Iceland Trip- part four

This will finish off day two of my trip to Iceland. This was the longest day of our tour. After Gullfoss waterfall, we hurried to Frioheimer a tomato greenhouse and horse farm.

The weather is not conducive to growing very many vegetables and no fruit because while they may have almost 23 hours of sunlight in the summer months the temperature never gets much above 65 degrees which makes it hard to grow much of anything. However they have learned to use the geothermal hot springs that are nearly all over the island to not only provide hot water and electricity for towns but it also works for greenhouses.

At Frioneimer greenhouse we learned how the hot water not only heats the greenhouses but also provides the water for the plants. The tomato plants are started in intervals to have tomatoes ripening all year round. The roots seedlings are started and then transplanted into long rectangular dirt pouches that are placed evenly spaced to allow for new plants to be placed in between them as the older ones start producing less. The plants are trained to grow up with strings. Bumble bees are used to pollinate the plants. They were flying around as we were instructed on how the greenhouse ran and we were able to look into a hive box.

The greenhouse grows salad tomatoes, cherry or grape tomatoes, and plum tomatoes. They also had flowers, a dining area, and served us bloody Marys as well as gave us samples of the tomatoes.

From the greenhouse we were given an exhibition of the Icelandic horse. These horses are less than 14 hands high but sturdy, like a small draft horse or haflinger. They were brought to the island by the Norsemen and have never been bred with any other horse breed, so they are a pure breed. The Icelanders are very proud of their horse. While there are only 350,000 people on the island, there are 80,000 horses. They are used for meat, by farmers to gather their sheep from the upper country in the fall, and ridden for pleasure. They also have competitions showing off the 5 gaits. These horses are said to be the only horse that has 5 gaits. They walk, trot, gallop and have a four-beat lateral ambling gait known as the tölt. And on the upper end of the gaits they have what is called a pace or “flying pace”.  This is fast and smooth, with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour.

While the horse that was ridden to show us the gaits had some spunk and personality, the ones standing in stalls in the barns appeared asleep and aloof. Visiting the horses was nice. They were the perfect size and while they are sold all over the world, once a horse leaves the island they cannot return. The horses are not vaccinated because they never leave and don’t com in contact with diseases.

After the horses we traveled on to Skalholt, a Church of Iceland cathedral that had a role in the history and literature of Iceland.

After the church we arrived at Hveragerdi and the Skygeroin skyr factory. We watched a video about skyr, how it is a national food. We were served skyr in its natural state, I thought it had the consistency of cream cheese but was sour. Then they gave us a thinner version with sugar and strawberry. It was good! And a third with the same type of skyr but with a berry liquor and a blueberry. Then we had dinner and returned to REykjavik. Day two was finished. It was a long day. We’d visited and saw a lot and were excited for the next day.

That will be in my next post.

Iceland Trip- part three

Waiting for everyone to gather to see how rye bread is baked with geothermal.

Day 2 continued. From the first parliament assembly field we drove to Fontana. Here we learned how geothermal heat is used to bake rye bread.’

The young woman who instructed us on the process was the granddaughter of the woman whose recipe is used at the Fontana cafe and pool. The dough is mixed and put in a metal pot. The pot is then wrapped in plastic wrap. She said they are trying to find a more environment friendly substance and have been working with a corn and oil substance, but for now the plastic works because it melts and seals the pot not allowing any water or sand to get into the bread.

shows two mounds with a rock on top.

She showed us how they mark the mounds over the pots with different items to tell whose pot is underneath as the whole town can come down and bake their bread along the edge of the lake.

digging out the hole

The mound was dug to the side and she dug down to the pot about a foot down from the surface. The pot was flipped out of the hole with the shovel and hole made a bit deeper allowing the boiling water from the ground to fill the hole.

The new batch of bread was dropped into the hole and covered with dirt and a mound to better seal the heat in. It takes 24 hours for a pot to cook.

New pot in the boiling water and ready to be covered

After the new pot was covered, the hot one was placed in the lake water to cool it down. Then the plastic and lid were removed to reveal the bread. Our baker said there is always a 50/50 chance the bread won’t be done or water or sand could leak in. But ours turned out perfect. We entered the cafe, where the bread was dumped out of the pot, cut, and we were able to sample. She admitted it had a cup of sugar in it making it more of a dessert bread than a sandwich bread. I thought if it had some ginger and molasses it would have been a tasty gingerbread!

After lunch at Fontana we wend on to Geysir, a hot springs and spouting geysers. It is a small equivalent to Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park.

From there we went to Gullfoss- a three tiered waterfall. Here we walked the trail from the parking lot to the rocks above the waterfall. It was beautiful, but there were so many tourists it was hard to take in all the beauty. And we only had a set amount of time because we had more places to go.

And those places will be revealed in part four.

Iceland Trip- part two

View from the breakfast room in the hotel.

Day two of my Iceland trip started with breakfast on the top floor of the hotel before meeting with our guide in the hotel lobby. We loaded up into a small bus and started our trek of the Golden Circle.

The first stop was part of our literary tour. These stops usually were for our group alone and they all had knowledgeable speakers. This day we stopped at the home of Halldor Laxness (winner of the Novel Prize for Literature in 1955). The home and farm, Gljufrasteinn, had been in his family for more than half a century. Now it is open to the public as a museum.

A specialist on Laxness’ life gave us a rundown of his life as a child, adult, and into his later years as well as his frame of mind on each step of his literary works.

Our next stop reminded me of the history of American Indians. While it might be a far stretch for some, as we stood at Thingvellir, the open-air assembly area where the chieftains of each clan and many of their followers would meet for two weeks every year to settle disputes, I thought of the gatherings of American tribes as they traded and discussed the coming of changes. This assembly would set laws that all men would abide by. And it was here that the decision to convert from paganism to Christianity came, although they said they would live and believe as Christians to make the King of Denmark happy, they also agreed that they could still carry on some of their pagan ways as long as no one knew about it.

This is one of the “booth” mounds.

Their were mounds that revealed where “booths” of huts were built that people lived in while at the assembly for two weeks. Around 50 fragments of these booths built from stone and turf are visible. This is now a National Park and is visited by many tourists each year. But I could see the Icelanders of the 10th century meeting here- rowdy, loud, and demanding their quarrels be settled.

This was a long day- I’ll tell you more in the next two posts.

Iceland Trip- part one

The Pearl- one of the places we visited on the first day

I had a wonderful time on my trip to Iceland this last week. It was a birthday present to myself. When I received the information about the trip through the Authors Guild in an email and saw the trip was the week of my birthday, it felt like kismet. I told hubby about the trip and said I’d like to go. And being the best hubby ever, he said, “Go.”

The wonderful thing about this trip was it had been put together to not only take us to the usual tourist sites but it also had literary events set up just for us.

I left Boise, ID on Sunday afternoon and arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland at 8:30 am on Monday. An hour and a half later, after taking two buses from the airport to my hotel, Center Hotel Arnarhvoll, I had time to put my things in my room and grab lunch and meet our guide, Ragnor, in the lobby before we headed out to see the area near our hotel.

That day we toured the National Museum of Iceland. It had the story of the island and many exhibits of the way the earliest occupants lived. The first inhabitants of Iceland were Norsemen. They came from Norway in the 900s because they didn’t want to pay taxes and follow the rules of the king.

These first people were considered pagans because they didn’t have structured religious beliefs. Though through the Icelandic Sagas and what I learned, they had similar views of the earth and life as the American Indian. They believed there was a creator and also that earth, animals and the solar system had a part in their journeys on earth.

This was one side of the living space. See the other bed behind this one.

One of the interesting pieces of the museum was this replica of a house they would have lived in. The beds were not long enough for anyone to lie down. I was told they slept sitting up in the beds, each facing the opposite direction. This kept down the hanky-panky and allowed for family members and non-family members to share beds. A small home could sleep 8 people as there were four beds in this particular replica.

We drove by the Parliament building, sculptures, and many of the city’s landmarks. The other place we stopped was the Hallgrimskirkja church. It was beautiful and had a statue of Leif Erickson in front.

The huge organ in the church is the largest in Iceland.

The walk up the stairs was worth the views from the tower. We could see all of Reykjavik from all four sides of the tower.

That evening we had a three course dinner at a downtown restaurant. Even though it was fish (which we had at either lunch or dinner or both every day) I enjoyed the ambiance and the meal. As well as getting to know the 9 other members of our tour group.

This wall not only at one time held back the ocean, it was a wall of the restaurant where we had dinner the first night.

I’ll be posting a couple of blog posts a week here with photos and escapades of my Iceland trip. Follow my blog if you want to see all the things we did and photos of Iceland.