29 December 2019

The church built on ancient fire

Nestled in the southernmost region of Iceland's Snæfellsnes Peninsula sits Búðir (Búdir), a small hamlet made up of a couple old buildings, a hotel and a solitary church. Long ago, Búðir was once a prosperous commercial and fishing village and one of the Snæfellsnes' most active trading posts. Remnants of a bustling port throughout the area suggests it dates back all the way to Iceland's earliest settlement. Now, it prospers economically due to tourism.
Búðir is located in the expansive lava fields of Búðahraun, its land rich with flora and tall, wind-swept grass. Over 130 plant species call Búðahraun home, including rare and protected species.
 Like most of the places we visited, getting to Búðakirkja (Búdir church) was quite easy. From Reykjavik it's a beautiful 2-hour drive along Route 1 and Route 54. From there you drive onto Útnesvegur heading towards Arnarstapi, and shortly after a small sign leads you through Búðavegur, which you follow all the way to the end. It does turn into a narrow road, but even with all of the ice it was well-maintained. Since it is a very popular tourist destination, I imagine the road is difficult to maneuver around buses and travelers during peak hours. We were very fortunate that there was only one other car when we arrived.
The sun was already beginning to set, which covered the snow in a beautiful pink color. The parking lot, however, was covered in ice! It made it difficult to walk around without slipping.
It's worth noting that the current church we see today is actually a restored and slightly relocated 1987 version of the old Danish design, its specifications and measurements based off of clerical documents from the 1850s and old photographs. The first Búðakirkja was a small turf chapel built by Swedish-born merchant Bendt Lauridsen in 1703. Local tale has it that when its location was being decided, an old woman suggested someone spin in circles for some time before shooting three arrows into the air. One of the arrows would be marked, and wherever it landed, the church would be built on that spot. At some point, the chapel was torn down and a new one was built in its place. The church was then dismissed and deconsecrated in 1816, eventually being torn down again.

One lady of the parish, Steinunn Sveinsdóttir, fought strongly for a new church, but her and several other residents' requests were denied. It wasn't until 1847 that, thanks to her continued efforts, a new church was built in 1848 — on the condition that the village of Búðir would fund and maintain the church entirely. According to the plaque at the site, on the back of the door ring is a testament to Steinunn's dedication and her struggle for the new church's reconstruction: "This church was built in 1848 without the support of the spiritual fathers." 

Despite its rough history and several iterations, it is still considered one of the oldest wooden churches in Iceland. A couple of artifacts from the original chapel have survived to this day thanks to Steinunn's care as well, such as the original door ring etched by Bendt Lauridsen himself. I would love to know what the etching says, but my limited knowledge did not get me far in translation.

 As to its unique and striking black color, the exterior is coated with pitch tar to protect the wood cladding from harsh weather. There are several other churches in Iceland also painted pitch-black, but to my knowledge Búðakirkja is known as the black church amongst tourists.
The pure white door framed against the black walls of the church.

My mom and I were the only ones at the church for quite some time, so all you could hear was the echoes of the snow crunching under our boots. There's a unique stillness and peace in the air when it comes to churches and cemeteries, and I'm thankful I got to experience that with this visit. 
Hótel Búðir from the parking lot. There are many weddings that happen at the church nowadays.
Narrow pathways lead every whichway from the church. Because it was getting late and we had a few more stops to make, we weren't able to hike down to the beach. Maybe next time. :)

28 December 2019

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Geirabakarí Kaffihús and Hafnarfjall

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was one of my favorite movies of 2013, so during our trip in Iceland we paid homage to it by visiting one of its film locations.

While the story takes the audience through various countries and adventures, many of the scenes were shot in Iceland. There are locations all around the island, but the easiest for us to go to happened to be on our way to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. In Borgarnes, West Iceland resides the infamous and "isolated" Papa John's Pizza - or, in real life, Geirabakarí Kaffihús.

Geirabakarí is incredibly easy to get to as it's just off Route 1 (popularly known as the Ring Road). You can see it from the road before you exit. Even if you're not there because of the movie, it's a really great stop for coffee and a bite if you need to fill up gas at the nearby station!
Walter Mitty seeing the Papa John's sign, 01h 05m 21s
Due to the heavy winds and ice, it was difficult to get multiple shots of the cafe that matched the movie stills. I also had no service, so I wasn't able to look up the scenes for reference. Next time I'll save some stills onto my phone so I know which angles to take! haha. 
Walter updating his check register, 01h 05m 43s
 The view from inside the cafe is absolutely amazing thanks to the floor to ceiling windows. 
Stills from the movie line the top of the windows!

View of the mountain, 01h 09m 43s
The mountain, Hafnarfjall, blanketed by snow from the storm a few days prior
I tried to get as close of an angle as possible, but here you can see the road and rock wall better

We grabbed some lattes and I got to try my first astarpungar - which were amazing! Astarpungar (or Love Balls) are cake donuts with raisins that are golden crispy on the outside and soft and cakey on the inside. I've always liked bread with raisins in it, so this was a lovely treat. I'll definitely try making them at home sometime!
Blatant product placement aside, My mom and I would never have known to stop by such a wonderful bakery if not for this movie. So wonderful, in fact, that we stopped by twice! The first photo in this entry was taken on the second day when the sun was a little lower.  

Special thanks to those who visited here before:

27 December 2019

Iceland: Day I - Reykjavík

Hallo! I hope the winter has been treating you warmly. Our family Christmas trip has come and gone and leading up to our departure I was all kinds of nervous and excited. It was my first time visiting Europe, and my mom planned our entire trip, so aside from a few key locations here and there I had no idea what to expect. I knew it would be very cold though, so I did my best to pack accordingly!

It hasn't been long since my last trip, but Sea-Tac sure is changing! There's a lot of new restaurants that replaced old favorites, and we even have several new Starbucks locations. It makes me wonder how the airport will look in a few more years, especially with the extension of the light rail further north.

Our flight took about 7 hours from SEA to KEF, landing at 6 AM local time. Immediately we were greeted by Iceland's Christmas spirit - the Yule Lads! In Icelandic folklore, there lives a family of mountain creatures that come into town one by one for 13 days leading up to Christmas. The Yule Lads are sort of equivalent to 13 different Santas, with their own personality and preference for mischief. Each night they visit children who place one shoe on their windowsill and, if they are good, will leave candy and gifts! If they're bad, well... previously they were eaten, but now they just leave rotten potatoes in their shoes.
They also have a pet, the Yule Cat! A large and ferocious cat that will eat anyone who hasn't worn a new piece of clothing by Christmas Eve. Good thing I bought some new sweaters for this trip!
As soon as we picked up our rental car, we started driving to Reykjavík. It was pitch black outside, but faintly you could see Christmas lights decorating various homes and buildings. I love night drives around the holidays — seeing everyone's Christmas decorations have always made me very happy.
Our first stop was Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran parish church known as the largest church in Iceland. It was designed by State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson and took 41 years to complete, beginning in 1945 and opening in 1986. 
Guðjón, one of Iceland's most influential Modernist architects, was heavily inspired by Icelandic landscapes, which can be seen in many of his designs. Hallgrímskirkja's design is said to resemble the trap rocks, mountains, and glaciers of Iceland. The sun was still waking up, so my photos are a bit dark. 
Sadly, at the time of visiting the church was closed due to choir rehearsal for Christmas service, and the tower closed because of the wind.  It would've been incredible to see Reykjavík from the observation tower!
We stopped by to eat at Café Babalú, as it was one of the few open at the time. The interior was very quirky, but the Star Wars-themed bathroom really took the cake.
A mild chai latte for a cold morning.
Grilled cheese, tomato soup, and pumpkin soup! Much needed to warm up our bones. 
Once the sun finally came out (around 10AM, wow!) we started driving towards the Snaefellnes Peninsula. Since we drove in the dark, we had no idea how beautiful the snowy hills were until then.
One of the first things I realized about Icelandic winters are the pink hues of daylight. Most of the day the moon is still out, hanging low, while a pink haze gently glides over the sky and mountain tops. I don't know if I've ever seen something so beautiful.

20 October 2019

Green Lake in Autumn

Autumn has settled in here in Washington. Already the golden leaves are turning and falling, and with it the rain and clouds have made their way back home. I always say Winter is my favorite season (because of the snow and how quiet it gets), but is that really true? Autumn just feels like home. Every morning I wake and look out the window, I'm calmed by the varying shades of reds and yellow. You can feel the air change, and the light change too. I'm sure, though, when the first snow falls I'll say Winter is my favorite season all over again. There's just a lot to love about both.
We took a short drive to Green Lake this Sunday, and despite the rain it was busy with people! Joggers, bikers, and everything. There were plenty of trees mid-turn.
There was a lady with a bag of nuts feeding some of the squirrels, so we talked for a bit about how you have to be quiet and move gently when they approach you.
A roasted peanut or two is okay (never raw as they contain a trypsin inhibitor), but depending on the season it's best to have a variety of fruits and vegetables with higher nutritional value, even (or especially!) if they're wild.
We stood there for awhile in the almost-rain making small talk before heading home.