mæðgur á ferðalagi: frá Stykkishólmi til Patreksfjarðar

After a lovely night’s sleep in the nuns’ guest room, I joined them for Sunday morning coffee and conversation. Since my mom was still at the guesthouse, we all spoke Icelandic together, and at one point American Nun said to Brazilian Nun, “Talar hún ekki rosa góða íslensku?” Brazilian Nun agreed, and then American Nun turned to me and said something like, “Þú hljómaðir svoooooo bandarísk þegar þú varst nýkomin” (“You sounded so American when you first came to Iceland!”) Uhhhhh takk, I guess?

I said goodbye to the nuns and met back up with my mom, who hadn’t slept so well – the midnight sun reflected on all the white walls and bedding in her room, she said, but more importantly, her c-pap machine (which helps her breathe and not snore at night) had broken. I was suddenly ten times more thankful that I’d accepted the nuns’ offer because I knew that if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have slept either.

We checked out of the guesthouse and had a few hours to kill before boarding the ferry that would take us to the Westfjords. Hint for travelers: there’s pretty much nothing to do in Stykkishólmur on a Sunday morning, so take that into consideration in your planning. We went to Bónus as soon as it opened, either because we actually needed something or just to kill time, I’m not sure. We had another parking lot picnic. We photographed the harbour:

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And the weird spaceship church:

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Mom learned a little bit about just how windy Iceland can be:

I call this series "mamma og íslenski vindurinn"
I call this series “mamma og íslenski vindurinn”

And we went to what might be Iceland’s cutest little café and ate what is most definitely Iceland’s most unbelievably delicious hjónabandssæla (a traditional Icelandic treat made of rhubarb jam sandwiched between layers of buttery oatmeal crust). Seriously, if you pass through Stykkishólmur, do yourself a favor and go to Sælkerahúsið for hjónabandssæla.

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fallega mamma mín í sumarsólinni
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heimsins besta hjónabandssæla, engin spurning

After we parked in the ferry line, I left my mom with the car and went exploring.

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From my perch atop this viewpoint, I watched the ferry come in to the harbour, and soon it was time to board the boat (Ferjan Baldur, which runs from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur, stopping briefly at the island Flatey). Now, boarding this ferry was not like boarding a Washington State Ferries vessel. For one, all car passengers must board the vessel on foot, which means I had to drive solo into the belly of the boat. I was actually one of the very first to board, which sounds great, but meant that I had to maneuver the car into a very tight little corner. I survived, though, as did the rental car, thank goodness.

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The crossing takes about two and a half hours. We started the voyage up on the main deck enjoying the good weather and scenery, then headed down below deck where my mom read and I took a nap. When the ferry docked at Flatey, we headed back up to try and snag some seats on the upper deck, and of course we ran into a relative – Ástrós, granddaughter of my Patreksfjörður host parents, who, ironically enough, had accompanied us on a trip to Flatey in 2012.

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mamma á ferjunni

Somehow I managed to extract the car from the ferry without incident, and Mom and I headed to Hótel Flókalundur for dinner before starting the drive west along the Barðaströnd coast. I knew our two family farms were somewhere along this stretch and hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult to find them again, and it wasn’t.

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Westford/Westfjords
Westford/Westfjords

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The pink-orange glow of the late night summer sun guided us to Patreksfjörður and we arrived around 10.00. Our guesthouse was lovely but overrun with German tourists with whom we had to fight for the shower, but such is life.

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We went to bed with no particular agenda in mind for the following day. (Notice I said “went to bed,” though, and not “went to sleep,” because neither of us got much of any sleep that night due to my mother’s malfunctioning machine, my inability to sleep through snoring, and a sad lack of nuns offering guest rooms.)

Anyway, the failure to prepare any sort of real plan for the next day was very Icelandic of us and happened to work out swimmingly, as you, dear reader, will learn in our next installment.

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Þrjár vikur, part 2

In my last post, I shared some of the more stressful happenings I’ve experienced in the last five weeks. Thankfully, life hasn’t been all stress and worry, though.  We’ve been enjoying a perfect warm, dry, sunny Northwest summer, which I am trying to relish, knowing that I will dearly miss such weather over the next nine months.

At the end of June, my brother Scott and his wife Gloria came to visit from Texas and brought their friend Laura with them to explore the Northwest.  It was the first time I’d seen them in almost two years, I think, so of course it was great to have them here.  We all drove up to the Seattle area for a family wedding and then continued on to Lopez Island for the week of July 4.

It was the first time I’d been there since November, and the first time my family had been up in probably two or three years.  It was wonderful to reconnect with my dear island friends and my beloved island locales.  Lattés were enjoyed at Robert’s café and almond butterhorns from Holly B’s satisfied my tummy and left my fingers wonderfully sticky.  We went to Odlin one evening and watched the sun set while we toasted marshmallows over the fire.  Scott and I hiked at Iceberg and Chadwick Hill.  I enjoyed a couple evening walks along the spit just like I used to.  We meandered around the Farmer’s Market two days in a row.

On July 4th, we sought treasures at the library book sale; watched the parade with amusement and delight (the parade is so much more fun now that I know at least half the people in it); and watched from the Whiskey Hill Dock as fireworks burst over the bay late that evening.

And of course everywhere I went that week, I had to stop and talk to at least one person, more often three or four or five.  In fact, it started even before we got to Lopez. I spent the entire ferry ride from Anacortes talking to Jeanna, who I used to work with at the school up there.  She was so excited to hear my news, and having grown up on the East Coast, had plenty of advice about dressing for cold winters.  On island, I caught up with Celia, Patsy, Steph and Tessa at the LIFRC; dropped in on Georgeana at the LIPC; picked up some gossip from Robert at the café; ran into church friends at the library and the parade; stood outside talking to the neighbors while Zorro the cat roamed around seeking birds and attention; hung out with Hannah and saw Gretchen and Björn.  Even if I never again live on Lopez full time (but I certainly hope I will!), it will always feel like home.


 

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This is what home looks like

 



July sunset over Fisherman Bay and Turtleback Mountain
July sunset over Fisherman Bay and Turtleback Mountain

 


 

Last weekend, I enjoyed a lovely Icelandic-Portlandian barbecue with my friends Andrea, Viðar, Þorsteinn, Edda, Vanessa, Ken, Brynya, and Lilia.  We had authentic Icelandic lamb, pylsur, hjónabandssæla, and more, and enjoyed a relaxing evening outdoors eating and chatting and watching the kiddos play.

When I haven’t been vacationing, socializing, or working, I’ve been shopping.  I wear pretty much the same clothes year-round here in the Northwest, give or take a pair of leggings and a jacket, and after I finally tossed all my worn-out pairs (including some black sandals I wore at my high school graduation 9 years ago), my shoe collection has dwindled to a couple pairs of sandals and ballet flats that simply will not suffice for an Icelandic autumn and winter.  And spring.  And summer, for that matter.

The good news is that despite the back-to-school displays that went up around July 4, most people are still buying warm-weather clothes, so just about everything I’ve been buying for Iceland has been on sale.

One thing I was thrilled to not have to buy was luggage.  I’ve never had my own set, and I wasn’t looking forward to spending a couple hundred dollars on two big suitcases.  I posted a plea on Facebook to see if anyone had a suitcase or two that they wanted to sell, and I was blessed to be given two big, like-new suitcases for free!  

I still have quite a few things on my to-do and to-buy lists, but I am slowly getting there…

Recap: Edible Oddities Consumed in Iceland, plus What’s On the Menu Next Time

Soon after I returned to the States, I joined some friends at my church’s family camp.  Everyone was excited to see me and hear stories from my trip, and apparently people had been reading my blog, because more than one person asked me about/applauded me for all the interesting (and often disgusting) foods I tried.  I think I have written about everything I tried, but they’re spread out over several blog entries, so I thought it might be interesting to compile the list now.  So, without further ado, I present to you the list of…

Edible Oddities I Consumed in Iceland

(Plus several non-oddities…)

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Kjöt, Fiskur, og Egg (Meat, Fish, and Eggs)

  • puffin – Yes, the cute little black-and-white bird.  Can’t say I enjoyed it much; it’s very strong, almost gamey, and I wasn’t feeling well the day I ate it anyway, but if/when I marry Helgi, I suppose I’ll have to get used to it.

  • sviðasulta (sheep’s head jam) – This is what happens when you scrape out all the ooey gooey bits and pieces from inside a sheep’s head and smoosh it together into a gelatinous cube.  Just about as terrible as it sounds/looks.

  • harðfiskur – Unsalted fish, dried to a straw-like crisp in the sun and wind.

  • hákarl – The infamous putrefied Greenland shark.  (Disclaimer: I didn’t actually swallow it, but considering that Gordon Ramsay threw it up and Anthony Bourdain described it as the single worst food he’s ever eaten, I think that even keeping it in my mouth for 5 seconds counts as a success.)

  • horse meat sausage – I don’t think it was entirely horse meat; it actually tasted like lamb to me.  Anyway, I didn’t know it contained horse meat until after I had eaten it.  It was really quite good, although I’m still not much of a red meat person.

  • pylsa – Icelandic hot dog made with lamb, topped with crunchy fried onions, raw onions, ketchup, mustard, and remoulade.

  • lamb – I know this isn’t exactly an exotic food, but I don’t normally eat red meat and actually I don’t think I had ever eaten lamb before.
  • hangikjöt – Smoked lamb, thinly sliced and served with flatbrauð and smjör.  Not bad, but a little too smokey for my taste.
  • lax – I tried smoked and cured varieties, but they were both too raw for me.  I’ll stick to cooked smoked salmon.
  • this weird egg – I don’t remember what kind of bird this is from, but my host parents insisted they are SO much better than hen eggs.  That might be true, but I was too disturbed by the translucent white and the too-orange yolk to really register the taste.

  • súrsaðir hrútspungar – Soured ram’s testicles.  Actually one of the least heinous of the disgusting-sounding traditional foods.  Just a little sour.

  • fiskibollur – Like meatballs made of fish.  Not bad, not good.  I don’t think fish should be quite that chewy.
  • fiskbúðingur (fish pudding) – I could have translated the ingredients on the can (yes, it comes in a can), but I figured it was safer not to know.  It comes out of the can in one big cylinder, then is sliced and pan-fried.  Like the fiskibollur, it was a little too chewy for comfort…
  • steinbítur, ýsa, karfi, og meira fiskar – I ate a LOT of fish, and I didn’t always know what kind it was.  I do know that I loved the steinbítur and karfi, but found the monkfish rather questionable.

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Brauð (Bread)

  • rúgbrauð – A dense, dark, sweet rye bread made with molasses.  One of my favorites.  I need to find a recipe.
  • pönnukökur – Icelandic pancakes.  Basically a crepe.  Served with rhubarb jam and whipped cream or simply with sugar. I need to attempt these at home.

  • hveitikökurFlat white bread, similar to pita bread.  I ate it for breakfast with smjör and cheese.  Mmm.
  • flatbrauð – Not sure how to describe this.  As the name suggests, it’s very flat, it has a mildly sweet taste, and it’s often paired with smjör and hangikjöt.

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Sykur (Sugary Treats)

  • rababarasulta – Rhubarb jam.  I don’t usually like rhubarb jam in the States, but I think it’s the official jam of Iceland, and it’s very good.  Seems to be served with just about anything, from pönnukökur to meatballs.
  • hjónabandssæla (‘happy marriage cake’) – Oatmeal cake with jam filling.  I tried some from a bakarí in Reykjavík, enjoyed the one Ásta made in Hvolsvöllur, and ordered some on my flight home (the flight attendant was extremely impressed that I could pronounce it correctly).
  • hrísgrjónagrautur (rice pudding) – I tried three versions of this.  One was already prepared and just had to be heated on the stove; one was homemade by Hrafnhildur, and one came in a little individual-serving container with a side of caramel sauce (hrísmjólk með karamellusósu).  They were all magical.

  • Prince Polo bars – Okay, so they’re actually Polish, but they are well-loved in Iceland, and I can see why; they’re pretty tasty.  Too bad they’re made by Kraft.

  • skyr – A thick dairy product, similar to Greek yogurt.  Love love love it!

  • Nói Síríus chocolate – Yum yum, although I much prefer the dark varieties (which you have to find in the baking section; apparently your average Icelander thinks chocolate over 45% cacao content is not suitable for direct consumption).
  • black licorice – Eh.  I tried the sweet kind and the salty kind and the in-between kind and while it no longer makes me want to gag, it’s far from my favorite.

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Drykkir (Drinks)

  • Icelandic moss tea –  Mild flavor; nothing too exciting.
  • kaffi kaffi kaffi – Mmm.  Icelanders don’t know what weak coffee is, and that’s exactly how it should be.
  • Egils appelsín (orange soda) – Not much of a soda drinker, but this was pretty good.  It was also good in combination with maltextrakt (the mix is known as jólaöl).

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Although that is quite the list and I am certainly proud of it, I did miss out on a few important items of Icelandic cuisine.  Oh darn. Guess I’ll have to go back.

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On the Menu for Next Time:

  • whale meat – I actually had the chance to try this but I didn’t take a piece in time and then it was all gone.  One of my few regrets.
  • svið (sheep’s head) – I could have tried this at our Taste of Iceland dinner, but I refrained, which was good, because as it turns out, our particular sheep’s heads had not been cooked…

  • ástarpungar – A round doughnut-like pastry with raisins.
  • brennivín – Icelandic schnapps.  The name literally means ‘burning wine.’
  • Icelandic moss soup – I don’t think this is exactly common dinner faire any more, but I’m assuming you can find it in some tourist-serving restaurants…

That’s all I can come up with.  Can you think of anything else I missed that I should add to my list?

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