Iceland

“Do you use processed meat?” my daughter asked the dark haired lady behind the counter at the Loki Cafe. We were jet lagged, hungry and in need of something that Susanna could eat that didn’t contain the soy products so often found in processed foods.

“What is processed meat?” the lady replied. “All my meat is hanging up back there,” she explained, with a gesture towards the back of the cafe. We were reassured. There would be no soy in the food. We sat down at one of the little tables and enjoyed a delicious meal of Icelandic meat soup, rye bread and chocolate cake with whipped cream.

My husband, two daughters and I were in Reykjavik, en route to a tour of England, Scotland and Wales. This was my dream trip, given to me by my loving family, who knew how I had always longed to see England. Spending several days in Reykjavik was an added and exciting bonus.

After  our meal and a good night’s sleep, we set out to see the sights of the city. “There is no charge, today,” the bus driver said to my husband, when he tried to give him a ticket. We had unexpectedly stumbled upon Reykjavik’s Culture Day, which included special events, free museums and buses, shop displays and fireworks. Thousands of Icelanders walked the streets, delighting us with their unique and  lilting accents. Blonde children ran everywhere. Babies, in tight fitting bonnets, rode in what looked to me like old fashioned carriages. Susanna was horrified to find a baby parked unattended in a pram, outside a store. However, there is very little crime in Iceland and the thought of someone snatching a baby is a foreign one. Placing an infant outside to enjoy the sunshine is common and safe.

The shops beckoned to us and my husband, who seldom purchases anything beyond necessities, bought a book called The Little Book of The Icelanders by Alda Sigmundsdottir. This book is divided into topics explaining many quirks and customs of the Icelandic people. We had already noted the habit of the drivers to ignore hapless pedestrians trying to cross the roads!!

I made a small purchase of my own and was startled when the saleslady said, “That will be 1,000.”

“1,000?” I squealed.

“”1,000,” she repeated calmly, no doubt wondering if all Canadians were as dense as I was. She meant 1,000 ISK, about eight  dollars, but hearing 1,000 in any currency gives me a fright!

We wandered into a fabulous bookstore called Mal og Menning and discovered a cafe, Sufistinn, on the second floor. Now this was something I could understand: an Icelandic Chapters/ Starbucks!! Well, not exactly, but the concept seemed the same, good books and food in combination. Some of the titles were in Icelandic but many were in English. We had croissants, Earl Grey tea, coffee and other snacks  and perused  the stacks of literature.

Some of the restaurants offered  delicacies such as puffin and whale. A group of eager youth, intent on saving the whales, asked us to sign a petition promising that we would never eat whale meat. We signed immediately and have had no occasion to be tempted otherwise!

Later in the afternoon, we headed for the museums. Here we learned about the strength and resilience of the Icelandic people. We learned about Ingolfur Arnarson, an early settler in the Reykjavik area and Leif  Ericson, a voyager  who helped spread Christianity to Iceland and other parts of the world. In The Settlement Exhibition or Landnamssyningin, we pondered an excavated Viking longhouse, originating from about 930 AD. A diagram explained what the various parts of the longhouse were used for. We all recognize the horned helmets reportedly worn by Viking warriors, but here was a real house, once inhabited by real people, so different from us and yet perhaps with hopes and fears not that dissimilar.

The greatest discovery for me was that this little country, which I had barely thought about before our trip, has a long and rich literary history. At the Culture House, we discovered The Medieval Manuscripts: the Eddas and Sagas. My husband was fascinated to hear from a museum guide that Icelanders can read Old English much easier than we can, because of its strong resemblance to their own language. In a corner of the Culture House, we found a tribute to JRR Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the famous The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Tolkien studied Old Icelandic at university and undoubtedly the stories he read influenced his own fanciful tales.

On our bus trip from Keflavik airport to Reykjavik and back, we were struck by the piles  of lava rock, scarcity of trees and looming volcanoes. A shop lady told us that we were fortunate that the weather was so warm. It was 20 degrees, a temperature that  is reached only once or twice during the summer months. Iceland, like many countries, has a history of control by foreign peoples. Large areas of land are not fit for human habitation. A man on a bus told me that there are more sheep in Iceland than people. The threat of volcanic eruption is ever present. Yet, out of all this has come a people who are independent, colourful, intelligent and rich in tales and legends. If you have the opportunity, this country is not to be missed!

Fran By the Sea

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6 thoughts on “Iceland

  1. Well, I never was tempted to go to Iceland before, and now I want to go! I loved joining you on your travels. It was fascinating to learn that old English was so similar to Icelandic.

    • Thanks, Belinda! I had never really thought of going to Iceland either and found it a fascinating country! Isn’t it interesting that the Icelandic is so like Old English!! I had no idea Iceland had such a literary history!

  2. What a lovely travelogue! You noted so many interesting little details, I felt like I was with you in that bookstore and on the colorful street, dodging cars and gawking at the interesting people, clothes, and customs. Will you be sharing more of your travels?

    • Thank you for your kind comments!! The bookstore was really charming. We found our time in Iceland so interesting. On the way back from England, we stopped over for several hours at the Keflavik airport and I had a last look at the volcanoes in the distance before boarding our plane. Thanks for the encouragement! I do plan to write more. The next one will be about London, probably The Tower of London.

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