A few weeks ago, I posted a poor attempt at giving Iceland some cred. Today, I am handing the reins over to Eva from I’d Rather Be in Iceland. She will now undo all the damage I’ve done. Take it away, my British friend! – Emily
I’m very honoured to be guest posting for Emily, who is one of my favourite bloggers. Emily asked me I volunteered to write a post about Iceland after reading her post about how she can’t remember much of her trip there. After her post, she got a lot of comments about why Iceland, and isn’t it expensive, and what’s there to do, blah blah blah. Well, let me tell you a bit about why I like Iceland. I have to be careful here as Iceland already thinks it has a tourist problem and I shouldn’t be encouraging too many of you to go. I could (and do) talk about Iceland all day, but here are my top 5 reasons to visit:
1. The way of life. OK, the people are a little strange – so would you be if you lived somewhere where you at least recognised if not knew everyone you passed on the street. They also have weather which is rarely just calm or what most people would consider “good”, and daylight hours which can be all or nothing. So they’ve got some things to contend with that most of us don’t, including having to live up to a reputation of being “creative” that Björk has landed them with.
Despite this they are generally nice people and have the common sense that comes from living in a population that is isolated and small enough that they can do what they want without a lot of world interest. Why shouldn’t a stand-up comedian be the mayor of Reykjavík? So what if there’s no word for “please” in the Icelandic language? You get my point – they’re a bit different and not as bound by rules as other European countries. Iceland also consistently tops world rankings as the best place for women and children to live, has low cost university education and prisons that try to rehabilitate people rather than just locking them up. The bookstores tend to have longer opening hours than anything else, which says a lot about a place.
2. Exciting nature and wildlife. Yes, you have to like nature if you go to Iceland as there’s not a lot else there. But within a small area you can see volcanoes, waterfalls, a geyser, boiling hot mud bubbling out of the earth and glaciers. You can get as close to it as you want to so there’s all kinds of accidents waiting to happen! The Blue Lagoon aside, there are natural hot springs everywhere. And there’s Northern Lights! What more do you want?
At the right time of year Iceland is a great place for whale watching (sightings practically guaranteed in Husavík), seeing huge colonies of puffins and if you’re lucky an arctic fox. Even the domestic animals are quite interesting – the horse has its own unique gait (the tölt), and we had to pull over to take a picture of some cows as they were so pretty (and no, we weren’t the only ones, someone else had done it first).
3. Creepiness. Iceland is creepy beyond belief if you have a good imagination and like being scared. Most of the towns are really only one street with a few houses and the mountains you see by day turn into big looming shapes next to the road on a dark night. Leave Reykjavík and you can feel really isolated, as you can usually see for miles around you and there are no other people or buildings or well, anything. Trolls and elves are still talked about as a part of life. You can see elf houses in the countryside (insert elf door image) and in fact building projects are sometimes stopped or planned around areas where elves live.
The popular Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason’s mystery books definitely have a dark side, and even some of the popular TV comedies such as Næturvaktin manage to convey a real sense of sadness and bleakness while still being funny.
4. It’s expensive but also cheap. Bear with me here. Yes, it’s expensive and this is a reason you should go – it keeps away all the stag parties. It’s not the place to come to buy a whole new wardrobe or lots of beer on a night out. There is a Scandinavian mindset that it is worth paying more for things that will last and are of good quality. This is pretty much at odds with the more common mentality that you want to buy things as cheaply as possible because then you can buy more of them and then just throw them away. Iceland doesn’t “do” mass production so although you might pay a lot for a traditional Icelandic sweater, if you have bought it in the right place it will have been hand knitted and it will last forever. (I won’t go into the recent controversies about lava jewellery being sold using lava not from Iceland, and some of the sweaters being made in China!)
It’s also cheap. You might spend a fortune on food, petrol and everything else you have to buy but all of the scenery that you would pay an admission fee to see anywhere else is free. The countryside is generally free of people and you will often find yourself the only ones at something really spectacular, which is pretty priceless.
5. Unique food and drink. Yes, I know you’re probably thinking of rotten shark and all the other “weird” things they love to show on TV. And yes, you can eat puffin and minke whale, although this is really just for tourists and you won’t find them on the menu in most places. Iceland is a fish lovers paradise and traditionally food has pretty much centred around fish and lamb. Now, Icelanders are getting fatter as junk food has taken over the country. But I ask you, where else can you get pizzas with toppings like peanuts and bananas? Or my personal favourite, a 4 cheese pizza with a side order of jam? Really great hot dogs? And don’t even get me started on the chocolate liquorice. Junk food aside, you can also get really tasty meals that taste like home-cooking even at service stations – we had some surprisingly good lasagne with potato gratin.
Given that Icelanders love to stay up late and eat junk food, it is perhaps fitting that their biggest superhero Sportacus from Lazytown advocates a healthy lifestyle rather than having any kind of magical powers.
Something tourists are often initially alarmed about is that the water in their hotel room smells bad – this is sulphur and in fact Icelandic water is amongst the purest in the world. Geothermal heating also means it’s cheap and even in the most basic accommodation limitless hot water is a luxury you can count on.
So what’s all this I said at the beginning about too many tourists? This is a topic that comes and goes in the Icelandic news as more and more tourists visit, and Iceland has become dependent on those tourists since the financial crash.
Some of the more popular natural sights are feeling the strain. This is a debate that will continue for the foreseeable future, although I suspect Iceland’s current reputation as “trendy” and being put at the top of many travel companies “best place to go” lists won’t last. If you do go and visit Iceland, you won’t be disappointed. Come on over to my blog if you’d like to read more!
My name is Eva and I’ve been visiting Iceland since 2005. Some day I would love to have a second home there, but I may need to win the lottery first. I was initially hooked on Iceland’s nature and then started discovering the music, books, knitting and many quirks that make Iceland a really interesting society. I also love running and watching trashy reality shows. I’ve been blogging for nearly a year now and have been surprised to find how much I love reading other people’s blogs, which continually inspire me.