Blogs

First Day in Amsterdam

By Erica DeBlois

We’ve been here since Friday and the weekend gave us all a great opportunity to get the lay of the land and explore different parts of the city.  Settling in and getting comfortable for the month-long classes, we all have been talking about what we’ve seen and how interesting the Dutch people and their culture are.

The most interesting thing to me so far is how many bikes there are and the many different and creative ways I’ve seen people riding them. There have been some bikes with single riders while on other occasions, there have been one bike with three people on it: the person peddling, a small child on the back wheel, and another on the handle bars.

Since getting here, we’ve explored many different restaurants and tried many new foods.

Today marked our first day of actual class and we got to meet Mirjam, the program director here at the University of Amsterdam. She gave us an introduction to Dutch life, told us what to expect from the program, and gave us our welcome packets of information. She talked a little about how that the Dutch built Amsterdam on the sea and we are actually below sea level.

We reconvened after lunch to discuss our overall experience so far here in the Netherlands and specifically what we are going to learn about. We got our first reading assignment and are all set to kick off tomorrow with our first guest speaker!

One of the many buildings decorated with graffiti murals on the streets of Reykjavik.

Day in Reykjavik

By Alexa Gorlick & Becca Hubley

It’s safe to say that everyone was excited to finally be able to explore the city of Reykjavik after two long days of driving through Iceland.

It was peculiar to wake up hearing sounds of the hustle and bustle of a city, as we have become accustomed to waking up to silence – with the exception of birds chirping.

We started our morning with showers that had an endless supply of hot water but a very strong smell of Sulphur, which was due to the geothermal energy power plants in the area. Once we were convinced the smell didn’t linger on us after our showers, we made our way downstairs to enjoy complimentary breakfast provided by the hotel. The croissants were so delicious, but we practiced self-control and only had about ten each.

We gained the strength to leave the breakfast table and ventured out to visit some of the many museums in Reykjavik. One of our favorites was The Settlement Exhibition. Here, we learned that in 2001 there were ruins that were discovered, which turned out to be the oldest remains of human habitation in Reykjavik. We were also able to witness how the Vikings lived their daily lives.

In between museum visits we explored numerous shops, art galleries, and cafes.  We really got to take in the culture of the city and get understanding of the everyday life in Reykjavik. There is bright, beautiful, and detailed graffiti displayed all over the city, giving an artsy and cozy feel to the entire area. Reykjavik is one of those cities you could walk around for weeks and find something new every day, never getting bored or tired of it. Even pollution is kept at a bare minimum, something we aren’t very used to as Americans.

After meeting back up with our entire group for a quick meeting regarding the remainder of our time in Iceland, we all ventured out for a place to eat dinner. Some of us went to a ramen noodle house, others to a bistro, and the rest to a fish and chips stand. All dinners were equally amazing in taste and quality. Those of us who were legally allowed to in Iceland spent the rest of our night checking out the wide array of bars and clubs downtown.

We still aren’t sure if Reykjavik has any imperfections… we couldn’t find any.

Turfhouse
A turf house that former SCSU students built during their Iceland study abroad trip.

By Kelly Bickell and Jacob Gant

Breakfast was a treat this morning in Grímsstaðir, Iceland where we stayed in a guest house on a sheep farm for a single night. The Icelandic couple who owned the house served fresh smoked lamb, hand-picked goose eggs, fruit and pastries with a variety of hot and cold drinks.

SCSU students by the waterfall Dettifoss
SCSU students Hope Finch, Jacob Gant, Kelly Bickell, and Emma Knauerhase enjoy the view of Europe’s most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss.

After enjoying the view during breakfast, we set off for our first legendary stop of the day: Dettifoss. This is Europe’s largest waterfall by volume of water. Dettifoss is the product of runoff from the glacier that we hiked almost two weeks ago, called Vatnajökull. Next stop was a rare Icelandic forest called Ásbyrgi National Park. Ásbyrgi is full of Iceland’s native birch tree along with fragrant flowers and grasses. A short while into the hike, the trail led to an unexpected pond. The pond is situated beside a basalt cliff and is home to a few ducks, fish, and birds.

Fish and chips
Fish and chips

By the time lunchtime rolled around, we stopped in the town of Húsavík for an hour. Some students ate fish and chips on a patio overlooking the harbor. The fishing and tourist industries are important to Húsavík’s economy. When one hour time was up we drove to turf houses that SCSU students have built in years past. I found it interesting to see how little land is required to build a turf house, so really they are sustainable houses. Blocks of soil and rocks are used for the walls while soil and wood are used for the roof. Icelanders did live in turf houses until the 1960’s. These houses are now used to hold and feed sheep.

In the late evening, we reached the campsite called Tjaldsvæði. Here, we set up five tents, ate dinner either at the site or at the local Hard Wok Café, then hiked to see the midnight sun coast over the horizon.

Dettifoss, a powerful waterfall in Northeastern Iceland.
Dettifoss, a powerful waterfall in Northeastern Iceland.

A view of Harpa concert hall, famous for its amazing acoustics.

By Emma Knauerhase, Charles Comstock

Today was the last day with our close friends because they left for the U.K from the egilstadir airport. A few of us woke up early to say goodbye to them as they left to go home. Once we said our goodbyes to a song from the breakfast club “Don’t you forget about me” as they drove off, we went back to bed. After sleeping in for the first time this entire trip, Dr. Heidkamp told the SCSU students the last job we were ever going to do at Skalanes. This job was to move three huge plastic fishing tubs and clean the black sand beach. We carried the tubes on the rocky beach while dodging the artic terns who were attacking us and then we climbed a steep hill back to skalanes with the heavy plastic fish tubes. Once the dreadful task was over we said our goodbyes to the very close friends we made at the farmhouse and took lots of photos with the remaining two U.K students who we would later see at the Icelandic capital. Once we left skalanes for the final time we headed to the gas station in egilstaditr and ran into our friends who left for the airport earlier that morning! After a long reunion (even though we just saw them earlier in the morning) we said our official goodbyes and went our separate ways.

We headed to the highlands of Iceland where the wind was so powerful it rips car doors off the hinges. After a nice car ride with SCSU students we found ourselves in Grimstadir where we resided in a “haunted” farm house for the night. After settling into the haunted house we left for the Jarbodin Natuerew Baths where we stayed for 5 hours to heal our sadness of leaving Skalanes and our friends in the U.K.

When we left the baths to go back to the house Emma and Kelly began to cook pasta for the majority of the hungry SCSU students but then the power went out just as we put the pasta in the boiling water. Since we did not know what to do, we travelled down to the haunted basement only to find out we had to go to the owner’s house to fix the power. Therefore Emma trekked out in the powerful winds to help her friends. Once we gained power we ate our soggy pasta and went directly to bed a 3 in the morning. Even though we went to bed at three in the morning, the sun did not set and was already rising by the time we went to bed.

 

Tvísöngur

Icelandic National Day

Today we started out early with a hike up to the local sound sculpture known as Tvísöngur, where some of the louder members of our group used its unique construction to speak even louder (which I honestly thought impossible – Hope). Luckily, the beautiful view and wonderful weather helped to offset the ear piercing singing and tedious selfies. After we soaked up some art and nature, Dr. Heidkamp decided to enlighten us with a field lecture of the town’s economic history and geography followed by a sightseeing tour of Seydisfjordur. We then decided to help the amazing people of Iceland celebrate their independence from Danish rule by observing the annual shooting of the town’s canon into the harbor, and eating piles and piles of delicious pizza (not a very traditional Icelandic meal, but it got the job done). We closed out our day at Skálanes, by spending time with our new friends from the UK, who we will end up parting ways with tomorrow.

Reindeer

By Hope Finch and Steven Cardinal

As our time at Skalanes begins to come to a close, Steve began to recruit some friends for a reindeer stalk to study the animals. As this was a much anticipated event from the group, excitement was at an all-time high. The crew departed the house with a look of determination in their eyes. Initially they began at a waterfall where they had previously seen the herd, after surveying tracks and scat it was clear they would be best to try another area. As time passes the hopeful explorers had searched the hills, valley, and mountains with nothing but tracks to show for it. After seven long and grueling hours the group began to lose hope…the trail mix and fruit stores that had sustained them had been depleted, and their initial excitement began to morph into disappointment. The group returned, reporting their comparably mundane findings back to the house. After a good meal and a few rounds of cards the three had almost forgotten the long and fruitless day… That is until Professor Heidkamp entered the room with a sinister smile on his face…. In a 20 minute drive to town Heidkamp happened to “stumble upon” a herd of 12 deer who were a mere feet from his vehicle. The following day on a walk into town to celebrate Independence Day, the unsuccessful herd trackers were delighted to spot the herd unexpectedly walking the hills above them.

 

Bonfire by the beach

By Alexa Gorlick

This morning we thought it would be a good idea to get the van back, or almost back, to the condition we received it in. Many coins into the vacuum machine later, our efforts were rewarded by Dr. Heidkamp, who treated everyone to ice cream for breakfast. Our first stop today was at Hengifoss, the third highest waterfall in Iceland. Bright red stripes line the basaltic rock behind the waterfall. After we reached the waterfall, we all took some time to take in the view before hiking back down. Next we drove a few miles down the road to Skriduklaustur, where the home of late author Gunnar Gunnarsson lies, which has been converted into a museum. Nearby is a visitor center with tons of information about the wildlife in Iceland that looks out onto vast green fields filled with sheep. Within the field are the ruins of a 16th century Augustinian cloister. After exploring the property our appetite let us know it was time to redirect our attention to lunch. Dr. Heidkamp told us that the museum had a cake buffet. We were certain this was a joke, but we couldn’t be more excited when we found a quaint little restaurant, with a beautiful set up of numerous traditional Icelandic sweets. We soon came to find out that our eyes were much larger than our stomachs, and within twenty minutes, half of us could not move. Our last stop was at an organic farm named Vallanes. Here we got to speak with the owner and volunteer workers about the productions on the farm. We learned their business is very special, because it is difficult to run a successful farm in Icelandic conditions. To finish our day we had a big bonfire on the black sand beach of Skalanes. This was a great way to enjoy are last moments of the trip with Tim and Tom.

Iceland Trip

By Kelly Bickell, Nic Varley

Here’s to the last day with half of the LJMU crew, safe travels to those returning home! The remaining SCSU and LJMU students whom are remaining at the Skálanes farmhouse will utilize this unique opportunity to collect data for their university’s dissertation projects. Both groups of students record the lab data in his or her field notebook. The field notebooks are the basis for either a research proposal or dissertation.

Skálanes farmhouse

Today marks the completion of a two day research project on various topics related to climate change, human geography, and hydropower along with other local Icelandic issues. Just before a dinner barbeque of lamb the students presented the research projects to a room full of students and the three professors. The presentations were thought provoking and should have helped students understand how best to go about future research.

Today is a day to remember because the weather station has been permanently stationed in the farmhouses’ yard. People for years to come will have access to data about the local climate.

Additionally two Eider duck babies, named Chirp and Cheep, have hatched and are currently residing within the farmhouse. This specific research project focuses investigating the effects of the condition of the mother and the growth of her chicks.

From left to right: Hope, Steve, Kelly, Tim, Miles, Sophie, Andri, Patrick, Charlie, Tom, Peter, Scott, Dan

By Steven Cardinal and Miles Mcconville

So today marks our halfway mark on our grand adventure in the beautiful Skálanes, Iceland. Today the students of SCSU AND Liverpool John Moores University continued working on the projects that we’ve been assigned for the next few days.

The projects are aimed at consolidating the knowledge and skills the group has learnt so far on the trip, such as studying the hydrology of local rivers, looking at the sea bird population, and investigating snow conditions.

Some students accompanied Dr. Heidkamp on an expedition to install another weather station in the area on top of Baegsli (938 meters). Unfortunately, weather conditions and wet terrain prohibited those hiking from reaching their destination. Although it was a bummer the goal wasn’t reached, we did learn a valuable lesson in trusting our gut when a situation is presented that doesn’t feel 100% safe. The mountains are not going anywhere and will still be there to climb another day.

Meanwhile, one group traveled to the mountain pass behind Seyðisfjörður to measure snow levels and density. Stakes had been placed earlier in the week and were revisited to see their progress. Due to the unseasonably high temperatures we have seen around 15cm of snow melt over the past three days. The site will continue to be monitored over the coming days to track its progress and record its findings.

Later on in the evening, we had the pleasure of meeting Andri Snaer Magnason, Icelandic presidential hopeful and author of the book Dreamland, which discusses the environmental concerns surrounding hydroelectric power and aluminium smelting processes within the country. Hearing Andri discuss the impacts of damming opened our eyes to how not to just accept an environmental solution without doing some research.

Not long after we were treated to a boat ride out in the fjord guided by Oli, the owner of the Skálanes nature reserve. It was a blessing to interact with both of these amazing individuals today. They have broadened our horizons on what it really means to care for nature and why it is so important to protect it. We can’t wait to see what else this adventure will offer us.

By Janee Petersen and Jacob Gant

All Work No Play

Today was the first time that work dominated the entirety of the day. Many of us were on cooking, dishes, or cleaning duty. This even included cleaning the guesthouse bathrooms.  Everyone is expected to help with the day to day operations of Skálanes.

The course work began immediately after breakfast with an orientation of the weather stations which we will be installing here within the next few days.  The weather stations will monitor conditions such as precipitations, temperature, wind speed and the barometric pressure.  They should collect data at Skálanes for years to come.

Next was a lecture and lab exercise on hydraulic river modeling. We took various measurements and readings from a stream running through the property. The rest of the day was spent working on individual research projects.  Some of us have projects relating to Skálanes and those of us who will be doing research in other parts of Iceland were paired up with our friends from Liverpool to help with their projects.

Although today was low key and we stayed inside for most of the day, it was still an all-inspiring experience to be able to do homework, listen to music and hang out with our new British friends in such a beautiful place.

Ps. We all needed the rest anyways considering Iceland is the land of no sleep (New York has nothing on us).