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124 years after Bjarni Olafson left Iceland, grandson Eric Olafson carries Bjarni’s great great-granddaughter Freyja onto the soil of Iceland; right: Freyja Knight checking it out

The grandchildren of Bjarni Olafson and Olgeirina Kjarval have been having random cousin reunions for a number of years. Sometimes they coincide with a specific event but most times the phone rings and a cousin says, “It’s time to meet at xyz and how many can come?” So, when in the middle of a trip to Iceland that I planned for Eric and me, your editor, and her niece Jill Eyolfson, Eric said, “We should do a cousin reunion here and I’ll organize it.” I just shook my head and rolled my eyes.

The call went out to the cousins in the fall of 2008 with a possibility of 23 adults setting out for Iceland in August 2010. There were many emails and phone calls. Thank heavens we had a long distance ‘bundle.’ Finally, in May 2011 our tally was 14 adults and five children ranging from the ages of 16 down to six months. We had four men, and 15 females, we had a brother, sisters, cousins, granddaughters, afis and ammas, mothers and fathers, aunts & uncles and in-laws. We had three groups of three generations in that group of 19 people who climbed aboard an Iceland Express flight from Winnipeg in August 2011.

Some of the things we learned from this endeavour were:
1. Our Travel Agenda was very general. For example: “August 10th, arrive in Akureyri.”

It needed to read: “August 10th, arrive in Akureyri and the descendants of Jon from Myri  in Akureyri will take over. Brenda, Tara, Tori, Barb and Myrna, you are not related but don’t worry. You will be looked after like you are, so just go with the flow.”

But even when we discussed ‘the plan’ in a group setting, some were on their own agenda and were half a step behind. Eric did a very good job, but gained a lot of respect for the professional Tour Guides who are worth their weight in gold and have the patience of Job.

2. If there are more women than men, does it mean we need to visit every tourist shop attached to the WC? The answer is “Yes”. Eric likened it to trying to herd cats.

3. We stayed in HI (Hosteling International) Hostels – very reasonably priced, clean, and friendly, which left money for point #2. The hostels need to be booked at least six months in advance but there were changes made two months before arrival. The lady  who did our booking had never done one so complicated. We all had private rooms that most of the time came with private WC but there were enough of us that we were only sharing with family. You do have the option of paying for the breakfast and the bedding. It is worth doing both. There are fully equipped kitchens in all the hostels so you can purchase your own groceries ahead of time and make a meal. Most hostels do have the basics that people have left behind – salt, pepper, cooking oil. Laundry facilities are available.

Purchase the Phone Card – it’s a very cheap way to call back home when an email won’t do for a homesick child travelling with amma and afi. You may also purchase bus passes that will get you around Reykavík and also offer discounts for entrance to museums and the city pools. With your HI membership you can purchase a cheap cell phone to use while you are there, which is good if you need to call the car rental to find out if there are English instructions hidden somewhere in your Hyundai Van, telling you where the tools are to change a flat tire.

4. Car rental (Reykavík Car Rental) was excellent. We rented two nine-person vans with two car seats and had two designated drivers for each. This enabled people to move between vehicles, necessary when needed to split up sisters, young or old.

5. We arrived in Reykavík on August 8th, travelled to Akureyri on August12th leaving for Reðarfjörður on the 15th. August16th was an overnight in Hvoll and back to Reykavík until August 21st. We visited the farm that Bjarni Olafson was born on at Núpsdalstunga, Jon Jonsson from Myri, and Thorstein Gauti at Gautland Olgeirina Kjarval at Efri Ey. We realized we had been travelling too long when Freyja asked on the morning of the 16th where her bed was going to be today

5. Ipods/DSLs with earphones to keep kids entertained while driving were a godsend. Our longest drive was to Akureyri but that was the first day. After that it was short drives of four or five hours. It still took most of the day to do it because of the many stops for picture taking, pit stops with visits to tourist shops, and picnic stops. Buy groceries when you see a decent size town. There are picnic tables all along the highway. We also carried walkie talkies so that if the two youngest were sleeping we could let the other vehicle know we weren’t stopping. They came in very handy.
The hospitality and friendliness is never ending. Now we know why Amma Nanna Olafson even welcomed strangers into her house. The scenery is breathtaking.

You really can’t be in a hurry. You need to stop and smell the roses or, in this case, walk on the spongy moss, or pet a sheep or wash your face in the mist of the next foss.

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