Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Gimli, Manitoba: Lovely Little Paradise

The journey away from the Winnipeg airport filled me with worry. We left the industrial outskirts of town behind us and faced the flat, unending prairie of Manitoba. But we had no choice: all of the hotels in Winnipeg were completely sold out. We booked a room in the Lakeview Resort and Conference Center over an hour outside of town. But karma must have been on our side, because our week in Gimli was definitely delightful.

In Icelandic, Gimli means "paradise" and this charming little town on the shores of massive Lake Winnipeg is full of incredibly friendly people and delightful opportunities to experience the beauty of Canada.

My sons have asked me before if we could ever go on a vacation without learning things and I have told them it just wasn't possible. It's the best part of travel! So it makes sense that one of our first stops was the New Iceland Heritage Museum.

Here we learned that Gimli was founded by Icelanders fleeing volcanoes, drought and disease in their homeland.  My favorite new fact was that Icelandic mythology blames all of the volcanic activity on the Midgard Serpent that encircles the earth! I was seriously impressed with the work that went into creating this quilted volcano that represents scientific reality, but I still love the serpent.

But what my boys really loved was learning about the people of Iceland and trying on Viking gear! Ok, I loved it more than a little, too.


The young woman who greeted us at this museum was incredibly nice, too. She taught the boys about runic writing and gave us an assignment to collect flat stones at the beach and practice writing our names in runes. So we did it!


As I learned more about the myths and legends of the region, I discovered the tale of wishing stones. A stone with a hole in it is your wishing stone. A stone with an incomplete hole is someone else's wish. Put it back so they can find it.


Gimli is not a large town. But it does boast of a hippy health food store, a library, an art club, at least two decent coffee shops and lots of places serving fish. The fish of choice is pickerel and I enjoyed my serving of it from Beach Boy. Be warned: helpings of food are not dainty. While we certainly didn't starve during our vacation, I wouldn't say we had anything incredibly gourmet or fresh and local. Except for the fish, most likely. Since we were eating a little less than healthy, we made sure to get in some good exercise. 

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Continuing in the theme of the magic and legend of Gimli, it's time to talk about the Huldefolk. One bright day in Gimli, my middle son was on the search for a safety pin to secure his Viking sword to his breeches, I men shorts. The hotel staff suggested we visit the sewing store next store. True to friendly Manitoba form, the lovely ladies at Jocelyn's provided a safety pin at no charge. Then they turned to us with a smile and asked if we had met the Huldefolk yet. Of course we hadn't.

"Stop by Tergeson's first and ask for the book," they suggested. "Then climb into the attic of the old school and see if you find them."

That was enticing enough for us. We visited Tergeson's and picked up our copy of the story of Snorri and Snaebjorn, two little Icelandic spirit people that also journeyed to Gimli. We read the story over and over before bed, then the next day we headed to the old school. 

We followed their footsteps across the wooden floors then slowly climbed the curved wooden stair case to the attic. Even though my boys like to say they are grown-up, it was quite obvious that they were not too old to believe in the magic of spirit people from Iceland. At the top of the stairs we discovered the attic home of Snorri and Snaebjorn, complete with two little beds, two chairs, a table setting for meals and even a bookcase hiding a secret passage! 
We explored the dark and somewhat dusty attic and discussed where we thought they were at the moment, because we though we looked in every little corner, the Huldefolk were not letting themselves be seen by us that day. We think we heard some tiny footsteps on the roof, but by the time we got outside again to check, the roof was empty.

The discovery of the Huldefolk was entirely thanks to the wonderful ladies at Jocelyn's store. We stopped by Jocelyn's again and shared stories from our family adventures and learned about her family. We bonded over our love of magic and fairy tales and even soccer! 

I almost feel bad encouraging people to visit Gimli because it was such an idyllic week for our family. We walked quiet streets and climbed on Viking statues and chatted with people we had only met the day before like they were old friends. But if you do find your way to Gimli, stop by Jocelyn's and tell her the Hogans from Pittsburgh recommended a visit. Then head to Tergeson's and get a copy of the story of the Huldefolk. You won't find the second story of Tergeson's where it used to be, though. You'll have to walk down the street to Brennevin's Pizza Hus and ask them. Grab a bite to eat then keep going about a block and turn left. There you'll find the old school. If the light is on in the attic, you know Snorri and Snaebjorn are in. And then you'd better watch for falling bricks!