If you haven’t figured it out from reading my blog, I’ll just come out and say it. I’m obsessed with Iceland!!! I think about going there at least once a day, I have dreams about it, and I have developed an odd enthusiasm for Icelandic products. You may think it strange that someone could spend 72 hours in a place and it subsequently consume their thoughts. It would make more sense if it were somewhere exotic like Bali, or Madagascar but brrrr, it’s cold in Iceland and expensive, and barren and weird…which is why I fell in love.
I recently finished reading Names For the Sea (for which apparently there are 12 of in Icelandic) by Sarah Moss about the year she spent living in Iceland with her young family, teaching english at the university. Although some of the things I read surprised me, as a whole it was fascinating. My husband and I often talk about selling everything and moving to Europe. We debate where we would live and what we would do and Iceland does creep onto the list. I’m not sure it’s somewhere I could commit to living long term, but a year…sure!
The amazing thing about Iceland is that it it’s essentially at the Arctic Circle, yet they have distinct seasons. Yes it is always on the chilly side, and as Sarah says in her book, and I experienced first hand, you never leave the house without a sweater, even in August! The other thing that stays with me is the unique and almost painfully beautiful landscapes. It was the mossy rocks, they cast a spell on me…wait, maybe the elves did that! I was buying all natural toothpaste the other day and when I read one of the ingredients on the Kiss My Face one was Icelandic moss I put it in my basket and walked on without a second thought. Why wouldn’t I want to brush my teeth with that beautiful moss?
It’s difficult to describe, and if you’re a lover of beaches and palm trees then Iceland may not be for you. But I love mountains and snow, and seeing those windswept lava fields just worked for me. Think of the blackest rock you’ve ever seen, and spread that out in a ripple pattern for miles on end, and then cover it with bright green moss that screams life. Get a ray of sun shining on it, smell the water vaporizing in the air and that is just the beginning.
Here are a few things I noticed on my trip, and/or found really interesting in Sarah’s book.
On Recycling: Iceland is essentially 99% carbon neutral. They advertise this on the plane going over. Yet apparently recycling your used goods onto someone else is just not a thing that is done. If you look on Craigslist for Reykjavik, there’s almost nothing for sale. This is because Icelanders believe that once you’re done with something it’s finished, and should be completely discarded. God forbid you use something someone else previously owned. In my mind this goes against the idea of reducing your carbon footprint. If I have cheap Ikea bookshelves and I move house, I would certainly sell or give them away, vs. putting them in the dumpster.
On Grocery Shopping: You can’t really grow anything in Iceland, unless it’s in a greenhouse. The vast majority of the island is blanketed by lava flows or glaciers, although there is some arable farmland. So most of the food items have to come from somewhere else. And it’s not like here in Vancouver where my strawberries from Whole Foods were picked a day or two ago in California. No, in Iceland your food has probably been traveling at least a week, maybe two, or more? There are two major grocery stores in Iceland. Bonus, which you can’t miss because it’s got yellow signs with a pink drunk looking pig on it, and Hagkaup, which is the more posh market. Apparently stuff that doesn’t sell at Hagkaup goes to Bonus. I went into Bonus not knowing this. The produce was not very good, although I did end up with some awesome Icelandic feta. Most of the veggies we bought that weren’t imported were tasteless (greenhouse grown). The apples were from South Africa and were a bit mealy. And pretty much everything was processed and pre-packaged. Even the apples were in a package. If you wanted just one, take a hike. You had to buy a pre-wrapped package with 4 apples in it. You can’t look at them in the round to make sure they’re ok and get 4 you really want either. It’s a crap shoot.
On Elves: Yes, you are reading this correctly. Elves, elf in the singular, little woodland creatures who are known to help Santa out once a year or so. Well in Iceland they are treated like royalty. I want an Icelander to do an AMA on Reddit about this elf believing business, but for now I’ll go with it, because I did feel a strange connection to the Earth when I was there, so I can’t discount what others are feeling. Apparently the places where elves live are very important. Sarah shared her findings on this in her book and the most fascinating thing to me was that these people bought a house and just didn’t feel quite right about it, like it was haunted or something. So a person who speaks to elves came in, and discovered that the house had been built on top of where these elves had been living for like ever. So to make amends, she recommended putting a rock in the corner of the bathroom for the elf to feel like it had a place within the house, and then a larger rock was placed in the yard for the elf as well. Lucky elf, having a city house and a country house!
On Driving: Driving in Iceland is no sweat, my husband did it, jet lagged and sick. Once you’re out of Reykjavik you’re lucky if you pass 3 cars an hour on the road. But don’t expect Icelanders to use their turn signals. They don’t think anyone (including the person driving directly behind them) has a right to know where they’re going. And taking the bus. Please, that’s for students only. Bus service becomes limited in the summer months because there’s no demand for it. It’s a great place for tourists to drive though, because if you see something pretty you just pull over and take photos or enjoy the surroundings.
On Knitting: I’m not a knitter. I don’t have the patience for it. My hands are better used in the kitchen, but I respect those who choose to knit. In Iceland, you have to knit or you’re an outcast. Most girls join a knitting circle at a young age, and maintain some sort of connection with their circle throughout their lifetime. As someone who has pretty much lost contact with my friends from high school, I think that’s awesome! But this highlights the difficulty I imagine people face making friends in Iceland. Everyone has their group, they don’t need to extend it! So if you’re a knitter be sure to buy yarn in Iceland, and if you’re like me, buy some woollen goods! Icelandic wool is warm, water resistant and somewhat wind proof. They have special sheep you see.
On Fast Food: Iceland is the perfect place for bachelors with no desire to cook. The number of fast food outlets I saw there was staggering. Ones you’d never expect either. Subway, Taco Bell, KFC and something very puzzling called American Style. Seriously check out their menu, it’s awesome. Who doesn’t want a lobster burger! I guess globalization is the real deal now, but I had thought Iceland would be somewhat immune to it. Nope.
I could go on and on about the unique, quirky and fun things about Iceland. But I’ll stop, because it just makes me want to go back even more. I almost pulled the trigger on a weeklong road trip for June of this year, but opted for sunshine and the turquoise coast of Turkey instead. But I’ll be back. Seeing the northern lights over Esja is at the top of my bucket list!