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!!

ICELANDIC BEER

Posted on Categories Beer, Food, history, Iceland, ReykjavikTags , , ,

In Iceland, surprisingly, beer was prohibited during most part of the 20th Century. Once the precious beverage was made legal again, it became the most popular beverage amongst locals, and let’s be honest… amongst travellers.

 

Beer always had an important place in the hearts of Icelanders, no wonders since many locals had their own brewing equipment at home during the 19th Century! Nowadays, the Icelandic beer brewing industry is prospering rapidly and several new breweries focusing on craftsmanship beers started their operations offering the widest selection of local beers Iceland ever had! The deliciousness of the Icelandic beers is not only due to the use of their pure and high quality water but also to their ingenuity and rigor.

 

In recent years, the beer market has flourished to give the drinkers an extended possibility of choices. Rather you are a beer lover or not, here are some beers you should definitely try before leaving this dreamy northern island. Some microbreweries, such as Ægisgarður are even offering tours allowing visitors to understand the process of beer making and taste many different products!

 

During the second World War when the British invaded Iceland in 1940, many soldiers thought that an important element was missing to their life… Beer! This is the reason why, Ölgerðin Brewery was allowed, only during that period, to produce beer for the British Navy. You can still find this beer until today under its original name; the Polar Beer. For the time being, beer consumption continued to be illegal for Icelanders and remained in that state until the close end of the 20th Century!

 

You would think that Icelanders went on high beer production after 1989, when the cherished beverage finally made its way back into the northern country. Surprisingly, up until very recently, very few breweries were producing a certain variety of beers, mainly pale lagers and lagers. The two major breweries are Ölgerðin Brewery and Vífilfell.  Amongst many beer produced, you should try the Ölgerðin classics; Egils Gull, Egils Premium and Egils Sterkur. Oh! And don’t forget to try Vífilfell’s classics for the second round; the Viking Classic (Vienna style beer with a touch of caramel and roasted malt in the taste), the Viking Sumaröl (belgian style summer beer spiced with coriander and orange peel), Viking Páskabjór (Most popular Dunkel beer in Iceland with rusty tones and flavors of coffee, chocolate and caramel) and Thule.

 

In recent years, many smaller, creative breweries got inspired from popular beers around the world. One is the beer Bríó, which won several prizes for their distinct taste obtained by adding German hops and Pilsen Malt in their recipe. Once you try its sweet perfume, it is hard to let it go.

 

Lastly, you shouldn’t leave Iceland without trying the fruit of the first microbrewery that opened in 2006; Arskógssandur, getting inspired by Czech traditional ways to brew. Kaldi, their pilsner beer offers dry and fresh taste with flavours of roasted barley and hops. In the same family, the Kaldi Dark beer is fermented with burnt malt, giving an additional dark colour, intense flavours and winning the hearts of the icelanders! You should definitely visit their Kaldi bar in the middle of Reykjavik, making it easier for you to taste more than one of their treasures!  

 

Here is a list of others beers worth your time and money:

Lava (Black Ale): Like wine, it ages very well and reaches its optimal taste quality after 3 years in a cold storage! It won many championships, mainly the “United States Open Beer Championship” and is now also available in North America.

Einstök Beers: White Ale, Pale Ale, Toasted Porter, DoppelBock etc. The Einstöck brewery offers a great selection of beers for all tastes and it is most likely to find them in the UK and the USA. A question of keep the travel alsting a little bit longer!

Borg Brugghús Beers: Úlfur (Indian-styled Pale Ale), NR 8.2 Surtur and NR 8.4 Surtur (imperial stouts with respectively vanilla and oaky aromas and liquorice, dark chocolate and coffee aromas) and Leifur Nr. 32 (Belgian White with arctic thyme and heaters flavours).

Skál (Cheers)!!

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!