Today it is my honor to have Janice Spina, a prolific and award-winning children’s book writer, for an interview. We are both New Englanders (even though I now live in the South), so imagine I have invited her over for morning coffee and a gab fest. The freshly brewed coffee is in mugs on the table, along with my favorite apple scones.
Lovely to have you here, Janice.
Tell me something about yourself.
I’ve always loved to write more than speak, as long as I can remember. As a child I wrote poetry – loved anything that rhymed, listened and sang along to the radio (rhyming again) and dreamed of being a famous singer or author.
I never did realize my dream to become a famous singer but did sing in a Sweet Adeline’s Chorus for a short time – it is an acapella group – singing without music and using your voices as musical instruments. I loved it. When I had to have surgery (cataracts) I dropped out due to problems driving at night. Even after surgery, I still have difficulty and therefore do not venture far at night.
I never did realize my other dream to become a famous author but I keep plugging along. After I retired from an administrative secretarial position in a school system in Massachusetts, I got serious about my writing. At the ripe young age of 65 I knew it was now or never to do something. I had all these ideas and poems going around in my head and numerous titles for books written down in notebooks that I had to do something with them.
It was inevitable that my poems would soon become stories as I got into my twenties and had two children. I wrote a fairy tale which I read to my son and daughter at bedtime. This same fairy tale is now being illustrated by my husband. It is the only young children’s book that is not in rhyme.
I tried to enlist the help of agents and publishers but got many ‘no thank yous’ before I gave up and self-published my first book in 2013, Louey the Lazy Elephant. Louey is still my favorite and close to my heart. He was, after all, my first book! I published one more book that year, Ricky the Rambunctious Raccoon. In the following years I published 4-5 books a year and now have a total of 21 books (11 children’s, 6 MG/PT and 3 novels and one short story collection with two more books coming this year and three next year.
All my young children’s books are written in rhyme with life lessons. Even the MG stories have life lessons that encourage older children to be kind to one another and not to accept or tolerate bullying of any kind. The first book in Davey & Derek Series touches on bullying as does my newest MG book, Abby & Holly School Dance.
Why do you like being a children’s author?
One of the reasons I write children’s stories is I love children of all ages and want to encourage them to read. This is my main goal as a writer of children’s books. Reading is important to a child’s health and welfare. I have written a couple of posts on the studies of reading on one’s health on my blog. Children are the future of our world. We must take care of them in any way we can.
Another reason I write for children is I am a child at heart and can relate to young children everywhere. Children bond with me wherever I am. I reach out to them with a smile and a wave and they smile and wave back. We are on the same wavelength. Ha!
I keep doing it because I love to see children enjoying the discovery of their first book or learning how to read it all by themselves. It’s well worth all the effort that goes into writing, illustrating, and creating and publishing a children’s book.
I can complete the text part of the story quickly enough in one afternoon or maybe even an hour. As long as I have a title, I work from there. It takes longer to complete a children’s book than my MG or novels because of all the illustrations that have to be created. I give all the kudos to John for his hard work and creativity it takes to complete. We work together as he completes each page and I type in the words or if I am into another project, he will type the text. I always review and edit it all afterward. He knows I’m the boss. LOL! I do give him final say on the illustrations but I always have an opinion.
When my husband agreed to be my illustrator, my children’s stories came to life. Without him these stories would still be sitting dormant on my computer. If he ever decides not to illustrate any more I will stop writing for young children but continue to write for middle-grade and 18+. For those books I will not need an illustrator just a cover creator. John could continue to do that with some coaxing.
I’ve never written a book for children. What are the differences between creating a children’s book and writing a fiction or non-fiction novel?
In order to write for young children you must first feel like a child. Put yourself in their little world and think like they would think, simply and without any complications of worldly things. Did you ever notice how children laugh all the time at everything? They feel joy and are happy and innocent of everything around them. That’s what you must do – smile, laugh and giggle too. That will put you in the mood to be a child again. Think back to the times that you would laugh at an animal or insect just because they looked silly or did something funny. As we grow up and mature into adults we lose that joie de vivre, joy of life.
When I spend time with my young grandchildren I feel that joy of life once again. We laugh at everything and sometimes have laughing contests to see who can keep laughing the longest. It is sheer joy to do. We adults should do it at least once a day – stop and laugh at anything that strikes you as funny or inane. It will make you feel better and lift your spirits and the stress from your back and shoulders. Laugh at yourself. Now do you feel ready to write for children?
My favorite age to write for is middle-grade. I have had great fun writing my Davey & Derek Junior Detectives Series and now Abby & Holly Series. I find myself getting into the mindset of 10-13 year olds. Things are getting more intense and serious at this age. They are going through the beginnings of puberty. In my books I try to touch on tough subjects but add some humor to lighten up the moments.
This age is still so young when I look at myself at 70. They are still babies who can be guided in the right direction.
The differences between writing for young children/MG/PT and writing a fiction or non-fiction novel are many. My children’s books are in rhyme with life lessons, are short in length – no more than
36 pages. They tell more than show. Children need things to be spelled out and explained and no flowery language.
With novels we show more than tell, language is more diverse, subject matter deeper, longer beginning, middle and ending. Of course, writing a novel with more than 50K requires more thought and maybe some outlining. As a pantser I do a little outlining with plenty of lists of characters, traits and places and times.
When I write one of my MG/PT novels they are usually around 20K. I am a pantser and don’t do an outline. I do keep track of characters and their traits. As long as I have a title I place my fingers on the keyboard and the story comes alive. The characters take it away from me at times and I have to rein them in.
We all know the value of beta readers. Who are yours?
I have three fabulous Jemsbooks Beta Readers, Patricia Bradley, Michelle Clements James, and Michele Rolfe. My husband, John, also reads for me along with doing the illustrations and book covers for all my books. I am looking for a fourth reader. If anyone is interested please contact me at email@example.com and we’ll talk. I could not do all my middle-grade and novels for 18+ without their extra eyes and invaluable help. I am blessed to have them and can’t tell them enough how much I appreciate their time. I do not have beta readers for my young children’s books. John and I read and edit these ourselves.
Marketing, the one thing most authors hate. Tell me, how do you market?
As for marketing, phew, that is a good question. I use my blog to spread word of my books along with the help of lovely online friends like you, Noelle, Sally Cronin, Debby Gies, Colleen Chesebro, Victoria Zigler, my beta readers, Don Massenzio, Deanie Dunne, Annika Perry, Viv Drewa, Robbie Cheadle and so many, many other wonderful fellow authors and friends. Please forgive me if I did not mention someone. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you to all the readers who review books too! We authors love reviews!
I also use FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, sometimes Tumblr, Flipboard, and Instagram. I have help also from Riley Geddings of Good Ebooks who showcases my books on his many sites, and from Theodocia of Cold Coffee Café. She is a tireless and hardworking promoter on all her sites for two of my novels. I highly recommend both of them for promoting your books. Of course there are many others to look into like BookBub and all the free e-book sites. I haven’t tried them yet.
Attending author expos and book signings are two more ways to get yourself out there and not only meet other authors and network but meet potential buyers. They are fun too. I attended three this year and plan to attend more next year. Noelle and I may meet up at one of them. I hope!
Awards help get your books recognize and remembered. My books have won awards – one Mom’s Choice Award, 6 Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards, 2 Reader’s Favorite Awards and a Silver Medal in Authors Cover Contest and Finalist in Authors First Lines Contest. For all these awards I am truly thankful.
What are your goals for this next year?
Each year I write about my goals on my blog. My goals for 2018 are publish 5 books, read and review 90 fellow authors’ books and continue to support other authors on my blog.
At this time I have almost met my goal – published 4 books – with two more in the wings partially done. I’ve read 67 out of the 90 books so far.
I plan to continue to encourage children of all ages to read, read and read some more by creating more fun, adventures, animal stories, MG/PT and novels for 18+ into the next few years and beyond. I plan to publish another children’s book, and book 2 of Abby & Holly Series this year. Next year my goal is to write Book 6 of Davey & Derek Junior Detectives, Books 3 & 4 of Abby & Holly, and begin a YA fantasy series for 14+ that will include several books. This YA series will go into 2020 and beyond.
As long as God gives me the ability and good health, I plan to keep writing, publishing, blogging, copy editing others’ work, and supporting my fellow authors in any way I can. My motto is Reading Gives You Wings to Fly! Soar with Jemsbooks.com! Happy Reading!
Thank you so much, Noelle, for giving me this opportunity to share a little about myself and my books on your lovely blog.
Barnes & Noble Novels: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/j.E.+spina?_requestid=11645468
FB Children’s books: http://facebook.com/janicespina7
FB Main Page: http://facebook.com/janice.spina.9
FB Novelist Page: http://facebook.com/jespina77
I hope you will agree that Janice is a tenacious, talented and highly energetic writer! If you haven’t checked out her books, be sure to do so. I know you all have child, or maybe you are still one at heart!
Beautiful vistas of mountains and ocean and green fields and lupines
More sheep than people
Glaciers, icebergs and black diamonds
Rotten eggs and fumaroles
And an adventure with Hubs!
We were somewhat late getting started back to Reykjavik from the Westman Islands and the Captain really revved the ship. Unfortunately, with the seas high, we were staggering around inside, trying to keep our balance. At dinner, the boat tilted about 25 degrees and everything slid off the table. There were crashes of china and glasses from trays and places where they were stacked, and I swear I heard a collective groan from the kitchen. The ship immediately slowed, and we finished our meal in a relatively stable manner, but that night I had to tuck myself into my bed again so as not to roll out on the floor.
I’ve not mentioned Icelandic horses, and they do deserve a mention. The Icelandic horse is a breed developed on Iceland. Although the horses are small, at times pony-sized, most registries refer to it as a horse. Icelandic horses are long-lived and hardy, with few diseases; Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return. What is unusual is that the Icelandic displays two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. The following information is from Wikipedia.
The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering.
The breed also performs a pace called a skeið, flugskeið or “flying pace”. It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth, with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour. Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait; animals that perform both the tölt and the flying pace in addition to the traditional gaits are considered the best of the breed.
The ancestors of Icelandic horses were probably brought to Iceland by Viking-age Scandinavians between 860 and 935 AD, and genetic analyses have revealed links between the Mongolian horse and the Icelandic horse.
If you want to see these five paces of the Icelandic horse, check out this You Tube video:
We disembarked the next morning, with all of us rocking and rolling on dry land. We went to a hotel for an overnight but took the rest of the day to visit the Blue Lagoon.
The Lagoon is a geothermal spa and is considered to be one of the 25 wonders of the world. It is located in a lava field on the Reykanes Peninsula in southwestern Iceland and is supplied by water used in the nearby geothermal power station. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulfur and bathing in the Blue Lagoon is reputed to help some people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F).
This time I did not bathe but remained outside in a restaurant, so I could watch everyone who did – and take pictures. There is a bar in the lagoon, and anyone paying the entrance fee to the lagoon can get a drink.
That’s Hubs, waving from in line to get a drink, and here’s the braver members of the group, getting smashed in the water!
That night we had a lovely farewell dinner of lamb – we had three meals of lamb in two days! – and the next day wended our way back home. But the adventure wasn’t over – held up 90 minutes in Reykjavik, we missed our flight from Boston to RDU and couldn’t find a single hotel room in proximity to the airport at 11PM at night. Our kids found us a room in Waltham, a $60 cab ride away and we finally plopped into bed around 12:30, with tickets for a flight the next morning.
I hope you enjoyed the trip with me!
After a long overnight haul, we arrived at Djupivogur, a fishing village in southeastern Iceland and where we disembarked for a glacier excursion. It was a long bus ride but definitely worth it, with lovely vistas along the way — not to mention the sun was out! I apologize that one of these photos was clearly taken through the bus window.
Here you can see the tongue of the glacier
Jokulsarlon is a large glacial lake on the edge of Vatnajokul National Park. It developed as a lake as the Beidamerkurjokull (say that ten times), a tongue of the Vatnajokull glacier, gradually receded from the edge of the Atlantic. It is now a little less than a mile away from the ocean and is reported to be the deepest lake in Iceland at 814 feet. Jokulsarlon has been the setting for several movies (A View to Kill, Die Another Day, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Batman Begins) as well as being a stopover in the TV series The Amazing Race. As one of the natural wonders of Iceland, we were going to take a boat trip on it.
Once there, we got off the bus to the squalks of Arctic terns, who were nesting nearby and who dive bombed anyone who got to close, and wandering sheep.
An amphibious vehicle drove us into the lake and we drove around, sampling the ice (pure water) and admiring the ice formations. A seal decided to take a nap on one of them.
The smallish bergs float out to sea on a river
and we were driven to the nearby beach, called black diamond beach, because of the diamond-like pieces of ice highlighted against the black sand.
After we returned to the ship, we immediately began our trip to the Westman Islands on Iceland’s south coast for our excursion the next day.
The Westman Islands were formed by volcanic eruptions 10,000 years ago. The newest island, Surtsey, only emerged from the sea in 1963. We would visit Heimaey, the only inhabited island, where half-buried houses remain from a violent eruption of its volcano, Eldfell, in 1973.
We first went to a gorgeous valley where a replica of a Norse farm house has been built. The roof is sod and the larger building on the right held the family (likely upwards of 20 people) while the left, smaller house was a barn for the animals.
There is a single room inside with a central fire pit and a hole in the ceiling for a chimney. The number of people living inside, the fire and the proximity of the animals would have kept the room moderately warm.
The island itself is stunning – the vistas were incredible.
Heimaey is known as the Pompeii of the North because 200 million tons of lava and ash enveloped over 400 buildings. Only one person died when he went back into his basement where lethal fumes had accumulated, and the entire population of 5,000 plus most of the animals were evacuated by the fishing fleet to nearly towns. The fishing fleet just happened to be in the harbor, which was a miracle! The eruption continued from January to July, and as the lava flow threatened to destroy the entire town, water pumps provided by the US Navy were used to pump cold sea water on top the lava to get it to solidify and stop its flow.
Here are two views of where the lava was stopped, plus the remains of a house that was swallowed.
Many of those living on the eastern side of the island returned to find their homes under 40 feet of lava. Since that time the town has rebuilt and there is an outstanding museum dedicated to the event. Here are two pictures of the event from the museum.
At the end of the day we took our last Zodiac cruise to see the birds in the rookeries along the stone cliffs lining the harbor. All those little white things are birds, roosting. Some chicks, too.
Along the way we got a view of a replica of the Haltdalen stave church, originally from around the 1170s, built in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the conversion of Iceland to Christianity.
The following day found us at Akureyi, the second largest city in Iceland after Reykavik. Needless to say, the Ocean Endeavor could dock there and we could take the stairs down to the dock! Our goal that day was to see Namafjall Mountain and Hverir, a hot springs area with boiling mud pots and fumaroles, plus the Myvatn Nature Baths. Time for a hot tub experience.
On the way we stopped at another waterfall — this will give you an idea of how wet we were. It was really raining. I finally broke down and purchased a water proof jacket at some stop that day after my water-resistant jacket had soaked through and chilled me to the bone.
Namafjall is a spectacular volcanic mountain and wending our way over it on narrow roads revealed spectacular views — heavenly.
From Wikipedia, with sun
In the foothills on the other side we found an expanse of hot springs called Hverir. Fumaroles, mud pools and mud pots over a huge area were all boiling, spitting or spewing with relentless energy – hellish. We were warned to wear booties (provided) to protect our shoes from being eaten and not to expose our cameras to the fumes for too long. But the greatest impact was the smell. The minute the bus door opened, we were enveloped by rotten eggs – an odor so strong and revolting I put a scarf around my face.
The landscape is devoid of vegetation because the constant emission of the fumes has made the ground utterly sterile and acidic, unfit to sustain any life. The colors – oranges and yellows and browns – are spectacular, but not inviting for any long walk.
Following an exploration which was remarkably brief, we headed to the Myvatn Nature Baths. There we went into our separate areas with our bathing suits, disrobed, soaped up and showered (naked – we were told!) with at least 50 other women (haven’t done that since high school locker rooms). Then I put on my suit, tough to do when you and the suit are wet, and my found out way outside into the warm, blue pool. No jewelry or cameras allowed because the water would do nasty things to them.
I sat in the warm (not hot by any means) water, submerged to my neck, but with an icy rain pelting down on my head. After a warmer shower and redressing, I dried my hair and rejoined the other, not feeling very refreshed, I am afraid to say.
Since we couldn’t take cameras in, this is from Trip Advisor – imagine it gray, chilly and with pelting rain!
Then we called it a day, with everyone looking forward to our next excursion to Skjalfandi Bay and Husavik.
Husavik Harbor – small but spectacular, and yes, we had sun
Huysavik is often called the whale watching capitol of Iceland, and was the first place to be settled by a Norseman. Off shore of this town can be found 15 different species of whale, plus dolphins and 30 varieties of birds. Humpbacks seem to be the most common, but minke, blue, and orcas ply the Icelandic waters during the summer. It was actually on our way to Husavik that we got our best whale shots: a mother humpback and her baby. The baby was sounding and generally kicking up its fins, while the mother floated nearby with her pectoral fin up in the air. The funniest shot, which I didn’t get, was one of both whales lying on their backs, mom with her fins out to her side and baby mirroring her position.
The water that day was rough, and we had to Zodiak in to shore to don huge wet suits – yellow and red – with life jackets. We all looked like yellow Michelin men and waddled down to the duck boat that would take us out.
It was cold especially at the speed of the boat banging away in the four-foot waves to several miles off shore, but the mountain views were spectacular.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see a whole lot of whales, but we did follow a humpback for a while, watching it blow and dive.
Hubs camera died during this excursion. W concluded it got damp and ordered up five cups of rice from the kitchen to dry it out. After two days in a bag with the rice, it was as good as new!
The excursion on the morning of our 10th day, I will have to leave to your imagination. My foot was in such bad shape by then that I took the morning off and stayed on board. Hubs and everyone else went to the house of a lady called Petra Maria, who collected colored rocks from all over Iceland, and then to a WW II museum located in an old hospital barracks. I spent the morning reading on the aft deck, with my foot elevated and without a sock in the chilly air (to ice it), enjoying with this spectacular view!
We reached the fjord town of Siglufjordur in early morning, after another rock and roll night. This town was once the hub of the global herring industry, and after Zodiacking ashore, we walked through the town to a house where the ‘herring girls’ once lived.
A cautionary tale of overfishing
Siflufjordur is the herring capital of the world. The herring industry began in the 1800’s but really took off in the early part of the 20th century and became an important factor in Iceland’s climb from poverty of affluence. The international herring fishery in Icelandic waters took in between 10 000 and 25 000 tons per year during the first decades of the 20th century, and following the government’s assertion of jurisdiction over herring fishing out to 12 miles from shore in 1958, the catches exceeded half a million tons. Despite being warned of the perils of overfishing, the fishing continued and catches fell precipitously by the late 1960’s, when the only remnant of herring stock could be found off Norway. The stock slowly recovered in the Norway waters and herring returned to Icelandic waters in the 1990s. Fishing quotas are now highly regulated and the processing of the herring is automated.
Who were the herring girls? They were the daughters of farmers who migrated to Siglufjordur in the thousands to process and salt the cod from May to October, before the herring disappeared. The task was arduous but well paying, and when thousands of foreign fisherman came ashore, this largely young and unattached workforce found opportunities for dancing, music and entertaining – there were eighteen pubs in the 1920s.
Herring Girl House
The herring girls lived anywhere from 16 to 30 in a room with only one or two bathrooms. Here is a house where the girls lived. Their work in processing and salting the herring was arduous, standing at the boxes and packing the barrels for 14-20 hours a day, with little time to eat, since they were paid by the barrel and had to keep up with the catches brought in. Men working around the herring line brought empty barrels and took full ones away; the women controlled the pace. The work was wet, hard, and often cold. Hands immersed all day in fish and salt suffered from cuts, blisters, and infections. Some women got so tired they collapsed.
Here are some pictures showing the processing of the herring by a herring girl, who first must put on yellow rubber pants. Pink salt is used on the herring and they are stacking in alternating rows in the barrels. The fish heads are collected in a basket at the end of the sluice – I have no idea what was done with them, but they probably are used in pet food now (plus they’d make a good fish broth).
The upside of all this hard work was that many young people from poor backgrounds used their savings to invest elsewhere in housing, education, and new businesses: in one generation, they stepped into the middle class.
The Herring Museum is the brightly colored building, which used to be a processing factory
After some dancing to some herring girls’ waltzes played on an accordion (accordions are a favorite instrument in Iceland), we walked over to the Herring Era Museum where we could see how a functional, early herring factory was set up. I also got to try smoked and pickled herring (delicious) served with aqua vit, the Iceland alcohol of choice.
We retuned to the ship for lunch and pulled away from Siglufjordur and headed for Grimsey Iceland on rather rough seas. This is a small island straddling the Arctic Circle, located about 25 miles off the mainland. Its principle attraction are its rookeries, housing a variety of bird species: puffins, arctic terns, gulls, and guillemots. There was no real harbor, so we zodiaked in.
Here I am standing on the Arctic Circle (hubs had wandered off to take pictures).
Then we bused to the lighthouse where we could see sheep and puffins. Lighthouse, note the rookery in the stone cliff below.
It was easy to get close up and personal with puffins. Sixty percent of the world’s puffins nest in Iceland, so not surprisingly there were hundreds of them to see. I did a blog post on puffins, so check that out (P= Puffin).
Since my phone didn’t have very good resolution, here is a photo from my blog on these endearing birds.
The children of Iceland rescue newly fledged puffins who are drawn by the bright lights of the fjord towns.
It was a long day, lots of walking on my broken foot – but a version of Hell awaited us the next day!
The following day we embarked on the Ocean Endeavor. Built in 1982, it had been a jack of all trades – transport, cargo, ferry – before being reconfigured as a passenger ship in the early 2000s. It had a reception area amidships with a library/bar and three lounges, one on each of three levels, aft. Fore was the dining room, one level up from where we were berthed. We were in a cabin at the very front of the ship – two beds, a little sitting area and a small bath room. Quite comfortable, although as we soon discovered, in heavy seas it was rough going. Modern stabilizers were not installed!
One of our few days moored at a pier
Our steward was Miguel, who left wonderful towel creations for us each day. And we were awoken to the public address system each morning with: “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning.” At whatever time it was decided we all needed to get up for the day’s activities. It was 7 AM most of the time, but 5:30 or 6 AM occasionally. I am not a happy camper at that time, especially since it was 2 AM at home.
The food was really good – with a seemingly endless selection for lunch and dinner – and I had to restrain myself not to gain weight.
Our first stop on our circumnavigation was the next day – in a town called Stykkisholmur on the Snaesfellness Peninsula – don’t even TRY to pronounce these names. I had to use a picture from their Chamber of Commerce – don’t get fooled by the sun! It was chilly and wet!
Stykkisholmur has well preserved and beautiful old houses in the town center and a beautifully modern church. I can’t remember if this was one of our ‘dry ’landings, where we walked off the ship onto a pier, but chances are it was not. Most of the time, our ship anchored somewhere off in the harbor, and we were called in groups down to the mudroom to put on our life jackets, then go down some more stairs of an exit where we boarded (with lots of help, depending on the roughness of the water, a Zodiac to take us to the town pier.
Smooth water or rough, you needed wet weather gear. I’m on the far side of the Zodiac in the left picture.
From the pier we took a bus. Our guide, Einar Einarson, provided us with lots of facts and figures which I promptly forgot as soon as we got on our bus because I would drift off. This happened for the first couple of days.
The bus took us on a lovely route to the Snaefellsjokull glacier, which sits atop a 700,000 year old dormant volcano and where we were to take a Snowcat up to 4,600 feet. Wouldn’t you know it – it was raining and foggy, and by the time we got to the mountain base, the Snowcat drivers had closed up and gone home. But never mind, we had a wonderful day of seeing lots of beautiful landscapes, and frankly, it was so cold and wet, I’m not sure I would have managed 4,600 feet. This is from the Snowcat brochure since we didn’t get to see this!
By the following day we had travelled north and slightly east on the west coast of Iceland and were moored in Isafjodur. This is the largest town on the Westfjords peninsula, with about 2,600 people. It is a very ancient site with a trading post dating from the 1500s, and the town’s main industries are tourism and salt fish production. The harbor, as the name implies is a fjord, as were most of the places.
It was still not sunny that day, so I got this picture from the Isafjordur guide. The main sightseeing object that day was the Dynjandi waterfall, the highest and definitely the most thunderous waterfall in the region. One of our tour mates climbed to the top of the fall, where she picked up a rock to being home. We were told the trolls didn’t like people taking any rocks.
Trolls, you might ask? Well, there are ten primary Islandic sagas, written during the High Middle Ages by authors who identities are not known. The aspects of the landscape, the language, folk tales, and Norse mythology in these sagas were influential in shaping the legendary fantasy world of Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy. Tolkien had an Icelandic nanny from the West Fjords who lived with the author and his family in the early 1930s in Oxford, England. It was through the nanny that the author became further acquainted with Icelandic folk tales and mythology and was able to practice Icelandic. And so Iceland has trolls and elves.
Sure enough, she slipped, fell on her back, and slipped to the edge of the fall, where her feet hung over the edge. Luckily, she was largely unhurt, but she did put the rock back.
The following day was a busy one, preceded by a night of rocking and rolling on heavy seas. In our cabin, we bounced up and down and side to side. I rolled myself into my duvet and then tucked it into the tight space between the wall and the mattress to keep from being rolled of my bed. Did I mention we took Meclizine every night? It’s a non-drowsy anti-motion sickness medicine that worked perfectly.
So on to Siglufjordur and Grimsey Island.
About a year ago, some friends of ours told us they were going to sign up for a tour that would take them around Iceland on a boat. Iceland was on our bucket list, so we decided to go, too. Let me say at the outset that this was a challenge for me, in several respects, and I’m still recuperating from our adventure!
We flew there on Iceland Air, landing at Keflavik, a town about an hour from the capital of Reykjavik, Keflavik was essentially created by Americans during WW II, as a military airfield serving for refueling and transit. The airport there is modern and automated.
Iceland is a Nordic Island country (it was ruled by Denmark until WW II) in the North Atlantic with a population of around 350,000, two thirds of which lives in the capitol city. It is volcanically and geologically active and is the most sparsely populated European country.
I was a dummy about Iceland, except that it was an island with volcanoes and unique horses, before we went there, so I’ll try to throw in some facts as I go along.
We waited most of the day for the others in our small group of 16 before being bused to Reykjavik and our hotel. The ride was remarkable for two things: the surrounding flat lava field, covered in moss, that extended as far as we could see, and our bus drive falling asleep and nearly driving off the road into said lava field.
We did admire the lovely Alaskan lupines growing virtually everywhere along the side of the road – they were introduced to Iceland and now are considered a pest since they spread like wildfire. They only bloom 2-3 week a year so we got to see them in their full glory.
After a restless night – Iceland’s world famous hot dog stand was right outside our hotel window, and apparently Icelanders like to eat hotdogs with gusto at 3 AM in the morning – we went on our first excursion. This was a walk with our guide to see the Parliament Building and the lovely lake, then a bus tour to Perlan, a landmark built on a hill outside the capitol, where there have been hot water storage tanks for decades. A hemispherical structure was placed on the top in 1991 and there is a spectacular viewing platform around this egg. Inside there is an ice cave.
With regard to the hot water storage, all of Reykyavik is heated geothermally with water, piped into the city, even in structures three stories high. The hot water out of the tap is HOT. The cold water is piped from underground springs and is the purest water I’ve ever had.
We also visited Hallgrimskirkja, one of the city’s best known landmarks. It a Lutheran cathedral commissioned in 1939 and finished in 1986, and I found its soaring roof and interior simplicity awesome. All of Iceland’s churches are stark on the inside, reflective of their Lutheran heritage, although Iceland has a state religion encompassing all its churches. In front of the cathedral is a stature of Leif Erickson, the Viking explorer, and inside is a modern sculpture of Jesus.
We also took a gander at Harpa, the capitol’s music hall and conference center, another architectural wonder. Construction started in 2007 but it wasn’t completed until 2009 because of the Icelandic financial crisis in 2008. The building features a distinctive colored glass facade inspired by the basalt landscape of Iceland, made of hexagonal panels created in Japan and installed by Japanese workers.
Next to Harpa is an award winning sculpture on the waterfront — is a sculpture by Jon Gunnar Arnason and described as a dream boat, or an ode to the sun. The artist intended it to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. I loved it.
Did I mentioned it rained, misted or was partially sunny our first six days in Iceland? Temperatures in the upper 40s to low 50s – normal for summer and not unusual for a country that crossed the Arctic circle. Winters tend to be pretty dark with sunrise is around 11 AM and sunset between 3 and 4 PM in December. In summer in Reykyavik, it will not get dark at night from May 21 until July 30, as the sun barely sets in summer. So no northern lights for us.
With regard to Icelandic last names, each child takes as his or her last name the first name of their father plus the word son or dottir. So our guide’s name was Maria Manda Ivarsdottir. My last name would be Johnsdottir.
The following day had us riding the so-called Golden Circle, a popular tourist route in southern Iceland, covering about 190 miles, looping from Reykyavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. Along the way we saw three special places. First, Thingvellir National Park, where we walked the rift between the North American and European tectonic plates – this rift is why Iceland is so volcanically active!
Then we stopped at the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall,
and finally visited and the geothermal area in Haukadular, where there are geothermal power plants, geysers and I had my first dip in a geothermal blue pool.
We also stopped at Friðheimar, an vast indoor hydroponic tomato farm, where they grow many different types of tomatoes. The place is heated geothermally year-round and uses the predatory mirid bug Macrolophus pygmaeus to eat all the main pests that afflict tomato plants and imported bumble bees to pollinate. The best part of our stop were the Bloody Marys we imbibed, made with the tomatoes grown there – delicious and sweet!
The following day we embarked our boat, the Ocean Endeavor.