As I mentioned in the previous post, we recently spent a “long weekend” in Iceland. It was a wonderful, very busy five days, running around the southwestern part of the island with a small group of curious travelers.
Of course, our trip was just a snapshot of the country. It’s impossible to even begin to understand another place and it’s people in such a short period of time. So this post is simply a collection of basic, possibly clueless, observations.
First, nothing I can write would do justice to the amazing scenery of Iceland. Even the pictures I made, like the one above of a black sand beach near the small town of Vik, only offers a taste of what to expect if you visit. And I highly recommend you do.
Based on what we learned from our very knowledgeable guide, I gained a great deal of respect for the people of Iceland. With a population of less than 400,000 people, they manage to thrive and be creative while living in an environment that’s actively trying to kill them.
Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes from constantly shifting continental plates, melting glaciers from both climate change and rising magma, along with very unpredictable and sometimes brutal weather are all part of the experience of living on this island. Plus they only get about two hours of daylight in the dead of winter and almost no night for much of the summer.
I can understand why NASA uses some locations in Iceland as a Mars substitute for astronaut training. And why the producers of Game of Thrones used sites on the island in building parts of their fantasy world. Two very different landscapes in a very small area of the world.1
You also have to give the people of Iceland great credit for maintaining a unique and consistent culture for more than eleven hundred years. In that time the island was ruled by Vikings, Norway, and Denmark,2 along with lots of meddling from the British, Scots, and Irish. And Americans, of course, during World War II. They finally reclaimed their independence in 1944 while Denmark was distracted with being occupied by Germany.
If you visit Iceland, allow for lots of time to get around. Outside of the capital city, Reykjavik, you won’t find what Americans call “highways”. Mostly two-lane roads (sometimes only one on bridges) that are constantly punished by the weather and not well maintained by our standards. And we were in the areas most visited by tourists. I can’t imagine what’s it’s like in the north and east (the center of the island is uninhabitable) or in the middle of winter.
Fun fact: Iceland has no McDonald’s. It’s not like no one eats American fast food. We passed KFC, Taco Bell, and more than a few Subway’s. I’m guessing that the company can’t source enough cheap beef to produce Big Macs. The country is probably better off without them.
Speaking of food, this is another way Icelanders have been very creative. For example, lunch one day was fresh tomato soup, enjoyed while sitting in the middle of a massive greenhouse. Farmers are taking advantage of the cheap electricity from hydro and geothermal energy to grow lots of vegetables in a place inhospitable to most plants, other than the moss that seems to like lava rock.
Anyway, enough rambling for now. In the next post, some photos from the trip with a few more comments.
1. Although I saw several places that could have been used in scenes from Game of Thrones, I’m not a rabid enough fan to know for sure. And no one else in our group had even seen the show so our guide was not inclined to deviate from the schedule to do a GoT tour. We did go on a wild goose chase looking for puffins. Wild puffin chase??
2. All of whom left plenty of artifacts behind. There are several large museums scattered around the southern area of Iceland but check out the National Museum in Reykjavik for the best of the best.