30 April 2007


Yes, a real post this time. With pictures.

Iceland was wonderful. It wasn't a very long trip, but we did surprisingly much in less than five full days. Monday consisted mostly of everyone being very tired, but excited and hyper, and one of my friends being very very late because someone *coughmecough* forgot to tell her we were supposed to be there at 8.30 instead of 9.00. We then spent a ridiculous amount of time waiting on airports before finally arriving at Keflavik airport in Iceland sometime in the evening.

Then it was straight to the Blue Lagoon, which I didn't get any pictures of except this one taken from the bus.
It was very weird - swimming in hot water while it was raining and cold outside. And of course it didn't smell very nice either, lots of sulphur. One of my friends said something that I think sums it up pretty well: "This is the first time in my life I've felt like a boiled egg."

There's a two hour time difference between Norway and Iceland, and that made it much more bearable to get up early in the morning. I actually slept about seven hours a night instead of my usual five or six. That, combined with the fact that I had enough sense to buy a packet of tea at the first supermarket, made me much less like a zombie than I usually am in the early morning. A good thing, because Tuesday we first went on a guided tour through Reykjavik. We visited Perlan, a viewpoint-restaurant-museum-thingy where I got some pics of Reykjavik where the surrounding mountains weren't half-hidden in clouds:

The church in the middle of the left pic is called Hallgrímskirkja - there'll be a better picture of that one later. On the pic to the right you can just see Mt. Esja in the background. It's a volcanic mountain range, some 900 m above sea-level and popular amongst hikers. If you google it you'll find much better pictures of it but we had pretty rainy and cloudy weather so this is the best I got. The next part of our little tour was much more interesting, at least I thought so, because we went to see a collection of very old, highly droolable manuscripts. The Codex Regius, Skarðsbók, Möðruvallabók, Jónsbók... I wasn't allowed to bring a camera and it was too dark to sketch properly, so I haven't really got any interesting pictures to show you. You can go to their website though, they've got some nice pictures there. It's in Icelandic (unless I've somehow missed the 'English version' button, wouldn't be the first time) but clicking around a bit and making educated guesses as to what the text all means can be quite effective too.

We were also allowed to try writing with quill and ink on parchment. I've got an inkling that those quills are made for right-handed people, so lefty that I am I made a bit of a mess of it. It was fun to try, but I very much prefer my own quill even though the one I used there was much bigger and prettier. At least I can write with mine half-decently. Or maybe the parchment was just nasty - it's the first time I've written on parchment.

After my best friend finally managed to convince me that I couldn't take the Codex Regius with me as a souvenir (dammit!) we went off to explore Reykjavik on our own, which of course ended up with us getting completely lost. We're really good at that. Luckily Hallgrímskirkja is a tall building, so we could follow it in a sort of city-centerish-direction. Here's the better picture of it that I promised you. The statue in front is of Leif Eiriksson, and it's the closest I got to actually meeting a real viking.

Aaaaand a close-up of Leif. I think all these pics are making my post a bit messy but who cares. Mum has learned to open my sock drawer without getting a heart attack so I guess you can handle a messy post.

Uh... Iceland. Yes, Iceland. Not sock drawers. Sorry. I've been through double physics and triple maths and taking my cat to the vet (she's not ill or anything, it's just her yearly check-up, but getting her in the cage is a bit tricky. And painful.)

Anyway, Tuesday also included a lot of squeals of joy from me and groans from my best friend because I found two bookstores - three if you count the museum bookstore - and wouldn't leave until I'd looked at just about every single book. I spent 2/3 of my total expenses there too, and had a bit of trouble getting my suitcase to shut on the return journey.
With some cramming and jumping up and down on it and putting 7 kg in my hand luggage I managed. The one on the top is Gunnlaug's saga, in Icelandic. I saw it on a shelf and listened to the little voice in my head saying "Buy it!", because, really, who am I to say "no" to the little voices in my head?

Wednesday was much calmer for my wallet and much busier for my camera. We went on the Golden Circle tour, which is a very popular tourist route. We had a cool bus driver/guide who told stories on the way (about trolls and vikings and volcanic eruptions) so it was a lot of fun. The first stop was Þingvellir, the place where the Alþing met, and also highly interesting because you can clearly see signs of continental drift. I could've spent the entire day there, but it was a school trip, and most people really aren't interested in historical sites like that, so I had to hurry a bit. I didn't even get time to read all the signs (I took pictures of them though).

To the left is the view from Lögberg - the Law rock - which was the centre of the old Alþing gatherings.

They punished criminals too at Þingvellir. Women were drowned in Drekkingarhylar - the Drowning pool, which you can see a picture of on the right. There was a list there of the women who were drowned: 18 women, the first in 1618 and the last in 1749.

The next stop was less bloody, but smelt of rotten eggs: Geysir. The Great Geysir itself hasn't done much erupting the last few years, but its neighbour Strokkur is still pretty active. It erupts every five minutes or so, though of the four or five eruptions I saw only one was really spectacular. I was lucky enough to get a good picture of it, too.

The third major attraction on the Golden Circle is Gullfoss, an absolutely stunning waterfall.
It sort of "curves", almost like it's going down a winding staircase. The picture on the right was taken from a viewpoint at the top. The one below is taken from the path that goes above and along it. And yes, that's yours truly.

These three - Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss - are the main attractions on the Golden Circle, but there are others as well that are well worth a look. If you only visit these you're missing things, really.

There is a very beautiful little volcanic crater lake called Kerið. It was just next to the road - though don't ask me which road. My sense of direction is, as you probably gathered from me getting lost in Reykjavik, not very good.
But road or no road, I have a pic of it!
Can I quote the bus driver? "Please don't fall in." :P

We also stopped at Skálholt, which was one of Iceland's two episcopal sees until the 18th century. It also freaked my best friend out completely - she had a project about it and as a result of that she has developed Skálholtophobia.

I've got plenty of other pictures of the Golden Circle tour, but I'll save them for the rants-about-physics-posts so that you have something interesting to look at then too:P

Thursday was the last full day we had in Iceland, and that day we went riding on those cool Icelandic horses. They're special because they've got five different gaits. The last time I sat on a horse was when I was twelve so mine walked most of the time. It trotted a bit too but I don't think it went into one of those special gaits. It was really great, I actually managed to steer it pretty well (and I managed to steer it into the newbies group instead of the experienced riders group, where it wanted to go, thank Eru). I haven't got any pictures of the riding, because I had my hands full with the reins (literally) and had to try to stay in my saddle (that was difficult due to the fits of laughter from seeing my math teacher on a horse).

And on Friday we went back to Norway again. There was time for some last-minute sightseeing in Reykjavik, where I bought the coolest letter opener since the creation of the universe:

The return journey was, like I said, a bit of a mess. We were supposed to have one hour at Oslo airport. None of the teachers knew we were supposed to take our luggage through customs. Then the plane from Reykjavik was almost half an hour delayed, and we had to wait for almost another half hour for our luggage to turn up. Five minutes to go through customs in other words. Everybody was freaking out except me, I actually thought it was fun (it might have something to do with the chocolate I bought at the tax free store). Then, I got home in the middle of the night, thirsty and tired, and decided to start spring cleaning. Hmm... Definitely the chocolate.

Okay, a few traveller's tips perhaps? First of all, on the pictures everything looks nice and sunny. Don't be fooled. We had half a dozen different types of weather each day and it changed every five minutes or so. Rain, sun, wind, hail, wind, a bit of sun, lots of rain, and wind, wind, wind. I guess it depends a bit on the time of year, but during the five days I was in Iceland there wasn't a second without wind. Don't bring an umbrella. It's pointless, unless you bring one of those really strong ones that don't "flap over", but they're usually too big to fit into a suitcase anyway. I was very happy that I'd brought my scarf and a pair of woollen mittens.
I've read on a few sites that Iceland is an expensive country, but I didn't really notice that. It might be because everything is expensive in Norway too, or because my parents were paying anyway so it didn't matter much:P Tickets to the swimming pools are cheap though, at least compared to Norway.
Oh, also, the hot water smells quite strongly of sulphur, at least it did in the youth hostel where we stayed (the hot water at the swimming pool next door didn't have the rotten egg smell though). It's not so bad as it sounds, you get used to it after a while (unless you're my dad that is).

A sculpture in the harbour of Reykjavik. It's called Sólfar, the Sun Voyager, made by Jon Gunnar Arnason. I wish the light had been better. It looks like a fun thing to take pictures of at sunset or something. The mountain ridge in the background is Esja again, very much hidden in clouds this time.

Now I'm off to bed. Seriously. It's 2.30 AM.

29 April 2007

I'm back!

And still alive, lol. Had a good trip - everything went surprisingly well considering the fact that there were about 50 of us. The return journey was a bit of a mess though, our flight from Reykjavik was delayed so we had about five minutes to go through customs at Oslo airport and get on the plane to Trondheim (and of course our gate was on the other side of the airport). But everyone got on the plane, at least I think so.

I got home sometime in the middle of the night and went to bed in the early morning so my brain feels a bit fried - that's why I'm talking nonsense.
Since I hate coming home from holidays, I decided to do something called 'spring cleaning', which is basically taking everything off the shelves and putting it on the floor and bed and then somehow getting it back on the shelves in a more aesthetically pleasing way.
I haven't gotten to the last part yet so I guess I'll be sleeping on the couch this night.

Books on the bed, the rest of the stuff on the floor. Now why the hell did I start this 'cleaning' in the middle of the night?

I took some 150 photos of my trip, so I'll write a decent post with pics asap. In the meantime, here's a pic of Þingvellir.

19 April 2007

Behold the power of post-its!

That's the wall in front of my desk. And I haven't even started putting up post-its related to my novel... These have physics formulae and French grammar scribbled on them (plus bits of Beowulf and the Edda) - you'd be surprised how much easier it's to learn crazy physics theories when you have post-its...

And here's the coolest handbag in the universe (yes, it's a moose).
My friends got it for me for my birthday (I love mooses, they're so incredibly cool). It was originally a backpack (for three-year-olds, lol) but I cut off the shoulder straps and sewed them together again to make a handbag (something which took me two whole hours because I suck at sewing :P)

But I've been doing other things as well besides handbag-sewing and scribbling on post-its. I'm working on an essay about the ballad Bendik og Årolilja which I'll post asap. It might take a while though. I'll be away next week - school trip to Iceland - and I've been rather busy this week too. I had to write a Crazy Column for the StCP - if anyone is interested in a crackpot theory about the fall of the Roman Empire, you can go here. Click the banner, then 'Crazy Column'.
Then there was a physics test, and I had to learn some twenty pages of French grammar. And of course I've been reading. I started reading the Kalevala a few days ago, it's very cool. The translation is good to - quite easy to follow but still with a mythological feel. The sixteen books I ordered last week still haven't been sent though (seriously, how long can it take to "process" my orders?), but my brother got me Sir Gawain and the Green Knight so that's what I'll read next.

And we wantsss it to stop snowing preciousss.

15 April 2007

A glimpse of spring....

... before it starts snowing again on Friday. Lol.

13 April 2007

Norwegian medieval ballads

I wanted to write a short essay about Norwegian medieval ballads, but, of course, short became long and long became longer so this is the introduction, lol.

In Norway they are usually called ‘folkeviser’, folk songs. However, this is a term from the 18th century, so I’ll use the word ballad, which is older (and easier to type too).

Originally, these ballads were part of an oral tradition. They were passed on from person to person, from generation to generation, and not written down until much later. All these people could add new verses and remove things they did not like, and as a result, there are dozens of different versions of the same ballad.

It’s difficult to say how old these ballads are (that’s the trouble when stuff is passed on orally), but the oldest written ballad is from 1612 (Friarferdi til Gjøtland). Most of the ballads were written down in the 19th century, though. Norway had gotten its own constitution in 1814, after being in a union with Denmark for about 400 years. During this period the Danish had a lot of influence – they were the elite, Danish was the written language, Norway didn’t even have its own university until 1811, etc.

After Norway had ceded from the union with Denmark there was a growing enthusiasm for everything Norwegian. It became increasingly important to get some of the “real” Norwegian culture back – the folk traditions, all the oral tales. This Norwegian romantic nationalism was at its height in the middle of the 19th century. The most important writers from this period are probably Johan Sebastian Welhaven (1807-1873) (his later works anyway), Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (1812-1885) and Jørgen Moe (1813-1882). Asbjørnsen and Moe travelled through the country and collected folk tales. Their “Norske Folkeeventyr” is still read today, it’s something just about everyone has on their bookshelf.

Also important was Ivar Aasen, who wanted to ‘Norwegianize’ the language (after all, Danish had been the administrative language). He wrote down words from different dialects and eventually created ‘landsmål’, which is now called nynorsk. It’s still an official language, along with bokmål, which is a more Danish version of Norwegian (though nynorsk and bokmål have become increasingly similar over the years – to the great annoyance of every student, because now you have to look up every other word in the dictionary when writing in whichever of the two is your secondary language form to avoid confusing the two).

Other people who are worth a mention are the composer Ole Bull and the artists Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude. These two painted “Brudeferd i Hardanger”, which is *the* painting of the Norwegian romantic nationalism.

But I was going to write about medieval ballads, not Norwegian romantic nationalism. One of the most important collectors of ballads was Olea Crøger (1801-1855) who lived in Telemark. She collected a huge amount of ballads but didn’t manage to get them published. However, in 1853 Magnus Brostrup Landstad (1802-1880) published a collection of ballads, Norske Folkeviser. This collection included all of Crøger’s ballads, but she wasn’t even mentioned (nice, huh?).

Sophus Bugge (1833-1907) and Moltke Moe (1859-1913) also collected a great deal of ballads. Now, for fear of being sidetracked again I’ll just get to the point.

The Norwegian ballads are usually divided into six categories:

The mythic ballads (naturmytiske viser): These are about meetings between humans and supernatural creatures. There’s a subcategory here; “bergtakingsviser” – ballads about humans who are captured or lured by the mountain king.
The religious ballads, ballads about legends (religiøse viser, legendeviser): About saints and their lives, as well as various religious themes (heaven, hell, purgatory).
The historical ballads (historiske viser): These are about historical people and events, but there are very few of them.
Knight’s ballads (ridderviser): Two words: unattainable love.
Ballads about trolls and giants (troll- og kjempeviser): They’re not only about trolls and giants though, but also about heroes (they usually kill the trolls and other nasty creatures). These ballads have the most in common with Norse myths and sagas.
Humorous ballads (skjemteviser): They make fun of everything. Many of them are about animals.

As you can see, there’s a diversity of themes, some are inspired by tales from continental Europe, while others are based on various Norse myths.

When it comes to the composition of the ballads, there are two types: one has stanzas of four lines each; the other has stanzas with two lines. Then there’s the refrain – omkved – which consists of one or more lines. If the two-line stanza is used, the refrain usually consists of two parts: the first part (mellomstev) comes after the first line, and the second part (etterstev) comes after the last line. Four-line stanzas usually only have the etterstev. The omkved is repeated after each stanza. Usually it expresses the main theme of the ballad, but other times it’s got nothing to do with the story at all (it can be about dancing, for example).

Lines or stanzas are also frequently repeated – three being the magic number, obviously. This is of course to make the ballads easier to remember, in the times before they were written down.

Rhyme is widely used in the ballads. There’s the good old alliteration, which was so widely used in Norse poetry, but also end rhyme. The two lines of the two-line stanza rhyme, and so do the second and fourth of the four-line stanza. However, this end rhyme is not completely the same as the end rhyme that’s used today – sometimes just assonance is used.

I’ve translated a few ballads for my online friend, I’ll see if I can dig up those files from the incredible mess that is ‘My Documents’. I’ll see if I can translate and write a commentary for at least one ballad from each category.

There is a great website, here, which lists all the different ballads (it’s all in Norwegian though). They’re currently busy adding sound files (“Ballader med noteoppskrift og lyd), but there’s only one song there at the moment. If you go to the website of the Norwegian folk-rock band Gåte, here, you can find a few videos and sound files (or search for them on youtube). They’re really great – one of my favourite bands :)

Also, thank your book recommendations. I’ve decided to wait a while before I buy the Nibelungenlied (I’ll see if I can find a Dutch version this summer), and I’ll probably buy Redwall for my brother - someone recommended it to me and it sounded as something he'd like.

Okay, time for homework. Someone thought it was a good idea to have a three-hour physics test on Tuesday. Hmm… or maybe I’ll just read a bit first. Dad gave me a book about the history of the Roman Empire, made up of different texts by various Roman and Greek historians. Great stuff. Highly addictive though, and full of plotbunnies.

And, some cool book news: The Children of Húrin, by JRR Tolkien, will be released on Tuesday. They've made a trailer of it too. I've watched it about twenty times already, and preordered my copy yesterday (along with 15 other books... I think I need a new bookshelf soon).

9 April 2007

In need of some advice...

I've been meaning to buy the Nibelungenlied for quite some time now, but I'm not sure which translation to buy. My online friend recommended William Lettsom's translation, but that one is freakishly expensive (well, for a poor student anyway) and it's not even a hardback. I've found a version which is quite cheap, but it's one of those Penguin Classics, and I was not impressed by their translation of The Song of Roland. The person who translated the Nibelungenlied is not the same as the one who translated the SoR, but I'm not sure if I want to spend two weeks of pocket money on something that *might* be good. Does anyone know if this translation is any good? Any other recommendations are also very welcome.

And I need more book advice... You see, my little brother says reading is boring. He only likes the Harry Potter books (and he doesn't read them more than once), and says that all other books are dull, boring, too long, too complicated, etc etc. He doesn't even want to try other books. I've tried and tried to find something he might like, but no luck so far. I've made him read the Hobbit, the Fellowship of the Ring (which he never finished), Kruistocht in Spijkerbroek... I've given him my abridged children's edition of Ivanhoe, but he hasn't even looked at it. He says they're all boring. I think he actually likes some of them, but he just can't admit it because he has already said that he hates reading (he's incredibly stubborn).
I've been looking for books he might like, but I can't really find any. The problem is that he doesn't really know what he likes either, because he's read so few books. I want to buy him a book that he'll like, to show him that reading can be fun, but I don't know what to buy. I think he might like a fantasy book of some kind, something which is easy to read, not too childish, with a good plot, a bit of humour... Does anyone know a book which fits this description?

I hope this post made sense. If not, please excuse me. It's 2 AM and I didn't get much sleep last night - I woke up early this morning because a huge amount of snow fell down from the roof.

Anyway, here's Olav Tryggvason. This statue stands on a huge pillar in the centre of the market place in Trondheim, and is part of a huge sundial.
Olav Tryggvason was the king of Norway from 995-1000, and he's the legendary founder of Trondheim (in 997).

It's not a brilliant picture - blame the lousy Norwegian weather, lol.

2 April 2007

My first "novel"

I was cleaning my room yesterday, and underneath last year's schoolbooks, a stack of eight year old letters, my very first badminton racket and various other things I thought I'd cleared away ages ago I found one of my earliest writings.
I dunno how old I was when I wrote this, five or six maybe. I'd learned to write the R's the right way, but, erm, I wasn't so good at spelling ;) It's supposed to be Dutch, lol.
A rough translation would be: "The hot sunbeams reach the earth if the sun doesn't leave quickly we'll get burned finally the sun has left." Punctuation wasn't one of my strong points either...

It's quite a difference from what I'm working on now, at least. I wrote more than 3000 words in one day last weekend, and that's something I haven't done since November. I finally finished that chapter about Geravan I've been working on for more than a month. I think I need to divide it into two chapters because it's a bit long - more than 21.000 words. Never mind. So now I'm writing a chapter about Marcus again. He survived, luckily, but I don't think I should've knocked him out when I left him last time because he's got a bit of a memory loss and it's devilishly difficult to write. Maybe I should give him another good knock on the head.

Other than that I've been reading a lot (I have a week off from school because of Easter). I got a few books out of the library, including a collection of poems from the Elder Edda, skaldic verses and medieval ballads, as well as the Prose Edda (without Háttatal *sob*), Gunnlaug's saga (I love that one!), and Karsten Alnæs' Historien om Europa 1: 1300-1600 Oppbrudd which is so addictive and well written it should be illegal. Because, now I want to get my hands on the other books in the series, as well as his books about Norwegian history, and most of them are quite long - more than 600 pages - so it'll take a while to read them, with the result that I'll be spending less time doing homework (what's the point of atomic physics anyway?).

I think I need to make some more tea. I've lost count of the number of cups I've drunk, but I think this'll be my sixth or seventh pot. That means I've probably beaten my old record of 25 cups in one day. And I finally have my very own teapot (mum was sick of me 'borrowing' the family one all the time, lol)
It's a bit on the small side, but it's mine, my own, my precioussss...