On Thursday the 23rd the group went horseback riding at Hestaleigan Sydra-Langholti. I am not a rider in any stretch of the imagination. However, the ride was beautiful and the horses were well trained and calm. This is the general impression I have received from all of the Icelandic horses I have met. The horses were smaller than those I have seen in America but they were strong. My horse was good at following the other horses and keeping a steady speed. We had the opportunity to walk, trot, and canner. After our ride down by the river and up the hill we returned back to the barn. Later in the afternoon we went on our family visits. Carolyn, Jaimee and I went to the home of Gudmunder Gummi and Bergljot Babba. We were welcomed by Bergljot, her sister and niece Becky. Bergljot and her sister did not speak much English but Becky was nice enough to help translate between us. When we got inside we sat down with Gudmunder and he had us look up our houses on Google world map. This was fun because I could tell how excited he was that we could show him where we lived. Once their son Haraldur got to the house him and Becky took us out to see all the chores and farm. They are both 23 years old which made the afternoon really fun because we had a lot in common. Haraldur explained that the land consist of three different farms. His parents, his uncles and he did not talk about the third one. However, all 400- acres had been in his family for six generations. The land stretched to two rivers where they owned fishing rights. On the farm they owned cattle, sheep and horses. His family’s farm had a semi-automatic machine for milking cows while his Uncle had a full automatic. Haraldur showed us how the machine worked. It was incredible to see how the cows walked to their station and waited for it to happen. With semi automatic the worker has to put the pumps on the cow but the machine takes them off when the cow is done. I had the opportunity to milk a cow the manual way. We proceeded to learn that their farm only has two bulls. After walking around the farm for about an hour we drove to the sheep ring. Haraldur and Becky told us all about the tradition that occurs in September. They told us thathundreds people come to see the sorting of the sheep to the different farms. We had a lovely dinner with the whole family including Gudmunder Gummi and Bergljot Babba daughter. It was a wonderful experience because it felt like we were hanging out with friends. We talked about their interests and occupations, language ability and family. There was a strong sense of community within the family. They flattered each other and talked about the many different family traditions and events. It was a great evening and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the family.
On Monday the 20th I traveled to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik for three days. Hallie and I checked into the Salvation Army hostel and then hit the streets. We visited the Maritime Museum. The museum is centered on the past, present and future of Icelandic fishing and coast guard. The maritime museum gives insight into fishing which has formed a lot of Iceland’s history. The exhibitions include the development from rowboats to modern trawlers and cargo vessels, as well as the construction of Reykjavík Harbor. It includes a model of a fisherman’s house, engines, compasses, and paintings that tell the story of early fishermen. Through the museum they also demonstrate the women’s roles. In the beginning the sewed the net and carried the fish to the house. Later they were housewives because fisherman would be gone for weeks and months at a time. Nowthey work in factories. Inside the museum we visited the mock ship/ harbor. It was interesting to watch the videos and visualize the work people had to do at the harbor and on the ships. We concluded our visit with a guided tour of the Coast Guard ship, Odinn. Odinn was in commissioned in 1959. We visited the living quarters, engine room, helicopter paid and the deck for driving and navigating. The living quarters were very small especially the beds. Our tour guide, Olafur, told us that the beds were small so the crew could lay and hold themselves still against the wall. The rooms also included two beds however; the extra bed was for housing people rescued. The captain’s quarters were nice and included a living area. We were able to see the actual thing that they used to cut the rope during the cod wars. Odinn is no longer in use. As of now Iceland has two working coast guard ships but both are in the Mediterranean. However, this fall they are getting a third ship that will weigh 4000 tons which is over 3000 more than Odinn. This ships name will be Thor. It was a great experience to learn about a topic that is very close to Icelandic’s history and people. After visiting the Maritime Museum we walked to Hallsgrimkirkja. Outside of the church there is a statue of Leif Eriksson. This was a gift from America on the 1000th anniversary of the Allping. The church itself took 34years to build and stands at 75 meters high. It is a Lutheran Christian Church. The outside of the church is elaborate and the architecture is very detailed. The most dominant feature in my opinion is the columns that were evoked by basalt columns. However, when I walked into the church I was struck by the simplicity. The pews were green, there was a pulpit and alter but there was not much decoration or elaborate art. But the organ was fantastic and impressive. I was lucky to have been at the church when it was not crowded because the experience was sacred without talking and unnecessary noise. We went all the way up to the top of the tower and looked out at the beautiful city. We had views of water, mountains and cityscape. We even stayed at the top in order to hear the 7:00 pm bell ring.
On Tuesday the 21st I had the opportunity to visit Folkdance organization of Reykjavik. This is an organization that works with all ages on traditional Icelandic Folk Dance. In my visit I observed and took part in the children’s group class. Before the class began I met Asta, she is a part of the administration of the organization and knows everything anyone would need to know about Icelandic folk dance. She talked to me in detail about the costumes. She explained that in the 18th and 19th century all of the costumes were made of 100 % wool. However, the costumes were switched to silk. I assumed because of the weight or temperature but it was actually to appear more elegant. The women wear head pieces and a crown that are to represent a glacier. The dresses have intricate detail through gold threading, lace, belts and brooches. The belts and brooches are made of gold and silver. Asta told me that there are eighteen children between the ages 5 and 13. In the class I observed however only 12 students were in attendance. They began their class with reviewing all of the music for their dances. Then they practiced partner and group dances. One of the dances was an ancient dance called Vikivaki. It was performed at Viking Feasts and is very popular today. It is performed in a circle. I had the opportunity to learn it and perform it with the children. The teacher Elin was welcoming and took time to explain about the meeting they are attending in Denmark. The children were preparing for it by learning songs in Finnish and Swedish. It was interesting because in all of the dances the children sang along with the movement. That really impressed me.
Reykjavik Independence Day falls on June 17th. This year on June 17th I traveled to Reykholt for a celebration. The celebration included a ceremony, children go-cart race and food. The ceremony had speeches, awards and singing. The speeches were given by two senior girls from local schools. One of the girls wore a traditional Icelandic outfit. It seemed to be that the awards were given to a man and child for a rescue and a woman for being the teacher of the year. The ceremony concluded with a performance by two girls. I estimate that they are between the ages of 10-12. Each girl sang a solo and together they sang the national anthem. It was really sweet and their parents were right up on them taking videos and pictures. After the closing of the ceremony we proceeded outside to a go cart race. Each car had been made by the families. One child steered and the other pushed. It was fun to see the different ages participating and all the people cheering on their family and friends. Throughout the celebration it was evident that the festivities were geared to children and a family friendly atmosphere. The children had a variety of balloons and streamers that they carried around. This made the environment warm and fun.
On Thursday the 16th the group traveled to Solheimar. This is an eco-village where people with disabilities and those who do not live in close proximity to each other. They work, go to church and eat together. The community started out as a children’s home on July 5, 1930 by Sesselja Hreindis Sigmundsdottir with five children. The amount of children which meant living style had to go from tents to rooms and it keeps growing. The children were both with and without special needs. The government tried to stop here regulations and ignorant statements such as “retarded people can’t live amongst normal people you must put up a wall to separate them” needless to say she did not. Over the years this community has grown and the children have become adults. There are 100 occupants in the community but they are hoping to get 150 in the coming years. Axel was our tour guide. He told us the history and took us around to all the different buildings and workshops. They have wood making, painting, knitting, ceramics, soup making, and a greenhouse. The people of the community work together and the items made are sold in the gift shop. The proceeds go Solheimar which is a nonprofit organization. After eating with the members of the community we spent the afternoon learning about the wild herbs on the property and picking them with a Paulo. He makes the soaps, shampoos, lotion and lip balm from the herbs that help with sickness, blood and cramps. It was a great experience to go to place that has a non-judgmental approach and is living in a natural way.
On Tuesday the 14th we made a nice detour on the way back to Skalhout. We visited a glacier, folk museum and two waterfalls. First we went to the glacier, Solheim. This glacier is the tip of the large glacier named Myrdalsjokull. We were able to walk on the icecap and collect ash from the top of the glacier. I was also able to see chunks of ice fall off the glacier which means that it is melting. Next we visited Skogar which is a folk museum that has been in existence since 1949 by a local, Pordur Tomasson. The indoor section of the museum includes over 6,000 pieces including clothing, a boat, stable pieces, and fur. The outside of the museum demonstrates examples of different types of Icelandic hosing through the years. These small homes were lived in up through 1970. There were two homes, one horse stable, a church and a school building. I was able to walk into the buildings which allowed me to envision the living conditions of the Icelandic people. Following the folk museum we visited two waterfalls. Skogafoss which is a well known tourist attraction was the first stop of the waterfalls. The sheer beauty is clearly why tourist come from all over to see it. People are able to climb up stairs to see it top to bottom. However, I did not climb to the top because the view from the bottom to the top was miraculous. In 2010 the eruption of Fimmvorouhals was able to be seen over the falls. The ground leading up to the falls is covered with ash which I was able to some of to take home. Our last stop before dinner was the waterfall Seljalandesfoss. This waterfall is referred to as “Falls of the Elves.” We walked up to the waterfall and were able to walk behind the falls. What a sight! This waterfall is also a tourist attraction and there are several more waterfalls in the same area. This concluded a fun day filled with many natural beauties.
On Monday June 13th the group traveled by ferry to Heimaey. While we were on the Island we had the opportunity to visit the church Landakirkja and complete the incredible accomplishment of hiking up the Eldfell Volcano! Landakirkja is in the southern area of the Island. It is the island’s main church. We were able to meet the priest for the church and he gave us a short but informative tour of the church. He told us that this church building was not the original. He told us the story of how the pirates burned the original building and then the people built a new building in the place it stands now. When the eruption of Eldfell that began in 1973 hit Heimaey the ash completely covered the old place that the church stood; however, the ash did not ruin the present church at all. He also told a heart wrenching story of how the members of the church gathered inside of the church during the eruption to pray and be with fellow community members. This demonstrated great faith. After hearing this story and watching the Volcano Film Show it made it much more realistic of the tragedy that occurred in the 70’s to this island. The volcano film show is an hour long account of the eruption, evacuation efforts and life on the island after the eruption. It includes live footage and devastating before and after pictures. When learning about history nothing is better than being where the events took place. We had the opportunity to climb to the top of the Volcano that caused the great eruption of 1973, Eldfell. It was quite a hike but well worth it. I climbed down into a crater and up the side of the Volcano to the tip. It was surreal to think that I was standing on an active volcano. The eruption started early on January 23rd when a mile long fissure cracked open without warning on the eastern side of Heimaey. A long stream of lava poured out and headed towards the town. Remarkably not one person died mostly because 5,300 were able to evacuate through the fishing fleet. The next five months included 33 million tons of lava and tephra braking windows and lightning houses. The lava was a potential problem for the harbor which was the “lifeline” for the community. Two commercial ships were able to stop the lava before it reached the harbor by pumping 43 million liters of water a day to cool the lava. The eruption ended in July and the residents were able to return home and rebuild. The island looks different but it is incredible how the towns people came together to rebuild their lives.
Visiting Parliament was an experience of a lifetime. The Icelandic parliament includes five parties plus three members that are not affiliated. The Althing was formed in 930 and is the oldest parliamentary institution in the world that is still active. The main building is in the capital Reykjavik. Their parties are Social Democratic Alliance, Left Green Movement, Independence Party, Progressive Party, and The Movement. There are 63 seats available across the six groups. Right now the Social Democratic and Left- Green make up the “government coalition.” Social democratic alliance has the most seats with 20; the prime minister is also from this party. They are fighting for joining the European Union, healthcare, welfare and public education. They do not usually support big business. The Left Green has 12 seats and is against the joining of the European Union. They are advocates for environment, welfare, public education and small business. The independence party consists of sixteen representatives. They stand for NATO and are economically liberal. They mostly oppose the joining of the European Union. It is made up of fisherman, well educated and high earners. The Progressive party has nine seats. The supporters are mostly fisherman and farmers. In 2009 the party changed its stance on the European Party. The representatives now do not support the joining. Many times the Independence and Progressive parties are in coalition with each other. Lastly, the Movement is made up of three seats. These members are editors, artists, economists, and poets. While at the parliament our tour guide took us on a tour of the original room where parliament met. We had the opportunity to talk to the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Jon Bjarnason and the Foreign Minister, Ossur Skarphedinsson. They discussed their stance on two issues that the parliament which was the fish industry and the joining of the European Union. Jon said that Icelanders will never allow for their waters to be given up to Europe. Lastly, we were given the opportunity to watch a session of Parliament speaking on the NATO and European Union issue.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland. After the exhibition tour we were able to spend an afternoon exploring the city. I am planning to go to Reykjavik for my independent travel because of a dance opportunity and many other attractions that I wish to see. With this in mind I choose to explore the city and get ideas for places to visit. I began with a trip to the flea market which included anything from handmade sweaters, Justin Bieber T-shirts, military attire, meat and candy. While I was walking through town with Hallie, we visited a bookstore, and several unique boutiques including a thrift store. We also visited the gift shop that was rated “number one tourist shop” in Iceland for this year. Here we received several pamphlets for planning our trip to Reykjavik. We continued walking all around the city which landed us by the Atlantic Ocean. This was enjoyable because we were able to see the big city with the embassies and shops while also experiencing the serenity of the water. I visited the Viking Ship and stepped into it. This piece of art was interesting and beautifully crafted. While I saw the Coast Guard Ship I look forward to visiting the Maritime Museum when Hallie and I return. The day concluded with several of us visiting a sports bar. This was a fun place because they had the soccer and rugby games playing. We saw lots of different guys running up and down the street screaming for their team. It was fun to meet and interact with people from the Icelandic culture in a social atmosphere. Everyone was welcoming and I loved speaking with a group at the restaurant about their day. It was non-threatening because it reminded me of home. Then the entire group visited what has been said the “best hotdog.” I can’t eat hotdogs but I got one just so I could say I had. People tend to do that when they are in another country.
June 2nd came with an opportunity to meet Eyglo, a world renowned writer in Iceland, and her mother Etta. Eyglo has accomplished great tasks in her life and she is only in her upper 20s. It was not only interesting to talk to her about her life in Iceland but the other countries she has lived in. She was born in Norway but has spent most of her life in Iceland except for the six years she lived in Germany and Austria. I was amazed that she can speak fluently four languages: Icelandic, Norwegian, German, and English. She is also working on Spanish, Russian and French. She made the statement that to completely appreciate a country’s language a person must live in the country to learn of their culture. This had me wishing that Iceland did not speak English so I would be forced to communicate with their language. I had the opportunity to speak with Eyglo about possible dance opportunities which were exciting. She contacted the Vice- Chairman of the Reykjavík Folk Dance Association for me. I have now emailed him and awaiting the hopeful possibility to learn from his company while I am here.
Eyglo and Etta joined us for the exploration of Stong. The Stong was a Saga age farm. We had the opportunity to see the original and the reconstruction of the farm. The farm included in a dairy room, weaving room which was for the women, a bathroom, and a living room where the people were laying side by side each other. It gave a clear representation of the conditions these people lived in from working all day to going to the bathroom in the ground in a man-made stream.
Gullfoss is a natural beauty of Iceland. It is tourist attraction in southwest Iceland. Waterfalls are one of my favorite natural sites. I have enjoyed visiting waterfalls across America; however, on Monday, May 29th I feel in love with a site more beautiful than any view I have ever seen. This was indeed Gullfoss. The waterfall was three tiered in that there were three different dropping sections. The trip was magical because we walked from the bottom to the top of the waterfall which made the each level a surprise. I marveled at the delicate rocks and abundance of water throughout the falls. It is a humbling experience to demonstrate the earth’s natural beauty. I did a typical tourist activity while at the waterfall which was visiting their on- site gift shop. I purchased a souvenir for my dad and brother.
Following the trip to Gulfoss we traveled to geyser spot with multiple different geysers. The active geyser we observed was the Strokkur. It goes off between four to eight minutes every day. This allowed for the group to see it shoot up several times while at the spot. I enjoyed watching the process of the hot spot forming all the way through the “explosion.” It was interesting to view the geyser’s eruption from different views. First, Hallie and I stood with our backs to the geyser. This allowed for me to only feel the impact of the water and noise of the eruption. Then I faced and watched an entire process and watched the hump build, get sucked in and eventually erupt. Lastly, I viewed an explosion through a camera lens. All three angles brought different approaches and impacts of the natural phenomenon.