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Iceland Blog

READY TO SPEND MAY IN ICELAND?

By | Iceland Blog

Greetings, fellow travellers in Iceland!

Here are some recommendations for you when visiting Iceland during May.

Spring is now in full force and you are likely to get a nice preview of summer. May often features some really wonderful days of sun and warm temperatures. This is what you should be taking advantage of, should the opportunity arise; go outside, as nice weather can not be taken for granted just yet.

Take a stroll towards the harbour area until you come across the most famous hot-dog stand in Iceland: Bæjarins bestu, which means “Town’s Best”. Among famous (and satisfied) clients are former President Bill Clinton and hard rock stalwarts Metallica. Do step out of your safety zone and order “one with everything”. That includes ketchup, special Icelandic hot dog mustard, remoulade, cronions (crisp fried onions) and finely chopped raw onions.

Reykjavík Art Festival takes place each year during may and always features an array of local and international talent, performing any and every aspect of the fine arts. Among attractions in previous editions are Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and David Bowie. The 2017 program is yet to be announced.

Beer is by no means cheap in Iceland, so if you’re going to enjoy a brew why not make it a decent one, especially now that you can actually sit outside without your weatherproof down parka? Head for Skúli Craft Bar (named after Skúli Thoroddsen, one of Reykjavík’s founding father) and revel in an astounding selection of local and imported craft beer, two dozens of which are on tap. Skál!

If you fancy a hike now that the weather is rather picking up, there are  some lovely hiking trails to be found in the vicinity of the capital, ones that require no specific gear besides hiking boots. Within a 15 minute drive you can find yourself walking either in Heiðmörk nature reserve, Mount Esja, Úlfarsfell, Elliðaárdalur and more.

HOW TO SPEND APRIL IN ICELAND

By | Iceland Blog

Greetings, fellow travellers in Iceland!

Here are some recommendations for you when visiting Iceland during April.

As spring’s green sprouts begin to manifest themselves everywhere, you might think you’re out of the woods as far as bad weather is concerned. You might be – or you might not. There is no way to tell for sure, and the occasional snowstorm has been known to descend on hopeful visitors up until May, so keep something warm at hand. Just in case. Even if freezing temperatures are rare in April, the wind can get pretty harsh and chilly. Especially with rain. So do bring a warm coat, by all means.

If you like the distinct vibe of Icelandic music, and chances are you do, take note. Every April, Músíktilraunir (“Music Experiments”) take place in Iceland and that gathering is a “battle of the bands” of sorts where young and emerging artists play for a grand prize. No one with a recorded a song on their resumé is allowed to compete and several of Iceland’s biggest talents played their first ever gigs right here – Sigur Rós, Of Monsters and Men, Agent Fresco to name but a very few. Can you imagine the bragging rights for those who can casually say they saw Sigur Rós live before they released Ágætis byrjun? This year the tryout gigs actually start in late March but the final night, with the best bits, is April 1st.

Icelanders eat ice cream 12 months a year without a second thought, just like they fire up the barbecue whatever the weather or time of year. Visitors who shy away from ice cold snacks can still consider ice cream in April and to that end we can safely recommend Valdís, an artisan ice cream parlor in one of the dozens of old fishing camps by the harbour recently renovated into trendy  gourmet shops and restaurants, and even designer fashion shops and jewellry workshops. Also worth visiting is The Cuckoo’s Nest restaurant, Búrið cheese shop, among others.

If Thor and the other ancient Norse gods decide to deal you a tough hand as far as the climate is concerned, may we suggest you head to Kolaportid Flea Market, open during weekends and, fortunately, indoors. Placed in an old customs storage space, this atmospheric gathering spot has everything from hand-knitted Icelandic wool sweaters and vintage vinyl to army surplus gear (US and European import – Iceland has never had it’s own armed forces) and whatever treats locals decide to sell from their own storage rooms. Who’s to say what hidden treasures you will unearth at Kolaportið?

Do you fancy a Ice cream made out of breast milk?  Check this out: http://www.trip-to-iceland.com/news/breast-milk-ice-cream-a-taste-of-childhood/

SWIMMING IN ICELAND

By | Iceland Blog

Every Icelandic town, no matter how small, has its own pool. It might be hard to believe that a nation with a population of 340.000 has over 170 swimming pools. Bathing in thermal baths is an Icelandic tradition dating back to the settlement. Snorri Sturluson, the famous twelfth century historian and author had his own thermal pool built so he could soak in hot water. The tradition of public bathing has become deeply rooted in the local culture.

What is it that makes it so popular to go for a swim all year around –  on wam sunny days and cold winter nights? One of the reason is that it is very relaxing and rejuvenating but it also has a big social purpose. Sitting in the hot tub is like sitting on a bench at your local park or at the square in your neighborhood chatting or enjoying others company in silence. All around Iceland people show up daily at the same time, take a swim (or not) and sit in the hot tub chatting about every day life, catching up on the news of the day and so on. The early birds show up 6.30 in the morning and then there are those who have the 8 o’clock routine and 9 o’clock routine. Those who tend to show up later most likely does not want company but to enjoy the silence. In the afternoon and evening the socializing starts again but the crowd is different. Families having quality time, people relaxing after a busy day and love birds holding hands.

Did you know?

The well known Icelandic band Sigur Ros has its recording studio in an old abandoned swimming pool in the town Mosfellsbaer. Much of the photography and artwork for their various projects was taken there.

Tips

  • Most of the swimming pools are outdoors and open all year around.
  • If you are packing for a trip to Iceland – bring your swimming suit. But don’t worry if you forget it because it´s available for renting in all public pools.
  • Rules of hygiene are taken seriously and all visitors are required to shower thoroughly without a swimsuit before entering the water. The pools are only lightly chlorinated and to keep the pools and hot tubs clean this is necessary. If it´s new to you – it sounds more scary than it is.
  • You can find all opening hours of most swimming pools in Iceland on www.sundlaugar.is
  • Enjoy the fresh air and relax – it is the secret to the nation’s happiness!

Great article in New York about the water in Iceland:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/magazine/icelands-water-cure.html?_r=0

HOW TO SPEND MARCH IN ICELAND

By | Iceland Blog

From Food and Fun in Iceland

Greetings, fellow travellers in Iceland!

Here are some recommendations for you when visiting Iceland during March.

As the Icelandic winter slowly retreats, you won’t need as heavy layering of clothes, but summer is still months away so check the weather forecast each morning. There might be mild days where an Icelandic wool sweater will do – and there will also be days of a roaring rainstorm so severe it will neither be fit outside for man or beast.

The days are still short but the light outside is downright magical – ask any serious photographer who’s been to Iceland. There’s something to be said about the light; crisp because of minimal air pollution, yet soft because of the low position of the sun in the sky. that makes for a tight angle delivering softened sunrays. You will work miracles with a Leica, but an iPhone will also let you deliver quite a bit of photo wizardry.

Speaking of photography, may we suggest you take the elevator the the top of the tower of Hallgrímskirkja cathedral? As the massive church dominates the entire city, you will be rewarded with some amazing panoramic views of the colorful downtown Reykjavík. Talk about a photo opportunity . . . To this end, bring an ample memory card for you camera. Big.  As in huge.

Do not miss out in Design March, an annual event revolving around every field of design imaginable. Graphics, furniture, clothing, jewellry, mixed media, you name it. More or less the entire town centre becomes a design showroom of some sort and the streets are buzzing with an irresistible, creative vibe.

And lest we forget, March 1st is something of an unofficial holiday in Iceland. The reason? On this day in 1989, beer was legalised again after 74 years of prohibition. Don’t ask us why, but strong liquor was legal – beer wasn’t. It is now, however, and the local craft beer scene is booming. Several bars in Reykjavík carry a mind-bending selection of bottled brews and tap, so leave the car keys behind and raise a glass to Beer Day. Skál!

HOW TO SPEND FEBRUARY IN ICELAND

By | Iceland Blog

Greetings, fellow travellers in Iceland!

Here are some recommendations for you when visiting Iceland during February.

Iceland is still, in all likelihood, very cold this time of year. A wool sweater, a thermal down jacket, warm mittens, nice scarf, wool hat – the works. Boots that can brave snow, sleet and rain are also advised.

From late January to late February, Iceland celebrates a month called Thorri, from the ancient Icelandic calendar. Quite a few Icelanders take the opportunity to feast on traditional fare, viking style, that is likely to make the stomach of foreign visitors churn. While you can taste these foods at your own peril, you can still raise a glass of Brennivín, the famous local liqueur, to your host’s health by saying “Skál!” [scowl]. They will love you for that. Really.

In the perpetual twilight of Icelandic winter, things can take on an eerie vibe. This makes downtown Reykjavík a truly entertaining walkabout (don’t worry, it’s a safe little city to walk around). One spot that benefits greatly from the dimly lit days of February is the Einar Jónsson Museum Sculpture Garden, right next to the iconic Hallgrímskirkja cathedral. The museum house itself is pure design porn for architecture enthusiasts (it was the artist’s home during his lifetime) but walking around in the sculpture garden is the truly fun bit. Entry is free.

A way to fend off the darkness is to inspect the local music scene and the best place to pick up a CD or an LP is the 12 tónar record store in Skólavörðustígur shopping street. Top notch selection in beautiful old two storey house with knowledgeable staff to boot. Browse, inquire, have a listen and then pick something nice to take along.

Film enthusiasts should definitely check out the annual Stockfish Film Festival, a small non-profit festival event that places independent and arthouse films from around world under the spotlight, offering Q&A sessions with international filmmakers and more.

For barflies and booze aficionados alike, the annual Reykjavík Bar Summit in February is a festival of mixology, revolving around plenty of masterful cocktails in more the 30 downtown bars and a bartender competition.

DRIVING IN ICELAND

By | Iceland Blog

Driving around Iceland is a recipe for a dream vacation for many, and rightly so. Open roads, clean air providing clear views as far the horizon reaches and nature so striking sometimes you hardly know which way to look. The national routes of Iceland can easily provide the road trip of a lifetime – if you drive in accordance to local rules and conditions.

Automobile traffic in Iceland is on the right side of the road. The standard speed limit in Iceland is 50 km/h (31mph) within township limits, 80 km/h (49mph) on roads connecting townships and on gravel roads out in the countryside. 90 km/h (55mph) is the country’s top speed and goes for all national routes. Nevertheless, you should always look for speed limit signs by the side of the road. You can not miss them. Also, keep in mind that even if you feel like you have driven dozens of miles without seeing a single police car – or any car, for that matter – there are active speed cameras literally everywhere. Get caught speeding above the limit and you may just get a very hefty fine.

National routes in Iceland tend to be more on the narrow side. When passing cars going in the opposite direction, mind your speed and keep your eyes on the road. A second’s distraction at the wrong moment might possibly bring your vacation to an abrupt end, and that you can easily avoid by driving carefully.

Certain conditions in Iceland must be taken into account when driving in Iceland. Sometimes, asphalt roads come to a sudden end and gravel road takes over. This means much less grip and ensuing risk of losing traction. At high speeds this can spell disaster. Icy roads can also be slippery and cause you to lose control of the car. Always drive in accordance to weather conditions and look out for slippery roads.

You probably came to Iceland to experience the incomparable nature, and that’s super. Just remember that the natural surroundings makes for an almost constant source of visual distractions. Do not stop your car abruptly to get a better look, do not exit the market road to get a better look and do not take a sudden U-turn to get a second look. There may be fewer cars on the road than you are used to but it also takes one at the wrong moment to make it all go horribly wrong.

Remember that off-road driving is illegal in Iceland and doing so, and subsequently damaging delicate nature, will result in criminal prosecution and fines high enough to ruin your weekend, even your vacation altogether. Stay on the roads, mind the speed, take it easy and the dreamy road trip you came for will soon be yours.

Safe travels and have a nice trip!

How to drive in iceland: http://www.icetra.is/road-traffic/how-to-drive-in-iceland/

ICELAND AND HAWAII – SIMILAR MAGIC

By | Iceland Blog

Artic and photo from Iceland Magazine

Freelance writer and middle school history teacher Matt Piercy led a group of American high school students on a two-week journey to Iceland this summer. Here he shares with us a piece he wrote about the experience and the fascinating similarities between Iceland and Hawaii where he lives.

This summer dozens of North Hawaii residents were drawn to Iceland, Europe’s northernmost island nation. More than six thousand miles away, Iceland deemed the Land of Fire and Ice, actually has a lot in common with Hawaii Island.

ARRIVING TO HORNSTRANDIR There are no roads in the region and low-flying planes are banned in order to maintain the serenity of the area. Photo/Matt Piercy

The trip was so extremely special. For 15 days, 14 high school students and two leaders journeyed beyond Iceland’s iconic Ring Road as they kayaked, sea angled, hiked, and trekked throughout the inspiring beauty of the Westfjords region. Beginning and finishing in Reykjavik, students were interested to learn more about sagas and the legendary folklore of Iceland. They visited the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery in Hólmavik village in Northwest Iceland, The Icelandic Sea Monster Museum in Biídudalur village in the Westfjords, took a course from headmaster Magnús Skarphéðinsson at the Elf School, spoke with locals, and were treated to a performance of The Greatest hits in 75 minutes” of Icelandic Sagas at the world class Harpa concert hall and conference centre.

Read more: The macabre necropants, made from dead man’s skin, on display in Hólmavík

Though students are from a scattering of cities; San Francisco, New York, and Chicago to name a few, they all made the decision to travel with Putney Student Travel. Since 1951, Putney has emphasized doing~”having fun, getting off the beaten track, making friends, and being involved with people.”

Students commented how several of the highlights to Cultural Exploration Iceland seemed to include wildlife and stunning landscapes. For example, photographing the puffins at Látrabjarg, which is a promontory and the westernmost point of Iceland, walking alongside arctic foxes on the beaches of Horrnstandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, and riding the majestic horses at Stóri Kambur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland. And no one is likely to forget the experience ascending Snæfellsjökull glacier, the starting point for Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Center of the Earth.  All in all, the group felt fortunate to have traveled to Iceland and left impressed by how genuinely friendly Icelanders were.  After an active two weeks and before even departing, several students voiced how they already couldn’t wait to return!

Viking past and abundance of natural landscapes
It is difficult to determine if tourism in Iceland revolves around the Viking past or abundance of natural landscapes. The two may be mutually exclusive. Þingvellir National Park is but one example. A thirty-minute drive from Reykjavik, the capital city, lies Þingvellir, the single best place to epitomize the history of Iceland. Here is where the Icelandic parliament was founded in 930 AD. Besides being protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, Þingvellir is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Therefore, it is part of a fissure zone with high cliffs and a belt of mountains on three sides. At the park’s southern edge is Iceland’s largest lake. Lava fields similar to those found in Hawaii abound, however being 16t o 18 million years old, Iceland’s lava rock is covered in moss and grass. Stretching as far as the eye can see, the lava fields look like science fiction.

Hawaii Island and Iceland share a similar challenge in striking a balance between maintaining the pristine while managing the effects of growth. Some are beginning to question what measures may need to be taken to ensure a tourism industry built upon sustainable practices.

Ástþór Jakobsson of Guðmundur Jónasson Travel commented, “The government is not doing much to help the tourism industry. For example, there is a need for building walkways to protect nature, as well as constructing larger parking lots at highly trafficked locations by tourists, and improving important roads. There is not even a workers union for the tourism industry!” [Editor’s note: workers in the industry are members of various unions]. And with thousands trodding along paths to waterfalls, hot springs, and to beaches, the integrity of the land, water and culture is likely to be affected.

Under the midnight sun
Within a single degree of latitude from the Arctic Circle, a warm summer day in Iceland is in the 50s, leading some to light-heartedly declare Iceland to be 66 degrees north of summer! But what Iceland may lack for warmth during June or July, it makes up for in light. A visitor will be hard pressed to catch even a glimpse of darkness, as the “setting” and “rising” sun are even in dim light! During the summer months Iceland can be explored around the clock under the midnight sun.

One such visitor was Justin Bieber who filmed the music video of, “I’ll Show You” under the 200-foot cascading waters of Skógafoss waterfall.

Read more: Follow in Justin Bieber’s footsteps in Iceland

An abundance of flowing water allows Iceland to generate 70% of its electricity from hydropower. Icelanders do not culturally revere the earth’s heat and so produce 30% of their energy geothermally. Even the backwaters of some power plants are taken advantage of; for example the Svartsengi power plant created azure thermal pools that National Geographic deems, “one of the most impressive wonders of the world.” Nearly half the tourists to Iceland visit the Blue Lagoon as it is conveniently located in between the international airport and capital city, Reykjavik.

Renewable energy sources contribute to Icelanders paying under 6 cents a kilowatt for energy. Hawaii in turn pays the highest electricity prices in the United States and pays more than 5 times that of Icelanders (33.2 cents as of Aug 12, 2015- according to a HECO report).  Moreover, Iceland already has achieved what Hawaii aims for in 2045, to have 100% of its electricity derived from renewable resources.

Though electricity and hot water are cheap, Iceland is far from being inexpensive. In fact, Iceland is considered one of the most expensive country in the world! Similar to paying a price to live in paradisiacal Hawaii, Icelanders pay the price to live in a country which is able to boast being declared the safest country of the world for six straight years. And they don’t have a standing army!

This magic
Icelanders are regarded as extremely hospitable, exuding their own Icelandic form of Aloha. Yet, there is an assertive marketing of everything Icelandic.  From skyr, an Icelandic cultured dairy product, to stuffed animal representations of the arctic fox and puffin. Even chocolate, sourced from ingredients around the globe, is smartly wrapped and proudly branded, “Iceland Chocolate.”

Icelanders are both comfortable and candid as they share about their Viking past. Visitors can learn more about the 40 sagas, or epic stories, of the Viking voyages, battles and feuds from ancient Nordic and Germanic history. These are shared in museums, in countless books sold in gift shops, and through theater performances.

AN ARCTIC FOX STROLLS ALONG HORNSTRANDIR BEACH The foxes are protected in the region and have grown very tame, even eating out of the palm of travellers  Photo/Matt Piercy

Yet, it’s Iceland’s natural landscapes that are especially captivating. Hawaii residents are able to relate as tourists double as roadside photographers in attempt to capture the setting sun, rainbows, or waterfalls.

Katherine Groves of Kapaau traveled to Iceland to do an eight-day horseback adventure and shared, “I think the beauty lies in how the colors interact with Iceland’s magical landscape.” This “magic” is something Icelanders have 35 words for. Similar to a surfer describing waves, or an Eskimo talking about snow. A “magic” some say is synonymous with hope. “I hope everyone who comes here has the best impression of Iceland. I hope tourists go home and brag about how amazing Iceland’s nature and people are. I want people to come back to see more – there is always more to be seen!” alleged Jakobsson.

GAME OF THRONES FILMING IN ICELAND

By | Iceland Blog

THE WINTER HAS ARRIVED Actor Kit Harington while filming in Iceland in 2011. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

From Iceland Magazin

The cast and the crew of “The Game of Thrones” returned to Iceland in January to film scenes for the seventh season – 2017. According to local news site Vísir.is the producers of the wildly popular TV series did have great success filming for the new season.h

The Game of Thrones (GoT) has previously been partially filmed in Iceland. Scenes for GoT Season four were filmed in locations such as Þingvellir National Park in South Iceland, Lake Mývatn in North Iceland and near Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geothermal area in South Iceland. Þingvellir was featured in the season’s very first episode.

Scenes for GoT Season 3 were filmed during the winter in Iceland in 2011 and scenes for Season 4 were filmed in July 2013.

As all GoT fans the winter has arrived to Westeroos, meaning that snow and ice will feature heavily in Season 7. And that is something we have in abundance in Iceland during January!

HEKLA IS READY TO BLOW!

By | Iceland Blog

Hekla Eruption – Photo RAX

From Iceland Monitor:

A geophysics professor from the University of Iceland has warned people not to travel up Hekla volcano in South Iceland as it could erupt at any moment.

As reported by Icelandic news website visir.is (link in Icelandic), Hekla erupted regularly ever ten years or so from 1970 to 2000 – but has now been silent for sixteen years.

According to Professor Páll Einarsson, pressure readings within the famous volcano are now higher than before the last two previous eruptions – meaning it could blow with little warning.

“Hekla is a dangerous volcano,” says Einarsson. “We could be looking at a major disaster when the next eruption begins if we are not careful.”

MORE: 1980 Hekla eruption passenger jet near-miss

 

Hekla 2000 – Photo RAX

“Hekla has become a very popular tourist destination. Nowadays, there are tourist groups on Hekla most of the summer,” Einarsson explain in the visir.is article.

“There are also 20-30 planes full of passengers flying right over the top of Hekla every day,” he warns. “This is a risky moment which we need to take seriously.”

New measurements have shown that Hekla has been gathering magma and internal pressure is higher than before the last two previous eruptions. “Hekla is ready – at any moment,” Einarsson concludes.

ICELAND – YOUNGEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD

By | Iceland Blog

From www.freeworldmaps.com

 

Iceland is a relatively large island in the Atlantic Ocean. The nearest neighboring country is Greenland, just 286 km (180 miles) away, followed by the Faroe islands 420 km (260 miles), Scotland 795 km (495 miles), and Norway 950 km (590 miles).

Iceland is located near the arctic circle, and in fact, half the land-mass of Grímsey, an island off the North coast of Iceland, lies within the Arctic Circle. It takes approximately five hours to fly from New York to Reykjavík, and three hours from London.

SECOND LARGEST

Iceland is the second largest island in Europe, following Great Britain, and the 18th largest island in the world. The island itself stretches across 103,000 km2 (40,000 square miles), which is about the same size as Hungary and Portugal, or Kentucky and Virginia.

In its widest parts Iceland measures 500 km (305 miles) east to west and 300 km (185 miles) north to south. The coastline is 4,970 km, and Iceland maintains a 200 nautical-miles exclusive economic zone. It is possible to drive right around the island on the lovely coastal route on a 10-day holiday.

With almost 80% of the country uninhabited, much of Iceland’s terrain consists of plateaux, mountain peaks, and fertile lowlands. There are many long, deep fjords and glaciers, including Europe’s largest, Vatnajökull. The landscape is characterized by waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes, black sand beaches, and otherworldly steaming lava fields.

Iceland’s highest peak is Hvannadalshnjúkur, standing 2,119 m (6,852 ft) over sea level. More than 11 percent of the country is covered by glaciers. Its landmass comprises glaciers (12,000 km2), lava (11,000 km2), sand (4,000 km2), water (3,000 km2), and pasture (1,000 km2).

Formed about 25 million years ago, Iceland is one of the youngest landmasses on the planet, and consequently home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes. The island ows its existence to a volcanic hotspot created by a fissure in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet.

The landmass is still growing by about 5 cm per year, as it splits wider at the points where the two tectonic plates meet. The last volcanoes to erupt were Eyjafjallajökull in 2010 and Grímsvötn in 2011. Iceland even has the world’s newest island, Surtsey, formed in a volcanic eruption in 1963.

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