As if the British weather in February wasn’t cool enough, our Marketing Officer Toria recently migrated north to even cooler climes in Iceland (and we don’t mean the supermarket!!). Here’s how she got on…
Things I thought I knew about Iceland before I left England:
1. Iceland ironically has less snow than Greenland
2. The sheep population is higher than the human population
3. People in Iceland eat whale
4. Reykjavik is possibly one of the most expensive places you will ever visit
Now, only a couple of those Icelandic ‘facts’ are actually accurate (number 4 without a doubt). The truth is, I hardly knew anything about Iceland, the culture or history until I went there for a five-day trip.
Upon landing in Reykjavik international airport, my initial reaction was something of shock. It looked as if we had just taken a space ship to Mars! The 50-minute bus ride from the airport to central Reykjavik took us through mile after mile of lava fields, which were baron and lifeless, covered in dark soil and scattered with giant volcanic rocks. Occasionally you would pass a lonely-looking corrugated metal hut, the only indicator of any human existence for miles! Then, out of nowhere, you are surrounded by the modest apartments and Scandi-style houses of the small city of Reykjavik.
Once we’d dropped off our suitcases in our cosy Airbnb apartment, we headed down to the harbour for a whale watching boat tour. The captain equipped all passengers on the boat with head-to-toe insulated overalls, which seemed more than necessary once we were greeted with the icy sea wind only 10 minutes out of the harbour. A thick fog descended and very soon all that was visible was the sea surrounding the boat – a very unnerving experience. Although it didn’t take long until we spotted the dorsal fin of a white-beaked dolphin and her calf, as they playfully swam alongside the boat. Unfortunately, this would be the only marine life we would see on the trip, but the tour guide more than made up for this as he informed us that only 3% of Icelandic people actually eat whale. In fact, it was the tourists that visited Iceland who demanded this rare delicacy.
The next day we visited the National Museum of Iceland, eager to learn more about this small island’s history and culture. It transpires that the Icelandic population is made up of Scandinavian and Gaelic decedents, with 80% of the male population originating from Scandinavian Viking settlers and 60% of the female population originating from the British Isles taken as thralls or wives. At this time, 25% of the island was populated with trees, compared to the measly 1% today. The government has taken steps to re-forest the island in recent years, by introducing conifers to Iceland. The white birch is the only tree naturally found on the island.
The Golden Circle day trip provided us with more insight into the magnificent landscapes and natural phenomena on the island. The 8-hour bus journey started at the Friðheimar greenhouse cultivation centre, where they are growing pesticide-free tomatoes and cucumbers with the aid of Iceland’s geothermal heat. The soil on the island isn’t suitable for growing vegetables, so the tomato plants are dangling from the ceiling watered by irrigation systems and pollinated by bumble bees transported in a box from the Netherlands.
We then travelled across mountainous terrane to a Geysir geothermal area where the Strokkur geyser shoots a column of water up to 30 metres (98 ft.) into the air every 4-8 minutes in a thrilling display of nature’s forces. The tour continued to Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, created by the river Hvítá, which tumbles and plunges into a crevice some 32 m (105 ft.) deep. Finally, we travelled to Thingvellir National Park, where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimetres per year.
Iceland’s constant volcanic and tectonic activity means that the landscape is ever-changing and transforming. It is such a new Island in a historical sense, that it seems as if the small community of Reykjavik (the majority of the entire population of Iceland) are still developing and shaping their cultural identity. It’s an exciting, quirky, fresh city to be in, and I would recommend to anyone looking for a unique, outdoorsy holiday destination.