Icelandic Furry Friends

Posted on Categories Animals, history, Iceland, NatureTags , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When Iceland was first settled, back in the 9th century, the only native land mammal was the Arctic Fox. They came to the island at the end of the ice age, when frozen water was connecting Iceland with North America. The settlers were the ones bringing all the other Icelandic domestic breeds. 

Due to the island’s geographic isolation, most of the breeds have remained unchanged since. The Icelandic horse is a well-known example of this and of course the farmers best friend, the Icelandic sheepdog.   

These both amiable and furry creatures first came to Iceland with the Nordic Vikings, the original settlers of Iceland. 

 

The Icelandic Sheepdog

In terrain like in Iceland, the breed developed flexibility, strength, patience, as well as independence. Additionally, with being easily trainable, the dog became an excellent herder of sheep and other domestic animals. Also, with its loud bark, they made great guard dogs and protected the lamb from predators like eagles.

Today, not only he is the farmers’ favorite little helper and a great household pet. The Icelandic sheepdog is also helping in a variety of jobs, like avalanche tracking and field searches.

 

The Icelandic Horse

Like all the other non-native mammals, Nordic settlers brought the first horses on the island. More precisely, coming from British Isles between 860 and 935 AD. Known for being easy-going and friendly, the Icelandic horse is famous for its welcoming and nurturing temperament.

They are exactly like their country, little but strong! Their muscular silhouette,  shaggy fur, and small height (140 cm) typify them. Normally, we consider most horse breeds that are shorter than 147 cm as ponies. That being said, you can ask any Icelander, the answer will be the same; they are not ponies, they are horses!

While other horse breeds may perform 3 or 4 gaits (ways of walking), this Nordic beauty has the ability to perform 5. The Tölt and the Pace are the additional gaits to the common Walk, Trot, and Gallop.

The Icelandic horses have marked a lot the history of their island. Worldwide, they are known for being loyal, pleasant and strong creatures. Doubtlessly, they are popular for their camaraderie and comfortable ride.

 

Fun fact:

During medieval times, the Icelandic sheepdog was quite popular amongst the British.   Not only for sheep farmers but also as pets for elites. William Shakespeare even mentioned the Icelandic dog in his popular play Henry V.

Icelanders are very protective of their horse breed. First of all, authorities do not allow any other horse breed to enter the country, and this since 982 AD. Nonetheless, any Icelandic horse leaving Iceland is not allowed to enter back in either! Hence, there are more Icelandic horses living outside of Iceland then in.

 

Konudagur / Woman’s Day.

Posted on Categories Culture, history, Holidays, Iceland, TraditionTags , , , , , , , , ,

Icelanders sure know how to keep their traditions alive! Many festivities throughout the year come from ancient celebrations from the pre-Christian Norse calendar. Þorri and Góa, for example, celebrate the beginning of the fourth and fifth month of winter.

Both of these celebrations are also known as Husband’s Day (Bóndadagur), and Woman’s Day (Konudagur). Bóndadagur marks the beginning of the Icelandic month of Þorri. Whereas, Konudagur marks the start of the month of Góa. Konudagur is the first day of Góa. It always falls on a Sunday on the second-to-last winter month, marking the time when the days start being visibly longer.  Centuries ago the tradition was that the housewives would  wake up and go lightly dressed out in the snow, to welcome Góa by saying:

 

“Góa is coming, kind and true;

she´ll be warm enough.

Þorri, you´ll be missed by few;

you´ve been plenty rough.”

 

The expression “Ladies’ Day” goes back to 1900. It made it to the official calendar in 1927 and has been on it since then.

On both Þorri and Góa, it is tradition to pamper your loved one with sweet attentions throughout the day.      

So for that reason and the fact that it’s in February, Woman’s Day (Konudagur) has been considered the Icelandic equivalent to Valentine’s Day. Although the day of love gained international popularity over the last years, Icelanders prefer to follow their traditions and reserve a special day for both parties.

Here are some reasons to adopt this new love tradition after your visit to Iceland!

 

  • Always lands on a weekend!

It is known, Valentine’s Day is always on the 14th of February, which may cause you to celebrate in the middle of the week or having a belated lovely dinner during the weekend… Well, Konudagur is always on a Sunday and Bóndadagur is always on a Friday! Needless to say more.

 

  • Specially confectioned cake

Every year, Icelandic bakers hold a competition for “The Cake of the Year”. The most beautiful and delicious cake is sold especially for Konudagur! Here you go ladies, the best cake is showcased in the windows just for you. You deserve it!  

 

  • Two instead of one!

Bóndadagur and Konudagur both focus on pampering the individual instead of the couple itself. This means that you get the whole day to treat your other half without compromising; food, activities, surprises, everything at your loved one’s preferences! And you know you’ll get yours too.. Not bad eh?

Anyhow, remember that we should be celebrating love every day, not only because of a special date and should always treat our loved one like a prince and a princess! Have a good day!

Icelandic Turf houses

Posted on Categories Culture, Design, history, Iceland, Museums, TraditionTags , , , , ,

Have you ever wonder how an isolated community, living in harsh conditions, without an easy access to construction goods build their homes?

 

Turf Houses are an integral part of the Nordic culture of Iceland. Although similar architectural tradition has been seen in other Nordic regions such as Norway, Scotland, Ireland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Great Plains of North America throughout time, Icelanders used this technique for a considerable amount of time – from the 9th to the 20th century! The historic records show that up until the 19th century, 50% of the Icelandic population was still living in turf houses, the last inhabitants left their traditional houses around 1966. Coming from the arrival of the Norse and the British settlers, during the top of the Viking Age, those houses needing a lot of maintenance were then replaced by more modern buildings.

 

Abundant, ecological and renewable, turf became the choice for shelter constructions in Iceland. The choice of this material had more than one benefit and this is due to the climate condition of the country. The wooden layer (mostly timber), the turf grass and the stacks of earth was giving a natural isolation from the strong winds and difficult weather of the beautiful land. The foundation were mostly made of large flat stones and would always feature an impressive fire pit as the center of the building. Humidity, which can be very hard to bare with, was then gently eliminated from the turf houses.

 

During the 1000 years that turf houses were used, their style changed significantly. For example, during the 14th century, the long viking houses were changed into many small interconnected houses.

 

In the 18th century, the burstabær style became more popular with wooden extremities (at the back and at the front) instead of having only the wooden door. This style has been adopted and are the ones that we are still able to see and visit nowadays. With this technique, depending on the region and its climate condition, turf walls could last between 20 and 70 years!

 

With time, the population started to cluster in bigger cities like Reykjavik and let behind the traditional technique of stone masonry and earthen architecture and moved to wood buildings. Only after several earthquakes and fires flattening the city, Icelanders switched to a safer and stronger building material; concrete and steel. Interesting enough, at the beginning of the 20th century when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, the turf houses were endangered considering that, for some, the traditional technique was too related to the Danish crown and pressure was put to move onto a more modern style of building. However, the Turf House Tradition of Iceland was nominated at the UNESCO World Heritage in 2011 in order to conserve this original, charming and valuable tradition. You could read on the nomination that “The turf house is an exceptional example of a vernacular architectural tradition, which has survive in Iceland. The form and design of the turf house is an expression of the cultural values of the society and has adapted to the social and technological changes that took place through the centuries.”

 

You can visit those Icelandic treasures in several parts of the island. Amongst many worthwhile sites, the fairy-tale looking church, Hofskirkja turf church, should be on the top of your list. Although it is pretty recent, constructed in 1884 and heavily restored in the 1950´s, it is the only turf building still being used for its initial purpose. Hence, it is impossible to see inside of the small turf church, by respect of the practicants, but the graveyard is open to the public and gives an incredible view on the tiny dreamy edifice.

 

Most of the turf houses now belongs to the National Museum of Iceland (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands). The historical Keldur site is believed to be the oldest turf house site that survived through time in Iceland. Located in South Iceland, shortly over an hour and a half driving from Reykjavik, it is believed to be in place since the middle age. Because of its natural components and the harsh weather of the land, turf houses are not known for lasting very long without conservation. Hence, this site was restored after the two earthquakes respectively in 1896 and 1912. Throughout the years, many conservation interventions occurred and some of the element where rebuild and refurbished, mainly in 1985, 1994 and 2000.

 

If you have some spare time, you should definitely visit a turf house; it fits very well in a conversation!!

A weekend of patriotism

Posted on Categories Events, Football, history, Holidays, IcelandTags , , , ,

There is a lot to feel patriotic about this upcoming weekend..well for us Icelander at least.
On Saturday, June 16th, Iceland breaks history by playing their first world cup match ever against Argentina in the World Cup 2018 in Russia. CenterHotel Plaza and CenterHotel Miðgarður will create a true World Cup atmosphere by broadcasting the match along with all other matches in the tournament. See more on our World Cup events here.

After Saturday’s World Cup celebrations, Icelanders will celebrate their Independence Day on Sunday, June 17th.
The day will be celebrated all over the country with customary parades led by marching bands and other family festivities and ceremonies. Ceremonies often include a poetry reading by a woman dressed as ‘fjallkonan’ (‘The Lady of the Mountain’). Fjallkonan is considered to be the female incarnation of Iceland and every year a young female figure (often actress) is chosen to read for the crowd in the national costume.

In Reykjavík the June 17th parade will start at 13:00 on the corner of Laugavegur shopping street and Snorrabraut (walking distance to all CenterHotels) and will end downtown at Hljómskálagarður. The parade will be lead by a pick up truck loaded with a popular local band playing fun tunes for participants.

At Hljómskálagarður there will be variety of entertainment throughout the day. The Icelandic circus will perform for the children, there will also be a puppet show for the youngest once and variety of live music on the big stage. So something for everyone. Enjoy!

Gleðilegan 17. Júní! Happy June 17th!

Happy Beer Day!

Posted on Categories Culture, Events, history, Iceland, Tradition

On March 1, we celebrate the National Beer Day in Iceland.

In 1908 Icelanders voted in favor of a ban on all alcoholic beverages and the ban went officially into effect in 1915. As soon as Iceland stopped purchasing Spanish wines, Spain refused to buy Icelandic fish (our main export at the time), so therefore the ban was partially lifted in 1921 with legalization of wine.

Then in 1935 the prohibition of alcohol was lifted  EXCEPT for beer (with alcohol content of more than 2.5 %) and the argument was that beer would lead to debauchery due to it’s low price. So in other words; Icelanders weren’t trusted to handle their booze.

During the time of the prohibition, smuggling and underground brewing was not uncommon and many pubs would serve light beer (Pilsner) with stronger liquor added to it (like vodka). But soon that was also banned by the minister of justice.

74 years and a few rallies later, the beer prohibition finally ended on March 1, 1989 and people were able to buy beer again legally in Iceland. This is the reason why some Icelanders celebrate Beer Day on March 1st. “We had to fight, for our right to party”.

Today beer has become the drink of choice for most Icelanders.
You can find local and imported beer in all pubs and most restaurants in Reykjavík. Beer is also sold in wine stores, however grocery stores only sell the light beer called  pilsner (less than 2.5%). There are several breweries in Iceland and some popular Icelandic beer is Viking, Thule, Einstök, Kaldi, Brío, Boli, Gull.

So if you like beer; March 1st is a great day and an excuse to go out and have an Icelandic brew..or two.

Skál!