What’s simply called rye bread (or hverabrauð) by Icelanders is also known as lava, volcanic or hot spring bread. The process starts with a dough of dark rye and whole wheat flour, buttermilk, golden syrup, baking powder, baking soda and a little salt. The dough is enclosed in a metal container—even an old can with a lid will do, before it’s sealed and buried in the ground to bake for 24 hours. Ours was not buried in the ground but enclosed in a steam vent near our guesthouse. We went for a short hike where Herdis explained the process and carefully opened the lid to reveal ours along with some other packages of bread in recycled metal containers. Hiking back and within minutes, we were eating some of the best bread I’ve ever had in my life!
What makes it taste so great? The dense bread has precisely the right amount of sponginess and a hint of caramel, thanks to the golden syrup. Best served hot, it’s even better with a little butter. It was truly beautiful to taste—fresh and warm like it had just come out of an oven, but incredibly moist and slightly sweet, almost like the consistency of a cake.
The separation of two tectonic plates, north american and eurasian, makes Thingvellir National Park an incredible place to visit. History buffs will love this stop to see the Althing which is the site of the first parliament in the world. The Althing meeting spot was originally designated in 930AD and the people representing Iceland continued to meet there until 1798.
Our visit with Hulda Brynjólfsdóttir at UppSpuni Mini Mill was fantastic! Hulda walked us through their wool processing, from the raw wool, to cleaning and preparing the first thread, and then joining two or three threads to create soft warm wool yarn. Then we visited and shopped in her beautiful yarn boutique.
Our workshop with Guðrún Bjarnadóttir at Hespa had us involved in hands on dyeing of wool with the natural flora and fauna of Iceland. Guðrún was so kind to welcome us to her lovely studio and to share with us her story of naturally dyed Icelandic yarn.
“I only have to walk outside of my house to get most of my coloring plants and meet the sheep from the next farm. Some plants I have to go further to collect like the lichens and Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). Coloring with plants is seasonal. In Iceland we have a short summer, 3-4 months, and I have to collect plants in autumn so I can color in the winter. We can not get blue and good red from our nature so we have for centuries imported indigo and Madder root for those colors so that is according to our tradition. I color with the same process as people did in the old days but I have electricity and better dyepots (Stainless steel) and I also use household cleaning ammonium instead of old cow urine as people did in the old days. Same methods, same chemistry but easier and cleaner process.” (pulled from Fillory Yarn interview)
Kerid crater lake is a 3,000 year old volcanic crater lake, which is relatively shallow, about 10-14 meters deep. The water is a unique and strikingly vivid aquamarine shade of blue surrounded by rare red volcanic rock. We took a quick and easy hike around and enjoyed the spectacular view!
Skálholt is one of the most historic places in Iceland. Christianity was made the official religion of Iceland by law in the year 1000 A.D. The country’s first bishop, Ísleifur Gissurarson, ordained in 1056, made Skálholt the episcopal see of all Iceland. It was also a school, a seat of learning and administration for more than 700 years and a place of pilgrimage in medieval times. They are currently in the process of cleaning the exterior of the cathedral. We took a peek inside and admired the beautiful “Christ the King” mosaic mural made by Nína Tryggvadóttir behind the altar. The mural actually looks like a painting from a distance with the image depicted in a blur between “brush strokes” of different hues.
One evening we enjoyed the company of Herdis’s husband, Einer, who shared with us his unedited video clips of this years annual réttir—the nationwide roundup of all the sheep from the mountains and valleys. They enjoy the comradery as they herd the sheep back to large pens for sorting before the snow flies. The grueling endeavor sometimes requires days in the saddle. Einer was part of his group for 8 days. About 800,000 sheep roam Iceland—more than twice as many sheep as people!