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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A year or two ago, my friend Hannah stopped over in Iceland on her way back to the States from England, and she brought me a a few treats: a Prince Polo bar, a cute little puffin postcard, and a tiny little knitted volcano she made herself. At the time, I thought it would be cool to take photos of him if/when I ever returned to Iceland. Well, friends, the time has come. Named Bárðarbunga (Bunga Bunga for short) in honor of recent volcanic activity, he is my little co-explorer on this great adventure of living in Iceland. Over the past few weeks, he has enjoyed exploring Reykjavík. Sadly, I forgot to take him with me yesterday on a trip around the Golden Circle. Anyway, you can check the news to find out what The Bárðarbunga is up to, and you can check here to find out what Little Bárðarbunga has been up to.
In our first installment of Adventures with Bárðarbunga, our little eldfjall explores a few Reykjavík landmarks.
It’s been four weeks since I left my Icelandic home. Twenty-eight days without my fellow Snorris, twenty-eight days without a sip of kókómjólk, twenty-eight days without a glimpse of the Reykjavík skyline or the sparkling waters of Patreksfjörður. In some ways it’s hard to believe so much time has passed, and in other ways it seems like it was another lifetime. What I know for sure is that I have missed Iceland every single one of those 28 days, and here, in no particular order, are…
28 reasons why
1. Ásta Sól and my Snorri family. I think a certain amount of loneliness is inevitable when you’ve spent 6 weeks with a group of people, but there’s also a sense of loneliness because I’m no longer surrounded by people who understand (and share) my Iceland obsession.
2. Skyr. Apparently they import Skyr.is to a number of Whole Foods stores across the country, but they don’t carry it at my local store (although they do carry Nói Síríus chocolate!).
3. The starkly beautiful landscape. As a lifelong Northwest girl, I was skeptical when an Icelandic friend told me that tall trees make him feel claustrophobic, but now I understand. I suppose I’ve gotten used to the trees again, but I understand the longing for open spaces and far-away views.
4. Being surrounded by the beautiful rhythms of the Icelandic language, and being able to practice and learn more every day. 5. Stúkuhúsið – My home away from home in Patró. A quaint, cosy, kaffihús with delicious Swiss mochas and a beautiful view of the fjord. The lovely owner, Steina, spoke to me in Icelandic to help me learn.
6. Learning Canadianisms from my fellow Snorris. What can I say, I’m such a keener! 7. My host families, and their incredible kindness and generosity in accepting me as family and taking good care of me.
8. Listening to Of Monsters and Men on my iPod while packing cod at the fish factory (seriously, I do kind of miss this, although I don’t miss being yelled at by the Polish lady…).
9. Watching American and English TV shows with Icelandic subtitles (I do not, however, miss watching Danish TV shows with Icelandic subtitles… too much brain hurt there!) 10. Guesthouse Óðinn – Our very beloved first home in Iceland. I miss our little closet of a room, the midnight sun streaming in the window, the sulfurous hot water, the comfortingly predictable (and yummy) breakfast.
11. Háskóli Íslands. Learning new words like Leðurblökumaðurinn, following Sigurborg to Háma like little ducklings during kaffi time, buying lunch from the mean lady who absolutely refused to speak English.
12. Nature. Whales and puffins, purple lupine, fjords, waterfalls around every bend. The color palette of Icelandic nature is magical… shades of blue and green I’ve never seen in the Northwest.
13. The water. I used to think the tap water here was great, but it tastes stale and mucky compared to Icelandic glacial water. 14. The midnight sun. The first night I was home, the darkness really freaked me out. I’ve gotten used to it again, but it still makes me feel a bit trapped.
15. Bónus – Oh, that dorky little pig logo! Oh, the wall of skinka and pepperoni! Oh, the entire shelf of sósa!
16. C is for Cookie. I only went there a couple times, but so far it’s my favorite kaffihús in the city. Mmm gulrótarkaka…
17. Sitting around the dinner table with Hrafnhildur and Sæmundur and making conversation with the help of the ever-present orðabók.
18. The weather. I know we were blessed with unusually warm and dry weather, but I’ll take 60 degrees (or even 50) over 90 any day. 19. Sjóræningjahúsið – I never got to spend much time there, but I love the cozy atmosphere and the book exchange, and besides, it was always fun to say, hey I’m going to the Pirate House, see you later!
20. The colors and textures of Reykjavík. Brightly-colored roofs, cobblestone streets, artwork on the sides of buildings, that one neon green house on Frakkastigur.
21. The ever-present steeple of Hallgrímskirkja in the skyline.
22. Going for a walk and seeing where the city might take me. Knowing that even a directionally-challenged person like myself can’t really get lost. 23. Strong kaffi, always.
24. Kókómjólk, Prince Polo bars, Daim, those weirdly delicious chocolate-covered rice cakes, waffles from the cart in Austurvöllur, and other tasty foodstuffs.
25. Working at Albína. Learning the Icelandic words for all the bakery goods, meeting tourists from all over the place, chatting with my German friend every day, talking to the locals, becoming an expert at saying, ‘Ég veit ekki, en ég má að spyrja.’
26. Going for walks in the late-night sun.
27. My future husband, Helgi. I will return to be with you soon, my love! 😉
28. A sense of belonging. Knowing I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment. A feeling of being completely at home.
Góðan daginn, friends, family, and random readers! I’m writing to you stateside after a week-long adventure tour and a 24-hour trip home. It’s hard to believe I’m back and that I’ve really been away for 6 weeks. I’m jet-lagged and a bit cranky and definitely not ready to process my trip as a whole, but I want to start catching up on some of the daily happenings before I forget what they were. The last time I posted I was about to leave Patró, so that’s where I’ll pick up.
Bless, bless, Patró!
Thursday I had my last day of work at Oddi, and we finished early! Ekki meira fiskar!!! In the afternoon I spent some time at my beloved Stúkuhúsið studying, reflecting, and writing some thank-you cards.
After dinner, Sædís and I drove over to Tálknafjörður, picked up Ástrós and Berglind, and went to the hot pot. I didn’t take any photos for fear of destroying my camera in the water, but it was on a hill overlooking the fjord, and in the evening sunlight it was perfect. There’s this naturally occurring green slime that coats the pools, so Berglind and I had fun attacking each other with it. We also enjoyed watching a crazy German tourist lower himself inch-by-inch into the hottest pot until he was submerged up to his neck. He must have felt some sense of triumph, but he was clearly in some pain. We stuck with the safer, cooler pots.
We dropped off Ástrós and Berglind and I said goodbye to their family, then Sædís and I hurried back to Patró so we could stop and get ice cream at Albína before they closed. Back at the house, we ate ice cream and I gave my host family a Washington photo book and some Theo chocolate (I found the lightest bars I brought and kept the really dark ones for myself!). Then we played a little game. I wrote down some Washington place/ferry names (Puyallup, Chehalis, Kaleetan) and Sædís and Hrafnhildur tried to pronounce them. They did pretty well! Then Sædís countered with Icelandic words like lögreglumaðurinn and Kirkjubæjarklaustur. I know my pronunciation was far from perfect, but it must have been passable, because Sæmundur seemed incredibly impressed and once again told me that I must study Icelandic at the university. Trust me, I don’t need any more convincing. If I could start tomorrow, I would.
Friday morning I made the rounds in Patró, saying goodbye to my friends at Albína, Oddi, and the Stúkuhúsið.
Then Hrafnhildur and I set out for Bíldudalsflugvöllur (Bíldudalur airport). We got there quite early and it was crazy windy outside so we sat in the car visiting for awhile. Eventually we went inside and waited waited waited some more. A guy about my age sat down across from us and Hrafnhildur started talking to him, then explained to me that he’s her daughter’s ex-husband’s son. Or something like that. Well of course he is! Everyone knows everyone in those parts.
Anyway, we said our goodbyes and I once again boarded a tiny tiny plane. I think that Swiss Mocha was a bad idea because I was rather jittery. When you fly out of Bíldudalur, you have to taxi down the runway, make a u-turn, then take off in the other direction and quickly circle back in the air to clear the mountains and head south. It’s a bit dizzying and nerve-wracking. For the most part the flight was smooth, but about 10 minutes outside of Reykjavík a shrill alarm sounded from the cockpit and I swear I saw the pilot reach over and turn it off. We were tipping to the side quite a bit because we were turning quite sharply, and it happened again. The pilot seemed unconcerned, but I’m telling you, it did not seem like a happy sound. Landing in Reykjavík requires some more dizzying turns, but the upside is that I got a lovely view of Bessastaðir (the president’s home) and Hallgrímskirkja in the distance. In any case, I was incredibly happy to be back on solid ground.
Gaman að sjáðu aftur, Reykjavík!
Ásta Sól picked me up and we headed back to the guesthouse. Most of the group had already arrived, so I settled into my room and then spent some time catching up with people in the back house. Then I headed out to wander the city on my own. If I felt reunited with the group, I felt even more reunited with this beautiful, vibrant city. Of course I had to return to the bookstores, check out the tourist shops one last time, and enjoy lunch at Durum. I also went to Te og Kaffi for the first time, ordered some sort of tea slushie drink, and can proudly say that I understood the barista when she told me (in Icelandic) they were out of oolong tea and would white tea be okay instead?
That night, we met up at Ásta Sól’s house and walked to Kex Hostel for dinner. Kex seems like a true hipster hangout. They served us dinner family-style: French chicken in a red wine sauce, dill roasted potatoes, rolls with smjör, and skyr brulée for dessert. We were joined by a couple of Snorri alums as well: Stefan, who did the program last year and just moved to Reykjavík; and Helgi, Katie and Breanna’s cousin who did the program in 2001 (I think) and has since lived in Iceland and is completely fluent in Icelandic. Great food, great conversation, but I don’t do transitions well so I was still trying to adjust to the idea of being back with everyone.
Most of the group went out for one last night of partying, and although I’m not into that scene, Jolene convinced me to go with her to the Dubliner to see her cousin play. He didn’t go onstage until 12:30, so we took our time walking and stopped near Austurvöllur for some midnight snacks – a pylsa for Jolene and a waffle for me. The Dubliner was actually pretty tame and we listened to Pálmey for 45 minutes or so. He even sang ‘Jolene’ for his frænka. On the way back we stopped near Austurvöllur again and decided to have 4th meal. While we were eating, most of our group walked by on their way to Kaffibarinn, but we decided to sit that one out (crowds + drunkenness = grumpy Julie). We made our way back to the guesthouse, did some packing, and finally got some sleep.
The next morning we were supposed to be outside, packed, ready to board the bus at 9 AM, so naturally, my alarm failed to go off and I didn’t wake up until 8:45. It was okay, though, because as it turns out we weren’t anywhere near ready to leave until maybe 10. Something to know about the Snorri itinerary: 9 AM means 9:30 or 9:45 – except for when it really does mean 9.
Our ‘bus’ was really more of a van, and there were just enough seats for the 16 of us plus Ásta Sól and our driver, Kent. It was a bit of a tight squeeze, but somehow we fit all of our luggage into the tiny trailer, settled in, and set off. We didn’t get very far, though – just across town to Ásta’s to pick up our food provisions for the trip. After that we were even cozier, but we were finally ready to once again say goodbye to Reykjavík and really, truly hit the road.