Entry 6: June 23, 2011
Horseback riding and family visits
Today was an incredible day- we went horseback riding and we had our family visits today. This morning, after Dr. Grathwohl made us the best scrambled eggs in the world, we left to go horseback riding. Horseback riding was a whole different experience than any horseback riding that I have ever done. Icelander’s ride with English saddles which are a lot smaller than the western saddles I have used in the past. The horses are also a lot smaller than US horses. The people who owned the horse farm had an adorable chocolate lab puppy that followed us the entire time we were riding. Betsy, Jaimee and I later found out that the puppy’s name was Dímon and the woman who owned the puppy was a cousin of the family we visited later in the day. We had a great ride and my horse, Marty, was amazing. He wanted to go fast and so did I; however we could only go so fast or else we would have passed our guide and that would not have been good. Even though it started to rain halfway through our ride, I still had so much fun!
Later this afternoon we left for our family visits and I am still amazed by it! Betsy, Jaimee, and I went to the farm of Guðmundur (whose nickname is Gummi). The farm consisted of 400 acres and we were shown around the farm by Haraldur and his cousin Becky. It was so wonderful to not only be able to see the farm and all its mechanics but also to be able to talk with several Icelanders who were close in age to us about anything and everything! We had so many questions about the farm and they were more than happy to answer our many questions. They showed us their horses, their cow barns, their cousins cow barns, and a big sheep ring. We were shown their cousin’s cow barns because Haraldur wanted to show us the robot that automatically milked the cows. Haraldur said that the cows get milked twice a day and because the cows have a microchip attached to them, the machine knows the cows that have been milked and have not been milked. So if the farmer forgot to put a cow in the milking machine, then the machine would call the farmer on their cell phone and tell the farmer which cows need to be milked. How cool is that!? Haraldur’s cow barns didn’t have the cow milking robot, but they did have the “semi-automatic” milking machine. This machine had to be placed on the cow manually but it would automatically remove itself when it was done. While we were watching the cows being milked, Becky and Haraldur encouraged us to try our hand at milking a cow- so we did! I was a little scared because I thought I would hurt the cow but thankfully I didn’t hurt her. Haraldur also collected some fresh milk for us to try and it was some of the best milk that I have ever tasted! After showing us the cows, Becky and Haraldur showed us a sheep ring. Every September, farmers travel up to the mountains of Iceland and herd sheep down into these huge circular pens. The pens kind of look like a sun: there is a huge ring in the middle where the sheep are herded into at the beginning of the day and then the farmers will pick out their sheep from the rest and lead them into separate pens that look like the “rays of the sun”. This event has occurred every September since the 1800s; it started off as a tradition and now it has turned into a huge festival. People from all over come to watch this happen event take place (even tourists) and now there are so many people that they outnumber the sheep!
Being able to talk to Haraldur and Becky was so much fun! At dinner we were able to talk a lot about what they do. Becky works at a hotel in Laugardælir and she knits some amazing things. Haraldur has sung in multiple choirs that have competed in multiple countries including Scotland, Norway and Denmark and he is going to Paris this winter for a competition; he also works as a head bouncer in the only pub in Selfoss. Haraldur’s sister lives in Selfoss and works as a physical therapist and loves it there! After dinner, we just sat and talked and they showed us some pictures of their family. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to meet this family, have an absolutely delicious dinner (sausage meat balls, rhubarb jelly, potatoes, and tomatoes with leaks), see how their farm works, and just talking with them.
Entry 5: June 21, 2011
Independent Travel: Day two
Today was a big day of hiking! We hiked a total of about 16.3 miles in 5 hours today and we are so tired but it was an amazing hike! We got out of bed around 9:45 after being woken up several times to the sound of the other hikers getting ready for their big hikes. After eating some breakfast and making several sandwiches for our big hike, we stretched and started hiking. We tried to find the trail on the map that followed the river and ended at a big glacier (the trail doesn’t have a name) but we couldn’t find it. We think that the trail may have disappeared because the river may have eroded the trail away. Instead of our original plan, we decided to follow the trail that we went up yesterday, Kattarheyggur, and hike farther. Hike farther we did! We followed the trail all the way down to the glacier Brattafönn. The hike to the glacier was just as beautiful as it was yesterday. It was a little rainy in the afternoon but it was light and nothing we couldn’t handle. Once the rain started to clear up, we saw a rainbow which made the landscape look like something out of a different world-it was breathtaking!
At the glacier, Jaimee and I decided to climb a little bit of it because we heard from several hikers that on the other side of the glacier were lava fields that were still hot. We were able to climb half way up the glacier before a storm came in and stopped us in our tracks. Even though we wanted to continue to climb, we decided to turn around and head back down to solid ground and leave the lava fields for someone else to enjoy.
These past two days have been truly amazing! I have pushed myself farther than I ever thought I would go both physically and socially. I have climbed a glacier, started conversations with people from other countries, and survived off of a small amount of food. I have been lucky enough to share this adventure with two wonderful ladies, and even though my camera won’t work so that I can show people my adventures the things that I have learned and done on this independent travel will stay with me for a long time!
Entry 4: June 20, 2011
Independent Travel: Day one
Today was our first day of our independent travel. Everyone hopped into Sleipnir early this morni ng to be in Selfoss around 8:30am. The reason why we had to be in Selfoss so early was because the bus that headed to Thorsmork arrived at 9:00am. When the bus pulled up to the bus stop it was so crowded Chelsea, Jaimee, and I were so worried that there wouldn’t be enough room on the bus for the three of us-but thankfully there was just enough seats! We had to switch busses in the next town (from a city bus to an off-road 4 wheel drive bus) so that we would be able to drive to Thorsmork. The bus that picked us up looked like a garbage truck with windows and the emergency door consisted of a hammer that would break the glass if we needed to escape. However, the emergency hammer was not needed on our trip. The ride to our hostel, básar, was very bumpy and we drove through 4-5 rivers; but we eventually go to Básar safe and sound.
After checking in, we were able to look around the hostel for a little bit before we went hiking. Básar is an international hostel and in the common area, where we stayed, it could hold about 60-70 people. On the bus ride over to the hostel we shared the bus with a wedding party. The party consisted of the groom and 9 other guests. Apparently the wedding was a few days ago, and the groom decided that he wanted to see a little bit of Iceland, so he invited some of his guest to come along with him. They, like us, will be staying in Básar for two days before they move on to their next adventure. The party consists of a wide variety of cultures. There are a few people from Europe (not sure where), Canada, America, France, and Iceland.
Once we had a little bit of lunch, we went hiking! We followed a blue trail called Kattarheyggur. Right at the beginning of the trail we bumped into a trail conversationalist team that was building some steps on the trail. Later today we found out that they will be staying in Básar until Saturday and then they will move to a different location. In each location, the team stays for about 15 days and works on a project or multiple projects. The team will be working together for 3 months, until September, and then return to their various homes. The team was, like the wedding part, a wide variety of cultures including America, French, Spanish, English and Russian. The interesting thing about the team was that it was a requirement to speak English to be a member of the team. I guess the team leader doesn’t want a Tower of Babble episode while they are conserving trails!
After passing the trail conservation team, we continued hiking and saw some amazing views. Even though this phrase is so cliché but there are no words to describe the scenery. It was green, mountainous, a person could see glaciers several miles away-it was so beautiful! The trails were different than from the US, they were narrower and a little more dangerous. There were times where there were ropes attached to the trail so that we could hold onto them while we were climbing over rocks, or up steep inclines, so that we wouldn’t fall off the trail and into the valley below us. We hiked for a while, took lots of pictures, and just stood on the trail and gazed at the landscape. Today we hiked for about 7 miles, there and back, in a few hours and it was simply beautiful. Tomorrow we are going to try to hike another trail that will follow the river that is located next to the hostel. The trail looks like it will lead us to a big glacier so it’s going to be a big day tomorrow!
Entry 3: June 13, 2011
Heimaey: Day one
This morning we left for Heimaey around 10:30 and rode on the 1:00 ferry over to the island. After finding the hostile and taking a little break, we were able to catch the 3:30 showing of a movie that explained the eruption in Heimaey that almost destroyed it. The video explained that in 1973, the volcano Eldfell erupted and caused ash and lava to flow through the city for five months and almost completely demolished the town. The eruption began on the 23rd of January and by early may, the flow of lava was about 10 to 23 yards high at its front and averaged more than 40 yards thick and was as much as 110 yards thick in some places. The lava started to move towards the coast line in February and would have cut off the coast line if the locals didn’t stop it. Two commercial dredging ships equipped with water cannons sprayed 11.5 million gallons of water a day onto the lava in order to cool it. The lava flow eventually cooled and the harbor was saved. The eruption lasted for 5 months deposited over 176.5 million cubic feet of ash and lava.
Later in the afternoon, we stopped by the Heimaey church, Landkirkja, and spoke to the senior priest, who told us some history about the church. The original church, which was located in the local church grave yard, was raided and destroyed by pirates. The church was then rebuilt a few blocks away from its original location. During the eruption, the church held a service where everyone who was still on the island attended, even the fire fighters, in hopes that the eruption would stop. The service didn’t stop the eruption but it may have saved the church. The ash and lava from the volcano covered the location where the old church once stood, but did not destroy the church that was rebuilt.
After spending some time in the church, we saw the churchyard and the memorial to the lost fishermen. After visiting the church and eating some dinner, we hiked up volcano Eldfell. At the base of the volcano, there were signs that marked where a house was located under the ash. One sign stated that the home was 60 meters below our feet! It was very surreal to realize that below our feet was someone’s home that was destroyed by the volcano. We then carefully hiked to the top of the volcano and the view was simply breathtaking-I felt as if I had just walked into a painting.
June 14, 2011
Heimaey: Day two
On our second day in Heimaey, we stopped by a little bakery to get breakfast and walking into the bakery smelled like heaven! The bread and pastries were fresh and warm-it was so delicious! After breakfast, we decided to hike around the edge of the island in hope of seeing some puffins on the puffin cliffs. The puffin population hasn’t been thriving as much because the water has been so warm lately that the fish puffins eat have moved north to colder water. The puffins have either followed the fish north or have starved so there aren’t many puffins in Heimaey today. However, after hiking to the puffin cliffs we were able to see about 10 or so puffins on the cliffs. Even though the puffins were sparse, the view was amazing! We hiked to the end of the runway on the island and just sat for a while and enjoyed the views the island had to offer us. If we didn’t get cold, I bet we would still be sitting in the ground just looking out onto the blue water.
The night before, we found out that the ferry had broken down as soon as it made port yesterday afternoon-the bad luck continues to follow us. The mechanics had to bring the spare part in from Reykjavik last night in order to fix it. The ferry was able to make a trip at 8 in the morning and at 2:30 in the afternoon-but after that no one was sure if the ferry would continue to run. So, we left Heimaey a little earlier than planned. We originally planned to leave the island at the 5:00 ferry but, instead we left at 2:30. In the end, I am glad we left earlier because the afternoon was still filled with many adventures.
After making port on the main island, we hoped on Sleipnir and rode to Solheim, a glacier. The glacier looked a little different than I had imagined. I thought that it would be as white as paper, but instead it was grey and had black patches of ash on it. Eyjafjallajokull had erupted last year and caused some ash to fall on the glacier and it remains there today. Also another reason why the glacier looked grey was because it is eroding and the rock underneath the glacier is beginning to show. Even though the look of the glacier was unexpected, it was still super cool to look at and (attempt) to walk on. After the glacier we went to the turf farm museum in Skógar which was a historical site that showed the progression of the standard of living as a family became bigger and more prosperous. The houses began with a small one roomed house with one window but then grew to be a house that had multiple windows and stories. The house that had multiple windows and stories was made completely out of drift wood because there was, and still is, barely any timber left on the island to build a home. After seeing the turf farm museum, we went to the waterfall known as Skógafoss. We estimated this water fall to be about 500 feet tall. A local legend says that an early Viking settler buried his treasure in a cave behind the waterfall. A young boy found the chest years later but could only remove the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared. Now that chest ring is located at a church and if the sunlight hits the ring right, then one will be able to see the treasure that is inside the treasure chest. We didn’t spend much time at this waterfall because we were going to another one, Seljalandsfoss. There was a path leading behind the waterfall and we were able to walk behind it. I truly felt as if I was in a different world behind the waterfall-it was amazing!
After visiting Seljalandsfoss, we left to go back to Skalholt, but we first stopped for dinner at a lovely little hole in the wall restaurant. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it had some of the most amazing service and food. It was a family owned restaurant, the mother ran the place, the son helped served, and the father made all the cups, bowls, and plates out of pottery along with many other items that the restaurant sold. The cook was from Chili and he knew how to cook!! The food was amazing, and the mother who owned the place sang a few songs for us. The entire experience at Heimaey, the glacier, and at the waterfalls was absolutely wonderful and to end it with a wonderful dinner was just the cherry on top.
June 17, 2011
Independence Day and Vespers
Today was Independence Day for Iceland! We started the day off by working on our IDS’s but then we went to Reykholt after lunch to celebrate Iceland’s independence. When we got to Reykholt, we saw from a distance the parade that consisted of people walking down the street and waving Icelandic flags. The parade traveled down what appeared to be a schools driveway. We saw the parade from a distance because we were actually behind the parade in Sleipinir trying to find a parking spot. When we were able to park the van, we followed the crowd into the auditorium. In the auditorium, there was a little presentation and several speeches made to commemorate Iceland’s independence. The speeches were made in Icelandic so I didn’t understand what they were saying. Halfway through the ceremony, the Icelandic national anthem was sung by two young girls and it was beautiful. During the ceremony, the teacher of the year was also recognized and given an award. The best part about the ceremony was all the little children running around the auditorium while the speeches were being made. The little children didn’t know what was going on and almost every child had a balloon with either a Disney princess or a comic action figure on them!
After the ceremony, we followed the crowd outside and watched some of the school children race in homemade go carts. There were about 5 separate teams and each team went one at a time. There was at least one person pushing the go cart and one person steering/ sitting in the go cart. Every team made it past the finish line except one team-they had a wipe out! After watching the go cart races, we went into the wool/coffee shop. I bought myself a wool sweater jacket that I had previously seen and absolutely loved-hopefully I’ll get good use out of it. After buying my sweater, I went over to join the rest of the ladies in the coffee shop. Hallie had ordered a hot chocolate and she let me have a sip of it-it was the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted! The drink was so thick that it felt as if it coated the back of my throat with chocolate, but it was delicious =D
Once everyone had drunken their fill of hot chocolate, we loaded up Sleipinir and headed back to Oddstofa. When we were driving down the drive way to Oddstofa, we saw the horses lined up and really close to the gate, so Katie Riggs, Hallie and I decided to go see them. This was the first time I have been able to see them since our first day in Iceland. I had heard and seen pictures that some of the mares had their babies but this was the first time that I was able to see them in person. They were so cute! There were about 7 foals and two more mares looked as if they were about to drop any second. We stayed for a while, took many pictures, feed them the apples we had, petted them, and then headed back. Right before dinner, Betsy and I decided to go see the Vespers that were happening this evening. Skalholt was hosting about 22 organists who came to the Vespers as well and they held a little church service in Swedish for the organists. No one played the organ during these Vespers, instead all the organists sung. These organists were an acapella group and even though I didn’t understand them, the song was so beautiful. After the service part of Vespers, Christian, the director of Skalholt, explained to us some history about the church. He said that the church, even though it is big, is not the biggest church that has been in Skalholt. The biggest church in Skalholt was 3 times the size of the current church! Some interesting facts about the current church is that the ceiling is a mirror image of a traditional Viking boat, the stained glass panels on the right side of the church is dominated by the color red and represents St. Peter, and the stained glass panels on the left side of the church is dominated by the color blue and represents the Virgin Mary. During weddings, women would sit on the left side of the church or the Virgin Mary side and men would sit on the right or St. Peter side. It was really interesting to hear a little bit about the history of the church from Christian because you can tell that he loves his church and takes great pride in it.
June 4, 2011
After visiting the museum, we were able to branch off and explore the city. Chelsea, Jaimee and I first went off to the flea market to see what an Icelandic flea market was like. The flea market was very similar to the flea markets in Raleigh, but I felt that the flea market in Reykjavik had more vendors who sold a larger variety of stuff. After the flea market, we walked around town looking at different buildings and shops. We soon found one of the main shopping roads and took a stroll down it. We stopped every once and a while and went into a store but none of us were looking for anything in particular. We did check out the Salvation Army hostile prices because we are thinking of returning to Reykjavik for our independent travel. We did walk into several stores that were very interesting. One store was filled with knick-knacks and gag gifts like fake mustaches and fake toilet paper. Another store we went into was a sporting goods store that had a live band in it, along with an indoor slide, tire swing, and chalk board. We saw a lot of interesting people around the city. We believe we saw several bachelor parties, people celebrating fisherman’s day, and passionate sports fans routing for their team in a big futball (soccer) game. Around four in the afternoon we stopped in a pastry shop and had a miniature tea time until we met up with the rest of the group. After meeting up with the rest of the group and having dinner, pylsa (hot dogs), we went to the Perlan. The Perlan, meaning “pearl” in English, was created by Johannes Kjarval when he wanted to re-design the (then) ugly water tower of Reykjavik into a beautiful building that had a mirrored dome on top of the building so that it could reflect the northern lights, the beautiful light of day, and the mysterious light of evening. Inside the Perlan is the Saga museum which is a wax museum that depicts several events from the history of Iceland found in the many different sagas. However, the wax museum was closed for the day when we arrived so hopefully when we return to the museum again of Wednesday, June 8th, we will be able to see the exhibit.
June 6, 2011
We had an adventure today! Because we had a free afternoon today, we decided as a class to travel out to Laugarvatnshellar. This morning Holmfrithur showed us an article about a man who was born in the cave and, upon arriving at Laugarvatnshellar, we discovered that two different families lived there on two separate occasions. Indriði Guðmundsson and his wife Guðrún Kolbeinsdóttir lived in the cave in 1910 for 11 months and Jón Þorvarðarson and his wife Vigdís Helgadóttir lived in the cave from 1918-1921 and had 3 children in the cave. The families lived in the cave because the economy crashed after WWI and it was the only place they could stay. It was really interesting to be able to see this little cave that 5 people once used to inhabit. We also discovered that it is now covered with graffiti, but it was amazing to think that this cave used to be two families homes once before. After admiring the cave, we were explored the surroundings. We walked along a valley looking for more caves but all we found was a dead end. It was really fun to just be able to explore for an afternoon and to be able to enjoy the scenery of Iceland.
June 8, 2011
Guðfriður Lilija Grétarsdóttir is a member of the Left-Green party in Parliament and we were able to talk briefly to her about how she started her journey in politics. The main event that pushed her over the edge that caused her to move into politics was that Parliament passed a bill to dam up a river that held a beautiful waterfall. She couldn’t believe that the government would do something like that to the environment, so she decided that she wasn’t going to sit around and do nothing but join a political party instead. In 2007, Lilija joined the Left-Green party. A question that was asked to Lilija was what would happen if a female party member became pregnant. Lilija, who had just recently had a baby girl, told us that the woman was given 6 months of maternity leave and her significant other was able to take 3 month of maternity leave. Also the mother and significant other would continue to receive 80% of their pay check while on maternity leave! Not only did the information on Icelandic maternity leave interest me but Lilija also shared with us two main facts of life that politics has taught her. She stated that politics has taught her to never give up and that every step she takes in politics is a baby step. Lilija said that those two things that she has learned are not only for her job but also for life in general. It was incredibly interesting to hear Lilija’s story and I am so thankful to be able to have been given the opportunity to not only see parliament but also to meet a member from parliament.
June 8, 2011
We tried to visit the Saga Museum earlier this week but were unsuccessful, so, because we were in Reykjavik again today, we were able to stop by the Perlan and see the exhibit. The Saga museum is a wax museum with depictions of people and events are written about in the Icelandic sagas. These wax figures looked so lifelike it felt as if I could walk up to them and start talking with them! These figures explained the history of Iceland from the initial steps onto Iceland by Ingólfu Arnarson, to the end of the Reformation. The museum also included Snorii Sturluston the poet and politician, Throgeirr contemplating the acceptation of Christianity, and Melkorka talking to her young son, Olaf, with Hoskuld hiding in the background. By walking around the exhibit and listening to the audio descriptions, I was able to learn different things about the history of Iceland that we haven’t learned yet like the rise of Christianity. At the end of the exhibit was a video that showed how the wax figures were created and it was so amazing to see the process and all the hard work that went into making just one figure.
Entry 2: May 30, 2011
According to our trusty weather man, today was a beautiful day to travel to Gullfoss (the golden waterfalls) and Geyser (the great geyser). The waterfalls at Gullfoss were breath-taking! It was a very different experience at these waterfalls because 1) I have never been to a waterfall before and 2) Icelanders didn’t rope off the waterfalls so a traveler could walk straight up to the falls and truly enjoy their beauty and magnitude. These falls were created in an interesting way. Gullfoss is located on a flat plane- so the question is how were the waterfalls formed? Plate tectonics and earthquakes! Two plates in Gullfoss shifted outward at the lower half of the crust so the top half was still intact; then an earthquake caused the then river to completely split apart and become the beautiful falls that we visited today.
Geysir is a, you guessed it, geyser that “erupts” every 4-6 minutes and can reach up to 80 feet. Around Geysir were other hot springs and dormant geysers that looked like pools of water. I have never seen a pool of water look so beautiful before. These pools were a beautiful, unnatural blue that one only sees in photo-shopped photographs-but this color WAS natural! Experiencing a geyser “erupt” for the first time in my life and seeing a gorgeous blue that I have never seen and probably will never see again is definitely a great way to start my studies in Iceland.
Entry 1: May 29, 2011
We made it! Finally, after some trouble in the airport, we made it- a day late- safely to Iceland! Our goal for today was to stay awake to adjust to Icelandic time as quickly as possible. In order to do this, we walked down a beaten path to boil some eggs in St. Thorlak’s Spring. The hike was about a mile and a half and before we reach the spring, we ran into some Icelandic horses. It was such an out of body experience to be walking on this trail, see the horses from a distance, then see these wild horses come walking up to you! We were able to pet them, take several pictures with them, and Dr. Novak even feed them an apple he brought with him. Just a little farther down the trail was the boiling spring of St. Thorlak. We boiled our eggs in the natural spring and 10 minutes later we were able to eat them. I have never tasted a better hard-boiled egg in my life. It was cooked just right and in a natural boiling spring believe it or not! Right next to the spring is a body of water-possibly a lake- that is naturally warm due to the Gulf Stream. We didn’t swim in it today, but I’m sure we will by the end of the month.