Well, I just got back from Ísafjörður yesterday. The official Icelandic 'first day of summer' was on the Thursday that we drove west (really, it is mostly north, but Icelanders always talk about going west when they are going to the West Fjords). I took this picture on the way.

Summer is here?

On the way, we stopped at Reykjanes to go swimming in the geothermally heated pool. Probably the best bit was the sign which I saw in the changing rooms. As far as I recall, the Icelandic version began, "Vinsamlegast veita athygli" or something, which doesn't really translate to this. I just checked, and even Google did a better job.

Come on, staff in Reykjanes. Surely one of you speaks English better than that? Also, the clipart is misleading.

We were staying in a little house owned by the father's father. The interior was slightly eccentric. The light-switches were all fitted sideways, and I think an eight-year-old decided how high up the kitchen sink should be.

Me with the really low sink. For reference purposes, I am 5 foot 6. Not, as this picture implies, a giant.

With a bustling population of about 4,000 people, Ísafjörður is one of the biggest towns in Iceland. Once you have visited the two cafés and walked around the entire place (which takes about fifteen minutes), there is really not a great deal to do, especially if it is raining, and of course it was for most of the time. At one point me and the 15-year-old seriously considered watching a video tape labelled "Eurovision 2005". I say considered - we actually did try to, but the tape wasn't working. Sad growls. We also spent a lot of time walking round the graveyard eating harðfiskur and looking for unusual names on tombstones. You've got to make your own fun.

Some sort of bakery-car in the town centre. The Icelandic text reads, "The old bakery. Founded 1871. Old but ever young."

If you like boats and you like mountains (but hate people), then Ísafjörður is for you.

Rusty house.
View from one of the beaches at the edge of the town.

As I mentioned before, there is a music festival every year in Ísafjörður over the Easter weekend. Apparently this year the population of the town doubled, so you can only imagine how lively the place must be most of the time. Entry is free, and it's held in a warehouse near the outskirts on the Friday and Saturday evenings. The crowd was made up of all ages, from toddlers wearing ear-protectors sitting up on their dads' shoulders, to teenagers covertly drinking spirits from water-bottles, to old men with fishermen's beards. Eighty percent of people (including me) were wearing a lopapeysa. The atmosphere was lovely. I didn't take any pictures, because I already had my gloves, phone, money and beer to look after and to have a camera on top of that would just have been asking to lose something. But the whole thing was being filmed and streamed over the internet, so something will probably appear on YouTube at some point. The best band, for my money, was FM Belfast, who played on Saturday night. I jumped around a lot and got very hot in my big woolly jumper. Other highlights included Prinspóló, Miri and, of course, Páll Óskar. Páll Óskar is an Icelandic national treasure, and easily the best-known artist performing at the festival this year. They put him on early on Saturday because children love his flamboyant, glittery pop music and spangly shirts. He's sort of like a mix between Dale Winton and the Spice Girls, which is much more enjoyable than it sounds. 

Actual Easter itself was good. It was a bit sad not to be with my parents and my brother, and also pretty upsetting to just be handed an Easter egg and not have to search for it in the garden at all. I suppose the Easter bunny can't make it over the sea to get to Iceland. But we had some delicious lamb and the grandfather asked me again whether I was a Christian. 

On the Monday the weather was fantastic, so I decided to pop up the mountain. It was very steep and shaly, and not the easiest walk in the world, but the views were worth it and also I saw some snow buntings.

A small way up the mountain.
Further up.
Scree slopes.
Ísafjörður in all its glory.
It wasn't possible to get all the way to the top, because it turned into this.
Ravens and rocks.
This is a different mountain, near Bolungarvík.
More mountains, near Flateyri.

Fun times at the Saga Museum and other pictures

Here are some pictures off my brother's camera from when he was here. 

We totally ought to be called Guðrún and Sigurður.

An art that we saw at Kolaportið. It's got partial nudity AND a pirate.

Snorri Sturluson and I mulling the political problems facing the Icelandic Commonwealth in the 13th century.

James and the man who was really excited to have grapes. Don't remember his name.
Discovering Iceland with Ingólfur Arnarson and his wife.

Það er mikill vindur!
I'm off to Ísafjörður for Easter with most of the family (minus mother and baby) - it's the music festival Aldrei fór ég suður (I never went south), so it should be fun times. There are some pretty big Easter eggs. I'm excited. 

Gleðilega páska!

Seven-year-old philosophy

A short exchange between me and the seven-year-old on the way home from school (translated into English):

Me: Where are your gloves?
Him: In my pocket.
Me: Why aren't you wearing them? Aren't your hands cold?
Him: My hands are a bit cold, but such is life.

I laughed for a good minute.

Icelandic 4

Here you go. I didn't post anything for ages, but now I am posting loads all at once. Because it is raining and I am mostly spending this afternoon sitting in bed playing around on the internet. I went out with my Canadian friend for a few hours this afternoon, and we found a fun café on Skólavörðustígur that we haven't been to before, but then she had to go and get her hair cut. The family are all out at one of the rice-pudding parties that are held every so often at the grandparents' house, and I have done all my homework, and I don't feel like reading my book just now. Hence blogging.

Yep, homework. Because I am now once more a student of Icelandic. I skipped the first two days because of my brother and his girlfriend being here, so Wednesday was my first day in Icelandic 4. At the moment it's not noticeably much harder, but browsing through the textbook it looks like we're going to be moving on to some more complicated grammar. Hooray. Some people in the class are obviously at the wrong level, though. Icelandic 4 is supposed to be taught entirely in Icelandic, which seems fair enough considering it's the second highest level it's possible to take. But some of the students in the group don't understand the teacher when she speaks Icelandic. Why are they taking this class? Just because you have attended Icelandic 1, 2 and 3, doesn't necessarily mean that you have achieved the level you should be at for Icelandic 4. This failure to accurately self-assess, and the school's failure to do anything about people who are punching above their weight, means that the classes are taught at a slightly easier level than they are advertised at. Which is annoying. Wow, that turned into a bit of a complain-a-thon.

For my homework this weekend, incidentally, I had to write a page under the heading, "Þjóðsaga frá mínu landi" ("A folk tale from my country"). I have attempted to write about Alfred the Great burning those cakes, or "Alfreð og kökurnar", because it was the first thing that came to mind when I was trying to think of a folk tale that was definitely from England. Why did I change Alfred's name to Alfreð? Well, aside from the fact that Alfred is itself a modernisation (according to Wikipedia, the Old English spelling is Ælfrēd or Ælfrǣd), that's just how Icelanders do things. I'm sure you, like me, are struggling to contain your excitement for the forthcoming fairytale romantic union of all the centuries, and it's getting a fair amount of attention in the Icelandic newspapers as well. It's mostly been a series of astonished features about all the commemorative rubbish that it's possible to buy. But here's the thing - they don't write about William and Kate. They write  about Vilhjálmur og Kata. I find that really strange. But when I was writing my story about Alfred I thought, hey, when in Iceland.


On Wednesday, early in the morning, just as day was dawning, my brother and his girlfriend flew back to England. They came for a five-day visit, and although the weather was pretty upsetting, we managed to get quite a lot in. I picked them up from BSÍ at 2 o'clock on Thursday morning - as I recall, it was drizzling, which set the tone for the duration. Once Thursday had arrived in earnest, we got up and went for a stroll around Reykjavík. I showed them Hallgrímskirkja, the Tjörn, Austurvöllur, some of the main streets and that crazy bookshop on the corner of Klapparstígur and Hverfisgata. We went to Kaffitár (one of my favourite Reykjavík cafés), and to Bæjarins Beztu to get eina með öllu. Then I sort of ran out of ideas. The thing is,  as I may have mentioned before, Reykjavík is not that big, and in any case just walking around looking at things is significantly less enjoyable when you're battling through the wind and drizzle.

In that sense, it's a bit like Sheffield (where I was at university for four years) - it's a nice place to live, but it's hard to put your finger on many specific things that you can show to visitors. That, and the frequent precipitation. Most of my leisure time in Reykjavík  (as in Sheffield) revolves around cafés, bars and walking round looking at ducks. Of course, I have only lived here in Reykjavík for a few months, so I am barely more than a visitor myself. Presumably a lifelong Reykvíkingur might have done a better job. 

On Friday they went off to the Blue Lagoon. I declined to accompany them because I've been there before, and it's quite expensive. Although, on a side note, my friend told me the other day that it's a cheaper price for Icelanders. What? Is that legal? How do you prove your Icelandic status to get this cheaper price? I have a kennitala and speak a bit of Icelandic, would that do? Anyway, we went out around six to meet the father and the eleven-year-old for a drink at Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar, and got some Mexican take-away on the way home. After dinner, the father let us try all his whiskeys (Scottish and Japanese), and also some cured razorbill. Yep, never eaten that before. It was really tasty. 


On Saturday we had a proper 'tourist day'. We borrowed the smaller of the two cars and set off to see Þingvellir, the geysers and Gullfoss. It didn't rain all the time, but it was certainly not ideal. However, the English are trained from childhood to pretend to be having a good time on holidays, even if they are wet and cold. And in any case, these things are impressive even if the weather is rubbish. At one point Strokkur (one of the geysers) erupted all over some idiots who'd stood downwind from it. They were not burnt, luckily for them, but they were extremely wet. Then, almost immediately, it erupted again, before they'd managed to move. Thus cheered by the misfortunes of others, we went on our way. An interesting thing about geysers is that the English word geyser is taken from the name of one of the geysers, "Geysir", which comes from the Icelandic verb að gjósa, meaning "to gush". The Icelandic word for geyser is goshver, which literally translates as "eruption hot-spring". How about that. I once read somewhere that geyser is the only English word to come from modern Icelandic. I don't think I can think of another one (although of course there are hundreds that come from Old Norse / Old Icelandic), but I would make the case for adopting foss. Foss is the Icelandic word for waterfall, and I just think it's such a lovely word - much better than waterfall.

Well, that was a bit of a detour - back to the visit. On Sunday we went for breakfast at Grái Kötturinn ("The Grey Cat"), which was very good, and then to Kolaportið, which was full of car-boot-sale style rubbish as before, and where James bought some harðfiskur. Then to Perlan ("The Pearl"), which has a Saga Museum on the ground floor and a viewing platform at the top offering some of the best views it's possible to get over Reykjavík. The Saga Museum was a lot of fun, although I knew everything already because I'm a massive saga nerd.  I was a bit disappointed to note the absence of the most famous saga scene of all - how can they have a Saga Museum and not include the burning of Njáll?  Maybe they thought it would be too distressing for children or something, although on second thoughts that is probably not the reason, considering they had Freydís Eiríksdóttir pressing a sword into her naked breast and some nun called Katrín being burnt for heresy. After we were finished taking posed shots of us holding hands with Ingólfur Arnarson, etc, we went up to the viewing platform. It was startlingly windy. We were genuinely getting blown about, the wind was so strong. So we looked at the view quickly and then went back inside. Then we went home for the six-year-old's birthday party. He will now be referred to as the seven-year-old. There was a lot of cake and awkward silence. That evening I saw on the news that some people at Keflavík had been trapped on a plane for six hours because of the extreme winds, and also a sheep pen had blown away, so it wasn't just us being pathetic.

Monday and Tuesday were mostly given over to more wandering around Reykjavík - although on Monday night we did go out for dinner at Sægreifinn, which I would highly recommend. You can get a massive cup of lobster soup with as much bread as you like, or various seafood kebabs, including minke whale, for really quite cheaps. Whale is sort of like weird beef.  

The funniest thing was watching the two younger kids (discounting baby) trying to interact with two people who did not speak Icelandic. I had to do a lot of interpreting. They seemed to be under the impression that James was actually called James Bond, and addressed him as such. The seven-year-old was also very keen to teach them some Icelandic, but focused on words like "double" and "washing machine", so not the most useful things that visitors to Iceland could learn. 

There are probably some things I've forgotten to write about, but you get the general idea. It was really good to see him again, and to meet his girlfriend for the first time. Despite the weather, I think they enjoyed Iceland. I didn't think to take any photos of anything, but I might be able to get some that my brother took. In the mean time, look at this weather forecast for the coming week. Jesus.

Vorið er komið

Spring has come to Reykjavík. The weather since last Wednesday (the day on which my visitors from England arrived in Iceland) has been almost universally dreadful. We're talking lots of rain, cloud, fog and unusually high winds. It was on the news that a sheep-shed blew clean away on Sunday. 

However, recently there have been prolonged bursts of (relative) warmth, sunshine and a general spring-like ambience, which have been most cheering. The leaves on the trees still haven't made an appearance, but the buds are clearly thinking seriously about taking things to the next stage. Crocuses and snow-drops are out all over the place - the other day I even saw a small daffodil. The mallards, greylag geese and whooper swans on the Tjörn have been joined by oystercatchers and black-headed gulls.

Sunshine and crocuses in Klambratún. Spot Hallgrímskirkja.


Hi everybody. Sorry I haven't written anything for ages. I've been pretty busy, and my brother and his girlfriend were in Iceland this past week. More on that story later. For now, here are some pictures from last, last Saturday. It was some sort of horse festival in Reykjavík, and there must have been at least a hundred Icelandic horses going down Laugavegur. Icelanders get upset if you call their horses ponies (even thought they totally are), because they are a very tough breed, fully capable of carrying a grown man. All horses in Iceland today are descended from the ones brought over by the settlers from mainland Scandinavia in the ninth and tenth centuries, so if you want to know what sort of horse a medieval Norseman would have ridden, look no further. Apparently they almost always have fantastic temperaments and characters but I cannot vouch for that because I have not met any, except briefly when I was first in Iceland (five years ago, on holiday). They are definitely super cute, though.

Mannanafnanefndin: You can't call your son Ginger, but Cactus is fine

The baby is as yet unnamed, which inspired me to look through the official list of names which you may legally call your child in Iceland. If the name you want does not appear on the list, you can submit it for the consideration of the Mannanafnanefnd (meaning, roughly, The Names Committee). Quite recently it was in the Icelandic news that the name Elvis had been added to the list - Theodór Elvis Ólafsson was baptised this January. The rules for foreigners living in Iceland are slightly more relaxed - it is possible to give your child a foreign name now. Not so long ago, though, foreigners applying for Icelandic citizenship were actually required to change their name to something from the official list.

The rationale usually given for the existence of such laws about naming children focuses on protecting children from ridicule (i.e. no girls with boys' names or vice versa, no children called Moon Unit and so forth). In Iceland there's also a grammatical argument - foreign names often don't decline properly. My name, aside from being really close to the Icelandic word for monkey (api), looks grammatically like a masculine or neuter word, so nobody declines it at all. Not even for the genitive (possessive case), which is weird - it's like if in English you didn't say "John's house", you just said "John house". 

And really, this grammatical reasoning is much more persuasive than the idea that this is somehow ensuring that children only end up with sensible names. Because there are a lot of extremely silly names on the official list. I think my absolute favourite is Kaktus for a boy, which means exactly what it looks like it means. You may also call your son Ljótur, which means ugly (although it did not originally), Bambi, Emerald, Nóvember, Rósinkrans, Trostan (?!) or Metúsalem. For girls we have Ársól (pronounced hour-soul - not funny in Icelandic, but pretty unfortunate if she ever goes to an English-speaking country), Axelma, Bogey, Bogga (surely the most beautiful name in the world), Konkordía, Mekkín, Ninja, Úranía and, currently my first choice if I had to change to an Icelandic name, Gógó.

It's also possible to look at the list of names which have been rejected. A lot of them are foreign names, although there are also a fair few foreign names on the 'yes' list, and I find it hard to see what their criteria was. For example, Jack, Adam and Oliver are allowed, but Ben, Ian and Dominic are apparently too outlandish. The highlights of the boys' reject list are Engifer (meaning 'ginger'), Grimmi (meaning 'the cruel/vicious one'), Berk, Bald, Lorenzlee, Spartacus and Twist. My own name features on the girls' reject list, along with Abel, Cathinca, Erykah, Lárenzína, London, Mizt, Randy, Toby and Kap. I think the Mannanafnanefnd made the right decision with most of those... It is a bit worrying when you think of it, to realise that in Britain there is nothing to stop you naming your daughter Toby and your son Spartacus.

The baby is a boy, so I'm hoping for Kaktus. If you would like to browse the Mannanafnaskrá, you can find it here.