Iceland 2016: Horse Play

10 07 2016

Monday, May 30, 2016

5-29-16 Hofsstadir Guesthouse (15)As is not unusual, I awake before everyone else.  I decide a stroll is in order, so I dress and slip out the door.  I head up the long lane in front of the Guesthouse and cross the road to the horse pasture.  Before long, one, then two, then a small herd of horses are gathered by the fence to greet me.  We have a long chat, the horses and I.  5-29-16 Hofsstadir Guesthouse

They don’t ask for anything nor have I anything to give.  We just talk.  I snap a few pictures, wish them happy trails, and head back for breakfast.5-30-16 Hofsstadir Guesthouse (25)

5-30-16 Hofsstadir Guesthouse (20)

 

Ah, breakfast.

In usual Icelandic guesthouse style, a buffet is laid out.  There is a steaming pot of oatmeal and muesli to put on your skyr.  Fresh bread, several homemade jellies (rhubarb is big in Iceland), boiled eggs, small slices of melon, bananas, apples.  And a tray of sliced meats.  Different types.

5-30-16 Hofsstadir Guesthouse (13)

Horse, seabird, and lamb

One of the hotel employees is restocking a food tray.  I ask her about the meats.  Lamb. Horse. Seabird.  “Seabird,” said another guest, “It must be puffin.  They eat them here, you know.”  I did know.  I waver, torn between sensitivity and interest.  But I know I never again will get the chance to try these foods, so I take one slice of each.  The lamb tastes like lamb.  The horse tastes of roast beef.  As does the seabird, although smoked and slightly dry.  And I’m curious, so on the way out I ask the receptionist what kind of seabird.  She struggles for the word in English, finally pulling out a guidebook to Icelandic birds.  I love that she has one handy.  It is not puffin.  It is guillemot.  Somehow I am relieved.  Guillemots are not nearly as cute as puffins.  But that doesn’t excuse eating a lamb.  More on the horse later.

Although I communed with the horses before breakfast, and I ate horse meat for breakfast, the best is still ahead:  we have a 10:00 appointment for a two hour horse-riding tour.  We arrive at Hestasport  outside  the little village of Varmahlíð early, but there are dogs to play with.  Soccer dogs.  When I accidentally kick the soccer ball directly into the chest of one of the dogs, they take offense and run off.  I never was much good at soccer.

We head over to the stables, select our helmets, and get on our mounts, Annalise, Nancy, and me.  Dave has decided that this trail-riding stuff is too tame for his liking, and Brian, well, let’s just say that this was the same place that became a real “pain in the butt” for him last time.  (The back story for this is quite funny but not germane to this tale.)

So we set off and as before, our guide lets us experience the half-walk, half-trot gait that Icelandic horses are famed for.  Nancy is in front of me, and I see her horse break into a canter, upsetting Nancy’s balance.  She bounces left, then right, and suddenly I can see the future.  Before I have a chance to do or say anything—and really, what could I do anyway?—I see Nancy bounce high off to the left, landing with a resounding thump on her back on the ground.  Luckily, the ground was relatively soft, grassy and slightly marshy.  And fortunately she landed flat, without any twists that might have spelled disaster.  So, although shaken and stiff, she wasn’t  seriously hurt. But her physical discomfort paled in comparison to her wounded pride: horses and riders alike all looking down at her with wide eyes.

5-30-16 Hestasport Varmahlíð (4)

This lady has spunk.  She pops up (okay, maybe “pops up” is not the best phrase to describe how she got up, but you have to give her credit) and with a little help, manages to get back on her horse, who stands calmly as if wondering why his rider decided to take flight.

We continue our ride, occasionally at a tölt, although Nancy wisely holds to a walk.  Nancy has won the admiration of all: she is one plucky lady and a good sport as well.

5-30-16 Hestasport Varmahlíð (6)

I am gifted with an interesting perspective on this ride: when I mention to the guide my breakfast meat of that morning, he is not at all taken aback.  This man, this horse lover, reminds me that these horses live lives of great freedom, living outdoors in a herd and eating grass and doing what horses love to do, for a long time.  How much more humane is this life than that of cows, cooped up in dirty pens and fed from a trough until they are sufficiently fattened?  So maybe eating horse meat is not the horrid thing we tend to think it is.  Maybe the real cruelty lies in how we treat the cows that we eat.

We continue on to Akureyri, the “capital of North Iceland” and one of its biggest urban areas.  In spite of this status (which is all relative), we enjoy its charm and clean feel.

5-30-16 Akureyri (4)

A common sight in this uncommon country: babies left outside while mom shops

5-30-16 Akureyri (22)

Our favorite used bookstore

5-31-16 Akureyri (26)

5-30-16 Akureyri (27)

We stroll up the street to see the Botanical Garden.  We are too early.  Most of the flowers that we feasted our eyes on last time are still weeks away from blooming.  Still and all, we admire the variety  and interesting form of the foliage, that is until it starts raining in earnest and we have to head back down the hill to our cars.

5-30-16 Akureyri Botanical Garden (20)

rhubarb

We arrive at our lodgings, the Hotel Sveinbjarnargerði, on the other side of the fjord from Akureyri.  It’s a good thing we didn’t have to stop and ask directions: we never would have been able to spit out the strange concretion of consonants and syllables that are so common in the Icelandic language.

5-30-16 Akureyri (32)

The view from our hotel room

5-30-16 Akureyri (29)

Green acres, red tractor

5-30-16 Akureyri (25)A special treat awaits us:  hot cocoa and cinnamon buns in the lobby.  Even better, we get to see an gorgeous sunset across the waters, although we have to wait up until midnight for it and we never do get to see the sun sink below the horizon.  5-30-16 Akureyri midnight sunset (2)That isn’t a problem for our eyes, though, which sink before our horizon just as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

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