ICELAND: BE INSPIRED

ICELAND: BE INSPIRED

Iceland initially sparked my interest in the early millennium, when Bjork made her debut at the Academy Awards in her iconic swan dress. Like the rest of America, I was curious to know the person responsible for the swan mulching all over the red carpet. I looked her up, and not so surprisingly discovered her music to be more bizarre than her taste in fashion.  However, it was Bjork’s seminal vision that first captured my imagination towards all things Icelandic. When I finally made it to Iceland I was thrilled to discover that Bjork was not the exception, but the norm. Iceland’s population is a mere 320,000, but within that small population, there is a dense amount of creativity.

The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010 generated a lot of hype about Iceland (mainly the travel delays it caused across Europe), and rather than see the eruption as a tourist detraction, the government chose to see it as a tourist opportunity.  “Inspired by Iceland” is the campaign that formed while the dust of Eyjafjallajokull was still settling over the island, and launched it in hopes of showcasing all the things that make Iceland unique, and well inspiring (if you haven’t already seen the campaign’s video: http://vimeo.com/12236680) . Rather than push the rest of the world away, Iceland sought to bring it closer. Icelandair was at the forefront of the campaign, and subsequently opened up a number of new routes to Keflavik International airport, including one from Denver. I jumped at the opportunity, and quickly revised my upcoming transatlantic travel to include a stopover in Iceland.  I would highly recommend revamping your travel plans as well if you have a chance to experience the land of ice and fire. However, Iceland should not merely be considered a stopover. My time there was brief, unexpected, and amazing. Iceland is a country of contrasts, and just when you think you’ve wrapped your head around its paradox, you discover something completely new, and unlike anywhere else you’ve ever been. 155948_10100109816638704_2020637784_n

I arrived to Keflaviik airport in the wee hours of the morning, and as the fog was lifting from the moonscape I continued to look at the map on the airport shuttle to remind myself of where I was: teetering on the edge of the North American and Eurasian plates, at the confluence of the Artic and North Atlantic oceans, and in the midst of tremendous geothermal and volcanic activity. If you’re looking for an introduction to the geography of Iceland and are pressed for time, the Golden Circle tour visits Gulfoss waterfall, the original Geysir, and Þingvellirn national park. I booked my tour with Iceland Greyline Tours in the offseason (http://www.grayline.is/Tours.aspx?TourCatId=3&Tourid=69), and opted for a Viking horse ride in the am. If you’re booking in the offseason, I may advise against the Icelandic horse ride. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting atop a muscular, squatty, and even-keeled Icelandic horse, but it was not worth it to brave the elements in a highly attractive fluorescent orange jumpsuit. In keeping with the theme of Iceland’s natural wonders, I’d recommend a trip to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is extremely overpriced and touristy, but if this is something you will do once or twice in your lifetime, why not splurge? It was worth every penny to soak in silica rich, milky blue water in the middle of a lava field while watching snow fall.

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I stayed at the uber hip KEX hostel, and like everything else in Reykjavik, KEX’s attention to color and detail is impeccable. I felt like I had stepped into the pages of an Anthropologie catalogue, and everyone that I encountered was thoughtfully dressed and just so happened to be a member of three bands and write their own poetry. I stumbled into the hub of creative activity at Kaffismiðja, a cozy coffee shop just down the hill from Iceland’s tallest building, Hallgrimskira. My cappuccino was amazing, which I would partially attribute to their La Marzocco espresso machine, but I’ll also dole out points to the baritsta for her beautiful cappuccino art. After my morning fuel, I took a walking tour of the world’s Northernmost capital, and happily found myself sidetracked by the milieu of shops and galleries along Laugavegur street. Once you’ve finished perusing the galleries on the street, stop in at the Icelandic Phallological Museum where you can expect to see a full range of penises from the “real Moby dick” (a blue whale’s penis), to the penis bone of a hamster. To wrap up the walking tour, do not miss Olafur Eliasson’s Harpa concert hall. The building is currently contending for my top spot of architectural gems, and I found myself visiting multiple times a day just to experience the effects of changing light on the building. The building is also spectacular at night when the panes of glass are lit up with different colored LED lights. After the Northern lights, it’s the best light show in Iceland.

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In addition to the natural wonders it boasts, Iceland also has an impressive nightlife fueled by great music and no time constraints. In the four nights that I stayed at Kex, there was live music every night.  While taking in the sights and sounds, I had time to catch up with my long-lost friend from Reykjavik, Gisli. We exchanged small talk over Viking beers, and while talking, I couldn’t help but notice that he kept glancing over his shoulder. I asked if he was distracted by something, and he simply replied that it’s a habit most people from Reykjavik develop. Chances are, wherever they go, they’re going to know someone. Truth be told, he was on a basketball team with our bartender, and went to elementary school with the guitarist. Oh, and he knew Bjork. This gesture prompted another segue into the insularity of Iceland. Not only does everyone know everyone, but they’re most likely related. Iceland is one of the most genetically homogenous countries in the world, and if you’re wagering against this, you may want to check out The Book of Icelanders first at http://www.islendingabok.is . This website has genealogy records of virtually everyone in Iceland , so if you’re wanting to avoid incest, or see how many generations separate you Bjork Guðmundsdóttir, it’s quite the useful tool.

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