Village Life in Vik, Iceland

Vikings settled Iceland in the late 9th century, but the first geographical document describing the northern seas was written by an Irish monk named Dicull, early in the 9th century. He was the first man to locate the isolated island, which later became known as Iceland.

The Vikings came to Iceland because of internal struggles in Norway. King Harald ‘The Fair -haired’ drove his enemies and the former rulers of Norway all the way to the Scottish Isles. Many fled to Iceland, and some of the daring settled in Vik.

To visit Vik you have to take road number 1 from Reykjavik. There are many things to be seen on your way. The scenery of Volcanoes, water falls, rivers, glaciers and mountains will slow your journey, but eventually you will get here.

In one of the houses, you’ll find me. I wasn’t born in Vik. I wasn’t even born in Iceland. Faith brought me here. I met my boyfriend on the Internet and I now spend eight to nine months a year in Vik with him. Together, we have a dog, T√ɬ°ta. Her name means “Little Girl”.

Vik 2004

What do I do in Vik?
I am a writer and it’s something I can do anywhere. I’ve just had my first book published and I’m currently working on several articles and a book for children.
Being a city girl, I imagined village life would be boring. I was wrong. I’ve never been so busy in my life, but first let me describe Vik a little better.

About 300 people live in Vik, and about 200 live in the surrounding countryside. Although the history of Vik goes back to the 9th century, it wasn’t until the 1890’s that the first merchant settled to sell products such as flour, salt, sugar and vegetables. Eventually there were five stores in Vik and two slaughterhouses. The little village with a handful of people grew larger as time went by. It became a meeting place for farmers and a place where locals met to hear the latest news.

The church in Vik was built in 1934 at a time when people needed something to believe in. Depression hit Iceland hard, and it may explain why they decided to build the church on the highest hill. Everyone could look up to the church with its beautiful view. Life went on. During the 50’s and 60’s, the village didn’t change much. Evolution, technology and bigger cities made what happened inevitable. People moved away from Vik after finishing school. Even today, young adults at age sixteen have to board in cities. There are no high schools in Vik.

The population has continued to decrease. The slaughterhouses are gone and there is only one supermarket left. However, a new trade has emerged and the trade is called tourism.

People come back to Vik to get married in the church that they once visited. People also come to see the black volcanic beach with its cliffs that reach out into the sea. Unfortunately, the shoreline is decreasing every month. The ocean is slowly eating its way ashore, and sooner or later, something will have to be done. They are talking about building a dam to protect the village, but for now it stands on its own with the green mountains surrounding it on one side, and the ocean on the other.

In the village, we are blessed with a post office, bank, tourist shop, wool factory, pub (very important during cold winter nights), a hardware store that also serves as a gift shop and a place to buy clothes, a pharmacy and a petrol station. There is a school, an old age home, a health centre, a gym and soon, an outdoor swimming pool. Icelanders are used to swimming pools outside. They don’t care if it’s two degrees Celsius, as long as the water is warm.

From May to October tourists arrive every day in their big buses. They fight to be first into the cafeteria or tourist shop. One might assume that one hour is enough to see our little village.

But it isn’t, far from it.

Several hotels prove that. During the tourist season people arrive by car and spend more time here than first planned. You can have the time of your life in and around Vik. How does walking behind a waterfall sound?

How about sledding on a glacier? How about sitting on the mountaintop looking down at the cliffs? How about horse riding for hours and having a great Icelandic meal for dinner, like seabird from Vik with beer.

The cliffs in Vik are probably the most popular cliffs in Iceland. People paint them, draw them (I do), take pictures of them or buy books about them. Sooner or later, the sea will engulf them but we will enjoy them for as long as we can.

I’ve mentioned what people can do in Vik but let me tell you a little more about what I do in what would be a fairly typical day for me.

When I am not flying with one of the most famous pilots in Vik, I begin my day early. I turn on the computer and make myself a cup of coffee. Before my boyfriend and T√ɬ°ta are awake, I’ve already written a few hundred words. When I’m done it’s time for breakfast, and my boyfriend dashes off to school. He’s a teacher of history, geography and English. T√ɬ°ta begins to look at me with her it’s time to get going look at 9.30, and we begin our daily walk, which starts in front of the bank.

I have to mention the women’s walking club because I’ll never forget the first time T√ɬ°ta and I joined them. However, no one just joins a walking club in a village. When I first came in 2001 it began with the customary nods and smiles as T√ɬ°ta and I passed them during our morning walk. Months later we stopped and had a short conversation about the weather. My Icelandic at the time wasn’t great. In fact, all I could talk about was the weather. Months passed and suddenly one of the women asked me if I wanted to join them the next day.

I told my boyfriend about it.
Sounds like a great idea to me. They’re old and they don’t walk too fast, he said.

Here I should mention that I have Juvenile Arthritis and I walk like a duck, but the average age of the walking group is about 70. My boyfriend was wrong. They have been walking in the village for more than ten years and their speed is more suited to that of twenty-year olds. When we came home from our first walk with the women Táta dived into her water bowl, and I swallowed half a litre of diet Coke. Ten minutes later, we were sleeping.

There is always discussion as to where to walk. As with many other things in Vik, it depends on the weather. Today the sun was shining so we headed east. We are usually provided with plenty of rain in this village, but lately we’ve had seven days of sunshine in a row. It’s quite remarkable and something odd happens with the villagers. We simply feel compelled to hang out our washing, regardless of the wind. Sometimes it can be as strong as 25 meters per second. One would imagine it would prevent us but no; the washing is hung out. Accidents do happen of course. On more than one occasion the washing ends up with your neighbour or in the river, but we simply wash it again.

Sometimes, even the dog looks a bit worried about leaving the cosy apartment. Isn’t the wind a bit too strong today? After completing our walk, the second discussion begins. Where shall we have coffee today? When it’s decided, we walk to the designated house and enjoy a good chat with a cup of coffee. Sometimes we are provided with cakes or cookies.

Sometimes, the elderly women show me their amazing needlework. They spend hours making anything they can think of. Most of it is given away for charity. Other items are sold for charity. These women do a lot of good for other elderly people in Vik. They visit each other, call each other, visit the old age home or arrange special occasions such as Easter Bingo. One never wins anything big, but that is never the point.

Coming home from the women’s walking club, it’s high time to get some housework done. I do it quickly since my boyfriend and I share the housework. I just have enough time to write a little before Neighbours. My boyfriend makes lunch because teachers have a 40-minute break. When he’s back in school, T√Ǭ∑ta and I have a little read. Well, we aren’t really reading. We are what is generally known as having a nap. I sleep in my bed and Tata sleeps on her little blanket next to my bed.

The second walk of the day takes place in the afternoon while my boyfriend has his little read. It ends at the petrol station were Táta gets her daily free sausage from the owner. Dogs like routine and Táta certainly loves this one. When there are buses we entertain the tourists with ball play and tricks.

During the cold winters we play around in the snow for hours, even if there aren’t many tourists. Dinner is a major event in Iceland. There is no need to tell guests when they should arrive for dinner. Everyone knows it’s at seven. My boyfriend and I eat earlier though, as being Norwegian I’m used to dinner around five in the afternoon. We eat in front of the TV. There are two good TV stations in Iceland and they provide excellent series from the BBC.

In-between the programs, we go for our third walk, but with a difference this time. My boyfriend comes with us and we tend to walk to the beach, throw the ball out at sea and watch Táta swimming for it. She loves the sea. My boyfriend and I have many similar interests but our main interest is the weather. We are weather fanatics and we can talk about it for hours.

This describes a normal day. There are plenty of days that arenot normal. Sometimes, we go flying above the glaciers. Sometimes we go for a drive just to have dinner at Kirkub√ɬ¶kl√ɬ∂stur, a village 40 minutes away from Vik. Sometimes we eat with friends, or they eat with us. Sometimes we spend an entire evening writing. I’m not the only writer in the family, my boyfriend also writes children’s books.

How can I attract you to Vik?
I could mention the little petrol station close to the waterfalls at Sk√É‚Ä∫gar. If you stop there to fill the tank, sit patiently in the car. Sooner or later an eighty-year old man will wobble out to assist you. He will have a nice conversation with you in Icelandic, which you won’t understand a word of, and then wobble back inside to relax.

I could mention the little local magazine that arrives in the mail once a week. Who died? What’s going on in Vik this week? Sometimes Clubs arrange Bingo. Don’t imagine electronic machines, bright coloured balls or computer screens. No, imagine an old-fashioned table and women calling out numbers with the possibility of winning chocolate or handicrafts.

Sometimes “Felags Whist” is arranged too. This is one of my favourite events. It means “Company Whist” and it began almost a century ago. People came from the farms and met to play in the community house. It’s similar to Whist but with a twist. No women deal the cards. You change partners every time you finish a hand. If a woman loses a hand, she sits still while her partner (always a man) moves to another table and another man takes his place. If a woman wins, she and her partner move to another table but play with a new one.
It was designed as a way to meet new people. It worked. Today, when people play Felags Whist; they talk. It is also a good way to meet the opposite sex, especially for shy young men.

Every third or forth week my boyfriend and I drive 120 km to Selfoss. It’s a larger town with 10,000 people. The prices in the supermarket in Vik are high due to natural costs of transporting groceries to the countryside. Therefore, many drive to Selfoss once a month to buy large quantities of food. We are no exception but we do try to support the supermarket in Vik by buying vegetables, fruit and dairy products there. If we all buy everything in Selfoss, the supermarket will vanish. Many elderly can’t drive to Selfoss, and they need the local store. They do more there than buy what they need. To them, it’s a place to meet people.

When my boyfriend and I shop in Selfoss, we shop a lot. Being a city girl, as I mentioned before, I’m used to being able to buy anything I want, whenever I want it. Living in Vik we have to plan everything. If something breaks, it can take weeks to replace it. If we have a sudden craving for something, we have to wait until we go to Selfoss to get it. This may explain why the shopping madness comes over us when we are in Selfoss for the day. We’re getting better though. These days we buy what’s on the shopping list and that’s it. However, we never drive to Selfoss without having Kentucky Fried Chicken before driving home again.

Such is my life in a small village. I hope you will come and visit us one day. If you do, be sure to knock on our door. For now I have to dash out the door again. We’ve been invited to dinner this evening at our friend’s place, and I’m starving. The weather is nice so we’ll probably go for our forth walk, if I can convince T√ɬ°ta. It seems her owner has exhausted her once again.

July 5th, 2004 by