Campaganza 2016: Hraunborgir

Midsummer is nigh here in Iceland and although our run of astoundingly sunshiney summer days seems to have finally caved to the status quo and gotten rainy again, Mark and I have finally gotten the Summer 2016 Campaganza (that is a camping-extravaganza…the portmanteau maybe didn’t work as well as I was hoping) underway. Having done an absurd amount of research on tents, collected a not inconsiderable amount of gear, and investigated a number of local campground options, we decided to take our inaugural outing this weekend—a sort of test run, if you will, for a longer two-week expedition we intend to take further afield in July.

Because we were leaving later in the day on Friday, we decided to find a campground relatively close to the city and settled on Hraunborgir, a campground/summer cabin community close to Selfoss which boasts a swimming pool, golf course, mini golf ‘course,’ and a rec center where it’s possible to order yourself a pizza and watch sporting events of note, such as Iceland’s just-fine-not-great Eurocup match against Hungary on Saturday.

The weather forecast was, in all honesty, not so spectacular for Friday and Saturday, but waiting for the right weather in Iceland is a distinctly futile exercise, and also, what is the point of finding yourselves a sweet, water- and windproof tent with a sheltered ‘living room’ if you only camp in the driest and sunshiney-ist of conditions? So off we went, getting rather lucky with our weather on the first afternoon and night, even if it did go from being super warm to super chilly quite quickly. Which is when I realized, a bit despairingly, that I’d forgotten both a coat and a scarf.

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Throwback Touring: Trip to the Vestmannaeyjar (Feb. 2015)

As of Friday, I am officially done with work, done with school, and tots on summer vacation. Which means all sorts of free time…at least until I fill it. Until that happens, however, I’ve got time finally to share a little bit about the trip that Mark and I took to the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), right off of Iceland’s south coast, in February.

We had been wanting to visit the Vestmannaeyjar for quite some time, so when I was invited to write a travel piece for Icelandair’s in-flight magazine, I jumped at the opportunity. And even though it was the off-season and many of the island’s major tourist draws (such as boats out around the smaller, uninhabited islands to see puffins and other sealife) weren’t running, we really had a fabulous trip.

For one, we got to hold puffins, which was just as awesome as you’d expect. For two, we were escorted around by a photographer, Óskar, who is a lifetime resident of Heimaey (Home Island). Óskar (whose lovely photos you can see here) drove us all over the island, shared local stories and histories, arranged for us to get into museums after closing hours and to meet the curators, asked his friend to let us join an island tour (which included a delicious lunch at Einsi Kaldi, an upscale restaurant that uses a lot of local ingredients), and even had us over for dinner at his home. It was, as you can see, quite the royal treatment.

View of Heimaey from the top of Eldfell, the volcano that looms directly over the town.

View of Heimaey from the top of Eldfell, the volcano that looms directly over the town.

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Quality Time

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Around the start of the month, I noticed little transparencies with musings about waiting affixed to bus shelters around the university and downtown. I’m not sure if these are at all connected to the ongoing Reykjavík Art Festival, or if someone is just art-ing it up on their own, but I actually quite like them.

IMG_3752Some of these are written in English and some are written in Icelandic. I’m not a master grammarian, but my assumption after reading the one above more closely is that these bus-musings weren’t written by a native Icelandic speaker, which I (perhaps not unexpectedly) find even more interesting. In the case of the musing above, someone (not the artist) tetchily wrote over the original date order (it was written month-day instead of day-month, as is done in Iceland and much of the world). And the same exacting observer also seems to have taken issue with the use of the English phrase “quality time” at the end and replaced it with the Icelandic word “goðastund.” I know a lot of Icelanders who pepper their (Icelandic) speech with English phrases here and there, but apparently, this viewer wasn’t having it.

Here’s a quick translation of the Icelandic entry. Note that some of the words were partially scratched out and I also didn’t quite know what to make of some of the phrasing, so I was extrapolating a little bit.

I don’t usually mind waiting. I often use the downtime to just think, ponder, be with myself, enjoy the moment, etc. Generally speaking, I don’t wait like this much and I think it’s good to be able to use this wait time just to catch up with myself. Maybe that’s why in reality I welcome the wait and look on it as ‘Quality Time.’

If I happen to have my camera on me and see any others of these around town, I’ll take pictures of them, too. In the meantime, I’m off to the bus stop now to enjoy my own Quality Time.

South Coast Gems: Naughty Nuns, Cozy Coffeeshops

Why, hello there, Internet. I’m alive! The school year has come to a close, and my work year is nearly finished as well (nine days and counting), so I find myself, mysteriously, with time on my hands. I’ve so far been filling it with walks and binge reading and Eurovision and cooking, but perhaps I can get back in the habit of updating this blog, too.

To start with, I’ll be posting some backlogged writing and photos in the up-and-coming, and I thought it best to start with this oldie-but-goodie that was published in the Grapevine in April. The trip, I should note, was one that Mark and I took in October of 2013, although the story itself didn’t make it into print until rather a long time afterwards. I should also note that my original article was about a kazillion times longer (there’s a lot to say about the sights we saw and I wasn’t watching my word count very closely), so while I’ll just excerpt the article itself in this post (with photos), I will also add in some of the passages that I had to cut for length.

The full set of photos from this trip (and there were many) are posted on the photo blog. I’ve arranged them by site, so click the location titles to see all the photos from that place. (General photos from the road have been sprinkled throughout this post and can also be found here.)

(Click the title link below to see the full article.)

Misbehaving Nuns, Ancient Ice: Five Seasonal South Iceland Sights

Ideally, all of your travels in Iceland would be accompanied by mild weather and cloudless skies, but waiting for perfect weather in this country is much like waiting for Godot. This shouldn’t faze you, though, because the shoulder seasons (September and October, March and April) are frequently, if intermittently, lovely. They are typically a bit cold and windy—but also bright and clear and with enough daylight to allow for a decent day’s hiking or sightseeing. On a recent three-day drive along the South coast, my partner and I went to see some new sights and return to some favorites. Here are a few highlights.

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Sólmyrkvi madness á Íslandi

Solar eclipse photo via Mbl newspaper photographer Eggert.

As you may well be aware, this morning there was a pretty spectacular solar eclipse (sólmyrkvi) visible throughout Northern (and Northern-ish) Europe. Word has it that this eclipse was, in fact, “the best in years” and lucky for us here in Iceland (including the thousands of tourists who apparently made a special journey here just to see the eclipse first-hand), the weather was wonderful: bright, windless, and super sunny.

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Puffins: A Lot Like Puppies

Although I don’t have time (yet!) to regale you all with our most recent adventure to Vestmannaeyjar, or the Westman Islands, I cannot fully contain my excitement at the moment. I simply must share these few photos from our weekend jaunt and tell you, dear readers, that holding a puffin is truly delightful. Pretty much as awesome (okay, almost) as holding a baby goat. This likely surprises absolutely no one, but what might surprise you is that holding a puffin is a lot like holding a puppy. A puffin—at least Tóti, one of the resident lord and masters at Sæheimar (the aquarium/natural history museum on Heimaey)—is rather warm and rather cuddly. When it gets excited, it nibbles at your hands (or, okay, just bites—but totally worth it). When it wants to be set down, it follows you around or waddles out in front of you. It is surprisingly small (Mark says “like one too many tomatoes to hold in one hand”) and it has surprisingly warm little feet.

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One of the women who was visiting at the same time as we were (an American travel agent visiting for a big convention who took a short daytrip to the Westmans) exclaimed as she was leaving: “Oh my god, that made the whole flight over here worth it!” I think a lot of things made the trip ‘worth it,’ actually—there were many amazing things about our visit which I will share (with photos!) shortly—but Holding a Puffin definitely ranks pretty high on the list of Awesome Things I’ve Done in Iceland.

Gleðileg Hinsegin Dagur!

Reykjavík Pride‘s signature event—the gleðiganga, or Pride Parade, took place this afternoon (a most perfect sunny day, as you can see). This was our first time in the city for Pride, which is actually a six day event called “Hinsegin Dagar,” or Queer Days (“hinsegin” actually just means “different,” but is the general word used to refer to queer people), and after a little “Diving and Divas” (a concert/diving exhibition at the indoor swimming pool downtown) earlier in the week, I was really looking forward to the parade. (Fun Fact: the Pride Parade is, I’m told, the only parade on the city’s calendar.)

By parade standards, Reykjavík Pride is, admittedly, pretty small. But you wouldn’t know it from the size of the crowds that gather. I’m told that somewhere around 120,000 people came out to see the parade and the following concert this afternoon. Just think about that: 120,000 people. That is just short of the city’s total population which is, at last estimate, 121,230. And that is amazing.

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Summertiiiime…

Like the lady says.

So since the Great Dandelion Triumph (which yes, was super triumphant) things have really picked up speed. We had two guests and saw another friend/former colleague on his way through Reykjavík, which increasingly, seems to be a thing (people just happening to be in Reykjavík, I mean). Actually, there have been/will be a bunch of people passing through on their way to and fro from Iceland this summer which is super nice because it makes one feel really at home, I think, to have a community, even if that community is often in transit. Otherwise, work is still chugging along for me, Mark got a part time job working at a local café (yay!), and we got assigned an apartment in university housing (OMG! We move next weekend! OMG! We need furniture! IKEA time!).

The downside to all of this is that my best laid plans of doing a lot of grammar review/translating/reading in Icelandic/blogging/not-work writing have been a little slow to come to fruition. But I’m telling myself that some downtime is rejuvenating and it’ll be possible to get on a nice, leisurely-but-productive summer schedule soon. Any luck, I’ll have everything totally in order by the time September rolls around and it’s time to go back to school…

Anyway, another reason I’m not fussing too much about having spent a little less time hunched over my computer these days is that the weather has been—periodically—absolutely amazing. I mean: amazing. Full sun shining, light breeze, warm-enough-to-take-off-your-sweater amazing. For whole days in a row, which happened, conveniently enough, to coincide with a weekend. Observe:

OMG. It's cutoff season.

OMG. It’s cutoff (shorts) season.

Now, allow me to remind everyone that Mark and I have never been around for summer in Iceland. We’ve been here as late as the end of May, three times, but we’ve always missed June, July, and August. These are essentially the months that justify your living here over the winter, and although they are not always so super dependable (last year depressed everyone), they are still at least a little warmer and maybe a touch less damp than autumn, if you’re lucky. A drunk guy on a porch struck up a conversation with me on one of these great summer days and I mentioned that I had never been here over the summer—just the winter. “Well then,” he said. “You’re an idiot.” And you know, maybe Drunk Guy was onto something. Because sunny summer Iceland is pretty sweet, if elusive.

There is an amazing manic energy that seems to take hold of everyone on a perfect sunny day. It’s like everyone in the country has to be outside, and doing every amazing summery thing, all at once, right away, lest the weather suddenly change. On Sunny Saturday, a group of us former Fulbrighters and Friends of Former Fulbrighters went out to lunch with one of our own who was, yes, passing through. We then walked around, were made a bit jealous by the kids-in-balls-in-a-water-pit (see photos below) who were splashing around in a square downtown, overheard a mini Reggae festival from another square, and camped out on some grass with half of Iceland for the better part of a day. We had originally planned to go to the beach, but didn’t manage to work up the energy to do much other than just sit outside.

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The next day, Sunny Sunday, a few of us did make it to the beach, and although it was a bit colder, Mark did brave the ocean swimming with me and, like a hero, accompanied me on a short circuit around the shoreline since I am a’feared of the ocean and really don’t like the idea of going around by myself, even if I am always within stretching distance of the shore. So even after he came in with me and then got back out (because: cold), he swam back in and cheerleaded alongside of me, all the way around the bay, particularly when a patch of seaweed sneaked up under me and I nearly hyperventilated.

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(If that part doesn’t sound fun, it was really, just the kind of fun that is actually kind of hard because you’re like, growing as a person, and that’s rough.)

Then, after a good soak in the hot pot (filled with kids, most of whom crawled over us at some point, and two particularly intrepid boys who were snorkeling around knees and over feet from one end to the other), we found a nice grassy vantage point to enjoy a can of summer beer and watch the sailboats (which yes, mom, apparently do exist here!).

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It’s amazing what two days of nice weather can do for a person. I think I became 7x happier than I had been (which was not unhappy) after absorbing all that delicious UV and Vitamin D. (To live vicariously and see more awesome sunny day photos, see here.

Dandelion Harvest

Or, the uppskera túnfífils, I believe.

One of the most easily recognizable signs of summer’s arrival here in Iceland (what equates to a cold spring for most of the rest of you) is the sudden profusion of dandelions everywhere. I always found these pleasant enough to look at (that is, when the little puff balls weren’t making me sneeze) but had never thought much about trying to do anything with them until this year, when a particularly enterprising friend of mine mentioned that you can make all sorts of things out of them—wine, in particular.

Well, dandelion wine sounded quite romantic, and I do like make-your-own sorts of projects. Also, I am up for any and all opportunities to forage around for edible things, particularly in Iceland (see: MUSSELLING!). So I set about doing some research on how to make dandelion wine, found a number of recipes/websites/videos/tutorials explaining the process, and decided to set out this weekend in search of some lovely soon-to-be-wine.

(Happily, I found a perfect white wicker basket with a handle a few weekends ago, so I got to hop around the fields and ocean-side paths swinging a basket along with me as I collected flowers. It was seriously picturesque.)

Well. I waited until midday when the dandelions visible from my doorway seemed to be opening and ripe for plucking (I had read that it is best to pick them when they are fully open) and then went out and picked myself a whole blooming (pun!) basket of flowers. My hands were basically mustard-colored by the time I got done.

Observe:

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