Saturday, April 28, 2012

Simple Math

As of today, I will have been in Iceland for 253 days. 254 for everyone else, since I got here a day late.
I have lived 6340 days as of this post. Do some math, and I have lived almost 4% of my life in Iceland.

Here's a graph.

Enjoy the short post!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The President of Iceland

Let me get this over with, photo credits: Þóra Margrét Bergsveinsdottír (mine ran out of battery in the first 5 minutes of turning it on)

Volunteers, posing in front of the president's house.

On the weekend of March 16-18, the AFS exchange students and a handful of volunteers went on a trip, meningarhelgi (culture weekend). We went to Snæfellsnes, one of the peninsulas on the western coast of Iceland. The whole shebang started at 12:00 at the AFS office in Reykjavík on Friday, and we proceeded to eat a ridiculous amount of pizza, then headed out to meet the president. Yes, the president of Iceland. But it's not that big of a deal, right? Let me explain.

But first, me looking dangerously at the camera

To meet the president, you have to be in Áltafnes, an essentially broken town, and then you go to Bessastaði (bessastathi), which is the plot of land where the president lives. Oh, the current president's name is Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson. So you go to his house, you knock on the door, and you ask if he has time for some coffee. If he has time, you just met the president and are now drinking coffee with him. But since we were a group of 30 people, we decided to say "Hey, we're going to show up on Friday at 2:45, will you be there?" and he said yes so we went. That's as easy as it gets. You can just walk up and say hi. On security: there's a gate. But the joke is, there's no fence around the gate. Not really sure what the gate is for, you can just walk around it.

In front of the president's house

Volunteers, inside job

Peeing in the president's house, also an inside job

So we pile out, go inside, and sit around for a while, waiting for him to be ready, and discussing whether or not to say "Howdy Mr. President" instead of "Komdu sæll" (a formal greeting for a man). I went with "Komdu sæll," by the way (comm-dew sigh-tl). 

Waiting with air pipes, Margot and I

We meet him, and we start talking, he asks us where we're from and what we've seen in Iceland. Most of us scrape up enough Icelandic to say what we want to say and what we've seen. He was most surprised that not all of us have seen Gullfoss and geysirs, and urged (jokingly commanded?) the AFS president to take us on a trip to see them. We got pictures, and then we were free to walk around the house. But we weren't without our respects: we gave the president flowers!

Talking to the President

Somehow disappointed, we're all doing a horrible job of representing our country

Exchange students and volunteers, most of us looking scared out of our wits

 Also on security: the one security guard had a hand-tally counter and spent most of his time texting or something.
 We walked around the house, someone explained some of the artifacts in the library (there was a bible printed in 1500 something, translated literally from Latin, word for word, so that it made absolutely no sense when read), found a sword and a narwhal horn. They're surprisingly heavy (the horns, by the way).

Pile into bus, literally.

Pile into bus, drive to Snæfellsnes, stop in Borgarnes (where I live, if you don't rememeber) on the way, sit, wait, yeah.
Nothing much else happened that evening when we arrived (in Grundafjörður), I don't think. No wait, there was chess!

And energy drinks

Next morning, usual Icelandic breakfast, pile into bus, proceed to drive around Snæfellsnes and see things. I'm unsure what order we saw everything, but that doesn't matter that much.

So off we go!

Into the great white peninsula

We drive around with our infinitely knowledgeable volunteer tour-guides ("On the left is a mountain, on the right is another mountain that looks like a church," just kidding, they knew more than that). We drove past Kirjufell (church mountain), so named because it looks as much like a church as a giant rock can look like a church (which isn't much). We saw Snæfellsjökull (Snae mountain glacier), but didn't get to go on because that's expensive or something. Our first stop was Arnarstapi, which means Loss of Arnar. Never learned the history behind the name, but it's very close to the oldest house in Iceland (more on that later). There were waves, rocks, cliffs, birds, and lots of poop. Someone vandalized the pump sign to say "Prumpa" instead of "Pumpa." I saw a whale too! (well, there was some water spitting out of the sea really far away and I'm pretty sure it was a whale). Less talk, more pictures:

(Photo: Amy Beaulisch)

(it was briiiight)

So then we went to the oldest house in Iceland to have lunch. It was built in 1700 something [2017 edit: I have since learned that the saying "The year 1700 and sauerkraut" which means, "a long time ago in the indeterminate past," so I probably mistook the 1700 literally. Regardless, this building is very old] and it's by no means a tourist attraction. People live there, like grandfather, mother, 2 little daughters, the works. But you're probably thinking "Wait, 1700 something, the Norwegian settled Iceland long before that! 500 years before that!" And you're right. This is the oldest house, not the oldest dwelling. Icelanders lived in caves and whatnot for a long, long time, as well as the turf-houses you are probably so familiar with. Some people still live in them, but they're not technically houses. This is the oldest house, with wood and foundation and not dug out of a hill. The reason we got to go in and have lunch was because one of the volunteer's grandfather lives there right now.
So we had lunch in a very small, creaky old house (but man did it smell good!)

Telling us about the house, a current resident. I didn't understand most what was said

As far as exchange students go, I'd say we're pretty cute

So back into the bus, drive drive drive!
We passed some frozen trolls on our way too. If you don't know anything about trolls, you need to know they're dangerous, and they eat people, but only at night. Because if they get caught in the sunlight, they are turned into giant pillars of stone (not salt). Our next stop was the monument of Bárður (I have a friend named Bárður too), a very fat troll (my friend is also quite large). There's a story that goes along the lines of "something happened and Bárður hid a box of gold in Snæfellsjökull, the glacier, and no one ever found it." Wonder why. But here's a picture of us in front of the monument (notice the jacketlessness of me)

Why did I do that, why?

We stopped at a natural spring that was FILLED WITH IRONNNNN. The iron made the water naturally carbonated and taste like a mix between stale Périer and blood. It was cool and all, but... more of a novelty than anything. It's good for you, but kind of makes you gag after too much.

No photo magic here

 Next stop: Bjarnahöfn (Björn's port, björn also means bear). Seen on several Discovery food shows like Andrew Zimmern's Bizarre Foods.
But first, we saw the the sheep farm. The cool thing about this farm that makes it different from every other one in Iceland is that it's surrounded by cliffs and mountains, which means they're not required by law to let the sheep wander the mountains during the Summer (mostly because they psychically can't).

Kissing sheep

Fun facts to ponder: there were 500 sheep in that barn. 486 females, 16 males. All of the female sheep are pregnant and all will give birth within 2 weeks of each other. Those are some busy male sheep.

And on to Hákarlsafnið, the shark museum. It's hardly a mystery what is displayed here, so I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Oldest boat in Iceland

 Owner of the museum, explaining to Qi (China) the double thumbed gloves while wearing his grandfather's fisherman hat


Baby seals. Stuffed baby seals. Deal with it

There is a showcase in the museum of all the strange things found in shark's stomachs after capture, including, beer cans, a coffee grinder, various toys, more beer cans, and a polar bear foot. The shark used to make the famous Icelandic rotting shark, Hákarl, is the greenland shark, which has remained mostly unchanged over 5 million years, and it looks the part. The Greenland shark has rows and rows of endless teeth - so sharp that shark fisherman can't use ropes, but rather chains, to put the hooks on. Since they live around Iceland and Greenland, the waters are pretty cold, like below freezing point cold. The reason the water doesn't freeze is because of the salt content. The sharks don't freeze because their blood is basically antifreeze, and most of you know, drinking/eating antifreeze will downright kill you. Hence the rotting shark.
The only way to get rid of the ammonia in the shark's body is by letting it sit there for 3 months in bins, no additives. After 3 months the shrunken bits of meat are hung to dry for another month or two. Finally, after 4 to 6 months, the shark is ready to eat (and then not be eaten, if you ask me). Yes, I did try it. No, it's not that great. The taste isn't so bad, it's the smell. You keep smelling it when it's in your mouth. And it's traditionally eaten like an oyster shooter, a cube of hákarl in a shot of brennevín (Icelandic schnapps), then swallow it all together. Buuuuut we were on an AFS event, so no brennevín for us. Just nasty, nasty plain shark.

"Well... it's not so bad.. well... it kind of is"

That moment when you accidentally lick it

And back into the bus we go. It's getting late...ish. We make one last stop, and that would be Helgafell, Helga's mountain, close to a little town (that looks pretty run down) but with this church. We unload at the base of Helgafell as we're told the story, or what we should do while walking up. On the top of the mountain are the ruins of a small church, the walls are piled up only waist high, and if you walk up the mountain without saying anything, and not looking back, you can walk in the church, say one wish, and it will come true.

 Then we go up up up, make a wish, and then we go down. And the whole time I'm split between thinking, "Monkey's Paw" and, "That was a good ploy to get us to shut up for half an hour." Not to ruin the trip or anything :)

And because this post is ridiculously long and I know my audience, bullet points for the rest of the trip (no pictures were taken, I don't think):

Go back to Grundafjörði
Delicious lasagna
Groups of 3 exchange students in each perform skits about Icelandic culture
Dance party
popping and locking
Serious talk initiated by exchange students (who whoulda thunk?!)
(Aaron thinks of moving to Iceland) (maybe another post on this?)
Sleep (but not much sleep)
Drive to Borgarnes (to drop me and Nadia off, the Norwegian exchange student)
Was going to go swimming in Borgarnes
Weather is bad, rest of group heads back to Reykjavík
Go to pool sit in hot tub for a while with Nadia and Gabríel (Icelandic Doogie Howser)
Walk home

Takk fyrir að lesa, hahaha.
Sjáumst, krakkar!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Icelandic Holidays

Icelanders celebrate the Easter season a little differently.

Monday (before Fat Tuesday) is called Bolludagur.
 It means Bun day (or ball day if you're feeling cheeky).
  You eat meat balls and other ball shaped foods, and also ballur, which are cream puffs. They can be filled with anything, but mostly just vanilla cream and jam, usually topped with chocolate. Most people don't make them by hand anymore (because it required the baking expertise of making a soufflé), so people buy the plain buns and fill them with jam and whipped cream themselves. My family just bought four buns from the grocery store because they're always working. There was actually an article in the paper about people baking them in mass quantities, something like 20,000 of these were made (or 200,000? I don't remember) for commercial sale in about 3 or 4 days by hand.

Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) is called Sprengidagur.
Sprenga is literally to explode, thus making Fat Tuesday exploding day.
You eat very, very salty lamb with a bean soup type of thing, with added salt, and don't forget the salt. I'm not really a fan of this one.

Wednesday, Ash Wednsday, is called Öskudagur, meaning Asking day.
It has nothing to do with the Christian tradition anymore, and little kids run around the streets dressed in costumes, going into businesses singing for candy. It's pretty much the Icelandic Halloween, just without the creepy factor (kind of). It's mostly for people in grunnskóli (elementary school), but sometimes the high schools dress up for fun too. A couple of girls at my school went dressed like mice. Here's a picture I found on facebook of this years Öskudagur:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Icelandic Flavor

It's been more than a month, and (honestly) not much has happened. That's Nordic winters. My Icelandic is coming along slowly, as always, and I can understand a lot of what is being said. I constantly ask myself the English translation and then explain it to myself as if I was a foreigner. It's a lot of fun, but pretty much useless when I see the same signs every day.

I cook breakfast for myself a lot, I don't do a lot of sleeping (I'm blaming the lack of sun), and I've been drawing more to pass the time. I've also been watching lots of TV shows. I'm 3/4 through House MD, 1/2 through Adventure Time, finished Avatar: Last Airbender, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and I've watched probably 30 or more movies. It's not that great for being an exchange student, but it happens. Also, everyone here does it, it's kind of the thing to watch TV shows and movies all the time.

Recently I purchased 6 tubes of watercolors, a few brushes, some india ink, and stupid amounts of watercolor and heavy weight paper. By the way, it was expensive. Instead of watching TV shows and whatnot, I've been drawing and painting (or in some cases, watching TV and painting).

Now, the word TV has shown up far too many times, so I'm going to show you pictures a friend (Gunnlaugur) took yesterday. This is what Iceland looks like in the Winter.

(You can only see this mountain from Borgarnes on a really clear day)

Now I wait for him to post pictures of bacon. 

It's a big country after all.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reykjavík Adventure

Yesterday mornig I had an adventure finding a breakfast shop called Grái Kötturinn (Gr-ow-ih (not like grow by ggggrrrrr and "ow!") Cu(h)tter-in, The Grey Cat) on a street called Hverfisgata. More on that later. I went because I couldn't sleep the night before because of a rash, and wanted a breakfast that wasn't bread and cheese/milk and cereal.

So I got there walking in knee deep snow and half falling over, ordered bacon and eggs with toast and potatoes (true American breakfast!). I ordered in English because there were some English speaking people there and I decided if I was going to start a conversation it would be a good segway (I never did, but I thought about it). I got a book from the many book shelves lining the dimly lit basement restaurant and started reading about an Icelandic artist living in New York (Louisa Matthiasdóttir), and one of the paintings was titles "View from Hverfisgata." Heh, cool. I was on Hverfisgata looking at a painting of the view on Hverfisgata.

So, ordering in English was also a good idea because the Icelanders sitting next to me didn't know I knew what they were saying. It's fun to listen to Icelanders make fun of Americans putting soy in coffee. Then I paid in Icelandic, and I'd like to think they got a little bit quieter.
Here's some info on Grái Kötturinn.

I went home, most of my upper body covered in a rash now and quickly went to the doctor, then once the medicine kicked in, the rash keeping me awake went away

Earlier this morning (since I forgot a few things in Reykjavík) I was talking with my sister saying I forgot a few things, she answered in Icelandic, then I answered in Icelandic, then we kept talking in Icelandic and I didn't realize it until halfway through the conversation. Woah.

That's all I've got so far. Christmas was me sick in bed for 2 days lamenting the smell of skata (rotting slate fish) and puking. Lots of fun.

Mmkay, takk fyrir að lesa og eitthvað.
Gleðileg hátíðar!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Long time no post!

This is true!

My english has slowly ben degrading. I don't know whether that's a side effect of the amount of sleep I've been getting, or the amount of Icelandic I've been speaking. I'm gonna go with sleep, because I haven't been speaking all that much Icelandic.

I spent all of tonight sitting amount some friends talking with people on facebook chat only in Icelandic, constantly asking questions like "How do I say, "I should"?"

I don't know if they find this annoying, but I'm gonna keep doing it anyways.

In recent world news, Christmas is coming. You may have heard of it, and it comes at almost at a surprise that Icelanders celebrate Christmas much moreso than Americans do. Let's go into some examples:
My town (Borgarnes) decided not to fun the Christmas decorations around the town, much to the dismay of many many people. So, all the businesses of Borgarnes pitched in and paid for the decorations.
I went to IKEA (aka House of Crying Children) last Sunday and bought a bookshelf and other things, and while we were there, there was a full on choir singing in the store decked out in traditional Icelandic lopapeysa and Satna hats. And it was loud too.
Christmas decorations in Reykjavík went up at the end of October.

I've done most of my Christmas shopping, but have yet to send anything. I don't really know what I'm waiting for. I need to do that soon! I'm pretty sure everyone will like their presents :)

Last weekend my school had a 24-hour knitting marathon (maraþon haha) to help raise money for their Spain trip. I stayed for that and messed around on my computer the whole time, drinking energy drinks and talking too much English. By 9 AM it felt like a cat had crawled in my throat and died while I wasn't looking. I slept until 11 PM that night, and had to stay up another 24 hours to get my sleeping schedule back on track.

It started snowing last week, and it was as if the snow was saying "Sorry I came to the party so late, but I'm gonna make up for it! Promise!"
Consequently... too much snow. Some piles are 6 or 7 feet tall! Every once in a while you can see kids sliding down them. Hmm.. that reminds me, I need to go sledding sometime soon.

Other than the annual Christmas business, nothing much has transpired in the meantime. Skyrim came out, if that counts as a major event. Oh what am I saying, of course it is. That's kind of where my social life went for a week.

I haven't taken any pictures in the last few weeks because the sun rises at 11am and sets at 3pm. Lots of fun waking up in the morning.

Well.. I'm sure there's lots more I could talk about, but I feel like this post will get dry without pictures, so I'm ending it here.

Takk fyrir að lesa!
Sjáumst á meðan!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crazy Icelandic phrases!

Icelandic is a little bit like dividing by zero, in that... well, no, nevermind.

But really, Icelandic is made up of hundreds of phrases that make no sense by them self literally translated, but in Icelandic apparently they make perfect sense.

I may go back and edit some more in later, but for right now, SHORT POST!

Lýst vel á það - (Leesht vel ow tha(h)th)
Lit.: Described well on it.
Means: Sounds like a plan (Good idea).

Til á það (Till ow tha(h)th)
Lit.: To on it.
Means: I'm up for anything.

Þetta reddast (th-eh-tah red-ahst)
Lit: That fixed.
Means: It'll work out (eventually).
More: This is the mindset of the Icelandic people, really. They're very laidback and things will work out eventually, so don't worry. Right?

edit: litterally: it fixes itself.
My bad!

Til hamingju með daginn/afmæli (til hah-mi(n)g-you meth dah-yinn/af-mile-ee)
Lit: To happiness with the day
Means: Happy birthday!

Also, it's Winter now (well, the daylight is, it's been 46 degrees all day today! Hasn't frozen in over a week).The sun comes up around 11ish and goes down around 5ish. The time is quickly moving closer to 0 hours of daylight a day, and it's increasingly hard to go to bed (because the sun has been down for 6 hours before you actually try and sleep) and increasingly hard to get up (because the sun isn't going to come up for another 4 hours).

Þakka þér fyrir að lesa