On Friday June 21, with the help of Ásta Sól Kristjánsdóttir and the rest of the Snorri Foundation, I was thrilled to be introduced to my distant family from Eskifjorður, Iceland. Ragna Hreinsdóttir, who is my third cousin once removed and her husband Frissi Þorvaldsson picked me up in Reykjavik. They have three daughters named Kristín, Vala, Sóley and a granddaughter named Blædís Vala. From the moment we met, the whole family was very welcoming and embraced me as part of their family. They have been helpful in teaching me new Icelandic words as well as sharing the history of our family and the places we visit.
We stayed with Kristín in Reykjavik for Vala’s graduation, then headed to Laugarvatn and stayed with Ragna’s parents for a couple days. On our way to Eskifjorður we stopped at Þingvellir, where Iceland’s Parliament was first established in the year 930 AD. In Skálholt, we visited the church where Jón Arason was the last Catholic Bishop and where the first school in Iceland was established. Our travels also took us to Geysir, where boiling water shoots 25 meters in the air every five minutes and also drove past Vatnajökull, which is the largest glacier in Europe. We have experienced diverse landscapes with beautiful mountains, lava fields and majestic waterfalls including Gullfoss, Dettifoss and Skógafoss.
We arrived in Eskifjorður on the evening of Tuesday June 26. I volunteered at the local swimming pool for the remainder of the week. Working at the swimming pool was great for getting to know the locals, because most of the small children participated in swimming lessons every day. I was gardening last week and I will be volunteering at the Fire Department in Reyðarfjörður this upcoming week. Gardening was a lot more tedious compared to the swimming pool, but I met some interesting people who were closer in age and shared similar interests. I don’t know what to expect at the Fire Department but I know that it will be interesting.
The second weekend I was with my family, we went to an off-roading competition outside of Egilsstaðir where 4x4 Jeep’s drove uphill through a specified course. Some of the routes were impossible for the Jeep’s to complete without flipping down the slope. Last week, the family and I went fishing off the docks and caught many small pollock, cod and even a couple seagulls! We have been to a few Icelandic concerts since I’ve arrived, including a hip hop group named XXX Rottweiler Hundar, and two local women that sang traditional Icelandic songs. This past weekend we watched Mugison, Jónas Sigurðsson, Lára Rúnars, Ómar Guðjónsson, Guðni Finnsson and Arnar Gíslason perform from a boat docked in the Reyðarfjörður harbor. They played folk music in Icelandic and English, even though it was cold and raining, 500 people showed up and we had an incredible time. This past weekend we also set out on a road trip to Akureyri and Húsavík, where our family’s ancestors are from. Along the way we found a hot spring inside a cave, at the bottom of a gorge near Mývatn. It was so amazing, yet terrifying, swimming inside the cave with massive rocks carefully situated above our heads.
I have found a lot of similarities in my Icelandic family’s characteristics compared to my family back in Canada. Some of the shared qualities are family values, the love of laughter, compassion for others and the love of nature. I am so grateful to be a part of this loving family. The opportunity of travelling to Iceland with the Snorri program has been an unbelievable experience that I am very appreciative to be a part of.
-Freyja Laxdal from Calgary, Alberta, Canada