On our tour of downtown Reykjavik on the last day before departure, we visited a music store to purchase some Icelandic music. It was particularly interesting as the owner offered us a coffee and a chance to listen to some possible choices. I was urged to purchase one of their recent favorites- which, I discovered when I returned to Canada, was by a western band from South Dakota - not exactly what I had in mind! Oh well, it is sung in Icelandic.
Note there is no problem with roller blades being worn in the stores. NOT in Canada, I say!
Shown at right is the site of the Alþingi, the national parliament. Anglicized variously as Althing or Althingi, it means literally, "(the) all-thing" (= general assembly) of Iceland. It was founded in 930 at Þingvellir, (the "assembly fields" or "Parliament Plains"), situated approximately 45 km east of what would later become the country's capital, Reykjavík, and this event marked the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Even after Iceland's union with Norway, the Althing still held its sessions at Þingvellir until 1799, when it was discontinued for some decades. It was restored in 1844 and moved to Reykjavík, where it has resided ever since.
The sign at left indicates the valley layout. The actual Althing or parliament was held at the foot of the hills, with the representatives grouping together on a rise just above the flat valley terrain.
At right, son Leif is bonding with the statue of Leif Ericson, erected at the original site of his home. The following is a brief bio of this amazing Viking:
"Leif Ericson (Old Norse: Leifr Eiríksson c. 970 c. 1020) was a Norse explorer who is regarded as the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenland), nearly five hundred years before Christopher Columbus. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, which has been identified with the L'Anse aux Meadows Norse site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. It is believed that Leif was born about AD 970 in Iceland, the son of Erik Thorvaldsson known as Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr inn rauði), a Norse explorer from Western Norway, an outlaw and himself the son of an outlaw, Thorvald Asvaldsson. Leif Ericson had two brothers, Thorvald and Thorsteinn, and one half sister. He married a woman named Thorgunna, and they had one son, Thorkell Leifsson."
For a full biography on this incredible individual, just go here.
At Leif the Lucky's memorial site they have a replica of his original sod house. Dan knocked, but the old Viking didn't answer ... perhaps he was still out looking for new areas to explore...
An interesting photo of a volcanic layered rock formation containing the Stephanson boys! I didn't venture higher up as I felt the picture would look much better this way, (The truth is, I was already suffering from vertigo.)
At right I can be seen 'pretending' to bang on the door as the sign indicated that the Emigration Center was closed for the season. Almost immediately an employee came running from another building, greeted us merrily, and invited us to explore the museum.
"The Icelandic Emigration Center at Hofsos was founded in 1996 and dedicated to commemorate Icelandic emigrants to North America and to promote connections between their descendants and the people of Iceland. The Center now offers four exhibits in three separate buildings, as well as a genealogical information service, library facilities and more. The exhibitions combine text, photographs and tableaux to illustrate the conditions in Iceland that influenced the decision to emigrate, the journey to the New World and the new way of life they encountered."
And guess what!!! We found a room in the center dedicated to an Icelandic poet who must be an ancestor considering his name, Stephan G. Stephannson!!!
"In the Stephansson Study, visitors can learn about the poet Stephan G. Stephansson, read some of his writings, or engage in scholarly research. The exhibit was prepared by the Glaumbær Museum with the assistance of Viðar Hreinsson, who has recently completed both volumes of his definitive biography of Stephansson. Stephanssons life story is a fitting metaphor for the Icelandic emigrant experience: a youth spent in Iceland, a difficult journey to the New World, the effort of adapting to new ways, the movement from one settlement to another, and a lifetime of hard work."
With information from various sources including the Emigration Center, we were able to locate the farm where my paternal grandfather lived and worked as a young man. There is some question as to exactly where he was born, but nevertheless, it was still quite emotional to actually tread the same turf as he had over 100 years ago!
In the town of Akureyri, known as "The Capital of the North", we were amazed to find outdoor botanical gardens, as we were only 20 kms from the Arctic Circle!
Even though it was early September, some of the plants were just starting to bloom!
A truly spectacular sight considering the northern location. Yet another surprise in this amazing country!
Sheep were the predominant farm animal, grazing literally everywhere. As can be seen, they often were located in barren, volcanic areas which weren't exactly the best for fodder. Maybe they liked the warmer, dark terrain?
In spite of the apparent lack of suitable forage, they seem to thrive, as attested to by the wonderful rack of lamb dinner which we later enjoyed!
Icelandic horses, whose ancestors were great contributors to the agricultural development of Iceland, are beautiful animals, approximately three quarters the size of our familiar breeds.
I'm sure granddaughter Julianna, with her love of horses, would enjoy riding them!
Regardless of how barren and seemingly inhospitable much of the glacier and volcanic areas appeared, plant life still manages to take hold. The beauty of the lichens emerging from a rock crevice is readily apparent.
It seems life is not at all as fragile as we tend to think it is!
"Rub-a-dub dub, three Stephs in a tub!"
At some of the farm B&Bs, hot tubs were available. Sure felt good after a long day on the road!
As we journeyed, we made sure we enjoyed Iceland's special treats, kleiners and skyr (doughnuts and yogurt) in addition to all the other special foods.
One of our most enjoyable meals was in Husavik, a northern fishing and whaling town. After a long day, we discovered a tavern on the waterfront and the special that evening was pan-fried Arctic Char. It was scrumptious!!!
In summary, we had a 'whale' of a time!
"Takk fyrir", Iceland, for making us feel soooo welcome!
In the vernacular, "We'll be back!"
Note: To view visitors' takes on their vacations to Iceland just click HERE!
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