Icelandic Language Blog

Sheep, shrubbery and Strandarkirkja. Posted by on Sep 2, 2012 in Icelandic customs

Now for the second part of our recent travels to the south!

Hliðarvatn lakeside (pun intended) is not only fully of berries but of people picking them as well, yet they were almost impossible to see. The small hills and the thick undergrowth completely hid an adult, crouching person, and small children could run around freely without really being seen or heard. This reminded me of both an old Icelandic joke, and the way they like to build their summer cabins. The joke of course goes: “What should you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?”
“Stand up.”

The scenery looks flat but in reality it’s everything but! There’s a family of five in this picture by the way.

The cabins take advantage of the cover and sound blockage that the shrubbery provides. Whenever a local friend of mine remarks that some area we’re travelling through looks like a summer cabin area it means that there are lots of small trees, usually dwarf birch, and bushes. Here and there a roof of a building pokes out through the green, mattress-like undergrowth but should the shrubbery not be there you’d be surprised to notice just how many buildings there really are and how they’re built very near each other. The greenery provides an illusion of being isolated from the neighbours: you won’t be able to see nor hear them.

When we finally grew tired of picking berries we packed the whole group of four back into the jeep and drove on along the side of the lake. The road there is in moderately good condition, meaning that you’ll still be happier in a 4WD but it’s not inaccessible by smaller cars either.

Some local wildlife. Always be careful if you see a sheep crossing a road, it means there will be more sheep coming right after.

The nose of the jeep next to Hliðarvatn.

“Handverk art”, “Pylsuvagninn”, “Opið” and an old dog that was in no hurry to walk away from in front of our car when we were leaving.

This was our next planned stop, Strandarkirkja (= Beach Church). It’s rather small and doesn’t look that exceptional but in fact this is one of the most famous churches in Iceland, and one of the richest ones as well.

A local story goes that a sailor was lost at sea in a storm. As he felt he would die soon he suddenly saw a radiant figure of a woman, and following her he made a solemn promise that if he were to survive alive he would then build a church on the site where he would arrive. Thus was Strandarkirkja built, and to this day it bears a reputation of being a good place for making promises of rewards (as long as you follow them through, that is). One popular thing to promise here is apparently a certain amount of money to the church for f.ex. winning a lottery, getting a job, or other such finance-related wish, which goes to further explain why the church is as wealthy as it is – it apparently does make such wishes come true if the person asking is sincere about the promise of reward that they then make!

Of course I’m not superstitious enough to believe anything like this but just in case, if you hear nothing about me in about a week’s time I’m probably off to the Bahamas.

Right next to Strandarkirkja is – surprise surprise – the sea. We were there during a low tide and took a while looking at the black beach, made out of volcanic rocks and sand.

Walk carefully!

This adventurous trip had to have a proper ending to it, so we stopped at a small restaurant/cafe along the road near the church. I took a photo of a photo collection that shows the restaurant being built, Icelandic-style! The coffee and crêpes were delicious and as I looked out of the window to a group of horses lazing around, chatting leisurely with the others in the group, it really dawned on me how close these amazing little pearls can be to you. All this time I’ve been living in Reykjavík I’ve somehow always thought that to see the really interesting bits about Iceland you first have to drive for an hour or two to access them but in fact they can be practically around the corner, just waiting for you to find them.

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!