Iceland | The Land of Fire and Ice

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We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
Led Zeppelin

Iceland is hands down one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen. After our brief stopover in July, it rocketed up the list of our favorite places.

Quick aside: Have you heard of Iceland Air’s free stopover? En route either to or from Europe you can stopover in Reykjavík for up to 7 days at no extra charge. With flight prices just a tad higher than those of the other airlines, it was an obvious decision for us. Friends and family – sounds like the perfect thing to do on your way to visit us.

From our walking tour of Reykjavík to our guided tour of the Golden circle, I feel like we learned all sorts of fascinating tidbits about Iceland. Wanna hear?

  • Iceland is nicknamed the land of fire and ice, and it couldn’t be more appropriate. 11% of the island is covered in volcanoes and 11% is covered in glaciers. The remaining is covered in lava rocks, hot springs, and about 600 varieties of the greenest moss.
  • There are about 325,000 people living in Iceland. 150,000 of those live in Reykjavík and that jumps up to 220,000 if you include Reykjavík’s suburbs. That means 2/3 of the entire population of Iceland lives in Reykjavík and its suburbs.
  • Icelanders begin learning English at age 6. As if two languages weren’t enough, they will also start learning Danish at 7 and then will usually pick up a fourth language before or in college. Every single Icelander we met spoke perfect English, and often with only the slightest hint of an accent. It was impressive.
  • The hot water comes from all the hot springs on the island, and provides super cheap heating for all the Icelanders. Word of warning, the water retains that super awesome sulphuric smell. So don’t be shocked when your shower smells slightly of rotten eggs. Don’t worry though, the smell goes away almost immediately once the water is turned off and you won’t be sporting any lingering effects either.
  • The tap water is some of the cleanest in the world. It doesn’t have any special taste, and that’s the beauty behind it. It’s just perfectly natural, clean tasting water. It’s delicious – drink lots while you are in town.
  • As you would expect with an island that has to import almost everything, alcohol can be quite expensive. Because the alcohol is so expensive, the locals like to drink at home before meeting up at the bars. Plus toss in the fact that Icelanders like to party late, and it means that you will be (a) the only person in the bar at 10PM, or (b) one of a group of tourists in a bar at 10PM. The streets were almost empty at 11:30PM, but were hopping when we were heading home at 3AM. The flip side of these late nights? Almost nothing seemed open until at least 10AM, so enjoy a late night out and then sleep in.
  • More than half the population believes in elves. Supposedly there is a law that requires companies filing a building application to include a letter from an elf medium confirming that the building would not disturb any elves living in the area. This is a magical land, so whose to say they don’t exist. Given how beautiful the Icelandic population is, if they do exist I’ll bet they all look like Legolas.

Shortly after arriving in Brussels last year, I stumbled on Kaelene’s blog, and then proceeded to silently stalk it for months.  A few months further down the road a trip was booked, and instead of stalking it became “researching”. I’m pretty sure Jared got sick of the constant links I sent him with “let’d do this!” or “oh my gosh, we have to go here”. And yet, despite that all that, due to our crazy work schedules, we landed in Iceland with ideas but nary a plan.

That first morning, we grabbed a table at Café Paris and planned out our three days. A day in Reykjavík – check. A tour of the Golden Circle – check. Some relaxing at the Blue Lagoon – big check. With the agenda settled, we headed out to explore Reykjavík.

Despite being late July, the weather in Reykjavík was a bit schizophrenic as the sun dipped in and out of the cloud banks. One moment we would be shivering, wishing that we’d packed warmer clothes, and then the next we would be pulling off our sweaters as fast as we could.

We strolled up Skólavörðustígur towards Hallgrímskirkja.

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Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland. It’s a plain church – a far cry from the super ornate churches you typically find in Europe – but that simplicity is quite beautiful. Inside the church is one of the most unique organs I have seen to date.

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After checking that out, we jumped in line for what is most definitely the biggest draw of this church: the best view in Reykjavík.

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Isn’t it gorgeous? The brightly colored roofs and buildings are so stinking cute – it’s almost too much to handle.

Back safely on the ground, we made our way down to the harbor.

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The glass structure above is the Harpa, a concert hall  and conference center which opened in 2011. When the financial crisis hit, Harpa was only partially constructed and the money to finish the building was gone. And so, the government stepped in and funded the remaining portion and a few years later it was completed. The plan was to develop the whole area and add a luxury hotel and shopping, but right now it’s just cleared land.

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I’m convinced that Iceland has the most sculptures per square foot than anywhere else in the world – they are seriously all over the city.

Eventually we turned back inland, and headed up to the cemetery. Our tour guide told us that it is tradition to plant a tree when someone dies. Add in the dampness of the air, and what has resulted is these eerily beautiful cemeteries where moss-covered graves are canopied by hundreds of trees. I quite like this tradition.

DSC05230-34 DSC05236-35 DSC05237-36 DSC05240-37 DSC05242-38After a long day of walking and a brief visit to a food festival, we decided to kick up our feet and spend the rest of our day enjoying some of Iceland’s local brews.

2014-07-27 19.16.38-1192014-07-029-32With day one in the books, we eagerly looked forward to day two’s agenda: Golden Circle.

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