Entry 3 & 4
On Monday, June 13 our group packed up and went to the Westman Islands. We had to take a ferry to get to the islands. The largest island is called Heimæy and about 4,000 people live there. All of the other islands are uninhabited, but some of the islands have a hunting cabin on them. In 1973 the volcano Eldfell erupted without warning and forced all of the inhabitants to leave the island. Eldfell means “fire mountain” in Icelandic. Eldfell is 200 meters high. The eruption destroyed about 400 homes on Heimæy and almost closed of the harbor. They stopped the lava flow from closing the harbor by spraying the lava with water. We went to see a volcanic film show that showed footage from the eruption and the rescue efforts. We went on a long cliffside walk before leaving the island the next day. The walk was so beautiful and was the perfect ending to our trip.
On Thursday, June 16, we went just a few miles away to Solheimar. Solheimar, which means home of the sun in Icelandic, was founded on July 5, 1930 by Sesselja Sigmundsdottir. Sesselja started Solheimar as a home for children with and without disabilities where they could live peaceably together. Sesselja was also one of the first people in Scandinavia to grow organic food. The police got involved because they thought that having healthy children living with disabled ones and eating a diet mainly of vegetables wasn’t healthy for them--I got such a kick out of that. Solheimar has six workshops where the residents can work. There are a candle making, soap making, pottery, woodshop, weaving, and art workshops. My favorite was the woodshop, because they had so many cute toys for children. Everyone in the village helps out on a daily basis to make the community self-sufficient and sustainable. When we were there we got to help Paulo pick herbs to be used in the soap making.
At Midnight on the Summer Solstice I went to the Holavallagardur, a cemetery in Reykjavik. This cemetery is the only forested part of Reykjavik. The most famous “resident” in the cemetery is Jon Sigurdsson, who was the leader of Iceland’s independence movement. Since National Day, Jon’s birthday, was June 17th, many people had put flowers and ribbons on his grave. Many of Iceland’s Prime Ministers are also buried in Holavallagardur. The cemetery was established in 1839 and used until the mid 1900’s. My favorite part of visiting the cemetery was seeing the different kinds of markers. Headstones that mimicked basalt columns were very popular. Also, plain, unpolished boulders were commonly used as headstones. This was one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever been to and a cool place to be on the summer solstice.
On Thursday, June 23, we went to a horse farm and got a chance to go horseback riding with Icelandic horses. Icelandic horses have five gaits: walk, trot, canter/gallop, tolt, and skeid. Tolt and skeid are unique to this breed. The tolt is a fast gait known for being comfortable and able to cover a lot of ground. The skeid gait is called the “flying pace” and is fast and smooth. Not all Icelandic horses can do the skeid gait. After horseback riding we went to our family visits. Katie Riggs, Chelsea and I went to Miklaholt and visited Ottar and his family. Ottar owns a dairy farm with the robot milking machine, which is made in the Netherlands. He has 130 milking cows, 100 bulls, and other non-milking cows. Miklaholt also has sheep, horses, chickens, cats and dogs. The farm has been in Ottar’s family for three generations. This was one of my favorite days of the entire trip.
Entry 2: June 12, 2011
On Wednesday, June 8th, we went to Reykjavik and got a chance to tour the Althing, Iceland’s Parliament. The Althing was founded in 930 in Thingvellir, which also began the Icelandic Commonwealth. The Althing is the oldest parliament still in existence. The main building, called the Althingishus, was built in 1881. Our tour guide, Berglind told us that the University of Iceland’s medical students used to use the first floor of the Althinishus from 1911- 1940. Berglind took us into the Assembly Hall where we got to ask Ossur Skarphedinsson, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. We also spoke to the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Jon Bjarnason. Lilya Gretarsdottir had a longer chat with us about the Althingi and her role as a member of parliament. Lilya is a member of the Left-Green Movement. Lilya has been a member of parliament since 2009 and currently sits on seven committees including the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Health, and the Committee on the Environment.
Also on Wednesday we met Gunnar Karlsson at the University of Iceland’s student center. Gunnar is the author of our textbook, The History of Iceland. Gunnar was born in Efstidalur in 1939. He started teaching at the University of Iceland in 1976 and has since retired. Gunnar talked to us a lot about the sagas. It was cool to learn the other things he had written like the version of Laxdaela Saga for teenagers and to know that this was his favorite. It was also neat to see Gunnar’s granddaughter and here about what she was learning at the summer program.
On Sunday, May 29th, our first full day in Iceland we walked to the nearby St. Thorlak’s Spring soon after arriving in Skalholt. It was nice go on a walk where we will be living and get my bearings a little. When I could make out the riverbank I spotted the steam coming from the ground. We walked almost all the way down to the river to get to the small hot spring. We boiled a dozen eggs in the hot spring, which was 100° Celsius, and ate them on the spot. The horses came right up to us and let us pet them. The first thing that struck me about Iceland was the drastic change in landscape that could happen every mile (or kilometer), while at the same time it felt as if the land went on exactly the same in every direction. This was first evident on this van ride from the airport. The ground would go from this strange mix of hard and soft ground that I can’t quite judge from inside the van to the rolling lava fields at the foot of extinct volcanoes. I notice the jagged edges of the mountains formed by glaciers. This is completely different from the soft, rolling mountains of North Carolina I’m used to. Every part of Iceland we have seen so far has been beautiful.
On Monday, we hopped in Sleipnir, our van, and headed to Gullfoss. We park a little ways away from the waterfall and cannot see it, but we know it’s there. As we are walking closer to the mist coming out of the cracks in the earth we can finally get a peek at Gullfoss. Gullfoss is Iceland’s best known natural wonder and means “golden falls.” The waterfall has two parts to it: one 11meter drop and one 21meter drop into the river. The best thing about this waterfall is how close we could get to it. You can walk right out into the middle of it and even stick your hand in the water. Gullfoss also looks a lot different than other waterfalls because it was formed by an earthquake. This was one of the coolest places we have been so far.