These are the top 10 things I've learned about Iceland:
10. Icelandic is really very hard to speak. I kept trying to latch onto some Latin root-like words and coming up short. Even after spending some time there and hearing the language for a bit, I honestly do not think I could even mumble out a word or two. For most of my travels, I try to at least make an attempt at "the big 12" words everybody should know. For Iceland? I gave up after trying to say "thank you" even just once. What's that you say you speak no Icelandic either? Fear not! For most people in the country speak both Icelandic and English and are surprisingly fluent in both languages. Oh, and, in case you're stumped and really, really want to get a word in, congrats! If you are reading this and you speak English, you already know one word in Icelandic. The English word geyser comes from the Icelandic word geysir and it means, well, just what you think it does.
9. Iceland is home to Europe's only desert. There's also black sand, glaciers and more waterfalls than people there. At one point in my travels, we went to the place where the desert meets the sea meets the glacier meets the volcano. It's like a giant melting pot of planet earth's major climate and geographic regions all rolled into one. Nature's playground, really that place is.
8. Eyjafjallajokull was abbreviated E15 by the US armed forces on account of the fact that there are 15 letters after the E and nobody could pronounce it (see #10 above.) Yes, it's the volcanic eruption that covered much of northern Europe in ash and yes, it did originate in Iceland. They still sell t-shirts in Iceland that read things like: "Eyjafjallajokull it's so easy to say!" and my favorite: "Eyjafjallajokull-Kiss My Ash!" I did actually go and visit E15 but it was notoriously quiet during my stay there, preferring not to erupt but, instead, to just sort of sit around and look pretty (yes, of course, pictures to follow.)
7. Iceland is perhaps the most expensive country to visit in Europe right now. While I was there, we jokingly referred to it as "The Money Pit" because everything was way more expensive then you might believe. I also overheard several other tourists refer to it as, "The New Switzerland." Iceland uses it's own currency, called the Icelandic Krona (not to be confused with Kronas from other places.) To covert currency, I found it easiest to drop two 0's (decimal points) and this "quick/dirty conversion" got you into the ballpark (for example, something costing 2500 Iceland Krona would be about $25 in US dollars. Of course, given that it's also "The Money Pit" something that would be $25 in US dollars would probably also be something akin to a cup of coffee or perhaps half a t-shirt but only if you shop around and really hit up those sale racks.)
6. The capital city of Iceland is Reykjavik. Reykjavik is a wonderful city, very clean, modern, easy to get around. It's where Regan and Gorbachev ended the cold war and it's also about a 5 hour flight from New York City. You can get a direct flight to Reykjavik from cities like New York, Washington, Charlotte, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Most of the population in Iceland is located in and around Reykjavik. Iceland has about 200,000 in Reykjavik with about 350,000 people total so, once you get outside of Reykjavik, people really disappear (waterfalls, however, become more plentiful.)
5. Iceland is very cosmopolitan. You can meet people from Japan, Germany, United States, United Kingdom, etc. there. Most of the tourists come from either the US or the UK. I would not recommend you try to teach a Japanese pack of tourists how to use a fork, however, as this just won't work very well. (Please don't ask me how I know.)
4. Reykjavik is not cold. Because of the jet stream, it stays around 50 degrees in the summertime. It does get dark and it does rain a lot there and, I was told, it's windy. I was told the winters are long and windy. Because it's so far north, in the summertime, the days are about 16 hours (or more!) long and, likewise, in the wintertime, the nights are, well, 16 hours (or more!) long. Plan accordingly (enjoy sunsets at midnight. A photographer's dream!)
3. They have little colored houses there, same as in Norway. While visiting, I was told that some of the lumber used to build the houses in Iceland floated down from Russia. The logging and transportation (shipping) in Russia would sometimes have "mishaps" and so the logs would fall into the sea in the north, only to float on over to Iceland, where the locals would pick them up, saw off the outsides (on account of the water) and then use the "core" of the Russian lumber to build things like houses. Houses with colored rooftops, like those found in Norway.
2. While you can eat puffin, whale, horse, and lamb in Iceland, most local dishes involve fish of some kind. Halibut is very popular but you can also get monk fish, sea bass, and several other variety of fish dishes. Living so far from the ocean, in Austin, we don't really have great access to fresh fish. Being an island and having a lot of whaling, fishing, boating, etc. Iceland has great access to fresh fish. Because of this, I ate almost nothing but fish on my trip (and loved it! Oh, more fish, please!) Every fish dish was unique but I really did not have a bad plate of food on my trip.
1. They have icebergs in Iceland, like the one you see here. There are places where ice washes up on the shore and there are these sort of "floating" icebergs out in some of the lagoons. The colors in the icebergs come from a variety of sources: black lines are formed by sediment, blue stripes or areas are formed when a crevice in the ice sheet fills up with meltwater and then quickly freezes. Some of the icebergs looked a lot like candy to me and I even photographed one that, I swear, very closely resembled Daffy Duck. The icebergs of Iceland are quite beautiful and I would recommend that you go and see them if you happen to get the chance.
Some runners up:
- I was told that most Icelandic people believe in trolls. I did not ask any Icelandic people if they saw trolls and, I have to admit, I did not see any trolls while I was there, however, I did see some areas that really looked like they could make excellent homes for trolls. Must of Iceland is covered in a sort of bright green mossy type stuff that looks very "troll home like" if you tend to believe in these sorts of things.
- Perhaps, coincidentally (or not) most Icelandic people are very well educated. Students attend school until the age of 20, learn to speak both Icelandic and English fluently and, upon graduation, have the equivalent of a two year college degree (in the 'States.) (No word on weather or not the trolls go to school. Also no word on weather or not John Cryer has been to Iceland, although I did actually see Viggo Mortensen on my trip-he was staying at my hotel and came by to chat with us while I was there.)
- They have a beautiful opera house/performing arts center in downtown Reykjavik. They also have a lot of sculpture, especially out in public places. While I saw a lot of artwork there, not a lot of it was in the form of painting. Most of the artwork was glass, textiles, and sculpture, as well as general "design" type of work.
- Icelandic wool is very lovely. The sheep are different from the mainland areas and make for interesting wool, not to mention they dot the countryside and seem to appear almost wherever you roam. The horses in Iceland are different too-they are smaller and of a different scale that what you are used to seeing in a horse-I was told that this is because they are "original" horses and haven't changed much over time by breeding habits and the like.
- The Icelandic ring road is worth driving. It's the road that goes around the island and it's really quite something, with breathtaking views around almost every bend.