Free Issue of Northern Highlights MAGAZINE
Catch these Icelandic jewels wherever you go
Life is a salt fish
Harbor culture in the unique Reykjanes Peninsula
Reykjavik ghost stories
The spooky side of the capital
The gloomy shores of Iceland
From dramatic desolation to extreme surfing
The Icelandic sheep / The “Hidden People” / Salt of the sea
4 A letter from the editor
In this magazine
6 Join the circus 8 Craftsmanship in Iceland Bjarni Thor Kristjansson has been helping to revive and preserve interest in craftwork in Iceland. 12
Life is a salt fish Not far from the Blue Lagoon is the small fishing village of Grindavík, a town typical for the village Laxness invites his readers to visit through his novel Salka Valka.
16 West Iceland – The place to go West Iceland is a region of great diversity in landscape and leisurely activities. 20 Iceland is home to a hidden universal energy There are people who believe that Iceland is one of the main sources of healing power in the world; which a special kind of person can tap into and use to heal others. 24
A volatile encounter The unique event of the Vestmannaeyjar eruption gathered instant worldwide attention, not only because of its immensity but also because of the persistent spirit and fortitude of the people who encountered it.
Reykjavík ghost stories Through centuries of living in dark turf houses with limited sunlight for the majority of the year, gloomy stories of the supernatural emerge, providing people with valuable entertainment as well as a generous dose of distress.
36 Perlan – The temple of dreams 38 The church of Hallgrímur 40
Treasures from a grandmother’s living room to cutting edge technological design The Museum of Design and Applied Art focuses on collecting and preserving Icelandic design from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day.
56 Salt of the sea Young Icelandic designers and entrepreneurs are working with salt in new and innovative ways but at the same time drawing inspiration from their country’s heritage. 58 The gloomy shores of Iceland Nobody comes to Iceland to sunbathe. The lack of lusciously hot sun-bleached beaches guarantees that. 60 The Icelandic witch mania The influence of Europe’s witch craze reached Iceland through Denmark and Germany in the mid 17th century. Like in other small communities suspicions of sorcery, fueled by neighborhood quarrels and fear, spread like wildfire. 64 The fjord of islands There are two gems in Eyjafjörður in northern Iceland that you might miss if you don’t read this article. 67
Have a taste of Eyjafjörður In the past few years, travelers have gotten more and more opportunities to visit the farmers and food manufacturers of Eyjafjörður to get to know their production process and try out their products.
A grand house of earth and grass On the eastern side of Eyjafjörður sits Laufás, a place with a richer and longer history than most sites around the fjord.
The momentum of Icelandic literature Halldór Guðmundsson is something of an authority on Icelandic literature, having worked in the publishing industry since 1984.
74 Iceland’s premier native – The arctic fox Before man, there was fox. In fact, the fox evidently came to Iceland some 10,000 years ago. 76
The Icelandic horse Riding a horse at a comfortable pace, breathing in the fresh country air while out and about in the vast open spaces is an idyllic way to relax and re-charge. (Univers Roman)
80 The Hidden People Icelanders are every bit a part of the modern world but no matter how sophisticated that might make them, a belief in elves still persists amongst the general population. 3125c
42 Þingvellir – A unique national park! 44
Chasing waterfalls The waterfalls of Iceland line the country with a regular interval and it’s really quite astonishing how regularly you’ll be able to find a unique waterfall.
BOOKING SERVICES DAY TOURS & ACTIVITIES TAX FREE SHOPPING VAT TAX REFUND
The Northern Highlights staff Editor in chief: Guðrún Vaka Helgadóttir Design and layout: IB/Arnardalur.sf Advertising representatives: firstname.lastname@example.org Contributing writers: Guðrún Baldvina Sævarsdóttir, Gerður Harðardóttir, Jón Kristinn Snæhólm, Hjördís Erna Þorgeirsdóttir, Herman, Þór Steinarsson and Lilja Björk Haraldsdóttir Proofreading: Paul Michael Herman English translators: Snjólaug Lúðvíksdóttir and Júlíana Björnsdóttir German translator: Stefanie Bade Photographers: Rakel Ósk Sigurðardóttir, Ernir Eyjólfsson and Kristinn Magnússon
The Icelandic sheep – An independent breed Icelandic sheep have kept the Icelandic people alive for the past century with their meat, wool and even horns and bones.
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With so much to see and do, why not rent a car with audio guided day tour GPS system?
Perfect day tours for the independent traveller. My Way is your own audio day tour consisting of a suitable car for you and your friends together with an audio guide programmed into the GPS system. Sold in cooperation with Avis and Budget car rentals.
My Way audio guided daytours examples: Reykjanes Peninsula
Reykjavík – Gardskagi, Hafnir, Blue Lagoon, Kleifarvatn – Hafnarfjördur Volcanic wonders and some of our country’s most unforgettable sights.
Reykjavík – Gullfoss & Geysir Iceland’s most popular day tour, The Golden Circle, a route which encompasses many of Iceland’s most famous landmarks.
Reykjavík – South Shore to Vík – Reykjavík
The Reykjanes peninsula tour offers an extreme variety of landscapes, lava fields and geothermal activity.
This tour includes some of the best known historical sites and natural phenomena in Iceland.
You drive along the south coast of Iceland passing by glaciers and volcanoes, black sand coastline and moss-covered lava fields as far as the charming village Vík í Mýrdal.
Price examples for one day car rental with audio guided GPS system: Hyundai i10
Included: • Full tank of fuel • Unlimited milage • Extra driver • CDW
Included • Unlimited milage • CDW
Included: • Full tank of fuel • Unlimited milage • Extra driver • CDW
Included • Unlimited milage • CDW
Included: • Full tank of fuel • Unlimited milage • Extra driver • CDW
Included • Unlimited milage • CDW
To book your own day tour • Contact Avis, tel. 591 4000 or Budget, tel. 562 6060. • Ask the hotel or next information centre to book it for you. • Visit the My Way website mywayiniceland.is
A letter from the editor
Welcome to Iceland
his summer has had a very slow beginning for us Icelanders but as I write these lines I can surely say that the summer has finally begun. Everything changes once the sun starts shining. People put away their glum expressions, wear happier colors and put on a bright smile. This is the reason why the ca. 300,000 souls that live in Iceland year round, often dreaming of sun and white sandy beaches, are willing to trudge through each winter. And while some of us might have slipped off to foreign countries, most return because... Iceland pulls us back – This is our home and the brilliant summer days make it all worthwhile. For me it’s a privilege to get the opportunity to show off my country and when I meet foreign visitors I love seeing my native land through their eyes. Things that have begun to seem mundane to me are fresh and bright for them giving me a more profound gratitude that I was born on this strangely awesome island. The Northern Highlights magazine was created to give you a glimpse of interesting people in Iceland, our specially adapted animals and its amazing places. We tried not to dwell too much within the city limits, heading out to the country to find noteworthy things to show you, hopefully spiking your interests or at least helping you pass the time while riding on a bus. Enjoy your stay. Sincerely, Guðrún Vaka Helgadóttir, Editor in chief
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Sailing on the Breiðafjörður Bay with Seatours in early June.
Explore Reykjavikâ€™s latest landmark Guided tours daily Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre Harpa tour ISK 1.500 Every day at 15:30 (and at 11:00 during the summer). Backstage tour ISK 2.500 (max 15 pers.) Take a look behind the scenes. Groups only. Tasting tour ISK 2.700 Tour with a treat. Refreshments await you at the end.
Mies van der Rohe 2013 Harpa is the winner of the 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture â€” Mies van der Rohe Award. More information at www.harpa.is
Singing tour ISK 4.500 Enjoy the acoustics with a singer. Groups only.
Join the circus
A circus village by the Nordic House The Nordic House in Iceland and Cirkus Xanti from Norway are proud to present a Volcano Circus Festival which will be held in Reykjavík 4-14 July. The festival will be erupting with a fiery and explosive shows thrilling everyone who attends. by Steingerður Steinarsdóttir
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his blazing circus spectacle will take place in an encamp ment on the grounds of the Nordic House in Vatnsmýrin (in the heart of Reykjavík) and at Reykjavík City Theater. “I feel that the artists at the circus are looking at life through their own special glasses,” says Ilmur Dögg Gísladóttir, PR and project manager at the Nordic House. “The circus tent is a romantic place and a certain aura of romance surrounds the circus. The performing artists enjoy turning the world upside down and shedding new light on everyday events. They have a unique and unusual perspective that opens up an original way to look at reality. “The theme of many of the shows is the breaking of old habits and conventions. One can also say the circus exposes and challenges our fear of danger showing us that risk is exciting and can pay off. Risk and possibilities is for instance one of the subjects of the show Wear it like a crown that Cirkus Cirkör stages in Reykjavík City Theater. There we meet six individuals that are battling with themselves and their faults. This performance sends us the mess age that we must not fear our shortcomings but should instead wear them proudly as a crown.”
The circus village consists of four per formance tents, one refreshment pavilion and one circus artist’s tent. These have all received names drawn from the warm and ardent nature of Iceland. The names Eyjafjallajökull, Askja, Hekla, Katla, Gríms vötn and Café VOLCANO all serve as a reminder that this country is a hot spot of a precarious nature that can initiate its own surprise party at any time. These colorful tents will most certainly add spice to life in the center of Reykjavík for the duration of the festival. It is also always possible to run into some of the more than a hundred circus
artists that will be performing. The créme de la créme of all circus artists in Europe will be gathered at the feast offering a unique opportunity to be initiated into the magic world of the circus. Open mouthed spectators will be sure to sigh and cry out as the professionals perform the artistry. This is the first time a festival like this has been held in Iceland. No entrance fee is required for exploring the Circus Village. It is an adventure in itself to walk through the encampment since something exciting is always brewing. This feast for the whole family offers entertainment, information and the opportunity for interaction between performers and spectators. Besides the shows, there‘ll be courses, lectures, concerts and other unexpected happenings. It was only a question of time when the Nordic House would set in motion a circus adventure since the director of these past seven years is himself a former leader of Cirkus Cirkör. Yes, the circus is coming into town and the word is that it will be one of the best and most spectacular events of the year. So, don‘t miss it!
come to the festival. Out of the 150 groups that applied for a slot only 15 were chosen, but on the whole well over 100 circus artists will perform during the festivities. Performances will be continuous from 11 a.m. till 11 p.m. There’s no entrance fee to get into the village and guests can exper ience circus life first hand throughout the day. Workshops for folks of all ages will be ongoing and the circus café will be open from beginning to end. Information about the Circus Festival and scheduled shows can be found on the web page www.nordice.is and on Facebook: facebook/volcanosirkuslistahatid. Tickets to the various shows are available at www. midi.is.
Shows of great interest Among the shows to take special no tice of is the Cirkus Cirkör, production Wear it Like a Crown. The music was composed by Rebekka Karijord and is staged in cooperation with Reykjavík City Theater. Cirkus Xanti will put on the shows Bast ard (for the youngest audience) and Pluto Crazy. Pioneers of circus arts in Iceland, Sirkus Íslands (Circus Iceland), will perform the shows Home is where the Heart is (Heima er best), Children’s Circus and the cabaret Skin-sensitive (Skinnsemi). Lee Nelson, the leader of Circus Iceland (Sirkus Íslands) will also perform The Wally Show, which many know of, but this time Nelson is aided by a well known circus artists from New Zealand.
Step into a volcano
The four performance tents have been given the names of four famous Icelandic Volcanoes. These are: Eyjafjallajökull (22 meters wide), Katla (16 meters wide), Hekla (12 meters wide) and Askja (6 meters wide). It is apt that the tents should remind us of these smoldering mountains that lay dormant, only to awaken with immense flames bursting forth reflecting the nerve and passion resonating through the circus acts in all their volcanic power. Circus groups from all over the world will
“This is the first time a festival like this has been held in Iceland. No entrance fee is required for exploring the Circus Village.” Issue one
Craftsmanship in Iceland For many years Bjarni Thor Kristjansson has been helping to revive and preserve interest in craftwork in Iceland. In a recent interview, he offered his insights about various methods and about how crucial handwork was for most Icelanders in the not so distant past. Specializing in the “old techniques” in crafting metal and wood, Bjarni teaches both in school and in special courses for the general public. “I teach these methods because I feel it’s important to preserve our heritage. Besides this,” Bjarni explained, “I feel it’s important because these old techniques bring us into a deeper bond with nature.” By Paul Michael Herman Photos: Kristinn Magnússon
The old versus the new
Bjarni pointed out an old style piece of furniture and a new one. “Look at the form of this chair and look at this modern furni ture. So much material is lost with modern furniture because it has to be straight and machine worked. Rustic furniture is not like that. In making modern furniture, may be three times as much material is wasted.” Bjarni articulated his concern about the depletion of natural resources. “All seven billion people in the world need tables and chairs,” he said. “We don‘t have enough wood to waste to meet the demand and ob viously we also need our forests for oxygen and other essential things.” He went on, “Nowadays, we grow, say ten trees for building. Afterwards we cut down five because modern furniture, hom es, and boats, require that we keep only the good ones, that is, the straight ones. The five trees we get rid of may only be used for saw dust under horses,” Bjarni lamented. “In the past almost everything was used.”
Working with the material
“Also, using modern machines for craft work is not necessarily better than the old equipment. Take a hinge for example. Once the metal is hot, you take a punch, drive it through the iron and you have a hole. It takes about 10 seconds. (You‘re doing other things while it’s heating up.) When you punch it, the metal moves away from the hole and it helps to strengthen the area around it. Preparing the drill and then drilling takes longer,” Bjarni explained.
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“More importantly, when you drill you lose the metal from that space and the area is weakened. If it breaks, it always breaks around the hole. “This old technique is called working with the material. It’s important that you respect the nature of the material. Another example is in making a spoon or a ladle. If you take it from a branch that is bent in that shape, it won’t break as easily as a straight piece of wood.”
Then Bjarni went on to explain how things were in the past. “Before the 1st World War, Iceland was not a modern and developed nation. Because of this each person had to create for themselves the things they used daily, especially in the countryside. Until this time we had been primarily, a farming society. Clothes and almost everything we used were created through what was called ‘home industry’. When a person was hired to work on a farm, he would be given just clothing, room and board, and very little or no money. During the 2nd World War, things changed dramatically. Money came into common possession, first from the British and then the Americans.
Oh, what a wonderful war
“From 1940, because of the war, Iceland was occupied,” Bjarni explained, “more so when the Americans got involved. At that time Russians were fighting Germans and Iceland became a distribution center to supply the Russians with materials
coming from the U.S. Storage facilities had to be built. Also the construction of landing pads for the American airplanes, houses for soldiers and air aid shelters required a lot of employees. It was a gold mine! The expression was, ‘Oh what a wonderful war!’ Until then most people had no money. They couldn‘t even buy shoes. Instead we’d lace up some skins that we’d wrap around our feet. They were good for a little while but they didn’t last. In those days you would measure distances by how many ‘shoes’ it would take to get there. All winter our feet would be cold and wet. Boots were said to be the greatest thing for Iceland in the 20th century. “Before the war, people in each household had certain skills. We needed particular tools for eating, daily work and harvesting. There had to be a blacksmith and a carpenter. When a laborer had some of these skills they were very welcome,” claimed Bjarni. “After WWII, Iceland became modernized and it was no longer necessary to make these things. The big change was because now we had money.”
Bjarny was born in 1954. I asked him when he became interested in making things. “Since I can remember,” he answered. “I got my first hammer when I was 5 or 6 and my people say that I slept with it under my pillow because I didn’t want to lose it. In my time, children were still making their own toys. Their parents would also make them if they had time. “We were building
â€œIn blacksmithing all we use is scrap metal from such things as old cars and machines, but this is not a handicap in any way. For wood I only use what we grow here.â€? Issue one
Craftsmanship in Iceland pigeon houses, toy cars and with the old wheels from the carriages we’d build go carts. In my school we had arts and crafts 4 times a week; twice as much as now. The girls learned knitting and sewing and the boys learned carpentry. “After graduating high school I went to a teacher’s school with a focus on craftwork. I learned to work with wood, metal, leather and enamel and to do bookbinding. After graduating I spent some time working in a shipyard. Then, a few of us bought an old boat that we remade pretty thoroughly. It was a good education in carpentry because nothing was angled at, say 90°. To fit the form we had to soak the wood or steam it and then bend it into shape. A boat is the most difficult carpentry of all.” In 1985 Bjarni’s career as a craftwork teacher began.
Survival of the fittest
Once Iceland entered the modern era, craft work began dying out, but Bjarni didn’t want to see that happen, neither for him nor for future generations. “You never know when you need to revive an old technique,” he stated. “Most of the items made today don’t last. This wouldn’t do in the past when you couldn’t just buy a new one. Maybe one day the old techniques will return or shall we say, the standards for craftsmanship will improve, not just to save money but to reduce the amount of waste material. “Also with the techniques we use today so many toxic materials are used,” Bjarni explained. “In the past, because there was nothing else to use, we used natural in
“After WWII, Iceland became modernized and it was no longer necessary to make these things. The big change was because now we had money.” gredients to color things.” So preserving knowledge of the past is, apparently, more than a way to save money and protect our natural resources, it’s also, as Bjarni pointed out, better for our health. In 1992 Bjarni invited a Danish blacksmith to visit Iceland, at first to teach a small group of craft teachers he knew and later a couple of hundred other members of the general public who happened to be interested. “This man had been working with archeologists and builders of old ships and had tremendous knowledge,” Bjarni explained. “For 6 consecutive years he came and the class was always full. Then he got old
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and retired. Since then I and some other people from our group have been giving courses. Presently, there are about 40 men and women with their own forge who are active. And while they’re not all professional, they make items that they use for themselves.” In 1995, Bjarni became aware of Johann Hopstad, a Norwegian who was a specia list in the old techniques in making Shaker boxes. “These are made with thin wood, bent into a circle or an elliptical shape and held together with pegs and sewn – no nails or glue,” said Bjarni. “It’s a technique we in Iceland had totally forgotten. Yet it was still alive in some remote areas in Norway when Johann decided to try and keep the knowledge from being lost. So, before I’d ever heard about it he was working to revive it in Norway. After com ing across his books in 1995, I invited him.” Once again, Bjarni gathered craft teachers he knew. “He came for a couple of years ... It was also easy to fill his classes ... and then he retired.” Bjarni and some others continued teaching his techniques and it too developed. “There are many beautifully carved items like this in the National Museum but before Johann came, no one knew how to make them.”
More than just a box
Then Bjarni went on to say, “In the old days young men and women didn’t have much time to meet, except at church. If there was a young fellow that liked a girl, he couldn’t talk to her so easily, so sometimes he made her a Shaker box for a gift. In Icelandic, it’s called ‘tryggðar pant’ which means ‘engag ed’. If she accepted it that’s what it meant!
Making one was real evidence of the young man’s commitment because each one was made with the lady’s name on it so it couldn’t be used twice!
Bjarni told me that since the economic crash, craftwork in Iceland became very popular, partly because people were out of a job and needed the money but also because they now had the time to do the work. “I’m grateful to the men who came to teach us in the past,” he said. “If we had wanted them to come after the crash, it would have been too late.” And of course we should be grateful to Bjarni for the initiative he’s taken in preserving a past inherent with wisdom that if applied on a grand scale can help to insure a healthier and more abundant future. These days Bjarni’s wood carvings are popular and you can find them on sale at the National Museum, Harpa, the new concert hall and Epal, a gift shop at two locations in Reykjavik.
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ur ig te sa
abr au t orr
r ún A BEACON OFðtLIGHT IN REYKJAVÍK’S CITY CENTER WITH ICELANDIC AND INTERNATIONAL DESIGN. Há
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Life is a salt fish Around 1930, our Nobel prize winner and national treasure, author Halldor Laxness, penned his sociological novel Salka Valka, a book that deeply touched, as it still does, a special nerve within the Icelandic nation. The novel’s heroine is Salka Valka, a feisty young woman coming of age, who bravely goes against the traditional gender roles that typically flourished in the fishing villages of Iceland’s past, where brave men headed out for the often cruel seas while the women’s lot was to take care of the brood at home and prepare, preserve or pack the catch brought back to shore.
alka Valka paints a vivid picture of daily life in many of the vill age communi ties found all along the Icelandic coastline, where life was, as it still is, all about fishing and the sea. Just how important the sea has been to the Icelandic na tion is beautifully captured in one particular sentence in Salka Valka, from which a well-known Icelandic phrase has been coined. “Lífið er salt fiskur” literally translates into “Life is a salt fish”, meaning that everything in life is about the fish, our hopes and dreams pale in comparison.
The Reykjanes Peninsula
When arriving in Iceland by air, you are most likely touching down at Keflavik International Airport, an airport constructed by and for the US military dur ing World War II. Situated on the Reykjanes peninsula, on the southwest part of Iceland, the airport served as a NATO base up until 2006 when it was fully handed over to the Icelandic government. Weather permitting, as the plane circles down to land what you see is mostly flat and barren landscape, almost totally covered with stretches
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by Gerður Harðardóttir Photographs: Ernir Eyjólfsson
of black lava and black sandy beaches. But the occasional column of steam stretching up towards the sky might intrigue you. Reykjanes is an area rich with geothermal activity. And contrary to that first im pression of a rather bleak landscape, Reykjanes boasts some of the most fascinating natural treasures Iceland has to offer, except perhaps dramatic waterfalls. While Icelanders are used to it, this begins with the aforementioned lunar land scape which according to my friends in the tourist business is always a hit with tourists. What Reykjanes lacks in thundering waterfalls the peninsula makes up for in lively wildlife. If you are in luck you will catch sight of whales and seals swimming in the mighty North Atlantic Ocean surrounding Reykjanes
or you’ll enjoy watching the surf when it dramatically crashes against the coastline. It’s a dream location for photo graphers and frequently used when shooting films, com mercials and music videos for there are few backgrounds more dramatic. And you are certainly in for a treat if you are an avid bird watcher, for Reykjanes coastline is perfect for bird watching, such as at Krísuvíkurberg, a cliff rich with bird life and the nesting location for thousands of birds every year. At Seltún, tourists can experience a cluster of hot springs, bubbling pools of mud, steaming with the familiar smell of sulfur, that inevitably comes with it. There are caves and craters, cliffs and moun tains and Heimsálfubrúin, a wooden bridge that spans a rift valley linking the Eurasian and North American continental tectonic plates. At a certain spot on the bridge you can place yourself in both continents at the same time. And then there is the Blue Lagoon, a pale blue mineral rich lagoon, probably the number one tourist attraction in Iceland. The Blue Lagoon was origi nally created by accident when run-off seawater, used to cool down a nearby power station, didn’t get absorbed by
the surrounding lava as was expected, but instead formed a lake close to the plant. The healing powers of the lagoon were discovered by a worker at the plant, back in the eighties. The worker decided to test if it would help with his psoriasis and started to take baths in the warm water. It did help and since then the Blue Lagoon has become one of Iceland’s busiest tourist spots, its changing rooms evolving from a small wooden shack with a broken window as it was when I first visited years ago, to the mod ern award-winning architecture facility it is today.
Grindavík and the brave sailors
Not far from the Blue Lagoon is the small fishing village of Grindavík, a town typical for the village Laxness invites his readers to visit through his novel Salka Valka. Salka Valka started off in the late 1920s as a manuscript for a motion picture while Laxness lived in LA and dreamt about making it in Hollywood as a famous scriptwriter. Those dreams never materialized the way Laxness had hoped, (with Greta Garbo in the role of Salka Valka in a major motion picture on the silver screen, to be titled either as A Woman in Pants or The Icelandic Whip!). Salka Valka, the novel, was partly written in Grindavík in 1931, after Laxnes returned from LA. The novel was in deed, later filmed in and around Grindavík in 1953 by a Swedish Film Production company.
or centuries Grindavík served as one of the country’s most im portant ports of trade and in the 15th and 16th cen turies, German and English traders had their bases there. In the summer of 1627, the village of Grindavik, along with several other villages in and around Iceland, suffered a great disaster when barbaric
Life is a salt fish pirates from Muslim countries around the Mediterranean Sea, raided the village. A large number of people were killed with around 400 people in total taken back to Africa and sold into slavery. At the time the total population of Iceland was estimated to be around 60,000. This dramatic event in Iceland’s history is always referred to as Tyrkjaránið (The Turkish Abductions), when in fact the leader of the raid in Grindavík was one Jan Janszoon, also known as Murat Reis who happened to be a Dutch pirate, operating from the town of Salé in Morocco. Around 180 people are thought to have lived in and around Grindavík at the time and twelve of them were abducted; men, women and children. Of all the people only a small number managed to find their way back to Iceland. What became of the rest of them will never be fully known.
or centuries brave sailors have set out from the harbor in Grindavík, never certain they would arrive back on shore. The weather in Iceland is notoriously fickle and around Grindavík you can still see wreckages of ships that tell their tragic story. The life of a fisherman was not for the faint of heart. It’s no wonder that Icelandic music heritage is rich with songs of these brave and virile heroes of the sea, the lyrics all about the hardship on board and how these men fought horrible weather conditions to bring fish to shore. When not fighting the appalling weather, rugged seamen were, according the songs, busy getting a wee bit drunk and fighting each other. That is to say, when they were not preoccupied with one of their many girlfriends, which we are told, were waiting pati ently, one in each harbor, for their sweetheart sailor to return.
Today, around 2,900 people live
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in Grindavík and fishing or fish processing provides the main source of income. Grindavík has one of the most active harbors in Iceland producing more than 40% of Iceland’s total salt fish. In the late 19th century, salt fish production was immensely important to Iceland´s economy. So im portant in fact that up until our independence in the first half of the 20th century, salt fish, (a cod that has been gutt ed, split, beheaded, flattened, heavily salted AND dried), found its way into our coat of arms, acting as a symbol of our increasing prosperity and independence from the Danish Crown. Incidentally salting as a mean of preserving food, is a relatively new addition to the Icelandic cuisine. Before, our main means of preserving food was either to pickle it in fer mented whey, dry it or smoke it. The first experiments with saltmaking in Iceland, using geothermal energy, dates back to 1752 when Skúli Magnússon, the first Icelandic Treasurer and founder of the first industrial enterprises in Iceland, had samples of sea taken around Iceland, sent off to Copenhagen to have it analyzed. As a result attempts were made to start producing salt in Iceland but it wasn´t until 1773, when salt production in Iceland got successfully off the ground. The Danish Crown, which ruled over Iceland from 1380 until 1944, established saltwork in Reykjanes peninsula in the Western fjords of Iceland (not to be confused with Reykjanes in the Southwest of Iceland, where Grindavik is located). The location was chosen for its active geysers that provide the necessary heat for salt production and their close proximity to the sea. The Reykjanes on the South west coast of Iceland, is, like its namesake in the Western Fjords, also ideally located for salt production, for its rich abundance of geothermal hot springs and activity and its
closeness to the sea. In most countries known for salt pro duction, the sun is used as the main energy source when the salt is separated from the seawater and dried. For Iceland that was not really an option, because of the limited amount of sunshine during the long winter and the relatively cool temperatures all year round. Another thing that limited the possibilities was the fact that Iceland is a country lacking in forests and consequently lum ber, which traditionally was vital as an energy source in Europe in production of salt. For salt making to get off the ground, different means had to be invented to separate the salt from the seawater. And here’s where Iceland has the upper hand due to its abundance of geothermal energy that was cleverly put to use in the saltmaking process. The Danish crown had all the necessary equipment such as pans, wood and calcium shipped over, along with professional salt makers whose task was to set up the saltworks. Since then, salt has played a key role in Iceland’s commerce and for years, salt fish was Iceland’s main product exported over seas. Most of it was exported to Spain and Portugal, the two countries with the highest con sumption of salt fish in the world.
alt fish, or bacalao, has for centuries been a stable ingredient in the cuisine of the countries around the Mediterranean but also in countries in West Africa, the Caribbean and in Brazilian cuisine. The cuisine of Spain and Portugal offers a plethora of fantastic salt fish recipes. Here in Iceland however, as strange as it sounds, we have never really mastered the salt fish properly when it comes to creating mouthwatering dishes. Not until perhaps recently when chefs have started to experiment with it and today you will find delicious salt fish
dishes on the menu of many of the best restaurants in Iceland. Our usual way of serving it, however, has always been to simply boil it in water and then serve it with potatoes and butter.
The Saltfish Museum
Iceland´s main salt fish pro duction has for decades been in and around Grindavík and by the harbor in there, you will find the only museum dedicated to the history of salt fish production in Iceland. The museum brilliantly leads the visitor through the story of salt fish production in Iceland from its very first days and how it was like in the fishing villages in the past when life truly revolved around salt fish production. Visitors travel through historical objects, photographs and a sample of texts which provide a glimpse of how things were done in the first days of salt fish processing in Iceland, when things were much more primitive than today with our modern day high tech equipment and vessels; a far cry from the basic sailboats and rowing boats of centuries past. Through old photographs we see how things were done and it shows how people dress ed, in layers and layers of wooly clothing to keep them warm in the often bitter cold. It’s interesting to note that when asked about the biggest revolution in fish processing, people who lived through these times are quick to mention the introduction of the rubber boots around 1950 as the biggest breakthrough. I’m sure Salka Valka would agree. Grindavik.is/kvikan Hafnargötu 12a 240 Grindavík For more info visit: www.reykjanes.is www.gljufrasteinn.is
Sakebarinn Sushi & Sticks
The one and only choice for Sushi & Sticks …so you can check it off your bucket list Located in a loft on Laugavegur, the main shopping street, in one of Iceland’s oldest buildings (1886) is a great new restaurant with a great view and an amazing atmosphere called Sakebarinn. In its beautiful location, surrounded by windows that look down on Austurstræti, (an extension of Laugavegur leading to the Old Town) and up Skóla vörðustígur (known for its cafés, local boutiques and art shops with native works), Sakebarinn lies in the very heart of downtown Reykjavík. In the winter you can see the Northern Lights from the balcony and in the summer, the amazing summer sunsets over the harbor.
he owners of Sake barinn have a keen interest for the arts and crafts and a wealth of creative assets to play with. Although Sakebarinn has a strong found ation in pure Japanese cuisine the current style of the restau rant proves that the owners are not afraid to break some of the rules. To them sushi is meant to be an art form. Along with its handcrafted sushi, Sakebarinn also offers a selection of sticks and other
meat courses, featuring whale and horse and anything that’s fresh and interesting that day. Why live on an island in the middle of the Atlantic if you’re not going take advantage of the natural fauna? Along with the local seafood, Sakebarinn also carries some more exotic things like octopus, just to keep it interesting, and with a little something for everyone. There’s love on every plate – You will feel it with each taste. It’s no accident that the place is named Sakebarinn. It does
feature the country’s largest selection of sake and a shot be fore a meal can truly enhance the feel of real Japanese dining. It comes in a surprising range of flavors too, everything from really girly fruit sake to the fire spewing alcohol content of some of the more butch types; potato sake, warm and cold sake and Japanese plum wine. And then of course are the bottles that didn’t make it on to the menu because no one could read the labels and therefore no one knows what they are. Mystery sake! Sakebarinn is a place born to showcase the talents the staff have collected over the years working at their first Sushi restaurant called Sushibarinn, which is located on the first floor in the same house. A year and a wild ride later, this sushi family has incorporated a bunch of new and talented people with some great new recipes and skills they didn’t know they had and didn’t even
know existed. The walls are hand painted by them, the wine selected by them, the menu is designed by them and the place is loved by them. They also love to present food so their clients become part of their love for sushi. The look on your face is what they are aiming for, the look of enjoyment.
Laugavegur 2, 101 Reykjavík (entrance to the second floor from Skólavörðustígur) Opening hours: Mon-Sun 5:00 PM – 00:00 Tel: +354 777 3311 www.facebook.com/Sakebarinn
The place to go
The borders of West Iceland are believed to reach from the fjord of Gilsfjörður and the northern highland of Holtavörðuheiði to the magnificent fjord of Hvalfjörður in the southern parts of the region. West Iceland is a region of great diversity in landscape and leisurely activities. The ever-growing tourist industry caters to the needs of travelers passing through all corners of the region.
ne of the more exquisitely beauti ful regions is Hvalfjarðarsveit, a district that is remarkable in a historical sense, as well as for its place in literature. A number of legendary names from Iceland’s history have passed through the district, among them being Hallgrímur Pétursson, the minister credited for composing the Passion Hymns – a collection of 50 poetic texts. One of Iceland’s best known outlaws, Arnes Pálsson also hid out of sight in a small cave beneath Hái hnjúkur, the south peak of Mt. Akrafjall that rises above
by Sólveig Jónsdóttir Photos: Birtíngur photo collection
the town of Akranes. Halldór Laxness, winner of the 1955 Nobel Prize in literature, placed the home of one of his better known fictional characters, Jón Hreggviðsson – from his novel, Iceland’s Bell (Íslandsklukkan) – at the farm of Rein.
Region of Hvalfjarðarsveit
The district of Hvalfjarðarsveit is a rich terrain with vast low lands amidst steep sloped mountains and jagged coast lines full of life. The nature is extraordinary and there are lots of possibilities for outdoor activities throughout the region in close proximity of the capital.
The Botnsdalur valley
The Botnsdalur valley is one of many magnificent outdoor areas within the Hvalfjarðar sveit district, with hiking tracks leading all the way to Glymur in Botnsá, Iceland’s highest waterfall. A popular area for outdoor adventures is Þyrilsklif, with a number of popular hiking tracks leading into the wilderness. Síldarmannagötur (Herring Men’s Pathways), is one of the better-known ones tracking up into the slopes. The bridge across the Blue Beard River or Bláskeggsá is the oldest existing stone bridge in Iceland, and was recently reconstructed.
Fishing and tourism
Have your gear ready, fishing is permitted in the lakes of Eyrarvatn, Glammastaðavatn and Geitabergsvatn. Services such as camping facilities and a golf course are found in Þórisstaðir – a local farmland. Another farm with camping facilities, Bjarteyjarsandur, also offers locally produced foods and guided tours around the area. During the brief months of summer, an old diner that once upon a time was frequented all year round by locals travelling
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to and from Reykjavík, is open to visitors and the Laxárbakki Guesthouse has a restaurant in addition to the available accommodation space. Last but not least is the Hlaðir Community Center in northern Hvalfjörður where visitors have access to a campsite in addition to other tourist services at Hlíð by Hvalfjörður’s shores and the Móar Guesthouse.
– Hearty home to fun The town of Akranes is an idyllic destination for tra velers exploring West Ice land with numerous sights of interest and entertain ment for the whole family. Long Beach (Langisandur) and the Magnificent Mountain
Long Beach in the town of Akranes is described as Ice land’s golden coast. With warm showers right on the beach, running into the cold North Atlantic Ocean is a piece of cake. The spectacular mountain Akrafjall stands tall over the town of Akranes and is the town’s unique symbol. The slopes of the mountain are rela tively easy to hike and a great place for a family outing. The old lighthouse in the very lower regions of the town known as “Breiðin” is open all year round and well worth a visit, and the
view over the bay of Faxaflói is spectacular. Photo exhibitions are regularly held inside the lighthouse and live musical per formances are a regular event. All events are open to the public.
The Akranes coast
The legend of a woman nam ed Elín creates a magical aura around the Cape of Elín (El ínarhöfði). The pathway in and around the bay of Kalm ansvík – the very heart of the town’s coastal campsite – is known for its spectacular view across the Bay of Faxaflói and beyond to the Snæfellsjökull glacier. Ambling along the shor es embracing the town is love ly and enjoyable enhanced by remarkably colorful local birdlife.
The legend of Elín In the 11th century, a woman by the name of Elín Sigfús dóttir arrived in rural Akra nes, settled down and built a farm with her own hands. Elín is believed to be a sister to one of Iceland’s most legend ary figures, Sæmundur the Learned (b.1056 – d.1133), an Icelandic priest and a scholar. Elín remained single throughout her life and there is no mention of child rearing. She was very close to her sister Halla and the two of them were believed to be skilled in the magical arts. Halla settled in the fjord of Straumsfjörður, north of the present-day town of Borgarnes in the moorland known as Mýrar. Despite the distance between them the two sisters “spoke” with one another on a daily basis. Halla would sit down on a hill south of her farm and Elín sat herself on a rock somewhere in her fields of hay, then the sist ers conversed silently.
Garðar – The museum area
The Garðar Museum with the largest collection of thimbles in Iceland, a walk on the deck of the town’s oldest cutter vessel Kútter Sigurfari and a pleasant
visit to Garða Café (Garðakaffi), are a few popular destinations in Akranes. Locals provide a warm welcome to visitors and good bargains are available in the local shops.
The town of Snæfellsbær
– Where the glacier stands proudly beneath the grand skies The town border of Snæ fellsbær on the southern and outer regions of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula wraps itself around the majestic glacier of Snæ fellsjökull. The Snæfellsjök ull (Glacier) National Park spans an area of 170 km² extending to the sea coast.The shores of the Arnarstapi and Hellnar communities, as well as the lavafield of Búðahraun, are also preservation areas where you can discover pure, unspoiled nature.
Travelling through the town of Snæfellsbær
It couldn’t be easier to pass through the community on the perfectly paved ring road around the Snæfellsnes Penin sula. It’s also possible to take a shortcut across the narrow peninsula through the moun tains in various locations in cluding the Jökulháls area during the summertime. A large number of known routes are spread along the shores and in the grand mountain range, where you can find great hiking and horseback riding opportunities.
Tourism and heritage
The services for tourists in the town of Snæfellsbær vary from sleeping accommodations, food services, leisurely activities and extraordinary adventures. Restaurants offer local food featuring a wide selection of seafood courses and in most places a variety of a locally made fish soups. Unlike the Vikings portrayed in the 1989 film, “Under the Glacier”
fishermen and fishing stations in the area. A sculpture by Ragnar Kjartansson called “Jöklarar” is located there and nearby is a public park known as “Tröð”. Hotel Hellissandur, a three star hotel with a restaurant serving traditional Icelandic food and a bar, offers a breathtaking view of the Snæfellsjökull glacier.
The village of Arnarstapi
Snjófell tour company has a selection of excursions to the Snæfellsjökull glacier, bicycle tours and hikes to the haunts of Iceland‘s only serial killer Axlar-Björn who in the late 16th century lived in the area. The landscape in the vicinity of Arnarstapi is truly dramatic and incredibly diverse. Finding suitable excursions is easy.
The ancient fishing village of Hellnar
The Fjöruhúsið in Hellnar is one of Iceland’s quirkiest cafés, situated in the midst of violent surf and shouting sea birds. To sit inside the café, deep within the unspoiled nature, is an ex perience like no other, and the splendid food vies for your attention.
The community of Grundarfjörður
The beautiful community of Grundarfjörður, centrally lo cated on the peninsula is best known for Kirkjufell, a moun tain considered to be one of the most beautiful in Iceland.
Leisurely activities in Grundarfjörður
At the harbor
The fishing industry is the main source of income for the in habitants of Snæfellsbær. Three harbors operate in the town area with fisheries sending out small vessels and a thriving fish market. In Iceland there are fewer and fewer small towns like this where the industry is still thriving – worth a visit while you can still see it in full bloom.
(Kristnihald undir jökli), fish soup is considered a delicacy in modern times. World renowned artists such as novelist Halldór Laxness, and painters Jóhannes S. Kjarval and Collingwood have found this district an inspi ration for their great works.
The village of Hellissandur
The Maritine Museum in Hellis sandur displays the history of
The thriving Grundarfjörður area offers a wide range of leisurely activities, such as hikes, horseback riding, boat trips, deep-sea fishing, whale watching, bird watching, ang ling and golfing. Aspiring photographers can easily get lost in the moment as they document the splendid nature and local life. Accommodation prices are very reasonable and there are plenty of choices. There is a beautiful country hotel located right on the shore.
West Iceland The place to go
The romantic hotel that once upon a time accommodated fishermen has a maximum capacity of 50 guests. The hostel in Grundarfjörður is an old family home, and quite recently received its certification for quality assurance from Hostell ing International. The certifi cation is earned for quality fac ilities and services provided as well as internal quality control.
Grab a bite
The first thing to do upon arrival at the chosen accomm odation is to grab a bite to eat after a day of driving. The eat ing establishments to choose from in the area are Hotel Framnes, Kaffi 59, a hot dog stand known as Meistarinn or the Champion, the store or búðin where you can purchase groceries and fast food, and the bakery. Last but not least is Café Emil, locally known as Kaffi Emil, and situated in the community center. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a coffee and some delicious treats.
Down by the harbor is an Arts and Crafts Market with locally produced artifacts made by current and former residents in the area.
upper class home in Stykkis hólmur, where it is possible to purchase handcraft, design and other quality items. Two museums – both very im pressive – focus their attention on ice in one and fire in the other. 24 glass columns filled with water melted from the great glaciers in Iceland stand in the Library of Water. The museum’s location is on the highest point of the town offering a panoramic view of the town and far beyond. The latter is the Volcano Museum, a museum rich in knowledge, relics, antiques and minerals from the unique collection of Prof. Haraldur Sigurðsson who researched volcanoes for over 40 years – all over the world.
Stykkishólmur – the town and the islands The town of Stykkishólmur, that received the EDEN (European Destinations of Excellence) award in 2011, is one of the most popular destinations in all of Iceland. That the locals are ambitious in their efforts to protect the environment and preserve the history and culture of the town is best reflected in the pristine state of the oldest buildings in the town’s center and its two museums. The Norwegian House and museums The Norwegian House is a showroom for a 19th century
Home to heritage
Out at Sea
Ocean Safari (Sæferðir) is a company with a variety of ex cursions taking you around the Breiðafjörður fjord to a world of exquisite nature and birdlife.
Accommodation in Stykkishólmur
Accommodations suit all tastes, with hotels, guesthouses, host els and summerhouses, and a five-star campsite with excell ent facilities for motor homes, caravans and tent campers. Next to the campsite is a 9-hole golf course.
The Dalir (Dalabyggð)
No county in all of Iceland boasts as many heritage sites as the Dalir (the Valleys). History lingers in every step, every topo graphical name and every local farm.
Laugar in Sælingsdalur
The rural area of Laugar (Pools)
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has the Laugar Folk Museum in Laugar (set in the basement of the local school building) that explains the history in the region and the Dalir Heri tage Museum (Byggðasafn Dalamanna) in Eriksstaðir, that displays daily life and culture of the region.The countless islands in the fjord of Breiða fjörður are spectacular, as are the bird species inhabiting them. Hiking paths and riding trails extend throughout the area and there are a number of farm stays and campsites to choose from.
In the valley of Haukadalur is the living museum of Eiríks staðir, once home of Eirik the Red. After killing two men Erik was banished from Iceland for three years, settling in Green land with his wife and son Leif called “the Lucky”. Today, Eiríksstaðir is a Viking hall, a replica farmhouse built in accordance to the excavated ruins they represent, the re search work and ancient work methods. The heroine of the Laxdæla Saga, a woman by the name of Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, spent a great deal of time on the banks of the ancient pool at Laugar in Sælingsdalur. A new pool was structured near the site of the old pool in 2009, and was named the Pool of Guðrún or Guðrúnarlaug. A changing room, known in ancient times as “blygðunarhús”, is by the pool with the intention to preserve the modesty of bath ers. The new pool is open all year round and admission is free. The Leifsbúð Culture House is by the marina in Búðardalur, and a home to the Tourist Information Center, a showroom and a restaurant.
Go west Experience the bliss! Experience the adventure! West Tours is a travel agency located in Ísafjörður celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013. To further assist you we will operate two additional booking services this summer, one in Hólmavík and one in Bíldudalur. West Tours specializes in recreation, accommodation and other services related to tourism, all over the Westfjords. We offer standard as well as customized package tours for individuals, couples and groups. Choose from boat trips and sailing to Hornstrandir, hikes, kayaking, quad bike tours, horse riding, sea angling, bike and scooter rentals and many more fun options all over the Westfjords. Contact West Tours and we will happily help you find the best choices for entertainment and relaxation in the magnificent and beautiful environment characteristic of the Westfjords.
www.vesturferdir.is | tel. 456-5111 | email@example.com
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Iceland is home to a hidden universal energy There is more to Iceland than geothermal energy, waterfalls, lava fields, volcanoes and earth quakes. There are people who believe that Iceland is one of the main sources of healing power in the world; which a special kind of person can tap into and use to heal others.
n the small village of Eyrarbakki, in the southern part of Iceland, lives Unnur (Uni) Arn dísardóttir. Her work is of a very special kind. She is a yoga teacher, a musician, and a singer (her first solo CD came out in 2009). She also tells the future (Tarot cards and runes), and offers Sound Healing og Flower Remedy therapy. We visited Uni to get to know more about her inte resting work and share it with our readers. Does universal energy, which is both of a good nature and that of a bad one, exist? “Yes, such universal energy does exist and I believe it to be both of a good nature and a bad one. There is no such thing existing which is entirely good or entirely bad. This is mere energy and to me God is energy just like the sun. My mother always told me that God was like the sun and we were the sunshine and that it was up to us to choose how we experienced God. Everyone experiences God in a different way – that is my firm belief.”
by Jón Kristinn Snæhólm Photos: Ernir Eyjólfsson
Is God the good element in mankind and also the bad one? “God is definitely the good element in man but I have nev er thought about whether God could also be a bad one; I think God is neutral. We can for exam ple always choose whether we want our day to be a good day or a bad one. I think it is all about how one is determined to experience it. We are allowed to experience both. God allows us to do so.” If we say that universal energy does exist, is it in our power to access it as we can the power of sea and water? “Yes, it is possible to access God within oneself. The more we acknowledge the moment and allow ourselves to stay there the more we can feel the presence of God. We can enlarge God in our lives by activating our consciousness.”
How does one do that? “I think meditation is an im portant key to being able to find the moment and feel it and I also think that mankind is always trying to enhance it. We have been placed in a certain form of thinking about the past and also about the future and our minds are always roam ing around. If we halt and stay in the moment and allow ourselves to be, here and now; like right now – It’s raining – then God is most certainly here. Exactly now! And then we can feel life. Meditation is a very good tool, which enables us to enhance the here and now because then the moment gets enlarged and a huge area appears which furthermore enables us to notice God. I believe that God is within everyone and in every single moment of our lives. It is just the question of breathing it in.”
What exactly is meditation? Is it to motivate the mind more or better than we do on an everyday basis? “Meditation means in so many words – not to think – send the mind on vacation! The mind rules our lives to a huge extent and when we accom plish dwelling in the moment without thinking about what we are going to eat tonight, what we were doing yesterday or what we are going to say to someone tomorrow, we allow ourselves to dwell in silence because meditation means sim ply to switch off the mind. We are using our minds all our lives; at work, in relationships, simply 24/7 all year round – meditation means to take this moment and push pause on the remote control of the mind. Be here and now without thinking.” How can one learn this? Were you sent here to teach people to switch off the mind? “I don´t know, probably. We can always look at it that way. We always learn from other people. I studied this, I am a yoga teacher, and my mother practiced yoga when I was little. There are so many kinds of meditation; for example meditation which involves the
“We are healers just by kissing and soothing our children, or by holding the hand of a friend in need, and by patting one another on the shoulder.” switching off the mind, and now consciousness that involv es being solely in the here and now. Thoughts appear, which one is perfectly ok with; we let the thoughts dwell for a while but try to maintain the now consciousness in everything we do. I believe that practicing yoga has helped me a great deal.”
A hidden universal energy that I have done, but I am a better person today than I was yesterday. If we have experi enced bad things in the past it may have had a huge effect on the person we are today. I have met many good people and also many not so good ones. This has among other factors made me the person I am today so I am not rejecting the past but I am not going to get stuck in it.“ What purpose does this serve? Does this make the universe a better place? “Yes, I believe so. We are so busy being busy and too scared to stop and breathe for awhile because then we may need to start to feel. We may bear old sorrows in our hearts and
maybe if we set everything on hold and breathe in we may experience this feeling again, which could be a bit difficult for us. Actually magic occurs in the moment. Life is now, at this moment, it does not matter what you were doing yesterday or what you are going to do to morrow – what matters is what you are doing right now … and that you enjoy it right now!” You call this “now conscious ness”. Are you saying that the past is something that does not make any difference at all? There are many who live in the past; wars are fought because of the past. Is this a solution to the problems, which we have bestowed upon ourselves? “This is a kind of a making peace with yourself. You know, I am not for everything
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What does this meditation, this particular insight, have to do with this earthly life with all its grief, agony, and worries? Do these aches and pains etc. produce energy in certain parts of the body and by what means is healing possible?
“When we suffer from aches and pains etc., the body is telling us to pay attention to something we are NOT paying attention to. Aches and pains is the body’s way to get us to listen to it and pay attention to it. Bodily pains usually originate from something in the past. There is nothing we can do about the past or future now, but we can embrace and take care of our bodies here and now, at THIS moment, and feel better tomorrow simply by loving and nurturing our bodies. I think Yoga and meditation can be of big help here. As soon as we are in the moment, we do not worry about the future, because in a way the only thing we have stable in our lives is the here and now – we have to start trusting ourselves to deal with the future when it comes, and
just take one day, one moment at a time. You could even try it right in this moment, breath in and let go, feel the magic that is really happening now.” Do certain parts of the body symbolize something in parti cular? What does excruciating pain in the knee symbolize? “Pains in the knee are emo tions and wounds from the past, which need healing, some thing that needs solving. The knee is holding onto something the victim has given up on.” You practice healing without any diploma hanging on the wall indicating that you may do so. What exactly is healing?
“We have actually been heal ing each other for thousands of years. We know that being near to and touching another person is a good feeling. A person alone without human contact can simply die. We need support from each other; this has something to do with energy, but I cannot explain exactly how it is done or what happens. This process is some kind of magic, which occurs in the nearness of another person. I go over a person’s aches and pains and touch them in a positive way and then this person remembers something
“I am the channel for something, which is magic or energy.”
of importance. Now this person is actually healing herself/him self, whereas I am merely an instrument. That is why I do not need a diploma. The person in question comes to me and trusts me with her/his emotions along with her/his body. I am the channel for something, which is magic or energy.” What is energy? “We are all made of energy, the body, the cells, everything. We are energy, everything is energy. This table is energy. Everything around us is en ergy, and of course there is the energy of healing and the en ergy of love.”
You are really describing your self as a kind of a bridge be tween some energy and an indi vidual who needs this energy. People in general are not blessed with such a gift, are they? “I really think they are. We are healers just by kissing and soothing our children, or by holding the hand of a friend in need, and by patting one another on the shoulder. We are channels our whole lives. We say something to a person, which turns into a new idea, a painting, just something new.” People who have come to you for help tell me that they feel better after their visit with you. Would you say that your work here on this earth is a calling? “This is a feeling that I have, which I often call ‘The God within me’. Ever since I was a
little girl I have known in my heart that this was something that I could do. I wish that people would open their eyes a little wider and see how wonderful it is to have the opportunity to live, exist and see the magic everywhere around us. It is a passion of mine to help with these things.” Were you sensitive as a child? “Yes, I was psychic the first four years of my life.” Can you remember that? “Oh, yes very clearly. I saw people whom others did not see, and I also saw demons. I met Jesus in a dream. My mother was very spiritual, and I was brought up in that way. She always took part in this with me even though she wasn’t able see anything out of the ordinary. When I was four years old I had my last vision, but I have always been very conscious of how people are feeling when I meet them.” People come to you for healing whether it is for physical or spiritual healing. They gain piece of mind. What really happens? How do you help these people? “I use several instruments, and I am open for all new things relating to my work. When I meet a client for the first time I try through conver sation to find out how she/he feels, where she/he is ailing. I studied Sound Healing in the USA and I also use Flower Remedy therapy in my work. “Music has always been a very important factor in my life. I have studied music since I was a little girl. When I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I started thinking about how music had affected me all my life and how it always changed the way I felt. I wanted to know more about this and when I fortunately heard of a Native American woman living on a reservation just outside of Santa Fe who was using music to heal people, I called her. I told her
I was from Iceland, that I was very interested in her work; I asked her if I could come to see her and if she might be willing to teach me the art. I went to see her then and a few times after that, until last year when she died. And she taught me well. People are mostly made of water, approximately 70%, and, as we all know, sound affects water. In the same way sound also affects our state of mind and consciousness. She taught me how to use certain tones which are produced by certain instruments. These instruments produce tones, which are the same as the universe and Mot her Earth produce. My mentor used a special instrument that she designed; a cosmic tuning fork to get us synchronized with the tones of the earth and the moon. The healing met hod simply involves a brief interview with a patient and then I lightly hit a leather strap on my thigh with the tuning
People are mostly made of water, approximately 70%, and, as we all know, sound aff ects water. In the same way sound also affects our state of mind and consciousness.”
an English surgeon named Dr. Edward Bach in the 1920s – 1930s. He knew that he could give his patients all kinds of remedies for their ailments, but he found out that those medicines were not working on his patient’s emotions and he knew that diseases are often related to emotions. He practi ced meditation to a great extent and he realized that he felt much better when he meditated amongst the bed of roses or by the oak tree in the garden. He
realized that it was the energy coming from the flowers and the tree leaves that were having such good effects on him so he started working on turning this energy into drops. He learned that when his patients started taking the drops they soon felt better emotionally. We all know that when we get a bundle of flowers we become very happy,” says Uni. “There is something magical about flowers.” Visit Uni´s web page www.uni.is Listen to Uni´s music on www.unijon.com
fork, thus producing certain tones, and then I apply it to the ailing part of the patient’s body. These cosmic sounds go through the body bringing positive and healing energy to the patient.” And the Flower Remedy therapy? “I started using Flower Re medies in my therapy after learning about their magic through the teachings of Stef anía Ólafsdóttir, the owner of Nýja Land, Seltjarnarnesi, close to Reykjavík. The founder of Flower Remedy therapy was
A volatile encounter On January 23rd in 1973, the small community of the 5300 people living on Heimaey, which is the main island of Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands), suddenly found themselves in the midst of a cataclysmic event that would drastically change their lives. by Hjördís Erna Þorgeirsdóttir Photos: Ernir Eyjólfsson, Birtíngur Photo Collection and from private collection
A bright night
Björk Elíasdóttir and her husband Stefán Jónsson, natives of Vestmannaeyjar, had been dating for about five months at the time of the eruption. Björk, who was only seventeen then, lived with her parents and twin brother and attended the local high school. On the night before Björk’s schedu led history exam (the topic was infamous outlaw Gísli Súrsson) the family was roused by a knock on the front door around two o’clock. Assuming it was their tipsy neighbor they did not answer but soon it became apparent that something was not quite right. On awakening, Björk, whose bedroom was on the sec ond floor, was greeted with an apocalyptic sight. From the windows facing east a vast sea of fire seemed to be engulfing her island. The first thought that came to her head was “I hope that tomorrow’s exam gets cancelled”. Stefán says he feels as though he never really went home that night. After finishing his shift at a local engineering factory he even casually drove around the very location that was on the verge of a major eruption before heading for bed. Minutes after falling asleep, Stefán was awakened by the noise of sirens from fire trucks and police cars that were alerting the island’s residents. In the course of this intense January night, the entire population of 5300 people abandoned their homes, leaving behind all their belongings as the volcanic flames aggressively threatened their very lives.
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A volatile encounter Remarkable reactions
“In the hours before the eruption,” Björk explains, “the weather at sea had been turbulent so all the ships were conveniently, and fortunately, docked by the harbor. There was no time to lose and people were aware of that so they acted swiftly, resulting in the extraordinarily smooth transportation of the entire population.” By morning, due to the excellent cooperation plus a generous dose of good luck, most of the Heimaey residents had arrived safely on the mainland. On arrival, people were transferred to a nearby school facility where they received food and emotional support. Both Stefán and Björk express their gratitude towards the people who welcomed them as they arrived in Þorlákshöfn. Before long, in fact by the next afternoon, practically everyone had been provided with shelter in the homes of family members, friends or other caring people living on the mainland. Both Björk and Stefán specifically recollect the staggering seren ity that seemed to define every procedure following the eruption. Without proper warning, people, without panicking, worked together to assure their collective survival. Björk notes how the whole incident seemed surreal in the eyes of many people who witnessed it firsthand. Loaded with adrenaline, the people responded to the call for action. The eruption did claim one casualty, a sailor who, while appar ently looting the local drugstore, lost consciousness and subse quently died due to lethal fumes from the eruption.
Five sweltering months
In the course of events, Stefán decided to become a firefighter so he could return to Heimaey and join forces with hundreds of other people who for the next five sweltering months were dedicated to minimizing the damage caused by the eruption. “Fighting directly against the eruption was never an option,” Stefán explains. “The main goal was to rescue people’s belongings from the houses that were still intact.” Stefán remembers having to watch several homes being devoured by the relentless fire, unable to do anything about it. “The work was strenuous and people worked shifts for 12-13 days
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in a row followed by three days off. In addition to locals and other Icelanders, young people from all over Europe came to Heimaey, working diligently to assist in the enormous project of cleaning the island,” says Stefán. People became worried as the lava flow slowly made its way to the island’s main harbor. According to Stefán, protecting the har bor was the biggest concern because without it, virtually nothing could be achieved. Once again, swift measures were required and luckily there was a solution to be found. Stefán explains how Þorbjörn Sigurgeirsson, a well-known scientist who spent all his free time on the island, got the idea of slowing down the lava flow in an attempt to save the harbor. On his rare day-off, while eating fish at his home, Þorbjörn spilled grease from the plate onto the dining table and as the grease came into contact with some water the hot grease solidified. This seem ingly insignificant moment led Þorbjörn to the conclusion that it might be possible to use giant hoses to spray seawater on the melt ing lava in order to slow it down and hopefully save the harbor.
A transformed society
Björk recalls one particularly devastating night in March when five of her father’s seven siblings lost their homes on the east side of the island. The “east town” homes were largely destroyed, resulting in a significant loss. The eruption, which made news all over the world, was officially declared over on July 3rd. During the dark and quiet winter that followed, the island appeared almost desolate. But when spring arrived and the children had finished the school semester, people began to return to the island. Björk mentions how the families whose homes were intact generally returned to the island, while the families whose homes were destroyed were more likely to stay behind on the mainland. The people who never returned are what Stefán regrets the most. He says the small community’s economy was dependent on fishing from the vigorous sea surrounding the island. But tragically, the very same sea tended to collect frequent casualties. Such critical concerns resulted in a tight-knit community where people were genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of each other and of course, “everybody knew everybody,” so even the loss of one resident would be dearly felt. Björk agrees to the profound impact having so many friends and neighbors leave had on the heart of the community. Following the eruption, a considerable amount of new residents arrived in Heimaey, further transforming the social structure of the island. People were eager to see and participate in the restoration work that followed. The island’s landscape was dramatically transformed with the surrounding area subsequently increasing by staggering 2,2 km2.
Perceiving the past
The eruption transformed not only the entire landscape of the island, but also the collective social structure. For locals, the eruption created a new timeline. From that moment on, events either took place before or after the eruption. It was a dramatic end of an era followed by a grand introduction into a new one. The project “Pompeii of the North” is dedicated to the preservation of the buildings buried beneath the volcanic remains. In 2005, an ambitious plan of excavating 7-10 houses was launched. So far, one house can be seen timidly rising from the lava and recently, according to the plan, “a small village will rise out of the ashes. Those who see it will be able to more easily comprehend the extent of devastation a volcanic eruption can cause”. Like a modern Pompei, these remains will serve as a humble reminder of the extreme forces often unleashed in natural disasters, and man’s limitations in the face of them.
The Danish Pub
When in Iceland, go Danish! You know that Iceland used to be a Danish colony, right? Even though independence from the Danish Crown was necessary, Icelanders still celebrate everything Danish, so don´t expect to meet a big Danish crowd at The Danish Pub, they are all Icelanders just acting like they’re Danish. Really!
his bar has made a name for itself in the Reykjavik social scene and is known locally as Den Danske Kro (we all just want a reason to speak Danish in public). This popular downtown venue serves a remarkable selection of beers including the famous Danish white beers, the dark er more malt brews and of course the traditional and al most obligatory Tuborg and Carlsberg. If you come during the Christmas season you can taste some of the renowned Christmas brews, very popular in demand. Just ask for Jule bryg (“you-le-bree”).
Do as the Danes do
The owners of the Danish Pub strive to create the true Danish atmosphere known among the
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features live music every night with special appearances and unadvertised happenings on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Put your musical knowledge to the test at the Wednesday night pop-quiz; the prizes will surprise you.
Danes (and Danish-prone Ice landers) as “hyggeligt”. If you truly are Danish this can be your “home away from home”. And in this spirit, check out the “house” within the pub – an off-the-wall design in its most literal sense!
sandwiches). You can pre-order these delicious snacks for larger groups.
Does this sound too tranquil? Get carefree or “ligeglad” (lee-glaath), shoot some darts, try the customary Gammel Dansk bitters or catch some live football. Watch the world go by on the outside terrace and have a taste of the traditional smørrebrød (fantastic open
The Danish Pub is nothing if not a place to party. The atmos phere is easy going and you can choose from a variety of shots and even cocktails if you’re not in the mood for a beer (Does that ever happen?). Reminder: If you thought you were in for a quiet night guess again, The Danish Pub
Best local pub in Reykjavík
Wherever you‘re from you’ll want to have a great time while visiting Reykjavík. The people of Reykjavík do anyway, so they flock to The Danish Pub for a beer “en øl” during the Happy Hour every day from 16-19. The place is crowded and you’re guaranteed to meet some fun, “lee glaath” people.
Den Danske Kro
Ingólfsstræti 3 I 101 Reykjavík Tel: +354 552 0070 www.dendanske.is Opening hours: 14:00 – 01:00 Sun-Thurs 14:00 – 05:00 Fri-Sat
Let´s go to the …
Lebowski Bar -The Reykjavik venue that rocks! From the entrepreneurs that brought you Café Oliver and Vegamot, comes Lebowski Bar. You can take a quick guess where the name and inspiration comes from and even if you didn´t like the infamous 1998 movie we are certain you will love this bar.
ust walking into this retro American bar puts a smile on your face and the mood is very 1960’s. You can hang out at the old fashioned porch and imagine you are in a real action movie. They don´t make bars like that anymore … oh wait they do, this one! Four big screens adorn the walls, so it’s also a great place to hang out when there are big events and sporting highlights to be seen. And there’s also an “outside” area decorated in a zappy Miami-sunshine yellow that will cheer even the dullest of days.
containing over 1,600 songs guaranteed to get those hips swaying. If that´s not enough there’s a DJ on every night of the week so you won´t feel the pressure of selecting all the music by yourself. The menus are the biggest in Iceland … no literally! Their physical dimensions are huge! Doesn´t everyone say that size really does matter? Try their amazing burgers, there’s cheese, bacon, a béarn aise sauce option and succulent beef tenderloin. If that’s not enough, choose from one of the 12 kinds of milkshakes to go with it.
Dine and jive
“Careful man, there’s a beverage here!”
Lebowski Bar really captures the diner style with cosy booths and a fabulous jukebox
Jeffrey ‘the Dude’ Lebowski, the protagonist of the Coen
Bowling at the bar
brother’s comedy, is renowned for his penchant for ‘White Russians’ – vodka based cock tails featuring coffee liqueurs and cream or milk. The Lebowski Bar has taken this now-iconic drink to a new level, offering an astounding 18 varieties of White Russian, along with an extensive bar list. Promotion
The real icing on the Lebowski cake, however, is the bar’s genuine bowling lane – it’s a classic. How many bars have a bowling lane? In Iceland, not many, unless you count the bars at actual bowling alleys that certainly don’t have the cool vibe of Lebowski Bar. DJs and a bass player add to the music mix at weekends and there’s room to dance. Check it out dudes, you’re guaranteed a good time.
The Lebowski Bar
Laugavegur 20a +354 552 2300 firstname.lastname@example.org www.lebowskibar.is
FIND IT ON FACEBOOK and Twitter
Twitter: @LebowskiBar Instagram: #LebowskiBar Open 11:00 – 01:00 Sun-Thurs and 11:00 – 04:00 Fri/Sat
Lebowski Bar is my favorite place to hang out at. I love grabbing a good beer, a burger & topping it with a delicious milkshake. Lebowski Bar plays oldies music which makes the vibe like none other in Reykjavik. They also have happy hour from 4-7pm and who doesn’t love that! Bottom line, Lebowski Bar is a great mainstream bar where you can meet fellow travelers and have a drink with locals. Practice the word ‘SKÁL’ (Cheers) ~ Inga,@TinyIceland (www.tinyiceland.com)
The English Pub
Save water, drink beer! For years, Iceland has enjoyed a diverse selection of restaurants and often sophisticated bars. However, one tiny grumble occasionally surfaced from the country’s Anglophiles – simply that there was no proper “pub”.
nd so the Engl ish Pub was born. From modest be ginnings it has built a hearty reputation, seeking out, with the advice and guidance of its dedicated customers, the finest ale availa ble to mankind. Today it offers its enthusiastic clientele the chance to sample 50 beers from around the world, as well as a staggering 15 Icelandic brands.
Not content to rest on its laurels, the English Pub has ventured north of its virtual border and also offers the finest selec tion of whiskies anywhere in the country. The choice of some 60 malts include many of Scotland’s finest, ensuring that numerous Icelanders and
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nothing more than to spin the wheel and chance a “Sorry” or preferably win what used to be called a Yard of Ale. These days, it’s inevitably known as a meter of beer, but the winners don’t seem to mind!
The English Pub Promotion
worldly travelers make the pil grimage to the pub’s humble door. Located at the very heart of downtown Reykjavik, the walls of the English Pub are adorned with hundreds of photographs – like an album of the city’s history just waiting to be explor ed over a quiet beer.
A sporting chance
Live sporting coverage is amply catered for, with a choice of
three big screens and TVs. In side the pub there is room for up to 150 people, and an outdoor terrace can accommodate plenty more on those balmy Icelandic evenings! Whether it is foot ball (Premier and Champions League), rugby or golf, there are always special offers when live events are being broadcast. Live music every night adds to the atmosphere and for any one feeling lucky, there is the Wheel of Fortune. Regulars like
Austurstræti 12 101 Reykjavik Tel: +354 578 0400 Mobile: +354 697 9003 www.enskibarinn.is
The disappearing cafe
Tiu dropar / Le Chateaux Des Dix Chuttes Tíu dropar (Ten Drops) is a café located in the cellar of Laugavegur 27. This is one of the oldest cafés in Iceland and for the last 30 years to this very day they serve freshly baked pancakes and waffles á la the grandmothers of Iceland, with lots of whipped cream and Icelandic jam.
en Drops is also known for its homemade cakes, baked from scratch according to old recipes, and of course, their hot cocoa, known by many of their guests as ‘The Only Real Hot Cocoa on Earth’. If you’re not in the mood for old fashioned Icelandic goodies you can choose from an assortment of light dishes, tea, wines and beer. We recommend the French meat soup, a popular dish and another old favorite.
Where did the café go?
Don´t be surprised if you can´t find the café after 18:00. Some thing happens around that time that transforms this little cellar into a French wine room
known as Le Chateaux Des Dix Chuttes or the Castle of the Ten Drops. This is a lovely place to sit and enjoy good wines along with cheese, ham or other light dishes for as little as 500 ISK a plate, and don´t worry, the coffee, cocoa and pancakes are still there! Lovely French music sets the mood and the ambiance is perfect for a deep conversation. Guests wanting to break out in song can have their turn after 22:00 on the weekends, as long as
they can find someone to play the antique piano given to the café’s owner, David Bensow, by a regular.
Choose your wine
Guests can have their say on the wine list of Le Chateaux Des Dix Chuttes and David will make special orders to fulfill their wishes. In fact, he welcomes any suggestions making the wine list one of the more, well-endowed in Reykjavík. He´s especially interested in serving good Port to his clientele.
just the kind of place that was missing from the brimming Icelandic bar and café scene - a perfect setting for a small group of friends to reminisce over the good old days or for a first date. Be sure to taste David´s “wine of the week” or let his fair beer prices amaze you. Check out the ten drops twitt er feed and find both café and wine room on Facebook.
Tíu dropar / Le Chateaux Des Dix Chuttes Laugavegur 27 I 101 Reykjavík I Tel: 00 354 551 9380
The little wine room and café seat only 40 guests and the mood is set in the early evening. It’s safe to say this is
The Hidden People As anyone can readily see, Icelanders are without a doubt every bit a part of the modern world but no matter how sophisticated that might make them, a belief in elves still persists amongst the general population.
by Paul Michael Herman Photos: Dagbjört Agnarsdóttir Girl on photos: Erna Salóme Þorsteinsdóttir
hy is this? One morning I held an interview with Eva, manager and part owner Laki Hotel, a country side hotel in Kirkjubaejarklaustur, a little village on the sparsely settled south shore of Iceland. As the story goes, the Laki Hotel is located in the jurisdiction of an Elfin City and Eva was good enough to tell me all about it.
In the beginning
“We have our folk tales, þjóðsögur [Thjoth saga], about the Hidden People,” Eva began. “Sometimes people mix them up when they call them elves because they’re not small. They are tall, pale, blond and have beautiful clothes. “Þjóðsögur are ancient folk tales passed down through word of mouth and finally recorded in the 19th and 20th century when printing became more common. “Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar,” is the most extensive collection and holds many tales about the origin of the Hidden People going all the way back to the time of Adam and Eve. “Eve had a lot of beautiful children and God wanted to see them all, but only half of them were neat and clean and in her opinion, ready for God to see them, so she hid the unkempt ones. When she told God that the ones she presented were her children, God got very angry with her and said, ‘What you want to hide from me, I will hide from you!’ So half of her children would remain hidden from mankind.”
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A mother’s grief
Eva resumed, “A few hundred years ago people here in Efri-Vík, [the old farm where Hotel Laki resides], used to build their houses out of turf [a mixture of grass, dirt and stones]. A man named Erikur lived here in those days and he had a maid nam ed Agnes. She was very poor. She was also very unfortunate to fall in love with a marr ied man in the area and she got pregnant by him. “In those days it was very serious to be come pregnant out of wedlock and with no way to support your child. So she hid pregnancy very well until it was time to deliver the baby. Late in August she went out alone into the night and on a hill be tween Efri-Vík and the next farm she delivered her baby.” Eva showed me the hill known as Barna hóll (baby hill) from the hotel window. “Then she wrapped a cloth around the baby and left it there,” she added, “When Agnes got home she was devastated. An hour later, she changed her mind and went back for the baby. She found nothing. Not a clue. She searched for seven days and seven nights neither eating nor sleeping. On the seventh night she was exhausted and dropped off into sleep. In her dream she had a visit. There came a tall lady with long blond hair wearing a blue coat who told Agnes not to worry. ‘I have your baby girl and I have named her Anna. I will look after her as my own but you will never see her again.’ After that Agnes had some peace in her heart but she never saw the women or Anna ever again.”
Then Eva related, “Since then the people in Efri-Vík have always explained about our Hidden People whom we believe live in the rocks on the other side of the lake just outside the hotel, and we always show them great respect.”
A special friend
Eva then brought me up closer to the present. “In my family we have three sisters. Our middle sister Lilja, had a special connection to the Elfin City. For several years when she was small she had a special friend which we could not see, whom she played with all day long. Her friend’s name was Anna. “When my sister was eight years old, my father was mending the fence beside the Elfin City. He pulled an old piece of wood from the ground and threw it in a pile where Lilja was playing. All of a sudden Lilja screamed and attacked my father. ‘The piece of wood,’ she said, ‘hit Anna’s leg and broke it!’ Then my father watched as Lilja helped carry Anna into the Elfin City. After that she lost her friend and wasn’t allowed to see her anymore.”
A faint memory and a glimpse
Eva explained about her personal exper ience. “I have a faint memory when I was young of laughter and a lot of people but nothing I can put my finger on today. I remember playing there and all the people but I didn’t have a special friend. Still I went there a lot when I was six or seven. Today I have a ten year old daughter and she asks me, “What are all those people doing there?”
The Hidden People “Then we have a German friend,” Eva continued. “Her name is Ingrid and she bought a house near where the psuedocra ters are. Every now and then, ” explained Eva, “she can see from the corner of her eye that see is not alone. It’s always the same description, of a tall lady with long blond hair in a blue coat, walking by.”
them to be careful because of where they were. But anyway they started shooting the line toward a tall rock which happens to be the Elfin Church. They wound up cutting their stay short because when they shot three times, the first two times turned away from the rock. The third one completely turned around and hit the shooter in his leg. Then they all packed their things in a hurry and rushed him to the hospital.”
“When my father was young and my family first moved here, we first moved in with an old couple that had been living here for a long time. I used to call them Amma and Afi (Grandma and Grandpa) even though they were not really mine. Amma Magga, told me stories about this area and how to treat the nature and our Hidden People. For instance, when my father started cutting grass there was this one hill on the land that he was not sup posed to cut. “Amma told him that there was an old man living in the hill and he didn’t want us to cut it. At this, my father always laughed and cut it anyway. For the next seven years we always lost a favorite animal. So, we couldn’t have dogs because they only lasted one year. As soon as he cut the grass on the hill our dog died so we begged him not to cut it anymore. He agreed to see what happened if he did not cut it for one summer. After that our dogs have all died from old age.”
I found that Eva is a reservoir of tales. She continued, “It’s common knowledge, that when you know you are in the area of the Hidden People you don’t move stones or disrespect them. A few years ago the rescue team from Vik had a weekend here and were practicing, shooting a line for when they would need to slide down for a rescue. My father told
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“Only a few years ago in May,” Eva went on, “we had a motor cross festival where motor bikes are driven on the off roads. Two young men came to enter the com petition. They spoke to my father and asked him if they could drive toward the lake to practice their new bikes before the competition started. My father said, yes, but do not go to the other side of the lake. ‘You don’t want to disturb our Hidden People.’ They went there anyway with these beautiful, new bikes and started circling the Elfin Church again and again. My father was furious when he saw it. He scolded them very seriously and told
them that they should be very careful the next days. The young men entered the competition. My father didn’t hear from them until one year later. Then they finally came and apologized for what they had done because neither of them could finish the first circle in the race. Both their bikes had broken down, yet no one could find anything wrong with them. They said, ‘Hörður, from now on we will show respect.’”
Living in harmony
Eva concluded, “We have lived in this area for centuries in harmony with nature and our Hidden People. We believe that they are the Keepers of the Nature and we be lieve that if we live in harmony with them,
When guests come to visit Laki Hotel, Eva told me that they sing songs for them about the Hidden People. “If the guests feel so inclined they join hands with us.”
somehow, they will support us.” When guests come to visit Laki Hotel, Eva told me that they sing songs for them about the Hidden People. “If the guests feel so inclined they join hands with us. We know that people have different religions and beliefs and that some don’t have any belief in the invisible world but after we finish singing we ask them if they would remain silent for awhile and send good thoughts and love to everyone and everything they can’t see. For those who can’t relate to this we ask if they would like to do this for their loved ones who passed away.” I visited with Eva during a quiet time but as the season progresses the place will be full. I mean more full.
Perlan – The temple of dreams Perlan, (The Pearl) situated on top of Öskjuhlíð Hill, is a landmark building in Reykjavík. The construction itself is built on top of and in the middle of six hot water tanks and is about 25.7 meters (84.3 ft.) high. The materials are mostly glass, aluminium and steel, giving it a kind of a futuristic look. The glass dome on top of the aluminium water tanks consists of 1,176 windows and the steel construction that holds it all together also serves another purpose. It is hollow inside with hot water flowing through it during wintertime and cold water in the summer making it a comfortable environment all year round. by Lilja Björk Haraldsdóttir Photos: Kristinn Magnússon and Birtíngur photo collection
Inside The Pearl
Many events are held in the Winter Garden, the big hall on the main floor, such as concerts, art shows, markets and various expos. Recently one of the hot water tanks was cleared out to make room for the Saga Museum. The museum shows 17 exhibits taken from the Icelandic sagas with life-like replicas and specially crafted weapons, clothing and every day objects made to resemble the originals from the Viking time.
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In the basement there’s a great fountain where water rises up and shoots into the air. The height of the water can reach all the way up to the fourth floor. It is popular among Icelanders and especially the younger ones to throw money into the pool at the base of the fountain on their visits to The Pearl. The restaurant situated on the fourth floor is one of the finest in dining in Reykjavik. Accompanied with the pano ramic view, the “star heaven” and a gently rotating floor it
will give you a dining experi ence you can hardly forget.
The surrounding area
The Pearl is situated in one of Reykjavik’s best outdoor areas namely Öskjuhlíð Hill, where you can find numerous paths for running, bicycling or walking through a forest, a rarity in Iceland. Just outside The Pearl, you can find a manmade, life-size replica of a geyser where a 30 m deep well has been drilled out and a steel tube planted in it with 125°C
hot water flowing through it. So, if you can´t get to the real thing in the countryside you can get to the next best thing in the middle of the city.
The architect Ingimundur Sveinsson designed The Pearl even though the idea of a grand building at this location came from the master artist Jóhannes Kjarval. Kjarval (1885 – 1972) dreamt of: “A temple where the sides would be covered in mirrors, so the northern lights
In the basement there’s a great fountain where water rises up and shoots into the air. can approach the feet of men – the roof should be decorated with crystal of every color and floodlights should be in the eaves to illuminate the whole area. It should answer to the light of day and the symbols of the night.”
Kjarvals dream was made into reality about 60 years later and now The Pearl serves as a meeting point, cafeteria, restau rant, museum and a panoramic viewing deck for the people of Reykjavik and visitors from all over the world. The viewing deck with its astonishing view over Reykjavik and the sur rounding area is equipped with six telescopes mounted on each of the corners where you also can find recorded descriptions in five languages about the amazing view from the deck.
For more information check out: www.perlan.is www.sagamuseum.is
The church of Hallgrimur Hallgrímskirkja – The church of Hallgrímur, which stands spectacularly on top of Skóla vörðuholt Street in the center of Reykjavík, is one of the country’s most remarkable churches. It towers 74.5 meters (244 ft.) over the city making it the tallest church in all of Iceland and giving it a superb view over Reykjavik, the bay and the surrounding mountains from the viewing deck high up in the church tower – one of the reasons why it’s the most popular tourist attraction in Reykjavik.
he church is named after one of Iceland’s most acclaimed poets and clergyman, Hallgrímur Pétursson, who lived in the 17th century and is the author of the Passion Hymns – a series of 50 meditations on the passion of Christ, from when he enters the Garden of Gethsemane until his death and burial. These texts are considered to be among the greatest Icelandic poetry and have played an important role in the life of Icelanders for more than three centuries. The Passion Hymns are broadcasted on Icelandic radio during the period of Lent each year.
by Lilja Björk Haraldsdóttir Photos: Birtíngur Photo Collection
onstruction of the church started in 1945 and continued until the 26th of October 1986 when the church was inaugurated, the day before Hallgrímur Pétursson’s 312th birthday. One of Iceland’s most reputable architects of the time, Guðjón Samúelsson (1887 – 1950), began work on the church’s drawings in 1937. He was known for his nationalistic style in architecture and took inspiration from traditional Icelandic materials and nature. The church therefore reminds one of hexagonal columnar basalt, mountains and glaciers, all elements from our unique and spectacular nature. When you enter the church you get the feeling that you have stepped inside one of the mountains and entered an elves’ church (álfakirkja). In
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Icelandic myths the elves play a big role and it is believed that they live in spectacular buildings inside our mountains and even have their own churches, which are said to be extremely beautiful.
The church’s pipe organ is the largest in the country. With 5275 pipes (some 10 m high), 72 stops, four manuals and a pedal, it weighs 25 tons and is 15 m high. Constructed by the Johannes Klais Organworks in Bonn, it is very popular among organ players from all over the world who have both played and recorded in the church. Inaugurated in December 1992, the organ was mostly financed by personal gifts and people were offered the oppor tunity to buy individual pipes. This is still possible and you can buy deeds in the church shop that prove you are a proud owner of one of the pipes in this magnificent organ.
Hallgrímskirkja can pride itself of its dedication both in arts and culture, having two choirs associated with it; the Motet Choir (1982) and Schola Cantorum (1996), both among the best in Iceland, in addition to a children’s and youth choir and the Reykjavík Boys Choir.
With the forming of Friends of the Arts of Hallgrímskirkja, a new page was written in the history of art and Icelandic churches. The Friends do an important job of preserving the many items in the care of the church as well as promoting a variety of artistic events held in the church, a variety of concerts, dramas and art exhibitions are held throughout the year with the emphasis on religious art. Each year they also organize an art festival. During the summer there are a series of organ concerts with lunchtime concerts on Thursdays and Saturdays and a longer evening concert on Sundays. These are very popular among tourists.
statue of Leifur Eiriksson (ca. 970 – ca. 1020) stands magnificently in front of the church and guards it. The statue, made by Alexander Stirling Calder, was a gift from the United States in 1930 cele brating the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s parliament at Þingvellir in 930 AD. Hallgrímskirkja is well worth a visit where you can find The Passion Hymns translated into many languages, CD’s with songs by the church choir and music that has been recorded there as well as souvenirs and books about Hallgrímskirkja.
This gem, situated in the heart of Reykjavík, offers a homey Mediterranean atmosphere along with great food from the freshest ingredients. The pizza oven at Caruso is legendary as well as the pizzas and everything from pasta to amazing steak and fish dishes are prepared with love and respect. Be sure to try the delicious homemade chocolate cake. Some say it’s the best in town. Caruso Þingholtsstræti 1 I 101 Reykjavík I Reservations: 562 7335 or email email@example.com I Fax: 561 7334 Open: Mondays - Thursdays: 11:30-22:30 Fridays: 11:30-23:30 Saturdays: 12:00-23:30 Sundays: 17:00-22:00
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Museum of Design and Applied Art
Treasures from a grandmother’s living room to cutting edge technological design Located in suburban Garðabær, this is a rather unusual stop on the tourist roundabout yet well worth the short bus trip. The Museum of Design and Applied Art focuses on collecting and preserving Icelandic design from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. This includes information, drawings and documents that relate to Iceland’s design history in order to inform both the museum community and the public. By Guðrún Baldvina Sævarsdóttir Photos: Kristinn Magnússon
“At the moment our collection is largely made up of furniture; chairs, tables, sofas and chaise lounges, many of them given to the museum by the design ers or previous owners,” says the museum collection’s re presentative Þóra Sigurbjörns dóttir. “As a result, some of
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the pieces in the collection are worn and used, a few even visibly damaged but it only works to add a sense of the pieces’ usage, enhancing their quality as an object of practical design.” Their conservation efforts follow this policy of preserving found objects of design. “Conservation and restoration are not meant to make objects look brand new, only to preserve them in their current collection condition,” says Þóra. “We also have a fair amount of Scandinavian glass artifacts and our collection of graphic design and drawings is rapidly increasing but product design actually has very flexible bord ers,” she says as she points to a big garden shovel, an object of Finnish design. As an Icelander, the museum provides ample
amount of nostalgia when you walk past a sofa identical to the one your grandmother had when you were 5 years old, not to mention your excitement when you realize that the old candleholders you still have in your storage room could be rare items of renowned design. In a country of 320,000 inha bitants, chances are you might own something of historic value and that it was manufact ured in very limited supply.
by Manfreð Vilhjálmsson and Dieter Roth, the entire set of interiors from yesteryear’s bank Búnaðarbanki lobby or the human sized wax replica of musician Barði from the electric pop group Bang Gang. The answer to their most prized possession is much easier, “A personal favorite is a rocking
hen asked to nomi nate an object from their collection of particular peculiarity, Þóra has a hard time choosing be tween the electric camper van designed by students from the Icelandic Academy of Arts in 1998, the little stool made out of a small buoy designed
Helgi Hallgrímsson (1911-2005). Rocking chair, 1968
From the exhibition “Chance Encounters – Towards modernity in Icelandic design.
chair by Helgi Hallgrímsson. It is both exquisitely beautiful and extremely rare.”
ven though objects have been designed for much longer, Icelandic design history is generally said to begin in the 20th century. “Our first architects only came back from studying abroad after 1900 and that marks the historical point of departure,” says Þóra. But what defines Icelandic design? “It’s hard to find a characteristic in form in Ice landic design. It’s much easier to find a defining element in material due to the common restrictions on the designers and manufacturers of this re mote island. Choices were nar row and they often had to make do with what was available at a particular time,” says Þóra.
esign has also had a hard time in such a small community where the industry hasn’t necessarily been able to keep up with the designers. “There are many stories of Icelandic designers participating in exhibitions and shows abroad, acquiring enormous attention and subsequently getting huge orders from retailers that they weren’t able to fill
This offers a unique chance to share or reflect on the unex pected material collected. The museum is thus formed by chance and disappears after wards, except for the extensive catalogue of pictures and stor ies, collected and displayed on the internet.
due to the limited means of the manufacturing industry in Iceland,” says Þóra. It’s especially dramatic when you consider the fact that throughout history, Icelandic designers have been both very well educated and extremely passionate. “They had to be passionate. Nobody would be come a designer in Iceland for the money in the 1950s,” she adds.
“We also have a fair amount of Scandinavian glass artifacts and our collection of grap hic design and drawings.” The Museum of Design and Applied Art is only 15 years old and has done wonders to restore the part of design in Icelandic art history. “We’re still filling in big gaps and with every exhibition we continually learn as more artifacts are found and researched.” In the museum’s lobby you’ll find tables and chairs designed by Erla Sólveig Óskarsdóttir where you can sit down, drink coffee and look through design magazines while your kids
From the museum’s storage.
enjoy themselves in an adjacent play area. The lobby is also home to one of Kraum’s design shops where you can buy beautiful and innovative Ice landic designs for a good price. This summer you’ll get a proper overview of the hist ory of Icelandic design at the museum. The exhibition “ChanceEncounters - Towards modernity in Icelandic design” opens on June 7th and will stand until October, so you have all summer to learn more about this often forgotten part of the buzzing Icelandic creative scene. They will also get a visit from the Pop Up Museum on July 7th, where guests are invited to bring objects to display according to a previously determined theme.
– A unique national park!
By Agnes Amalía Photos: Photos.com
ingvellir is considered by many as the most beautiful place in Iceland and how can can you deny it, given its stunning and diverse landscape. Now on UNESCO’s world heritage list, Þingvellir shares its place with 800 cultural and natural heritage sites around the world. For centuries the national park has had a special place in Icelander’s hearts. It was at Þingvellir that the Icelandic Parliament was established in 930, gathering there until 1798. It is also the place where Iceland declared its independence on the 17th of June, 1944. Þingvellir is a protected national shrine for all Icelanders. Occupying a large portion of the park is Lake Þingvallavatn and beside the lake rests a luxuriant summerhouse area. People often go to Þingvellir for a day trip, savoring the beauty, catching fish or simply relaxing - perhaps finishing the day with a nice picnic. This romantic natural wonder is enjoyable all year round, for each season brings its own colors and charm. Þingvellir is only a short trip away from the capital and all visitors are guaranteed a happy and mesmerizing day.
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Chasing waterfalls Jewels and pearls usually adorn crowns in a symmetric way that reminds the viewer that the wearer of the crown is rich and respectable. Iceland wears its waterfalls in much the same way. They line the country with a regular interval and it’s really quite astonishing when you travel the country how regularly you’ll be able to find a unique waterfall. At the same time they are incredibly diverse, the powerful presence of Dettifoss sharing almost nothing with its much calmer little brother Hraunfossar except water and an affix. By Guðrún Baldvina Sævarsdóttir Photos: Einar Guðmann, Ingvi Stígsson and photos.com
he large number of waterfalls in Iceland can be explained by naturally prime conditions for waterfalls in the country, the most important of these being the relatively young age of the terrain, which means that rivers haven’t fully smoothed out their channels. The mountain ranges, the glaciers, the multi-layered soil and the climate also support their formation and partly explain their numbers and diversity. Despite extensive research, hard facts and
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science, waterfalls are still magical in some inexplicable way. When you stand in front of a waterfall, be it small or large, narrow or wide, high or low, you are almost always haunted by that mesmerizing feeling that what you are watching is in constant re newal. The waterfall by nature is never still and the waterfall you experience is arguably always uniquely yours. Perhaps that’s why they have an enchanting magical nature in Icelandic folklore, why mystical creatures often tend to reside in them and
why everyone has their favorite, complete with personal stories and poetic descriptions.
ou usually need to know where they are since almost none of them are in direct view on your way to somewhere. Don’t worry though, most of them are just around the corner so in order not to shoot past them on your travels through the countryside, be sure to look up their exact location. Here are some of our diverse jewels in the form of waterfalls.
Öxarárfoss (Road number 36)
On the site of Iceland’s ancient parliament Þingvellir you’ll find the country’s (informal) national waterfall. The site is so intertwined with national history that there’s hardly a rock around the waterfall that doesn’t have a story and the water in Öxará River is no exception. According to folklore the water turns crimson on New Year’s Eve and tastes either like wine or blood. Should the water turn to blood, expect bloodshed on the upcoming parliament. Other stories include the farmer’s daughter who on a rampage, ripped a leg off a horse, and during her exile caused all sorts of damage before a brave young man slew her with an axe which she took with her to her death in Öxará (Axe River). Icelandic folktales and fairytales tend to hover on the darker side of things.
Gullfoss (Road number 36)
Iceland’s most famous and popular waterfall is without a doubt Gullfoss, the golden waterfall. The reason for the name is rather unclear but it might have something to do with the way it catches light so that it shines like gold or the fact that rainbows often form in the mist above it and everybody knows that there’s gold to be found at the end of a rainbow. Gullfoss is part of the popular Gold en Circle tourist route along with Þingvellir and Geysir, but it’s not just its proximity to Geysir that makes it so popular. Its power and mass, its ledges and steps and the canyon it flows through make it particularly magnificent and the fact that you can walk all the way up to it without much trouble makes it more inviting than most. It is also a very important symbol in the Icelandic psyche after plans to sell the waterfall and harness it produced the country’s first pre servationist, Sigríður from Brattholt. The story of Gullfoss explains much in the nation’s relationship to nature, the ongoing battle of preserving its unique natural wonders or utilizing what the often harsh environment has to offer.
Seljalandsfoss (Road number 1)
It’s one of the few waterfalls you can’t miss spotting from your car as you speed through the southern part of Road 1, the highway circling the country. Just a few minutes from the highway, Seljalandsfoss provides a pleasant stop for the whole family and is popular amongst travelling Icelanders who need a picnic break. It offers a unique chance to walk behind a waterfall and experience it from the “inside” and is often extraordinarily beautiful in the evening sun that shines directly on it from the west. Seljalandsfoss falls off ancient sea cliffs which adds a new dimension of time and space as you realize that you’re standing on an ancient seabed, looking up on land.
Svartifoss (Road number 998 off road 1)
Situated in Skaftafell National Park, this waterfall looks more like a drawing from a children’s fantasy book than an actual place on earth. The columnar basalt surrounding it resembles an impressive décor or curtains although in reality it’s the other way around. The design of the ceiling in Iceland’s national theater was actually inspired by Svartifoss and its columnar basalt surroundings. The hike is easy, scenic and beautiful in a green oasis surrounded by awesome glaciers, rivers and dormant volcanoes leaving visitors with a lifelong memory of this magical place. Once you see the unbelievable symmetric shape of the hexagon columns it will be hard to imagine that it forms naturally when lava cools slowly in layers. Describing Svartifoss is near impossible but we gave it shot.
Skógafoss (Road number 1)
Snuggled in between two glaciers, this beautiful waterfall is situated just under the now infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano and marks the starting point of popular hiking trail Fimmvörðuháls. According to folklore, the settler Þrasi hid his chest of gold behind the waterfall and when the sun hits the water in a certain way you can catch a glimpse of the gold. A comfortable stairway brings you to the waterfall’s upper ledge for those who want a view from above. You can also use the campsite right by the waterfall’s lagoon and fall asleep to the sound of falling water. Skógafoss’ grand eur derives mostly from its picturesque and seemingly solid form, making it a kind of textbook example of a sturdy waterfall.
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Chasing waterfalls 8
Dynjandi (Road number 60)
Situated in Arnarfjörður this is a show stopping number and among the Westfjords’ most notable natural pearls. The biggest (and arguably most impressive) part of Dynjandi is often mistaken for the whole thing but further down are a number of additional waterfalls, all collectively known as Dynjandi. As the water flows down the cliffs, the stream constantly widens to form a picturesque spectacle, very suitable for the extreme landscape one finds in the Westfjords.
Hengifoss (Road number 933)
One of the tallest waterfalls in the country, Hengifoss is a towering display that drops down a whopping 128.5 meter high cliff that displays the layers of past geological eras. It’s a must see on your travels through the eastern region and nicely located near one of Iceland’s very few forests, namely Hallormsstaðarskógur. It requires something of a hike but along the way you’ll get a unique chance to see the colorful geological variety of the gorge, complete with wood coal, fossils and column basalt as well as many other smaller waterfalls that adorn the gorge.
Hraunfossar (Road number 518)
This is a display of water you don’t normally expect when you hear the word waterfall. Here, on the banks of Hvítá River, the water presses out from the grassy lava, forming a long row of small waterfalls that run down to the river. As you walk along the other bank you can’t help but wonder where all the water comes from and how the circulation works since you never see a river they derive from, just the landscape that gives birth to these beautiful falls. It’s a place where you get served the natural variety of Iceland on one plate, the lava from a volcano, the pure water from the ground, collecting and running through moss and birch and ending in the beautiful river’s canyon.
Dettifoss (Road number 862/864)
If you’re feeling a little under the weather or life seems a little bland, Dettifoss is a remedy we highly recommend. It is one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls (they vary depending on conditions) and standing on the ledge of its canyon provides an unforgettable experience. Don’t hazard too close to the ledge as you’ll surely be hypnotized by up to 500 cubic meters of water flowing past you every second. The name translates as the falling waterfall and you’ll understand it when you see it. The water doesn’t flow as much as it falls off the ledge in huge plates due to the awesome speed, force and the steep ledge. Standing on the cliffs around it, you can literally feel the ground quiver from the force. Dettifoss is neatly situated between Mývatn and Ásbyrgi, two of the northern region’s most amazing spectacles of nature.
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Photo: Daniel SnĂŚr Ragnarsson.
Glymur (Road number 47)
With a drop of 198 meters, Glymur is Iceland’s highest waterfall. Despite its close proximity to the capital, catching a glimpse of it is a bit of a challenge. Hiking up to the waterfall takes 3-4 hours and includes going through a little cave and crossing a river over a wooden log or wading if you feel like it. The trail provides a few scenic stops but for those who fear heights, the first one should suffice. The trail only gets steeper as you go further but the first ledge provides a good scenic view and the sight of the huge waterfall sitting in its awesome gorge is well worth the adventure.
Tröllafoss (Road number 36)
After wandering around what seems like a very unlikely place for a waterfall, the grassy Mosfellssveit valley just outside of Reykjavík, you suddenly stumble upon this waterfall and realize why it was worth the search. It’s where the trolls live and it has an undeniably ancient feeling to it, and even though you might feel like you dropped in on someone’s home uninvited, we assure you, you are most welcome. The soothing sound of running water makes the grassy hills around it an excellent stop for contemplative souls, which is probably why it’s a popular destination among Icelanders for guided meditation walks. Troll homes have such a soothing effect.
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AwA r d -w i n n i n g P h o t o g r A P h e r s
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The Icelandic sheep
An independent breed When the Vikings settled in Iceland 1100 years ago they brought with them domestic sheep, now considered one of the purest breeds in the world. Icelandic sheep have kept the Icelandic people alive for the past century with their meat, wool and even horns and bones.
by Lilja Björk Haraldsdóttir Photos: Birtíngur photo collection and photos.com
celandic sheep are of the North European short tail group which also includes the Russian Roman ovs, the Finnish Landrace, Swe dish Gotland and the Norwegian Spaelsau. They are medium in size like the Romanovs but differ from them and other breeds both in color
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and in temper. It is an independent breed much like the Icelandic people but still calm and cooperative. Because of their independence the sheep usually do not stay together in one flock but spread out over the fields and mountains during the summertime. This can be somewhat problematic in the fall during the end of
summer round up (réttir) when the farmers ride out on horses to collect them before winter. During the centuries the sheep has been used for a variety of things; people ate their meat and in the old times used everything. The chin, tongue, eyes, lungs, heart and the rest were all eaten out of pure necessity
As a result of the harsh conditions on this small island in the middle of the North Atlantic, alternative ways were thought up to keep the breed of sheep alive, winter grazing being one of them. This resulted in a development in a small part of the sheep population who started to show unique signs of leadership and intelligence. These so called leader sheep, or “forystufé” in Icelandic, helped the farmers tremendously with managing the flocks and gathering the sheep inside as well as warning other sheep about potential dangers such as changes in weather or predators like fox or mink. The leader sheep are usually reddish brown with white spots and horned and sometimes they even have four horns. These leadership qualities and the unique adaptability of the Icelandic sheep is the reason it managed to keep itself and thus the Icelandic people alive throughout the centuries. Although the need for leader sheep has dwindled during the past years there still remains a small amount of about 1000-1200 sheep that possess these qualities and for the importance of keeping diversity in the stock there is always a leader sheepram available for insemination.
The Icelandic sheep is probably best known for its wool and the acclaimed Lopi sweaters. Originally hand-knitted, Icelandic Lopapeysa became extremely popular during the years following the Second World War. The initial pattern came from traditional Norwegian
sweaters but changed with the creativity of Icelandic knitters during the late 20th century. Now these sweaters are an export product and equally as popular among foreigners as the Icelandic population. With the kick-start of the Lopi sweater there are a number of Icelandic designers who mainly work with this material in new and experimental ways. In the past few years traditional Icelandic wool has become a high fashion creation with much interest in the international markets. A characteristic of the Icelandic fleece is that it is dual coated; the fine inner layer, called thel (þel in Icelandic) is fluffy and springy while the outer layer, called pull (tog), is thicker, longer and coarser. The different parts are both used together and separately. When separated they are used for different woolen products. The outer coat, tog, is good for weaving and other long-lasting products while the inner coat, thel, is mostly used for first layer garments that touch the skin. When the tog and thel are processed together they become Lopi, a specialty wool that is only made from Icelandic sheep. Vík Prjónsdóttir is one of a number of designer companies that focus on pro ducing quality design products from Icelandic sheep wool. Founded in 2005, the company is a collaboration between designers Brynhildur Pálsdóttir, Gud finna Mjöll Magnúsdóttir, Þuríður Sigur þórsdóttir and the knitting factory Víkur prjón. Located in Vík, southernmost village of Iceland, Víkurprjón is the oldest and
and later considered a delicacy among food connoisseurs. The ewes were milked and the milk used as it was or made into butter, cheeses and skyr (Icelandic soft-cheese). Of course the fleece was used to keep people warm during the long, cold winters. The variety of colors and patterns in the Icelandic sheep is unknown amongst other breeds as they come in white, black, brown, grey and spotted. The base color of all Icelandic sheep is either black or brown but these can be altered by a number of patterns or spotting. Each sheep carries three genes that affect its color and pattern, and for each gene there is a dominant and recessive allele, black being the most dominant of the base colors. The most dominant pattern is white, which will con ceal any other pattern, color or spotting, producing a solid white sheep. There are about 500,000 sheep in Iceland, which is considerably more than the Ice landic human population.
The Icelandic sheep
one of the best-known knitting factories in the country. The company’s collective aim is to develop new products and they feel it is their task to use the natural materials and the equipment that we have in Iceland, rather than using imported materials and outsourcing the production. The collection of scarves, blankets, pelts and hoods is unique in character and style, inspired by the myths and stories of Iceland as well as nature and urban life.
ure. Their collections include everything from outerwear to underwear, beautifully knitted sweaters, scarves and accessories. In addition to its wool the Icelandic sheep is also known for its skin. Icelandic sheepskin comes in many different colors and is usually not dyed. Generally used for mittens, gloves and hats the skin is quite soft and because of the variety of colors, objects made from its skin can be quite stunning.
armers Market is another company using Icelandic wool in a new and inspiring way although they also use wool from other breeds of sheep. Founded in 2005 the company’s main focus is on sustainable fashion and recycling and they wish to create beautiful, high quality products while maintaining the highest ethical standard towards humans and nat
A national pride
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Although most famous internationally for its wool, Icelandic sheep are almost exclusively bred for meat here in Iceland with 80% of the total income stemming from the meat production. The meat is renowned for its good taste and can be said to be purely organic since the lambs are not fed grains or given hormones but freely roam the mountains for the whole summer until the fall when they are taken in for slaughter. The meat has a distinct, delicate flavor and some say that you can even taste the mountain herbs. Considered a gourmet style of meat, Icelanders usually eat it during special occasions and holidays although products made from it are also consumed on a daily basis. The expression “necessity is the mother of invention” amply applied amongst Ice landers who in earlier days, found creative
“During the centuries the sheep has been used for a variety of things; people ate their meat and in the old times used everything.” ways to use every ounce of the sheep. From the wool to the meat, bones, horns and intestines , everything was put to use. Clothes and shoes were made from the wool and skin, bones and horns served as toys for the children and the testicles were made into moneybags and similar small objects. The intestines were all used and the blood collected to make pudding, porridge and even blood pancakes. The lungs, brain, udder and testicles were made into a vari ety of dishes, and some considered a true delicacy although today you hardly ever see them except in February during the Thorri season.
t is clear that Icelandic sheep have played an important role in the life of Icelanders during the centuries and it is uncertain whether they would have survived without it. And, if the truth be known, Icelanders wear their knitted sweaters and eat their lamb and sour ram testicles with pride and respect, for surely the Icelandic sheep is a national pride.
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Salt of the sea For centuries, salt has played a key role in food preservation and for seasoning our food. We see it pop up in different religions as a symbol of friendship, loyalty and fidelity, The Holy Bible for instance is abundant with stories where salt is mentioned. And, mind you, if you ever decide to dabble in exorcism, be sure to bring a dash of salt with you, a key ingredient in the purification process. We say that someone is “worth one’s salt” when talking about someone being worth his wages and we pour it into our baths when we want to relax or have wounds to heal.
by Gerdur Hardardottir Photographers: Gunnar Sverrisson and Héðinn Eiríksson
alt as a way to preserve food is a surprisingly new invention here in Iceland for it wasn’t until 1773 when salt production slowly but surely got off the ground. For years since then, salt fish production was an immensely important factor in our com merce with other countries, so important in fact that an image of a salt fish found its way into our coat of arms for a period of time. Today, young Icelandic designers and entrepreneurs are working with salt in new and innovative ways but at the same time drawing inspiration from their country’s heritage.
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One such designer is the pro duct designer Edda Katrin Ragnarsdottir who graduated from Iceland Academy of the Arts in 2012. Edda’s graduation project was Saltbjörg, flakes of salt, crystalized together on a string, meant to hang up in your kitchen. Saltbjörg is there to protect you, your family and your home, keeping bad spirits away but at the same time making sure that all things positive stay firmly put with in the walls of your home. Folklore tells us that when moving into a new place, bread and salt should be the only two things to bring with you, when crossing the threshold for the very first time. If you do so, you and your family are
guaranteed to never having to go through hard times or have to do without, when it comes to nourishment. www.behance.net/eddakatrin
Saltverk is another great exam ple, a small company located at Reykjanes peninsula in the Western fjords of Iceland. Saltverk produces artisan flake sea salt containing higher per centage of vital minerals than most other brands of sea salts. Saltverk is the only comp any in the world using 100% geothermal energy in the pro duction process. The salt is pro duced with methods based on a salt-making process established in Iceland in the 18th century.
he geothermal energy Saltverk uses in its production comes from 93°C (206°F) hot water from geysers and hot springs that pre-heat, boil and dry the salt. Fresh sea water is pump ed to open pans where it is pre-heated until it becomes strong brine with a salinity level of 17-20%. The brine is then boiled until white crystals appear on the surface, before slowly falling to the bottom of the pan. The pan is then drained of all liquids, the salt fully dried, packed and ready for consumption. Working closely with gourmet chefs, Saltverk continues to add new and interesting flavors to their already existing collection of salt, which today offers flavors
such as thyme, chili, licorice and lava. Recently, Saltverk’s products and its unique production tech nique were nominated for the Slow Food Organization’s Ark of Taste list, a list compiled and designed to preserve food that is sustainably produced, unique in flavor and part of a distinct eco-region. www.saltverk.is
Reykjavik's Thermal Pools
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Thermal pools and ba baths s in Reykjavik are a so source of health health, relaxation a and d pureness pureness. All of the city´s swimming pools have several hot pots with temperatures ranging from 37˚ to 42˚C (98˚–111˚F). The pools are kept at an average temperature of 29˚ C (84˚ F). Tel: +354 411 5000 • www.itr.is
The gloomy shores of Iceland By Hjördís Erna Þorgeirsdóttir and Leifur Þór Þorvaldsson Myndir: Kristinn Magnússon and Birtíngur Photo Collection
obody comes to Iceland to sunbathe. The lack of lusciously hot sun-bleached beaches guaran tees that. Therefore it might seem somewhat irrelevant to cover the subject of beaches in an Icelandic context. While the concept of beaches is tradi tionally linked to elements such as brightness, warmth and
it also seeks recompense with a vengeance in this dynamic dichotomy. This resulted in routine casualties explaining the short life expectancy among Icelandic sailors in the past. Such repeated tragedies left its devastating mark on many if not most Icelandic families as well as influencing the collective culture. In Icelandic popular culture there are countless songs that
relaxation, the Icelandic marine environment definitely has a more overall sinister feel to it. In the eyes of most natives the black beaches prevalent in the Icelandic landscape are fairly bleak.
tell the tales of widows mourn ing their loved ones, lost at sea. In the song “Án þín” (the song’s melody is from The Su premes’ “My world is empty without you”) performed by Trúbrot back in the early 70’s, the aching widow stares at the sea whispering the name of her deceased lover. Then there are timeless paintings from painters like Gunnlaugur Scheving whose subjects in cluded images of stranded vessels, an ominous reflection of life on the ocean. Stories of heroism and tragedies at sea are a common theme as exemp lified in Baltastar Kormákur’s (Iceland’s most successful film director) recent film, “Djúpið” or “The Deep”. The conflicting emotions that the ocean has created in the
Historical and cultural relevance
The ocean surrounding this remote island and the in habitants share an intimate relationship. Throughout the centuries, the ocean has serv ed as a lifeline, providing Icelandic people with both food for survival and as the most valuable resource in the country’s economy. But nature can be merciless, notwithstand ing the cold and vast NorthAtlantic Ocean. As the ocean gives gracefully in abundance
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nation’s psyche are like wav es, ranging from respectful gratitude to distress and anger. What’s most striking is the fact that people are both dependent on and extremely vulnerable against the forceful elements of nature, symbolized by the black beaches echoing the tragic tones of Iceland’s history.
From dramatic desolation to extreme surfing
Unlike most of the Icelandic coastline, which is characteriz ed by impressive fjords, the southern part of the island pres ents black beaches that stretch for hundreds of kilometers from the east to the west. The beaches are divided by deltas of powerful glacial rivers. The rivers deposit an astronomical amount of volcanic sediment from the glaciers that the ocean distributes along the coastline, forming these vast black beaches. Skeiðarársandur that lies under Mýrdalsjökull is the biggest sand-plane in Iceland, covering over 1000 square km. The main road passes through the plane, and is regularly washed away by the eruption of Grímsvötn, sending masses of melt-water rushing over the area. The area is mostly deprived of
vegetation but is nonetheless an important breeding ground for many birds. The area is a mere 3-hour drive from the capital and is a popular destination for guided adventure tours.
n Reykjanesskagi where the international airport is located, the sea is thrash ing against a fairly recent volcanic area resulting in a very dramatic mixture of cliffs and beaches. Sandvík is the biggest beach in Reykjanes and
has now become a popular surfing beach for those with a fair amount of courage and of course protection by thick wetsuits. There are also numer ous geothermal grounds in the area, with beautiful hot springs and impressive power stations close to the ocean. A short drive around the peninsula is guaranteed to provide its specta tors with a rich visual array.
In Snæfellsnes and the south part of the Westfjords there is a big shift in the scenery as the black beaches give way to a creamy white coastline. Geographically this is the oldest part of Iceland and for millions of years the ocean has been grinding down seashells to form these beautiful beaches. They differ in color between
“In the eyes of most natives the black beaches pre valent in the Ice landic landscape are fairly bleak.” locations, and can go from light brown to dark red, depending on the prevalent seashell spec ies in each particular area. In the area around Látrabjarg in the Westfjords there are two beautiful beaches called Kolls vík and Breiðuvík. Remove the surrounding landscape, dominated by dark cliffs and vicious waves, and both beaches could even be mis taken for tropical paradises. Watching the sunset in the area is an unforgettable experience,
especially in the summertime when the sun does not even descend below the horizon during the year’s very brightest days. There are also many archaeological remains from old fishing stations on the two beaches, giving the visitor a very real connection to days gone by. A few kilometers south of this area is an enormous beach called Rauðisandur or “Red Sands”. In this remote part of the country, the exciting music festival Rauðasandur festival takes place during the summertime. At the peak of the summer when temperature is the highest, the ocean at Rauðasandur can become surprisingly warm, making sunbathing and swimming in the ocean an unexpected and pleasant option.
he locations menti oned above merely reflect a small portion of the whole coastal area of Iceland. There are vari ous other captivating beaches in and around the capital and also in the fjords located in the north and east part of the country. Icelandic beaches are certainly not the ideal location for those seeking a tropical pleasure. The Icelandic people themselves are more likely to explore the beaches in search for inspiration or in an attempt to connect to or even absorb the immensity of the ocean. In these, mostly vacant, areas people can im merse themselves in the unique solitude resounding in its, at times frantic but always glorious beauty.
The Icelandic witch mania By Ragnheiður Gyða Jónsdóttir Photos: Courtesy of The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft
There are various kinds of historical sources related to witchcraft in Iceland. Some witchhunt cases were recorded before the Reformation; the Nýjiannáll (The New Annals) documents for instance involved the burning of the nun Katrin from Kirkjubæjarklaustur in 1343. In Resen’s Accounts of Iceland from 1688 it is reported that a woman accused of keeping a Snakkur (a milk-stealing creature of the Icelandic folklore) was burned in 1580 although Resen never found the woman’s sentence. The books of the Icelandic Parliament are a reliable source on witchcraft cases that were fought in court, as well as records of judgments and proceedings. Books of old copied letters, books of the Icelandic synod and church inventories also cast a light on the situation.
The influence of Europe’s witch craze reached Iceland through Denmark and Germany in the mid 17th century. The Icelandic witch-hunt differed somewhat from the rest of Europe as it revolved mostly around ma gical staves and runes that were supposedly used to harm people and livestock. The devil was hardly involved at all and feasting on days of rest even less so. But like in other small communities suspicions of sor cery, fueled by neighborhood quarrels and fear, spread like wildfire. Approximately 20 Icelanders are believed to have died, burned at the stake, from 14th to 18th century while the Icelandic “burning century”, as historians call it, lasted from 1654-1690.
The sorcery of Strandir
The start of the witch-hunt in the north of Strandir between the years of 1652-1654 can be
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traced back to a young girl who was in the service of Þórður Guðbrandsson in Munaðarnes. She became ill after resigning from the household but then regained her health upon return ing. When she then left him a second time she became ill again and it was thus believed that Þórður had used black magic to make the girl sick. His neighbors, Egill and Grímur were entangled in the case as well. Egill was accused of using sorcery to kill sheep and he confessed
to “making a pact with the devil for such purposes by inscribing runes and giving the devil his own blood and nail cuttings”. Hysteria soon broke out in the region and the Ballarárannáll (Annals of Ballará) states that in the au tumn of 1652 “disquietude, followed by a plague of spirits or ghosts, would arise many times a day, mainly in church while the sermon was being held in Trékyllisvík.” The phenomenon seemed to enter
people’s throats and they would start belching and feel excessively full but once it passed they were unharmed. These sufferings would mostly affect unspoiled girls and they continued to happen throughout the next few years. Þórður, Egill and Grímur were convicted and burned at the stake deep inside Kista, a ravine that leads to the ocean in Trékyllisvík.
Following these three burnings in Trékyllisvík, sixteen men and one woman were burned for sorcery and the last burn ing in Iceland is believed to have taken place in Arngerðar eyrarskógur by Djúp in 1683. A
“Approximately 20 Icelanders are believed to have died, burned at the stake, from 14th to 18th century.” man was burned in Öxarárþing two years later for blasphemy and the case is usually consid ered as a witch-hunt case due to its form of punishment. The last burning punishment was assigned in 1690 when Klemus Bjarnason from Stein grímsfjörður in Strandir was
The Icelandic witch mania sentenced in Öxarárþing to be burned at stake. He was sup posed to have caused the illness of a housewife in Hrófberg. The sentence was later changed and Klemus was sent into exile. Two years later he died of an illness in a prison in Copenhagen.
The last witch-hunt
In 1804, the house of Björk in Sölvadalur was inspected and the bodies of two women exa mined at the master’s request, due to suspicions of Snakkur. One of the women, Guðrún Jónsdóttir, 79 years-old, had a strange growth in her lower abdomen: “a rather big lump or soft tumor, hanging down from her stomach, matching
the color of her skin except for slight irritations on its lower half.” No actions were taken and this was most likely the last Icelandic witch-hunt case but it nevertheless proves that in the 19th century people still believed in the existence of Snakkur.
An Icelandic sorcery book
In 1992, Matthías Viðar Sæ mundsson, a literary scholar, re-published an old Icelandic sorcery book from the 17th century. In the prologue, Matt hías talks about how unclear and strange the manuscript is, stating that it lacks focus as it was written by four men over a long period of time. Furthermore, he explains that the book was created in the midst of the “burning century” and is thus not a mere folk
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tale or piece of fiction but a collection of sorcery resources and a cause that people actu ally risked their lives for; a truly life-threatening book. This manuscript proves that throughout the centuries the
“Around 170 people were charged for sorcery and other black magic activi ties in Iceland.” old paganism had been kept alive and preserved, waiting for its window of opportunity to open. The book was regarded as a dangerous study, a soul
murdering weapon, and the authorities banned it. Around 170 people were charged for sorcery and other black magic activities in Iceland, and only 10% of these suspects were female. The witch-hunting didn’t merely revolve around cases where people were harmed or possessions were involved, it also concentrated on people who used magic for personal gain: using it, for instance, to improve the weather and their own health or those of the people around them. Not all sorcerers were proven guilty but all of them, however, were sentenced to burn at the stake. The Icelandic legal system based their judg
ments on the testimony of high-ranked individuals and such evidence that proved the defendant’s argument was not taken seriously.
The Strandir area has always been notorious for witchcraft, which sparked the idea of The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík. There, visitors can learn about the Icelandic witch-hunt of the 17th century, view the many magical tools on display and - on special ghost days - they can take part in the scotching of ghosts!
“One of the standouts in recent cookbook releases” Iceland Review “...captures the extraordinary otherworldliness of the Icelandic landscape” Lonely Planet Magazine
Into the North
beautifully illustrated cookbook, a culinary saga of Iceland Zest Magazine
The fjord of islands
Hidden treasures Eyjafjörður is the large fjord that shelters the town of Akureyri in the north. It is lined with interesting towns like Dalvík and Ólafsvík and home to a rich array of birds and whales but there are two gems in Eyjafjörður that you might miss on your travels if you don’t read on. by Þór Steinarsson Photos: Guðrún Baldvina Sævarsdóttir, Birtíngur photo collection and courtesy of Erlendur Bogason and www.sporttours.is
An island of shark hunters
Just thirty minutes outside Akur eyri lies the ferry to Hrísey Island, the “Pearl of Eyjafjörður” and the island that the fjord is named after. In just 15 minutes Sævar Ferry will transport you to this unique oasis in the middle of the fjord. The island is only three square miles and its total headcount of permanent residents is less than 200. Traffic is almost non-existence, be it cars or people and on a busy day you might run into only a handful of people. The uniqueness of Hrísey is undoubtedly the unequaled stillness of the island. But this quiet island has a rich and notable history. Shark hunting was a sizeable industry in Hrísey at the end of the 19th century and the stories of shark fishermen color the island’s history. First among them was Shark-Jörundur (Hákarla-Jör undur), Hrísey‘s “godfather” and most famous resident, whose shrewd fishery and resourcefulness is still the talk of the town.
hark-Jörundur‘s house is the oldest house on Hrísey. It was built in 1886 from the wood of Norwegian ships that perished near the island in 1884. Today the house has been renovated by the island’s inhabitants and it now houses a museum about shark fishing in Ice land. And if you ever run into some one named Jörundur anywhere in the world, chances are they’re descend ents of Hrísey Island. In good weather, there’s nothing that beats a walk around the island
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complete with the fresh and healthy sea air. Should you venture on a hike, you’ll find a number of rather large and unusual windrows. They are in fact ancient and thought to be remains of old property divisions. The longest one runs for three kilo meters and their presence adds to the sense of older and simpler times that travellers often find so enchanting on the island.
here are three marked trails, the longest one being five kilometers. Nature lovers enjoy the various geological forma tions, one revealing the traces of a thick glacier that crawled over the fjord at the end of the last glacial era. The rich and diverse birdlife is also remarkable, as around forty species nest there on average. Numerous accessible information plaques on the birdlife are set all around the island. Sævar Ferry sails to Hrísey every two hours from 7 am to 9 pm all year round.
The gem under the sea
Although Hrísey is a hidden gem to many, it is arguably more accessible than this article’s second hidden gem, namely the underwater geo thermal chimneys at the bottom of Eyjafjörður. Underwater chimneys are a recently discovered phenomena. They form when hot water, rich in minerals, flows from the seabed emit ting minerals when it mixes with the cold sea. Gradually the chimneys build up and can become over 50 meters high, making them unique
Hidden treasures natural phenomena rising from the seabed. Chimneys of this kind are very rare, with only 40 known sites in the world, 8 of them in the Atlantic Ocean. All of these chimneys have been found at considerably great depths making them hard to research and examine. The only exception is the Strýtur chimneys found in the 1990s in Eyjafjörður, quite close to
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“The area is al ready well known by divers all over the world, many of whom consider it one of the most remarkable diving destinations.”
Akureyri. They are the only known example of hot water chimneys in shallow water, lying at around 30 meters of depth, which makes them well within the reach of divers in normal diving expeditions. The area is already well known by divers all over the world, many of whom consider it one of the most remarkable diving destinations. Dives to
the chimneys are available (try www.sporttours.is and www. strytan.is) but special care is taken to preserve the area as the chimneys are extremely sensitive to traffic of any sort. One of the dives on offer is a night dive during the summer months when the arctic midnight sun is still shining. A more memorable dive is hard to imagine.
Have a taste of Eyjafj r ur In the past decade, Nordic food culture has been continually receiv ing greater recognition in the global kitchen community. Good exam ples of this growing trend are restaurant Noma in Copenhagen and the New Nordic Cuisine movement. The aim is for purity, simplicity and freshness and the primary characteristic is that rich, essential taste that slow growing in Nordic regions provides.
by Þór Steinarsson Photos: Birtíngur Photo Collection
yjafjörður fjord in the northern region is a generous agri cultural area and so it shouldn‘t come as a surprise that the food industry is the main in dustry in the town of Akureyri, the region’s capital. Nordic food culture flourishes in this environment but it’s not just big business milk and meat manufacturers like Norður mjólk, Norðlenska og Kjarna fæði that draw interest, but also the various products of smaller manufacturers spread all over the fjord. In the past few years, travel ers have gotten more and more opportunities to visit the farm ers and food manufacturers of Eyjafjörður to get to know their production process and try out their products and to day, specially organized trips around the fjord are available for those who wish to add taste to their travels.
Holtsel’s ice cream
On the west side of Eyjafjörður, lies dairy farm Holtsel with
their 45 milking cows. Dairy farms aren’t usually places of interest to the average traveler but this one doubles as a café that offers a selection of its own ice cream, made of course, from homegrown ingredients. Holt sel can boast of their hundreds of ice cream flavors, some of them quite exotic such as the “sheep sorrel ice cream,” surely a rarity in the culinary world.
Time for a cold one
A little further out lies the Kaldi Brewery, much loved by Ice landic beer enthusiasts. This first Icelandic microbrewery was founded in 2005 and specializes in Kaldi beer. Kaldi is available both dark and light and this summer they will launch their new wheat beer. Owners Ólafur and Agnes welcome visitors who are sure to enjoy stopping by for a cold one as they go along on their travels.
The Great Fish Day
If you’re travelling through the region in mid August, be sure to stop in Dalvík for the Great Fish Day, an annual local festival focusing on products of the sea. Dalvík is home to just 1400 inhabitants so you can imagine the excitement when up to 25,000 people gather there for a weekend of fresh and free seafood, courtesy of the locals. Standing in line for your gour met fish meal can take awhile but nobody minds since the festival is no less for socializing than enjoying the meals. Actu ally the main theme is friend ship and brotherly love.
On the other side of the fjord from Dalvík is the town of Grenivík with its well-establis hed fish processing company Darri. Their main product line is dried fish, considered a great gem in the culinary crown of Iceland. The fish is dried and considered a vital companion when travelling the great out doors, or sitting in front of the television. Icelanders put shocking amounts of butter on it and will go to great lengths to encourage you to do the same.
Brynja ice cream parlor
Travelers with a passion for food and drink will have plenty to experience in Akureyri and Eyjafjörður. Aside from the more unusual stops already mentioned, there are numerous restaurants and cafés of good quality spread all over the area, not to mention the ice cream parlor Brynja, considered by the northern population to be the best ice cream north of the equator. But you’ll have to take their word for it, unless you want to try it yourself!
A grand house of earth and grass On the northern side of Eyjafjörður sits Laufás, a place with a richer and longer history than most sites around the fjord. The farm is mentioned in accounts of the settlement and the site has been home to a church since Christianization. These days the place is known for its ancient turf house, one of the best preserved examples of its kind in the country. There’s also a museum, ideal for culturally thirsty tourists. Laufás has always been a farm of considerable size where up to thirty people would reside at a time. It took a lot of farming hands to reap the benefits this generous farmland had to offer.
urf has been us ed as building material in Nordic parts since the Iron Age. Romans would use turf among other things in their fortresses when reinforcing their strongholds in the north. None of those constructions have survived the test of time due to turf’s poor preservation qualities. At the start of World War I, half of the Icelandic population still resided in turf houses. It is commonly believed that turf houses were damp and generally unsanitary dwelling -places but that wasn’t necess arily so. In architect Hjörleifur Stefansson’s book on turf houses, aptly named “Of Earth”, it says that farmers built their
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By Þór Steinarsson Photos: Curtesy of Akureyri Museum
turf called “klömbruhnaus” and in some places a specially carved turf has been added that thickens on the outer wall for better insulation, called “strengur.” Although most of them have been renewed over time, remnants of the original wedges can still be seen in the lower layers of the stacked walls.
aced with the northern elements, Icelandic turf cutters had to be quite ingenious engineers. The turf house in Laufás was inhabited until 1936 when the priest was moved into a more modern accommodation. Today, the old house is fully furnished with cutlery and furniture in line with what was common around 1900, making it a desirable destination for cultural time travel.
The church at Laufás
houses with the skills and tools available at the time. Turf was the most suitable building material in these northern parts which would in fact hardly have been habitable in earlier times without it. Perhaps that’s why nearly everyone lived in a turf house regardless of their class. Everywhere else in Europe, they were considered hous es of the commonage, but in these northern parts, these habitats were probably the best choice. And so, because of their historical and cultural signifi cance, glamorous examples like Laufás have been preserved in Iceland. The house is a so-call ed bristle-house (burstabær) and was constructed during Björn Halldórsson’s priesthood from 1866-1870. The oldest parts of the house were built in
1840 and the oldest house of the complex is the so-called Bridlehouse, where the bride would prepare before the wedding ceremony. The farm has under gone some changes in the course of time, evolving from a traditional passage-house (gangabær) into a bristle-house (burstabær). The 18th century saw increased use of timber in Iceland and in 1768 the gables of Laufás were planked. All of the walls are stacked with a certain type of wedge-shaped
“None of those constructions have survived the test of time due to turf’s poor preservation qualities.”
Built in 1865, the church at Laufás, is also of considerable interest and particularly beauti ful. Among its more prized possessions is the 315 year old carved pulpit. At the east end of the church is one of Iceland’s oldest mountain ash trees, plant ed in 1855. The early 20th century saw the rapid demise of the tradi tional Icelandic turf house. At the same time, many Icelandic architects coming home from studying abroad had a strong desire to preserve this cultural heritage in the upcoming age of concrete, which can be seen most clearly in many of the houses built around this time. Good examples are Laugarvatn Lower Secondary School and the farm of Þingvellir. Even though this effort to preserve the form did not last long, it is quite clear that the turf house is one of Iceland’s strongest national symbols and a visit to Laufás offers a unique insight into this important part of Icelandic history. Sources and more information: “Af jörðu” (Of earth) by Hjörleifur Stefánsson www.minjasafnid.is www.laufasinn.is
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of Icelandic literature Halldór Guðmundsson is something of an authority on Icelandic literature, having worked in the publishing industry since 1984 and applied his expertise extensively as a scholar and lecturer. His biography of Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness received the Icelandic Literary Prize in 2004 and became a best-seller. In 2011, when Iceland was selected to be the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair—the largest of its kind in the world—Halldór was chosen to direct the project, standing right in the center of the action as Iceland was catapulted into the limelight of the international literary scene. We met up with Halldór Guðmundsson in Harpa, Reykjavík’s new concert hall and conference center, where he recently took office as managing director. By Björn Teitsson Photos: Ernir Eyjólfsson and others
Do you think it is easier now—in the wake of the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair—for Icelandic authors to gain a wider audience in the inter national literary market? “Yes, I am sure that is the case. In fact, I know it is so. It is difficult in some sense to assess the project as a whole, since only a year has passed since the Book Fair itself. On the one hand, there was a decline in published material from Icelandic authors in 2012, for example in the German mark et. But that is because German publishers capitalized on the media coverage Iceland got in 2011; many publishers postponed their 2010 scheduled releases in order to utilize the press surrounding the Book Fair. So there was an unusual amount of mater ial from Icelandic authors being published internationally in 2011. The best way to measure the success of the project to date is to point out that there has been a huge increase in applications to translate Ice landic authors. That, in itself, is tangible evidence of a rise in international interest.” The last decade or so has seen thrillers and crime novels as the biggest Icelandic literary exports. Do you feel that there is too much emphasis on that specific genre? Or are authors simply answering the demand of the market?
“Perhaps this can be partly explained by demand. But if we look back through history, there was never a literary tradition in the genre of crime novels in Iceland. Very few authors took it upon themselves to experiment with the form, and it never really gained any momentum. Crime nov els and pulp fiction were very popular in Iceland, but they were mostly translated works. The early ‘90 however saw a certain shift in the international book market. Two novels, “Sophie’s World” by Jostein
“Take an author like Arnaldur Indridason for example, he would have to publish consecutive best-sellers in Iceland for 30 years in order to sell the same amount of books that he does in a year in Germany or France.” Gaarder and “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” by Peter Høeg, were published in Scandinavia and both became massive international hits. These novels were, in a sense, thrillers and they brought about a new focus on the Nordic countries, taking over the throne
from, arguably, South America. At the turn of the century, the Swedish crime novelist, Henning Mankell, suddenly became the biggest-selling Nordic author, which only goes to show that the authors within the genre have witnessed a huge increase in interest. This may have led some authors, who were perhaps interested in the form, to turn their attention to honing their skills therein. The international attention on thrillers and crime novels has functioned as encouragement, that maybe this was the right time to “give it a go.” Just look at all the media coverage, advertisements and numbers of published work in the genre today. We see a lot of talented writers trying to master the form and many of them have become quite good at it. The opportunities are there. Take an author like Arnaldur Indriðason for example, he would have to publish consecutive bestsellers in Iceland for 30 years in order to sell the same amount of books that he does in a year in Germany or France.” Can this development, this focus on crime novels, be seen as detrimental to authors of other types of fiction? “As far as I can tell, that has not been the case. I have actually given this serious thought and I know that there are authors
Icelandic literature out there who are growing tired of the attention and publicity crime novelists receive. But this is in fact how the market has always been. There are always going to be some novels that turn up once in a while to become best-sellers—novels that could be called “serious,” but generally speaking, popular forms of fiction are always the ones that sell most. When I was younger the most popular author in Iceland was Alistair MacLean. The best-selling author in Germany was someone relatively unknown outside of Germany, Karl May—and he wrote stories about Indians! Popular fiction is always going to be in high demand, although we must realize that some of these authors are actually walking the tightrope between ‘popular’ and ‘serious’ fiction. For example, I have always considered Arnaldur Indriðason to be a serious novelist. I noticed during the year of the “Fabulous Iceland” project at the Book Fair, that increased interest in his novels—and say, the novels of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir—tend to give other authors a boost and they help to bring a focus to Icelandic literature in general. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to break into the German-, Spanish- or English-speaking market. Just that there is an author out there who has made a name for himself can lead readers in the direction of the next. In that sense, the crime novelists have really been pulling the load.” But are Icelandic authors of ‘serious’ fiction also doing well? “Certainly. What I find most interesting is the fact that different authors are gaining an international audience in different places. We have Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir, who has done extremely well in the French-speaking market. Hallgrímur Helgason has done well especially in Ger many, Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson has achieved success in the North American market. There is no rule of thumb as to where one is most likely to succeed. My feeling is that the most important factor for upand-coming authors is simply to write as well as they possibly can - as simple as that sounds. Chances are that they will be noticed. At the moment, we have young authors who may very well be on their way and it would not surprise me at all if some of them were to achieve international success. Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl is one of them, Kristín Eiríksdóttir is another. I think the success of the “Fabulous Iceland” project, as well as the general success of Icelandic authors in recent years will result
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in international publishers having their eyes on Iceland.” Do you think Icelandic authors are now writing with an international audience in mind? “That might be: probably. And some of them haven’t really been trying to hide it. Not too long ago Hallgrímur Helgason even wrote a novel in Icelandic and Eng lish at the same time. Others would simply say that they write for themselves and nobody else. In general, I find that you always construct an image of yourself as a storyteller and at the same time you construct an image of your reader. But you cannot be contemplating at the same time: “Well I wonder what someone in Italy is going to feel about that.” This year, Reykjavík was designated as UNESCO City of Literature. Do you think the city owes this honor to the “Fabulous Iceland” project?
Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir An art historian by trade, Auður did not enter the literary scene until the age of 40. Since publishing her first novel, “Raised Earth,” in 1998, she has been highly praised by critics for her artistic approach to her subjects, introspective style and humor. “The Greenhouse,” published in 2007, won the prestigious DV Culture Award and was also nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize.
Sjón While still a teenager, Sjón was one of the founding members of Medúsa, an influential surrealist art group in Iceland. He has experimented with different genres—even writing lyrics to pop songs—and was nominated for an Academy Award for writing the lyrics to
“Well, I would not take any credit for that designation. But I’m very pleased by it. This was approved by UNESCO in the fall of 2011, so it went hand in hand with Fabulous Iceland. Representatives from the city came to Frankfurt to plead their case. What makes this especially pleasant is the fact that we have been running the Reykjavík International Literary Festi val since 1987, and I know that was an important factor, and now, the city is increasing its support for the festival. But I also feel that the city has managed to make the project their own, especially in their emphasis on freedom of expression. They have taken an active part in the ICORN (International Cities of Refuge Net work) project where persecuted writers are offered a safe haven to live and work. This has in turn led to another prestigious honor, that of having PEN, the worldwide association of writers, choose Reykjavík as the venue for its annual world congress in 2013. To me, this is one of the symbols of the momentum Icelandic literature is enjoying at the moment.”
“I’ve Seen It All” for Lars Von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark”. Sjón received the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize in 2005 for his novel “The Blue Fox”.
Kristín Ómarsdóttir With a catalogue that spans the spectrum of literature—including poetry, plays, short stories and novels—Kristín Ómarsdóttir has been at the forefront of the Icelandic literary landscape for over two decades. Highly decorated for her work, she received the DV Culture Award for her novel Elskan mín, ég dey (“I’ll Die, My Love”). Her 2004 novel “Here,” was published in the U.S. in 2011 and received critical acclaim in the New York Book Review.
Andri Snær Magnason Starting his literary career as
a poet, Andri Snær Magnason took Iceland by storm with his 1999 children’s book Sagan af bláa hnettinum (“The Story of the Blue Planet”), the first children’s book to receive the Icelandic Literary Prize. Andri is also author of “Dreamland: A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation,” for which he received the Icelandic Literary Prize in 2006 in the genre of non-fiction. His highly acclaimed dystopian novel, “Lovestar,” was recently translated into English.
Stefán Máni With something of an unusual background—having worked in various fields such as fishing, stonemasonry, construction and gardening—Stefán Máni has unexpectedly become one of the most popular authors in Iceland. His no-nonsense style has garnered well-deserved attention, as he explores the darkest and most corrupt corners of the mind. His 2004 novel, Svartur á leik (“Black’s Game”) was produced as a motion picture in 2012.
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The Skoffin was usually killed shortly after birth due to its domestic mother, the cat, who generally lives with humans while Skugga-Baldur, fiercely protected by its feline father, was considered more dangerous.
, Iceland s premier native
The arctic fox
Foxes in popular culture
By Hjördís Erna Þorgeirsdóttir Photos: Einar Guðmann
Most cultures around the world contain myths, phrases and other references to foxes. The fox embodies almost mythical qualities due to its clever resourcefulness and is considered a symbol for various traits such as adaptability, quick-thinking and strategy. Other less flattering concepts attached to the reputation of foxes are devious, tricky and other attri butes related to cunning. Often considered a fierce competition to humans in terms of food collection, the relationship between the two is both intricate and intense.
Encountering human immi grants
The arctic fox is frequently referred to as “Iceland’s first native” because of the fact that it was the only mammal living in Iceland when people first arrived. Before man, there was fox. In fact, the fox evidently came to the island some 10,000 years ago. After the arrival of humans, life changed dramatically for the arctic fox. Suddenly, it faced severe competition. Bird’s breeding grounds became war territories and foxes that dared to venture into such areas belonging to humans were mercilessly killed. Written accounts of foxes throughout the centuries usu ally unfavorably describe the fox as an animal killer, a vill ain ruthlessly killing birds, cattle and sheep, much to the ironic annoyance of its human neighbors (who share the same inclinations). The sighting of a fox near human residence during the fall was believed to signify a hard winter coming up.
Experts in adapting
During winter the fox has white fur, adapting perfectly with the snowy surroundings, further enhancing its stealthy hunting attributes. During the summer the fur changes to a brown color providing the same
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results. The seasonal changes of the arctic fox’s fur are emblematic of their characters. There are many stories about foxes that outsmart dogs and hunters, confusing the dogs and making them lose their scent. Because of this many who actively hunt foxes have immense respect for the animal. On Hornstrandir, in northwest Iceland the fox is considered a protected species. Although still wary of humans, the foxes on Hornstrandir however, tend to be more friendly and relaxed according to some as the area is vacant of humans for the majority of the year.
years while those in captivity can live as long as 20 years. In 2007 it was estimated that there were about 6000-8000 foxes living in Iceland. The sheer isolation provided by the island resulted in specialized attributes, making the Icelandic fox a subspecies among the arctic fox.
Jimi Hendrix famously sang about a foxy lady during the 1976 summer of love. The term foxy playfully describes a seductive female with the fierce qualities of the fox. The fox is a common subject in literature, especially children’s literature, and novels such as Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox continue to inspire people to this day. Other references can be found in anime comics, motion films and video games. Even the logo for the search engine’s Mozilla Firefox depicts a red fox, probably alluding to their swift qualities. It seems as though people’s admiration of foxes sometimes overshadows the contempt frequently projected toward them. In fact, humans can pro
Protective and resourceful
Foxes generally have monoga mous tendencies and the arctic fox usually mates for life.Litters generally include 5-8 kits but higher numbers have been reported. In underground complexes, the kits are fiercely protected by both parents. As they grow older, the females leave to establish their own posse while the males stay behind. The intimate family structures of foxes can result in numerous generations sharing a den. When food is abundant, the arctic fox exhibits quality; foresight, by sensibly burying food for “a rainy day”. Wild foxes can live up to 6-10
Despite the arguably intimate relationship between fox and man there aren’t many re ferences to foxes in Icelandic mythology. The most recurrent reference to foxes has a sinister inter-species twist. Through the mating of cats and foxes two creatures were created, believed to signify bad luck and general chaos. First there is the Skoffin, a creature from the womb of a female cat, fathered by a fox. And then there is the Blue Fox (Skugga-Baldur), the offspring of a male cat and female fox.
bably learn a thing or two from foxes. After all, wouldn’t it be utterly fascinating to experience life from the perspective of these fascinating creatures?
The Icelandic horse by Gerdur Hardardottir Photos: Curtesy of Ishestar
Horseback riding as a way to spend your holiday is getting increasingly popular with seasoned travelers the world over. Riding a horse at a comfortable pace, breathing in the fresh country air while out and about in the vast open spaces, what an idyllic way to relax and re-charge, far away from our usually hectic urban lives.
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ore and more tourists visiting Iceland are discovering this exciting travel option, and for many experienced riders, riding the Icelandic horse through the rugged landscape of its native country, is a dream come true. Summers in Iceland can be absolutely magical, when days and nights blend together in a constant daylight and the romantic notion of riding into the sunset becomes riding off into a softer glow when the sun is low.
One of a kind
The Icelandic horse is one of a kind, a breed descended from the horses the Scandinavian settlers brought with them when they set sail for Iceland back in the 9th and 10th century. The horses are believed to have been mostly of Germanic descent and only the very best specimens were chosen for the trip. Due to Iceland’s isolation, the Icelandic horse has managed to remain relatively pure, its genotype differing from other horse breeds in Europe. The Icelandic horse is quite small but nevertheless
always referred to in Iceland as a horse instead of a pony. The reason for this may be the fact that even though our language is rich in variations of the name “hestur” (the Icelandic word for horse), it doesn’t really have a single name that properly corresponds with pony. In any case the Icelandic horse is pheno menally important to us and a source of great deal of pride, of which I’m told by foreign friends, we have plenty. From the days of the first settlers, the Icelandic horse has played a key role in our lives as a
The Icelandic horse Photo: Marianne Welch
Photo: Gígja Einars.
working horse, still used today in autumn when herding up the sheep that spend the summers roaming our highlands and highways. Horses also remained our main source of transport well after the arrival of the first car in Iceland in the summer of 1904. Iceland’s vast flora of literature, history and religion is full of references to the Icelandic horse. Horses were highly re spected in Norse mythology, with Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of the god Odin, reigning supreme. Variations of the name “hestur” appear practically everywhere in Iceland, whether in the names of farms, towns, mountains, rocks, rivers or fjords. Horses appear in folklore, tall tales and ghost stories and two years ago one of Reykjavík’s primary museums did a large exhibition called Jór, (one way of saying horse in Icelandic), featuring over 60 paint ings and sculptures of the Icelandic horse, as represented by Icelandic artists through the centuries.
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The fifth gait
The Icelandic horse has quite a long lifespan, generally 25-30 years. It is known to be intelligent, gentle but spirited in temperament, versatile and resilient with a personality far exceeding its size. It is the most colorful breed in the world, with over 40 different colors and over 100 vari ations. What characterizes the Icelandic horse more than anything though, is the fact that as well as the standard walk, trot, canter and gallop, the Icelandic horse has mastered, “tölt”, a smooth and comfortable four-beat gait where the horse’s hind legs move well under the body and carry more of the weight on the hind part. This allows the front to rise and be free and loose. The Icelandic horse does the “tölt” with variations in speed, from a rather slow speed up to a fast and extended speed. The best of the breed are those that manage the flying pace as well, a two-beat lateral gait. Iceland’s often incredibly harsh and
Photo: Gígja Einars.
unforgiving weather elements plus danger ous environments such as glacier rivers with strong and changing currents and the occasional volcanic eruption, have also played a large role in the breed’s survival of the fittest, through periods of starvation, danger and extreme cold, such as in the 1780’s when an eruption in Mount Laki almost wiped out the country’s entire livestock, also killing more than 10,000 people, basically every fifth person living in Iceland at the time. Today there are close to 80,000 horses in Iceland, which is quite an impressive number for a nation, which counts around 320,000 inhabitants. The Icelandic horse is rigorously protected by laws, which prevent live horses and used equipment that might carry germs that could infect them from being imported into the country. Consequently diseases are almost unknown among the country´s horse population. The laws also prevent a horse from ever
Photo: Sigurður Jökull
returning back to Iceland, as could happen, when for instance it is sent overseas to participate in shows or competitions. For the owner and the rider and probably the horse itself, this can be quite a heart breaking but nevertheless necessary precaution.
The natural way to travel
One of Iceland’s riding tour operators, spec ializing in riding tours across the country, is Ishestar, which for the last 30 years has offered a plethora of different riding tours suitable for people of all ages and all levels of experience. Ishestar’s headquarters is only a 15 minute drive from Reykjavik, on the outskirts of Hafnarfjördur, a town best known for its large population of elves and Vikings. It’s a stunning location, one of the most beautiful riding areas in the country and where some of Ishestar’s most popular riding tours take place. The riding tours typically last for 1-2 hours, and
follow trails that twist and turn around moss coated lava, bushy hillsides and through endless fields of purplish Nootka lupin which has for years been used in Iceland to combat erosion. The area also offers trails around Mt. Helgafell and Hvaleyrarvatn, where those not terribly excited about going horseback riding can spend their time fishing, while their more adventurous partners gallop away. The tours start slowly, to allow people to feel safe and comfortable although the groups sometimes split up, so the more advanced riders can go faster. “Our customers range from people who have hardly ever even seen a horse, let alone ridden one, to expert riders,” says Steinunn Gudbjornsdottir, marketing manager of Ishestar. “We have welcomed people of all ages, from 8 year olds up to 98 year olds. We’ve also welcomed extremely experienced riders, many of whom even have their own Icelandic horse back home. Then there are those who have travelled around the world trying out different types of horses and different trails. Many are familiar with the Icelandic horse and the qualities that make it unique. Quite a few of our customers are visitors who see riding an Icelandic horse in Iceland as the ultimate “must-do” experience. What our customers are most impressed with is how gentle and friendly the Icelandic horse is and also the chance to “tölt” for the first time. This has the WOW-factor and it’s something they want to experience again and again. Actually many of them do, for every other year, quite a number of people from around the world attend the biannual Landsmót Hestamanna, a national equestrian tournament, and use the opportunity to go riding with us, before or after the tournament.” For the experienced riders, Ishestar also organizes riding tours, which can last up to 9 days, of which six are riding days. Those trips offer breathtaking scenery such as geothermal hot springs, majestic waterfalls, craters, and endless stretches of black sanded tundra and beaches. “Currently we
“Our customers range from people who have hardly ever even seen a horse, let alone ridden one, to expert riders,” says Steinunn Gudbjornsdottir, marketing manager of Ishestar.
are running 23 different tours throughout the country,” says Steinunn. “On all of them, we work closely with local farmers and their families. They are often our guides, 100% familiar with the area we are riding through. The horses we ride are theirs and often it’s the farmer and his family who feed our riders with meals that usually consists of traditional Icelandic cuisine. The longer tours give riders the opportunity to visit areas where reindeers graze the highlands. They can also include sailing trips for some whale watching, a bit of snorkeling in the crystal clear underwater canyons of Þingvellir National Park, or snowmobile trips on a glacier.
nyone who has experienced Iceland during the summer knows how romantic it can be and Steinunn tells me that yes, absolutely, quite a few people have found love on their trips with at least one couple actually getting engaged. A midnight ride in the month of June is particularly romantic. According to Icelandic folklore, cows gain the powers of speech, seals turn into humans and it is considered healthy and the key to having your wishes fulfilled to roll stark naked in the dew-covered grass on Midsummer Night (St. John the Baptist’s day) which is celebrated in Iceland on June 24th.
As beautiful as Iceland can be in summer, the winter is equally amazing as more and more tourists are discovering. According to Steinunn, there’s a growing trend in winter riding trips. In winter, the Icelandic horse covers up with a rather fluffy double coat, which provides extra insulation protecting them from the cold temperatures of the long and dark days of winter. “Horseback riding during winter is incredibly exciting, not only because the riders get a chance to see the “fluffy” side of the Icelandic horse, but also experience the Northern Lights dancing across the skies,” says Steinunn. “For people who haven’t seen them before, it can be an unforgettable experience. We often take off in the evening and if we’re lucky we get to see the most amazing display of Northern Lights. Even though I live in Iceland year in and year out and should be used to it by now, on a moonlit night, with the countryside covered with snow, the stars twinkling and the Northern Lights performing their ancient dance, I find myself in awe. It is incredibly beautiful, almost indescribable.” For bookings and further info, visit www.ishestar.is and www.landsmot.is.
The dark side of the capital
Reykjavik ghost stories By Hjördís Erna Þorgeirsdóttir Photos: Hákon Davíð Björnsson
Through centuries of living in dark turf houses with limited sunlight for the majority of the year, the Icelandic nation developed a strong literary and storytelling tradition. From the darkness, gloomy stories of the supernatural emerge, providing people with valuable entertainment as well as a generous dose of distress.
nna Kristín Ólafsdóttir is a 26 year-old ethnologist with a Master’s Degree in Applied Studies in Culture and Communication from the University of Iceland. Anna’s MA dissertation was a script for a book about haunted houses in downtown Reykja vík. According to Anna, who has always had “a thing” for spectral matters, there are plenty of stories relating to haunted houses in the capital of Iceland. We asked Anna to provide us with some of the most chilling tales behind Reykjavík’s most notoriously haunted buildings.
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Anna explains how ghost stories in Reykjavík have a tendency to reflect a uniquely tight-knit social structure where super natural elements are usually considered friendly, even frolic, often presumed to belong to the location’s former inhabitants or guests. Many of the stories have developed within specific fields such as among the small act ing community where tales of the transcendental are fre quent. In Iceland’s National Theater various people claim that they have experienced an unearthly presence roaming the location. Some believed that this presence belonged to a man who died accidently in the building while others claimed that it could be traced
back to the Second World War when the British army resided there. The Icelandic public had limited knowledge of the activities of the British soldiers inside the theater and sinister stories soon began to emerge. Árni Ibsen, renowned play wright and poet who worked in the theater for decades, suggested that the theater had been used as a location for wartime executions although nothing has been confirmed.
The tragic legacy of Steinunn Sveinsdóttir
This Lutheran cathedral situ ated at the heart of Reykjavík across the street from Reykjavík pond was rumored to have a somewhat macabre reputation in the 19th century. Mostly built by prisoners in late 18th century, the church’s visitors reported sightings of a female ghost during the 19th century until 1915. This spectral figure was believed to belong to Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, a woman found guilty as an accomplice to murder in 1802. Steinunn and her lover were found guilty of murdering their spouses after they had an extramarital affair. Both were sentenced to death but in the small community of Reykjavík there was no one willing to take on the dreaded duty of
an executor. The town sheriff began to search frantically for someone willing to behead the two but he was unsuccessful. Only two days after convincing a local shoemaker to perform the macabre task the shoemaker was forced to abort the mission due to the public disgust it generated. The whole situation proved to be a handful for the local authorities that resulted in an attempt to have the pair pardoned. A decision was therefore delayed until 1805. During the summer of 1805, the King of Norway transported an executioner from Denmark to perform the deed but on August 31st before the task was
The notorious Höfði was the location for the 1986 Summit meeting of presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The memoirs of one of the earliest occupants of Höfði state that the house is inhabited by the spirit of a young woman, usually referred to as “the lady in white”. completed Steinunn died in prison. Steinunn’s untimely death was surrounded by mystery and after the autopsy showed no visible signs of trauma, various rumors began circula ting regarding the nature of her departing. In the years after her mysterious passing, stories regarding Steinunn’s ghost began to emerge among the population. People started developing sympathy for this lost spirit believed to roam the church. Although she died in prison and was buried on Skólavörðu holt, people claimed they felt her presence in various loca tions around the downtown
area, primarily in the church. According to one story, a man who attended a funeral claimed he saw the ghost of Steinunn that startled him so much that he jumped through a glass window as a result. Steinunn’s case was discussed in local newspaper Tíminn in 1962. The article noted three theories regarding the cause of Steinunn’s death. Some suspected that Steinunn had pleaded with a warden to provide her with lethal poison. Others believed that Steinunn died at the hands of a warden who impregnated her. This theory is faulty because the warden referred to had in fact passed away some years
before the incident. Lastly, it was suggested that Steinunn had knocked her head to the walls of her cell, resulting in a concussion that lead to her death.
The grievous history of a local drug store
Close by, on Thorvaldsenstræti 6, a building where a local drugstore, Reykjavíkur Apó tek, was housed over a period
Reykjavik ghost stories Eerie visions and a tragic past
of 240 years, there were also reports of supernatural inci dents. In the late 19th century, pharmacist Niels Smidt Krüger lived in the building with his wife Marie Josefine Angelique whose fate would be forever sealed in the building’s legacy. On an early morning in 1882, Marie, then wearing a night gown with her hair down, had a quarrel with her husband. Shortly after the heated argu ment Marie committed suicide by taking carbolic acid. In the years following this tragic event, people began to report the sighting of Marie’s ghost, matching her description at the time of her tragic death. 18 years later, in 1900, a phar macist who was working at the drugstore also committed suicide by ingesting poison. In the years following, both
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staff and customers in the drugstore claimed they saw the ghost of this man, dressed in his signature work uniform standing by the register, doing the same routine work he did while alive.
On Austurstræti 8, where fash ion boutique Gyllti Kötturinn stands, rumors regarding the supernatural have also circled through the centuries. The building has housed various operations ranging from news paper headquarters to the fash ion boutique present today. Today’s owners claim they have seen the spirit of a young girl, usually in the stairs to the shop’s basement. The girl appears to be exotic and the storeowners concur that she might have arrived with one of the shipments from abroad. The staff says that she has a tendency to play some pranks but other than that she is completely harmless. When printing press, Ísafoldar prentsmiðja was situated in the building, the story goes that during one New Year’s Eve, a loud noise and laught er was heard coming from the building. People believed that the commotion was caused by former employees appar ently refusing to leave their workplace, even after their deaths. Another fairly distur bing account tells of big hairy hand seen creeping out from an opening to a stairway in the building. The hand was considered to belong to a maid who had died in the house earlier in the winter. When the offices of news paper Morgunblaðið operated in Austurstræti 8, one journa list, Árni Óla, claimed he could sense both positive and negative energy in the house. As today’s inhabitants, Árni believed that the eerie energy was primarily located under the stairs to the basement. He asked a psychic to investigate the matter and when she look ed under the stairs she saw a ghastly figure crouching, appar ently in agony. The psychic told Árni that this malignant entity passed time by spitting on people’s feet between the steps as they walked down the stairs. She explained to Árni that the tormented figure was in need
of prayers and positive energy. After this incident, Árni claims that the eerie sensation ceased.
When the norms of society are broken
The most disturbing fact about Austurstræti 8 is that, in the middle of the 19th cent ury, a German shoemaker named Billenberg lived in the house with his wife whom he severely abused. Following a particularly brutal attack, the wife suffered a stroke and Billenberg horrifically left her unattended to die over a period of days. This abhorrent murder undoubtedly influenced some of the stories or experiences later reported by people working in the building. Anna mentions how these stor ies are saturated with references to past tragic events. There are many who believe that ghosts belong to people who die under some abnormal or suspicious circumstances and don’t receive a proper funeral. “When this happens,” Anna explains, “the norms of society are broken and a certain uncertainty arises. This uncertainty then likely has a part in creating stories or experiences involving supernatural elements.” The
“Today’s owners claim they have seen the spirit of a young girl, usually in the stairs to the shop’s basement.” closeness created in small communities might further enable and promote such story telling so tales from the tran scendental manage to thrive and even flourish through several generations of people. And of course, the stories continue to provide people with much appreciated entertainment, an essential element for surviving on a secluded island surround ed by nothing but the NorthAtlantic Ocean.
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