When I wrote my last post, I was enjoying the last restful afternoon of my trip. From that point forward, it was pretty much go-go-go, which is why I am just now, after coming home Sunday night and working all week, sitting down to write about my time in Manitoba and North Dakota.
I flew from Edmonton to Winnipeg on Tuesday afternoon. My hosts in the Peg were Lindsey and Cara, first cousins and best friends who were born four days apart and are a few years older than I am. They were both working Tuesday, so Lindsey’s father Scott picked me up from the airport and drove me back to the house he and his wife Debbie share with Lindsey (oh, and with their two dogs – Molly the rescued golden retriever and Bailey the adorably decrepit black lab). I had a few hours to enjoy some peace and quiet in their beautiful backyard before Cara and Lindsey got home from work. Then we went to the Forks, a big walking/shopping/dining/outdoor space located at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. This was a must not only because it is one of Winnipeg’s most well-known attractions, but because Len, who was partially responsible for my being in Winnipeg and entirely responsible for my being with Cara and Lindsey, was a city planner in Winnipeg when the Forks was constructed and helped make it happen. Unfortunately I neglected to get any photos. We walked through the marketplace, which was pretty quiet since it was getting late, and I resisted buying every overpriced Iceland-themed souvenir I saw, then we went up to a viewpoint where you could see the river and the city, then enjoyed an outdoor dinner (well, Cara and I enjoyed ours, anyway, but Lindsey’s turned out to be poisoned with evil mushrooms, so that was a bummer).
A few months ago, Cara and I were emailing back and forth and she gave me a bunch of options for things we could do on Wednesday. The one that stood out to me was visiting Gimli, a small town on the shores of Lake Winnipeg known for hosting Íslendingadagurinn (the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba) every year. Sadly, I had to miss the festival because it runs the same weekend as August the Deuce, but I was eager to see the town anyway. Before we left the Peg, though, we had a couple stops to make. First, we found the Lögberg-Heimskringla office.
I’ve been writing for L-H since I got back from Iceland, and I’ve officially been an associate editor since June, so I was excited to have the chance to finally see the office and meet some of the staff I’ve been emailing for months now. There are two entrances to the office and we didn’t realize this, so after some staring and some pounding on windows, we got in and enjoyed a lovely visit with Audrey and Linda. The office is quite a large, open space, and there are a couple beautiful collections of Icelandic books as well as scrapbooks with photos and mementos related to the paper over the years. We happened to be there on publication day, so I got a copy of the 1 August edition, which happened to contain my introduction as an associate editor as well as a book review I wrote. I would have loved to spend more time there, but we had to get on the road. Before we left, though, Audrey insisted that we try some Brennivín. Now, I never did try Brennivín in Iceland, partly because it smelled rather awful (although clearly that didn’t stop me from trying several putrid edibles) and partly because I didn’t want to spend money on alcohol. But here was someone holding out a shot glass and telling me I had to try it, so I gave in and downed it. It was pretty terrible. It’s a super strong schnapps made from potatoes and nicknamed “black death” for good reason. I know it’s traditional to take a shot of Brennivín after eating hákarl, but honestly, having tasted Brennivín now, I think chasing the shark with the liquor would just make things worse. The shark is much more potent.
The other stop we had to make before heading north was at Parlour Coffee. I was lamenting the seeming lack of independent coffee shops in Edmonton and Winnipeg (the ubiquitous coffee options were Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Second Cup), so Cara wanted me to try Parlour. It was definitely not Tim Hortons or Starbucks. There were about eight drinks to choose from and only one size and I got the feeling that if you were to ask for a flavour you’d be kicked out. So in that sense it was really somewhat Portland-esque. In any case, it was definitely tasty coffee.
So, coffee in hand to give me energy and drown out the remnants of the Brennivín flavour, we hit the road. Gimli is only about an hour up the road, and the scenery got more rural and lovely as we drove north. Around Gimli, there’s sign after sign for various camps and there are also a lot of little summer cabin communities. When we arrived, we stopped by Cara’s family’s summer cabin first, then went to Camp Veselka to try and meet up with the Icelandic Camp group (I know a couple of the counselors). We happened to catch them just as they were heading out for a little Icelandic history lesson, so we accompanied them to the nearby monument dedicated to arctic explorer Vilhjálmur Stefánsson.
It would have been fun to spend more time with the group and to see the camp itself, but we had more to see, so we said bless bless and headed into the town of Gimli.
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but Gimli is larger than I thought it would be, and it reminded me very much of Seaside or other little towns on the Oregon coast – just on a lake instead of the ocean. Oh, and much more Icelandic. Seriously. This town is all about Iceland. There are roads and local farms in the area with Icelandic names, there’s a Reykjavík Bakery, there are Icelandic flags everywhere (although most of them are just put up for the festival, I’ve been told), and there’s a restaurant called Amma’s Kitchen. We went to Amma’s Kitchen for lunch (Lake Winnipeg pickerel) and vínarterta (not bad, but mine is better!), then explored the town.
We visited Tergesen’s, which is kind of like an old-fashioned general store, except they sell an interesting mix of expensive surfer and skater brand clothing, Iceland-themed items, and souvenirs. They also have the largest collection of Iceland-related books I’ve seen anywhere outside Iceland. It’s like 20 times the size of Powell’s pathetic Icelandic section.
Cara showed me Gimli Unitarian Church, where her uncle is the minister, we visited the Gimli Viking statue, we saw the beginnings of the Viking encampment for the festival, we walked down to the lake and enjoyed the gallery of paintings by local artists on the seawall, and I learned about fish flies. Fish flies hatch on the water, then swarm the town but only live for about a week. When they die, they smell like rotting fish. It’s bizarre. They’re completely harmless as far as I know, but they are everywhere. The live ones land all over walls and benches and trees and people and the dead ones form these crunchy, stinky cakes on the ground. As disgusting as that sounds, they’re actually kind of cute:
All in all, it was a fantastic day in Gimli. I definitely want to spend more time there, and I plan to attend Íslendingadagurinn in the next couple years.
When we got back to the Peg, we decided to take it easy for the rest of the evening. We snacked on cheese and crackers and veggies and talked and sort of watched TV and Lindsey brought out some leftover Macedonian treats from her engagement party and they were amazingly delicious and I met Lindsey’s fiancée and I gave Cara and Lindsey some Northwest gifts to thank them for being such kind hosts.
I decided not to rent a car, so I was at the mercy of my cousin from North Dakota to come pick me up from Winnipeg and take me back to North Dakota for the family reunion, which started Friday. I called him Wednesday night to find out when it would work for him to come pick me up, expecting Thursday afternoon. As it turns out, my cousin is a morning person and said he would be there between 9 and 10 Thursday morning, so I figured I wouldn’t get a chance to do the last thing I really wanted to do in Winnipeg, which was meet up with Kimberly. Kimberly is a Snorri alum from 2005 who I had never met before in person, but we’ve chatted via Skype and email a lot the past few months as we worked together to revive the Snorri Alumni Association newsletter. She’s from BC and had actually been out west visiting her family and was just returning to the Peg late that night, so I figured we would just miss each other. I sent her a message to let her know, threw my things back in my suitcase, and went to sleep.
I happened to wake up around 6:00 or so, which is ridiculously early for me, and I glanced at my phone to see a message from Kim. She wanted to meet up for breakfast. So I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed, and waited for Kim to come pick me up. We went and got some Timmy’s for breakfast, brought it back to the house, and sat outside in the backyard chatting until my cousin arrived. Kim and I did the program seven years apart, but it almost feels like we went together, we were such fast and easy friends.
And thus ended my first visit to the Peg.
Next time: Family, festivals, and very flat fields south of the border