Iceland – Day 4

As the saying goes, “Day four, eat a pound of Smjor.” So we did, and then headed off for a lovely morning of Icelandic horseback riding!

We were picked up at our hotel and taken to a charming little stable on the outskirts of Reykjavik, where an ebullient blonde woman named Bergljót Rist swept us inside, sat us down, and explained everything we needed to know about Icelandic horses and how to ride them. (“Call me Begga,” she said. “Or Becca. Or whatever you want.” I guess Icelanders really don’t give a fig what you call them.)

Icelandic horses, you see, are small. But they’re not ponies, and if you call them that the Icelandic Horse Police will swoop down from their flying stallions and immediately deport you. They are, however, gentle and kind, and have this incredible long, flowing, model-esque mane that swishes and flies about in the air like a shampoo commercial. I submit to you that it is only a matter of time before Tyra Banks invades to produce Iceland’s Next Top Horse Model. Would it really surprise anyone, at this point?

Here is me and my horse, Freyfaxi.

Begga told me the name comes from faxi, which means “eye-catching mane” (a good match for my “eye-catching raincoat”), and Freyr was one of the good old Scandinavian gods, and now that I’m looking all this up on the internet I see that there’s a whole story about the legend of Freyfaxi, so clearly I was dealing with a very important horse here.

“There she goes, mugging for the camera again. I’m a goddamn LEGEND. What IS this shit.”

The extent of my knowledge about horses pretty much begins and ends with anything I retained from The Scorpio Races, but what I can tell you is that Icelandic horses are known for being the only breed in the world that is able to pull off a gait known as the tölt. It is fast, comfortable for the rider, and famous for being remarkably steady. Begga told us that to demonstrate this, people have held up glasses of champagne while riding an Icelandic horse doing the tölt, and not one drop was spilled. Which raises several questions surrounding tölting while intoxicated and whether the good people at Tempur-Pedic got their stacked-wine-glass-bowling-ball commercial ideas from this, but I digress.

We set out for a peaceful  jaunt across the Icelandic countryside, which included a lot of stunning lava fields and rock formations covered in moss, none of which our cameras were able to adequately capture. But trust me, it was gorgeous. Not as gorgeous: me, being kidnapped by Freyfaxi, who at one point decided to break from the group and run in the opposite direction down the path, then off the path and into the brambles, running back toward the stables as if to say “I know you paid money for this tour and all, little American girl, but there’s a salt lick back there with my name on it so you’re just going to have to deal with this.”

Luckily, before Freyfaxi could run me straight off the edge of a cliff, Begga caught us, scolded me gently for not scolding him harder, and led us back to the group, who had been waiting patiently for God knows how long. So we continued forth and Freyfaxi seemed to behave himself from that point on, presumably because he knew of the upcoming photo shoot:


Yes, Begga brought a camera along to photograph us (and emailed the images to us a few days later, free of charge; if this were Disney, I bet they’d be fifty bucks a pop), so here are some glamor shots of us insanely talented equestrians:

Of course my favorite photo is this one, because if you ignore our smiles, helmets, and retina-burning raincoats, it looks like a promotional still for a gritty badass TV series:

Coming this fall to HBO: Horsewalk Empire

But the best part of Begga taking photos of us were this series wherein myself and this other guy on the tour ended up near the front together, and it looks as though I’ve secured myself a new husband.

“Honey, wave hi to the grandkids!”
“Oh, new husband, you are the living end!”

But all fun horsey times must come to an end, so we returned to the stable, dismounted, and then Freyfaxi rolled around on the ground like a friggin’ cat, which is apparently something Icelandic horses do:


On our way out, Begga wrapped us all up in enormous hugs, and I bought a used horseshoe. Good times.


In the afternoon, we decided to visit a museum. But not just any museum. This was a museum unlike any other in the world, an entire gallery dedicated to a single human body part.

Not the nose.

Not the heart.

Not even the spleen.

Yes, this museum features EXACTLY WHAT YOU THINK IT DOES. Hundreds of them, in fact, from every corner of the animal kingdom. Whales, seals, dogs, bulls, dolphins, cats, rats, bunnies, humans – you name it.

Can I interest you in some new gym equipment?

Needless to say, I can’t post many of the photos we took here, as I am purportedly a children’s book writer, and as you can imagine we simply couldn’t help ourselves. But here’s a relatively tame one of the exact facial expression I wore for the duration of the visit:

“You doing anything later?”

This museum also contained “Ode to an Oosik“, quite possibly the best poem about a well-endowed walrus that I’ve ever read in all my years of poring over such things, plus a very strange room full of specimens from imaginary creatures. Yeah. Chew on that for a moment. There was an invisible one from the “hidden people” (aka elves), one that was covered in green algae that allegedly belonged to a merman, and this, which I had to take a picture of in honor of Maggie Stiefvater:

Poor Corr!

After perusing their woefully barren gift shop (talk about a missed opportunity!), we went back to the hotel to get ready for our outing to a really fancy restaurant. But just as we were about to leave, we passed by the tour booking center and heard this little tidbit, like a money-grubbing fairy on the wind:

“…better chances tonight…still  not great…but less cloudy…Northern Lights…”

The magic words: Northern Lights. The friggin’ reason we CAME to Iceland in the first place. As you may remember from Day 2, we’d already searched for the Northern Lights. We didn’t find them. Because as it turns out, countries that feature endless hours of snow and rain and ice tend to be a bit on the cloudy side. But there was a better chance tonight, they were saying, due to less cloud cover and increased solar activity – though of course, still no guarantees, a statement that I’m now thinking must be Iceland’s motto.

“Fine,” we grumbled. “Delicious dinner another night. Tonight, we shall stand outside in freezing temperatures for several hours and futilely gaze at nothing.” So we emptied our wallets yet again, paying for a tour we had already taken, in the hopes that magic might strike.

And who’da thunk it? It did.

The bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. We piled out and looked at the sky.

“Again, so glad we came to Iceland. The exhilaration of it all.”

“Over there,” our trusty guide, Ellir, told us. “That little bit of white.”

There was a little bit of white, but it looked a hell of a lot like a cloud. But then the cloud grew. And GREW. Other little spots of white started popping up in other places and connected with each other in long streaks, shimmering like ribbons. The Northern Lights at last!

Courtesy of RJ Buenvenida, whose camera was much better than ours.

I know it’s hard to tell from the Paranormal Activity-ish quality, but trust me, they were awesome. They weren’t bright green or any of the other colors that you see in those crazy pictures, though fancy Ellir seemed to have seen it all. “Damn, girl,” we imagined him bragging to us, “I’ve seen green, purple – shiiit, I’ve even gotten MAGENTA all up in this piece!”

And so, having finally completed Mission: Iceland, we headed back to our hotel to gear up for the next day, but not before RJ got this shot that I’m hoping he wins some sort of award for:

This photo is licensed under this fun legal stuff.

I’m going to take the weekend off from blogging (looking at photos of those yellow raincoats for a prolonged amount of time has temporarily seared my eyeballs), so I’ll be back on Monday with: Caves! Fancy restaurants! Activities that my mother is glad I waited to tell her about until after I arrived home safe and sound!


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