mamma kemur til Íslands: 1. – 3. júlí

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

1. júlí

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


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.


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

2. júlí

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


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.

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

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

Mamma got Rushmored
Mamma got Rushmored

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


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

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

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


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

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

3. júlí

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


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.


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.


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.


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:

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:


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.

eternal rest under the glacier
eternal rest under the glacier


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




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.


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


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


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


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.


Saxhöll crater


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.




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



In February we also enjoyed our first week off from school since Christmas break. The week is called “verkefnavika,” which is basically project/work/reading week, but of course I found time to do a few other things as well…


I went to see “The Theory of Everything” with my German friend Steffi. As this was my first time seeing a film in Iceland that was not part of a film festival, it was my first time experiencing the infamous Icelandic movie theater intermission. Yes, that’s right, in Iceland all films are unceremoniously interrupted midway through in order to give you the opportunity to buy more snacks and drinks. Never mind that the movie might be in the middle of a really intense or emotional scene. I understand the business savvy behind this tradition, and it’s certainly convenient in other ways (no need for that handy-dandy “when to pee” app), but mostly I just find it disruptive. If Icelanders can’t go two to three hours without drinking soda, eating junk food or peeing, maybe they’re not the hardy Vikings everyone seems to think they are. In any case, the film was beautiful and the music (by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, incidentally) especially poignant. I dearly wish I had a piano here so I could find some sheet music and learn part of the score.

Einn ótrulega langur fimmtudagur

The Thursday of verkafnavika was a particularly full day. I met Steffi at school for coffee before she headed off to Germany and South Korea. I went to a language meet-up. I ran home for a quick dinner, then back to the center of town for a meeting at Dómkirkjan. Kristilegt Stúdentafélag (KSF) is a group of Christian students and other young adults, and I learned about them when they had an information table at Háskólatorg (on campus). Since I came to Iceland, I haven’t gotten plugged in to a church or any sort of faith community, and I quite miss being connected in that way, so I decided to give it a go. The meeting was in the cozy attic of Dómkirkjan, and people were incredibly kind and welcoming. It was lovely to hear worship songs in Icelandic, and several were actually translations of very familiar tunes. There was an interesting message about biblical/Christian influence in U2’s music, and I was pleased to find that I followed along quite well. Overall, it was a great introduction to the club; the only downside was that I had to leave early, because…

I went to see Eivør at Harpa! I literally ran from Dómkirkjan nearly all the way to Harpa because I was meeting Alwin there and didn’t want to be late. For those who don’t know, Eivør is a singer-songwriter from the Faroe Islands. She sings in Faroese, Icelandic, and English; she almost always performs barefoot; she’s pure, wild, indescribable magic. She played three shows at Harpa to kick off a tour promoting her new album, and she played with Sinfóníuhljómsveit Íslands (The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra).

After the show, floating on a cloud of Eivør bliss, Alwin and I decided to head to Tíu Dropar. We ran into a Finnish girl from our program along the way, and the three of us enjoyed a cozy hour of wine and conversation. It was the perfect way to wind down after a full and beautiful day.

Afmælispartý og vöfflur

My friend John celebrated his birthday the Friday of verkefnavika with a party that started in the beloved Gamli attic. I was pretty socialed out from the week, but I went for a while and then bailed before the party migrated into town (going út að djamma is soooo very far from being my thing). Instead, I wandered home around midnight and got a waffle from Vöffluvagninn (The Waffle Wagon) on the way. Lovely.

Coffee with Daniel Tammet

A definite highlight of the month? Unknowingly having coffee with Daniel Tammet. Yes, that Daniel Tammet – the autistic savant who famously learned Icelandic (the unlearnable language) in seven days. You see, a couple months ago Kelsey and I started a language meet-up for students in our program (and others) who wanted extra opportunity to practice speaking Icelandic in a laid-back environment. We’ve been meeting once a week at a local coffee shop to chat for a couple hours. This time, Kelsey’s teacher Sirrý said she wanted to come and bring a British friend who was visiting. When they arrived, he was introduced as Daníel, and she said something about him being from England and having come to Iceland several years ago and learned Icelandic really quickly and gone on national TV to prove his success. In hindsight, she gave us every single clue (and then some) that we needed to put the puzzle together, but for whatever reason it just never occurred to me, even though I’ve watched videos of him on Youtube and everything. In any case, we all enjoyed a lovely and lengthy chat.

Ég er málfræðikennari!

I had the opportunity to play teacher when a girl from my program who missed a few grammar classes asked if anyone was willing to go over the material with her. Being a firm believer in the old adage that the best way to learn is to teach, I agreed. I wanted to review the material during verkefnavika anyway; this way, I had some real accountability to do it. So I trekked through iffy weather to this woman’s apartment over by the university, and taught her (mostly á íslensku!) for the better part of three hours. Meanwhile, the weather worsened outside, which was all fine and cozy while we were safely ensconced in her kitchen, eating cake and drinking coffee and discussing grammar. But when it came time for me to make the (normally 5-minute-long, absolutely painless) trek over to the university, the weather was a bit less cozy. By the time I reached the university, my shoes, socks, and leggings were soaked through. It was unpleasant, to say the least. Since I had no intention of going back out in that weather, and since all my warm, dry clothes were a thirty-minute-shower away, I did what any logical person would have done: tried to try my clothes using one of those automatic hand driers in the women’s restroom. It went about as well as you can imagine, which is to say, not very.

I waited out the weather for several hours at Háskólatorg with Kelsey, and by the time we ventured outside, the weather was mercifully calm, which was good, because…

Taco fyrir mig, takk!

Yo quiero taco fyrir mig, takk!
Yo quiero taco fyrir mig, takk!

There were tacos waiting to be eaten across town! A friend of Leana’s, an American guy who’s lived here for a while, just opened a restaurant on Hverfisgata. On the menu? Tacos, tacos, tacos! The menu changes daily, but there’s always one meat taco, one fish taco, and one vegetarian taco. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of Mexican cuisine, but we eat our fair share of it in the Northwest, and I’ve missed it since moving here. So Kelsey and I met up with Sophie to devour some tacos. The verdict? Tasty tacos, but not as much as I had hoped for the price – 1900 ISK for three quite teeny tiny tacos. We all agreed that we could easily have eaten two or three times that amount, and that the price would have been okay had chips and salsa or rice and beans or something similar been included. So I don’t expect to be eating there often in the future, but maybe every once in a while. Mexican food is something I very much miss from the Northwest. Here, “Mexican food” basically means this one brand of shelf-stable, marginally Mexican-inspired products, like flour tortillas, weak salsas and not-so-hot sauces, and apparently Mini Taco Tubs and Explosion Taco Spice Mix (I may or may not have just spent about half an hour laughing at the Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish versions of the Santa María website).

And a few more happenings…

I interviewed friend and fellow Fulbrighter Scott for an article I wrote for the Lögberg-Heimskringla. Scott is, in many ways, my polar opposite – endlessly energetic and outgoing, thrives on staying busy, draws energy from being around other people. My personality being completely different, I feel like being around someone like Scott really helps me peek out of my shell, if just for an afternoon. Scott and I also explored Matarmarkaðurinn at Harpa. Matarmarkaðurinn (The Food Market) is sort of like an indoor farmer’s market, with booths from all sorts of local food vendors. We sampled some incredibly tasty treats, like rosemary caramel corn, Omnom chocolate, kleinur (Icelandic doughnuts), Kaffitár espresso, and more.

I cooked a Cypriot meal for Fulbright and friends. As you may recall from my January entry, Bónus carries Cypriot halloumi cheese. I decided I wanted to make moujendra and halloumi for my lovely Fulbright family, and Alyssa and Oyman kindly offered their apartment, so we enjoyed a good ol’ family feast of moujendra and halloumi by yours truly, a delicious salad from Alyssa, and ice cream with homemade caramel and fudge sauces courtesy of Sophie.

I went on a date… with languages. A few months ago a couple students at the university organized an event called Stefnumót við tungumál (Date a Language). I didn’t go to the first event, but it has since become a semi-regular thing (monthly, maybe?) and I’ve gone to two now. They hold the events in Stúdentakjallarinn, the on-campus bar, and have tables dedicated to various languages. The idea is that students learning various languages will be able to practice their speaking skills with both native speakers and others learning the same languages. Considering my only fluent language is English, and no one wants to speak English at these events, and considering that my Spanish is so elementary and so deeply hidden in the darkest recesses of my brain at this point in time, I hung out at the Icelandic table the whole time – or tried to, anyway. As you can imagine, the Icelandic table was fairly popular, and also incredibly small, so I had to hover for quite a while and then swoop in and stake my claim as soon as a seat opened up. There was only one Icelander at the table for the first event (and he complemented my accent, which I admit felt pretty damn good) and none at the last event I went to a few weeks ago, but it was a great opportunity to meet others studying Icelandic. We all have different reasons for wanting to learn, but the one thing we all have in common is we’re all a bit crazy.

Last but not least… I successfully renewed my grant! My Fulbright funding is not renewable for next year, but the majority of my grant actually comes from the Árni Magnússon Institute, and that portion is renewable. In February, I had to submit an application to renew. I had written my essay in English and had it all ready to go but then decided a day or two before the deadline to write it in Icelandic. By some miracle, and with editing help from Ásta, I got it done and turned in, and a few weeks later found out my application had been accepted. This means I’ve secured funding to continue on in the Icelandic as a Second Language B.A. program, which means I will be in Iceland for at least another year! I really had no idea how easy or difficult it would be to renew, or how my progress lines up with the Institute’s expectations, but it is such a relief to know that I get to continue. With every passing month, I progress and gain confidence, and it would have been incredibly disappointing if I couldn’t return in the fall. I’m grateful for the opportunity, nervous about the classes getting much more difficult, excited to keep learning. I’m content.


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.


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





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.


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
Kringlan – from

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

of homesickness and other realities of life abroad

When I had been here maybe three or four weeks, a couple people asked me how it felt to finally be living in Iceland and to know that I will be here at least through the school year.  I answered that it probably wouldn’t hit me until about the six-week mark, because when I came in 2012 for the Snorri Program, I was here for six weeks, so somehow I figured it would only be after that time frame that the reality of living here would sink in. Whether it was coincidence, a self-fulfilling prophecy, or something else entirely, I was right. The first couple weeks of October have been hard.  I don’t think it was any one thing, really, but a combination of factors. The first month or so after I arrived was sort of like the honeymoon period. There was this energy and momentum that kept me going, the excitement of finally being here, the fun of making new friends and exploring the city, and the good weather didn’t hurt either. But about the beginning of October, that energy wore off and my exhaustion started to catch up with me; the weather turned grey and wet and stormy; the days started getting shorter; the homework piled up; and I felt overwhelmed. Then, on top of that, I got sick.

Being sick is no fun when you’re in familiar surroundings, but it is so unbelievably not fun when you are in a new place. Everything becomes more difficult: making yourself comfortable at home, trying to find what you need at the pharmacy, deciding if/when to go to the doctor. Navigating a new health care system just plain sucks, especially when you are the uninsured foreigner who forces everyone to speak a different language. I won’t go into detail about my experiences with the Icelandic health care system here, but suffice it to say that I dearly miss my clinic and my physicians in Washington and the ease of knowing when, where and how to get the help you need.

While my health concern from a couple weeks ago has thankfully been resolved, I have still been far from 100%. I’m tired pretty much all the time, which I think is likely related to my ongoing thyroid problems. And for the past couple weeks, I’ve woken every day with a sore throat and had an intermittent cough. There has been a nasty cold bug going around, so it could just be something like that, but it also started right around the time that the Holuhraun volcano smog wafted toward Reykjavík, so it could also be that my overly sensitive body is reacting to the heightened SO2 levels. Whatever it is, I’m tired of it, and I would really like to be well again.

The bottom line is that yes, it is joyful and rewarding and wonderful to experience life abroad, but sometimes it is also just plain hard and exhausting, especially when you’re trying to learn a foreign language, and especially when you’re not feeling at your best.

Yesterday Sophie and I enjoyed some fiskisúpa and kaffi at Café Haiti and we were talking about, among other things, how much easier it is to feel centered and alive when you’re regularly reading and writing. I know that I feel better in almost every aspect of my life when I make the time to write, and yet I have never figured out how to build that into my regular routine, how to make it as natural a part of my day as washing my hair or drinking coffee.

I feel like my constant refrain on this blog is “sorry I haven’t written much lately, but I’ll try to do better.” Maybe someday I will finally be able to move beyond that, but that day is not today.

There is, as always, so much to catch up on, but for now, in no particular order, here are a few of the happier things that have been going on:

tvö kvöld í hörpu

In September, I had the good fortune to saunter down the street to Harpa for two great events two nights in a row. First, I saw Ólafur Arnalds in concert. My friend Matyas (a fellow Árni Magnússon Institute grantee here to study Icelandic) planned to go with his boyfriend, but since his boyfriend had to return home to Hungary for a while, he had an extra ticket, which I gladly snatched up. I’ve seen Ólafur Arnalds once before, last May in Portland, so I knew I was in for a treat. The set list was very similar to the Portland show, but it was still more than worth going. Ólafur addressed the crowd solely in Icelandic, and I am proud to say that I understood the vast majority of what he said (although it certainly helped that he told some of the same stories in Portland). Arnór Dan showed up for a surprise guest appearance to sing “For Now I Am Winter” and “Old Skin.” And because this is Iceland, Arnór Dan was standing around right after the concert talking to someone on his cell phone about where they were going to meet to go út að djamma that night.

The next night, Ásta and I went to hear American author Amy Tan speak. The lecture was part of the annual Art in Translation conference, and I was lucky enough to receive free tickets courtesy of the US Embassy (thanks again, Brian!). Sometimes being a Fulbrighter really has its perks! I am by no means a knowledgeable Amy Tan fanatic or anything, but I read The Joy Luck Club in college and enjoyed it. Amy was, as expected, an engaging speaker, and I walked away inspired to start writing again (clearly that didn’t quite work out, though…).


Speaking of Fulbright, I am happy to say that we have an incredible, if small, group of Fulbrighters in Iceland this year. There are only four others besides myself – Sophie, Alyssa, Scott, and Janelle – and they are all wonderful, talented, energetic and inspiring people. We are all working on very different projects for the year and are of course all quite busy, so I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like, but we’re trying to do a weekly happy hour so we can catch up on each other’s news.

I guess I’m getting ahead of myself, though. We all met for the first time at our Fulbright orientation, back at the beginning of September. We met at the Fulbright office on Laugavegur for kaffi, Icelandic nammi, and an informative program about the history of the Fulbright Program and the Commission here in Iceland, resources of which we should be aware, and practicalities of our grants (e.g., monthly stipends, health insurance benefits, etc.). Elliott, a Fulbrighter from last year who is still living and working in Iceland, shared about his Fulbright experience; Marcy from the US Embassy gave us an introduction to the history and workings of the embassy here in Iceland; and Tanya gave us a crash-course in Icelandic language tips.

After the practicalities were out of the way, we walked down to Steikhúsið and enjoyed a wonderful meal, which included a variety of tasty seafood, wine, an incredibly rich skyr dessert, and of course kaffi.

Monkfish, salmon, and some sort of wonderful potato cake

Alyssa ('14-'15) and Elliott ('13-'14)
Alyssa (’14-’15) and Elliott (’13-’14)


An incredibly rich dessert… some sort of skyr mousse with licorice pieces, mango sauce, berries, and a crumb topping

Sophie, who is from The Other Washington, works on campus, so we’ve met up several times for lunch or coffee. She also holds the distinct honor of being the first Fulbrighter in front of whom I have completely fallen apart, so big love to her for letting me show up on her doorstep unannounced and tearful.

Scott might just be the most positive, energetic person I’ve ever met. He is working on cultivating a new music and arts festival called Saga Fest. It’s all about community, collaboration, and sustainability. Although the festival won’t be held until next May, Scott has been hosting monthly backyard concerts at the home he shares with a few roommates, just up the street from me. Kelsey, Sophie, Leana and I went to the last concert and enjoyed the sounds of slowsteps, the incredible carrot cake that Scott’s multitalented roommate Ilmur made, and the little community that knit itself together in a little backyard in downtown Reykjavík on a chilly autumn evening. Most of all, though, it was fun to see Scott in his element – cultivating an atmosphere of authenticity and community and then sitting back and watching the magic happen.

Enjoying the sounds of slowsteps at a backyard concert with Scott, Sophie, Leana, Kelsey, and a bunch of beautiful strangers
Enjoying the sounds of slowsteps at a backyard concert with Scott, Sophie, Leana, Kelsey, and a bunch of beautiful strangers

Elliott, who received the joint Fulbright-Árni Magnússon grant last year, is still living in Iceland and is part of our little Fulbright family. Once a Fulbrighter, always a Fulbrighter, right? His schedule is so insane that it makes me dizzy just thinking about it, but whenever I see him he always asks how my classes are going and is always ready to listen to my worries and dispense sage advice. Being able to talk to someone who’s been there, done that is invaluable, and the fact that he is just a super cool human being is a bonus.

I have had fewer opportunities to get to know Alyssa thus far, partly because she had to return to the States for a couple weeks, but hopefully I’ll get to spend more time with her soon. She is here with her boyfriend, and her son will be joining us in Iceland after Christmas. I think we already think of him as our collective Fulbright kid, and I know I’m looking forward to finally meeting him!

Janelle is conducting research and teaching a class at the university. She is way more adventurous than I can ever hope to be, I think, having already joined Scott and a few others for a serious hike along the Laugavegur trail. And even though she is not here to learn Icelandic, she is a font of great advice about language learning. For instance, in response to my statement that it is difficult for me to get over my shyness and practice my Icelandic, she prescribed this simple solution: drink more alcohol. (She immediately added that it should be just enough to make me a bit less uptight and self-conscious. She is not proposing anything irresponsible, obviously. Just to clarify that.)  🙂


The Reykjavík International Film Festival was held from September 25 to October 5. I had high hopes of attending several films but ended up only making it to two. Scott, Sophie, Janelle and I had a little Fulbright date and went to see Boyhood (Uppvöxtur á íslensku) at Háskólabío. I’m always a bit nervous about seeing a film that has such a buzz about it, but this one did not disappoint. It did run a bit long, but the writing, acting, and of course the method of filmmaking were just incredible. For those who have been living under a rock, Boyhood was filmed over the course of twelve years, so that instead of having multiple actors play the same kid at various ages, and instead of using makeup to age the adult actors, you actually get to watch the characters age over time. It’s an incredibly risky concept that, thankfully for the filmmakers and for the audience, definitely paid off.

After the movie, as we walked toward home, we ran into Elliott at the bus stop, and then a Fulbrighter from the year before walked by as well, because this is Iceland and these things happen regularly. After Janelle and Sophie went their separate ways, Scott and I had an impromptu visit to Vöffluvagninn (The Waffle Wagon), a little food cart that sets up shop in Lækjartorg on the weekends. It might not be quite as good as Portland’s Waffle Window, but it’s pretty close. Mmm.

I also went to see Before I Disappear (Ádur en ég hverf) at Bío Paradís with Janelle and Steffi, a woman from Germany who I met through a foreigners-living-in-Iceland Facebook group. The movie was definitely not what I expected, and it was quite dark, but still pretty good.

I planned to go see Land Ho (Land fyrir stafni) with Kelsey, but I had too much homework and wasn’t feeling well so I couldn’t go. Unfortunately, I had bought my ticket ahead of time, so there went 1400 ISK down the drain (that’s four bus tickets, approximately 25 Icelandic strawberries, or two iced vanilla lattés at Stofan). So sad. Kelsey assured me that I didn’t miss much and it was pretty much just a tourism propaganda film, so there’s that anyway.

Snorri meetup

Once a Snorri, always a Snorri… a couple weeks ago I got to meet up with a Snorri Plus alum and two Snorri West alumna. Gail Einarsson-McCleery is Iceland’s honorary consul in Toronto and helps run the Snorri West Program. She was in Iceland for a consular conference, which attracted over 130 of Iceland’s honorary consuls from around the world. While she was here, she met up with two girls who did the Snorri West Program this past summer, and she invited me to tag along as well, and I invited Kelsey to tag along. The five of us met up at Stofan, which has quickly become one of my favorite little spots in the city – cozy and inviting, with one of the best lattés I’ve had in Reykjavík.  Anyway, it was fun to chat with Gail and to meet Signý and Anna.  It sounds cheesy, but there is something beautiful about knowing that having had this Snorri Program experience means I have an automatic connection with others who have had the Snorri experience – or, in the case of Snorri West, a different but sort of parallel experience.

Patró reunion

When I was staying in Patreksfjörður in 2012, I met a guy named Brynjólfur who was working at the Sýslumaðurinn in Patró for the summer. We’ve kept in touch here and there, but I hadn’t seen him since I moved here until last night. He’s a mentor for a few exchange students at HÍ, and he decided to put on a dinner party for his mentees and invite me as well. Two of the three exchange students couldn’t come, so it ended up being just four of us: me, Brynjólfur, his girlfriend Ragna, and a law student from China who goes by Nina. Brynjólfur was kind enough to act as chauffeur so Nina and I didn’t have to spend an hour on the bus trying to get to Garðabær.

Brynjólfur likes to cook fancy-schmancy food, so we enjoyed quite the sophisticated menu of escargot and melon and cured ham appetizers; salted cod stew for the main course; and chocolate-dipped strawberries and pain au chocolat for dessert. Besides the yummy food, it was lovely to see an old friend, meet new people, practice my Icelandic an itty-bit with Brynjólfur’s (very sweet and patient) mother, and be reminded that there’s life outside of 101. Also, there was a super cute dog wearing a lopapeysa.


More to come, but for now I need to go hole up at the library and study for a couple hours. Svo gaman að vera nemandi!

ég sakna Íslands á hverjum degi

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.

2012 Snorris

2. Skyr.  Apparently they import 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.

Stúkuhúsið view

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.

host mamma and pabbi #1


Host mamma and pabbi #2

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…).

Mmm I can smell it now…

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. 

guesthouse 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.

nananananananananananananananana Leðurblökumaðurinn!

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.

midnight sunset

15. Bónus – Oh, that dorky little pig logo!  Oh, the wall of skinka and pepperoni!  Oh, the entire shelf of sósa!

the wall of ham and pepperoni at Bónus

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…

C is for Cookie

17. Sitting around the dinner table with Hrafnhildur and Sæmundur and making conversation with the help of the ever-present orðabók.

our constant companion

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.

the ever-popular view from Hallgrímskirkja



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.

C is for Cookie latté

24. Kókómjólk, Prince Polo bars, Daim, those weirdly delicious chocolate-covered rice cakes, waffles from the cart in Austurvöllur, and other tasty foodstuffs.

Okay, it’s actually Polish, but Icelanders love these things.

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.’

Albína is on the right

26. Going for walks in the late-night sun.

11 PM walk in Patró

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.


Laugardagur: Hvítá, Midnight Strolls, and Ghostbusters

It’s 1:32 AM and while I would love to be sleeping right now, that seems impossible as there is a large group of people belting out the Ghostbusters theme song just down the street (although it sounds like they’re in my bedroom).  So I guess instead of bemoaning my sleeplessness, I’ll blog.  I know I still have several days to catch up on, but I’m going to write about today while it’s fresh in my mind.

Most of our day was taken up by a river rafting adventure on Hvítá (“White River”).  After a two-hour bus ride with views of Selfoss (the town, that is), steam plumes, dozens of Icelandic horses, a KFC (their slogan in Icelandic: svooooo gott!), and vast expanses of the starkly beautiful volcanic landscape, we arrived at Drumbó, basecamp for Arctic Rafting.  When we left Reykjavík, it was a perfect blue sky and sunshine day, but as we drove, it kept getting cloudier and darker.  By the time we set out on the river it was raining, and it kept raining until maybe the last 10 minutes.  It never did pour, but still, it added to the cold.

Oh, I should mention one other thing – today was (well, still is, in the States) my birthday.  Ásta Sól gave me an Icelandic children’s book about a kitten named Brandur who has all sorts of fantastic adventures, and everyone sang happy birthday to me, some in Icelandic and some in English  🙂  Til hamingju með afmælið!

We ate a picnic lunch, which gave me plenty of time to freak out about this impending so-called ‘fun.’  I had never gone rafting before, I’m a sucky swimmer, and I had a traumatic experience getting trapped underneath an innertube in junior high.  So this kind of thing would not exactly be my first choice.

Our three guides were all Finnish, I believe.  Ben was our main leader, I guess, and let’s be honest, he was pretty hot.  My boat was guided by Anna, and I actually can’t remember the other woman’s name.  Oh, and best of all, the bus driver was a guy whose name is pronounced like “Freaky” (probably Friki or something?  I don’t know).  Anyway, Ben the Hot Finnish Guide showed us how to put on all our gear.  Putting on a wetsuit is not fun (and getting it off is even worse).

[Music update: I have now also heard reggae and mariachi music in the street.  Doesn’t seem terribly patriotic in light of the fact that tomorrow is Iceland’s National Day, but okay Icelanders, do whatever you wish.]

Once we were all suited up, we got on another bus and drove about 15 minutes to the starting point.  Along the way I chatted with a Swedish girl named Erica who’s here with NordJobb.  She was VERY excited about rafting (and also curious to know whether my high school in the States had a metal detector.  Random, but our conversation provided some insight into how Europeans view America’s gun culture.)

Ben taught us the four basic commands: forward, backward, stop, and hold on.  “Hold on” was my personal favorite and means you should grab on to the “oh shit line” (the rope on the side of the raft) and lean in.  We also learned that if you fall out you shouldn’t try to stand up if the water is shallow because you can get your foot stuck under a rock, which is bad.  Finally we split into three rafts (we had all the Snorris, some NordJobbers, and I think a few strangers) and set out.

There were two or three rapids right away and they had names like “The Bad Omen” and “The Keyhole” (a very narrow space, that one).  They actually weren’t nearly as terrifying as I expected.  After that, we tied up and everyone had a chance to do some arctic cliff jumping should they so choose.  Most people did it.  I was not one of them.

We got back in our rafts and continued on our merry, but now quite freezing, way.  After those first few rapids it was pretty smooth paddling, so we had plenty of time to admire the gorgeous scenery.  The river is actually an aqua or turquoise color, but it is kind of milky (I think it has something to do with silica?  Sorry, ég er ekki jarðfræðingur), and the cliffs on either side are impressive and have all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies (elf housing, perhaps?).  Not to label myself as too much of a nerd, but it looked like Middle Earth, specifically the part at the end of the first Lord of the Rings film when they’re paddling down the river between those two statues.  Let me find a picture:

I can’t find an actual still from the movie, but supposedly this is the river where they filmed it (not in Iceland, in New Zealand, which is also a highly volcanic country).  By the way, no actual pictures from the trip today since my camera is not waterproof, but Ásta Sól and maybe a couple other people took some, so perhaps they will surface on this blog at some point  🙂

[Music update: Aretha.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  A rather brassy version.]

In case you were wondering, the rapids were a class 2 (out of 5).  Not totally pathetic, but not too threatening either.  In fact, I think Friki’s bus driving was scarier and more dangerous.  I can’t say it’s something I’m eager to repeat any time soon, but I survived and I would be open to trying it again.

By the way, I believe the famous waterfall Gullfoss is basically glacial run-off that feeds the Hvítá river.  Do some research if you’re interested in geology.  I’m sure it’s fascinating  🙂

After a cold, soggy bus ride back to base camp, we got out of those wetsuits quickly and headed for the sauna/shower/hot tub.  A change of clothes and a cup of heitt sukkulaði later, we were on our way back to civilization (where, of course, it was still sunny and probably had been all day).

Jolene and I helped Ásta Sól pick up a bunch of pizzas from Eldsmiðjan for dinner (mmm so good!).  We all rested for a few hours, then Jolene and I headed out for a midnight walk (literally).  We walked down toward the harbour and there was another beautiful pink and orange sky over Harpa.  This being Saturday in Reykjavík, there were people everywhere, Icelanders and tourists alike, all ages, even a group of sailors from who knows where.  They were strutting up the street and people were whistling at them and saluting them.  One of them even stepped out into the middle of the street and ‘directed’ traffic for a minute.  And yes, we did see one guy peeing in the street.

We stopped at a shop to get a couple things and I noticed that right by the registers they have a rainbow display of women’s leggings.  This explains so much about the fashion in Iceland (Icelandic women seem to consider colorful tights and leggings to be a wardrobe staple).

Tomorrow is Iceland’s National Day (they gained full independence from Denmark in 1944).  The group is meeting up to go watch the parade, and after that we’re all free to enjoy the festivities on our own.  If you haven’t heard, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are in Reykjavík for a few days before heading up to Lake Myvatn to shoot a movie, so maybe they’ll join in the festivities  😉  If not, I can always go stalk them – I hear they’re staying at the swanky Hilton Reykjavík Nordica just east of here.