny city in such a tiny country, this shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise, but it was still fairly amusing.

Danish fish dish

It absolutely warrants mentioning that January saw the return of the best Háma meal ever, the Danish Fish Dish (also known as rauðspretta with potatoes and remoulade, but that doesn’t rhyme). The glory of the Danish Fish Dish cannot adequately be described; it must be experienced. Crunchy, fried, Danish… with an ungodly amount of remoulade (seriously, I think they use an extra-large ice cream scoop to dish it up).

Danish Fish Dish elicits feelings of pure joy
Danish Fish Dish elicits feelings of pure joy

Seriously, who can eat that much remoulade in one sitting?
Seriously, who can eat that much remoulade in one sitting?

Skammdegi brightening

At the beginning of January, I was walking to school in the dark four days a week. By the end of the month, my morning commute was only dark half the time. On Mondays and Wednesdays, when my first class starts at 10:00, I now walk to school in broad daylight. It was a little strange at first, but I can’t say I’m complaining.

9:40 and light out? Vor er á leiðinni!
9:40 and light out? Vor er á leiðinni!

January Fulbright event: Alþingishúsið

The Fulbright event for January was a visit to Alþingishúsið, Iceland’s parliamentary building. I visited with the Snorris in 2012 but I figured why not go again? It was a small group – just me, Alyssa, one of the new visiting scholars and his three boys, and María, our temporary Fulbright adviser. The experience of visiting Alþingishúsið is the polar opposite of visiting any US government building – you walk right up to the door, through a single metal detector (which María said is relatively new), up a narrow spiral staircase, and voilá, welcome to the center of Iceland’s national government. A kind lady whose name I don’t remember gave us a tour and told us all sorts of interesting and educational things that I promptly forgot because history and dates are not my forté. A few things I do remember:

-There’s a hallway with two long paintings on opposite walls, one a landscape by Jóhannes Kjarval and the other a depiction of Þjóðfundurinn 1851 (The National Assembly of 1851), a meeting intended to determine the relationship between Iceland and Denmark. The Danes wanted to make the Danish Constitution valid in Iceland and give Iceland representation in the Danish Parliament. The Icelanders put forth an alternative plan which would have afforded Iceland more independence. Not exactly pleased with this idea, the Danish representative ended the meeting prematurely in the name of the King. Jón Sigurðsson, hero of the Icelandic independence movement, then said:

„Og ég mótmæli í nafni konungs og þjóðarinnar þessari aðferð, og ég áskil þinginu rétt til, að klaga til konungs vors yfir lögleysu þeirri, sem hér er höfð í frammi.“

“And I protest in the name of the King and the people against this procedure, and I reserve for the Assembly the right to complain to the King about this act of illegality.”

And the delegates began chanting, “Vér mótmælum allir!” (“We all protest!”), a phrase that is now known by every Icelander. The fun fact about the painting is that Jón Sigurðsson is depicted as the tallest, most imposing figure in the room, and the representative of the oppressive Danish government is depicted as very small. In reality, Jón Sigurðsson was a very slight man. A little bit of artistic bias, perhaps?

Þjóðfundur 1851 - málverk eftir Gunnlaug Blöndal
Þjóðfundur 1851 – málverk eftir Gunnlaug Blöndal

-We got to peek into the meeting room of Sjálfstæðisflokurinn (The Independence Party) because Alþingismaður (MP) Vilhjálmur Bjarnason was with our group. He also spoke with us later and answered questions (which other people, much smarter than me, asked, because I have absolutely no brain for politics, economics, etc.).

-One of the most interesting places in the building is Kringlan, a circular area added on to the house in 1908 as a place to receive foreign guests (not to be confused with the shopping mall of the same name). It is one of the most decorative places in the house, with a gilded rosette in the domed ceiling, tall windows, and more. There are also a number of small round tables on which stand the names of Alþingismenn (Parliamentary representatives) from certain years throughout Iceland’s history.

Kringlan - from althingi.is
Kringlan – from althingi.is

Ég tala ekki færeysku

Kelsey and I are so cool that sometimes our Friday or Saturday nights look like this: Eating round “graham crackers” (they’re sort of a lie) with heaps of whipped cream whilst watching Faroese news broadcasts and exclaiming, in between mouthfuls of sugar, how strange the Faroese language is. This particularl occasion may also have included some Facebook-stalking of someone (or someones) we saw on the news. Potentially.

Anyway, Faroese really is intriguing. It’s Icelandic’s closest living relative, and in written form, the two languages are incredibly similar. But Faroese pronunciation is a whole other animal. The thing is, there are still enough words that are similar that I feel like I should be able to understand when I hear it, but I don’t. So close, yet so far.

Eitt kvöld á Seltjarnarnesi

I sent a belated Christmas card to my frænka Jóhanna who lives in Seltjarnarnes (just west of Reykjavík) and she kindly responded with a dinner invitation. I took the bus and battled some intense Icelandic wind and arrived at their house windblown but happy to see my relatives that I first met in 2012. Back then, I could barely manage a few sentences in Icelandic, and I distinctly remember sitting at the breakfast table looking at Morgunblaðið or some other paper, unable to make sense of anything more than a word here and there. This time, I spoke Icelandic the entire evening, give or take maybe 5 English words. Jóhanna, her husband Sigmar, their daughter Mæja, her boyfriend Arnar, and their two kiddos Sara and Sindri were lovely company for a chilly, blustery winter evening. After dinner, I even got to play the piano, which made my heart (and pianist’s fingers) so happy. Takk fyrir mig, Jóhanna og Sigmar!

As if all of that wasn’t enough, school started up again in early January and has of course been keeping me busy. I will have to write more about that another time, though. For now, I leave you with a few more pictures, taken on a couple of the calmer days we enjoyed in January.

náttúrufegurð Íslands
náttúrufegurð Íslands

réttir og gullhringurinn, or, getting out of RVK

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

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

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

The Réttir

 

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

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

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

Réttir runway
Réttir runway

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

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

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

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

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

Gullfoss

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

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

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

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

Haukadalur

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

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

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

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

Þingvellir

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

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Þingvallakirkja (Þingvellir Church) peeking through the trees

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

adventure tour, day 5: drangey, or, the day i met my future icelandic husband

Ferðaáætlun: Hofsós to Drangey to Hvammstangi

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Wednesday morning we said goodbye to Hofsós and piled into the van once again.  First on the itinerary: a trip to Drangey, an island famous as the one-time refuge of the outlawed Grettir the Strong.  Rising straight out of the waters of Skagafjörður, Drangey is a stark, imposing figure on the horizon.  The sheer cliffs, standing 180 meters (590 feet, Americans) high, are composed of volcanic tuff.  Even from a distance, you can tell that this is not the most hospitable place.  We knew we were in for an adventure.

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Although Drangey is clearly visible from Hofsós, we had to drive around the fjord and up the other side to catch the tour boat.  Drangeyarferðir (Drangey Tours) depart from Reykir, a little outpost north of Sauðarkrókur.  We arrived a bit early, so we had plenty of time to stare at the (seemingly) tiny boat in the harbour and contemplate our impending ascent up the formidable cliffs of Drangey.

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báturinn

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Overall, the weather on our trip was perfect, but it seems like every time we had a lengthy outdoor excursion on the itinerary, the sun was replaced by clouds and rain.  This day was no exception.  The sky was grey and the air misty as we waited for our tour to begin.  I must admit, I wasn’t terribly excited by the prospect of cramming onto that tiny boat, getting wet and cold, and possibly risking life and limb climbing up ropes and ladders.  But then I saw our tour guide, and suddenly the day was looking up…

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Meet Helgi (better pictures to come)

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Our group of 17, plus 2 Swiss tourists, boarded the aforementioned tiny boat, and miraculously we all fit.  We learned that our guide’s name was Helgi, and his father Viggo was our captain.  The ride takes about half an hour.  There’s only one place to (relatively) safely dock and climb to the top, a little bay called Uppgönguvík.  The dock got a little smashed last winter when heavy snow caused a large rock to fall from the island.

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brú… kannski…

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fjaðrar

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There’s a fairly narrow path leading from the bridge all the way to the top of the island.  It’s steep and slippery with loose dirt and rocks, so there are ropes to hold on to most of the way.  My camera was in Jolene’s backpack when we were climbing up, and even if I had had it, I probably would have been too scared to relinquish my grip on the rope to take any pictures, but luckily some of the others were braver than me and snapped a few photos:

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The beginning of the ‘path’

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the final ascent – trust me, coming down that ladder is a LOT scarier than climbing up

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Almost all the way to the top, before the final ascent begins, there’s a plaque inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer.  People heading up to hunt and gather are supposed to stop and say a prayer for safety.  Despite this ominous warning, Helgi told us no one has died on Drangey since 1912.  Thankfully, we all made it to the top safely.  The only things on the island are rocks, vegetation, birds, birds, and more birds, and this little hut built to shelter hunters:

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Drangeyarskáli

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We went inside to check it out but sadly I forgot to take photos.  There are four bunks, a little kitchen, a guestbook, some cookies (Jolene and Kayli, ahem!), and this fantastic Snorri mug:

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Helgi made some comment about needing a woman to stay with him in the cabin during hunting season, and I’m pretty sure any one of the 12 girls in our group would have gladly volunteered.

We ate our picnic lunches while enjoying the view, then we followed Helgi on a walk around the island.  We saw a couple dead puffins, and he explained that they sometimes fall prey to falcons.

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hann er svooooo sætur! (even whilst holding a puffin carcass)

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We came to a little corner of the island and Helgi told us this is where Grettir’s home used to be.  You can, in fact, see a little alcove of sorts carved into the hillside.  Helgi invited us to sit for storytime, then proceeded to tell us all about Grettir the Strong, a story which is detailed in Grettis Saga.  I won’t pretend to know the details, but here are the basics as I remember them:

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Um Grettir

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Grettir was an incredibly strong (and headstrong) young man, and after he killed several people in Norway and Iceland, he was outlawed.  Drangey became his home, and with the company of a good friend and a slave, he was able to survive.  The saga tells us that at one point, Grettir’s fire went out, so he had to swim to the mainland (a distance of over 7 km).  When he made it to the other side, he was (understandably) a bit chilled, so he warmed up in the natural hot spring now known at Grettislaug (Grettir’s Pool).  Then he swam back, one arm holding a lit torch above the water.  No big deal.

Apparently there was some rule that if an outlaw survived for 20 years, he would be free, so when the people realized that Grettir was nearing the 20-year mark and was still alive and kicking, they decided to take matters into their own hands.  Several attempts were made on his life, one of which eventually succeeded.  They say Grettir’s grip on his sword was so strong that his enemies had to cut off his hand in order to take it away from him.

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While we listened to Helgi, we were supposed to be scanning the surrounding waters in hopes of seeing a whale, but I have to say, I completely forgot to look.  My eyes were fixed on the storyteller.  I was particularly charmed by his odd grammer; he would say things like, ‘then Grettir swam there over’ and ‘then he had to climb there down.’

Helgi also shared some interesting facts about puffins.  Did you know, for instance, that puffins mate for life?  If a male puffin fails to return to his partner, she may take a new ‘husband,’ but should her original mate return, the new guy has to leave.

We had realized, by this point, that Helgi was not merely a puffin ‘caretaker,’ but a puffin hunter.  He, his father, and a small group of locals maintain the island and in exchange get to hunt there (that was my understanding, anyway).  He explained that they hunt using nets attached to long handles.  Someone asked, ‘well, what do you do with the puffin once you’ve trapped it?  Club it over the head like a seal?’  In response, Helgi held up both of his (large, strong, manly) hands and mimed a twisting motion.  He kills puffins by wringing their adorable little necks.  And somehow he’s still attractive.  How is that even possible?

I believe Helgi said they kill about 4000 puffins on Drangey each year.  According to him, hunting puffins is essential in order to maintain the balance between humans, birds, and fish (humans and birds are both vying for the fish).  He, like many Icelanders, believes it’s the same case with whales.  The Swiss tourists with us didn’t seem so convinced about that.  Honestly, I haven’t done enough research to have a truly informed opinion on the whole whaling/puffin hunting debate, but I do know that a lot of the most vocal opponents are sadly ill-informed.

Helgi also told us that several swimmers, both Icelanders and foreigners, have recreated Grettir’s swim between Drangey and Reykir.  Can’t say I feel the need to experience history in that way.

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Puffin hole

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Helgi told us there are no birds on this nearby island because it is actually connected to the mainland by a thin strip of land, so predators (such as arctic foxes) can get out there.

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Oh, I almost forgot – yes, the island was covered with puffins.

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íslenskur lundi

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I saw my fill of puffins at Látrabjarg, so I wasn’t as excited about seeing them here and didn’t feel the need to risk my life to get close-up photos…

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Next we walked to the highest point of the island.  The walk was a bit treacherous, because the grassy ground is rendered spongy by all the puffin holes tunneling underneath, but the view was worth it.

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Helgi let us try this edible plant. I can’t remember the name, but it grows well on Drangey because it’s fertilized by all the puffin droppings. Yum yum. Actually, it was pretty good – rather sweet.

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hópurinn

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As with Mt. Esja and Eldfell, the trip down was much scarier and more difficult than the trip up.  I quickly realized it was easier to walk backward.  At one point, Katie was going around a corner and ended up basically doing the splits.  Anyway, we all made it down, dirty and dusty but otherwise unscathed, said goodbye to our puffin friends, and headed back to the mainland.

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Ásta Sól snapped this photo down on the dock while we were waiting to head back. Wonder who she was REALLY taking a picture of…

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The lone column of rock on the right is called Kerling (the old woman). She is said to have been a troll, turned to rock by sunlight. There used to be an old man too, but he has long since crumbled into the sea.

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Sjáumst, Drangey!

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Back on the mainland, we warmed up with a quick soak in Grettislaug.

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Grettislaug

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Back on the road, we stopped in Sauðarkrókur for groceries, and we ended up also visiting Sútarinn, a tannery that produces, among other things, fish leather.

fiskar

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Alex checks out the lax (salmon) leather.

I bought a couple pieces of fish leather.  I chose þorskur (cod), which seemed strangely fitting since that’s the type of fish I spent 2 weeks packing.  I have no idea what I’ll use it for, but I’m sure I’ll think of something.

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Finally we were heading to our accommodations for the night, and on the way Ásta Sól pointed out the place where two polar bears were spotted and killed a couple years ago.

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ekki ísbjarnar núna

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Dæli

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We arrived at our home for the night, a place called Dæli which seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere (although Google tells me it’s actually in Hvammstangi).  We settled into our cute little cabins, checked out the playground, played card games, and ate a delicious dinner prepared by Amanda and Patrick.  It was a quiet, relaxing evening.  Our last day on the road had come to an end, and the next day we’d be making our way back to Reykjavík.  I think our exhaustion was catching up with us, and there was a looming sense that our journey was almost at a close.  We just enjoyed each other’s company, relived the day’s adventures, and got a good night’s sleep.

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Our cabin. Jolene is in the window being krípí.

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kvöldmatur – I took a picture because it looked so pretty. Only later did I find out that the sausage contained horse meat. Oh well, add it to the list of edible oddities I consumed in Iceland.

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Ásta Sól teaches Jolene proper pönnukökur sugaring technique, while Kayli takes over the pan. North Dakota made her very first pönnukökur that night and did quite a lovely job.  Til hamingju, Bethany!

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á morgun: Horseback Riding, Goodbye to Reykjavík, Graduation, Bláa Lónið

adventure tour, day 3: natural wonders and bumpy roads

Ferðaáætlun, dagur 3: Golden Circle, Kjölur, Arrival at Hofsós

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Golden Circle

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Monday morning we said goodbye to Heimaey and took the ferry back to the mainland (fries and kókómjólk – breakfast of champions).  Our first stop was Haukadalur, famous geothermally active valley and home to Geysir – the original Geysir, from which we derived the English word geyser.  Unfortunately, Geysir is a bit shy these days and does not erupt regularly, so the bigger draw is Strokkur, another geyser which erupts on average every 4-8 minutes.  There’s a sort of ceremony one must participate in with all the other tourists: find a spot around the perimeter, hold camera at eye level, wait in silence.

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THE Geysir

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I don’t have to translate this into Fahrenheit to know that it’s hot.

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Biddu, biddu…

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Strokkur

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Yes, the steam is very hot and sulphur-stinky.

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Litli Geysir. Just bubbles and steams and looks cute.

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There are a number of other hot pools and mud pots in the area.  It’s like Yellowstone, minus the bears and moose and trees.

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fallegur blár

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cairns

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We stopped in at the super fancy visitors’ center (AKA giant tourist trap) but I managed to resist the t-shirts, magnets and wool products and my krónur survived to see another day and another tourist trap.

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Gullfoss

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Next stop: Gullfoss (‘golden falls’).  Apparently once upon a time (early 20th century) it was threatened by people who wanted to use it to generate electricity.  Near the falls there’s a monument dedicated to a woman named Sigriður Tómasdóttir, whose determined efforts to protect the falls supposedly saved it from development.  The Intranet tells me this is not actually true, although it is widely believed.  Whatever the whole truth might be, I’m sure she deserves some credit, so þakka þér, Sigriður, for helping preserve this incredible sight.

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Sigríður Tómasdóttir

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After Gullfoss, we stopped for a picnic at a picturesque little spot along the Hvítá River.  One of the sheep across the river was bleating very loudly.  I think it was upset that its companions were leaving it behind.  Understandable, little lamb.

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strákar

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Hvítá

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Kjölur

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Full and happy, we waved goodbye to Suðurland and headed northward on Kjölur, a road that traverses the highlands between two glaciers, Langjökull and Hofsjökull.  I remember seeing the road sign indicating the imminent beginning of the gravel road:

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We hit the gravel road, bump bump bump, and someone asked, ‘Is it going to be like this the rest of the way?’  Indeed, it was just like that.  Sometimes worse.  At one point we forded a little creek.  It was like the Oregon Trail, but on a different continent, with a van instead of a wagon, and no oxen or rattlesnakes or threat of death by cholera.

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I believe this is Hvítárvatn, a glacial lake and the source of Hvítá.  Landscapes like this make it easy to imagine why parts of the Icelandic highlands were used as training spots for the Apollo mission.

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You don’t have to get very far out of the city to realize that Iceland is primarily a land of vast, beautiful emptiness, and traveling through the highlands drives the point home.  I soaked in the view of vast emptiness dotted with glacial lakes and looming mountains until all the rocks started blending together into a dusty blur.

We stopped at Hveravellir, a natural hot spring, for a quick dip in the middle of nowhere, then we forged ahead on the dusty trail toward Hofsós.  The road stretched on and on, bump bump bump, and we amused ourselves by playing Mad Libs and I Spy (difficult when there’s nothing outside) and coloring Care Bears and Skill Rex (go Alex!).

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Hveravellir

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Hofsós

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Hours later, brains slightly addled from all the jostling, our tires rolled onto a real road once again, and soon that road led us to Hofsós, our home base for the next two nights.  We dusted off our luggage (even though it was in the trailer, it was covered by a thick layer of highland dust).  Most of the group checked into Prestbakki, the old parsonage right next to the kirkja, but Amöndu, Jolene and I got our very own little garage-turned-apartment across town.  The way Ásta Sól described it, I was getting a bit nervous, but it actually turned out to be nicer than the house, I think.  Cute and quaint and comfortable.  The only minor problem?  There was no TP, so I pillaged some from the other house.  Problem solved.

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Kirkja og Prestbakki

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home sweet garage

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Hofsós, like so many Icelandic towns, is little more than a village, settled along the coast in the shadows of bare mountains.  But what a beautiful village.  There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the arrangement of homes; they dot the landscape this way and that, and the colors are equally random.  The three buildings of the Emigration Center sit right next to the harbour.  A river flows down from the mountains and rushes into the sea.  Add in the bright evening sun and you have a scene of Icelandic perfection.

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We had dinner at the restaurant, Sólvík (in towns of this size there is simply THE restaurant): fish and chips, meatballs and rhubarb jam, green salad, peas, rolls.  While we were eating a dessert of blueberry skyr with cream, a man named Nelson who works at the Emigration Center joined us and I enjoyed chatting with him and Kent, our bus driver.  I mentioned that I would love to study Icelandic at the University, and Nelson told me about some available scholarships and said that my English degree is the perfect background.  Maybe not such a far-fetched dream after all?

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á morgun: a visit to Vesturfarasetrið, the Icelandic Emigration Center

adventure tour, day 2: vestmannaeyjar

Ferðaáætlun, dagur 2: Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)

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On Day 2, we packed up, thanked Ásta for her gracious hospitality, said goodbye to Brúnaland, and drove to Landeyjahöfn to catch the ferry Herjólfur to the Westman Islands (our van was in the ‘XL-Bílar’ lane).  Apparently this harbor was only constructed in 2010; before that, the primary gateway to the islands was through Þorlákshöfn, about 100 km west.  The old route took nearly 3 hours; the current route, only 30 minutes.

The Westman Islands are an archipelago off the southwest coast of Iceland.  Heimaey (‘home island’), with a population near 5,000, is the only inhabited island.

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The ferry, Herjólfur, docked at Landeyjahöfn

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Sumarhús?

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On a clear day you have a beautiful view of Eyjafjallajökull throughout the ferry ride.  Before you reach Heimaey, you pass a number of much smaller islands.  One or two of them had single homes on them, which I’m assuming are private summer homes.  Doesn’t look like the easiest place to get to, though.

When you near Heimaey, the boat is suddenly overshadowed by cliffs on one side, and just when you’re thinking the island looks completely empty, you round a corner and see a sprawling town (well, okay, sprawling by Icelandic standards).  I was surprised by the size and also by the smell – a rather unpleasant combination of fish and bird droppings, I believe.

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Heimaey harbour

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We checked into Hreiðrið Guesthouse and then Kent took us on a little van tour.  We drove past Herjólfsdalur, the valley where the Þjóðhátíð festival takes place every August.  Þjóðhátíð is a long weekend of music, merriment, and sometimes more, since Ásta Sól says there’s generally a noticeable upswing in Iceland’s birth rate every May.

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Party central every August

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We continued south to Stórhöfði, a weather station and viewpoint on the south end of the island.  Eyjafjallajökull looms from the north, and the water to the south is dotted with other islands, including Surtsey, the newest island on earth.  It was created by a submarine volcanic eruption in the 1960s and is the second-largest island in the archipelago, although due to erosion it is only half the size it once was.

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meira eyjar

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Surtsey is the one in the background on the right, with the low, long spit on one side.

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The next stop was Eldfell.  Anyone with an interest in Iceland probably knows that the eruption of Eldfell in 1973 forced the evacuation of Heimaey and ultimately increased the island’s land mass by about 2 square kilometers.  The lava flow threatened to cut off the harbor, which would have made Heimaey completely uninhabitable, but with some strategy and some luck, they were able to divert the lava flow and the harbor is actually better protected now than it was before the eruption.

There is a sort of path up the mountain, but the rocks are large and loose so it’s rather slow going, similar to the resistance you feel when walking up a sand dune.  Still, it was completely worth it for the view.

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Red

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Sadly, my camera malfunctioned and I seem to have lost about 25 photos I took at the top.  I do have a few, though, and everyone else in the group was snapping away so hopefully I’ll be able to steal some more shots.

We tumbled and slid back down the mountain, returned to the guesthouse for lunch, and then had free time the rest of the afternoon.  Most people went swimming, but I decided to go for a solitary walk.  First I noticed a soccer game and watched for awhile, then I walked ‘downtown.’  Unfortunately hardly anything was open (it was Sunday), so I just wandered around for awhile.  I was surprised by how urban the town is.  Okay, maybe suburban would be a more appropriate term, but really, I guess I expected it to be more countrified and quaint, when in reality it almost looked like a small section of Reykjavík, minus the city’s wonderful charms, had been picked up and plunked down on Heimaey.

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Ohhh so this is what the lögreglumenn do all day!

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alltaf fiskar á íslandi

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Neighbors: the university and the liquor store

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I failed to find a kaffihús or other place to hang out, so I bought a few snacks at a grocery store and went back to the guesthouse for a nap.  In the afternoon, my host mom Hrafnhildur called me to say halló so I chatted with her a bit in what I would call Eng-landic or Ice-lish.  Whatever it was, it was enough to effectively communicate, and when I got off the phone, Jolene said something like, ‘Holy shit!  You frickin’ speak Icelandic!’  That’s definitely an exaggeration, but it really is amazing how much we can communicate with my limited Icelandic and her limited English.

For dinner we enjoyed a barbecue in the courtyard between our two guesthouses.  After dinner, a bunch of us stayed outside and chatted.  Jolene showed off her impressive magnetic forehead talent:

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Amöndu is rendered speechless (but not expressionless) by Jolene’s talent

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We talked and laughed while the sun sank below the hills and turned the evening light pink, no one wanting to be the first to leave and break that magical midnight sun spell.  But eventually we realized we should get some sleep, so we all found our ways to our little puffin-bordered rooms and slept.

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góða nótt

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íslenskur lundinn

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á morgun: Geysir, Gullfoss, Kjölur, Hofsós

adventure tour, day 1: wishes and tractor puzzles

Ferðaáætlun, dagur 1

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On Day 1 of our adventure tour, we drove from Reykjavík to Hvolsvöllur, with stops at Þingvellir, Skálholt Cathedral, Seljalandsfoss and Skógarfoss (waterfalls), and the Eyjafjallajökull Erupts exhibit.

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ÞINGVELLIR

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Þingvellir, only about an hour from Reykjavík, is one of the most important (and most tourist-attracting) sites in Iceland.  The Alþingi, the oldest parliament in the world, was established here in 930 AD, and along with its historical significance, Þingvellir is also geologically significant.  The Mid-Atlantic Ridge runs through Þingvellir, meaning that Iceland is actually on two tectonic plates – the North American and the Eurasian.  Iceland is growing at a rate of 2 cm a year because of the divergence of the plates.

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North America, meet Eurasia

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It’s a requirement to be a dorky tourist at Þingvellir

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I fought the hoards of German tourists to take my turn posing in the rift.

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Þingvellir’s historical significance has a much darker side as well.  The Alþingi used to be the judicial branch of government as well as the legislative, so they judged crimes and carried out (often grisly) punishments.  Seventy-two people are known to have been executed at Þingvellir between 1602 and 1750, including 18 women who were drowned in Drekkingarhylur (I believe most if not all of them were accused of witchcraft).

There is so much more to be said about Þingvellir, but I think I’ll just let you get a sense of the place through some more photos:

Roomies!

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ósk: There’s a certain section of the river where you’re supposed to toss coins and make a wish.  They say if you actually see your coin hit the bottom, your wish will come true.  I watched my króna travel all the way down  🙂

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SKÁLHOLT CATHEDRAL

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Skálholt simplicity

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Skálholt is one of the most historically significant sites in Suðurland (South Iceland).  I had to consult my trusty guidebook so as not to confuse the details, but here’s a brief overview of its history:

Skálholt was established as the bishop’s ‘see’ for all of Iceland in 1056 and held that title until 1109, when Iceland was split into two dioceses.  Skálholt remained the center of ecclesiastical life in the South, and Hólar was established in the North.  Thirty-two Catholic bishops served at Skálholt, and Iceland’s last bishop, Jón Arason, was beheaded there (um 1550).  Post-Reformation, Skálholt was the southern headquarters for the Lutheran Church (1540-1796) until 1801, when the diocese moved to Reykjavík and Skálholt was turned into an educational center.

I’m sure you can find many more details online if you’re interested, but that’s about all I know (thank you, Andrew Evans!).  We didn’t spend too much time there – just enough to snap a few pictures of the interior:

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View from outside Skálholt. I believe that’s Hekla in the distance (Iceland experts, correct me if I’m wrong!).

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HVOLSVÖLLUR: BRÚNALAND, ÞORVALDSEYRI, EYJAFJALLAJÖKULL

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In the afternoon, we arrived at Brúnaland Farm, where Alexandra’s relative Ásta graciously agreed to host us.  We had a late lunch at the house and rested for awhile.  Amöndu found this amazing traktor puzzle, so of course we had to put it together.

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Can you say, ‘Eyjafjallajökull’?

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Why yes, yes I can.  Passably, anyway.  About a 20-minute drive from Brúnaland, Þorvaldseyri Farm sits in the shadow of the glacier, which unfortunately we couldn’t see due to þoka (fog).  We went to the Eyjafjallajökull Erupts exhibit, which includes a short film about the experiences of the local families with the recent eruption.

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Eyjafjallajökull being shy. It’s back there. Really.

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Seems like this was an already-existing building that the owners turned into a tourist attraction. Pretty good marketing opportunity, you have to admit.

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Rapeseed fields. ‘Rape, not grape!’ (uhhh Snorri inside joke)

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No, we didn’t do the helicopter tour, but know that it’s available, should you wish to part with what I’m guessing is a fair amount of krónur.

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FOSS (M): WATERFALL

There are a lot of waterfalls in Iceland.  So many, in fact, that it’s easy to get a bit jaded and fail to recognize just how beautiful and impressive they are.  We visited two waterfalls in the south: Skógarfoss and Seljalandsfoss.

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SKÓGARFOSS

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Frænkur

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Svartur sandur

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SELJALANDSFOSS

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foss og regnbogi

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regnbogi

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I wasn’t wearing good shoes, so I didn’t join the group for the trek behind the falls, but that’s okay; I got a better view of the rainbow from the front  🙂

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BACK AT THE FARM

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We spent the rest of the evening back at Brúnaland.  Ashley made some amazing spicy chicken soup for dinner, and we all sat out on the porch eating and talking.  Topics included Canadian vs. American TV shows, ketchup chips (mmm!), speedwalking (yes, it’s really truly an Olympic sport), curling, man-o-pause (Marshall!), and garburators (weird Canadian slang term for a garbage disposal AKA an In-Sink-Erator).  The Americans among us learned of the wonders of Man Tracker (‘is there a Mrs. Man Tracker?’).

Ásta served us an incredible spread of desserts – hjónabandssæla, skúffukaka, and some sort of cheesecake – öll með rjóma, auðvitað!

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eftirréttur – aldrei of mikið sykur á íslandi!

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So we ate more and talked more, and the dog roamed around the table seeking attention, and the sun painted the horizon pink, and behind us loomed the Westman Islands, our next destination.

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hundurinn

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Most of the group stayed in two campers outside, but Ásta Sól, Jolene and I stayed in the house.  Once I stopped laughing at Jolene’s fríkí Hello Kitty mask, I got a good night’s sleep.

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á morgun: Vestmannaeyar