Reykjavík ravens.

Posted on 18. Sep, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Autumn, nothing makes its arrival clearer than seeing a familiar shape fly over Reykjavík, perch on lamp posts and sing – er, cronk – from the rooftops. Ravens are back in town after spending the long summer in the countryside, during which time their place in the city is claimed by seagulls. Now its their turn to make way and so the season changes from white wings to black ones almost overnight.

Known as hrafn or by a playful nickname krummi, ravens are considered a very lucky, handsome and clever bird by the Icelanders. Yet at the same time the old Pagan view of them as Óðinn’s pets lives on, making some interesting contrasts; these well-loved birds are also found in old poetic words such as hrafnfæðir, which means soldier/warrior but translates as “raven’s food”. Similarly hrafnvín (= raven’s wine) actually means blood. Their seasonal nature has also lent itself into Icelandic vocabulary such as in the words hrafnagusa and hrafnahret which both mean a sudden cold period during the summer.

baby074Late autumn and a young raven. Getting this close to it was a big mistake though, the adults didn’t like it… next time I’ll just use the zoom.

Naturally such an important animal will also be found in sayings. Sjaldséðir hvítir hrafnar (= rarely seen are white ravens) is said to someone that the speaker hasn’t seen for a long time. Að vera eins og úfinn hrafnsungi (= to be like a tousled raven chick) is used to describe someone whose hair is a mess. Guð borgar fyrir hrafninn (= God pays the raven’s dues) means that giving food to ravens brings good luck. Að vekja hrafnana (= to wake up the ravens) comes from the fact that ravens are usually the first birds to sing in the morning, therefore someone who actually wakes them up has risen from bed quite early!

Where we live we tend to see the same raven couple every year, or at least so I assume. One of them is huge and fat even for a raven which makes him rather obvious, but this is really all I base my assumptions on. On occasion there may be a small raven that comes along with them in the autumn, which I’ve taken to be their chicks. The smaller one usually disappears at some point but before it does the adults are quite protective about it! Once I managed to sneak near enough to take a photo but I wasn’t allowed many – one huge WHOOOMP of wings from right above my head sent me running. Even a small raven is still a huge bird and I’m taking no chances with one as bold and large as we’re talking here.

korp010Our resident ravens having couple time. Get a room!

We’ve met before that, in fact. During my first year here I once made the mistake of leaving a garbage bag outside, unattended for  two minutes, and when I came back the big one had already dragged it across the front yard with what I can only describe as a hopeful gleam in his beady eyes. He didn’t even have to do that – the neighbourhood feeds him anyway, as Icelanders often do.

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Here’s a traditional song about the ravens. Somehow the joyful melody and the translation of the lyrics don’t seem to quite match! :D


Krummi krunkar úti,
kallar á nafna sinn:
“Ég fann höfuð af hrúti
hrygg og gæruskinn.
:,:Komdu nú og kroppaðu með mér,
krummi nafni minn.”:,:

Raven song

The raven sings outside
calling its namesake:
“I found the head of a ram,
a rib cage and skin.
Come now and pick it with me
raven my namesake.”

korp006Early spring, children and a raven.

Að krunka: to make the sound a raven makes – yes, there’s a specific verb for it in Icelandic. :D

Að kalla á nafna sinn: this one confused me at first because I read it too quickly and thought the word was nafn (= name). What gave it out was the gender of the pronoun that follows it, because while nafn is a neuter, nafni (= namesake) is a masculine. A neuter form for sinn would have been sitt.

Gæruskinn: sheep skin that still has wool on it.

Að kroppa: to pick, or possibly also to peck.

Also whenever the raven is singing to its namesake it’s simply singing to another raven. They’re all called the same. :)


By a curious coincidence I wrote about ravens here almost exactly two years ago, so if you want to know more about them and the effect they’ve had on Icelandic culture and daily life go check Autumn is here and so are the ravens.

Icelandic sweater I love you.

Posted on 10. Sep, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic history


There are few items of clothing that could ever take the place of lopapeysa, the Icelandic wool sweater, in my heart. Made of Icelandic wool it quickly felts into an all-weather garment that will keep you warm and dry in almost any possible condition, and wearing two on top of each other will easily get you through the coldest days in Reykjavík and of course the circular collar part suits almost every possible bodytype. It’s one of the most elegant sweater types in my opinion!

For a long time the Icelandic sweater was considered old fashioned and mundane, and it was only worn for its functionality – its unbeatable warmth made it a perfect summer cabin, hiking and fishing sweater. Some years back it suddenly reappeared on the streets of Reykjavík though, becoming a huge hit among youngsters. It was no longer the telltale mark of a tourist downtown, it was now fashionable, and today the round collar with its cheerful decorations is one of the most typical sights you’ll see anywhere in Iceland.

klo132086Rainy day. This is where my sweater reached. :D

It’s no longer just the traditional sweater either, though those are common enough. People have really taken to the knits and are now varying the pattern creating dresses, loose collars, capes and capelettes, and of course even the typical sweater has gone through some improvements. The easiest and most obvious are no doubt the shoulder decorations. The traditional patterns are ever popular but on their side you can now see skulls, puffins, aurora, foliage, elegant Celtic-type knot patterns, Space Invaders, anything at all that the wearer feels as close to their heart. In fact by looking at the sweaters you can already tell something about the person wearing them: are they perhaps a knitter themselves? Then you’ll no doubt see some personal touches. Colour combinations will easily tell you about the wearer’s temperament, especially if the colours are very bright. The subject of the decorations might give you further hints.

If you ever visit Iceland you’ll also no doubt see them in almost every tourist shop around. I don’t usually recommend people to buy tourist-targeted goods because typically the quality is not worth the price, but the sweaters are a clear exception. They’re hand knit which means they’re also quite expensive and there’s no way of haggling the price any lower, since in comparison to the time that it takes to complete one the knitters may actually be somewhat underpaid in the end. However, if you’re after a specific type or would like to request a certain pattern the knitters often do take commissions.

is057Now also for dogs.

If you’d like to go for something less expensive there are a few ways of finding them for cheaper. One is to buy them secondhand. The large fleamarket Kólaportið may have some, and naturally Rauðakrossbúðin, the Red Cross, has some too. The last and by far the cheapest way is to knit one yourself. It’s not difficult, patterns for Icelandic sweaters are readily available for free, and if you’re using thick wool it won’t even take a long time!

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Here’s some knitting vocabulary. You can find more, and a free puffin scarf pattern in my previous post Knit a Puffin.

Here’s some ideas available on Ravelry that you could start with. I’m only linking free patterns, but if you create an account at Ravelry you can easily browse the whole selection.

Traditional patterns:

Stutt rennd lopapeysa (= short zipped-up wool sweater).
Fimma, for children.
Classic Icelandic sweater, men’s size M.
Waves, very traditional looking pattern for children.
Aftur (= again), look at all the colour combinations!
Lopi 120 – sizes range from S to XXL.

In between traditional and new:

0611-1 Pullover – the pattern is so delicate it reminds me of Norwegian sweaters!
Glaður grafa (= the words mean “joyful” and “to dig” but put together this doesn’t mean anything, at least not without a context), a very traditional looking pattern with an elegant addition reaching up from the hem and down from the collar.
Lopi – Peysa 50: also very traditional but with a modern twist.
Greetings from Iceland, a simple and cute pattern for children.

A newer style:

Hestapeysa: still somewhat traditional-looking but hey, horses!
Makrel (= mackerel), men’s XL.
Pink Ribbon, ladies L.
Iðunn – a very unusual way of making an Icelandic sweater!
Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na – BATMAAAAN!
Alda’s Design 14, like aurora!

It happened – the volcano erupted!

Posted on 29. Aug, 2014 by in Uncategorized


Eyjafjallajökull eruption by Daníel Örn Gíslason on

Good morning everyone, it’s currently around eight in the morning in Iceland and the news about the volcano are everywhere. There’s been an eruption to the north of Dyngjujökull (which is a name for one part of Vatnajökull on the north side) – see the English news about it here. And naturally… er eldgosið? Check here. :D

I decided to make a whole new post for the eruption itself since the volcano watching list one post down was getting quite long and hard to follow, besides this is quite exciting news. It can be seen on the north side, f.ex. from Grímsstaðir, and of course through web cameras unless the increased traffic will make it impossible. The Míla webcam can be seen here and the Veðurstofa cams are here. There’s a collection of photos taken at the site that can be seen here.

So far we’re quite lucky because this eruption is not sub-glacial. No worries for international air traffic, though there is an area that’s now closed it’s a small one and directly above the eruption area. Most international flights would fly on the south side of the island anyway so they’ll probably just change their course every so slightly – well, depending on the flight company of course. You can see the closed air space area here.

The eruption not being under the ice there’s no ash in the air as we speak. Though there’s always a possibility of the eruption moving back towards south and under the glacier it’s currently thought unlikely to happen. We’re watching over the situation in any case, Húsavík in the north is in particular keeping an eye on the situation since the town lies right next to the river that would bring a glacier flood if one were to happen, but thankfully at the moment there seems no danger of that. The civil protection level is on emergency (link), but that’s just a default for volcanic eruptions: if you see an international news site making big of that, or anything else concerning this eruption so far, you can be almost certain they’re trying to drum up the situation bigger than it is.

But what does this mean? Well, at the moment nothing much. No reason to panic, no ash cloud in the air. Interesting views and a possibility of going to see the eruption from a safe distance perhaps (though not too close because even this kind of an eruption still has its dangers – poisonous gas and explosions to name a few). Since there won’t be ash clouding the way the view ought to be quite good. I will be following things here in this post so stay tuned for your daily volcano updates!


08.31: the web camera at Míla seems a bit slow but for some reason the same camera works much faster here.

08.40: interested in going to see the eruption yourself? First find out what to do around an Icelandic eruption site and how to prepare for things going badly wrong. Most likely things won’t go badly wrong but if they do, rest assured Icelandic environment can quickly escalate even a catastrophic situation hundred times worse.

09.09: first aerial images of the eruption site here!

09.34: are you currently in Iceland? Check this map for the roads and the area that are closed because of the eruption.

10.20: more photos of the eruption site here.

10.41: the closed flight area has been reduced (link) and at the moment there’s no reason to limit air traffic to or from Iceland. TF-SIF, the Coast Guard plane, will nevertheless fly over the area today to gather more information.

11.30: the calderas that we wondered about a few days ago were most likely also caused by a volcanic eruption, but a lot smaller one (link). It would also explain why the water levels of Grímsvötn lake rose. It’s assumed though that this eruption was tiny in scale and might already be over.

12.04: TF-SIF flew over the area in the morning and took some photos, the first of which have now been published. You can look at them here and here. The eruption seems to be about 900m long.

12.27: Iceland wouldn’t be Iceland if we weren’t always eager to know what others say about us, so while the world follows the Icelandic volcano Icelanders follow the world’s reactions to it. :D They even made a news post (link) about how the British, Norwegian and Danish news are addressing the eruption. Not surprisingly, the news says, the Brits are the most worried about having yet another ash cloud blocking their air traffic.

Meanwhile foreign travelers are also worried and questions on the situation are raining in. Guðjón Arngrímsson, spokesperson for Icelandair, says there’s no need for such though: there’s no ash and flights are not affected by the volcano. For them it’s just a normal workday. :) (link).

12.56: ever wondered how the beginning of a volcanic eruption looks like in the middle of the night? You can see it on a video here!

13.35: earthquakes in the area are still quite powerful; one of 4,8 Richter in the morning half of the day and one of 5,2 Richter around midday – besides the hundreds of smaller ones of course (link).

13.47: the air traffic warnings for Askja and Bárðarbunga have been lowered to yellow and orange and there is no longer a ban for flying over the area as no ash has been detected in the air (link). As another important point, don’t miss the beautiful photos of Þorbjörg who’s currently working in the area (link).

13.59: there are now said to be three likely possibilities of how this eruption can go. The first one is that the one that began last night will settle down and nothing more will follow. Second option would be that the same eruption turns stronger, and third one would be the worst – that there would be another eruption underneath the glacier (link).

Iceland experiences periods of heightened volcanic activity such as the Kröflueldar 1975-84 and might be heading towards another such time – read about it in English here.

14.56: do you have a Tumblr blog? Love volcanoes? Check this one (it of course features the recent Iceland activity as well)!

16.02: the activity seems to be dying down and the emergency levels have been brought down to mere “danger” (link). The highest point of the eruption seems to have been last night, but as the area is still having large amounts of earthquakes it’s still being closely monitored.

17.16: There’s a new, short video taken of the eruption today here. You may want to turn down the volume before watching it though, it’s taken from a helicopter and there’s quite a bit of noise. Some amazing photos of the eruption site and the new lava have also been published – you can see them here.

19.21: Veðurstofan jokes here: the text says that they served soda pop and chocolates for dessert… except he situation as it is:that “gos” can also mean an eruption and “hraun”, while also being a name for this particular type of chocolate candy, means lava.

19.27: the eruption is now officially over – well, this one is at least. The earthquakes in the general area persist and aren’t slowing down in the least. Magma is still on the move according to this link, but no one can tell if it’ll mean more fireworks to come. There’s most likely more news tomorrow, so check this post every now and then for updates. ;)

Sat 30. Aug

11.19: Here’s a link for an article in English that summarizes well the situation as it is. No seismic changes despite the eruption and in fact there was another large earthquake (5,4 Richter) southeast of Bárðarbunga this morning (link). Fréttablaðið, a morning newspaper by Vísir, says that everything that’s been going on mimics the beginning of the Kröflueldar, the nine years of heightened seismic and volcanic activity that happened between 1975 and 1984.

21.44: there are possible new cracks in the ice over Bárðarbunga and the old ones seem to grow. Here‘s news about them in English. There are also a growing amount of strong earthquakes in this area, more than 1200 since midnight (link).

Sun 31 Aug

09.06: another, stronger eruption has happened on the same site (link). There’s code red for air traffic directly over Holuhraun. You can see a video of this eruption here, but alas there’s a storm in south Iceland and highlands now so the web cameras of Míla may not be useful. More photos of newest eruption here.

10.55: the Institute of Earth Sciences has some great photos of the new eruption here!

11.14: the danger area is quite small and there’s no affect on air traffic right now (link). The scientists of the area have had to leave because of the storm that’s on its way (link). People are asked to not drive motorhomes or other tall cars and in general driving outside of towns is not recommended (link). High winds in Iceland can strip asphalt off the roads and on highlands they cause sand storms.

11.39: you know how Icelanders figure out whether there’s ash in the air even if they cannot check the news? They put a plate outside – a white one – and see if any land on it. This is probably not ash however, but sand from the current sandstorm going on on highlands.

12.06: Míla now has a web camera pointed straight at the eruption here!

12.14: 60m tall lava fountains (link) at Holuhraun. Meanwhile eruption at Bárðarbunga considered more likely to happen (link).

20.20: the weather continues to be awful which makes studying the eruption very difficult. There has been no chance of flying over the eruption site yet and the visibility would be poor anyway due to the sandstorm. The eruption is much larger than the previous one, at least ten times larger (link). I also found a new video of the eruption here of some impressive lava “fountains”.

20.35: Míla cameras not working for you due to the heavy traffic? The one pointing at the lava is also available here.

22.08: new videos from the site! Here‘s one from the evening news today that was actually taken yesterday with special permission from the police – the reporters took a huge risk going in this area as it could have began erupting again, which it did just a few hours after they had left. They were all a bit afraid to be there and felt relieved to leave the area. You can see another new video here with lots of lava!

A small correction to earlier information: the eruption is not ten times larger than the previous one, it’s 50 times larger.

23.24: this picture of Holuhraun at night is amazing!

Mon 1 Aug

11.06: volcano still erupting. One large earthquake (5 Richter) this morning (link) but otherwise fewer earthquakes last night than in a long while. Here‘s a video taken very near the eruption – looks amazing! I also found a blog by Ómar Ragnarsson (link) where he discusses the topic of going to see an erupting volcano up close, whether this one is safe enough for that and also of how in the 70’s there were few if any bans on going to the eruption sites. He tells an amusing story of one Mr Lúdvík Karlsson who went tip-toeing over the hot lava dressed in nothing but slippers and a bikini bottom… :D

16.52: Situation at the moment in English (link) with lots of great photos. Meanwhile Icelanders are already turning their minds to an important future problem: what to call this new lava field (link)?

19.33: a small warning again, do not believe everything you see online. I’ve seen on FB alone several panic-drumming “news” links that are in reality just spam hitching a ride on the hot topic of the week. Don’t even click those. :P

21.47: though the name is not yet officially decided one popular option is Drekahraun, Dragon Lava (link). I love this idea!

Tue 2 Aug

09.08: here you can see how much lava has come out since the eruption began. It’s still going on by the way, here‘s a short English summary of the most recent news.

11.18: amazing photos by Einar Guðmann here!

Wed 3 Aug

08.36: it looks like we might be in for a long haul with the eruption (link)… my guess is that sooner or later the local tourism industry will begin to sell volcano tours! :D Besides that a large earthquake in the area (5,5 Richter) prompted a new swarm of earthquakes just as it had began looking like they might have been slowing down (link).