Entry 4: June 23, 2011
I am in Reykjavik!
Traveling in the city with the girls. Tomorrow will be snorkeling and caving on the agenda. I am thrilled. We will be caving and snorkeling at the place where the north American and eurasian plates are splitting apart, and we will be snorkeling over an active volcano!
Today we arrived and got to hostel. It is very nice and looks like a hotel. We are all three in a room together by ourselves. It just happened to turn out that the dorm they gave us was three beds. We went to the culture house which was very interesting and I actually found a copy of the book I had been looking for. Then we went to Blue Lagoon and had a great time relaxing in the nature baths and putting on the silica mud mask. It was great, though there were so many naked people, I’m not sure I will ever recover, haha.
For dinner we went to a really nice Italian restaurant. We stayed, ate, and talked for at least 2 to 2.5 hours. It was great. Now…sleep!
Day 2 in Reykjavik
Today was the second day of our independent travel and I had an awesome day. Our big tour today was: Black and Blue, and let me tell you, it definitely was black and blue! We went to Pingvellir National Park, which not only is the source of the ancient Althingi from about 930 up till mid to late 1800s, but also is the source from where the North American plate and the Eurasian plate are splitting apart. There are 20-30 earthquakes there every day! First, we went caving! It was incredible. We hiked through a 9,000 year old lava tube. The tunnel used to have magma running through it. The cave would have been undiscovered, but part of the roof caved in, and therefore we were able to enter. We were given helmets with cool lights on the top. It was pitch black! At one point, we sat on some rocks and told ghost stories. We met a couple from Toronto, a couple from New York and Chicago, a couple from Sweden, and a man from Germany in our group. It was very nice talking to all of them.
Entry 3: June 17, 2011
Heimaey is the only island of the Vestmannaeyjar Islands inhabited by people. It has a population of about 4,000 and is the country’s number one fishing port. A volcanic eruption in 1973 almost destroyed the island, but workers pumped seawater onto the hot lava for weeks. There are two main volcanoes on the islands: Helgafell and Eldfell.
Eldfell was the volcano that erupted in 1973 and the name means “Fire Mountain.” Many people said that the island would never recover, but the opposite happened. The people made it their mission to rebuild their town and they united together.
In 1627, Algerian pirates took 242 inhabitants captive and sold them into slavery. They killed 30-40 other inhabitants and only a few dozen people escaped. Only 39 of the captives eventually returned to the island after being ransomed.
Heimaey-Departure and Day 1
We are in Haimaey!
The ferry ride was great and very enjoyable. The view was incredible and there was a large amount of bird life and birds nesting on the cliffs.
We had dinner at Pizza 67 and I had a clubhouse 67 sandwich, which had chicken, bacon, ham, mushrooms, and cheese. We also tried an interesting Icelandic drink called Appelsin. It is funny because it has apple and lemonade in the name, but it is actually an orange soft drink.
Earlier, we went to see the Volcano Show, which showed the effects of the volcanic eruption from 1973 on Heimaey. It was incredible and the amount of lava was amazing and devastating.
We climbed a volcano! And we went all the way to the top. It was incredible and such a workout. There were a lot of steep inclines so our thighs were aching. It was mind blowing to see the crater of the volcano and be walking in it! There was even some steam still coming off the top of the rocks. Dr. Grathwohl was so funny because she kept stopping to pick up rocks.
When we got back from hiking up the volcano, we met a group from the University of Miami that knows Lara Pants from Meredith! One of the guys, Dan, is her cousin. I can’t believe that we actually met him in Iceland of all places.
One thing that I am disappointed about is the lack of puffins. So far we have only seen 1 and that was in someone’s backyard. I really wanted to eat a puffin also. The locals say that all of the puffin’s fish food has moved up north, and they have followed. Hopefully we will see some on our very long walk tomorrow.
On Tuesday we got up at about 8:15 in the morning. I had a good night’s rest; that volcano sure saw to that! We ate at a wonderful bakery and I had a huge cinnamon roll with chocolate drizzled all over the top. It was amazing and I wasn’t able to finish it, though I could have, however, I just wanted to save it for a snack later.
We went on a long walk around the island and saw puffins! We were worried that we wouldn’t see any because although Heimaey is known for its puffins, the fish that the puffins eat have moved north along with the increase in temperatures of the ocean waters. They were so cute and they make their nests right in the cliffs. It was an amazing sight to see.
For lunch some of the group went back to the bakery that we had breakfast. I had 2 cheese rolls that were incredible. I didn’t want any sandwiches or anything too heavy because I wasn’t too hungry.
It turned out that we went on the 2:30 ferry instead of the 5:30 ferry because they were not sure if the boat was going to be operating at that time. We wanted to make sure that we got on the ferry and didn’t get stuck on the island. The ferry ride was good and enjoyable. Once again, the sites were amazing.
Back on the Mainland
Once we arrived back on the mainland, we went to see some of the sites around the area. First, we went to Skogar, which was a collection of houses, sheds, a church, and even a schoolhouse. A few were turf houses. What was interesting was that they were lived in until the 1970s! It was very surprising and humbling to see how simply and small they lived.
Next, we went to see the Solheim glacier! It was extraordinary and I have never seen anything like it before. The glacier receded about 100 meters every year, and is 1/10 the size of the big glacier in Iceland. We climbed on the glacier went very far. We actually climbed a pretty far ways, maybe 100 feet! It was scary because we were climbing on uphill on ice and at any moment we could slip, fall, and sliiiiiiiiide. As is with most things, getting down was harder. I was terrified because we were moving downhill on a glacier! We brought new meaning to the terms, moving at a snail’s pace and taking baby steps. However, we made it and it was electrifying. My adrenaline was pumping.
Next, we went to two waterfalls. The first one was amazing. It was big, about 62 meters and very powerful. The mist was cold. The next waterfall had less water and less power, but it was still intense! Especially because we got to walk behind it. This was something I had never done before and I was glad I did so. Four of us also climbed up the steep hill beside the waterfall and saw it from above. It was fun, but nerve wrecking going down because the hill was muddy and rainy!
Dinner was amazing. We stopped at this cute little restaurant. I had the lamb plate, which had little whole potatoes, a salad, and lamb. It was mighty tasty! The head of the restaurant played the piano and sang for us, and we talked to her son for awhile while we were waiting for our food.
We finally got back to Skalholt and I immediately got into the shower. I was so dirty and cold from climbing hills and glaciers, and walking across ash in the rain. It was a great relief and a wonderful end to a wonderful day.
This is my favorite picture of me on the glacier. You can see the rest of the group all tiny in the background. Also, if you look at my gloves, they are normally purple gloves, however, they are black because of the ash on the glacier (from the eruption last April 2010). I was definitely using my hands a lot to make sure that I didn’t fall on my face and perish.
The Land of the Green Thumbs
Today we went to a very interesting community called Solheimar. “Sol” means sun, and “heim” means home, therefore, the name means sun home.
Solheimar is a sustainability community, called an ecovillage, where people with disabilities and people without disabilities live, work, play, and interact together. The community was founded in 1930 by a woman named Sesselja Hreindis Sigmundsdottir. Solheimar has workshops, greenhouses, a shop, grocery store, coffeehouse, guesthouse, and church. The residents of Solheimar grow their own vegetables and herbs. This is the area where we worked; we helped pick many of the herbs that are used to make products and food at Solheimar. They also make candles, woodwork, ceramics, woven goods, soaps, and a variety of incredible art work. The community started out as a home for orphan children. Then it became a home for children and disabled children, who the government did not want to allow because of the possibility of infecting the other children. Today, there are about 100 residents; 40-45% of the residents are disabled, and about 55-60% of the people are non-disabled.
The community left us all very impressed and inspired by their sustainability and hard work. I had a fun time in the gift shop; we all did. I was able to get the rest of my presents for people; except for my dad. I figured I wouldn’t find anything he would want in a shop of arts and crafts and handmade soaps :) Though, I pretty much know what I am going to get him.
Tomorrow is Iceland’s Independence Day! June 17th, 1944 they gained independence from Denmark.
Entry 2: June 9, 2011
The bustling city of Reykjavik
Today we went to Reykjavik. It is a pretty big city (they have so much space that they spread out instead of up like we do in the USA), and pretty exhausting. First, we went to the Reykjavik 871 +/-2 Settlement Exhibition, which shows the remains of a 10th century longhouse. It also houses the wall built by the house, which is the oldest man-made structure found in Reykjavik. Interesting fact on the name of the settlement exhibit: the +/- 2 in the name comes from the approximate year of the eruption of a nearby volcano that caused the longhouse to be evacuated because of all of the ash that was deposited on it. At this museum I got this very cool Saga Trails of Iceland map, where you get a stamp for every history or sage museum, exhibit, or park that you go to that offers them! After a 2 stamps, you get 10% off of admissions! It is very exciting.
We went to the Reykjavik Flea Market afterwards and I got a hand-made out of sheep’s wook Icelandic Sweater. It is wonderful and both Katie, Katie, Dr. Grathwohl, and Dr. Novak said that it was a great buy because it looked as if it was made for me in ever way (size, color, and fit). I am happy with my purchase, though I will not be making in major purchases any time soon! That was actually it probably, my only major purchase. I understand the high cost because it is a long process to get the wool and then the sweater was handmade. Dr. Novak also got putrefied cured shark, which we will eat tomorrow. It is an Icelandic delicacy. I will talk more about that later because it will definitely be a big event here when we pull it out and eat it.
Next, we went to Hallgrimskirkja, which is described as the “most attention-seeking building” and an “immense concrete church.” It is beautiful on the outside, though I will admit that I was disappointed about the outside, however, my guidebook did say that the church’s “interior is puritanically plain.” One thing that I liked a lot about the church was the statue of Leifur Eiriksson in the front of the outside of the church. It was a present from the USA on the 1000th anniversary of the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi.
Afterwards, we went shopping and walking through Reykjavik and we found a lot of nice stores. I got a lot of my gift shopping done; mom, brother, and grandfather so far.
For dinner we had hotdogs from the “Best Icelandic Hot Dog” stand in Iceland. They were very good, though I don’t have much of a basis for judging or comparing.
Hot Chocolate in Iceland
Apparently, the definition of “hot chocolate” in the United States is completely different from the Icelandic definition. Whereas the USA has cocoa mix combined with milk, or even water, the Icelanders actually take chocolate and melt it into a cup, adding a little bit of cream to it as well. As you can guess, it is so rich. To me it tasted like I was drinking a brownie or a piece of chocolate cake. And to top it off, they serve a plate of chocolates right on the side. It is a very intense experience and I found myself craving a glass of water. Even a glass of milk wouldn’t have just added to the richness. I needed something as plain and simple, and thirst-quenching as possible. No other hot chocolate, especially any at home, will ever compare. Mergott! (very good)
“Everything is small in Iceland.”
These were the words of Icelander Dogmar when she, Katie, Chelsea, and I arrived at the Viking Festival and discovered it to be a few tents put together and about 20 men and a few women dressed in costume. It appeared very small and slow at first, but later things picked up and they put on a show for us. We got to see a Viking fight and they used real swords and shields. When one of the women in the fight killed her opponent, two kids from the crowd (of about 20 people) shouted “Go, Mama!” However, this was in Icelandic and we only found out when Dogmar told us. At the end of the Viking fighting, they all lined up in a row, started banging on their swords and then running towards the crowd. This big ole guy started running at me screaming, so I screamed right back at him. So much for his plan of scaring me. He didn’t know who he was messing with, for I am Hannah THORnton, hear me roar!
To the Caves!
Today was a very fun day. After lunch, we went cave exploring!
The Laugarvantnshellar caves are amazing and what makes them even more amazing is the fact that people lived in the caves until the early 1900s and Second World War. The last family that lived there were Jon Porvardsson and Vigdis Jelgadottir. They had three children. There was a lot of poverty in Iceland before the civil war. The father was a carpenter, so he built a door for the cave and even a little chimney for cooking. The nearby cave was used as a sheep pen. There were symbols carved everywhere into the rocks and even a little elf face. In 1921, King Christian X (of Denmark) actually visited the family, and Vigdis served him skyr. He was very pleased with his visit and even gave them money before he left. There have been rumors for a long time that the caves have been, and frequently are visited by elves and ghosts.
Today was the day when we discovered the history of Skalholt. The archaeologist Mjöll Snæsdóttir came to Skalholt to show us around the ruins of the old church and the church basement museum. I actually never knew the ruins were there because they were below the nearby hill. The ruins of the church are from the church of Skalholt from around the 1600s. An interesting fact: the ruins of the church before that one are beneath it. Archaeologists do not want to excavate this church because the current ruins would have to be destroyed in order to get to them. We saw the small school room and the teeny tiny dormitory attached to it that would have housed around 30-35 boys. There was also a kitchen, living room, dining area, storage facilities, library, and then the bishop’s private quarters. They said that there were houses in different directions outside this main building, but some have not be excavated, and some are probably buried under the parking lot if they are there.
Next, we went through an awesome tunnel and into the church basement museum. This housed the sarcophagus of one of the bishops, and other gravestones, doors, and markings. She pointed out that there are graveyards all over Skalholt, but because of their great age (hundreds of years), they are buried under a couple feet of ground.
After our little adventure, we went to have tea and snack. I had a piece of chocolate cake with banana cream center, and a piece of apple cinnamon chocolate cake. I had strawberry tea, and this helped warm me up after the cold had seeped into my bones from walking and standing outside for so long.
A Day of Famous People
Today we went to Reykjavik and visited the Icelandic Parliament and we went to the University of Iceland to meet the author of our book The History of Iceland.
The Icelandic Parliament is known as the Althingi, and it was founded in 930 AD. Its original place resided at Thingvellir, and the parliament met here until 1798 when it moved to Reykjavik. We were given a tour of the Althingi, and we were even able to sit in on a parliamentary session. The parliament has 63 seats and 5 political parties: the Independence Party, the Movement, the Social Democratic Alliance, the Left-Green Movement, and the Progressive Party. My job was to specialize in the Independence Party. They believe in big business, not joining the European Union, and they are conservative. The party is for empowering the individual and not having as much government control. The prime minister of Iceland is Johana Sigurdardottir and she has been prime minister since February of 2009. Johana is actually the first opening guy national leader in the world. I think that this has had an impact on the people of Iceland because in multiple conversations that I have had with Icelanders, they never assume that a relationship is between a male and a female. Instead, they say both man or woman, or partner.
Also, while touring parliament we were able to meet the Minister of the Fishing Industry and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Minister of Fishing told us about how they were fighting to keep the European Union out of Iceland’s fishing waters. Lilja was a part of the parliamentary session and she gave a very fiery speech. Another woman was going after what she was saying, and trying to use her words to distract her from her allotted 2 minutes. She handled it very well; she just toned out the women, spoke louder, and even longer than her two minutes. When another guy was speaking, when someone interrupted him and spoke out against him, he definitely lost his cool and started yelling the rest of his speech at the man.
Gunnar Karlsson is the author of our book The History of Iceland (though he also liked to point out that this was the American version of the book, and the real version, the British version, is called Iceland‘s 1100 Years). We were able to have a very nice conversation in the coffeehouse and bookstore of one of the buildings of the University of Iceland, and he even signed our books for us! Gunnar is a professor of history at the University of Iceland, and he has written a vast number of books, everything from thick scholarly books, to thin basic information books, to even children‘s books. He pointed out that he was sorry for his bad English, but we were all amazed at how well he wrote, and we were all jealous as well. He was very humble, and he spoke of all the help that he had received, and he even pointed out an error on the very first page: he had written of the west coast of Greenland when he intended to write of the east coast of Greenland.
Entry 1: June 2, 2011
Day 1 in Skalholt
We arrived to this wonderful country at 6:30 in the morning. Although the very luckiest of our group only got a few hours of sleep, our exhaustion did not put a damper on our hearts, souls, and minds. From the capital city of Reykjavik, we traveled to the town of Skalhold, which is where we will be staying for the majority of the month. The dorm is very nice; we each have single rooms and the facilities are nice.
The scenery is incredible. Here is a list of all of the things I can see from our dorm room location:
Active Volcano named “Heckla” (and its due to blow!)
Historic Church of Skalholt
Lunch was wonderful! Great food, some of which is hard to explain, so I will leave it at that.
After lunch, we hiked to one of the nearby hot springs and cooked our own eggs! We boiled them, salted them, and then chomped in. Something about cooking my own food makes me proud! Out and back was 2 miles, so we got a workout! Especially with the wind being 50-60 mph winds! On the way to the hot spring, we saw a herd of Icelandic Horses. They came right up to us, probably because they knew we had food. We gave them apple cores and they were happy. A bunch of these horsies were about ready to pop! It would be any day that they would give birth.
At 4 p.m. (technically 16:00 in Icelandic time), we went for tea time at one of the main buildings. It was quite good. One thing about Iceland is that you don’t feel so bad about eating a lot of food when you realize that their food is so healthy!
Day 2: First day of Class and Geysir and Gullfoss
Today was a wonderful first day in Iceland.
I was actually able to sleep last night. The light did not even bother me a bit and I slept a good 10 hours!
Breakfast was amazing and we have convinced Dr. Novak and Dr. Grathwohl that we will all be devoted to going up to get Breakfast every morning.
Class was very informal, though we did get down to business. Today we talked a lot about the geography of Iceland and how its position on the globe affected the seasons, climate, and sunlight.
After lunch, we drove to Geysir and Gullfoss, and after a partly bumpy ride that served as a wonderful butt massage and glorious fields of lambs and fouls, we arrived at Gullfoss. Gullfoss is one of Europe’s top ten most beautiful waterfalls. What is interesting about this waterfall is that it is not in a mountain like most waterfalls are known to come from. Gullfoss used to be just a river flowing along, minding its own business, but when the North American continental plate and the European plate started to split apart, it made a huge trench. The water had to go somewhere, so it went down in the form of a waterfall. The water mist made rainbows that made me very happy. I was able to get a picture of the end of one of the rainbows, and let me tell you: there was no pot of gold. Now, I can say that I have been to the end of a rainbow! I can check this off my bucket list, though I don’t think it was there in the first place, however, if I had thought of it at the time then I would have put it on there.
Next, we went to Geysir, and the surrounding hot spots. Interesting Fact: Geysir is the original geyser that gave it the name we all know. It does not blow as much as it used to, though it did low back in 2008 and back in 2000. Some Icelanders say that it is because of all the rocks that tourists throw down in it trying to get it to blow up. Doubt it though because tourists are always respectful and wise wherever they go. :)
Here I am at Gullfoss, the glorious waterfall, with a beautiful rainbow behind it.