It is impossible to be neutral about Iceland in my opinion. Either this country will totally get under your skin, right at the moment you step out of an aeroplane, or it will seem miserable, unapproachable, and boring to you. People who have freely decided to spend their hard earned money in order to see this land, have probably kick-started their positive attitude towards everything what Iceland has to offer, as well as dug out their rock-solid confidence not to get disappointed by it. Your expectations stem from epic photographs of Iceland you have already seen. They also depend on how many of your friends have told you overstated and grand tales of it, and how many surreal myths of Iceland have reached your ears until this moment.
Those who did not put too much effort into finding out more about this country, and let all their hopes dependant on fantastic photographs (Everyone must have seen at least one of those. Everyone who has got a FB, Instagram account, or actually uses internet at all.) might be very surprised in the end, or even disappointed. The same scenery, the same brown hills, a lonesome tree here or there, foraging sheep everywhere you look, black lava fields, and roads that are not far from “dirt roads”, which would be called 3d category roads in Slovakia. Simply put-boring.
Icelanders themselves often wonder what it is that attracts tourists from all over the world to the country with almost no trees. Even more so, country of vast black heaths covered only in green moss, with weather which is considered by strangers not pleasant at all. One of the possible explanations is that people nowadays are so over stimulated, too “civilised”, and they are in constant touch with other people; always in space with too much of everything and everyone. That may be why they have started seeking destinations, where there is “nothing”. Increasing need not to come across anyone for a while, to be in touch with nature for a change, these are the reasons why so called “middle of nowhere” destinations have become more and more popular.
Therefore it is a fact: Iceland really IS in, and has become more and more so each year. Its attractiveness has increased very much indeed. So much actually, that you may discover with astonishment, there are more of your friends who have visited Iceland, than those who chose a typical holiday in Greece or Egypt. It is quite interesting that what is trendy reflects in travelling. You read all those articles, see all those pictures with smiley faces on FB which assure you that there is no bigger adventure for you to experience, and you are going to regret it if you don’t fly there straight away. A photo of you with an ice axe in your hand and crampons on your feet does indeed earn you a lot of respect. In reality though, you will not use either of those, and the tourist guide herself puts the ice axe into your arms telling you, the only time you are going to need that, if at all, is for support.
It is challenging not to give in when planning your next holiday. Not to succumb to the pressure of all those people who got enchanted by well promoted destination. It gets you thinking, if the Icelandic government hasn’t invented some super subliminal way how to allure tourists into their country, and portray it in such tempting style, you wouldn’t be able to resist. Especially when knowing that Icelanders are pros in selling anything to enthusiastic tourists intoxicated by the “holiday spirit”, who would take just anything for a souvenir and a proof of their presence on this island. Sellers “GUARANTEE” you that there is 100% pure, untouched, clean and of course N A T U R A L – genuine iceberg water in each liquid you buy, alcoholic or non. Every rock with a label on it is of volcanic origin and undoubtedly at least 1000 years old. Thus, an eligible selling commodity. Who cares it is just a fall-out piece of scrap from Ringroad construction. Yes, a little overstated description maybe, but for locals we have met, it is an obvious and quite funny reality of Icelandic tourism.
For those who are considering Iceland to be their future holiday destination just to join the club “I’ve been to Iceland too” and to check another thing off their To Do List, I have a piece of advice: “Do not go there!”. For all the others with strong need to visit this country, whose unstoppable inner feeling keeps whispering that it is them, who are built for it; for them, Iceland is going to be country from a different planet. A country full of things nowhere else to be found. A country with intensive colours, air smelling of sulphur, mountains close to their tininess, and with everything being vast. Like someone else has said already, it is a place where you have to become a geologist, a naturalist, or a photographer at least. For all those whose plan it is to fall in love with this country, here is some of our gained experience, which some was interesting, some useful, and some even entertaining.
1. Iceland and EU
Right at the first roundabout, just a few kilometers from Keflavik airport, there is a billboard informing you about Icelandic attitude towards joining EU, saying: “Thanks, but no”. This was the first thing I’ve noticed after my arrival, and also the first thing which made me reflect on Iceland from larger perspective. In 2009 Iceland applied for EU membership, but in 2015- after reevaluating all the pros and cons, it withdrew its application, and did not find it an important move to go back to ever since. Iceland is a member of the European Economic Area, as well as Schengen Area, which ensures benefits like free movement of people, goods, services and capital; the same way as in EU countries. The strong desire for independence is deep-rooted in Icelanders. According to European Commission statistics, it is more than 85% of them, who consider independence “very important”.
2. Icelandic language
Icelandic language is an Old Germanic language, which developed from Old Norse. That is the reason why Icelanders can read and comprehend old Norwegian texts. Modern Icelandic is not too different from the Old Icelandic language, the cause of which has probably to do with isolation of the island from other countries, and their languages. There is one oddity though, which for us who speak only when exhaling, is highly peculiar. I have no idea where this odd habit comes from, or what its background is, but Icelanders speak not only when exhaling, but also on the in-breath. Try it!
3. Icelandic horses
Icelandic horses, like most other things, come from Norway. After gradual crossbreeding between horses from Ireland and Scotland, a new breed – Icelandic pony was created. Ever since 930AD, it is forbidden to raise any other breed, to maintain the purity of it. Inlanders are very proud of their horses, and activities involving them are one of fundamental touristic attractions. Icelandic pony has got its unique looks, and it is able to live up to 30 years. But there is one more peculiarity to it. Icelandic horses rest and sleep when lying on the ground. So if you happen to walk past an outlet, and see horses just lying there, you can stay calm. Nope. They are not dead. They are probably just asleep. Probably…
4. Iceland and golfing
In spite of the weather conditions, golf IS played in here. Icelanders love golf, or that is how it looks at least. Golf courses haven’t got the colour you would expect them to have, and their location is often perplexing for us. But I have to say: course at the bottom of high mountains, greens being ‘a bit’ steep, and wind howling almost ceaselessly, all of these aspects above, can add that little something interesting and unpredictable, even to such a boring sport, like golf.
5. Iceland and trees
Iceland is known as a country of no trees, so when you get there, you also expect none to be there. You might be surprised, but Icelanders actually HAVE trees. Of course, nothing like forests as we know them. The extent, density, and height of trees are not to be compared to our conception of forest as such. But, still they are TREES. It is said that when first settlers came to Iceland from Norway (1100 years ago), there were trees everywhere, from the coastline to the mountain tops. Approximately 28% of the island was covered by birch trees and 60% by other vegetation. The original settlers exploited the forests by using wood from the trees to build their ships and dwellings, and they kept extending their farmland that way too. It is only 1% of the island now that is forested, and the area covered in other vegetation has reduced by half. Excessive pastureland, deforestation, as well as harsh climatic conditions contribute to soil erosion. That, together with soil degradation is a big issue which Iceland has been facing and trying to solve since 1907.
Even though reforestation is now a huge problem for Iceland, people in this country are not about to lose their sense of humor. There are plenty of jokes using this topic to amuse you.
There is one: “What should an Icelander do, when he gets lost in a forest?”