Central Snark

Progress in Iceland… by Snuppy
Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 7:56am
Filed under: Teh Penguin

As some of you might know, last weekend we had an Art Festival in down-town Reykjavik. While there, I decided to take a couple of shots (drinking too!) and present you with some pictures from the downtown area. *nods in direction of Al* I might be partial, but I love our city and I think it is beautiful, mostly. Enjoy! Besides, I figured you had enough of broken cars, busses and giant dolls for now.

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Beautiful, modern and practical. But things weren´t always like this. In fact, not even a century ago houses like these below were a fairly common sight.



Icelandic turf houses are a product of a difficult climate. See way back when this island was settled … ok, this could take a long time … Let me paint a quick scenario:

Few trees
Lack of timber
Very few houses and ships can be built
Harsh winter damages already-built ships
Ships can´t go abroad to come back with timber for house construction

See where I am going with this?

Now, contrary to popular opinion, we did have trees way back when this ice cube did get settled. But they were mainly birch trees and birch timber is not well suited for large and complex structures, but they did allow a frame to be made out of them.

Now we have stones ( in plentitude, want some?) and a birch tree frame…that alone wouldn´t have kept us warm though. What´s a Viking to do? Praying was not an option back then, so we looked around and what did we see? Turf, all over the place. It was either that or peeing against the wind. Turf it was!

And this is what we ended up with: A large foundation of flat stones, upon these our lovely birch-tree frames to hold the load of the turf. The only wood that could be spotted from the outside would be the doorway. Entering through the doorway you´d be inside a hall where there would usually be a big fire and well…let´s give them some privacy.

I actually know people that were raised in these types of houses. It´s not that far back in time. What a long way we have come, inspite ourselves and our heathen ways.

Interesting little side note:

The Icelandic turf house usually had attached toilets, which were communal. Ever tried to go to an outhouse in, say, November in Iceland? Didn´t think so. So, the act of going to the attached toilet was often done in large groups. Ever wondered why women always go to the toilets together? It´s an old Icelandic gene passed through the ages, and transported abroad with the few ships that some lame winter could not destroy.

~Penguin Out!


30 Comments so far
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first and foremost, i want to Thank You, dear and beautiful Penguin, for this brilliant and completely fascinating post! lovelovelove the pictures, i really do (i adored the photos of the art festival, too, but it’s nice to see good taste is in abundance in your lovely country!)

second, i’d like to thank Siggi Palsson for allowing you to share a picture of his Hobbit hole. i finally know where Tolkien got some of his inspiration — needless to say, i’m very impressed! cute and functional — i can think of worse places to live. (not many, but some.)

as for that gene that makes women go to the bathroom in “herds”? i. did. not. know. that.

and, as always, i LOVELOVELOVE your modest and daredevil “poses” in some of these shots. nice to see you hanging around in that fabulous countryside you call home, my friend! 🙂 xox

Comment by One Hot Puppy

Snuppy, I made Siggi Palsson up. There is such a man and more than one I am sure, but this person in the picture looked like a Siggi to me, and you know what…he very well could be 🙂 Morning everybody!

Comment by Penguin

hah! my dearest Penguin, you’re wa-a-ay too funny. one of the many reasons i lovelovelove you so much! xox

Comment by snuppy

What a beautiful place you live!!!

Back to the attached toilets…so how many toilets were attached? Were they outside? Did the group of people huddle around the pottier to keep him or her warm?(Like in March of the Penguins?). I have all kinds of sick ideas swarming around in my head about how this worked out.
As Snup says “oy”.
If you had no trees out there what did people use for toilet paper? Hmmm, I’m so glad we live in this era!

Comment by Zoning Out Again

ZOA, you are particularly nutty today. Diesel not replying his fan mail?

all jokes aside, Iceland is an interesting place and it´s recent history very primitive…did you know that they collected fat from animals all year aroudn so they could make candles for Christmas to give to each other? It is really dark here ove rteh winter, imagine surviving with a few hours of daylight and still getting all your chores done…I find this place fascinating and I want to share as much as possible with you guys!

Comment by Penguin

if I was a child, I’d find nothing more wonderful than a house like that, and would be begging to my parents to move in one. love the pictures, especially the one with the birds!

Comment by ariel

My grandfather was born in a small town in Iceland and lived there until he was 6, at which point he moved to Denmark… hmmm… I wonder if he lived in such a house! I am curious now and quite in need to find out I tell you!

I LOVED this post, as I love all posts Icelandic and all posts you (that’s a hell of a lot of posts! Yikes! 😉 )

The pics are fabulous too and my lil’ B has loved watching them (seeing that she is on a mission to some day make it to Iceland… for the sake of her Icelandic heritage, you ask? Nope… only to meet Magnus Schéving from Lazytown… oh well! She has good taste though! 🙂 )

Besos to you my sweet amiga and gracias for all the faboo info FO SHO!

Comment by Catty Yummy Mummy

ariel, so I have figured out teh day we´ll take togethe rstrolling through Reykjavik…first off feeding teh swans at the downtown pond, it is lovely to do it in teh evening just as teh sun sets. Then we´ll be off to Skogar, where you can play under a waterfall and run through houses like these and we could play hide and seek 🙂

CYM, Magnus Scheving… bless his cotton socks. Brilliant man, never met him ersonally. Odd! I might tonight at Josh Groben´s concert. Yes, you all be jealous now!

Comment by Penguin

So they found a place that had no lumber suitable for building, and it was so cold that they called it “Iceland”, and they decided to go ahead and live there? At least we had lots of douglas fir in Michigan.

Beautiful pictures, Penguin. I’m clutching my coffee tighter just looking at them.

Comment by Diesel

Wow! It just looks pristine! And I’m with Ariel, what child wouldn’t love to huddle into such a cozy place? Of course, I’d prefer a little more light but it certainly is practical for warmth.

Oh and I’ll take you up on the stones offer. Shall I give you my address for shipping?

Wonderful post – thank you for sharing it. Hmmm, Queens may seem rather foreign to some of our readers…

Comment by LAMPSHA

Diesel, I am glad you like. Iceland is beuatiful and comes as quite a surprise, ´cause people think we live in Igloos 🙂

Lampsha, Queens would make a perfect post, i am sure :)And according to my three nephews Iceland is a wonderful place to spurr your imagination!

Comment by Penguin

Lovely pictures, if it weren’t for the weather I’d just hop right over. Turf is definitely a better option than peeing against the wind, less messy too.

I have always wondered why women all go to the toilet together, now my mind is finally at rest. If all we women carry the gregarious toilet gene, and Eve was the world’s first woman, can we assume God sent her to Iceland after leaving the garden of Eden? Hey, and about those stones, could you send some over for my garden?

Comment by Theresa

Oooh! Seriously? If you do, I might ask for some words from him for Lil’ B (whose real name you know I think…)… pretty please? 🙂

Comment by Catty Yummy Mummy

Very good, wry post, as always. I love the lego church.

The hobbit houses remind me of a trip to Tikal in Guatemala. There the Mayans had built pyramids for thousands of years. Some of the newer ones, like El Gran Jaguar (google it) are famous, but the older ones in that rain forest eroded and now look like pyramid-shaped hillsides with trees and sod growing all over.

I want to live in a hobbit house. But with a private bathroom.

Comment by Doug

from now on, every person from Iceland — anyone NOT you, that is — will be Siggi Palsson. sorry, but that’s a name that just needs to stay in circulation.

Doug: i think most would agree you belong in a Hobbit house, most definitely one equipped with its own bathroom (no point exposing the world to the “glory” that is you anytime soon, eh?) i *did* the requisite Googlery, and have to say El Gran Jaguar is very beautiful — tho’ more like a Hobbit Mansion, than humble abode. xox

Comment by snuppy

Theresa, Jules Verne said the entrance to hell is in Iceland (Snæfellsjökull), it is absolutely plausible that God sent Eve here, teh place seems fitting. By the by, I looked into the crater of Snæfellsjökull, to give teh devil a chance and pull me right in, he didn´t bother. I expect wings any day now!

CYM, I guess I´ll see him…I mean a concert of this magnitude, I even expect olafur Ragnar Grimsson to be there. We icelanders don´t go up to our famous people and bother them though, we assume they wanna make it to dinner on time, too. But in case I end up with him at teh same restaurant and/or pub tonight…I´ll let him scribble somethign sweet on paper 🙂

Douglas, Hallgrimur would turn in his grave would he hear you referring to his church as being of the Lego persuasion. And there is no question that a turf house somewhere on the outskirts Hermit-junction is calling your name!

Neva, Siggi Palsson was funny, wasn´t it? Better head to google and check out El Gran Jaguar…there might be a test on it at some point 🙂

Comment by Penguin

just perfect, Monika, it’s going to be so much fun!

have a great time tonight!

Comment by ariel

Nice post Penguin…great pics and info…but I’m not sure you should be picking on poor Siggi. What did he ever do to you?

Comment by BoBo

ariel, the concert was amazing…I am just changing clothes to head downtown. For those concerned…I was nominated as the designated driver, no alcohol for me tonight.

Joel, I have actually met 7 Siggis, now that I come to count them…all of them would take a little joke like this on the chin and probably force me to eat rotten shark meat to return the favour 🙂

Comment by Penguin

Iceland sounds like a neat place to visit, but not in the winter! Early American western prairie dwellers built sod houses as well because of the lack of timber. The pictures are beautiful. This is why I love blogging!

Comment by Claire

Claire, wow…that was nicely put. Thank you.

Comment by One Hot Puppy

Perfect pictures and post, Penguin!

(Too many p’s, I know.)

Comment by Al

Hi Al, try to say that ten times, really fast 🙂 I had fun with it! 🙂

Comment by Penguin

No wonder you love it there. It is beautiful. I like the cottage style house. Very gingerbreadish. And the air looks so clear and clean.

The turf house is very interesting. People are so clever.

I grew up using outhouses in several places I’ve lived. My greatgrandmother lived in an apartment that was part of a farm house built around 1200 in Austria. The wals were two foot thick stone. The outhouses were shared between several families. We took baths in the laundry room in the big laundry cook pot. Ske heated the whole apartment with one cook stove in the kitchen; feather beds were a must in winter.

Comment by Nessa

My Sweetie has an uncle Siggi – and several small cousins with the same name. Your pics are divine – can you hear me sighing with pleasure to see them way over here in Walnut Creek, CA? I shall crane my neck when landing in Keflavik next Thursday, and then taking off again for Milan 4 hours later, to see what can be seen of that stark and gorgeous Land of yours. It kills me to be so close and yet so far 😦

Great post my dear. Well done for someone who has been resting the past 4 years… LOL

Comment by tsduff

nessa, I remember outhouses too. Very well actually. I was always afraid to fall in. I used to be a skinny little thing. And the spiders in teh corner that kept building their nets, regardless how often you tried to drown it??? Good times. I loved the bathes in summer outside in those tin tubs we used to have.

terry, get a good glimpse…I´ll pray for wonderful weather 🙂

Comment by Penguin

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