Did you know that Icelanders are descended from Viking immigrants from the UK, who got pushed out of Ireland by angry, blood thirsty Celts in the 9th century?
According to the writings of an Irish scholar in AD 825 there may have been hermits living alone on this island beforehand, but scholars are uncertain now whether the word translated to ‘hermit’ from old English may actually mean a number of other words instead, including ‘nipple’.
Coincidentally Old English nearly identical in form to Icelandic. It’s interesting to observe that the Viking settlers and the native Britons meshed together so much that the result was two cultures separated by water and not a lot else, at the very least we are distant cousins of the Icelanders, who are equally close to their more overbearing (meaning Iceland was part of Denmark until after the First World War) Nordic routes.
… it’s notorious for being rather expensive to visit, but you’ve got to hand it to them …
Everything in Iceland is imported which is why it’s notorious for being rather expensive to visit, but you’ve got to hand it to them: the natives have a remarkable ability to make the most out of next to nothing, which reflects in their culture, humour (it’s as dry as the air there) and their general resilience. For instance they eat dried fish, and a strange delicacy of rotting fish, Hákarl, which can be kept for months on end, yum.
Their folk tales are more humorous anecdotes of Elves, old crones and nuns getting into trouble. Before departing for Iceland we found out that a major road project in Iceland has had to be stopped whilst they do an environmental impact assessment in regards to the Elf population. Apparently 60% of Iceland’s population believes in Elves. This is brilliant.
He’s awesome and might even let you try some of his lavish chocolate brownie and ice cream pudding …
If you’re lucky you will meet the man that does the ‘Experience Iceland’ campaign on the tube. He just wanders around Iceland talking to people about Iceland. He’s awesome and might even let you try some of his lavish chocolate brownie and ice cream pudding if you stare at it for long enough.
If you come with a budget of £5000 or over (we can dream) go to the Fish Market Restaurant. It has amazing freshly caught fish and bazaar local delicacies such as Puffin and Blue Whale. Notably this was the most expensive meal I’ve ever watched another person pay for.
Things you must do on your visit:
1. Go on a tour. There’s no point in going to Iceland if you just stay in the urban areas. It doesn’t matter where you go, go horse riding, visit the Blue Lagoon; just don’t stay in the city.
2. Eat some fish, preferably good fish. If you splash out once on a meal then make sure it’s fish.
3. Go to the 871 +/- 2 Viking Museum. It’s built on top of an excavation of a real Viking settler house, which looks like an upside down boat for obvious reasons I think? It lies in the basement and there’s a lovely man working in the gift shop who will tell you a wonderful story about a lamb bone and a poem, which I cannot repeat here. All the items in the gift shops at both this museum and the National Museum are made by locals or independent Icelandic shops. There are tea cozy dolls for sale that are made by an old lady who lives in the mountains and does nothing all day but make them.
4. Browse the shops in Reykjavík (definitely go to GAGA Skorrdal which is tucked way on a corner just off the town centre) and look at all the local wool work, then find a nice coffee shop, sit in it and eat Skyr (yummy Icelandic yogurt).
5. It’s ok to wear fur here: it’s cold.
6. Chase the Northern Lights. Apparently the best time to see them is February/March and September. We were there for 4 nights and I believed so hard that we found them, so it clearly just takes a bit of faith. It is the most breath taking experience and I recommend everyone try it at least once (as if you have a choice!).
7. If you can get there go and stay in the peninsula containing Hotel Budir for a night, it’s in the middle of nowhere at the end of the world. The food is great and the entire place is decorated with beautiful pictures and taxidermy birds wearing scarves. Incidentally the Icelandic are big on taxidermy.