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Posts Tagged ‘Perlan’


After landing in the rain and early dawn on Keflavik, sleepless, I was starting to get that nauseous all-nighter feeling and dozed woozily the whole bus ride to our hotel.  Derek says I missed nothing.

We weren’t expecting to be allowed to check in at 7am, but we were welcomed in (all the Canadians arrive at that time- that’s when the flight from Toronto gets in) and promptly passed out for 4 or 5 hours.  It was like getting two nights for one, because we got up and walked all over Reykjavík in the afternoon and then got to sleep at the hotel again.

We were officially welcomed to Iceland by this cat. It’s not every day you both say out loud at the same time “Hey, is that a Norwegian Forest Cat?”

As we walked around Reykjavík I took pictures everywhere of road signs and apartments and houses jutting into the sidewalk, etc, to remember the difference about them, knowing that in no time we’d be so used to it all that we’d stop noticing the uniqueness of common design.

I love the freedom of being a tourist like that.  Instead of “Why is that strange woman taking a picture of the roundabout?”, any bizarre behavior gets completely dismissed with “Tourists.” and they barely even look at you, as you’re snapping photos of door handles.

First we headed for the Saga Museum at Perlan, because it was close to our hotel.  Little realizing I would practically live on the stuff for the next month, we sampled skyr for the first time at the Perlan cafe on the viewing deck overlooking the city, among a fantastic overload of breakfast sugar.  A “Belgian waffle” here bears no resemblance to the grilled pancake batter of NA (North America- I’ll be using this a lot).  It’s dark, to start, like whole wheat bread, and thick and “meaty”.  Not fluff.  You know you’ve eaten something, and it was delicious.  And “cream” in Iceland, whether ice or whipped, is another different animal.  It’s not white, and it’s not Cool Whip.  It’s cream coloured (wow!) – a distinct yellow buttery colour, and it tastes thick and complete and real.  I was in love with the cream in Iceland.  It must be local.  There are enough cows it would be absurd for the island to import milk.  I did not confirm this at all, but kept a fantasy that all the milk there is whole and minimally refined and therefore good for us, because it tasted good.

That was breakfast.  Luckily, a delicious introduction to Iceland, because it rather went downhill from that meal, food-wise.  I’d later be reduced to wandering gas stations in a hypoglycemic haze going “I just want something that’s not a skink sandwich!”  Skinku=ham.

The Saga Museum is a bunch of wax figures of Vikings being Vikings.  Well executed.  Static.  Except for the animatronic breathing Viking.  I wasn’t convinced he wasn’t one of those crazy people that stands stone still while people speculate whether or not they’re real, so I spent some time lurking and spying on him from other parts of the museum. Like I was going to jump out from behind the witch being burned at the stake (so that’s where all the trees in Iceland went), all “Aha!  You are real!  You moved your hand!”  No such luck, he just kept breathing and breathing.

The funnest part (and that’s saying something, considering the above-mentioned lurking) was trying on the chainmail and waving around blunt swords which are there for kids to play with.  Getting oneself extricated from a 50 pound chainmail dress provides entertainment to all passersby.  Can’t believe THAT’s not chained down- that thing is VALuable; an amazing piece of chainmail work.  Although, difficult to imagine anyone wearing it out under their clothes to steal.  Waving to the person at the desk “Thanks, great exhibit… clanking?  what clanking?”  Difficult to breathe in, as a matter of fact.  Lifting one’s chest against all that metal to inhale is work.  Them Vikings were tough.

On to Hallgrímskirkja.

Kirkja=Church.  Don’t dare say that like Kirk, a man’s name.  It sounds like there’s a bunch of “e”s in it.  Hallgrímskirkja is the highest point in Reykjavik, apparently suffered controversy over the design (surprising; considering church design throughout the country, this one looks just like a church) and some bad contractors, and the architect died before it was finished.

We were quite fortunate; after coming down out of the bell tower, the organist playing in tomorrow nights’ concert was practicing his program on the huge and very unique organ.  For free, we got to see and hear the organ boom and rumble.  Very exciting, although I would guess not so fun for the organist, to practice with an audience of tourists and cameras milling around.  No pressure.  The pew seats were another instance of cool design (I was already collecting advanced “scandinavian” design features), which could switch to face either the altar or the organ.  Genius.

I loved the clean lines of the church, the most minimal church I’ve ever seen.  It may be irreverent, but I couldn’t get fish bones out of my head looking at the lines inside this church, which is actually a compliment because fish are very elegantly designed.

Across from the church we wandered through the sculpture garden of Einar Jónsson at dusk, as the Lonely Planet suggested.  The gate was not immediately apparent so we jumped the fence to get in.  It was nice to see these bronze castings on our first day, because the whole rest of the trip we recognized his works reproduced in parks and parking lots and generally random places.  Clearly he’s an artist beloved in Iceland; his work is just shockingly, compellingly weird and striking.  So, love at first sight for me.  Can’t believe I’ve never encountered his work before.  Some of his stuff is so beautiful it makes you feel ill.

Finding the real gate, we continued, trying to find the Volcano Show on time.  Even with a map and not being confused at all, let’s just say we got there circuitously.  It’s not really on a street, so it’s kind of hard to find.  But we saw some more cats and architecture on the way.

The Volcano Show.  Well, can’t tell you much about it, because while I’m sure it was terribly interesting, the soundtrack was incredibly soporific and the little theatre was black out dark.  All I retained were visions of orange lava boiling and spewing, hypnotic music, and the feeling of struggling against sleep because something important was happening.  Heimaey may have been being destroyed by lava.  I jolted awake for intermission, learned Derek had also been asleep, compared notes (we didn’t have many), and went back in to sleep through the second half.

The Volcano Show is the work of Villi Knudsen, who is really funny, has been stealing pens from Icelandic banks since 2008, and cannot quite conceal his glee at the prospect of the next big eruption happening imminently, sure to cause unimaginable chaos, destruction, and loss of life and property (I was wake for his commentary; the lights were still on).  Hekla and Katla are both due or overdue.  Villi is a volcano chasing son of another volcano chaser, between them capturing 50 years and miles of stunning and one-of-a-kind footage of eruptions.  Which we slept through.

Refreshed, we carried on back into town; light still in the sky at 10:20.  We shared a great pizza, made for us by an engineering student, walked through the streets that were beginning to party this Friday night and walked back across town and walked some more, especially after taking the bus one stop too far, about a hundred miles past our hotel (but if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have seen that one really weird sculpture that made us laugh).

My first impressions of Iceland after one day, as noted in my book:

Google gives Icelandic results first!
Water hot as f***.  I’m going to spend a lot of time in the water here.
Lots of cats.
NFLD in corrugated steel.
Everyone’s blond.

Really, a window into my soul.  I hadn’t even twigged to the weird sculpture and ice cream habits of the Icelanders yet, although I’d seen a fair bit of both.  I continued to be constantly mind-warped into Newfoundland, what with the picturesque fishing villages and fjords and bright-coloured housing.  The similarities are really quite innumerable, although it could never quite be mistaken for exactly the same place.  Maybe that contributed to why I felt so damn at home there, all the time.

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DSCF6714I woke up in the early dawn suspecting that rain would catch me out and scooted inside.  When it didn’t rain I scooted back out to the grass, disliking the nylon barrier between me and the sky.  I wasn’t even sleeping on my mat anymore, just using it as a pillow.

I'm in here, doing a backbendOur clothes we had draped on the shrubs were mostly dry.  We went looking for Hjálparfoss in our vicinity- a very nice foss tumbling over basalt arches.  I tried to do a handstand perched on a tip of rock facing the foss, but the battering wind made it too dangerous.  I had to settle for a backbend.

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Leaving there, we came unexpectedly on Stöng II, þjóðveldisbær. This is a modern recreation of the sod farmhouse at Stöng.

IMGP7256We were very lucky that there were some men working there when we showed up.  They let us walk around inside, and we got to see the sod building techniques in action.  What is that!  Oh, a dog.Inside, the house was deeply dark, and we were taking flash pictures again to see what we were walking around.  DSCF6646

In the dark, something brushed against my legs.  I thought I’d imagined it, then it happened again, and it felt alive.  I took a picture of the area and it was a coal black dog checking us out.

When one of the men said “Oh, lights,” and turned them on for us, then we could see all the features – the wooden bed boxes that seemed quite short, the central fire pit, the pooping area – and some interpretive signs.  It’s a gorgeous place, ready to move right into.

Outside, the men were repairing a corner of the building, laying a piece of sod and then slicing the edge off of it to match the layers beneath, in a very crisp line.  He was using a drawknife, constantly stropping it to keep it sharp cutting through sod.

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Their dog, a bit of a puppy, was sweet and very bright, and we had some fun throwing sticks for it in the lush green backyard.  In spite of the extension cords and tools lying around, this place felt like a pre-machinery farm, relaxing and vibrant.   I remember this area being full of green and rock valleys, where the road would wind around and up and down, sort of hobbitty.

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The sun was out and with the good weather we backtracked to Háifoss, Iceland’s second highest waterfall.  It was very impressive, and you walk right up to it and look down into the big gorge that the waterfall drops into.

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Around lunchtime we stopped and took a short walk around a tree farm at a place possibly called Selfit.  The wind had been intense all day and it was nice to take a break walking in the woods.  It was unusual to be in proper trees, so I realized that I hadn’t been missing trees at all in Iceland; it fact I’d barely noticed their absence and it was strange to be reminded of trees walking through a forest.

IMGP7406We got back to the car and I made some open face sandwiches.  We had a very simple diet in Iceland, and it revolved around the most readily available fruits and veggies.  Lots of sandwiches with spiced cream cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes.  We’d snack on bell peppers and bananas, (supplementing of course with plenty of sweet and savoury candy/snacks).

Today, it was cucumber  with cream cheese on rye.  As soon as I made mine I opened my door, and just as Derek was saying “are you sure you want to do th–“ the wind lifted all the cucumber slices off my bread as one and whisked them away, throwing some in the gravel, some rolling away like wheels.IMGP7394  I ran out chasing them while Derek shook with laughter inside the car.  Sigh.

Just up the road there was a big knot sign but there was no interpretive sign.  We climbed up this big promontory that seemed like the attraction – unusually bulky and separate, standing by the side of the road.  Perhaps the sign might be up there, but there was nothing.  It was a mystery.

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View straight downThis was our last whole day in Iceland, and we were on the hunt for another chance to ride horses.  We were in the area for horse farms, the agricultural southwest, and there were plenty of horses grazing in the fields.  Eventually we made some phone calls out of the book.  someone said No, too windy, then someone said Yes, come in an hour.

With an hour to “kill”, we put some gas in the car and some ice cream in us.  We drove out to Skaholt, then back to the farm for our date with the Icelandic horse (I think this farm was Sýðra Langholt, but that is not entirely sure.  I can’t recommend them highly enough, if I knew who to recommend).DSCF6693

Our last riding experience had left something to be desired, and I really wanted to try again.  This time is what all it could be.

The whole event was different from the beginning.  We were hovering around the barn when three beautiful young women rode up to us and jumped off their horses.  They asked us a bunch of questions, introduced themselves and their friend who had come along because we were going for a ride,  and pointed out the helmets for us to choose from, all while they quickly saddled up two more horses for us as theirs stood.  We all set out together, continuing to chat, while they discussed where we might go, deciding on the loop we would take back to the barn.  There was no speech, no safety briefing, no trail, and no formality. No performance.

DSCF6696The moment I got on my horse it was listening and responding to me, ears swiveling around at me alertly.  It was wonderful!  I was riding the horse, not sitting on the horse while it walked behind another horse.  We rode on the road for a bit, then left the road and went through fields, along a hill, all riding in a group, changing our order, picking up and dropping speed. The horses wanted to stay together but we were also clearly in charge of our own horse, and they were sensitive and obedient. The girls were friendly and asked us some questions and also boisterously chatted and laughed in Icelandic with each other.  It was exactly like we had stopped in on some friends and were just out for a ride.

We totally tolted!  It was fast, so I was a little bit nervous when all the horses opened up together, but then it got very smooth, and I felt very comfortable again.  Possibly we paced too.  It’s hard to tell from on the horse, but the trot is very rough, even more so than a western horse because their stride is so much shorter with the short legs, and then it just becomes comfortable and sustainable, while you’re still flying.DSCF6704

Two hours!  We stopped for the horses to eat some grass and drink, rode some more, let the horses run and then we brought them in, took their saddles off and watched them all drop to roll the saddle itch off.  It was such a blissful experience, and not like a business exchange at all.  She passed me the wireless card reader in the barn like an afterthought, we said goodbyes, and left content.

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Feeling like we had now definitely had the experience of riding an Icelandic horse, we headed back to the big city.  We saw a stone réttir on the way – the sorting pen for sheep.  DSCF6720It was a work of art.

At Selfoss we found that washing your car is always free, which is fantastic, to not rush against the time a few quarters buys you.  Maybe not so fun to wash outside when it gets cold and windy.

In Reykjavík we went straight to Perlan for the waffle I was craving since our first breakfast, then to the campsite to empty out the car.  DSCF6741Nearly packed back into my suitcase, I had a giddy moment of thinking “I can bring so much more stuff back” with the empty space I seemed to have.

Then we drove the waterfront for the first time to Kryddlegin Hjörtu for a most satisfying supper.  This is probably my favourite restaurant in Iceland – relaxed, great value, always tasty, predictable, high quality vegetarian soup and salad bar.  Ahhhh.  Already a bit emotional to be at the end of our trip, I drove us back to Perlan for some nighttime pictures of Reykjavík from the deck.

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After vacuuming out the car at a gas station I tried to find my way back to the owner’ place just by following my nose.  I’d been there once to pick up the car, but that had been weeks ago.  I didn’t do too bad but got lost right near his place.  Dropped off back at the campsite (Reykjavík’s city campsite), I couldn’t find Derek anywhere!  Turned out he was asleep.  I left my luggage in my tent on slept on the ground outside it, as per usual.  The night was cloudy, but it didn’t rain until morning.

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There are several more pictures from this sunny day on the Extra Photos page.

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