Last day on Iceland! It was with heavy hearts that we had our last breakfast at our hostel and set out for the final day on our trip. The first stop of the day was at the Swedish Embassy, where we met with Liselotte Wiberg who is is regional expert and who spoke about the Swedish representation on Iceland and the embassy’s daily work. Much of their work focuses on promoting Swedish brands, which are quite popular in Iceland especially in the fashion industry. We also learned that the embassies oftentimes work together abroad, since Sweden and Iceland usually share similar goals when it comes to causes like equality and human rights. Next up was the university of Iceland, where the group had lunch and met with Maximilian Conrad who is a associate professor and other representatives of the university. They told ous more about their research, Iceland’s ambiguous position about the European Union and the university in general. The last stop of the day was at the NGO, Iceland Nature Conversation Association, where we met with Arni Finnsson. The NGO fights for more sustainable growth in Iceland’s delicate climate, and topics that were discussed included the growing tourist industry, recent pre oil drillings in Icelandic waters and long time goals of the INCA. And so the travel committee of the fall semester of 2015 signs of, filled with new perspectives and knowledge about the small Island nation of Iceland. We will be back in January with new application dates for the spring committees trip!
Today we got up early to start off the day with a nice Spanish omelette and scones which some of us threw together. The sturdy meal gave us a good start to the day, and soon we were off to our meetings.
The first thing on the schedule was a tour around the Parliament House “Alltinget”. We accidentally started the guiding with a quick detour into the social democrats meeting room, and a sneaky spy into the office of one of the Pirate party’s representatives – but after that we were off! Some of the things we learnt was that the entire square outside of the building had in 2009 been filled with people demonstrating the elimination of state monopoly on the selling of liquor, that there are 63 representatives in parliament, that the seating arrangement among them is chosen at random by picking of notes out of a box, and that an Icelandic politician very seldom raises her/his voice during a sitting.
Once finished at Parliament House we walked across the previously mentioned square, to meet up with Hanna Birna Kristiansdottir. Hanna is head of the committee of foreign affairs, previous minister of interior affairs and former mayor of Reykjavik. She answered all of our questions about gender equality, trust issues among the people, Iceland’s environmental policies, the financial crisis, the view upon joining the EU, and the opinion gaps between generations. We also discussed the ongoing refugee crisis. Although Iceland isn’t directly affected to the same level as many other European countries, due to reasons such as it not being the destination of choice to many, the topic is still a hot one. According to Hanna Birna the overall Icelandic view upon refugee welcoming is that it should be just that – welcoming.
After this it was time for an energy fill up and some quick sight seeing from the clock tower of the Lutheran church in the centre of town. Filled up with both food and a good birds view of the city, we headed off towards the next to-do.
This time around it was the department of foreign affairs that we were heading towards. Once there, and once, twice, thrice trying to read the Icelandic name of the department. We entered to meet Urdur Gunnarsdottir, head of PR. Urdur both told us more about the points discussed with Hanna Birna Kristiansdottir a couple of hours earlier as well as helped us broaden our understanding of the Icelandic foreign affairs specifically. One aspect of it she likened to branding. Springing from a discussion of what modern diplomatic relations are really like, she said that modern diplomacy is not just communication in between governments, but rather also between a government and all who will listen – including facebook users, Instagram addicts, and Twitter actives. Further she also shared with us knowings such as that almost half of the departments budget goes towards development work, that the Icelandic heart beats an extra beat for other smaller states, and that they have a standing trade agreement with China.
On our way out we again tried to read the Icelandic name of the department, and then filled the rest of the day with shopping, window shopping, fika-ing, munching on home made pizza and game playing.
Yesterday we decided to take a guided tour, known as the Golden Circle Tour. We toured several of Islands must-sees, such as the Geyser fields, Gullfoss waterfall (“Golden Falls”) and Thingvellir National Park. We also had the privilege of seeing some of Icelands not-so-much-sees, in our case a family company specialized in tomatoes.
After a bit of an anticlimax at the tomato greenhouse, we headed to the Geyser fields. Apart form the distinct smell of rotten eggs (which has been more or less constantly present during our trip), it was a fantastic experience. Well worth the visit!
After a quick lunch, we headed off again, this time to Gullfoss, a famous waterfall. According to the legend (and our tour guide), a man desperate not to lose his property threw everything he owned into the waterfall, praying that the spirit of the land would keep it safe. As the story goes, his treasures turned the waterfall golden.
Just in time for the rain to start, we arrived at Thingvellir National Park, which was the location of the first Icelandic parliamentary session in 930, known as the Althing. The park has been made a world heritage site by Unesco, and is situated between two continental blocks (the american and the eurasian). The continental blocks are constantly moving away from each other, at a rate of about 5 mm a year. And apparently, most of the famous Swedish film “Bröderna Lejonhjärta” was also filmed there!
Today the adventure really started! Four of us went horse back riding on Icelandic horses while experiencing the breathtaking volcanic landscape. The rest of us jumped in the cars again for a road trip along the southern coast of Iceland.
After a few hours driving with amazing view of the Icelandic landscape we arrived at Reynisfjara, a black lava beach with interesting rock formations. Due to the sunshine and clear blue sky the experience was unforgettable. After some local turnip soup we headed off to the famous waterfall Skógafoss.
We got home quite late from our road trip. Shortly after arriving home we refreshed ourselves and headed down town for some Icelandic Halloween celebrations together with Gulli Ástvaldsson, the president of the Nordic youth organization Iceland (FNUF). The nightlife Reykavik was not disappointing, we had a great night!
These two first days in Iceland has been eventful, to say the least. We arrived late on thursday, and only had time for a classic Icelandic dinner (containing fermented shark and sheep brain) before geting to bed.
Today (friday) we had a nice breakfast at our hostel, before leaving for Keflavik, a small town south of Reykjavik.
The small fishing town was quite but beautiful, and we spent the early afternoon there before we went to The blue lagoon, Icelands most famous hot springs.
So far Iceland is a fantastic experience, quite spectacular and nothing like we ever seen before. Will update you more tomorrow, all the best from Reykjavik!
After 9am it’s already hot. About an hour earlier we experienced a shower of tropical rain that stopped as suddenly as it started. The ground is already dry and it’s a still day. I’m sweating in my shirt and suit jacket but the wind from riding in the back of a motorbike taxi helps a bit. I learn that my driver’s name is Polo and he’s only been to elementary school. “There’s my home, I was born nearby and I’ve always lived in Kigali”, he says, pointing down into a valley some ten meters below us. Despite his limited education he speaks perfect English and we have a discussion about development studies and sociology. Everybody in Kigali speaks English. I grasp tightly to a handle behind me while Polo keeps pointing at the scenery and driving faster and faster. “I’m starting to understand why they call Rwanda the land of a thousand hills”, I yell over the sound of traffick. “Yeah, wait ’till you see the provinces”, laughs Polo. I have no idea what to expect from the provinces.
We arrive at the World Bank Group’s office. A sign at the reception says that bringing guns in the office is not allowed. Armed soldiers patrol outside. Judging by the gear they’re wearing they must be sweating more than me. WBG’s local chief of communications welcomes us and leads us to a conference room. We talk about development aid, Millennium Development Goals, and Rwanda’s national Vision 2020 program that set a goal for Rwanda to become a middle income country by the year 2020. We learn that most of the development aid that is channeled to Rwanda through the WB goes to agricultural development – after all, most of the people in Rwanda live off agriculture. After the meeting we head for a lunch in a restaurant hidden at the end f a bazaar. We have a Rwandan ex-lundastudent with us who tells us about the culture of accountability in Rwanda. People elected into political positions have to once a year attend a public meeting and publicly explain why they have or have not kept their election promises. We also learn that the current President of Rwanda is an active Twitter user, has his own hashtag and holds “ask me anything” type of events online.
After lunch we head to the Swedish embassy in Kigali, and barely manage to escape another shower of rain. We met the chargé d’affaires Maria Håkansson and the head of development cooperation, Joakim Molander. We had a long discussion about the embassys responsibilities and operations in Rwanda and the region, and the staff added new, European perspectives to the discussions we had had earlier today. Needless to say, a lot of group pictures were taken both at the World Bank office and the embassy. Once again, a big thank you to Rogers Kayihura, Maria Håkansson and Joakim Molander for making the visits possible and teaching us so much!
After the visit to the embassy it was time to go for an adventure. We took motos to the city district of Remera where the rooftops were guarded by majestics hawks and beer and cheese was served by friendly and helpful staff at a restaurant. We also found a driving school cooperative and were invited to drive. Since most of us already have a license we politely declined. Maybe next time! We took a bus and motos back to the hostel and had dinner at the exactly right time. I’m finishing this blog post in darkness. Power was cut off by a thunderstorm. The sound of a heavy rain against the roof is pleasing to the ear. We have a torch, cards and a hammock.
Our second day here in Kigali has been calm and spontaneos. We started of by searching for wi-fi, since our hostels was down at the moment. We’ve realised that dealing without internet is more difficult than we first would have believed, so after accidentally ending up in a super fancy gym (fancier than anything we’ve seen in Lund). “Very LA” according to Anna-Clara. Soon we found our way down to a very nice european styled café, had some wonderful banana bread and went on to satisfy our internet needs. We found addresses and phone numbers, checked our facebook and sent an e-mail or two.
Not what you expect next to a dirt road in Kigali
Enough about internet, we went out on the street to find motos that would take us to the city center. We wanted to go to Rwanda Development Board, a REALLY big building next to the parliament, which we figured people would now about. However, after crossing through the relatively well-organized traffic we still weren’t there. Thankfully people on the street stepped in with advices and we finally got there. At the office, we got plenty of tips on transportation and accomodation for the rest of the trip, and also a tip on a nice market, not to far a way.
We went to the market where we found friendly people and beautiful crafts, with more than enough souvenirs for the rest of the trip. Some of us finished of earlier than the rest, so we went for a walk up the road. Suddenly we found what seemed to be a plant nursery, with plenty of flowers and trees planted in small bags and improvised pots. With my old high school french (where I apparently didn’t learnt exotic flowers names) we managed to get a small tour of a mans plants, which we all enjoyed a lot. We then went back, met up with the others and started walking towards the restaurant. Just by the market we found an avocado tree, with avocado the size of a big mango or a small hand ball (depending on who you ask). Suddenly a man had climbed up in the tree to pick some for us, and since there’s almost nothing I love more than climbing trees, I jumped up after him. He picked 5, I picked one, but to be fair he had a special stick to help him. So now we have avocado for at least the next couple of days and I got a climbing session that made my day.
Me picking fruit
A size comparison
After having a nice lebanese lunch we continued with the middle eastern theme by visiting the muslim quarters. We saw a mosque, bought plenty of passion fruit and had an amazing view of the Kigali hills in the sunset. The motos brought us back home as the sky turned darker, and when we returned to the hostel we enjoyed fifteen minutes of wifi before it broke down again. With no wifi we decided to go for some traditional Rwandan dinner at a restaurant nearby. There was plenty of food, even though we didn’t know exactly what we were eating it tasted wonderful. However, don’t try the red sauce. It’s hot. VERY hot. Like one drop will burn your tongue for minutes. The only solution was to fill the mouth with ugali, their local porridge, cooked into some kind of thick dough. Fills your stomach, that’s for sure.
Visiting the mosque
And eating dinner
Now we’re back home and I’m going to sleep.
Hi dear readers
This morning we woke up to the beautiful sunny hills of Kigali. Over a tasty breakfast of scrambeled eggs the travel committee met again for the first time since we left Sweden. Our hostel is a cute house with a traditional African touch and a large garden with a swimming pool, volleyball court, and even a bowling alley.
The hostels balcony
And its bowling alley
We started our trip in a quite heavy way by visiting the Kigali Memorial Centre, a museum about the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The museum contained pictures and stories from the genocide, and in the garden there were graves of some 200 000 victims from the massacres. It was a heavy but interesting tour and the whole group found it very giving.
The memorial center
After lunch we transported ourselves to our next destination with the local way of getting around – the motorcycle taxis. We have a feeling there will be more of this kind of tansports during our stay in this country. It’s really an amazing, but maybe not the safest, way of moving around in this hilly city.
A high speed photo
The urgent need of an ATM lead us down town. After quite some time we finally found a bank before we spent some time walking around the local market, buying fresh fruit. Once again we catched a group of motorcycle taxis and took a ride up a hill to get a nice view of Kigali from a distance. In the pictures below you can see where we ended up.
One of many amazing views
We ended our day with a dinner at a nice Ethiopian restaurant (since the Rwandan one was closed on Sundays) and went back home to our hostel to enjoy some local beer over some games.
All the best!
/ Hanna & Martina
Day six started with hardships trying to find the first study visit of the day: the International Cultural Research Center (UKAM). Eventually we found the center, thanks to a man who walked us through the highway for about 30 minutes and very corteously wanted no sort of gratification (what a nice gesture).
The think tank’s main focus was on including Kurdish history, language and cultural studies in the Turkish Ottoman-centred school curriculum with the aim of spreading light on the vast minority group that is the Kurdish peoples. A highy interesting project indeed!