Author Archives: Miranda Metheny

Dining on Rotten Shark

Whale blubber. Goose liver. Cod soaked in lye.

Vegemite. Haggis. Testicles (assorted).

Urine of Ant, and Head of Sheep – complete with tongue and eyeball.

I’ve eaten it all — yes, chewed and swallowed and held it down, even conceded that most of them weren’t nearly as bad as their appearance or smell or reputation would suggest.

Heck, put me in for deep fried haggis or foie gras sushi anytime!

I started getting cocky, started thinking there wasn’t anything the world could throw at my plate that I couldn’t gobble up and ask for seconds (at least if culturally required).

And then I tried Hákarl.

Traditional Icelandic rotten shark.

This and other photos in this post are credit Liisa Lundell.

Fished out of the sea too toxic to consume, laid in a shallow, sandy grave until the urea breaks down enough to be “edible,” then dug out, cut into strips, hung out to dry and finally… eaten.

I don’t really want to relive the experience in detail, so let me just show a few photos, and explain that the shark smells like a mix between urine and cleaning supplies (not a simile, it literally has the same chemicals in it), and that, regardless of what deluded enthusiasts will tell you, it tastes just as bad.

At first, the beautiful surroundings of the shark museum in Bjarnarhöfn calmed us. Surely nothing could hurt us here, beside the calm blue water? We soon realized that this church and the little white crosses to the right must serve as a graveyard for those who die in the attempt to eat Hákarl

In the drying shed, the wind was so strong that my hair blew out behind me — but it couldn’t tear away the smell of ammonia.

It’s like The Fondue from the Black Lagoon: Toothpicks, little squares of dark rye-molasses bread and cubes of rotten shark.

Well, there’s nothing for it! How bad can it be?

The calm before the storm — I think my taste buds were temporarily stunned.

That bad.

Putting the lid back on one dish I sincerely hope I will never, ever taste again.

Where Nature Rules

By Miranda Metheny

Iceland is nature painted in large brush strokes.

Purple-grey mountains, black sand beaches, moon-like lava fields, wide silver streams, green pastures and rolling red hills, glaciers and lagoons of pale, milky blue.

It’s easy to lose yourself in those expanses, when the hours pass by on the Ring Road with the alien-shapes of lava half hidden in mist, when the horizon recedes to hide behind ridges bright as raw pigment, when the memories linger like so much feather-fine ash.

The sounds are the sounds of a broken TV set. Silence. The quiet roar of wind, of waves, a far-off waterfall or a lone car’s engine echoing through a valley. The trembling explosion of the geyser eruptions. Silence. And, in the silence, the deep imagined hum of so much ice, so much rock, so much heavy mass suspended over a great and horrible heat and strength.

You almost forget — but you don’t forget. You bathe in thermal pools and eat bright cucumbers grown in greenhouse villages and nestle down into the grey-green moss that blankets the rough black lava, but you don’t forget.

What made this country — what gives it warmth and life — could destroy it, and more besides.

When the volcano Laki erupted in 1783, it caused droughts in Egypt and India, froze the Mississippi River in New Orleans, and killed more than six million people in the “Year Without a Summer.”

But for now, things are peaceful. Air-travel delays are the worst disaster they’ve seen for a while. Seabirds swoop in and out of the majestic sea-cliffs, new lambs and foals stumble through green fields and sweet-smelling purple lupine, and the ominous hum of the adolescent earth is lost in the intense, vibrant nightlife of Reykjavik…

Spring in the Hardangerfjord

The true winter starts giving way to sunlight and life in March, but for most of Norway, the spring doesn’t really come until May.

Seemingly overnight, the world turns green, soft, easy. Apple blossoms bloom along the Hardangerfjord, little white lambs prance beside their mothers and nap in the warm sunlight, the high-mountain snow melts to feed the flower-filled valleys below, and the whole world glows with a sense of well-earned peace and happiness.

These are the landscapes that inspired Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg to write compositions like “The Last Spring” and “Morning Mood.”

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At least, that’s the idea.

In practice, May doesn’t always go quite so smoothly. My Norwegian friends told me that in May, everything depends on the sun. When the sun comes out, it’s summer. When the sun hides behind the clouds, it might as well be winter again.

Minute to minute, the fjords and the mountains can transform from a green, sunlit paradise…

Spring in Rosendal, Norway.

To a mysterious, dangerous landscape of cold mists, pounding hail and late snows…

Late snow in Tørvikbygd, Norway.

And, as the sun comes back from behind the clouds, back to heaven on earth…

Spring in Eidfjord, Norway.

Last weekend, I was visited by my Scottish friend, Allan (who, oddly enough, spent his semester abroad at the University of Missouri in Columbia!).

With a mixture of optimism and foreboding, we rented a car, packed it up with a tent and a ridiculous mixture of t-shirts, sunglasses, sweaters and rain jackets, and made for the Hardangerfjord to put ourselves at the mercy of the Norwegian spring…

The road goes over the Låtefossen waterfall.

Allan and I hiking up towards the Folgefonna glacier.

Driving along the Hardangerfjord

Women and children walking home from a confirmation wearing Bunad — the Norwegian national dress.

The Røldal Stavechurch

A (most likely unintentionally) wooden frightening troll figure in Eidfjord, Norway.

The Folgefonna glacier above

Apple blossoms on the Hardangerfjord

Odda, Norway

Driving along the Hardangerfjord

Our campsite in Eidfjord

View from our campsite around midnight

Our road map

The path toward Vøringsfossen waterfall

Vøringsfossen waterfall

Driving around Hardangerfjord

Flowers blooming around Hardangerfjord

Lambs in Rosendal

Lambs in Rosendal

One last shot of the Hardangerfjord…

Norwegian Money

Norwegian money has long been counted in kroner and øre.

A krone, or “crown,” is worth about twenty cents nowadays. Although they have different values, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and the Faroe Islands also use their own version of crowns.

Check out the awesome round holes!

I kind of like them, to be honest. “Dollars” sounds so commonplace, and “euros” have always sounded a bit tacky to me, like a kind of breakfast cereal. But “crowns” has such a nice, medieval feel to it!

You can get 1 krone, 5 kroner, 10 kroner and 20 kroner coins. The 20 kroner coin is worth about $3.50 — so it’s well worth picking up if it falls out of your pocket! Unlike in America, where coins are a hassle and most people only really mess with quarters, cleaning out your drawers and pockets of loose change here can easily yield enough for a week’s worth of groceries (even at Norwegian prices!).

The first few times you pay for something with a handful of coins, you may well feel like a pirate. This is normal.

One crown on the left, fifty øre on the right.

Working downward, crowns are divided into 100 øre. There used to be copper coins going all the way down to one øre, but they have gradually lost their value. By the time I arrived in Norway, the only one left in circulation was the 50-øre coin.

On May 1, however, Norwegian money changed forever. The 50-øre coins have been discontinued — and with them, the øre slipped quietly into history.

The 50-øre coins were worth about a dime, so at first it seemed strange to me that this was considered an amount too small to be represented. However, the banks determined that most people were not going to the trouble to reuse their øre coins after receiving them as change. And I have to say, with the higher and more rounded prices here, I’ve only received a dozen or so øre during my stay, and they do have a tendency to do little more than line my pockets!

Still, it’s funny.

When I went a few weekends ago to the outdoor club’s old cabin, I found a pile of still-usable match boxes. They must be pretty old, because they are marked with a formidable price of 1 øre!

In another ten years, children will have to ask their parents what øre even means…