Hiding in plain sight: the other side of Reykjavík harbour.

Posted on 22. Jul, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic history


The fifth and final post on things you don’t know you could see in Iceland but totally should: the other side of the Reykjavík harbour.

This might sound confusing. After all, Reykjavík harbour is all around downtown and there isn’t much more there than the concert hall Harpa and some piers – well, occasionally Danish warships which are cool to watch – but all in all it’s quickly seen, right? Well, no. :D

Let’s start at the aforementioned Harpa. Standing in front of it facing the City Centre you should turn right towards Kólaportið and walk straight ahead along the seaside. You’ll pass the library, after a while a small but interesting hamburger kiosk, then a long but low-built hotel. Before the hotel, right after the kiosk is another pier with booths for whale and puffin watching tours, but walk past those and take the small walkway on the right side of the hotel. All in all it will take you about 15 minutes if you walk slowly.


What makes this playground amazing and definitely worth seeing is that it’s entirely built of recycled ship materials! It seems to be steadily growing too with new pieces introduced every now and then. If you’re traveling with small ones this might be a place for them to easily spend hours on. Notice the building on the right with the rusted balcony? That would be the

sd113Maritime museum

Right behind the playground you’ll see a small bridge leading into a building. This place is the Maritime museum where the history of seafaring Icelanders is spread in front of you on two floors. Here you’ll see what the sea gives and what it takes, the conditions that the sailors of yore had to survive in (they even have a “room” with bunk beds to show just how little space each man had to himself), and also how their life back onshore looked like. Naturally the museum doesn’t stop there, because catching fish for eating is only the first part of the process of bringing it to people to eat: the workers on land, most often women, get their fair share as well. You’ll even get to try to lift weights like those fish that these ladies slung around all day long with little trouble and well… let’s just say I probably wouldn’t be able to keep working for three hours with those women.



Again you won’t have to go far. Parked right next to the museum is Óðinn, a famous Cod Wars coast guard ship that’s now serving as a part of the museum. You’ll have to buy a separate ticket toit but it’s quite large with plenty of things to see. As it is a ship, be prepared for narrow corridors and staircases, definitely not for those with weak knees.

There was no typo in the previous paragraph by the way, there indeed were three “wars” Iceland partook in that are called Cod Wars (link). Each time the fighting began when Icelanders declared a portion of sea around the country to themselves and the coast guards started to harass British fishing ships, cutting their trawlers and in general making fishing impossible for them. The UK naturally didn’t take this well and eventually sent warships in, to which the Icelanders replied by, er, ramming their own little ships to them. They in fact won every single war by this technique and the number of casualties of all three Cod Wars was one on both sides: a British trawlerman who was accidentally hit by a hawser and was injured, and an Icelandic man who fell into the sea and drowned while making repairs to his ship.

The staff at Óðinn can tell you many more interesting stories and you’ll also get a chance at seeing how the president of Iceland traveled on this ship.


Lastly but not leastly, the ice cream shop Valdís that’s across the street from both Óðinn and the museum. It’s the first ice cream store to sell selfmade ice cream and their menu changes daily according to which flavours they felt like making/thought up that day. Be prepared to queue if the day is sunny and even if it isn’t, well, Icelanders do love their ice cream. My personal record is 40min during a really busy time, but hey, the ice cream was so worth it.


Remember how to order ice cream? It may come in handy (just kidding, the staff speaks good English)! :D

Previously in this series:


Near Hallgrímskirkja.



Icelandic horses for courses and… courses.

Posted on 17. Jul, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic history


Question and answer time! During the last month you’ve asked the Icelandic blog, via both the e-mail and the comments section, a couple of interesting questions that I’ll try to answer today.

First a question was about horses: what are all the different words that mean horse in Icelandic?

The most obvious one is hestur of course, but that’s only the most generic term and it’s not used f.ex. to describe horse meat (comparable to how English uses beef and pork instead of cow and pig).

Hross is another word that can either mean a horse or horse meat. Then there are words that specify something about the animal you’re talking about. Foli is a stud, hryssa and meri both mean a mare. If speaking of a mare it’s a bit more common to use meri than hestur, though both words do work for the same animal. Folald is a foal, hestfolald is a male foal, and a bit confusingly a folaldsmeri is not a female foal but a mare with a foal. Since horses are commonly eaten in Iceland you may well profit from knowing these extra words, all depending on whether or not you personally are willing to eat them. If not, say neigh to hrossakjöt and folaldakjöt!

…I am so sorry about how bad that pun was.

Icelanders and their horses go back such a long time that you’ll find them in the strangest situations. Kinnhestur (lit. transl. cheek horse) means a slap in the face for example, and if you come across sævar hestur (= horse of the sea) in old texts you’re actually reading about a ship.



Second question was about the usage of það as a pro-form.

1. An example of the pro-form usage of það where it substitutes a whole sentence could be f.ex.

Arna segir að þú hittir Guðrúnu í gær og kallaðir hestinn hennar ljótan.” (= Arna says you met Guðrún yesterday and called her horse ugly.)

Segir hún það? Í alvöru? Ég sagði ekkert slíkt.” (= She says that? Really? I said nothing of the sort.)

Já, en hún segir að þú hafir sagt það.” (=Yes, but she says that you have said that.)

As you can see it’s very similar to English and the point is to avoid repeating a whole sentence. Funnily though the Icelandic way of using pro-forms is a bit illogical at times if we take a pro-form to mean substituting something – it can occasionally be simply added to a sentence without it actually standing in for something else.


2. Example of a pro-form used to tandem a subject:

Það er folaldakjöt í ísskapnum. (= There’s foal meat in the fridge, lit. transl. That is foal meat in the fridge.)

Note though that if the word order is reversed það falls out: í ísskápnum er folaldakjöt.

3. Occasionally það also pretends to be a subject though it’s not. This mainly happens when talking about the weather.

Það verður sólskin í dag. (= It’s going to be sunny today.)

Það var rok og rigning allan daginn. (= It was windy and rainy all day long.)

Likewise, if changing the word order you’ll drop the það: allan daginn var rok og rigning.

These are the three most typical examples of the usage of það as a pro-form, there are more cases that are similar but bleed into demonstrative/are demonstrative instead. They might need a whole blog post of their own.


Facts about the Icelandic horse

- Though Icelandic horse is said to have five gaits it’s more correct to say that they have 4-6 depending on the horse. This is because in Iceland canter and gallop are considered to be the same thing, so the first three gaits – fet (= walk), brokk (= trot) and stökk (= canter/gallop) are actually four, and the latter two, tölt (= tölt) and skeið (= pace), don’t appear in every horse. Those that can do all gaits are valued highly, those that cannot… are valued highly too, on the dinner table.

- When Icelanders took Christianity as the main religion it was on condition that they’d still be allowed to eat horse meat.

- In fact there’s even a joke that goes “Hestur, hinn ljúffengi fararskjótur“: Horse, what a delicious vehicle.

- It’s a mystery why only Icelandic horses can tölt, but one theory is that tölting was deliberately bred out of horses in general because it’s not a suitable gait for pulling carts. Iceland, lacking proper roads for most of its existence, had no use for cart-pulling on the same scale to f.ex. Europe, but it did have many uses for sure-footed horses that had a pleasant and fast gait option.

- Icelandic horses have 40 base colours and hundreds of names for colour combinations. The most common base colours are red and brown. Some colours are favoured whereas others are unwanted, and some breeders even concentrate on breeding their horses to favourable colours.

- No horses are allowed to enter Iceland. If an Icelandic horse is taken out of the country it cannot be brought back.

- Many breeders concentrate on fiery temperament because competitions are serious business over here. As a result the companies that offer tourists riding tours are trying hard to get their hands on the calmer ones because nothing is a worse combination than a feisty Icelandic horse carrying an inexperienced rider on a mountain side!

YouTube Preview Image

How to pronounce horse in all its forms.

Reykjavík calling: we’re on fire (again).

Posted on 11. Jul, 2014 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Hi all, it’s been quite an insanely busy and action-packed week, not to mention a small injury in the family has momentarily made a nurse out of me (although hopefully if you ever need a nurse it will be someone with better handling skills). We’re doing fine at the moment despite all my best efforts at taking care of the patient, so let’s get to the hot topic of the week.

Indeed, fire. The first one in the news was a dry cleaner’s place that, alas, burned down to the ground and is now called one of the worst fires in the history of Iceland (link). It’s quite near from where we live in fact and actually the first I knew of the fire was someone who lives in the same area complaining about the smell of smoke on FB.



Yup… quite near our place.

I immediately went outside to investigate and when I saw the cloud there could be no mistaking the conical shape of it, touching the ground in Skeifan shopping area like a very stationary tornado: something was burning and it wasn’t a small affair either.

There was plenty of luck involved in that only one building burned down. From the aerial videos you can tell the nearby buildings’ roofs were in danger and what’s worse, there were plenty of people in the area with the poisonous fumes and possibility of explosions making everything just a little bit more serious. Before you ask, no, those people didn’t just chance to be there. The moment Icelanders realized something unusual was going on they packed the whole family in the car and drove over to have a good look at it. Police pleading that everyone stay out of the way of the firefighters had little effect, in fact people were even trying to sneak behind the yellow police lines to get “the selfie of a lifetime” (link to the general mayhem).

But hey, at least the local hot dog stand made unusually good business that night (link)!

Links to more articles concerning the fire:

Fire in Reykjavík: Millions in Damage And Not the First Time (link)(article in English, lots of videos included)

Magnaðar myndir: gífurlegt tjón er Skeifan 11 brann (link)(= Great photos: untold damage when Skeifan 11 burned, in Icelandic but with lots of photos just like the title says)

Skeifan daginn eftir (link)(= Skeifan the next day, a video in Icelandic)

Frábær tækifæri til uppbyggingar í Skeifunni (link)(= Wonderful opportunity for re-building Skeifan, article in Icelandic)



Driving in a volcanic ash cloud during the Grímsfjall eruption.


Another burning topic of the day is Katla, the overdue volcano that’s been shaking for quite a while now. Don’t worry though, there’s not necessarily an eruption going to happen any time soon, but what has recently happened is another jökulhlaup, a glacier flood. Tourists and locals alike are being asked to stay far away from the flood water as it can carry along poisonous gas, not to mention the flood itself is of course dangerous on its own due to its unpredictable nature.

Has this stopped anyone? Hah, NO. If anything it has only drawn more people to the area, especially tourists.

Links to articles concerning the situation at Katla:

Experts: Katla Not Erupting But Stay Away (link)(article in English)

Seriously, Stay Away from Katla (link)(article in English)

Fara að Sólheimajökli þrátt fyrir viðvörun (link)(= Going to Sólheimajökull despite the warning, article in Icelandic)

Viðvaranir gera Kötlu bara meira spennandi (link)(= Warnings just make Katla more exciting, article in Icelandic)


Fire vocabulary:

Eldur = fire. However, a fire that has a known location is brenna, a burning. Brenna also translates as bonfire/pyre as in áramótabrenna (= New Year’s bonfire) and bókabrenna (= book burning).

This is a massively useful word to know because once you know it it’ll be easy to broaden your vocabulary with all the related- and compound words it’s in. Að elda mat = to cook food, eldhús = kitchen (because once upon a time the room with the fire literally was used for making food), eldfjall = volcano and eldfljótur = very fast, lit. transl. quick as fire. It’s also used as a way of stressing certain adjectives such as eldgamall = very old and eldforn = ancient.

Að brenna = to burn, to be on fire. Although it’s usually used similarly to its English counterpart the difference is that it’s somewhat harder to use it to say something burned you – it’s always you who burn yourself on something when it comes to Icelandic. Therefore whenever you get burned, be it by fire, stove or sun, you have to include “ég brennti mig í…” (= I burned myself by/with/in…) Another good reason to avoid trusting online translation too much – “það brennur” does not actually mean “it burns/it’s very hot”, it means “it’s on fire”.

Brenna is another great word because when you see it you know it’s got something to do with burning of some kind: brennihár = nettle hairs (can also mean other stinging plants), brennigler = magnifying lens you can use to light a fire, brennivín = Icelandic vodka, lit. transl. “burning wine” and so forth.

Bruni =fire/burning. Not to be confused with brunnur (= well, fountain).

Eldsvoði = lit. transl. fire danger: a big fire, a house on fire. Cannot be used for any small fire or fire that’s under control.

Að kveikja = to start a fire, to turn on the light. Another word from the era where the only source of light was fire.

Að loga =to lighten surroundings, to burn. Lampinn logar = the lamp is lit/spreading light. Logandi can also be used to stress adjectives’ meaning in a similar way to eld-: logandi falleg = extremely beautiful. You can also find it in fari það í logandi = that can go to hell, lit. transl. may that burn.