(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.
So last weekend, just the day after after hobnobbing with writer-types and heads-of-state, we went and did something really awesome: we gathered mussels in Hvalfjörður (which you’ll remember as our favorite relaxication locale) and made ourselves an epic mussel feast. We had long known that people gathered mussels in this fjord—had even eaten them in restaurants—but weren’t sure when/where to go do the gathering ourselves.
Luckily, we have two new friends who are not only experts in finding cool activities, but also are socially-open enough to actually join in groups and outings and such. And nice enough to bring us along. Yippee! These excellent friends, Mike and Kevin, found out that the Icelandic Touring Association was caravaning out to Hvalfjörður to collect mussels (for a…you’ll like this vocab…Kræklingaferð [Mussel Journey]) and that anyone could join them free of charge. So we got together some pots, some giant reusable grocery bags (we felt very optimistic about our mussel-collecting skillz), some borrowed gardening gloves, a plastic shovel, and some boots, and headed to the fjord.
We’re about to take a couple more short jaunts over our upcoming Easter break, so it’s high time that I finish recapping the overnight trip that Mark and I took with his dad to the Snæfells peninsula. (Fun fact: in Icelandic, the suffix -nes means peninsula or cape, so saying “Snæfellsnes peninsula” as I had been doing, is redundant. Learn something new every day…)
Our first day’s drive around Snæfellsness was recapped in two parts, which you can catch up on here and here. In this post here, you’ll see the harbor town of Stykkishólmur, the super dee-lightful Settlement Center in Borganes, and the mini-forest on Hamrahlíð, a small mountain just outside of Mosfellsbær. To skip the narration and go straight to these photos, see the photo blog, here.
When last we left off from the recap of our most recent journey—a brief jaunt around the Snæfellsnes peninsula—we were watching teens practice their golf swings behind a lava field in Hellisander. The drive up to that point had been quite good, if still a bit (okay, a lot) muddy and the weather not entirely conducive to sight-seeing, given that dense, dense fog pretty much puts the kibosh on actually seeing much of anything that isn’t six feet in front of you. And yet! We kept chasing sunlight and were rewarded quite handsomely for it: part two of our first day was even better than part 1.
(Again, if you just want the pictures, feel free to skip over to the photo blog, here.)
Hello, internet! Have you missed me? I know that in internet time, as in dog years, what seems but a moment is actually an eternity. So my apologies for those of you who languished without my ramblings for the past week: I am alive and well and have lots to tell you now!
Last week was reading week at school, which meant take-home tests for me and lots of reading for Mark. We also had company! Mark’s dad (R) came to stay with us, which led to much adventuring both around town and out of it, although the weather was particularly unobliging for basically all but six hours of his visit. Iceland in February is a fickle gal: before R arrived, we had been blessed with some amazingly spring-like days, all in a row. During his stay, it rained, and rained, and rained, and set new standards for fog, at least outside of Reykjavík. Gave us a break with the wind–thanks for that, Iceland–but made our sight-seeing jaunts a bit difficult. (It bears noting that now that R has left, I’m sitting in my kitchen, with lots of cheerful sunshine on my face. Admittedly, it just stopped snowing a little but ago, but it’s sunny, galdurnit!)
R arrived on Sunday in the early morning, and was obliging enough to allow himself to be packed into a rental car just moments after he touched down and be driven about two hours Northwest to the Snæfellsnes peninsula, which is itself very near to Borgarfjörður, which you no doubt remember from our recent travel adventure in December. R’s vacation unfortunately coincided with a fair number of time constraints for Mark and I–Mark was actually starting a short course this week, and besides having midterms to attend to, I had also just started a martial arts class on Mondays and Wednesdays (more anon). So we didn’t have a great deal of time to fit in a trip out of town. Luckily, there are many wonderful places to visit in Iceland that can be reached within a short drive of Reykjavík. And places that we haven’t seen yet, too!
What follows is a short recap of all the awesome stuff we crammed into 24 hours around Snæfellsnes. If you want to see all of the photos I took—all 139 of them—proceed to the photo blog and commence ooh-ing.
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.
Over Christmas and New Year’s Mark and I were very lucky to have our friend Graham come to visit us. It says a lot for him that he was willing to come visit during this time of year–not only is it generally cold(ish), wet, windy, and very dark, there are also just a lot of things that you can’t do in Iceland between Christmas and New Year’s because so much is closed. There are actually still a decent number of tourists here, but many of those I saw walking up and down the shopping streets seemed a bit confused and glum about the forced window shopping. Iceland highly values its tourism industry, and, I think, tends to treat tourists very well, but they definitely don’t pander to out-of-towners around the holiday season.
I consulted with a friend who has lived here for awhile about what to do (with guests) over a winter visit, and received the very good suggestion to look for a cabin in the country with a hot tub, and spend a few days there relaxing and enjoying some nice long soaks, even if (or especially if) the weather was lousy. It was also suggested that one of the outdoor hot tub perks might be seeing Northern Lights while sitting in a jacuzzi, but it was unfortunately pretty cloudy the whole time we were on our relax-ication, so no Northern Lights for us. (Nature doesn’t perform on command, I guess.)
After some delightful research (winter-rental cabins, hot tubs, Icelandic countryside), we settled on renting one of the two cozy cabins at Kalastaðir, located right on Hvalfjörð (Whale Fjörð), in West Iceland. Driving the long way, as we did on our trip there, takes you all around the fjörð, which is absolutely breathtaking. Taking the efficient, super-space-age Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel on the way back–which Wikipedia tells me is “is 5,770 m long and reaches depth of 165m below sea level”–it was just a snappy 45 minute drive from Reykjavík. Which was really perfect, for our purposes, in that it was not too long a drive, and featured lovely scenery and countryside peacefulness, in a brand new (for us) part of Iceland.