Save the Icelandic Goats!

(If you don’t want to read the whole post, and just want to jump to the goat-saving, see here.)

As many of you who know me are already quite familiar, I have a bit of a thing for goats. Goats yelling like people. Goats balancing on steel ribbons. Goats as “vegetation control.” Goats, goats, goats. I can’t exactly explain why this is: as a child, a goat chased me around a petting zoo, caught me, chewed on my shirt, and generally terrified me, so it’s not because I have some particularly warm memory of these creatures (although I did really love the book Gregory the Terrible Eater). But somehow, their general cleverness and mischievousness caught my fancy and seriously charmed me.

I say this by way of introduction to a cause that is close to my heart: a family-run Icelandic goat farm called Háafell is in danger of foreclosure next month. This farm—which you might remember from a post last year—is home to 400 goats, nearly half of Iceland’s native goat population (there are only 820 Icelandic goats in existence all total). And—for reasons which admittedly, are not entirely clear to me—if the family loses their farm, all of the 400 goats there will be slaughtered.

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Segðu Já!

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Towards the end of September, when plane tickets, general living, and fun outings were starting to eat into my summer savings, I adopted a policy of “say yes!” whenever a work opportunity came my way. This wasn’t a bad policy, wallet-wise, and so I decided, when considering all of the new things that were on my horizon, that I would try to stick with this ethos when unusual life opportunities came my way.

Which is how, dear readers, Mark and I ended up standing on a glacier this weekend, in the rain, preparing ourselves to climb a vertical ice wall. Segðu já! (Full photos here.)

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The Sodden Circle

More photo recapping from February:

Mark’s dad R stayed with us for just about a week in February. On his last day, we wanted to take him to see some more sites outside of Reykjavík, and we thought that a day spent around the Golden Circle would be fun. And it was, but it was also wet and foggy and windy for pretty much the whole time, and it took roughly an hour just to get to the point where we could drive without the windows rolled down (the defogger on our rented VW Golf was pretty shoddy). So while Gulfoss and Geysir and Þingvellir are always pretty spectacular, they are, I admit, a bit harder to enjoy while completely sodden.

Nevertheless, I took some more photos (of course), some of which you can see below, and all of which you can see here, on the photo blog.

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Daytrip Around Borgarbyggð, West Iceland

When last we left off from our post-Christmas relaxication in West Iceland, Mark, Graham, and I were doing a lot of reading, a lot of sleeping, a lot of fish-dinner eating, and a lot of listening to the eaves creaking and the roof sounding like it was going to fly off the house, Wizard of Oz style, due to the super intense gales swooshing around our cozy cabin which were even more formidable in that we were situated just on the edge of a fjörð. (If you take anything away from this blog, let it be this: the wind in Iceland is something fierce.)

Of course, it (the wind) somewhat adds to the whole cozied effect if you are warm and pj’ed inside. But we had hoped to get outdoors at least a little bit, for maybe a day hike to a nearby waterfall or up Akrafjall, the mountain just outside of Akranes which “boasts of one of the biggest breeding colonies of the great black-backed gulls in the country.” Given the wind, however, spending a lot of time exerting ourselves out-of-doors was just not going to work, so instead, we decided that we’d make the most of it and take a day’s drive around Borgarbyggð, which is, as Wikipedia helpfully explains, the collective name for the “various amalgamated populated rural areas in the West or Vesturland region of Iceland.”

I’ve posted the photos from this excursion here, but will give you a little more info about the highlights below.

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48 Hours in Iceland: Daytrip Around the Reykjanes Penninsula

To resume where we left off with Georgia and Lance’s 48 Hour Visit to Iceland:

(As per my new habit: if you want to skip straight to the full archive of photos from this trip, you can do so here. I’ll note that it was a pretty windy, overcast day, so some of my photos–particularly those taken by the coast–are a little more blurry than is ideal.)

After our very successful city day in Reykjavík, Mark and I wanted to take our friends out of the city and into the country, if only for a little bit. Luckily–since they had to be back at the airport at 3:00 PM–it isn’t hard to get to the country in Iceland, nor is it hard to find some really amazing landscapes in the very direction of the airport, less than an hour’s drive outside of Reykjavík.

The sprawling lava plain of the Reykjanes Peninsula is something that most everyone who leaves the Keflavík airport gets to see at least a little of on their way into Reykjavík. That is, unless you arrive in Iceland in the winter and by the time you get out of the airport at 4:30ish, it is already dark. (This was, as you might have inferred, the case for G&L.) But although the peninsula is “a lunar landscape pitted with volcanic and geothermal wonders,” (that per the above-linked tourist website), my impression is that Reykjanes often gets overlooked by tourists who speed through it on their way to volcanoes and the Blue Lagoon. But as far as I am concerned it is more than worth a day trip. If you remain unconvinced, perhaps this description which I read in my Lonely Planet guidebook will make the point. This is the passage that really sold me on visiting this area, at least:

“One of the most wild and wonderful spots is Valahnúker, where a dirt track leads off the main road through 13th century lava fields down to the most desolate cliffs imaginable. You can clamber up to the ruins of the oldest lighthouse (1878) in Iceland…and contemplate the fragility of life and the futility of everything.”

Sounds awesome, right? (Seriously, someone give that travel writer a raise.)

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Farm Trip! (Puppies!) (Hvolpar*!)

*A cursory dictionary search came up with this as the term for “puppies,” which sounds a lot less cuddly to me. Is there some adorable Icelandic word for puppies that I am missing?

A few weekends ago, the good people at Fulbright (in conjunction with the good people at the Fulbright Alumni Association and the good people at the Icelandic Search and Rescue Association) took a group of us out for lunch on a farm in the country. “Lunch on an Icelandic farm,” sounds delightful to be sure, but this was a huge understatement. Because what we actually got was:

  • an informative driving tour through the incredible Reykjanes peninsula
  • a delicious afternoon “snack” consisting of home-grown, homemade rhubarb pie with currants, homemade whipped cream, and a side of home-smoked sheep–not lamb, sheep–with creamy Icelandic butter on flat bread (think of it like the delicious Icelandic equivalent of chicken and waffles, although really, I think I prefer this version)
  • a few hours of absolute, unbridled joy spent with three Icelandic sheep dog puppies
  • a demonstration of the five canters (I hope that is the right term) of the Icelandic horse: Icelandic horses have one more canter than horses typically do, which I was interested to learn
  • a brief break for picking a rather wide variety of fresh vegetables from the garden: mustard greens, turnips and carrots, lettuce, arugula…
  • and finally, one of the most lovely, cozy dinner feasts I’ve ever had in my life: creamy mushroom soup, a super buttery, super creamy langoustine ‘stew’ served on thick (buttered) toast, salad, fresh lamb on a different kind of delicious warm roll, mashed turnips, potatoes, and homemade gravy.

It was a beautiful day, and honestly, I was so busy enjoying it and the general peacefulness of a horse farm in the Icelandic countryside that I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I could have (no food shots, for one). But I think I got enough for some good vicarious travel.

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(Sorry–I tried to break these up into several slide shows, but couldn’t figure it out. So we’ll have to make due with one big one and details below.)

Our first stop on the drive out of Reykjavík, as you can see above, was at a large fish drying station. One of the people with us said that when she was young, she had worked at a fish factory that used to send her out to a station like this on warm summer days–it was, apparently, a rather good job because you got to spend so much time outdoors during nice weather. You can probably tell from the photos above that not all the things drying were fish–there seem to have been some sort of ray drying as well, although none of the Icelanders among us could figure out what exactly it was. The guess was that the rays were meant for export, rather than local consumption.

After the fish station (and now with this song well-lodged in my brain), we continued to the Krýsuvík geothermal area, more particularly Seltún. These hot springs (not the kind for bathing, mind you!) were pretty amazing–located slightly uphill in an otherwise, vast and empty landscape. I might also add that where many hot springs in Iceland have that eggy sulfur smell, Mark and I both agreed that this one smelled a lot saltier, more mineraly.

After our short detour at Seltún, we made it to the horse farm and embarked on the rest of the lovely afternoon summarized above. I wish that I had more puppy pictures to show you–if you want to see a group of reasonable adults turn to jelly in four second flat, break out the Icelandic sheep dog pups, for sure–but I do not wish that I had spent less time with my face buried in puppy fur. So you’ll just have to infer from what we have here that they were amazingly adorable.

Also, not to knock the horses: they were wonderful and just a little intimidating up close. They are smaller than most horses, but they are feisty–two or three of them just couldn’t keep from picking up their back legs and ramming whichever horse happened to be next to them with all of their might. I fed pellet snacks to a few of the horses, which was also kind of scary, but invigorating for sure.

Again, a wonderful day. Would not be a bad life to live on a daily basis for sure.

 

Daytrip to Viðey

Yesterday turned out to be a beautiful mild day, a perfect Sunday to spend outdoors and exploring a little. One of the outings on Mark and I’s ever-expanding to-do list was to take the ferry to the island of Viðey, which is about seven minutes by boat from Reykjavík.

Although it is a very small island (roughly 1 square miles), Viðey actually has a fair amount of attractions–certainly enough for an afternoon or two. The island was the site of Iceland’s first monastery. Later, following the monks’ expulsion at the hands of the Danish crown, it came into the possession of Skúli Magnússon, the then-Royal Treasurer who is now known as “The Father of Reykjavík” because of his initiative to bring modern industry to Iceland with the establishment of wool workshops and factories in the capitol. In more recent years, Viðey has become the home of Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower, a light memorial to John Lennon which is lit and projected from its white stone well on the island’s coast from Lennon’s birth day (October 9) until the day of his death (December 8). Additionally, Viðey is the site of monumental sculptor Richard Serra’s work Áfgangar, or Milestones, which is comprised of nine pairs of basalt pillars which frame the landscape of Viðey’s westernmost end. I wasn’t all that thrilled by the prospect of the peace tower, honestly (especially since it wasn’t going to be lit), but some of my most profound aesthetic experiences have occurred while I was Being-in-Art, standing inside the curve of one of Richard Serra’s gigantic undulating sheet metal installations. (This one! This one!) (This one, too!) So being able to see a Serra installation in Iceland was definitely something I wanted to do.

Mark and I got to the ferry terminal about 45 minutes before it left. The tiny office, staffed only by the two people who crew the ferry back and forth to Viðey, was locked when we arrived, so we sat by the pier and enjoyed the sunshine and view until the boat returned. We spent a few hours on Viðey, walking around the western end and then taking a break for french fries and beer in the restaurant, which, it bears noting, is the oldest stone house in Iceland and was designed by Niels Eigtved, the architect who designed Denmark´s Amalienborg Palace. We left the other side of the island–with the sites of the original settlement, Skúli Magnússon’s doomed tobacco crops, and a schoolhouse–for our next visit.

I obviously took a kazillion photos, so enjoy!

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