Iceland Trip- part five

Wednesday was an all day literary tour. We started at the Arni Magnusson Institute for Icelandic Studies at the University of Iceland. We viewed ancient manuscripts with the tales of how the island was found, populated, and traveled from democracy to being part of Denmark and back to democracy.

Specialist Gisli Sigurosson showed us the manuscripts and talked about Icelandic folklore and storytelling. How it had first been written down using calf skins and ink. And how the letters and writing were formed.

We walked to the Nordic Culture House for lunch and then joined two men at the Reykjavik City Library for the Dark Deeds Literary Walking Tour. The tour took place in the old downtown narrated with Icelandic crime fiction and ghost stories.

We started at the library with the story, “A Ghoul’s Greeting” from folktales collected by John Arnason.

City Library

From there we moved to the government building which was formally the jail. There an excerpt from “The Black Cliffs” by Gunnar Gunnarsson was read.

Old Jail

At the Culture House “The Saga of Grettir” translated by Bernard Scudder was read.

Briet Square (which I found odd because it was a circle) we heard an excerpt from “Drapa” by Gerdur Kristny and translation by Rory McTurk was read. This story was even more creepy after learning that the square was a memorial for a woman who had died in similar circumstances.

An excerpt of “Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was” by Sjon, translation by Victoria Cribb was read in the Parliament garden. It was a beautiful place for so dark a story.

And last a poem by Benedict Grondal, “To Bother” was read on the street beside his former home that is now a tourist site.

After “Dark Deeds” A literary Walking Tour, we walked back to the hotel and climbed on the bus to attend a cocktail reception in our honor at the Gunnarshus, a house given to the Writers’ Union of Iceland. The director of the union, an assistant, and two authors greeted us. We had wine or sparkling water, appetizers and talks by the two authors and discussions. It was interesting learning how writers in Iceland can put in for stipends to help them live while they write books. That is all but the crime fiction authors. It is felt by the union that because crime fiction novels are popular that the authors don’t need financial help. Yrsa Siguroardottir, who we met with the next day, had a different take on it. And not for her, but for the up and coming crime fiction writers.

The house was beautiful. It had been the house of a famous Icelandic author who started by writing in Danish to have a larger audience for his books. Upon his death the house went to the government who gave it to the Writers’ Union. They hold meetings, signings, and literary events at the house.

After the reception we returned to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It had been the easiest day on the trip and also the one that had my brain soaking in the most about writing and literature.

The next post will be about discovering the Icelandic Sagas.

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.