Nowadays, everything comes in 3 (trilogies, episodes, princes, princesses, etc.), so I got inspired by the movie industry and decided to go with it. My trilogy ends here with last 6 points, throwing some light on the country which belongs to my top favourite ones.
13. Iceland and solitude
You have probably read or heard somewhere that if you are seeking solitude and peace, then Iceland is the country to go to. Haven’t you? Well, you will then. “Not a soul in sight” is a phrase that makes you expect ZERO tourists and very close to zero other people. It sounds basically as a promise of minimum of socializing.
But in reality, it depends. If you don’t want to meet a living soul, you should definitely avoid places like Blue Lagoon, where on the obligatory Golden Circle Tour, or next to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, you might feel like standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. We did feel like that indeed. And that was not even the beginning of high season. The image of 40 Japanese tourists mindlessly storming out of the bus towards their dream coming true is nothing exceptional here.
Another factor, which really DOES matter, is your own perception of what’s about right amount of people around you, to still feel comfortable enough. Plus, how much space around yourself is necessary to remain your private zone, for you not to start freaking out. There actually ARE people, who feel fine at the crowded beaches of Majorca or Croatia. Those might find Iceland to be the end of the world, and they can feel a bit scared of being abandoned here. For the rest of us, who need the radius of minimum 3 meters around us to stay clear of people, Iceland is the Holy Land. Solitude… In my opinion, solitude gives you a chance to enjoy the nature without anyone pushing or elbowing you. A chance to soak in all the beauty in privacy, contemplate in peace. Take all the perceptions in, and to be able to take pictures with no one else but you in them. To find this solitude, you will have to go north of Snaefellsnes and in the Westfjord area, it may eventually happen, that you will not see a single car during your 60km ride. Surrounded by endless beaches, high hills, and vast meadows, you will get to realize, how small a man is in comparison with Mother Nature.
14. Smells and colours
The smell of Iceland is very specific. It smells of sulphur, hot springs, geothermal water, soil and sand. Usually, you remember a country that you have visited, because of what you’ve seen. But there are only few countries that you will remember also because of their smell. I, personally, like the smell of Iceland. It is very difficult to describe that specific mixture of various aromas and odours, which you definitely would not address as a pleasant experience for your olfactory receptor cells. It is also quite pointless to try and find anything in common with the smell of Tuscany, tulip fields in Netherlands or mountain air in the Alps.
“50 shades of brown” would be an apt title for a book of pictures of Icelandic landscapes. It might not become such a blockbuster as the already published version with the grey colour. But it would take about 10 minutes to get enough material for it. At first, Iceland may seem a little dull to you. And then you open your eyes, and get to see that there is more. Black, coppery, blue, yellow and green. It is all out there. Rich, gay and all colourful, but in a different way than our nature in Central Europe. Black-the lava fields. Green-moss covering everything. Purple-water, and blue-crystal clear icebergs.
15. Icelandic roads
How do you know that a tourist has spent all the time in Reykjavik and its surroundings? His car is clean. There are plenty car hires around the airport. When you rent a car there, take a good look at its clean version. It is highly probable, that that will be the last time you’ll see it in such condition. The next stage: all muddy or covered with sand. Depends on the weather. In the dry term (which we were lucky to experience too), there is no way to escape the dust covering not only the body of your car, but making a couple of inches thick layer inside. All over. You get to feel dust when you breathe, feel it in you eyes where it burns, it gets inside your camera equipment, and you’ll find it inside of your suitcase, when unpacking after your trip.
The road system in Iceland consists mainly of gravel roads. The Ring Road runs around the whole island. It is about 1300 kilometres long, and mostly it is paved with asphalt. (As well as the roads around larger cities, around Reykjavik and the south of Iceland, where the majority of the island’s population lives, and which take the tourists to their most often visited destinations.) Snaefellsnes and Westfjords are the best example of how the Icelanders try to add more and more new stages of roads. But to tell you the truth, asphalt is still just a pleasant and short break from bumping over the old roads.
Roads here are narrow, steep, some with a 16% grade, and marked only by few plastic roadside markers. In some areas, there is no verge between the road and its surrounding terrain. You may find driving here a bit stressful the first couple of days. You will stiffen each time you’ll see a car driving the opposite way, and you’ll probably worry about abrading the bottom of your car (which would be the better scenario), or you’ll see yourself falling into a ditch. To be honest, after Norwegian roads, we were quite prepared for anything. But I must say that Icelandic roads exceeded our expectations in so many ways. Some sections are passable only by offroad 4×4 cars, which the traffic signs will let you know of in advance.
The road conditions, 4×4, weather conditions, web cameras, barriers, etc., all of this info is available for you on this website: www.road.is, which we found very useful, and used it on a daily basis throughout our whole trip.
16. Tank up!
It is highly advisable to keep an eye on the level of your fuel in tank. There are many places in Iceland with no petrol station. (It seems a bit of an overstatement to call 2 petrol pumps a petrol station.) There are road signs, which will draw your attention to an upcoming filling station. Or they might fail to do so, because you will be too busy watching the spectacular countryside. (So be careful about it!) There is no staff to help you, or take your credit card. Often, there are no shops or bathroom facilities either. So: to fill up, you have to pre-plan. If you have already experienced this activity, you can have quite a lot of fun watching the tourists, resolutely grabbing the hoses, only to discover and wonder why there is no fuel flow from the nozzle. All confused, looking for help, poor things, make a hilarious spectacle of themselves. But like most of us, they too, will find out that you have to pay in advance to be able to fill up. Not complicated at all, just different from what you have known so far.
17. Spa protocol
Take a proper shower before entering a spa, if you want to avoid public disgrace. In some cases, they even have a person (usually a woman) to keep an eye (a strict one!) on misdemeanours of this kind against the spa’s protocol. Yes, it seems a bit odd an occupation, to inspect someone’s quite intimate activity, such as taking a shower. Sometimes a breathing living inspector can be substituted by a notice board depicting all body parts, you should pay special attention to, and not be negligent about. You can’t miss the board, thanks to its size.
Water in public swimming pools and spas is heated by geothermal energy, so to run these places is not too pricey, which makes the entrance fee a minimum. This is not at all the case of Blue Lagoon – the best known Icelandic spa. You will find it in the middle of a lava field. What makes it famous, is its specific colour and healing powers. Thanks to this popularity, the prices start at 40€, and are rising each year.
Icelandic music is not only Björk. (Even though, she well deserves to be its representative, who is worldwide known). Björk went through various stages, musical styles, and was a member of numerous bands. After leaving the last one “The Sugercubes”, Björk started playing with the idea of a solo career, which led to her first solo single Human Behaviour, and her debut album Debut in 1993. It’s been praised by critics. It also earned Björk awards in two categories of Brit Awards, and it went platinum. Since then, she’s released 14 more albums. The last one – Vulnicura, from January 2015, was accompanied by its acoustic version Vulnicura Strings. This was released the same year, only months later. Concerning me, I don’t know… It might have been caused by my age, or who knows by what else, but Björk and I did not really hit it. She has never really impressed me, even in her golden days of her career. And now, it seems to be too late for me to take a liking to her.
BUT, I did manage to find my liking for Icelandic music after all. I haven’t managed to explore all its hidden corners and wonder places, but I am certain there are many more Icelandic musicians waiting out there to get on my Spotify. And I’m gonna find them. Sooner or later, that is for sure. In the meantime, let me introduce to bands, who have earned their spot on Spotify already.
Sigur Rós, a post-rock band which started in 1994, and has been active ever since. The words sigur and rós mean victory and rose. However, the band is called after the frontman’s sister Sigurrós, who had been born only a couple of days before the band was formed. Jónsi, the frontman is known for his falsetto vocals, his use of bowed guitar (a method which uses a bow to vibrate the strings), open homosexuality, and blindness in his right eye. He had been a member of some other band formations before he started singing in Sigur Rós. Now he also sings and has gigs with his partner Alex, and has developed a decent solo career too. I must warn you. It is very unlikely for you to be able to sing along with Jónsi. (And it is not only the falsetto standing in your way.) It is partly because of the Icelandic language, and partly because of another language which is completely made up. This artificial language is called Vonlenska. This name comes from the song Von (hope), where it was used for the first time. However, the lyrics playing the second fiddle, actually helps and allows the melody to come forward. The tunes are very pleasant to listen to, and are ideal for brooding, contemplating life. Plus, in my opinion, this music is totally fitting for a country like Iceland.
You might have heard about Sigur Rós and Jónsi, but still not even know about it. It is quite probable that you belong to at least one of the next fan clubs of TV series. The saying that “The Simpsons already did it.” has been proved right again, when Sigur Rós appeared in the episode “The Saga of Carl” (24th season). And did so more than one time.
I feel that Game of Thrones has moved the level of a proper fan into a completely new dimension. To become a part of this colossus, to write a song for it, or to appear on it, is a great honour for an artist + fan. Plus, it is a great marketing move too.
Iceland’s Mumford & Sons – that is how the band Of Monsters and Men has been addressed many times. This indie folk band is said to have become the biggest “thing” since Björk and Sigur Rós times. (According to the Record Records publishing company) Their world-wide popularity increased after the song Little Talks had been played on Philadelphia’s Radio 104.5. Their debut album My Head is an Animal was an immediate success. Beneath the Skin is the second studio album of this Reykjavik band of 5 members. In case you are interested to see them, you don’t even have to travel far. They are gonna be on the Colours Festival in Ostrava this year.
It is a well know “fact” that the number of artists in Iceland is almost directly proportional to the number of inhabitants. Well, basically it means that every other household has got an artist, painter, musician, songwriter or a poet. If you are still not into any of my chosen musicians, don’t worry. Just keep looking a bit longer. The variety and great range of Icelandic musicians has much more to offer. As you can see in the next video attached, which could work as a cheering song for Marian*. Even though it concerns totally different kind of activities…
*(TN: Marian Hossa – Slovak hockey player)