Fjörn Wanders in Iceland (July-August 2018), Part I
A few weeks ago now (on the evening of August 18th), I returned home from a 3-week long trip in Iceland, where I was studying Icelandic through an intensive language course in a small town called Ísafjörður (which you can learn more about here). But, as you can see, it has taken me a while to tell this tale–although it is always better to share a story late than never at all! And so we have gathered here in the hall to ‘hear’ it spoken, and I do hope that my tale will bring you some delight! But for today I shall only speak of my first day in Reykjavík, since there is much to tell about that day alone!
A poet need not dwell on the many hours passed in a plane, far above the lofty clouds of our world. Such details are boring and do not make for good storytelling! But I will say that I spent that tiresome time rather well, listening to Saga Thing and reading Lord of the Rings. During the longer flight over the Atlantic I even tried to sleep–but that was dreadful and cold, to say the least. And so, as one might expect from such an often told story, I arrived in Keflavík worn and weary. It was 11am there, and although I had been up since 4am the day before, I found myself eager to explore. Curious it is how the layers of exhaustion are blown away the moment one finds themselves in a new land!
And yet my excitement was quickly quelled and the weary layers temporarily restored, since Reykjavík was still a 45 minute bus ride away, which was a problem that could only to be solved by a FlyBus ticket, a window seat, and even more Saga Thing. But there’s hardly a need to tell you all how awkward I was upon my arrival at the bus terminal in Reykjavík (which is only one example of my awkward blunderings abroad), so it’ll suffice to say that I eventually arrived at my hotel after far too much time spent standing around looking clueless and insecure.
But with my burdens rightfully stowed away in my room, I was free to wander at last! And what was my first day of adventure like? Unsurprisingly, it was a cloudy summer day sprinkled with spurts of misty rain, for which I was armed only with a weather-resistant jacket, a pair of cozy boots, and a green canvas hiking pack (filled with some snacks, warm clothes, and a water bottle). But that was plenty enough to help me wander the city by foot! At least I was no longer confined to a metal box with wheels or wings.
But perhaps at the risk of sounding a bit stereotypical, my first destination was Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavík’s most prominent landmark. Naturally it was a sight that I wanted to see, but I also figured that it would be a great place to begin my self-guided walking tour of Reykjavík–and I would certainly stand by that assumption even now. With its tower standing tall and proud above most other buildings in the city, along with its convenient position near the center of the city, it was truly an ideal place to begin a bit of wandering.
But, for a saga pilgrim such as myself, the most important part of Hallgrímskirkja is not actually the church, but rather the impressive statue standing in front of it. Indeed, I had another agenda motivating my steps. While the building itself is quite lovely (and I do recommend stepping inside, if your religious views will permit you), it can hardly compete with the glory of Leifur Eiríksson, the bold Icelander who discovered Vínland (North America) in the year 1000! That, of course, may just be my personal bias, but one that is hardly unexpected of me. Considering the place of Leifur Eiríksson and his story in my heart, this spot was truly a symbolic place to begin my own exploration of a land unknown to me.
And so, embracing this spirit of exploration and discovery, I wandered over to yet another popular landmark in Reykjavík: sólfarið, or The Sun Voyager. Now, I must be honest…I never thought much about this sculpture before. I had seen it in pictures often enough, but I had always muttered to myself, “That’s a bit modern for my taste. I’d prefer a ship made out of wood, rather than this abstract metal nonsense!” So, I didn’t think I’d get too much enjoyment out of the experience in seeing it for myself–but I was wrong. Instead, it was perhaps one of my favorite landmarks to see while I was in Reykjavík. I even took a selfie there (which is a rare thing for me to do)!
But why? I wondered that, too. What made this modern sculpture resonate with my soul? A soul that stubbornly admires cozy old stories and things, not cold minimalistic works of abstract art. But, after some thought, I’d have to say that its true impact came from the surrounding scenery–the whole ‘package’ was necessary for me to feel its fullest effect. The dreki-like dream boat, interesting to some on its own, truly seemed to embody the emotion dwelling there in the surrounding landscape. And for me, it captivated the adventurous spirit of the first settlers of Iceland (during the Viking Age). But, it is important to note that the artist (Jón Gunnar Árnason) intended to convey the power of exploration, hope, and progress, encouraging us to chase after our dreams and see them fulfilled. And who could resist such a message? Indeed, it captivated me well beyond expectation, and here’s a picture I took of it on the following day (for I visited it multiple times that weekend alone):
After a flood of tourists came and stirred the peaceful air, I wandered along the windy coastline for a bit–and I must say that it was certainly my favorite place to enjoy a good scenic walk while I was there. On this path one can embrace a mystical view of Esjan, a beloved mountain that may or may not have been personified into a saga character in The Saga of the People of Kjalarnes. But sagas and mountains aside, it was also pleasing to stumble upon the many cairns that have been made near the ‘end’ of the path. There’s actually a long (and fascinating) history about making cairns in Iceland, but according to a little trinket from the nearby shop (certainly a reliable source), troll children make similar stacks out of pebbles, and if you touch them you’ll feel more connected with the earth. I quite like that bit of lore, regardless of the source I learned it from!
Although captivated by the cairns, my wanderings along that path continued until I arrived at Harpa, Reykjavík’s splendid concert hall (which is actually right next to the cairns, I should admit). But this was another site that I didn’t expect to feel much affection for, despite its popularity with others. And yet, despite it’s incredibly modern architecture, it somehow managed to win over my heart as well, quickly becoming a favorite ‘hang out’ spot for me. But, as a musician, I do suppose that I have a soft spot for concert halls. I remember taking a break here after the rain began its descent from the clouds as a sheet of wispy mist; and I spent that time texting my girlfriend (of nearly 7 years now) while browsing the gift-shop. Since she is aspiring to be a professional musician (which she blogs about here), I knew it was a place that she would enjoy–and I do hope to take her there in the near future!
But I couldn’t remain idle there for long, especially while there was still so much left unseen by my eyes! So, having regained a bit of my previous vigor, I set forth towards my next destination: Arnarhóll. This is yet another site valued highly by saga pilgrims, for that location is believed to be where Ingólfur Arnarson’s high-seat pillars washed ashore. But now I hear some mumbling in the hall which sounds some like “his what?”
High-seat pillars were, according to the Book of Settlements, objects that the early settlers of Iceland would toss overboard their ships. But why do such a thing? Those early Icelanders believed that these pillars would be guided by the gods (or some other spiritual force) to the place where they were destined to live. And according to that source, Ingólfur’s high-seat pillars washed ashore at that spot sometime during the year 874. And so, despite the complaining of his companions, he remained obedient to the will of fate and settled there, calling the place “bay of smoke,” or Reykjavík in Icelandic.
But it wasn’t long after that before I encountered a small problem: I was awfully hungry. To be truthful with you all, I had only relied on a few snacks and a protein bar for my lunch that day–and since then (for it was roughly 6pm), many hours had passed and many miles had been walked. Indeed, the day had worn on with its relentless sheets of drizzling rain and cold wind, and it was my stomach that was far more perceptive of my exhaustion, rather than my over-excited mind. And so, coming to terms with that fact that it was time to deem my first day abroad complete, I decided to find a place to eat. And what better way to conclude my day than a good feast?
Now, it’s pretty expensive to eat out in Reykjavík, so I wanted to make sure that my meal was worthwhile. And of course I also wanted to make sure that I experienced some traditional Icelandic food while I was there! But where to go? Certainly there are many options, but as a person interested in Norse mythology, one place in particular stood out as the obvious answer. How could I not go to Café Loki?
Although I entered rather timidly (being unsure of how seating worked and such), I was quite happy with the experience! I ordered the Baldur Icelandic Plate, which consisted of two slices of rye bread (one topped with a deliciously mashed fish and the other with a mixture of egg and herring). It even came with “Loki’s unique rye bread ice cream,” which I found both interesting and satisfying. But the most important item I got was an herbal tea called “Loki’s tea”–and gods did I need it. There is hardly a delight I value higher than a nice, warm cup of tea at the end of a long day (made all the better after struggling against my weariness in both wind and rain).
Thus my first day wandering in Iceland came to its end with a warm cup of tea and a satisfied stomach. A suitable end, I would say. But this is only the beginning of a greater tale! If you wish to hear more about my wanderings in Iceland, keep an ear out for another post like this one. We shall certainly gather again!
But, for now, I do hope that this story has been worth sharing! If you think it has been, please leave a comment, give the post a like, or perhaps even share it with the friends of your own hall–any feedback or conversation is more than welcome! But now I leave you to your mirth, concluding only with this poem:
So ends a good tale told here in Fjörn’s Hall!
The Skald’s harp still sings, now mixing softly
with the festive speech of our fair company!
May the old be new in our merry hearts!
But until next time, keep wandering.
I would like to offer my most sincere thanks and gratitude to Fjörn’s Fellowship. Without their support, this post would not be possible. In fact, this entire Hall would be nothing if not for their support and companionship. Here are the names (taken from Patreon) of the members of this Fellowship who supported me during the time I wrote this post:
Anastasia Haysler, Cataclysmit, Froggy, Jonas Lau Markussen, Kathleen Phillips, and Sarah Dunn.