Tag Archives: Reykjavik

Thursday Doors – The Elf Houses of Iceland

In a land of fire and ice, a wild and magical place, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape it is possible that anything out of the ordinary is possible and stories abound about the “hidden folk”.

These are their houses…

Elf House 4

Elf House Front Door

Elf House

My Travelling Partners, Blogging Pals and other Elf Friends having a House Party…

Elf House 6

Sorry for stealing your pictures.  If you want to leave then just let me know.  If staying Bring A Bottle!

Read the Full Story of the Elves…

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

East Anglia, Southwold and the English Pier

Southwold Suffolk

On our first day at Kessingland caravan park we squandered the time away at the swimming pool, the beach and took a short walk into the village.  By day two we were ready to explore and so we set off for nearby Southwold.

Southwold is ridiculously picturesque and quintessentially English, a town of Tudor houses and thatched roofs, so English that it is high on the list of filming locations for English film and television.

The fictional Southwold Estate, seat of Earls of Southwold, is the country estate of the family of Lady Marjorie Bellamy in the drama Upstairs, Downstairs and the town and its vicinity has been used as the setting for numerous films and television programmes including Iris about the life of Iris Murdoch starring Dame Judy Dench,  Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway, Kavanagh QC starring John Thaw, East of Ipswich by Michael Palin, Little Britain with Matt Lucas and David Walliam, a 1969 version of David Copperfield and the BBC children’s series Grandpa in My Pocket.

Southwold Beach Huts 1

We parked the car and walked along the short seafront, a pebbled beach that is difficult to walk upon, a promenade and a row of gaily painted beach huts.  Next we came to the pier.  The pleasure pier is characteristically English, a genuine icon and one that I have never really understood.

No one in England lives more than seventy miles* or so from the sea but when they get to the coast they have a curious compulsion to get even closer to the water and as far away from the shore as possible without taking to a boat. The Victorians especially liked piers and by time of the First-World-War there were nearly two hundred sticking out all around the coastline.  If there had been satellite photography a hundred years ago then England would have looked like a giant pin-cushion.

It is a very nice pier with shops and amusements all the way down to the end.  In 2002 it was voted ‘Pier of the Year’ by the UK National Piers Society, it is quite short at only just over two hundred yards, when it was built in 1900 it was seventy yards longer but it has suffered various damage over the years.

Southwold Pier

English piers you see are rather fragile structures and over the years have had an alarming tendency to catch fire – Weston-Super-Mare, Brighton, Blackpool, Eastbourne, and Great Yarmouth have all suffered this fate but Southend-on-Sea is probably the most unfortunate of all because it has burned down four times which seems rather careless.

The problem with a pier of course is that they are generally constructed of wood and are highly combustible and a quarter of a mile or so out to sea they are also rather inaccessible to the fire service so once they go up in flames little can be done but to watch the blazing inferno from the safety of the promenade until the fire goes out by itself and all that is left is a tangle of twisted metal girders and beams.

Fire isn’t the only danger of course because the coast can be a rough old place to be in bad weather and severe storms and gales have accounted over the years for Aberystwyth, Cromer, Saltburn and Brighton.  Reaching far out to sea also makes them rather vulnerable to passing ships and the aforementioned unfortunate Southend-on-Sea was sliced in half in 1986 by a tanker that had lost its navigational bearings.  One unfortunate man was in the pier toilets at the time and apparently only just made it out in time before they tipped over the edge!

There isn’t much else to say about Southwold except that George Orwell once lived there and so after only a short stop and a drive around the busy streets we continued our drive planning to stop next at the Suffolk port town of Lowestoft.

I didn’t find Lowestoft that thrilling I have to confess, it looked much like Grimsby to me where I live, a run-down sort of a place urgently in need of some investment and a make-over but there was one especially interesting place to visit while we here – Ness Point, the most easterly place in the British Isles.

Ness Point Lowestoft Suffolk

For such a significant place I would have expected it to be something special, a bit like Four Corners in the USA but not a bit of it.

There is no visitor centre and no souvenir shop, just a windswept carpark and it is difficult to find located as it is on the edge of an industrial estate and close to a sewage treatment works and a massive wind turbine called Goliath (it was once the biggest in England).  There is only a circular direction marker known as Euroscope, marking locations in other countries and how far away they are.  I felt like an explorer about to set sail.

The ‘Visit Lowestoft’ web site proclaims that, “No trip to Lowestoft is complete without a visit to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the United Kingdom”  As far as I could see this is about the only reason to visit Lowestoft so with nothing to detain us longer we headed directly back now to the seafront car park and enjoyed an especially good meal of fish and chips.

I was reminded that a couple of years ago I was at the most Westerly point in the British Isles** on the Dingle Peninsular in Southern Ireland where we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

The day ended with an especially fine sunset…

Kessingland Seagulls and Sunset

* Based on a direct line drawn on an Ordnance Survey map from location to the first coast with tidal water.  The village that is further from the sea than any other human settlement in the UK is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire at exactly seventy miles in all directions…

Coton-in-the-Arms Derbyshire

** The British Isles are an archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean that consists of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man and over six thousand smaller isles.  The term ‘British Isles’ is controversial in Ireland where there are nationalist objections to its usage and the Government of Ireland does not officially recognise the term and discourages its use.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

The Huldufólk of Iceland

“This is a land where everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect” –  Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland

We have moved on from Wroclaw in Poland and its street dwarfs so I thought you might like some pictures of the Huldufólk. the “hidden folk” of Icelandic folklore who live in a mystical landscape of mountain passes with peaks lost in the clouds, of arctic chill, windswept valleys, gnarled volcanic rock, wild moss and winter scorched meadows.

“It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.” – Icelandic Singer Bjork.

In a land like this. of fire and ice, a place that is wild and magical, where the fog-shrouded lava fields provide a spooky landscape in which it is possible that anything out of the ordinary might lurk, stories flourish about the “hidden folk”.

According to Icelanders these are the thousands of elves who make their homes in the wilderness,  supernatural forces that dwell within the hallowed volcanic rubble and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic people.

People in Iceland do not throw stones into the wilderness just in case they carelessly injure an Elf!

“It has caused a lot of arguments, as it’s something that’s very difficult to prove. Iceland is full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots, places you don’t touch – just like the fairy forts and peat bogs in Ireland. They’re protected by stories about the bad things that will happen if you do” – Terry Gunnell

If you are wondering where the Huldufólk are in my pictures? Well, according to Icelandic lore they are hidden beings that inhabit a parallel world that is invisible to human eyes, and can only be spotted by psychics and little children, unless they willingly decide to reveal themselves to people.

Sometimes however you can see their houses…

Have you been to Iceland – Have you seen the the Huldufólk?

Elves, Elvis and Huldufólk of Iceland

Huldufólk Iceland

“This is a land where the wind can knock you off your feet, where the smell of sulphur from your taps tells you there is invisible fire not far below your feet….Everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect”.

Terry Gunnell,  Folklore Professor at the University of Iceland

Elf Houses 1

Sightings of Elves are like sightings of Elvis – frequently reported but never confirmed!

elvis-elf

In a land of fire and ice, a wild and magical place, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape it is possible that anything out of the ordinary is possible and stories abound about the “hidden folk”.

Hidden people are special In Iceland and it is said often appear in the dreams of Icelanders but if you ask me that could just be the result of too much home-brew.

They are usually described as wearing nineteenth century Icelandic clothing, and are often portrayed as traditionally wearing green.  One of Iceland’s most famous people, the singer Björk was asked one time in an interview on US TV if people in her country believed in Elves; she explained. “We do….It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.”

yule-ladsiceland-elves-warning

We stopped now and then to photograph the real people houses and I reminded everyone to be careful where they walked in case they stepped on one of these tiny alternative inhabitants because Icelanders prefer big people to be careful and even frown upon the throwing of stones in case you inadvertently hit one of these small invisible folk and injure them.

These are the thousands of elves who make their homes in Iceland’s wilderness and coexist alongside the 320,000 or so Icelandic humans.  Iceland is not alone in this and Scandinavian folklore in general is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven’t taken them seriously for several years now but elves are no joke to many in Iceland and in a survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 it found that sixty-two percent of the respondents thought it was at least possible that they exist.

icelanders believe in elves

Even previous President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson seemed taken in by this and explained the existence of Huldufólk tales by saying: “Icelanders are few in number, so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies.”

Huldufólk are believed to live close to humans and are often blamed when things go missing rather like the plot of the 1952 book ‘The Borrowers’ by the English author Mary Norton.

“…Borrower’s don’t steal.”
“Except from human beings,” said the boy.
Arrietty burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hide her face …. “Oh dear,” she gasped with tears in her eyes, “you are funny!” She stared upward at his puzzled face. “Human beans are for Borrowers – like bread’s for butter!” 

To illustrate how seriously Icelanders take the issue of elves in 1982 a delegation of Icelanders went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for “elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets” and in 2004, Alcoa (the World’s third largest producer of aluminium) had to have a government expert certify that their chosen building location was free of archaeological sites, including ones related to Huldufólk folklore, before they could build an aluminium smelter in the country.

Huldufólk House Iceland

More recently Elf protectors have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project because it might disturb them and their homes. The proposed highway would offer a direct route from the Alftanes peninsula where we had been earlier this morning to the capital Reykjavik but the project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on the case.  The activists cite a cultural and environmental impact – including the plight of the elves – as a reason for regularly gathering hundreds of people to block workers from bulldozing the area.

elf-house

And it’s not the first time issues about the Huldufolk have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that “issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on.”  

Huldufólk Iceland

Apparently there have been quite a few noticeable instances of construction projects being postponed for fear of building on land occupied by hidden people and a medium is often called in to negotiate with the elves to ask their permission to build.

As we drove the final few kilometres I kept a careful eye out for any signs of the elves but of course this was pointless because you can’t see them unless they feel like showing themselves to you so all I could imagine was – where they watching us as we approached the spiritual heartland of Iceland at Þingvellir?

Iceland Reykjavik Huldufolk

Elf Houses

It’s Nice To Feel Useful (9)

  

About this time of the year I start to look back over my posts to review what has been going on.  One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

One of my most successful posts is about the day I attended a Buckingham Palace Garden Party and I get lots of odd Google referrals about this one.  This year my favourite just has to be – do I get expenses to attend royal garden party?”

Cakes at Royal Garden Party

Let me take a moment here to explain.  Just to be invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden party is a bit special in itself and believe me there is going to be a lot of expense involved – new suit, new outfit, overnight stay in London, taxi fares etc. and most people would gladly deal with this just to be part of the occasion so I have to say that expecting the Queen to pick up the bill sounds rather republican to me and whoever asked this should not have had an invite in the first place.

Next up, I really like this one –what did the captain wear on the Titanic?”

Titanic Experience Belfast

Edward SmithI visited Belfast recently and went to see the Titanic Exhibition and Museum.  It was a super place and I recommend anyone to go there and I think what I learned on that visit may just well help here.

Around the exhibition there are lots of pictures of Captain Smith in his White Star Line uniform so I am forced to conclude that except when he went to bed and most likely put on a pair of pyjamas that this was his favourite form of dress.  Another thing that I can be certain of is that Captain Smith didn’t wear a lifebelt because after the Titanic struck the iceberg he went down with his ship and drowned!

This being a Travel Blog I often get advice requests and this year I have picked out these two related topics –What to do in Croatia if it rains?” and  “Will I need my umbrella in Burgos?”  I am not a weather expert of course but then neither are most of the people who claim to be – has anyone ever seen an accurate TV weather forecast?  Bearing this in mind my answer to both these questions is find somewhere to shelter and then let me remind everyone – it doesn’t rain in bars. 

When I travel to Europe I rather like hiring cars but what I don’t like is the hassle of arranging car insurance.  I have had a lot of trouble getting past the car rental clerk and taking possession of the keys so I am well able to answer this next one – how much is gravel protection and sand and ash protection in Iceland” and the answer is quite a lot, probably more than the daily hire rate for the vehicle.

 Iceland Volcano

Sixt in Iceland have come up with a brilliant wheeze.  I thought that I had purchased fully comprehensive insurance but the desk clerk told me that cars suffered so many stone chips because of the gravel roads in Iceland that this had now been excluded and could be purchased at an additional cost of €9 a day under the description ‘gravel damage’ and just to be safe I agreed to buy it.

Then it became almost surreal when he explained that further cover was available at €10 a day for volcano damage.  Volcano damage – WTF?

Upon enquiry he told me that if a volcano explodes it can generate enough heat to strip the paint off the car and that this was not covered either.  Well, I considered this for a moment and came to the conclusion that if I was close enough to an exploding volcano for it to strip the paint off the car then it was almost certain that I was likely to be in a lot of trouble and great personal danger and the last thing that I was going to be worried about as my flesh melted into a puddle of grease was the condition of the paintwork on the hire car (gravel chipped or not) so I sensibly declined the offer to purchase the additional cover and quickly paid up just in case he next tried to sell me snow or rain insurance in case the car got wet!

Ryanair Cabin

I can always guarantee something cropping up about Ryanair and cheap flights.

I first wrote on this subject in 2009 and it immediately started getting hundreds of hits and then in 2011 it just stopped completely.  I reviewed and reposted it and changed the title from the specific ‘Travel Tips when Flying Ryanair’ to the more general title that it has now and hey presto the hits started coming again. – Travel Tips when Flying Budget Airlines.

My favourite this year isRyanair seat 08f”  which, to be honest is way to specific a request for me to be able to deal with and provide a satisfactory response.

Human Penis Museum Iceland Reykjavik

Sex always crops up of course because it is estimated that well over half of all web searches are about this subject.  This is an odd one though – penis shaped door knob”, who for goodness sake is likely to type that enquiry into a search engine? Interestingly however I once worked with someone who used the office internet to make the enquiry ‘knobs and knockers’.  She was restoring an old Welsh Dresser at the time and although her enquiry was completely innocent she had some explaining to do to the IT section when she received the unexpected results of her search.

Not being an anatomist I am not an authority on penises and not being a manager of a Home Depot I am not an expert on  door furniture of any shape but I did visit the Penis Museum in Reykjavik and this is probably close enough to have recorded the visit to the blog.

I am going to finish with this one and because I simply do not have the answer I am going to ask you all out there if you can help – Does a dog die if it doesn’t have sex?”  

Here are the previous posts in this series of weird internet searches…

It’s Nice to feel Useful (1)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (2)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (3)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (4)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (5)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (6)

It’s Nice to feel useful (7)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (8)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy

Doors of Sigüenza 3Iceland Norsemen ÞingvellirPB290367Venice Carnival MaskCastelsardo Sardinia Art Exhibition

Anyone care to take a guess in which countries these pictures were taken?

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy

CleopatraRock Sculptures St MaloIceland ReyjkavikCatalonia Spain Door DetailSemana Santa Siguenza

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treat – An Unusual Museum

Icelandic Penis Museum Reykjavik

Sometimes when travelling it is possible to come across a real treat…

“…collecting penises is like collecting anything. You can never stop, you can never catch up, you can always get a new one, a better one a bigger size or better shape…”  Museum owner, Sigurður Hjartarson

Reykjavik Penis Museum…

In the hotel lobby there was a selection of  attractions leaflets and one was advertising a rather odd museum so we thought we might take a look.  It wasn’t hard to find and and immediately grabbed our attention and it seemed just too bizarre to miss so we approached the door, turned the knob and went inside.

The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a collection of more than two hundred and fifteen penises and adjacent body parts from almost all of the land and sea mammals in Iceland including fifty six specimens belonging to seventeen different kinds of whale and thirty-six belonging to seven different kinds of seal and walrus.  In addition it has a collection of non-Icelandic specimens including a giraffe, an elephant and a polar bear!

It was getting close to closing time and there were only a few visitors inside hanging around the exhibition cases.  Two young girls were constantly giggling and not taking it at all seriously, there was a man with a limp, an elderly couple looked thoroughly bemused by it all and half a dozen people from a tour group were wandering around rather self-consciously. For my part I had not seen so many male reproductive organs since I inadvertently strayed onto a naturist beach on the Spanish island of Fuerteventura!

The exhibits ranged from some of the largest to some of the smallest in the animal kingdom. The largest is a portion of a blue whale’s penis measuring one hundred and seventy centimetres long and weighing seventy kilograms but is in fact only the end bit as the entire organ which in its full glory would have been about five metres long would take up most of the room in the small museum!  At the other end of the scale the penis of a hamster at only two millimetres is the smallest item in the collection and needs a magnifying glass to see it – and, before anyone else mentions it – rather like the magnifying glass that I keep in the bathroom at home!

The bit I liked best was the amusing “folklore section” exhibiting mythological penises with specimens allegedly taken from elves, trolls and kelpies.  The Elf penis is supposed to be impressively huge but you can’t see it of course because in Icelandic folklore  elves and trolls are invisible so it sits mockingly in an empty glass jar. It’s a good joke!

For many years, the museum apparently tried to get a human penis but was only able to obtain testicles and a foreskin from two separate donors and only recently has it acquired the full article.  I’m afraid that I don’t have any more details on exactly why this is so difficult to accomplish.  The Icelandic donor was a ninety-five year-old man who was said to have been a bit of a gigolo in his youth and wanted to donate his penis to the museum to ensure his “eternal fame”.

Human Penis Museum Iceland Reykjavik

The Shrinking Penis Dilemma…

As he got older he apparently began to worry that his penis was shrinking and he became concerned that his pickled prize would not do him full justice and remember him at his best as it were (a bit like each new Cliff Richard album).  He was right to be concerned because after he died in 2011 his penis was surgically removed so that it could be added to the museum’s collection but the procedure was not entirely successful and the contents of the jar were completely unrecognisable (see picture above).

The Icelandic Phallological Museum claims that it exists for the purpose of genuinely serious study into the field of phallology in an organized, scientific fashion but you might not be inclined to agree with that when reaching the end of the tour and ending up in the inevitable souvenir shop where rather tasteless and inappropriate items for sale included key rings and bottle openers each moulded in the shape of a penis that were drawing more uncontrolled laughter from the two young girls.

I don’t regularly buy souvenirs but if I was going to buy a mug from Reykjavik I think I would be more inclined to go for one with a picture of the Sólfar Suncraft or Leif Ericson in preference to one with an image of a male private part.

Odd Museums…

So we left the  museum that I am confident to declare the oddest in the World, even more bizarre (although I haven’t been there) than the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in the USA, the Dog Collar Museum in the UK or the Toilet Museum in New Delhi, India.  In Amsterdam there is a Museum of Handbags and Purses!  If anyone has any alternative suggestions by-the-way then I am happy to consider them for inclusion in this list!

Iceland Reyjkavik

Weekly Photo Challenge: Treat

Haugesund COOP products Norway

Anyone for Renskaret Svinebog?

When travelling in a foreign country I always like to drop in and see what unusual items I can find on the shelves. Disappointingly on this occasion everything seemed to be rather familiar with a range of items that I might expect to find in any UK supermarket including rather oddly a freezer cabinet full of Iceland (the UK supermarket Iceland) frozen pizzas.

Eventually we came across the chilled section and here were the sort of items that I was hoping to find and which soon had me giggling like the two girls in the penis museum.  Here were some frighteningly unappetising sounding salad spreads with names that sounded as though they should be more appropriately being exhibited next door and if you have ever wondered why sometimes products change their name to be more universally acceptable then here is an example why…

Iceland Dodgy Groceries

Are you tempted by Laxasalat?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Careful

Iceland Hot Geysir

There were about thirty other mud pots and water pools and it was a good job that we had the benefit of the tour guide because he was giving sound advice on temperatures and what you could comfortably touch and what you couldn’t because some of the pools contained boiling water that would strip flesh from fingers and would have involved an unplanned  trip to the infirmary.

Read the full story…