It’s extraordinary how much I realised I already knew about Iceland. I never really stopped to think about it until I visited in May 2014. The things that come to mind are Vikings, Norse Mythology, Icelandic Horses, active volcanoes and rock bands.
Let me explain…
Iceland is a relatively young country and began with the settlement of Viking explorers that ventured from Norway in the 9th Century. The Icelandic people established a society without a monarchy with most power in the hands of the local chieftains under a belief of Norse Paganism.
The Golden Circle Tour, the most popular tour on the island, will take you to Thingvellir National Park which is recorded as being the assembly point for holding speeches and the reciting of the laws of the land by the Lawspeaker. Laws were passed here and is why this place became the foundation of Parliament. It really feels like it is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the largest natural lake of Iceland and marks the crest of the mid-Atlantic ridge!
In the middles ages Norse Mythology was formed in dialects of Old Norse, a North Germanic language spoken by the Scandinavian people. The Old Norse texts were created in Iceland where the oral traditions of the island were collected and recorded in manuscripts. Think of gods such as Thor & Odin and the many movies made to capture the over embellished folklore. Even today, the Icelandic people openly and happily share their legends that are passed down from their parents. I heard the folk tale of the “The Hidden People” from my private tour guide, an enchanting story about unwashed children who live in the rocks and hills.
The Icelandic Horse, not a pony as some would say, can be dated back to the 12th century in historic writings and literature. Considering the harsh Icelandic climate these beauties have been subject to natural selection through cold, starvation & volcano activity. Due to the remoteness of the area these horses have remained a pure breed, unchanged for over 1,000 years. They have an unusual gait unlike any other and I was exhilarated by their friendliness and uniqueness.
In 2010 a volcano erupted at Eyjafjallajokull causing enormous disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe for a period of 6 days. As a travel agent I remember the high volume of cancelled flights (especially London), delays, reissuing of tickets and public dissatisfaction. At the time I had no interest in Iceland possibly because I knew so little. A new release movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (based on the short story 1939) showcased the volcano, the countryside, the people and their unusual sense of humor. The locals will tell you they are due for another volcano eruption very soon and it’s not a scary thought as it’s their way of life.
Iceland has a vibrant music scene which mixes folk, pop & indie culture. Think of bands such as Bjork and Of Monsters & Men who have made it internationally over the past few decades. In the lively downtown area of Reykjavik the streets are lined with pubs and clubs where music filters out onto the street any night of the week.
Interesting characteristics I didn’t know and was happy to discover…
The Icelandic people are very friendly, happy, healthy and honest. They have excellent English. This is their second language, widely spoken and they want you to speak it. They like to make you feel comfortable and encourage you to experience all that Iceland has to offer.
The food is unbelievably fresh and tasty. They grow vegetables in greenhouses and import fruit & other food items that cannot be grown and harvested in the harsh countryside. Their main export is seafood and it’s amongst the freshest and tastiest in the world — and I’m from Australia! Only 20% of the land is used for grazing (mainly sheep) and 1% is cultivated.
Minke whale and puffin are a local cuisine at some specialty restaurants or you may prefer to whale or bird watch instead. It was definitely an unusual experience. Eating whale was uncomfortable while there is so much controversy around the world. I had to set my mind back to the early days in Iceland, before they had stable boats, and think that they only would kill and eat a whale if it was beached. I would recommend the Tapas House by the marina in Reykjavik. Not only was the food delectable, but the nautical atmosphere and stunning pier view was something else!
For history and anthropology buffs there are many museums throughout the island. Some of the more unusual museums to visit would be the Museum of Phallus, The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft and Viking World.
Take the time to walk to the top of the town and visit the church called “Hallgrimskirkja”. Pay a small fee and take the elevator to the top of the steeple for a 360 degree view over the town and into the ocean. Catch the moment of brightly covered roofs on your camera. This is the point from which you would capture the common image found on google when you type in “Reykjavik” and click on images.
The countryside is absolutely amazing and breathtaking and isn’t like anything I’ve seen before as there are so many facets and phenomena in one place. From hot springs and geysers, to volcanoes and lava caves, waterfalls and glaciers, it definitely is an outdoorsy place to be.
After exerting yourself from the moment you arrived and stimulating all your senses at once, there is one last thing you need to do before you embark on the flight home. Make the most of your morning and visit the Blue Lagoon. This is a public bathing area in warm waters from the overflow of the geothermal power plant nearby. It came into effect when people realized the water had great effects on the skin. Immerse yourself in the expansive and shallow waters to rejuvenate your body and mind. I felt like one of the snow monkeys of Jigokudan, walking to the edge shivering, submerging myself into the warmest and clearest of blue waters and emerging with tranquility and at peace.
AMAZING ICELAND! My advice is don’t wait. Get there as soon as you can! For some reason I feel the uniqueness of this country will fade in time. These naturally occurring marvels will be subject to erosion, environmental protection and limited accessibility in the years to come. So put on your hiking boots, remember to pack your camera and jacket and head out into the untamed wilderness of Iceland. You’ll be so glad that you did!