Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a tastefully-edited version of the journal I kept during the time I spent in Iceland. You can find all the entries and more on the “Iceland Transcribed” page.
Today has been wonderful!
First off, the sky is actually clear, so the only reason I’m inside at all is because I’m waiting for my phone to charge before I head out again.
I had an early start today, and was picked up before 8:30 this morning for my tour with Islenski Hesturinn [Iss-len-ski Hes-tur-int] – The Icelandic Horse at 9. (The “nn” sounds like a “T” that’s been cut off halfway through.) I was in the shuttle with a handful of others, and when we arrived at the stable we were greeted with a wide smile and a warm, strong, handshake from Begga [Bekka], the tour guide and company owner.
Professional, welcoming, and hilarious, Begga introduced the group of fourteen to some simple riding techniques, like how to hold the reins, direct the horse, et cetera.
I grew up learning to ride with my back ramrod straight. “Imagine a string coming out of your head and your heels – now keep that string taut,” my riding instructor would say.
This, apparently, is not how one rides an Icelandic horse: you sit relaxed, deep in the saddle.
Some other interesting factoids are:
1. Icelandic horses – and yes, I was assured, they are horses despite their diminutive size, not ponies – have five gaits: walk, trot, canter/gallop, tölt, and pace. They are the only horses in the world that can tölt, which is a pace similar to a trot as far as speed goes, but is much, much smoother.
2. Icelandic horses are not vaccinated, because there are no diseases for them to catch here. It is the only place in the world that is disease-free for the horses. As such, no other horses – or riding gear – are allowed in the county, and any horse that does leave is never allowed back.
3. The largest population of Icelandic horses outside of Iceland is Germany.
After Begga’s introduction to riding, we met our horses. I was paired with Píla, whose name I later found out translated roughly to Arrow, or Dart.
Like the rest of the horses, she wasn’t tall, and could be accurately described as “sturdy”. Her black coat, well, didn’t gleam, but she was soft, and her thick, scrubby mane had been combed through, and I ran my fingers through it as I waited for my next instructions.
After spending a few minutes getting acquainted with our horses, we set off on our wide trail, usually riding two by two, the sun shining brilliantly above us, making the nearby hills almost glow in their radiant greenery.
We had a two hour ride, during which we learned how to tölt (and how very comfortable it is – it’s like sitting on a rocking couch), and we were given an introduction to the pseudo-craters created by lava flowing over a lake, which then “boiled” and, like thick soup or oatmeal, burst at the surface, causing the craters and hills, which had turned red from iron deposits.
The only other place pseudo-craters exist is Mars, apparently.
Píla, true to her name, insisted on being as far in front as I would allow her – she’s a quick little thing!
I wasn’t able to take any pictures, unfortunately, because my phone would have fallen out of my pocket. Begga, however, snapped a few photos and posted them to the company’s Facebook page, so I was able to see them.
The ride was over all too soon, but I may book another later, when I get back from Akureyri [Ah-ku-rey-ree] (or maybe another one while in Akureyri!).
I decided I deserved more than frozen pizza for lunch back in the city, so I wandered downtown in search of food that wouldn’t cost $40 for one meal. I was hoping for some traditional Icelandic food, but came upon a small noodle house, and ordered a beef noodle soup.
I’m not big on meat, usually, but that was the most tender beef I’ve ever had. I guess I really did need the protein.
Only a few seats were available, and it wasn’t long before I was joined by a tour guide from Germany who had been living in Iceland for a while. We discussed hitchhiking (and how I still wasn’t comfortable with it, even here), and he recommended some hikes that I can’t pronounce – I think one of them was Kirkjufell; I’ll have to see if there’s anything similar to that. [Traveler’s note: there is. It’s one of the most well-known mountains in Iceland.]
After a muffin and coffee, I picked up some groceries, pondering the strange magic Reykjavik has: if I’m looking for something specific, I probably won’t find it, or at least not easily. But once I stop actively looking, I find exactly what I was looking for, and three options just like it.
Tomorrow, I head North, to Akureyri. But since the sun is out, I’m going to try and get some pictures of the sunset next to the Sun Voyager, the metal statue of the viking ship. I have a few hours still, so maybe I “won’t” look for some ice cream in the meantime.
I found ice cream!
I spent the better part of two hours chasing the sunset around the city, and decided a silhouette shot of the Sun Voyager was my best chance at getting a decent photo. The tourists kept getting in the way of my shot, taking selfies on or next to the monument, which was frustrating. Americans are the worst tourists. (Yes, I fully realize I am an American.)
After a while, though, I was able to get three shots that I’m happy with. I’m no photographer, like Dad, but I like the way these turned out.
If I can manage a decent sketch of the ship, I’ll try painting it when I’m at home…
Since I’m not in any hurry to get to Akureyri tomorrow, I’ve decided I’m going to see the illustration exhibit at the Harpa.