The nature would definitely come first in any traveller’s list as it is the most obvious and straightforward characteristic of Iceland and there is a proper reason behind this.
If you think that you have seen enough on this planet, you definitely have not travelled to Iceland yet. This almost tree-less, bumpy, moon-looking island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just a few miles away from the Arctic Circle, has the most spectacular landscapes to offer; not to mention natural phenomena the midnight sun in the early summer and the northern lights in the dark and depressing winter months. My travel-mates and I have travelled around the island during the first two weeks of August, too late for the everlasting sun and too early for the northern lights. But I guess that the 11pm sunset on the first nights was still nice enough.
In fourteen days we toured the whole of Iceland. Started from Reykjavik on August 1st and headed up towards the western Fjords, then north-east visiting the second biggest city Akureyri (of just over 10,000 inhabitants), travelled to the centre of the country all the way to the feet of Europe’s biggest glacier and eventually toured the southern coast and the famous Golden Circle (which include’s Iceland’s active geyser). This explains in a couple of lines what our trip was about, but if I had to list the entire number of places we actually saw and visited, it would take up a lot more space. We stopped quite often to take baths in the typical hot springs, which are spread out in almost every place of the island. There was no better way to end the day than a bath in a 40°C (104°F) hot natural pool, especially when the average temperatures were quite low and we camped every night for two weeks. Hot springs the perfect escape from the nordic summer cold!
Also, I have learnt how they are a essential part of Icelandic culture: according to an Icelander nothing is more rude and disrespectful than entering one of their natural pools without showering properly.
However, as I do not intend to write a travel diary here but more of a series of thoughts and feelings I get out of travelling to these places, I will not be explaining our day by day tour. It would also turn out to be pretty boring for all of you. The map below however, shows exactly our trip, of just over 3,000km.
If there is one think that struck me about Iceland is the strong music culture. I was extremely surprised by the amount of artists that exist and make music in a country of just over 320,000 people, most of which live in the capital. As soon as you leave Reykjavik you notice how empty the island is. All those names which indicate “towns” in maps are actually a bunch of small red-roofed houses together with a gas station, a church and occasionally a supermarket, which most of the times is actually incorporated in the gas station. However, quite unexpectedly, the amount of Icelandic music artists which were played on radio stations was incredible! I had read before that Iceland together with other nordic countries (like Sweden which is the world’s third music exporter following the US and the UK) consider music as a big part of their life and culture, but I would have never expected this much from a small and remote country like Iceland. This is mainly due to the fact that in mainland Europe we hardly ever talk about “Icelandic music”, either because some artists we actually listen to, just like “Of Monsters and Men”, are originally from Iceland but not many of us actually know they are from there, or because the kind of music which is produced there would not be typically played on the most popular radios in western countries, as it mainly belongs to the Indie/Rock genre. However, if you look up for “Icelandic Indie” on Spotify or Google, you will discover an incredible number of artists and songs, and the music they produce is great. As we could not plug in our iPhones in our 4×4 car, we bought some Icelandic Indie music CDs in Reykjavik and listened to the local radio (in places where we could actually get some signal), which allowed us to discover the music culture I have been talking about.
While having a conversation with one of the couchsurfers we met in Reykjavik on the last day called Brynja, I discovered how in order to escape the freezing weather and the long dark days, may Icelandic young people would stay home and simply make music! She told me how she is not the only one who does this and that almost everyone would do the same in their spare time. My friend Johannes found the music videos she produced and uploaded on YouTube and they are incredible, especially considering that they are entirely produced by someone my age.
I found this an extremely interesting tradition which developed due to the extreme weather conditions during the winter months, which does not allow people to stay out all day and hang around the city, but rather to stay home and find something to do.
On my return, I have been asked by many people what the Icelanders were like, as we are not used to meeting many of them in our lives (simply because there aren’t many, not because they do not travel). Out of that small amount of people who live there, I would believe it is quite unlikely to meet someone from there.
However, Icelanders are very similar to Scandinavians. To someone from the south like me, they just look like and come across as a typical Swede, Dane or Norwegian. For any Scandinavian (or indeed Icelander) this may sound like a terrible generalisation, but as a tourist it is quite hard to identify those small differences between these countries: a bunch of tall, pale, blonde and blue-eyed new generation Vikings.
I am done with the writing and will let you enjoy a couple of shots from the trip (if you have not seen them on Facebook or Instagram yet), and I am working on a video that will be up on Facebook as soon as I get a decent connection. I am currently in Sicily, in one of the “Egadi” islands, just west of Trapani and Palermo.
Takk fyrir og bless! (Icelandic for “Thank you and goodbye”)