Category Archives: Iceland

ICELAND 2016 4. Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Reynisfjara, Skógarfoss trail and Eyjafjallajökull Visitors Center.

Fimmvörðuháls is a high pass between Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull and the place where the first of the spring 2010 eruptions occurred that were identified with the Eyjafjallajökull volcano. You may remember all the air flights between Europe and the US and the rest of the world that were canceled that spring. Well, it all started on top of a very popular hiking route that starts (or ends) near Highway 1 at Skógarfoss.

The trail has been rerouted and this was the day I planned to hike as much of the trail to Fimmvörðuháls as we could. We were not planning to be back on the south coast again during the trip, so this was the only day available. I think I had been told it would be 14 or 15 miles roundtrip, and I was sure that some of the knees in the party would not be up for that distance, but I hoped we could do most of it.

As soon as we were in the car Bragi pointed out that we would drive right past Reynisfjara 1800811-r3-052-24athe black sand beach with columnar basalt cliffs and cave, beautiful sea stacks just offshore, and the strong possibility of sighting puffins. There was no way I could ignore the opportunity for Susan to visit this classic site. My hopes of spending a full day hiking toward Fimmvörðuháls were dashed, but I had a responsibility to introduce Iceland′s highlights to my companion, too.

 

I made an effort to be the gracious host, rather than the disappointed friend. And there were some features of Reynisfjara that day I have to admit were special. There were many i0016amore puffins flying to and from the tops of the beach′s dark basalt cliffs that day than I have ever seen before. These little birds are very colorful, diligent fisher-birds and energetic flappers of their short wide wings. They dig burrows in the cliff-top soil, lay eggs and tend their chicks in the little tunnels. They seem to make constant flights from the nests to the sea, returning with mouthfuls of little fish for their offspring.

I did not remember having seen the graceful cave formed in the cliff with basalt column walls during previous visits. It has apparently become a popular spot for wedding ceremonies, which is easy to understand. It not only provides shelter from rain and wind, it has great views of the sea and the sea stacks just down the beach.

When we arrived we noticed a new modern building beside the parking lot and the cliffs. Its big windows revealed an attractive café, but it did not open until late in the morning. Considering the big summer crowd, we thought they were missing a good bet. A nice cup of coffee would have been great about then, too. We returned to the café after our visit to the beach and discovered that the business had been funded by the local economic development group, called Katla Geopark, and by the European Union. We thought the latter investment interesting, as Iceland has not decided yet whether to join the Union.

We finally reached Skógarfoss  in the early afternoon and hiked for several hours. Skógarfoss is one of the beautiful waterfalls visible from Highway 1, and a popular tourist imgp2028attraction in its own right. For us the draw was the long set of metal and wooden steps that climb the 201-foot cliff beside the waterfall. The trail starts just east of the top of the falls, and follows the Skóga River upstream for most of the distance to Fimmvörðuháls.

From the top of the big falls we could easily see out to the ocean, as well as onto the glaciers in the distance. In our immediate vicinity was an open landscape of gentle hills and a rushing river. The trail led us gently uphill beside the river. It was not steep, but we kept passing waterfalls and cascades rushing toward the cliff and the vertical descent to the coastal plain.

20160730_062852The three of us agreed on a turn-around time and I left my companions behind as I tried to make the most distance in the little time we had. I finally stopped beside a beautiful stretch of riverbank with a large patch of cotton grass blossoms nodding in the breeze. I had hoped to reach the next ridge, but it was clearly farther than I anticipated. At that point Bragi shared that there is a landmark bridge that is a good destination on this trail. ‟Beyond that,” he said, ‟you reach the highlands and the views are not as interesting.” Maybe I will try to get here again and camp at the foot of Skógarfoss to assure a full day reserved for hiking to Fimmvörðuháls —or at least to the bridge.

We stopped at the small but interesting Eyjafjallajökull Visitor Center on our way south. I had previously enjoyed their 20-minute film about the nearby farm family’s experience with the 2010 eruption, and thought Susan would appreciate it too. I was surprised to see that the film I had admired had been replaced with one that may be considered a more polished production, but doesn’t seem as intimate an experience of the volcanic eruption. I was also irritated that Eyjafjallajökull was repeatedly referred to as “the glacier,” as if it were a glacier that had erupted, and not the volcano that has no other name.

From there we drove to our lodging for the next two nights, Ljosafoss Skoli Hostel. I had read for years that public boarding schools were used for tourist lodgings before there were many rural hotels in Iceland, but I had not stayed in one before. We had a reservation for a room with bunkbeds, shared bathroom and breakfast. What we found was a well-maintained, airy, three-story building with a large dining room and self-service kitchen at one end and a wide variety of sleeping rooms and lounges at the other end. Each floor had at least a lavatory, some restrooms also had showers and there was also a large shower room near the dining/kitchen area. The school buildings are now owned by a religious broadcasting company, which uses the hostel revenues to help fund their programs.

The room, building layout, staff and breakfast buffet all contributed to a comfortable stay. The kitchen seemed designed for a small staff, rather than several couples or pairs of people wandering around trying to figure out how to prepare their meals with unfamiliar appliances. Everyone seemed to recognize that this was part of the hostel experience; we all shared the space and information on how to make the kitchen work, and no one went away hungry.

It being day four in Iceland, it was time for me to do a little laundry. Out came my tightly capped small bottle of liquid laundry detergent and my bag of dirty quick-dry clothes. The clothes were swished in a shower room sink for a few minutes, rinsed in clean water, and rolled in a dry abandoned bath towel. (Bath towels are used after the shower, so they can’t be dirty, right?) Lay the clean wet clothes in the towel, roll up the towel, twist, unroll and remove your virtually spun-dry clothes. Return them to your room and hang them on a plastic line with tiny clothes pins, hang them on clothes hangers if available, or drape your clothes wherever they don’t irritate your roommate. By morning they should be mostly dry. Heavy hiking socks are the reliable exception, of course.

ICELAND 2016 3: Hvolsvöllur to Kirkjubæjarklaustur via Skaftafell, Jökulsárlón

 

Our principal destination for the day was a visit to western Europe’s largest national park, about 140 miles east of our starting point, Hvolsvöllur. We were headed for Skaftafell,  the oldest national park in the country, now included in the vast Vatnajökull National Park.  (A fell is a mountain or hill, while a jökull is a glacier.) Along the way we passed lots of small waterfalls descending from the coastal ridge and admired the moss that thickly carpets roadside lava fields when we stopped to stretch our legs. The vast glaciers that provide the soil and water for the coastal plains came into view in this stretch of the coast, building anticipation of the vast icy slopes at Skaftafell.

imgp1668 The Skaftafell park center is located at the foot of hills between two big glaciers, Skeiðarárjökull and Skaftafellsjökull. It has a very nice visitors center with displays explaining the geology and human history of the area, as well as artifacts from early research trips on the glaciers. Commercial guide companies have reception centers in small buildings along the edge of the visitors’ center’s parking lot. There is still no entrance fee to the park, so the lot is pretty full most summer days. There is also a campground without a separate entrance just past the parking lot, adding to the traffic.

Our plan was to do a moderate hike in the park. I expected some discussion of whether we should check out the visitor center first, but we set out for the trailhead as soon as we had 20160729_061719our daypacks ready to go. Our destination was Svartifoss (black waterfall) that appears on many postcards and tourist snapshots. I have often visited it on the way to farther destinations in the park, but this was our first real hike of the trip. We wanted to see how everyone’s knees felt about going up and down Icelandic trails and we knew there would be a lot of people on the trail.

We hiked a three-mile loop that felt like more, with lots of photo stops and brief interactions with other hikers from many countries on the trail. I remember hearing Icelandic, Spanish, Italian and British English; I am sure there were Asian and Indian visitors as well.

We ate lunch somewhere along the way and returned to the car in early afternoon. Bragi suggested we really should visit Jökulsárlón or Glacial Lagoon, as it is not much farther east (35 miles) along Highway 1. It is another very popular tourist stop, with duckboats doing tours among the icebergs calving from the glacier. We agreed to skip the boat tour and walk both the beach below the bridge and the shoreline beside the Lagoon. In August of 2016 the icebergs seemed about half the size of those in my photos a decade earlier. I realized that Susan didn’t have this comparison, so I did not mention my disappointment. I hoped the shrinkage reflected this summer’s warm temperatures, and not the general trend of quickly shrinking glaciers caused by climate change.

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We enjoyed walking the dark beach and looking at the chunks of ice glistening on the sand as they shrank. There were many fantastic shapes, and many photographers trying to capture the perfect image for their recorded memories.

The bridge at the mouth of the lagoon was built with concern for the possible effect of an iceberg the size of an apartment building ramming the structure. Fortunately, a clever engineer designed an iceberg trap that sits on the floor at the mouth of the lagoon, about fifty feet upstream from the bridge. I picture it as a broad bar with strong metal teeth extending toward the surface of the water. Nine-tenths of each iceberg is underwater (remember from grade school science class?) so icebergs that won’t fit under the bridge are stopped until they shrink down to a size that slides easily under the valued structure.

We walked beside the lagoon as well, taking photos there, too. We ended our visit there trying to skip stones that were rarely flat across the still lagoon waters, and then attempting to flip a floating chunk of ice by tossing rocks to shift its balance. I think the nine-tenths-below-the-water rule spelled failure from the start, but it was a nice day and we may have been reluctant to climb back into the car.

It was 77 miles back to our lodging at a farm hostel near Kirkjubæjarklaustur,  but we enjoyed the very green scenery, once we had passed the large glaciers and their gray outwash plains. Susan walked from the highway junction near the village to the pretty local waterfall, Stjornafoss, and an interesting local landmark known as Kirkjugólf, the Church Floor. The twenty-five by thirty-foot Floor is composed of the tops of a small field of basalt columns.

This little village is one of my favorite stops on the south coast of Iceland. But I have to admit that pronouncing Kirkjubæjarklaustur was a big challenge for me when I first visited here. After I had picked up a little vocabulary it was easier. Kirkju = church, bæjar = farm, klaustur = monastery/convent. Any word this long in a Germanic language is going to be a composite, so the challenge is to split the long word into manageable short ones. Figuring out where each syllable ends is a longer term issue.

No one has ever called me a foodie, but I have to admit that good food is one of the attractions of this area. I have stayed at least twice at Geirland, a really nice farm inn, a couple kilometers inland from the village. They serve excellent meals, but were not in our budget this trip. Once I had my Icelandic phone working (it took the second day in Iceland to get the battery charged, new phone company directions correctly interpreted, etc.), I phoned Geirland to see if they might have room for us in the dining room this evening. ‘No, they had a big tour group coming in, they were sorry but they had no room for us at the table.’

My next choice was the Systrakaffi,  a casual café near the highway junction where I had enjoyed lunches and late afternoon teas in the past. It was seven by the time we got there and there was a crowd at the door. We asked the people ahead of us and they said it seemed like a long wait for a menu that was shrinking with the evening’s food supply. We thought about returning to our hostel and pulling out one of our freeze-dried meals. Someone in the parking lot suggested another café — actually a deli they said, down the local road a bit farther. I don’t know that Kaffi Munkar  had been there the last time I visited the area, but they featured the excellent local farmed fish, bleikja or arctic char. I don’t eat farmed fish at home; there are lots of nice healthy wild fish available here. In Iceland I try out what is on the menu and have found bleikja delicious and affordable. Susan chose something more familiar to her and we both enjoyed our meals.

Our farm hostel lodging turned out to be another double bed in an even smaller room than our lodging the previous night. This hostel did have two bathrooms for the five rooms of guests, and beautiful farm scenery on the (ten mile?) country road from the highway. I slept well in the quiet surroundings. I think it was overpriced and cannot make any recommendations for budget lodging in this area.

At the end of the day I recorded the birds we had seen so far: whimbrel, great skua, arctic skua, arctic tern, fulmar, red wing, wagtail, whooper swan, plover, snipe, oyster catcher. It has taken a while for me to become familiar with these north Atlantic birds, but birds are most of the wildlife to be seen in Iceland, so I enjoy recognizing them as we pass.

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Whimbrel

ICELAND 2016 2: Reykjavik to Hvolsvöllur

          We had an uneventful flight and drive into Reykjavik, arriving at our first night’s lodging around 1 a.m. The drive into the city takes about fifty minutes from the Keflavik airport. There is a convenient and moderately priced FlyBus that shuttles arrivals to (and from) their hotels as well as rental cars, and private drivers if you are with an organized tour. Eric the Red’s is my usual guesthouse in Reykjavik, and the hosts had let me know how to get into our room after midnight.

We were quick to bed and rose in time for the usual buffet breakfast that seats twelve at one large table in the dining room. It is a great way to meet travelers from around the world, most of whom are fluent in English and eager to talk about their travels or plans in Iceland.

1800811_r1_044_20aEric’s is conveniently located across the street from Hallgrimskirkja, a hilltop landmark church visible from most of Reykjavik, making finding the way “home” very easy. The day was partly cloudy and pleasantly cool (50s F) when Susan and I walked downtown after breakfast to shop for lunch foods and stretch our legs. The grocery did not open as early as other shops, so I had a chance to browse a bookstore while waiting for BONUS to open. Several of my favorite Icelandic authors have new books available in translation. Which ones will be readily available in Northwest bookstores and libraries, and which should I buy here?

It being Susan’s first visit to Reykjavik, I pointed out some favorite eateries and landmarks. BONUS finally opened at 11 a.m. and we had our first language challenge of the trip. Grocery stores in Iceland don’t bother with English labels, so visitors need to recognize what they are looking for. We stocked up on bread, cheese, peanut butter, fruit and yogurt. I also introduced Susan to skyr, a thick delicious non-fat dairy product that Icelanders have made since long before Greek yogurt appeared on the market.

Day 1                                                                                                  On our return trip we stopped to admire the Harpa Concert Hall, located right on the Reykjavik waterfront. It is quite interesting architecturally and has great acoustics, too. We went inside about a week later, so watch for more about Harpa on another day.

After a picnic lunch in Eric’s back yard, we visited the Einar Jónsson sculpture garden  at the end of the block. Einar worked in the first half of the 20th century, producing dramatic statues of mythical, religious and historic figures. It is one of several free sculpture gardens in the city, but probably the most centrally located.

P1030072Bragi picked us up promptly at 1 p.m. and we headed for Iceland’s south coast on Highway 1, the country’s ring road. Our first stop was Hveragerði, Iceland’s leading greenhouse town. The area’s landscape is geothermally active, supporting both greenhouses and large geothermal power plants.

 

My particular interest was the geothermal pools, or hot pots thatP1030076 appeared after a series of earthquakes in the spring of 2008. I had hiked through the area in 2007, and had been amazed to return the next summer and find boiling mud pots a quarter mile uphill from the busy town. I was curious to see if they were still as active now, and what kind of visitor information had been added to the site.

I have to say that we probably would not have been aware of the geothermal pools if we had been casual visitors there. An agricultural university has grown up along the access road to the site, and there are no directional signs to the pools. There are safety ropes to keep visitors at a safe distance and occasional signs reminding of the danger of the very hot water:

 

SeljalandsfossFrom there we drove to Seljalandsfoss, one of the landmarks easy to spot while driving the coastal highway. It is a tall waterfall (foss means waterfall in Icelandic) that is visible for miles as it plummets about 200 feet off the coastal ridge. This one’s secret attraction is the opportunity to walk behind the falling water in a shallow overhang. The bad news is that every tour bus on this section of Highway 1 has an obligatory stop here. The parking lot is large but the trail is narrow and there is usually a line for the restrooms.

 

 

Tour buses stop long enough for their passengers to take the quarter mile hike up past the P1030079waterfall and return. Independent travelers can continue on the trail another half mile and view two hidden waterfalls in slot canyons. At that point in the summer, ladders necessary to view the first one easily and safely were missing. Bragi and I climbed high enough to get a glimpse of the falling water, but I don’t consider it worth the effort. The second falls were as I remembered— a surprising sight visible through a very narrow gorge. I had forgotten the watery access and wasn’t wearing waterproof boots, so I resisted entering the cavern for a closer view.

 

From there we headed to the village of Hvolsvöllur and our first lodging on the road, Guesthouse Kristján’s. I booked it through AirBnB.com, but the only room listed on that website has a double bed. The guest house offers several inexpensive rooms that share the basement kitchen, bath and laundry room. Until this trip I had understood an Icelandic double to mean two twin beds pushed together. It is clear that entrepreneurial Icelanders have figured out that a small room can be rented as lodging for two with a double bed when two twins won’t fit. Susan and I managed, but were not enthusiastic about the accommodations. Lesson learned. I will be more careful in the future.

The guesthouse is a two block walk from the ring road, where we found a nice café for dinner, the Eldstó Art Café/Bistro. It features a pottery gallery in the back rooms and should be a nice quiet local coffee shop in the off season. During the summer the place was hopping with tourists and a staff of college age young people who were very friendly, but seemed to have trouble figuring out which table was waiting for the order in their hands. My notes say I had a burger and a Tuborg light, but I just remember a good meal in interesting surroundings our first day on the road.

ICELAND 2016 1. Thoughts on Planning a Trip to Iceland

            I have been to Iceland a number of times, in fact this summer’s trip was number eleven in ten years. So what I share here is based on experience over those years.

I think it is a good idea to make air reservations as early as possible—as soon as you have your travel dates identified. Setting those dates can depend on a number of factors. One of the biggest when traveling to Iceland is the weather. If you want to see the northern lights, October through March are the best months, and you can find inexpensive packages, because the weather will not attract other tourists. If you want to spend your time outdoors and camp, hike or backpack, July and August are best. The weather starts improving in May, but rain is frequent most months except the two summer months mentioned, and the higher trails are rarely snow-free before July. I had already decided that I would be there during the high summer months this year for hiking to some high peaks. Beyond that, my schedule would depend on who I would be traveling with, both coming from the U.S. and Icelandic companions.

I knew I would be traveling in Iceland with my good friend, Bragi, a retired professional Icelandic guide this year. Getting to some of the peaks and other destinations that had shown up in my volcano research (Skjaldbreiður, Snæfellsjökull, and Hekla; Fimmvörðuháls Pass and the Kerlingarfjöll´s Hveradalur) meant facing the additional expenses of the high summer season, so I also needed a travel companion to share the costs. When my husband refused to leave the Pacific Northwest during our home territory’s best weather, I sought a companion among my western Washington hiking friends to share expenses and help keep my costs down. My friend Susan decided that she could, and wanted to come, so we selected the trip’s two weeks in late July and early August together.

With a date range identified, we immediately sat down at a computer to see what flights and what class seats were available. Icelandair is known for cheap flights to Europe, but all flight costs are relative. When an Icelandair flight is empty, the cheapest seats are available. As it fills, only the more expensive seats are left: when Economy seats are no longer there, only Economy Flex and better remained; then only Economy Comfort and Saga Business Class, etc. I had paid a range of prices from below $800 to over $1000 for roundtrip airfare to Iceland over the last decade, so I am always eager to buy early.  www.icelandair.US/Flights/information/travel-guide/comparison.

It was a surprise for me to discover that Icelandair now has two flights per day arriving and leaving from Seattle. My first thoughts were: How long has this been going on? Is it only during the summer months? I have been visiting Iceland during the shoulder seasons for most of the last decade; it was quite possible they had added a second summer flight without my being aware.

As someone who suffers from jetlag in both directions, having a choice of flights going to Europe makes a difference. There is a seven or eight hour difference (less when we are on Daylight Savings Time), and the flight takes seven and a half hours. For a decade I have been taking the late afternoon flights that arrive at Keflavik International Airport at 6:30 a.m. This year we had an opportunity to take a flight leaving Seattle in the a.m. and arriving at 11:30 p.m. We could arrive, go to bed late, get up at an almost normal hour, and get right into a natural Icelandic schedule. What an improvement!

I had told Susan that we could keep our costs to about $100 per day after airfare by staying in shared lodging that averaged $100 per night. This proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. My favorite Reykjavik B&B, for instance, charges close to $200 for a double with private bath in the summer, almost twice what I have paid previously during the shoulder season. I started my search by Googling Iceland lodging accommodation and soon found almost all the links to lodgings in our price range were to www.AirBnB.com and www.Bookings.com listings. I had sketched an itinerary on a map of southern Iceland with one excursion into the interior and one to the western peninsula of Snæfellsnes. Then I tried to match available lodgings to the various locales. It was a real challenge.

Even looking for bookings six and seven months ahead, I had a hard time finding housing in convenient locations in our price range. It was soon obvious that we would be staying primarily in places set up as hostels—they provided private rooms, beds and linens along with shared bathrooms and cooking facilities. These were in a variety of settings, from separate buildings on working farms to an old residential school dormitory not far from popular rural tourist sites.  We also booked two nights in a Reykjavik basement apartment (via Airbnb.com), one night in a Reykjavik hotel that is a university dormitory during the school year and one night in a highlands dormitory—with our sleeping bags on two-level bunk-beds among hikers from all over Europe.

Not being sure of the exact location of our lodgings in relation to the nearest desirable café or restaurant, we decided to carry some freeze-dried dinners with us, and other packable foods for lunches and breakfasts, just for convenience.

Fortunately, Icelandair has a generous baggage allowance: www.icelandair.us/information.baggage-information. Two bags are checked free per passenger; a carry-on bag and a personal item are also allowed in the cabin with each person. Free checked baggage would easily carry our sleeping bags, towels, trekking poles and food. It turned out that Icelandair’s standards for carry-on bags are substantially smaller than US domestic flights. It is important to check the specifics on baggage allowances. Ticket agents can decide your carry-on has to be checked. As we had not planned to use all of the checked baggage allowance, that inspection at the ticket counter did not prove a problem for us.

You may be wondering about other flight options to Iceland from the U.S. Icelandair is the only airline with for non-stop flights from the Northwest. If you are traveling from the US East Coast, you should check on Wow Airlines. They offer truly budget flights (very limited baggage allowance—you cannot even pay for an additional bag), and pretty tight quarters. My husband and I tried it once when we were already in New York, and were not too surprised to see all the other travelers were a generation younger. I would probably do it again in the interests of saving money, but flying with Icelandair is really more enjoyable.

STYKKISHÓLMUR FOR THE ARTS

During a brief May visit to Stykkishólmur, we visited both a a ceramics gallery and a wood sculptor preparing a summer installation. The two represent the serious artists colony that is growing in the community.

Ingibjörg H. Ágústdóttir is a native daughter of the town. She is a woodcarver who specializes in interpretation of Icelandic folk tales. This year´s project is a series of island-based works, representing stories from the islands in Breiðafjördur, just outside of town. Her total production will probably be less than two dozen, but several of her works in progress were quite intriguing, even with their final coat of colorful paint incomplete.

One piece features a black and white ram facing off with an orca whale on one end of a small green island surrounded by blue water, while a small white lamb chats with a similarly proportioned seal at the other.

Another island was topped with several long-haired Valkyries in peaceful 1-P1020707swan maiden mode. Valkyries are best known as warrior-women who escort to Valhalla those heroes who have fallen in battle. In the sculptor‘s view of them, the blue-gowned ladies are resting with detached swans’ wings resting on their laps or arms.
 

 

 

 

 
A third carving with a vivid blue base shows a white polar bear — an occasional 1-P1020705visitor to these waters — on a low dark boulder at the foot of a steep island cliff. Above the bear is a large round stone stuck in a cleft. Legend had the rock thrown by an angry crone, trying to chase the bear away. The truth of the legend is supported by viewing the rough sphere which does not match the rest of the island, which sits in the bay not far from Stykkishólmur. It was probably delivered to the site by a volcanic eruption, but it is nice to have folktales providing interesting alternatives to dry rational explanations.

Ingibjórg´s work is on display in the Tang & Riis building near the Stykkishólmur waterfront June 13 through August 3, 2015, during afternoons Wednesday through Saturday. If you are in the area this summer, I recommend visiting the gallery and enjoying her work. For photos of her other carvings, see http://www.bibi.is.

A second venue we managed to visit just before closing was Leir 7 (at Aðalgata 20, on Stykkishólmur´s main road). It is an interesting ceramics gallery and studio, staffed by local artists a few hours each day and by appointment (phone 894-0425). The center was inspired by an urban ceramics artist who brought her craft to the coastal town about twenty years ago. She shared her enthusiasm for using Icelandic clay with local artisans and this attractive work and display space opened in 2007 as a result.

Lest you imagine heavy pottery dependent on colorful glazes in traditional Icelandic patterns, let me correct your expectations. The majority of the useful products here (cups, mugs, butter savers, sushi plates with tiny sauce cups) are amazingly delicate and light, while also appearing sturdy enough for frequent use. Another intriguing offering are sets of ceramic bone segments in two sizes and colors, brown and white. These could easily rest on a coffee table, inspiring assembly by adults or creative children while they share snacks and conversation.

On previous visits to the town I became acquainted with The Museum of Water, Eldfjallasafn Volcano Museum and the Norwegian House (historic home and eider duck husbandry display), all well established institutions that merit an interested visitor´s time. The addition of a permanent ceramics gallery and seasonal art shows provide a more balanced presentation of the community´s interests and talents, and diversify the opportunities available to visitors in this interesting area.

STYKKISHÓLMUR FOR SCALLOPS

Modest houses of Stykkishólmur

Stykkishólmur is one of my favorite places in Iceland. It is a small town perched at the end of a peninsula that protrudes into Breiðafjörður, the ‘broad fjord.’ The town of about 2000 is composed of small homes with colorful roofs and a few hotels and museums clustered around a small harbor that is protected by a high rock outcropping. The older wooden buildings reflect its history as a Danish trading port, starting in the 16th century. In contrast, an elegant modern church sits on a hill above the town, with the sea clearly visible to the east and north. The broad fjord appears as a large bay, intriguingly splattered with islands of all sizes and shapes. A few islands support summer homes and one, Flatey, has a small permanent community.
On my recent visit to the area I learned that many of the smaller islands are inhabited by sheep, in addition to seabirds. According to a tour boat deckhand, the ewes are left on the islands permanently. In late May we saw ewes and new lambs on several small grassy islets near the town. The young man also shared with us the tale of a ram that swam from island to island, playing havoc with the farmers´ plans to manage the lamb birthing schedule. The farmers generally move rams from island to island and thus control when lambs are born by transporting rams to the ewes at the humans’ convenience. The unscheduled pregnancies meant the farmers were less likely to know when to help the ewes birthing their lambs, but the ewes didn´t seem to mind.
An unexpected feature of a boat trip through the islands was a dish identified as ‛Viking Sushi’ in the tour´s brochure. This turned out to be raw scallops, scooped from the sea while we cruised and promptly offered to passengers on the half-shell. Scallops eaten this way are a bit saltier than the cooked variation, but surprisingly similar to the taste, texture and appearance of freshly cooked scallops that have been obtained from a seafood store. I would offer my apologies to the squeamish, or anyone offended by this haphazard harvesting of sea life for the entertainment of random tourists, but scallops are one of my favorite seafoods, and these were surprisingly and truly delicious in this very fresh form.

Casual bounty from the sea

Casual bounty from the sea

Viking contributions to English

There were three interesting Iceland-related events in Seattle recently and I managed to attend them all.

On January 2 a professor of linguistics spoke on “English: language of the Vikings.” The lecture notes that he distributed had a significantly different title but this label attracted a good crowd of non-academics to the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard, Seattle’s original Scandinavian neighborhood.

The speaker started his talk by clarifying that his field is linguistics, not languages. Dr. Emonds had written the book with a Scandinavian language specialist but his own contribution was the analysis of language patterns.

The focus of the talk was evidence of Scandinavian languages’ influences on English as it developed from Old English to Middle English after the Norman (northern French) invasion and takeover of England in 1066. For several hundred years before that, Central England had been ruled by “Danelaw” – Viking invaders. When both communities in England were confronted by the French speaking Norman invaders, Old English melded with the language of the Danelaw area, thus forming Middle English which has since evolved into Modern English.

The surprise for the Iceland-oriented people in the audience was the speaker’s assertion that the Scandinavian language contributions came from the mainland-Scandinavian languages only. When asked, Dr. Emond stated that Icelandic and Faroese (language of the Faroe Islands) were not thought to have contributed, as they lacked some of the word order patterns that English and the mainland-Scandinavian languages share.

When I ran this idea past an Icelandic friend in Reykjavik, he disagreed that Icelandic word order differs (stranded prepositions in particular) from other old Scandinavian languages. Others have said, “Well, there have always been a lot of dialects among the Scandinavian languages.” It is hard to draw hard boundaries around language practices.

Ironically, when I noted that the titles the speaker listed as examples of Norse/Old Scandinavian literature appeared to me to be classic Icelandic titles, my Icelandic friend answered that Norwegians often claim Icelandic works as written in the Norwegian language, because of the two languages were so similar when the Icelandic Sagas were written.

Here are the seven titles Emonds listed:
Bandamanna Saga
Brennu-Njálssaga
Finnboga saga hins ramma
Gamal norsk Homiliebok
Heimskringla: Noregs konunga sögur af Snorri Sturluson
Konungs skuggsiá
Laxdæla saga.

If you know Scandinavian languages, you may say that all these titles are clearly written in Danish or Norwegian.  I am happy to agree to that: the editions that the linguistic scholars listed were.  But Njal´s Saga, Laxdalar Saga, the Saga of Finnbogi the Mighty and Snorri Sturluson (although not the title of his listed here) are all included in the authoritative Complete Sagas of the Icelanders as written in Icelandic in that country.  If you are curious about Snorri, I recommend Nancy Marie Brown´s Song of the Vikings; Snorri and the making of Norse myths.

anon1780317803-8  

 One of the titles listed as an example of Old Norse/ mainland Scandinavian literature:

 

 

 

 

 

But I am not a scholar of linguistics.  You may want to review Emonds’ and Faarlund’s ideas for yourself. The book is English: the Language of the Vikings by Joseph Emonds and Jan Terje Faarlund, published by Palacky University Press, Olomouc, Czech Republic, 2014. Emonds is an American, has taught classes at numerous universities in the US, Europe and Japan and resides in England when not a visiting professor elsewhere. He enjoys talking about his work, so keep an eye out for a presentation near you.