Reykjaví­k, Iceland

Now I’m spending some time in Iceland on my way back to the US. Iceland Air has a cool deal where you can stop over in Iceland for up to a week on any trans-atlantic flight for no extra charge, so that’s what I’m doing. I’ve been interested in going to Iceland for a long time, it’s always seemed like a really intriguing country, for a lot of reasons. It’s one of the last great unspoiled wilderness areas in Europe, with very little pollution since almost all power is geothermal. It’s got the oldest democracy in the world, and a lot of cool Vikingish history. The language is relatively unchanged from the old Norse dialect of the first Icelandic settlers. Due to its isolation, there’s very little genetic variation, both in the human population and in the animals like sheep and horses (which are supposed to still be the pure Viking breed). It’s a really highly educated country that seems to have an effect on world culture that’s way out of proportion with its small population (I think less than 250,000), in art and liturature and especially music. I seem to have a thing for icelandic music for some reason. Everybody knows Bjork but there’s also Sigur Ros and Múm, and more obscure artists like Jóhann Jóhannsson, Stafrænn Hákon, Hilmar Om Hilmarsson, the Kitchen Motors artists, etc. Anyway, I’ve always wondered how a country a quarter the size of San Francisco can churn out so much interesting stuff.

The main thing that struck me initially about Iceland is how barren it is. 25% of the island used to be forested, but a millenium of humans cutting down trees for fuel has decreased that to less than 1%. So there are no trees anywhere in the countryside at all, at least in the parts I’ve seen so far. It’s just miles of dark volcanic plains and mountains covered in shrubs and mosses. Iceland is known for the diversity of its landscape though, and I think other areas are supposed to be more lush. But the lack of trees is kinda good because you can see the geology that much better. In the little I’ve seen so far, there’s some pretty amazing, spectacular scenery. Iceland is all volcanic, and it seems to have every type of volcanic rock formation you can imagine from huge volcanic cones and craters to black ash deserts (Iceland is home to Europe’s biggest desert and as well as Europe’s biggest glacier), massive lava fields and great mesas of layered volcanic rock. It’s a difficult place to describe, but it’s been consistently amazing so far. It would be a great place to come back to some time to hike and camp for a couple weeks.

The other main thing that struck me upon arriving in Iceland is that all of the cars in Reykjavík look like cars you’d find in America. It’s all American and Japanese cars, with not many of the Renaults, Opels, and Fiats you get in the rest of Europe (though they do exist here). And no tiny little weird cars. People in Iceland drive huge cars. There are tons of huge SUVs and pickup trucks, which probably is more justified in Iceland than in California considering a good percentage of the roads here are only passable from June-August. In the rest of Europe I saw probably less than 10 SUVs. Iceland really does seem to be halfway between Europe and America. There are lots of random american fast-food chains here that you cant find in the rest of europe (for you PDI people: Quiznos exists in Iceland).

Reykjavík itself was a nice place, but felt very small. Half the population of Iceland lives there, but it didnt feel like that. The central area reminded me in some ways of Carmel or Sonoma: small, with tons of fancy, expensive stores, old people, and not much to do. It’s a really new town, which only grew to its current size after the US had a naval base nearby in world war II. So all the buildings are very recent (the oldest building in all of iceland dates from the late 1700s), and there arnt a lot of toursity, hostorical kinds of things to do. Most of the touristy stuff in Iceland is nature, and is outside the city. It does have lots of bars and clubs, and a famously wild nightlife, so its not totally boring. It is very expensive. I think between Helsinki, London and Iceland, I may spend as much in a week and a half as I did for my whole first month and a half in eastern europe.

The sun sets here around 11:30 and comes up about 3:00, but it never really gets dark at all. I’m writing this just after 1:00am, and it’s still really bright out. It’s confusing. I find myself having dinner at like 11:00 because I think its a lot earlier (and going to internet cafes at 1am). But I can take pictures 24hrs a day, so that’s cool. But i do get confused about when to go to bed, which I think I need to do now.

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  1. Becca
    Jun 8th, 2005at2:18 pm

    I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland!!!! I’m jealous.
    See you soon!

  2. Robyn
    Jun 8th, 2005at7:29 pm

    What’s this… site ‘I’? Man, I hope they’ll take my filled up Q card.

  3. Ian
    Jun 9th, 2005at7:23 am

    Did you visit the island the government gave Bjork? Did you visit Mum’s lighthouse? Did you see Poor Leno?
    These are the questions American fans of Icelandic music demand answers to.


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