Greetings and welcome to Dinosaur Bear!
This post’s title “Loose Ends in Reykjavík,” might have been more properly written as “Tying Up Loose Ends in Reykjavík,” but I kind of like the mystery that’s invoked by the lack of the “tying up” portion. This time around I’m just going to ramble about the waning months of our time here in Iceland, but most definitely not the waning sunlight – as we have OH SO MUCH of that. This will also act as the “graduation post” that I’ve alluded to. I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d make time for such a post, but then I decided to just sequentially write this post over the course of several weeks. This is something I’ve done before and it seemed to work ok, and heck, I’ve even spent over an entire month writing a post before. As such, this post will probably end up being a doozy.
So let’s see, while my last post was about the Ring Road, chronologically (in real life) the last post was about Springtime. That post ended with a day-trip adventure here in Reykjavík and not-so-coincidentally a good chunk of this post is going to focus on day-adventures as well. Thus, the “loose ends” are in fact just things that we’ve wanted to do, or still need to do (e.g. graduate) before we leave later this summer. In fact, this “looming departure” (I put it in scare quotes because it’s technically still over 1.5 months away at the time of this portion of the writing) has begun to bleed over into other aspects of our life. One prime example is shopping. We’re no strangers to big moves, but when you’re entirely limited to a suitcase it means you have to make some difficult decisions on what you do, and do not, take with you. An easy thing in the “nope” category is food, so as a result we’ve been having a lot of those “everything but the kitchen sink” kinds of meals where you through a bunch of stuff together and hope you don’t get botulism.
I actually have a pretty good track record with such dishes, and while the above might just look like a blob of red paste, it turned out really tasty (and I am not dead, so there’s that). In addition to clearing stuff out, we’ve gotten a little “weak” in our resistance to outside food, though to be fair “weak” to us means getting take-out food one time. When it’s just been SB and I, we’ve genuinely went out and ate one time the entire time we’ve lived here, so even take-out (non-pizza) food is a surprising twist for us.
SB found a place called “Lemon” (yep, just “Lemon” – surprisingly straightforward insofar as Iceland goes). They specialize in sandwiches and smoothies. When SB went in they were having a BOGO on both the sammiches and the smoothies, so that was an easy choice. The pink smoothie was Iceland themed, whereas the yellow smoothie was Spain themed. Both were good, as were the sandwiches (though as point of reference, even with the BOGO this was still like a $23 meal). So, considering the price-tag of getting food from restaurants we have instead opted to continue acquiring most of our noms from budget stores, we’ve just extended the range of our noms to include such magical things as desert pizza.
Come to think of it, I think we’ve had more pizza lately than I’ve had in a long time – I’m talking six straight days of pizza. To be truthfully honest I don’t like delivery/take-out pizza that much anymore. Ever since SB and I started making our pizzas almost exclusively at home (back in Cambridge) I’ve lost my taste for the ultra-greasy made-to-order pizzas. However, there is still much to be said for “free” and when SB’s work had some leftover pizza from a weekend-overtime event SB was able to bring home an untouched jalapeño pizza from Dominoes.
We’ve determined that “kracklecorn” is either just a variant of “kettle corn” or is so similar as to be essentially the same thing. Regardless, all the flavors we’ve had have been pretty yummy – at least when Tristen shares them.
However, in fairness to us, not everything we’ve been partaking of has been junk-food-ish. For starters, our “kitchen sink” meals tend to use what we have, which is usually healthier things. Second, we’ve also been making a push to go through a lot of the tea that we’ve acquired (both from Iceland and from other countries thanks to the Boys’ friends!).
In the evenings it is not uncommon for me to have some tea and cherry tomatoes (that’s a tomato package lid on the right, for reference). I realize that might seem like a weird combo, but Iceland may well have the best tomatoes I’ve ever encountered in my life, and I’ve had some good maters. Of course in a counterpoint to that bit about healthy eating, the tea is usually preceded by a beer – if one considers a near-beer to actually be a beer that is.
On the topic of beer, because I always find a way to include beer, I recently acquired what may be one of my last rounds of real beer here.
It was supplemented a bit more than what you see in the above photo thanks to a second trip by SB when she was out hunting for some clothes, but nonetheless its weird to think about that I may well have made my last (or at least very close to last) visit to Vínbúðin of my life. Anyways, enough about beer and food (for now at least). Let’s instead turn for the moment to the continued adventures of SB and Taco in Reykjavík. After our visit to the Grótta Island Lighthouse the next item up on the list was Nauthólsvík Beach. Nauthólsvík is a geothermal beach located about a 35 or 40 minute walk from where we live. I’d technically been to Nauthólsvík once before when I went on a run very shortly after we had moved here (coincidentally one of my last outdoor runs, as the coastal wind took any possible enjoyment I might have had out of it). However, we’d never been back mostly because winter came (and stuck around for a very long time). So, we’d be meaning to get over there for a while and made plans to do just that one afternoon after SB got off work.
We first stopped into the store to get some picnic stuff (yay!) and then began making our way along the coast toward the beach. It was wonderful weather compared to what we had been having, and was even in the mid-50s.
There is a very nice path that runs along the coast (this is the southern portion of the path we’d used to get out near the lighthouse). In parts its a dual bike and pedestrian path (not that Icelanders care about that, one of my biggest pet-peeves here is their biking culture which seems to equate to “I ride my bike where I want, how I want, when I want, and I will force you to move even on a pedestrian-only path.”) and in other parts the paths diverge as they wind their way along the coast. The path also skirts around the edges of the Reykjavíkurflugvöllur (domestic airport), which means you get some up-close landing viewings if you time it right.
Just a few inlets beyond the longest runway is the beach itself. There are a bunch of boat houses just up from the beach, and we got to see some little boats getting ready to go out for an adventure of their own as we were walking up.
The last time I was there the water was a good 2-3x higher than that, and the “hot tub” pictured at left in the above photo was entirely surrounded by ocean water. Still, we weren’t really there for the water to be entirely honest – as the water was about 9C (~48F) outside of those areas which are geothermally heated (those areas were closer to 15-16C, or 59-61F). The hot tubs were much warmer, but still not as warm what you would expect if your definition of hot tub is based around Murkan’ hot tubs. Instead we were just there to relax and enjoy the sun, so Pigsten wasted no time building himself up a sand pile.
We did end up going swimming, or rather I ended up going swimming as SB just put her feet in the water. Some areas were extremely cold, other areas were akin to Pleasure Bay, and still others (where geothermal activity was happening) were comfortably warm. Of course Iceland being Iceland, no sooner than we had got there and gotten set up, the sun went behind the clouds and the wind picked up (this is a recurring theme for us). So we didn’t end up staying as long as we anticipated, but we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying our picnic, playing in the sand some, making sure the seagulls didn’t eat Pigsten, and watching some planes and helicopters land (which is also similar to Pleasure Bay).
After a bit the wind transitioned us back over into “cold” territory, so we packed up our stuff and made our way home – leaving behind only a print from my wet butt and some things Pigsten had gathered around his sand pile.
While we were a little bummed that things cooled off so quickly after we walked all the way out to the beach, it was still a nice way to spend the afternoon together – and it was free!
The funny thing is, now that I think about it, when the sun went behind the clouds that day I don’t think it came back out with any longevity until the summer solstice (discussed later), and I’m not exaggerating for effect, I mean it seriously didn’t even poke out at all for over two weeks.
Now, the absence of sun doesn’t mean the absence of light. We’re up to what is essentially 24 hours of daylight as I write this, but I’ll get back to that in a bit. For now I’m going to proceed on to the next item on our list, which was – despite our not having been to it – extremely close by: The National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands). When I say extremely close by, I mean it – as the museum is located just beyond university’s main building. On our way to the museum we passed some people covered in all sorts of colors – SB guessed correctly that there must have been a Color Run (or Litahlaupið in Icelandic), which also explained a lot of loud music that had been coming from Tjörnin as well as the stage/festival area we’d seen them setting up the day before on our way to Bónus.
What’s nice about the National Museum is that, like many museums these days, it has its own cafe. Now, we had been to the cafe before – way back when we first moved here and were meeting some Icelanders to help us figure out what was milk and what was a giant tub of yogurt (true story). So, naturally, we started our outing with some coffee at the cafe. In particular, we started with some glorious iced coffee. Now, you might be humorously thinking that iced coffee would be easy to find in Iceland, but in truth it is not. In fact the vast majority of cafes don’t have it. So when we saw an opportunity to have some we pounced. For SB’s part she went with the classic iced latte, I, however, had to be me and get something weird (this is a pattern for me) and get a mixture of iced espresso and orange juice.
And I have to say it was pretty good. The bitterness of the espresso mixed nicely with the acidity of the orange juice. I’d definitely get it again – of course I also like (certain kinds of) beer and orange juice mixed together, so maybe I’m biased.
After some coffee and chatting we made our way into the museum (woo student tickets!). The museum covers Iceland’s prehistory, settlement, and everything in between up to the present. One of the first displays I found interesting was a cross-section from the ground that showed the ash layers from all the eruptions over the past 1200 years or so.
I can honestly say I’m glad I wasn’t around for that 1389 Hekla eruption.
They also had the “Book of Icelanders” (Íslendingabók) which dates to the early 12th century and is one of the scarce reliable sources on early Icelandic history. I thought that was pretty cool to be able to see.
Another big theme in the museum was Iceland’s conversion from “paganism” to Christianity (Catholicism followed later by Lutheranism thanks to some ehm.. good ole fashion violence). As such, they had a lot of relics from that transitory period and beyond, including a really well preserved Romanesque crucifix.
You’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t look like you’ve probably seen him on other crucifixes. One interesting thing I’ve learned about that (both here and in Israel) is that the imagery we typically associated with the crucifix really only came into existence after (roughly) the 1200s or so, when the Gothic crucifix became the norm. In the earlier Romanesque crucifixes Jesus was normally looking up/straight-forward, was wearing a more traditional King’s crown (i.e. not thorns), and was more of the “Come at me brah” demeanor. Later, given changes in both culture, religious views, and simply style, the Gothic crucifix superseded the earlier depictions of Jesus. The Gothic style Jesus is the one I grew up seeing, with Jesus looking down, being more limp, usually bloodied, and with the Crown of Thorns. Considering the local culture, the Romanesque style of Jesus had much more staying power in Iceland than did the Gothic style.
In addition to the wooden crucifix, they had a lot of other wooden items in their collection, including entire sections of church walls, with engravings, from the 12th century.
As wet and harsh as it is here I was honestly surprised to see as many wooden items as they had, but I guess that speaks to good craftsmanship and someone who cares. On a similar note they also had a copy of the Guðbrandsbiblía (Guðbrand’s Bible) which was completed in 1584 and is the first Icelandic language translation of the bible (so basically the Gutenberg of Iceland).
One section of the museum that I found really interesting (being the morbid person I am) was the information about how the black death (the Bubonic plague, not Brennivín) had affected Iceland. Turns out, very badly – and during one of the plagues Iceland lost over half of its entire population.
There was also a neat section about the history of the Icelandic horse and riding in general in Iceland. As I know essentially nothing about horses, husbandry, etc. I learned that during in earlier times women generally only learned how to ride side-saddle, or “aside” the horse, with both legs on one side of the horse, while men rode with one leg on each side of the horse, or “astride.” They even had purpose-made side-saddle/aside saddles for women.
Once we’d made our way up to the third floor (the museum consists of three public floors, with 1 being noms and info, and 2-3 being exhibits) there was a section about crime and punishment in Iceland’s earlier history, and I thought the quote “Their injustice is bad, but their justice is worse” was really thought-provoking and still applicable in many ways today.
The museum had some materials on superstition and folklore as well, and one item that I found interesting was this somewhat creepy wooden mask that they still don’t know the true purpose of aside from the fact that it was found in tunnels under a farm (that’s some real B-grade horror material right there).
Unsurprisingly the museum had a good bit of nautical items as well, including those based around exploration. I thought the earlier attempts at mapping Iceland were pretty dang good all things considered.
This same section also talked about the importance of fishing and the development of the schooner to Iceland’s history. Pigsten was a big fan of the industry-based stories.
The museum concludes with the period from 1900 onward, and one thing I found interesting was the history of Iceland’s modern flag. While I’m no vexillologist I do enjoy learning about the history of flags, and besides what the colors of Iceland’s current flag correspond to, I knew nothing else about it. Turns out the present flag’s design dates to June, 1915 (and was subsequently adopted by the then-independent Iceland on June 17, 1944). Prior to that there were several flags, but the most prominent one looked like this:
You’ll immediately notice the lack of the red Nordic Cross. What makes the above flag interesting is that it was actually illegal to fly, as the Icelanders were still under Danish rule and were thus required to fly the Danish Flag. However, as the Icelanders grew increasingly restless of the Danish Crown, they began to fly the blue and white flag above with more and more impunity. In fact, the very flag shown above was taken down from a vessel in Reykjavík’s Harbor on June 12, 1913 by an angry Danish captain who was coming into port. Of course just a few years later in 1918 Iceland would go from a Danish territory to a freely associated state, and then later still in 1944 would break away from Denmark entirely. Interesting stuff.
Just beyond the flag was the most contemporary area of the museum, where exhibits were chronologically laid out on a baggage carousel – a fitting choice considering the massive impact of airline travel on Iceland.
These exhibits ranged from pretty significant (such as items taken from the German Consul during the British Invasion of Iceland) to the more mundane, such as the introduction of video games to the country!
They also had a few bits about the intersection of traditional Icelandic culture and more modernized external cultures, with art pieces such as this plastic version of a Þjóðbúningurinn (Icelandic national costume) being one such representation.
After we were done in the museum we made our way down to the gift shop. Shockingly they do not force you through the gift shop on your way out. We didn’t end up getting anything, mostly due to price, but we did find a book on Icelandic monsters which not only included Tristen’s worm friend, but also the “King of Bears.”
By the time we got out of the building it was raining pretty decently, so we got pretty wet on the way home, but at least it wasn’t too far of a walk – and honestly we don’t even feel the rain that much anymore as you have to just stop caring at a certain point.
After that it was a mostly normal weekend (other than SB’s aforementioned weekend overtime) and then the next week was fairly normal as well. Things have been pretty slow around here lately. Most of the people are gone, though unfortunately we’ve still got one bunch of partiers next to us and then during the day the construction site makes lots of noise – and they have heir own music as well. So while things have gotten better, this is still a decently noisy place to be. Campus itself has been practically dead though. June 7th was the last of the “resit” exams (yes, there are both makeup and resit exams, and yes they last over an entire month after the end of classes) and thus there’s really nothing going on campus outside of special events. Most beneficially to me, the gym is also much less crowded too.
Then the academic buildings which were bustling with activity just a month ago are now pretty barren.
Of course there’s also the fact that the university closes for all of July. I don’t mean, “goes to reduced staff,” I mean the whole place is closed-closed. It’s kind of weird, but then again this entire past year could be called “kind of weird.” So, between exams being over, and graduation looming, campus has been blissfully empty (aside from the campus cats, but let’s not get Tristen started on those fellows, shall we?). If you’re curious about my graduation, have no fear I’ll also get to that in a bit [lot’s to cover in this post!].
The next week, much like the weekend, was fairly normal. The one exception to that was that we did go out again (!) – nothing too crazy or extravagant, but we did go out for some afternoon coffee and a snack at a place called Stofan Café. “Stofan” literally translated, means “living room” – and that’s precisely how the two floor cafe is set up. Each floor looks more like a living room area than a traditional cafe/diner, which makes for a really neat ambience. They also have really good food and coffee, though the food is pretty expensive even for Reykjavík (I’m talking roughly $26 for a panini expensive). What’s more fun about Stofan than the fact that we went, is how we came about deciding to go in the first place. Rather than hearing about it through the normal channels, it was a recommendation by one of the Boys’ friends (yes, a recommendation from a stuffed animal, deal with it) and it came with high praise of being their favorite cafe ever! So, needless to say we had to try it, and it turned out to be delicious!
Of course, as mentioned, we don’t really have the funds to even have these minor outings, so while I’m sure we’ll sneak in a few more before we leave ( 😉 ), in the meantime we’ll stick to more affordable (yet still expensive) coffee specialties from the corner store.
After our outing to Stofan Café the rest of the week flowed fairly typically, at least until Friday. Which, on that note, we’ll now turn to the next local adventure – which may well be the longest in-planning adventure we’ve had here in Iceland – climbing Mt. Esja. However, as is usual for me, before I get to the hike itself I first need to talk about the lead up to the hike. As Esja is a good clip away from us we were left with two options, take a series of long bus rides and hope the timing works out, or rent a car. After some back and forth about cost, we decided to just go ahead and rent a car to make things easier and also so we could use it to do our weekly grocery shopping. We found a deal online where we were limited to 150km (~92 miles), which was more than enough for this particular trip – so we went with that. The deal included a full size car too, which is something unsual for us! We determined that this car, a Toyota Avensis, was a boy and that his name was Flóki!
Once we’d picked up Flóki we headed into the Hlemmur area of Reykjavík to see a new Bónus! While parking we had to figure out their parking ticket computer – a task which proved more complex than one might imagine. Here’s a ticket for you to see if you can figure it out. 🙂
For desert we had Iceland’s well-known donut, the Kleinur (though it’s not specific to Iceland and is found elsewhere too). We’re a big fan of them, and they are in some ways similar to what I grew up calling “cake donuts” – just in a more magical shape.
I’m kidding, that photo is actually from nearly 1am the night before – however we did get up early, the amount of sunlight doesn’t change much here anymore regardless of whether it is 1am, 1pm, or anywhere in-between.
So, anyways, about Mt. Esja. First off, Esja is just north of Reykjavík and it’s so ubiquitous with the city’s skyline that some people simply call it the “city mountain.” This name, if not exactly eloquent, is fitting when you consider the fact that mountain looms over Reykjavík, and I do mean looms.
That above photo is obviously from winter, but it nicely shows Esja’s size and position in relation to the capital. Now, here it’s important to note that “Esja” is somewhat of a misnomer, as there is no singular Mt. Ejsa – despite people referring to it as “Mt. Esja” more than anything else. Instead, “Mt.” Ejsa is actually a volcanic mountain range. The “mountain” encompasses an area of about 150 square meters (~60 square miles) and is 914 meters (~2999 ft) tall at it’s highest point, Hábunga (a word which makes me think of the Ninja Turtles). Esja is neither Iceland’s biggest nor tallest mountain (that’s Mt. Hvannadalshnjukur, for reference, which clocks in at 2,110 meters [6,920 ft] high), but Ejsa is likely Iceland’s most famous mountain due to its easily accessible location outside the capital.
Now, as mentioned, “Esja” is actually a collection of mountains, thus to if you were to say “I climbed Esja” – while technically not incorrect – doesn’t say much about which specific mountain within Esja you climbed. However, most people take the route which leads up to Steinn (literally, “stone”) which is on Þverfellshorn. Steinn is not at the summit of Þverfellshorn, but is instead about about 183 meters (~597 ft) below the Varða/summit of Þverfellshorn. Most people don’t go beyond Steinn because those last 600 feet or so are more difficult than the entire hike up to Steinn, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.
As I mentioned earlier, we’d been planning to hike Esja basically since we first saw her. When we were shortly thereafter told of the trail, that only cemented those plans. However, life being life and weather being weather, we never ended up doing it before winter and time just kept marching on. So, climbing Ejsa was one of our top bucket list/loose end items for Iceland. We’d hoped for good weather for the hike, but in Iceland such hopes can keep you waiting for a long time (and at this point we still hadn’t a sunny day since the morning of our aforementioned beach trip). So, we eventually just settled on a date (June 16th) and went for it – and of course it turned out to be raining. However we didn’t let that stop us, so we had some coffee, put on the rain gear, and hopped in Flóki for the drive out to Mt. Ejsa.
Living in Reykjavík it’s a rare moment when you can’t see the mountain, though as the next photo illustrates, it’s not common to see the top of the mountain (sound familiar?).
The trail-head is just a short clip outside the city, which might seem somewhat surprising but you also have to remember that basically as soon as you get outside of the metropolitan area you are in the “great outdoors.”
Once we were parked we got situated for our hike and then began the march upward. The starting area has a pretty well done sign which shows the various trails and checkpoints you can reach from this particular starting point.
Because I tend to be a faster upward hiker than SB (even while carrying a certain pair of dinosaurs) I was able to stop and get a nice photo which showed how far we’d climbed by this point. On the left you’ll see Pigsten – ever the rock lover – and then more to the middle-right you can see the road we took the base of the mountain. To the right is the ocean (this is a hike that starts at basically sea-level), and then ever so slightly in the mist beyond that you can see the eastern edge of Reykjavík.
Now, I have to admit, I don’t know the history of Steinn – aside from the fact that it’s a rock. Steinn is Checkpoint #5 on the trail to Þverfellshorn, so there’s still two point Checkpoints to go before you reach the summit. However, with Steinn being located at 597 meters (~1958 ft) many people choose to just hike to this point. There are good views to be had and the trail isn’t too extreme up until that point. Here’s a shot of SB making the final push up to Steinn.
There’s also a guest book (within a weatherproof box) to sign at Steinn, though it was torn to shreds and soaked when we checked it, which was kind of sad. We, however, decided to press on to the top since at that point we were “only” about 183m/600ft from the top. The thing is, just after Steinn the trail really kicks it up a few notches, and I don’t say that lightly. For instance, this is what we were dealing with:
Yet our perseverance was rewarded when we finally made it to the top – and Pigsten quickly claimed his sundial as he always does (and yes I realize these aren’t actually sundials, Pigsten just calls them that).
The sundial and above cairn aren’t actually the true “peak” of Þverfellshorn, as the mountain continues to slope slightly upward for just a bit beyond that point. There is a second, smaller, cairn that is within site of the “lower” cairn, so the Boys and I made our way towards that cairn as well. Here’s a shot of us approaching it across the rocky summit.
You’ll notice that everything is just a massive field of rocks. This area, Varða, literally translates to “rock pile” – and now you can see why. Varða marks the summit of Þverfellshorn and is about 780 meters (~2559 ft) above sea level. Thus, if you are counting, the climb up from Steinn to Varða is only about 183m/600ft (in comparison to the total climb of 780m/2559ft) but it is by far the most difficult part of the entire hike, without contest. It’s also important to note that this is a “sea-level” hike, meaning that you essentially start at sea-level and work up from there. This, in turn, means that while Esja isn’t even close to the the tallest mountain I’ve hiked, it’s also still a pretty decent hike when you consider the elevation you started at.
[Taco Thought: On similar note, if you count total rise from base to summit, as opposed to just raw height, Mt. Denali is taller than Mt. Everest]
Pigsten of course had to add a rock to this second, higher cairn as well.
It was also surprisingly not windy up there (even Pigsten wasn’t getting blown around), which was pretty good as we still got pretty dang cold during our time up top. After that we made our way back down to Steinn, which was just as arduous as coming up and we even had a few true-vertical descents along the way. At Steinn we took a different path than the one we took up for a change of scenery (there are two paths which lead to Steinn). This path wasn’t nearly as rocky, but it was very… very.. muddy.
Just as a point of reference, here’s a more distant shot of Þverfellshorn. That last rocky climb to Varða might not look like much from far away, but it is. It is. In fact I later read that there were supposedly chains somewhere to help you with the climb, but we sure as heck never saw them.
In total, we went from trail-head to summit to trail-head in 3 hours and 3 minutes, inclusive of all stops/photos/etc. I was pretty pleased with that considering that most people say 4+ hours for the hike. Needless to say, with all that hiking in the rain (then sleet, then snow, then sleet, then rain again) we were both cold and hungry. Fortunately, some enterprising person has placed a restaurant literally at the base of the mountain – as in, you walk right past it when you are going to and from your car.
It also just so happened to be just after 1pm, which coincidentally was when the Iceland vs. Argentina World Cup 2018 game was about to start. This is a big deal because 1) Iceland has never made it to the World Cup Tournament before (they’ve previously made it to the qualifiers, but never the tournament), and 2) Iceland is the smallest country by population to ever make it to the World Cup. So, massive underdogs. To make matters worse, Argentina was favored to win by 79% – not great odds for Iceland. So, with the game just getting ready to start as we walked in the door we got some coffees and a sandwich to share and settled in in front of the huge TV.
We ended up watching the entire game in the restaurant, and the two Icelanders working there were very into it but I don’t blame them. What was really cool, is that Iceland tied with Argentina (1-1)! While this isn’t a “win” per se, for Iceland it basically was a win because when your opponent is favored by 79% just tying them is a victory (though Argentina was obviously not pleased). I won’t explain all the World Cup rules here, but the gist of it is that Iceland continued on and a tie was really good news for them.
After the game was over we headed to the Bónus in Mosfellsbær so that Pig could meet another Bónus and so we could pick up some milk (with a tiny fridge we have to restock on milk pretty constantly). There was also a Vínbúðin right next to the Bónus that we went into so that SB could try to hunt down Aunt Sommelier’s most recent wine recommendation. Unfortunately SB didn’t find the wine she was looking for, but I picked up three more beers.
Yes, I’m obsessed. However, there were four beers I hadn’t seen before and I only got three of them. Checkmate haters. Once Flóki was back home (we only had him for 24 hours) we settled in for the evening. Around 7pm several of our neighbors lost their minds and began partying more loudly than we think they’d ever partied before. At one point they were screaming and jumping up and down en masse. It was lovely. It continued until past 1am (which is when we went to sleep) so I don’t know when it actually ended, or rather, when they decided to go out to the bars/clubs (which as mentioned can happen as late as 4am). The partying was likely so bad for two reasons. First, Iceland’s “victory” (i.e. draw) in their first ever World Cup match, and second, the next day (June 17th) was the Icelandic National Day, or rather Iceland’s independence day. While we didn’t celebrate nearly as hard as our neighbors, we did enjoy an Icelandic beer named after a Norse mythological figure (Sleipnir – yes, from the canyon!) no less.
As for the Icelandic National Day (which also happened to fall on Father’s Day this year), we didn’t do much of anything because it was a rainy day (still no sun since the beach day at that point) and also because we were tired and sore from our big hike. However, since I am technically an Icelandic Resident, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t explain a little bit of what the National Day is about.
The Icelandic National Day, which is held on June 17th each year, marks the celebration of the founding of the Republic of Iceland on June 17th, 1944. Up until that point Iceland had been a sovereign state since 1918, but had maintained a free association with Danish Monarchy. Thus, in essence, while Iceland was a free state, it was still associated – by choice – with Denmark (i.e. the King of Denmark was still the King of Iceland). However, during WW2 and after the British Invasion of 1940, Iceland decided to break away from the Danish Crown entirely, and with Denmark then occupied by Nazi Germany, Danish King Christian X could do little more than congratulate the Icelanders on their referendum (6/17/44). Afterwards, the King was replaced by Iceland’s first President, Sveinn Björnsson. As mentioned earlier, this was also when the contemporary flag was constitutionally adopted.
Today, the National Day is celebrated across the entirety of Iceland, with parades, Icelandic horses, speeches, concerts/music, and in the case of our neighbors: screaming and jumping until at least 1am. The trademark staple of the National Day is the speech and recitation of a poem by Fjallkonan (“the woman of the mountain”). Fjallkonan is the female personification of Iceland herself – think Libertas for Rome (and also the U.S.), Marianne for France, etc. Fjallkonan is both a symbol and a vision for Iceland, and thus what she has to say is deeply important.
Fjallkonan appears on the National Day dressed in the Þjóðbúningurinn (this is the national costume, also mentioned above when I was covering the museum). She then recites a poem which usually relates to the fierce spirit of the Icelandic people and of the island’s raw natural power. After that the festivities continue. This year (likely due to their World Cup placement) Google even made a doodle for the Icelandic National Day.
After the adventurous weekend was behind us, we continued on into what was technically our last “normal” M-F week in Iceland. By normal I mean, work, normal schedule, nothing travel related, nothing moving related, etc. That was kind of a weird thought. Of course this is not to say that the week itself was normal, as Wednesday got off to a nice start with our first decently sunny day in over two weeks (so since beach day morning – June has been very gloomy here – record setting, in fact [lucky us and our crappy weather record history]), and Thursday (June 21st) brought with it the longest daylight hours of the entire year. In fact, early on Wednesday morning – and by early I mean midnight – we were treated to our first ever “midnight rainbow.”
As you can tell from that photo, at one point it was even a partial double rainbow. While I am fortunate to have been able to see many things in my life thus far, this was definitely the first time I’ve ever seen a rainbow a midnight (though as I’ve discussed previously, Iceland delivers a lot of rainbows – at least when we don’t have total cloud cover). The rainbow was doubly appreciative because it marked the beginning of the only fully sunny day we’ve had in the entirety of June. This was timely because that evening – or rather, the next morning – was the shortest night of the year. June 21st brought with it a “sunset” of 12:03am and a “sunrise” of 2:55am. If you noted my scare-quotes around those terms, that was definitely intentional. I used them because you really need to forget the connotations of “sunrise” and “sunset” when you are discussing Iceland in summer. It’s easy to mistake them as actually meaning something outside of meteorological charts. In truth, while the sun may have “set” and “rose” – for practical purposes it did no such thing. Indeed, there was in a more civil sense, 0 seconds of darkness – and even more practically, 0 seconds of anything that even remotely resembled darkness.
SB and I know this because we (and the Boys) had an “all night” longest-day-of-the-year watch party. For us all night actually meant staying up until 3am rather than all night, but the general idea was the same – stay up until the sun “came up.” Here, you may be wondering if I’m exaggerating things about the whole “0 seconds of anything like darkness” bit. I wouldn’t blame you. So here’s a photo of what was the “darkest” point of the “night.”
So yeah, I think you see what I’m talking about. As for us, we made a party out of the longest day/shortest night and had a few beers. I started with a potentially ironic dark stout, and then we also had a more thematically fitting arctic berry ale.
In addition to unlocking a “World Cup” badge for my first Untappd check-in, I also unlocked an Iceland-specific badge, which I thought was kind of appropriate (though I probably found it to be more interesting that it actually was since it was 2am and I was tired).
Along with our beers we had some snacks SB had brought home, including some bean chips we like as well as our first ever lamb jerky – something that was difficult to get Tristen to share after he claimed the entire bag.
Then, after the 2:55am (“sunrise”) had come and gone, we made our way to bed as we all had normal days the next day despite our late-night escapades. This was the final photo I took around 3am and you can already tell it’s getting brighter again – so much for night time (and praise Baby Jesus for black-out curtains).
While we were appreciative of the fact that we got a very nice evening to enjoy the solstice weather-wise, the unfortunate reality is that it was mostly a fluke as this June has just been downright depressingly rainy (see the record-setting link above). By the time we woke up the next day it was already grey and raining again – not that Pigsten let that stop him from getting some work done.
So, with rain still a fallin’ we spent Thursday evening making some brownies for SB’s final day of work on Friday!
The brownies turned out to be super yummy, and considering that, of two entire boxes, none made it home it would seem that SB’s co-workers agreed! Of course Friday did have a bit of a downside to it that made the Boys a little resistant to get out of bed:
The downside was that it was for time to say goodbye to our beloved Iceland plant buddies.
Yes, due to some upcoming traveling we decided that it would be best to go ahead and sell our three aloe plants: Þórunn (White Pot – left), Logi (Red Pot – middle), and Gunter (Blue Pot – right). This is of course a sad occasion for us, but the good news is that no sooner than SB had listed them for sale, one of her co-workers decided they wanted them. The even better news is that SB’s coworker is also a plant-nerd who names their plants, so Þórunn, Logi, and Gunter got to go live in a new home with three more plant friends – all of whom are named George (because George was once one plant that got big and then became three Georges). So that was really cool, and thus while we will miss our Icelandic plants, we are glad they went to a good home.
Not one to let the departure of our plant friends or the gloomy weather get the best of our Friday, we headed out into town to try another cafe which was one our bucket list (yes, I realize that in this very post I talked about how we never went out and have now mentioned two cafes, but in this same post I’ve also talked about how we are running out of time 😛 ). On the way we passed a world cup viewing party going on at Tjörnin.
The cafe this time around was Café Babalú, which scores points on name alone. Perhaps unsurprising based on the name, it’s a very eclectic cafe.
There are even two floors, though we opted to eat on the first floor as it was surprisingly warm in there considering how cold it was outside (though one of the employees open the door shortly thereafter and cooled it down real quick 🙂 ).
For food we went with a savory crepe which was really tasty. Maybe I was just crepe starved as it had been a good while since I’ve had a crepe, but it was very good.
After that we headed over to our usual Bónus which was freakishly deserted. I mean it was no secret why it was essentially empty (World Cup), but it was still really weird considering that the location we go to is one of the busier ones simply because of its central location. At Bónus we picked up some burritos for dinner as well as some ice cream. Even more exciting is that we found a Bónus hat that Pig quickly talked me into buying since it was only 598 ISK.
We got to bed decently early (at least insofar as we are concerned on Friday nights) because the big day of graduation was the next day. I had presumed that graduation would, you know, be on campus – but it is not. It’s instead about a 20 minute bus ride (+additional walking) from where we live and we needed to be there by 9:30am. Of course it was also gloomy and misting – BUT, it did not rain-rain on us (yes, a shocking rare moment of Taco optimism). Graduation took place in Laugardalshöll, something that everyone is apparently so familiar with that they don’t even give you an address in the packet they send you 10 days before graduation with a whopping 4 lines of English in it (back to pessimism 😀 ). Turns out Laugardalshöll is Reykjavík’s indoor sports arena/exhibition center and is noteworthy because it’s where the famous World Chess Championship of 1972 was held. Or, as you probably know if it, as the match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in which the U.S. and Soviet Union faced off in a chess-based battle of wits and the U.S. won. So, my initial annoyance with having to travel to the other side of town aside, that was a pretty cool place to have a graduation in. Plus, when we got there we were treated to some nice musical accompaniment.
No sooner than we had gotten inside the rain picked up (woo timing) and while I think it rained pretty heavily for the entirety of graduation, we got lucky in that regard both in the coming and the going. After getting oriented SB and I went ahead into the graduation area – and despite arriving only about 4 minutes before the “no later than time” we ended up being far earlier than most, which in retrospect shouldn’t have been surprising for Iceland.
While we did end up having to wait 45+ minutes or so for things to actually start, they did have a jazz band on stage for most of that time, so that was pretty cool.
In fact, one very refreshing thing about the graduation ceremony was that ALL the music was different. There was not a hint of pomp and circumstance – [related and interesting] – and while those marches are ok and all, I’ve only heard them about 6000 times now (talk about first world problems). In fact, aside from the basic structure, there was quite a bit of difference between how the University of Iceland does graduation and how all my other schools have done it, and – for the the most part – I like Iceland’s format more. I won’t get into the minute details, but in general graduation is MUCH more laid back here. As mentioned, I had literally no guidance – at all – for graduation until 10 days prior and that guidance was quite limited. Admittedly this was annoying to me a first (as thus has been the general approach to most things here – even when you actually do have strict guidelines) but I now appreciate it. There wasn’t much guidance because it simply wasn’t needed. I’ve been to high school graduations which were obscenely longer and more complicated than this university graduation was. That Icelanders actually tend to be pretty good at following social rules/archetypes probably helped it flow smoothly as well.
Another big thing is that there is no regalia aside from the faculty heads and the Rector of the university (who I learned I share another university in common with). By that I mean you can wear what you want. Yes, most people dressed decently, but it wasn’t a suit-and-tie requirement by any means, and while I wore such a getup, a lot of people had clothes that I’d say were much closer to business casual – and there were a few people who were probably on the low end of that – and that is AWESOME. I have long despised how much students have to pay just to rent regalia (it should be free, fight me) and its “subvert” continuation of classicism. I’d happily soapbox on this and about how “but muh regalia makes everyone equal” is a horrendous argument, but I won’t. I’ll just say that there was no regalia here and that gets two thumbs way up from yours truly.
The university also divides its graduation into two groups – one morning (graduate students), and one afternoon (undergraduates). This largely works due to the small class size (I was literally 50% of my degree program at graduation), but they also sequester out PhD students into their own graduation ceremony – meaning that the rest of us don’t have to watch their boring hooding ceremony (sorry PhDs, you know its true – I have no regrets that my doctorate involved an en masse hooding). So, no boring parts that take too much time per person and no undergrads, score.
Aside from that things were pretty normal – if you exclude the fact that it was entirely in Icelandic. Even better, there weren’t even Icelandic subtitles on the screens. Make no mistake, I do not understand Icelandic, nor would I claim too (that shit is hard). However, what I do grasp is generally via text – not high-level spoken word. We were hoping that there would be an English program (there wasn’t), or English subtitles (there weren’t) but neither of those were too big of a deal because this is Iceland, after all. However the lack of even Icelandic subtitles meant that my understanding of what was going on was limited to babby-tier, but that’s ok, I had largely anticipated that. Indeed, on the whole it was smooth, I got the basics of what what was happening, and I’ve seen worse U.S. graduations, in English. Let the hilarity of that sink in.
Anyways, not much more to share other than those above differences which I thought were especially noteworthy. Like last time Pigsten rode along with me.
One of the best parts of the ceremony was toward the end when we finally got to hear the university’s choir!
They sang a few songs, but the last one was Ísland ögrum skorið (Iceland carved from rocks) and it was a sing-along. I can’t say I sang along properly, but as the words were in the program I definitely tried. 🙂
All in all the entire graduation was over in under 100 minutes. That’s undoubtedly the shortest graduation I’ve ever been to (SB and I were talking about this and the longest graduation I’ve ever been to was her high school graduation which was just stupid considering the class size, no offense intended SB. 😀 ). The only downside was that it ended with just 1 minute before the next bus was due, and since we had to walk up to a bus stop that was impossible, thus we had to wait until the next bus came 30 minutes later. That ended up being a positive in the end because it was raining pretty dang hard when the ceremony first ended, but by the time we ending up catching the bus it was just only barely misting – a nice gift from Iceland considering that we were carrying my diploma and I was in my suit (though we did have plastic bags and rain gear, to be fair to our advance preparation). Still, Iceland wasn’t so nice as to let us have nice weather, and while we had planned on walking over to Perlan to get some coffee and do the observation deck again, the rain picked up for most of the rest of the day once we got home, so we nixed that for an evening in (with some wine, beer, chocolate, and gummy bears, of course!).
If Pig looks a little.. ehm.. “out there” that’s because he also became an Honorary Bónus on our graduation day, so now he can see everything happening in every Bónus store on Earth now – all at the same time.
On the more administrative side, and unsurprisingly enough, the end of the graduation ceremony was largely the end of our active association with the university. Indeed, the English calendar we were given way back on the university’s international students welcome day (where our welcome to the university included a story about mythical “midgets” – seriously) has now been completely checked off.
Now THAT’S kind of an odd feeling – but I’ll save that sort of introspection for a later post. Of course that we’re winding down our time with the university is pretty fitting – because as mentioned earlier the whole place closes down in July, and I don’t mean “goes to summer staffing and hours,” I mean the place outright closes. In a very rare feat, the university even put up a (single) sign on the gym explaining this fact.
What makes it confusing (because things always have to be confusing) is that not all areas of the university close at the same time. Some close on July 1st, others on July 7th (or in-between), and similarly they don’t re-open at the same time in August either. Anyways, that doesn’t affect us too much since we’ll be gone most of July anyway, but it’s just an odd thing that is worth pointing out. So, that next Monday was our last day at the gym and it was really my last day on campus in general. SB still needed to print a bunch of stuff for upcoming travel and she also needed to pick up her own diploma, etc. SB wasn’t actually in the graduation ceremony itself, so she had to pick up her stuff separately, but I’ll leave that story to SB and her own blog. 😛
Monday also brought with it a bunch of packing as we were going go be headed back to the United States (for the first time since moving here) for Daryl 1 and DBH’s wedding. While back-and-forth international travel can be a bit of a hassle for short trips, it did have the added benefit of allowing us an extra trip with suitcases – and since we just moved here with suitcases the opportunity to spread our stuff across two trips rather than just one was nice. Of course figuring out what to pack (and how) was pretty time consuming, as large-scale packing always tends to be.
As that trip is worthy of its own post, you can check that out here if you have not already. While this post chronologically started prior to that post, that post came out first largely to issues of scale.
Once we were back from the wedding trip we were pretty tired given all the travel-related issues and just the general time-zone changes. So our first day back we didn’t do much of anything, though I did end up achieving a bit of a productive streak later in the evening. The rest of the week was actually pretty productive, I mean granted, much of that was out of necessity considering that we don’t have a lot of time left to take care of some lingering administrative/logistical concerns, but by and large we still got quite a bit done – though all the business didn’t stop Pig from getting in some tummy-healthy yoga twists before diving into some California snack food food Grandma Meem had given us during our trip back for the wedding!
For our part we were mostly focused on tasks related to finalizing an upcoming trip, such as researching and printing things related to said trip (not to mention packing). We were also looking into more mundane things that were related to wrapping up our time here in Iceland, such as cellphone plans, bank accounts, pension funds, who stole my story, figuring out how we are supposed to “check out” of our apartment, and just general all-around “leaving” game-plan items. These things were about as fun as they sound, which is to say not at all. The good news is that the week’s exciting meter really skyrocketed early on Friday morning, despite the fact that our sleep-meter was registering somewhere around “zero.”
That morning we had to get up very early for a big adventure, was was in fact much akin to an earlier adventure which had a similar start time (hint it starts with a “2” and ends with a “00”). Which, I suppose basically brings us up to where we need to be for this sizeable post. You’re probably wondering where we were headed, but as is usual for Dinosaur Bear that is a story for another post. 🙂 Plus, in my defense, we’re still on said adventure as this gets posted, so I can’t really write about something that isn’t over yet – at least not with my usual after-the-fact approach to blogging. 😛
Right now my current writing goals are to generate some content about the adventure we are currently on – be that a single post or multiple posts – and then a final Iceland post, followed later still by a “what comes next” post. I’m not sure when those will come out, but with any luck those will be the next round of posts to come out in one order or another. In the meantime, I hope this large “Loose Ends” posts has given you plenty to digest, and as always, thanks for reading!
Until next time,