Likes & Dislikes

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“In a nutshell: Iceland is a very expensive, but when you consider the fabulous sights and experiences that are to be had in the Land of Ice and Fire, it isn’t a bad-value destination at all.

Likes

1. The Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis. That alone was worth the cost of the trip!
2. Wild, untamed nature. My favorite landscapes were at Vik, Myrdal and Dyrhólaey.
3. Perfect public safety, and a society virtually free from violence, theft, burglary and corruption
4. Modern technology allows them to grow bananas, strawberries, tomatoes and basil locally.
5. Standing by the Stokkur geyser and waiting for the next eruption
6. The ‘typical’ landscape as you cross the island: moss-covered volcanic rock, mountains disappearing into the low clouds, a herd of robust Icelandic horses grazing, smoke drifting from an active volcano, the roar of the North Atlantic and a thousand shades of green
7. The atmosphere on a whale watching trip, as several competing companies work together to try to locate a pod
8. What we think of as winter coat weather is t-shirt weather for the locals
9.  The works of nature: fjords, glaciers, fumaroles, solfataras, bubbling pools of mud, pahoehoe lava, geysers, basalt organs and volcanic sand

Dislikes

1. High prices (everyone knows this already, but who likes high prices?)
2. We didn’t see any trolls or fairies, but they definitely exist
3. All the public bathrooms at beauty spots are closed from October
4. Horizontal rain, and wind that blows the drizzle into our faces
5. A lot of buildings are painted black (but at least this makes them efficient absorbers of sunlight)
6. Dangerous one-lane bridges, where you have to wait for things coming the other way before you can cross
7. Modern construction is erasing the traditional Scandinavian face of Reykjavik
8. The whale watching excursion from Reykjavik wasn’t as much of an experience as it would have been if we’d gone from Húsavík – at least if the pictures are to be believed
9. Not much of a choice when it comes to souvenirs. It’s enough to visit one or two shops because the others are all the same.
(adam, 2017)

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,, It's funny that America doesn’t seem to have so many Elves Fairies and so on while in Iceland you can’t move without falling over them, or even falling foul of them. In Iceland, they are called the Huldufólk (hidden people). The elves of Iceland live in enchanted rocks and cliffs even I think old trees though finding a tree in Iceland must be tricky, but what better place to live. They lead lives that are very similar to those lead by humans; they keep livestock, cut hay, row fishing boats, pick berries and occasionally steal you away to other realms.

The Elves don’t like to be disturbed and the “Icelanders take this very seriously. A local defender of the elves trying to halt a road project through their homes said the elves contacted me in 2012 and pleaded with me to protect their chapel,” says the self-proclaimed seer, who runs The Elf Garden, a fairytale park of lava rocks near Reykjavík. “They told me the Ófeigskirkja had been used as a beacon to guide people through the lava field for centuries, so they asked me to write to the mayor to halt the road.’” (Guardian)

The planned road ended up being adapted to suit the elves. Hidden people are known to be extremely protective of their homes and will cause great harm to those who disturb them. Icelanders firmly believe in the existence of elves and recent polls have shown that more than 55% of the nation subscribes to such a belief.

Often described as big, stupid, and greedy, no not conservative politicians but trolls. Like elves, trolls become enraged when one does them harm, but one can expect to be richly rewarded when helping a troll in need. You should always be kind to your neighborhood Troll as they can do magic. They have a tendency to lure people into caves and places you would be better off not being and they might eat you. Most trolls can only travel by night and will turn to stone as soon as they are hit by sunlight.

“Many magnificent Icelandic rock formations are said to be the petrified remnants of trolls who suffered the harsh fate of the sun and derive their names directly from such accounts, for example, West Iceland's Skessuhorn (Troll Woman's Peak) and Tröllaskarð (Troll's Pass) in North Iceland.” (ITB)

Don’t forget when climbing that interesting-looking rock it might have been a Troll. (Alan Durant, 2021)

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The thing that always comes up about Iceland is the cost. When you are there it is expensive. An imported beer will cost you about 1200 Kr about 7 UK Pounds. An inexpensive meal fo one will cost about 2500 3000 Kr and entrance fees and tour costs tend to be high.

My advice is that if you think you might not be able to afford it you can’t. Save up and put off your trip or go somewhere cheaper, perhaps even warmer. Do s If you are going to be driving “make sure you read up on how to drive in Iceland safely and inform yourself about the Icelandic search and rescue teams.” (ITB) Make sure you are wearing the right gear. You can get all four seasons in the space of half an hour.

There is an old saying, “there is no such thing as the wrong weather only the wrong clothing.” (Alan Durant, 2021)

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Don’t buy beer in regular stores. “In Iceland, alcoholic beer is only sold in the stores of the state alcohol monopoly ÁTVR and at licensed restaurants and bars. Any drink sold at grocery stores must therefore have lower alcohol content than 2.25%. This means that the cans which look like beer cans, labeled Pilsner are not beer.” (Icelandic Magazine)

If you are going hiking independently make sure to inform people that will check where and when you expect to arrive. Too many people wonder of happily into the mists only to be brought later, still happy but not aware of it. Of course, the Trolls get the blame. Leave your travel plan with the search and rescue teams

The most popular hiking route in Iceland is 'Laugavegurinn', named after Reykjavík's busiest shopping street. Even though it's a busy route, you can still feel like you’re the only one on it. So don’t rely on the kindness of passing strangers. They may be kind but they might not pass. Try and spend more than a flying three-day visit. Iceland definitely puts the fan into fantastic, enjoy. (Alan, Durant, 2021)










Practicals

Transport

“The level of infrastructure development around the capital is very high, and the road network is excellent. Highway 1, which runs around the island, is also very high quality, and basically pothole-free. Despite all this development, however, there are still single-lane bridges, where you have to wait until oncoming traffic has passed. The unwritten rule seems to be that you let 3-4 cars pass from the opposite direction, then someone lets you go. Most traffic accidents happen at these passing points when poor visibility means that a driver doesn’t see traffic approaching along the same lane.

The victims of these accidents are generally foreigners in hire cars, driving in an unfamiliar location. In most places, the road was created through the removal of hard basalt rock, so in most places, there is no hard shoulder or place to pull over, though turning places have been built roughly every kilometer. Stopping anywhere on the road when visibility is poor is already a life-threatening act, while of course the mossy basalt is inhabited by trolls, dwarves, and fairies, and it’s rude to disturb their tranquility. As you travel away from the capital you’ll come across fewer and fewer stopping places, but the traffic – largely made up of foreigners in hire cars and tour buses – also becomes more scarce.

All this means that travelers setting out from Reykjavik on one-star tours will find the roads excellent at the beginning of their trip. The problems start towards the eastern part of the island, where even this main road has narrow sections. The roads which cross the middle of the island, marked with an ‘F’ on maps, are not covered by hire-car insurance policies! Public transport, meanwhile, struck me as unrealistically expensive, and in any case, isn’t a practicable way to see the country. Gas is only 200 krona per liter, so renting a car or even a mobile home can be a practical option.

When it comes to car hire, I’d definitely recommend an SUV or other off-road vehicle, since if you ever turn off the main road you’ll quickly find yourself on a gravel track, and the frequently strong headwinds mean you need a vehicle with power.” (adam, 2017)

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,, You fly into Iceland via Keflavík international airport, and from there, Reykjavik is about 50 minutes drive. Don’t do like the famous American tourist who slightly misspelled his destination and ended up driving over six hours to a tiny village on the north coast. Luckily for him, Icelanders are very hospitable and helped him out. He did make lots of new friends, was featured in the international news, and had a very good time. Maybe the Trolls messed with his GPS?

There is also the alternative of rampaging ashore from a Viking longboat waving your axe. That probably comes more under the heading of adventure holiday and would be for the more hardy souls.

I used the public transport number 55 bus from the airport to Reykjavik; it's the cheapest option and no wading through the surf involved.(Alan Durant, 2021)


Food

,, You see, there is hope. Reykjavik has no Starbucks or a McDonald's, which leads you to think that the Icelanders are indeed civilized people. The only other European capital without a McDonald's is Tirana, Albania's capital, while Reykjavík shares the distinction of being Starbucks-free with Rome, the capital of espresso.

Fear not, however, those of you who just like to eat but don't really like food. If you are craving fast food or coffee made by an American fast-food franchise, you have plenty of places to visit. Taco Bell, KFC, Dominos, Pizza Hut, Subway, and Dunkin Donuts have all opened stores in Reykjavík.

Just a suggestion though, try Icelandic food. Typically Icelandic, the hot dog, surprised? As is well known, the Vikings basically wouldn't go into battle without a hot dog or two in them.

Order an Icelandic hot dog, usually made from lamb, and it will be served on a warm, steamed bun topped with raw white onions and crispy fried onions, ketchup, sweet brown mustard called pylsusinnep, and remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs I like mine with crackling on; unfortunately, my arteries don't.

Then, of course, there is the Hákarl, fermented shark (in English) It is a national dish of Iceland, which might account for the small population. It's Greenland Shark that has been fermented and hung to dry for four to five months. It has a strong ammonia-rich smell and a fishy taste. The drying doesn't sound so bad, but the fermenting involves burying it for up to a dozen weeks, judging by the smell, in a pair of old socks. They say it's an acquired taste, one which I don't fancy acquiring. The smell is enough; puffins can be seen collapsing in the vicinity when this stuff is brought out. Apparently, the shark, when its flesh is poisonous.

As far as I can see, just cut out all the palaver and finish yourself off straight away. You probably won't afford to eat out at restaurants in Iceland. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Iceland - Kjötsupa, traditional local lamb meat soup - r.l. photo

Iceland - Plokkfiskur, cod fish, mashed potatoes, onion and bechamel - t.t. photo

Reykjavik - Chuck Norris Grill - m.s. photo

Fun


,, Music Bjork that’s all anybody knows. As you might imagine there is a whole range of stuff and places to go and listen to it. However, if you want perhaps a deeper feeling for the country I can recommend https://youtube/yo2W9Djvwec Voces Thules. For me, the music feels a bit medieval. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Iceland - Reykjavík - local girs have fun - Zsuzsa photo

Public safety

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Iceland - police

Others

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Reykjavik - street art - s.k. photo

Iceland - Siglufjordur (North Iceland) - Wooden figures at Hannes Boy Cafe - r.m. photo

Background

Iceland - national flag

Destination in brief

Iceland in brief

Iceland is a Northern European country. It is culturally, historically and linguistically Scandinavian. Strangely, not all Icelanders are on board with Iceland being Scandinavian, and many Norwegians think that Scandinavia only includes Norway, Denmark and Sweden. 

Iceland is a separate island nation located in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. In purely geographical terms, the country is in fact neither part of Europe, nor of North America, but it is far closer (960 kilometers) to continental Europe than to North America (3,293 kilometers).

Size: 103,000 km² (39,768 mi²)

Capital city: Reykjavík

Population: 340,000 (2020) - Immigrants comprise roughly 11% of the total population and nearly 20% of the working force.

Official language: Icelandic. Listening to Icelandic is a form of time travel as the language has barely changed over time, staying mostly true to the version spoken during the Middle Ages. 12th century texts (such as the Sagas) can be read and understood by modern speakers of the language.

Religion: officially, 80% of Icelanders are members of the state-supported Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, but – according to some polls - only 57% prove themselves as religious

Official currency: Icelandic króna (ISK)

Average net monthly salary: 2700 Euro (2019)

Most frequent surname: Jónsdóttir (Jón’s daughter)

Iceland is the world’s second safest country (Denmark is the first). The practice of ripping tourists off is practically non-existent. 

Iceland is an expensive country. Iceland has pure air and waters. Tap water is clean and tastes great. 

Best timing for a tourist visit: June, July, August, although this is the touristic high season. 

Most popular tourist attractions: Strokkur Geysir, Landmannalaugar Nature Reserve, Blue Lagoon (Grindavík), Maelifell Volcano & Myrdalsjökull Glacier Park, Skaftafell Ice Cave, Dettifoss Waterfall, Vatnajökull National Park, Kirkjufell Mountain, Grundarfjördur, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

There is a penis museum in Reykjavík. It contains a collection of penises from over 200 different mammals, including one from a man (not one from a staff member)  .

Winter in Iceland is not as cold as one imagines it to be. Chicago, for instance, is much colder in wintertime. 

Bird's eye view of Reykjavik 

Geography

"Legend says that the offshore sea stacks there originated when two trolls dragged a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully and when daylight broke they became needles of rock." (WIKI) For those of you not familiar with the doings of Trolls that's what happens to them if they are out in daylight. It must be tricky if you're a Troll and you've forgotten something from the shops.

Apparently, wives can go missing as well as in another legend of an unfortunate husband of whom it was said, "his wife was the love of his life, whose free spirit he was unable to provide a home for; she found her fate out among the trolls, rocks, and sea at Reynisfjara." (WIKI) Of course, some of you might be happy to see the Trolls take your wife.

Unfortunately for wives, there doesn't seem to be many husbands taking. There is, however, a need for real caution. There have been instances of people being swept off the beach by freak waves and drowned. The "normal" waves looked intimidatingly big enough to me. To help in this process, there are rocks you can climb out on which make it even easier to be washed away. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Iceland - landscape - n.z. photo

Climate

,, They call it the land of ice and fire, what they don't call it, well not in the holiday brochures at least is the land of howling gales, driving rain, snow sleet, and bone-numbing cold, and that's on a good day.

An Icelandic saying is, "if you don't like the weather just wait ten minutes, and there will be different weather along. In my experience often worse. The bottom line is it's probably better to go in the summer where the hypothermia is likely to be less acute rather than spring, autumn and god help us winter.

I live in one of the least windy parts of Europe, so even though I grew up in Lancashire, England the force and persistence of the wind in Iceland came as something of a shock. At the famous black sands of Reynisfjara beach, I was distinctly impressed. It is an amazing place. I was less impressed when a gust of wind picked me up and dumped me on the black sand. I am, after all, 85 Kilos and not used to being tossed about like that.(Alan Durant, 2021)

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Apparently, Reykjavík is the only capital city in the world that is home to a significant puffin breeding colony! It would appear that Iceland is a major place for Puffins to nest, hang out, go to Puffin parties maybe, have fish BBQs, and so on.

A friend of mine had heard of this and when she was in Reykjavik, spent a couple of days trying to spot some. Unfortunately, she had thought she’d heard Penguins, of which there is a scarcity and it took her a while to work it out.

Quite a few of the locals were confused when she asked for information on Reykjavik's famous Penguins.

The influence of the Puffins is also felt in areas you might not expect:
Dogs were banned in Reykjavík from 1924 to 2006? Presumably, because they pissed off the Puffins? The actual reason was that a city is no place for a dog.

Iceland was still a predominantly rural society, and the overwhelming majority of people living in Reykjavík were either first or second-generation migrants from the countryside. They considered dogs farm animals that really couldn’t adapt to urban life.- At the risk of getting lynched, I have to say I agree with this idea, and I like dogs. You’d think there must be a link with the relative scarcity of dogs as the city seemed full of cats and not a canary to be seen. They are getting the cat situation under control now; however, are we back to Puffins? (Alan Durant, 2021)

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Reykjavík is just south of the Arctic Circle; winter's darkest days are both very dark and very long. It probably accounts for all those Sagas.

At the winter solstice, on December 21, daylight lasts for only 4 hours and 8 minutes in Reykjavík. Taking into consideration cloud cover and the endless rain, sleet, or snow, those four hours barely register as day.

The other side of the coin is that it doesn’t really get dark in the summer, but it appears there is a lot of winters. (A.D., 2021)

History


“According to the oldest written sources on Icelandic history, Landnámabók, the Book of Settlement, and Íslendingabók, the Book of Icelanders, the first permanent settlement in Iceland was in Reykjavík in 874.” (WIKI)

Considering that Iceland is the most recently settled land, it feels kind of old but modern at the same time. Should any US citizens be spluttering and say America wasn’t “discovered” until 1492, don’t forget that there were people in the Americas before that. Apart from the native Americans, which are obvious, Icelanders or at least Vikings settled in North America as well long before that. This funny feeling of history in modernity, I think, is illustrated by the fact that in the 1960s, there were still people living in one of the traditional sod farm buildings in Reykjavík, “Made from turf due to the lack of other building materials. It stood by Suðurgata street, south of the old harbor.” (ITB) The farm was only demolished in 1980.

Although memoirs of people who grew up in sod houses describe them as snug and cozy, it is difficult for modern humans to envision what life must have been like in a dwelling that was really a glorified hole in the ground, perhaps resembling a puffin burrow more than a modern house.

Life in a sod house in Reykjavík must have been particularly tough in the winter months! Reykjavík is nearly the northernmost capital city. Only Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, is further north than Reykjavík. Not sure if Nuuk counts as Greenland is sort of Danish and sort of independent.

More interestingly, after Iceland was colonized, not that many people seemed to want to go there. When Greenland was colonized, the Viking marketing department and Eric the Red probably decided it would be an easier sell if they called it Greenland. I suppose by the time you got there and found that their version of green looked distinctly white, it was a bit late to turn back. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Iceland - map from the 16th century

Iceland - old church of Reyholt - Elter photo

Nowadays

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Iceland - Reykjavik - street art -Zsuzsa photo

Iceland - nowadays - f.z. photo

Tourist etiquette

1. Locals may get offended if you call their small horses “pony”


Iceland - polite deand - l.a. photo

Gastronomy

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Iceland - Sviő, a traditional local dish, sheep's head cut in half, brain removed, boiled in salted water - f.m. photo-

Attractions

Reykjavik

,, My first impression of Reykyavik was that it was impeccable tidy, and clean. Perhaps not very spectacular, with the possible exception of the massive church in the middle. It's sort of half church half-space rocket. I suppose that would be one way to get nearer to God(s)
I enjoyed Reykjavík, and it is pretty popular, it seems. It's also more diverse than I thought it would be. A tourist brochure described it as a cosmopolitan center packed into a tiny, sparkling clean town.' That is a pretty good description. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Reykjavik - in October - m.s. photo

Reykjavik - Laugavegur street in June - m.b. photo

Reykjavik - Laugavegur, the main shopping street in December

Reykjavik - traffic - a.a. photo

Reykjavik - Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran (Church of Iceland) parish church - w.j. photo

IIceland - Reykjavik - Althingi Parliament House (in proportion to the population of the country) - Susanne photo

Gullfoss Waterfalls

Iceland - Gullfoss Waterfalls - Susanne photo

Blue Lagoon


,, You should go visit The Blue Lagoon. You have to book and there are different packages. You need to pre-book and it is not cheap. Cheapest from about 50 US Dollars, but it is so otherworldly you should not miss it.

It is hot and weird and strange, a bit like one of my marriages. There are a fair few different ones. Spas and marriages, to choose from but at those sort of prices one was enough, spa’s that is.

Cheaper, in fact, the best kind of cheap, free is the Grotta Lighthouse hot foot bath, which is actually in Reykjavik at Kvika. You don’t get in; you dangle your footsies while looking at the scenery and Reykjavik across the way. It's a nature reserve that just adds to the whole experience.

Apparently, there are other free hot springs in Iceland. Probably better to dip a toe in first, check it is not going to erupt, get covered by a glacier, be cut off by the sea, or just get you blown to Greenland. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Iceland - Blue Lagoon - e.v. photo

Iceland - Bule Lagoon - k.m. photo

Geysers


Of course, first on our list is the mother of all geysers. The Great Geyser, or simply Geyser, takes its name from the Icelandic verb geysa, meaning to gush - and that’s precisely what it does or at least did as it appears to be on strike.

It’s in the Haukadalur Valley of South Western Iceland Geysers can be seen on the Golden Circle route with the highly active Geyser Hot Spring Area, boiling mud pits, exploding geysers, and the lively Strokkur which spouts water 30 meters (100 ft) into the air every few minutes.

“The newly opened Geyser Center offers exhibits and informative presentations year-round. Geyser Hot Spring Area is one of the most popular tourist stops in Iceland.” (ITB) Again not cheap, but you can’t really come to Iceland and not do it; all this stuff is must-see, take out a loan. Ask you, granny.

Glaciers Vanajökull glacier is the largest glacier in Iceland - and Europe! Vatnajökull is situated in the southeast of Iceland and is so large that it has many glacial tongues on every side (like most of the largest glaciers in Iceland), each with an individual glacier name. I don’t really understand why Iceland counts as Europe. I suppose it's because of the tectonic plates. I was told there is a place where you can swim in a lagoon (extra insulated wet suits) and see the rift if that’s the right word)

Unfortunately, I didn’t go and I’ve forgotten the name of the place so you’ll have to look it up. There are so many glaciers that I will not list all of them here. The most notable would be Öræfajökull glacier, a popular one for hiking since the highest peak in Iceland is located there: Hvannadalshnjúkur. J

Just as a point of information, have the proper footwear and clothing and don’t fall down a crevasse. (Alan Durant, 2021)


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