For those who have grandparents who can remember their native homelands, hearing their tales of the “old country” can become almost mythic and give a sense of nostalgia for something that they themselves never experienced.
Posted on 12/5/15
By Melissa Anderson
This can create an urge to visit the countries from which your ancestors came from in an effort to reconnect to the roots of the tree you are a part of.
Jolene Halldorson of Mountain has been blessed with the opportunity to not only visit her “old country” once but three times now.
“I have always had a desire to travel to Iceland,” Halldorson said.
The first trip Halldorson took June 2013, she traveled alone to Iceland, and upon landing in the old country, the Icelandic blood in Halldorson recognized its home.
“When I landed in Iceland I immediately felt at home, and my heart swelled. I was in love with this country and the people immediately,” Halldorson stated.
Halldorson had a friend on Facebook from Iceland, Helga Gudmundsdottir, who helped her arrange a place to stay during the trip in the capitol city of Reykjavik.
“She helped me schedule everything and make arrangements cause I didn’t know anybody in Iceland,” Halldorson explained.
Halldorson was able to have a fully furnished apartment on a golf course during that first trip thanks to Gudmundsdottir’s help. The timing of the trip made for some very interesting experiences for Halldorson as it was during the time of what is known as the Midnight Sun.
“It was light for 24 hours during that time period and people golfed all night long,” Halldorson shared.
Halldorson made her second trip to Iceland in December of 2014 to experience New Years in Iceland. One major difference from her first trip was that instead of constant sunshine, it was dark 24 hours.
“It was still an amazing experience, I would recommend anyone to go during New Years, the shooting off of fireworks is deafening and the 360 degree view is amazing. There is no place in the world that celebrates New Years like Iceland,” Halldorson said.
This time she would be able to view more of the country thanks Gudmundsdottir’s son, Arnar, who was able to drive her around the countryside for sightseeing.
Sightseeing wasn’t the only thing that Halldorson did on that trip to Iceland. Halldorson worked with www.icelandicroots.com to learn about her family history and ancestors and made a very interesting discovery about herself and her friend, Gudmundsdottir, all thanks to a comment that Arnar Gudmundsdottir made.
“When I met Helga’s son, he said ‘You have to be related, look at you, you look just like my daughters.’ Turns out he was right,” Halldorson said, “I found out Helga and I are related.”
Halldorson and Gudmundsdottir share their 6th great-grandmother. Halldorson also found out about other relations, some more famous than others, during her research into the family history.
“I’m also related to Leif Erikson and Ragnar Lothbrok from the TV show ‘The Vikings’, albeit a distant relation. It’s a fun fact that I’m pretty proud of,” Halldorson said.
One aspect of Iceland that did not differ very much from Halldorson’s home state of North Dakota was the weather.
“The weather was similar to North Dakota, but changes every 5 minutes, literally. It will be raining and you walk into a store for a few minutes and walk out to huge snowflakes. It’s also very windy,” Halldorson said.
Halldorson’s third trip in early November of 2015 had the purpose of completing bucket list items including attending the Annual Airwaves Festival. The event is a week-long rock concert in Reykjavik.
“Every restaurant, bar and store had bands in them during the days and evenings,” Halldorson said.
What made this trip different and special from the first two was taking her boyfriend, Randell Ullyott, with her. Halldorson’s deep love for Iceland made being able to share the culture with somebody a very special experience.
“He was a good sport with the food. He actually ate herring every morning for breakfast,” Halldorson said.
“I’m 100% Icelandic, but that’s not my thing. The Norwegians can keep that,” Halldorson added.
Other foods that Halldorson and Ullyott tried were fresh cod fish and chips, minke whale, Icelandic lobster, kleinur, skyr, lamb chops, lots of different chocolates, Icelandic licorice and an off-the-chart Pönnukökur smothered in caramel.
“The two favorite foods of mine while in Iceland are the Icelandic hot dog and Icelandic meat soup. I try get one every day while I’m there,” Halldorson said, “I think we had four hot dogs during this trip and meat soup twice. They are both made with lamb and a must-try when you are in Iceland.”
The two highlights of the trip for Halldorson were riding Icelandic horses and finally conquering her fear of driving the streets of Iceland.
“Even though the car was the size of a computer desk, it was a great time. I was so thankful Ullyott was with me. I don’t know if I would have done it alone,” Halldorson stated.
Halldorson explained how the horseback tour occurred. She simply booked the tour for the horses by email. She emailed the owner of the farm and set it up. He then gave them a private tour.
When Halldorson told Ullyott, that the tour guide for the horse riding expedition, Sólmundur, would be picking them up and taking them to the stable, he was less than excited to get into a vehicle with a stranger and head out into the country.
“But that’s how it’s done in Iceland. Sólmundur was a perfect host, and we had a great time riding the horses,” Halldorson said.
Halldorson shared that even though she was not an experienced rider and Ullyott had never ridden before, her guide told them to “just trust the horse, the horse knows the way”.
“Even though Blessy (Halldorson’s mount) busted my knee cap into a lava rock, and I couldn’t walk, I’d do it all over again,” Halldorson said, “I would recommend if you ever go to Iceland, definitely ride the horses. Not much compares to seeing the beautiful landscape of Iceland while riding the Icelandic horse.”
Besides those two memorable events of the trip and being able to see Iceland from a local’s perspective, Halldorson and Ullyott also made time to sightsee.
“We did a lot of sightseeing during the week we were there. We definitely weren’t there to sleep. We stayed busy every day and night,” Halldorson said.
Some of the touring and sights that they saw included: geysers, an authentic Viking ship, the Blue Lagoon, light houses, the President’s House, the Hallgrímskirkja (which is the largest Lutheran Church in Iceland), and the Harpa, a concert hall.
The trips to Iceland have another purpose for Halldorson besides returning to the country of her ancestors as Halldorson is the President of the Icelandic Communities Association of Northeast ND.
“I am a very proud 100% Icelander. I enjoy engaging people in the history of our ancestors and encouraging them to visit Iceland,” Halldorson said.
Overall, her trips to Iceland have been life-changing for her. Halldorson needed to know more about her ancestors, the land, and the history. She did not want their hard work and perseverance to ever be forgotten.
“It must have been so difficult for them to leave their beloved Iceland for territory unknown. It’s all a part of me. The land is a part of me,”Halldorson said.
Now that Halldorson is back in the States, she is getting ready for the upcoming Icelandic Heritage event, Thorrablot on February 20 in Mountain.
Halldorson would be glad to offer any tips or help those interested in or currently planning a trip to Iceland. You can email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.