Iceland – The Land of Ice & Fire

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Þetta reddast (it will all work out)

Hence, ‘Land of Ice’ 

Magic. Elves, hidden people, real people… Iceland has to be one of the most special, yet accessible places on our fair planet.

Located at the (extreme) northern end of the Mid-Atlantic rift, the island (or I suppose archipelago) of Iceland is a volcanic smudge at the top of the greatest tectonic rift on our planet. Everything about Iceland is remarkable. 

Almost everything on the island nation is expensive. Not by accident, or even by design, but rather by the structure. 350,000 people perched precariously upon a nascent land is complicated. In true Scandinavian manner, the country provides for all its citizens. Roads, healthcare, education and governance, Iceland is oft-rated the most peaceful society on earth. Icelanders have achieved virtual gender parity, an impressive life expectancy and a virtually crime-free society.

The Blue Lagoon – very expensive, but bathing in a volcano is rare

Also, they have achieved the rare goal of installing automatic doors on almost every building. This is a northern European requirement I have never understood. 

Iceland’s very first settler

Iceland is appropriately named.

About 11% of the national territory is covered by ice. The entire country lies just south of the arctic circle and people don shorts when the temperature breaks above 10 degrees (50 F). They can trace their history to the very first settler from Norway  – Ingolfur Arnason (although Inuit people or Irish may have arrived earlier).

The only real city is the capital – Reykjavik (Vik means ‘Bay’ in Icelandic), and the rest of the country is truly rural, beautiful, fun and wild.

Two degrees south of the arctic circle 

I have been travelling to Iceland intermittently since the 90’s and am unabashedly in love with the place. Of course, I am pained to pay $12 for an average beer and tire of constant rain, yet the cleanest air and best swimming pools on earth set amongst a volcanic landscape is simply enchanting.

Waterfalls dot the landscape and the Mid-Atlantic Rift winds through the country adding mass and mountains to both North America and Europe.

During the summer months the country is extremely green and vegetation is low. Sheep and short Icelandic horses (famous for their 5th gate) dot the landscape and the birdlife is intense. Sadly I did not eat a puffin on this trip …

Once isolated, Iceland has become a major tourist destination.

Many visitors stop off for a day or two when flying between North America and Europe, however I strongly recommend a longer visit. Reykjavik is a small, walkable capital, but there is so much more to experience.

Glacial ice meets ocean

Hopefully the photos speak for themselves, but while in Iceland, it just makes sense to visit Europe’s largest glacier (Vatnajokull), the first named ‘geyser’ and the Atlantic Rift Valley.

The country’s numerous fishing villages seem built for photographers and the northern lights are common (of course after dark).

Early home construction – a shortage of wood was challenging 

Iceland gained notoriety during the 2008 financial collapse, when its banking system failed. Now Iceland has switched its energy to tourism and this makes sense. Its population is incredibly literate and people are happy to work hard. They mix all that good about Scandinavia with a certain isolated mysticism – hence their fatalistic; ‘Þetta reddast’ – translated roughly as ‘it will all work out.’

Sipping Schnapps from organic tomatoes 🙂 

As tourism grows, many workers from elsewhere (particularly Poland) have moved to the island. Foreigners struggle with the ancient language, but locals bridge the communication gap with English. 

Icelanders are surprisingly fairly aggressive drivers, but otherwise extremely relaxed. Everything works, but happens at its own pace. Of course most of them are related in some manner and none seem to struggle with wintertime depression. 

The tour I just finished was excellent and we enjoyed unseasonably good weather. Rain is ubiquitous in Iceland – so be warned!

My favourite place to visit is the Westmann (Vestmanaer) Islands (see the blog) – but every outing has something to offer.

Food is really excellent, but extremely expensive (take a tour!) .. People often laugh at me eating raw lettuce, but at these prices, I did without 😉

Try to load up on breakfast (particularly the little pieces of fish) as food is so expensive, but do enjoy some of the outspend new ‘haut-cuisine’ being developed. Iceland is wild, yet refined. 

There are volcanoes under glaciers – it is the land of Fire and Ice!

It’s always sunny 😉 

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