Trolls, Ponies, & Fermented Shark: Iceland's Weird Side

Trolls, Ponies, & Fermented Shark: Iceland's Weird Side

Feb 3, 2014| by administrator

It's true that the Land of Fire and Ice gets its nickname from being covered in thick sheets of ice and its volatile volcanoes, but thanks to all the strangeness this country has to offer, Iceland could also be described in a number of different ways.

Folklore_Figures,_Akureyri_(4899034211)

1. The Land of Magic and Wonder

Europe's most remote country has a rich history of peculiarity. For starters, most Icelanders truly believe that fantastical beings like trolls, elves, and fairies live among them. What is even more bizarre is that human inhabitants believe in the supernatural powers so much that they will do almost anything to avoid getting on their bad side. Elf spotters are hired to identify where people can develop settlements without disturbing the mythical creatures. Weirdly enough, engineers will reroute roads, pipelines, and cables to avoid the invisible dwellings, even if it costs them time and money. Though it may seem absurd to foreigners, this logic is based on countless tales of people who ignored the warning of the elves and were met with mysterious illnesses or unforeseen injuries. Even those who don't fully believe in trolls tend to abide by the elusive beings' rules, just to be on the safe side.

The most famous trolls are the Yule Lads, the 13 sons of Grýla who devours children if they misbehave. Each troll is named after its most notable characteristic, like Spoon-Licker, Door-Slammer, and Sausage-Swiper. Although the Yule Lads were originally shifty characters, ranging from mere tricksters to homicidal slaughterers, they are now depicted in a more benevolent role comparable to Santa Claus. Depending on the child's behavior, they leave either gifts or rotten potatoes for children during Christmas.  Located in the town of Stokkseyri is a museum called Icelandic Wonders dedicated to the history of elves and trolls. Reportedly, tourists who visit can stay at the lodge for free if they volunteer to dress up as trolls to scare visitors.

Hákarl2

2. The Land of the Putrid and Unconquerable

When it comes to acquired tastes, Vegemite is to Australia as Rotten Shark is to Iceland. The food formally known as hákarl is made from the meat of a sleeper shark that has been fermented and hung to dry for four to five months. The meat must be consumed rotten instead of fresh because prior to the fermentation process, the meat of the sleeper shark is poisonous. The fresh meat, which has a high content of urea and trimethylamine oxide, only proves that sharks can kill you even after they die. Though a common attraction due to its traditional value, it's been cited that visitors will involuntarily gag on the first attempt to eat it due to its ammonia-rich smell. Even world-renowned chef Anthony Bourdain described hákarl as "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten. Nevertheless, hákarl remains a popular dish for being deeply rooted in Icelandic viking history. Clearly, those guys really were as tough as they seemed.

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3. The Land of the Small and Strong

Icelanders are also very proud of the Icelandic Horse, which is the only breed in the country and one of the purest in the world. Though their fascinating strength,  stamina, and endurance are what let these horses survive the harsh weather in the country, it's really their size that leaves an impression. Despite being referred to as horses, their average height is a mere 52 to 56 inches, which is most often considered pony size. There are many theories as to why breeders and breed registries are adamant on not calling them ponies, however. One suggests that the animal's spirited temperament and personality deserves the larger label, while another suggests it is due to their ability to carry one-third of their body weight that classifies them as horses.

So whether or not you believe in mischievous elves, love the taste of ammonia soaked fish, and identify with a tiny horse carrying a big punch, one can agree that Iceland has some of the most unique attributes of any country in the world. Adventurers need not look further because there is never a dull moment in the Land of Weird and Awesome.

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