6 things Iceland doesn’t have.

Posted on 28. Apr, 2016 by in Icelandic culture

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Cuando los sueños se hacen realidad by Andrés Nieto Porras at Flickr.

Even though Iceland has many awesome things to offer, some things you might take for granted it just doesn’t have. This might come as a surprise on many occasions so be prepared in advance because occasionally our lack of something may have a huge effect on your stay. Iceland does compensate for what it doesn’t have with what it does have, but it’s still good to know what is not here and whether or not you should take that into account.

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Minør by Andrew Bowden at Flickr.

Trains

Public transport in Iceland means buses and buses only. There are no trains, let alone trams or underground trains, so just in case you thought to travel around using the public transport you may have to reconsider. Buses do take you around the island but they don’t run that often, are expensive and within Reykjavík often uncomfortable, and let’s not even talk about the connections. The connections don’t exist. My SO once considered taking a bus to work but gave up when he realized that a 10min drive would take more than half an hour on the bus and include one change of bus on the way.

If you’re planning on traveling on the countryside by bus, read the schedules carefully! Some days there may be a connection only halfway, so when you get to your bus changing stop you may have to wait for your connecting bus to the next day (I’m not kidding, if you’re traveling south coast further than Vík make sure you’re traveling on the right day or you’ll be stuck at Vík).

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Isn’t it amazing that Ronald McDonald never has gained weight by Steve Baker at Flickr.

McDonalds

When Iceland’s economy went belly-up McD jumped ship first and has never been seen again. Most likely they were only happy to go, considering how fiendishly complicated Icelandic taxation is in comparison to the American one. I assume that it’s much for the same reason that we don’t have Starbucks either.

We do have Dunkin’ Donuts, IKEA and Lindex though! You should have seen the queues when they first opened.

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Happy dog by scott feldstein at Flickr.

Rabies

Wait, that’s wonderful news right? Right? Well, yes, as long as you don’t plan to move in and take your dog with you. The quarantine period for your friend is long, lonely and expensive, you have to prepare well in advance for it, make sure all necessary vaccinations are taken and within the time windows given, and book a place for your pet at a quarantine station. There’s no way around it.

There’s also nothing to compensate rabies with, unless horrible fairytale monsters count. They can also kill you and much, much faster! Trolls, skugga-baldurs and skoffíns and many, many more.

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Royal Python by The Reptilarium at Flickr.

Snakes and lizards

Yup, we have none. Sadly this means you’re not allowed to bring in one either. What we do have is plenty of ground nesting birds and introducing any type of an animal that feeds on them might cause a disaster if it managed to escape.

This one we compensate by having a huge dragon/lake monster instead, but be careful if you happen to see it… it’s a 100% carnivore and occasional humans are an acceptable meal if old stories are to be believed.

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Viking by Hans Splinter at Flickr.

Vikings

No, Icelanders are not vikings by ethnicity, because being a viking was never an ethnicity… it was a job. Any person who decided to get on a longship and sail over to Europe was a viking, and once they came back they were no longer vikings unless the plan was to head out again. No one is going a-viking any longer (with the exception of some politicians, but even they rather take money out of the country than bring it in).  (This paragraph has been reworded a little for clarity, because Gina and Armann made a really good point in the comments section.)

What we do have instead are Medieval re-enactors! You can usually see them in any kind of a big gathering, holiday or a Medieval-related occasion, decked out in their best and teaching children the basics of axe throwing and sword fights. Best time to catch some of them is the annual Viking festival in the town of Hafnarfjörður right below Reykjavík at hotel/restaurant Fjörukráin (link).

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Light Night Show by Andrés Nieto Porras at Fllickr.

Aurora

Well, to be honest we do have aurora, we just don’t always have it. Summertime aurora cruises may be waste of money: first of all aurora are far more common during the winter and secondly it barely gets dark here during the summer. The night is nightless, so light that whatever aurora there might be would be completely light-hidden. Even in the winter there’s never any guarantee that they’ll be on, with aurora all depends on luck.

Instead we have a lovely night sky. Amazing all around the year when the weather’s clear, from the colourful autumn sunsets to winter stars to spring rainbows to summer light, the vast openness of this country and how far apart the towns are means that you’ll easily get a nice view. I recommend driving outside of the city for night sky viewing, especially the winter and Milky Way are a lovely sight!

5 stubborn presidents of Iceland.

Posted on 21. Apr, 2016 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic history

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Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson by PopTech at Flickr.com

The president of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, has been in the news this week a lot after he announced he would run again in the next elections. He’s already among the 20 longest ruling non-monarch national leaders currently in office so his decision has raised some eyebrows over here, especially since it came but a few months after he announced he’d be stepping down. Even so Iceland actually has always had a tendency to choose a president and stick with that one for a while, so perhaps there’s nothing out of ordinary happening here after all. 😀

Let’s have a look at all five presidents that have ruled Iceland since its independence in 1944.

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Sveinn Björnsson at Wikimedia Commons.

Sveinn Björnsson

Sveinn actually started ruling Iceland long before his first election as president in 1944: between years 1941-1944 he served as Regent of Iceland. As the first president ever he was only elected for one year, but at the following two elections he was unopposed. Who knows how many times he would have been re-elected had he not died a year before his third term ended, making him thus far the only president to die in office here in Iceland.

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Ásgeir Ásgeirsson at Wikimedia Commons.

Ásgeir Ásgeirsson

Ásgeir, the second president of Iceland, sat in office from 1952 to 1968 which is 16 years in total. He was the first president ever chosen by popular vote; Sveinn before him was first elected by the Alþing (= parliament) and for the two following terms chosen for lack of opponents. Like Sveinn, once in office Ásgeir was chosen for three more terms uncontested.

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Kristján Eldjárn at Wikimedia Commons.

Kristján Eldjárn

The third president was originally assumed to be Ásgeir’s son-in-law Gunnar Thoroddsen, but despite his popularity he lost to Kristján Eldjárn. Kristján took the office from 1968 to 1980 when something unprecedented happened but before we go to that, let’s look at Kristján. He was an archaeologist by education and hosted a popular tv show from 1966 to 1968 discussing some of the National Museum’s artifacts, which had made him quite well known by the time he ran for presidency. His two following terms he, too, was unopposed, it’s almost like Icelanders just liked to see a president do a trial run and if found acceptable, keep him. Or her, since what happened after Kristján decided against running a fourth time and devoted his life to academia –

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Vigdís Finnbogadóttir at Wikimedia Commons.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

– was Vigdís. She was the first democratically elected female president in the world, and like the previous three took the office for quite a long time, 16 years in total (1980-1996) which makes her the longest serving female president in the world. Unlike the others she was the first Icelandic president to be contested during her rule, once, in the 1988 elections that she regardless won by a landslide. After her last term she, too, decided to step down.

Other interesting details about her life include her f.ex. being active in protests against the American occupation, although this was some ten years before she became the president. She’s also Iceland’s first single woman allowed to adopt a child, and interestingly while she was running for presidency for the first time she was also a divorced single mother! Currently she’s a UNESCO goodwill ambassador.

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Ólafur Ragnar by Michael Wuertenberg at Wikimedia Commons.

Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson

We’ve finally made it from all the way from WW2 to the present moment and we only needed five stops to get here. Ólafur’s the most stubborn office sitter of them all with 19 years under his belt and plans to have some more. He’s ran twice uncontested, three times contested, then in January this year announced he’d be stepping down after his last term… and recently changed his mind when our PM Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson caused massive political instability to the country by his part in the Panama Papers scandal (link).

Ólafur is the first Icelandic president to wield the presidential veto power, causing the Independence Party to try to campaign for removing that power from the president. For most part the position of the president of Iceland is largely ceremonial so whether it’s Ólafur Ragnar or someone else probably doesn’t make a huge difference (aside of his by Icelandic standards unusual tendency to veto). Time will tell if he’ll be chosen for the sixth term, if he’ll even be contested, I know that the general feel of Icelanders after his announcement was an automatic “ok, so he’s in for one more term”. Maybe Icelanders just really don’t like to change their presidents often. 😀

spring

Meanwhile Iceland has entered summer as of today. This year 21st April is Sumardagurinn fyrsti (= first summer day) which is a national holiday based on the Old Icelandic calendar (notice that the blog post is from a few years back, Icelandic calendar’s months start at a different date + same week day every year). It starts the month of Harpa and means that now, finally, the winter is definitely over and won’t be seen again before mid-October when Gormánuður begins. All snowing that might happen in between is summer-snow!

Nauthólsvík, a little paradise

Posted on 14. Apr, 2016 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs

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Building a Sand Castle by Helgi Halldórsson at Flickr.

Warm sea and golden sands don’t probably come to mind as the first thing when thinking about Iceland. Yet despite everything, mostly due to the Icelandic spirit of “why not?” we do have both… in one location. Both equally artificial too, since the north Atlantic is not warm by any standard at any time of the year and usually most of the Icelandic beaches are lava sand and therefore black (with a few exceptions in the north-west Iceland).

Icelanders don’t exactly lack in warm swimming places to begin with either. All swimming halls in this country are so well heated you’ll feel tired very soon if you try actually swimming in them. The locals use swimming halls a great deal for soaking in hot tubs instead, it’s a form of relaxation and a perfect chance to exchange the latest gossip. An occasional foreigner will be immediately questioned about their origins and most importantly what they think about Iceland. And yet, in the year 2000 someone had an idea and all of a sudden Nauthólsvík in Reykjavík had the aforementioned beach.

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Íslandsmót Securitas í sjósundi by Helgi Halldórsson at Flickr.

Nauthólsvík, originally a farm built in 1850 that was burned in the beginning of 1900 due to typhoid fever breakout, had already been a swimming area long before the 2000’s. The WW2 saw much military action in the area when it was used f.ex. as an airport for hydroplanes, and as a result the sea became so polluted that swimming in the area was banned for health reasons. The idea of using Nauthólsvík as a beach had already surface though, and for a while Nauthólsvík did have a little hot spring pool that was indeed quite popular, until 1985 when it was closed… but not for long. The seaside was cleaned and Nauthólsvík re-opened for sunbathing and swimming. The golden sand was imported, and as such creates a strong contrast between Nauthólsvík and the surrounding lava sand beaches. Best of all, there’s now both an open air hot tub and another one that’s used for warming up the water in a small, man-made lagoon.

While sea water tends to stay at 12-16°C/54-61°F, the hot tub stays a comfortable 38°C/101°F. It’s easy to locate too, just check where most of the people are crowded! The water is actually first used for warming up houses in Reykjavík and is then sent to warm the beach. Right next to the hot tub opens the lagoon with water noticeably warmer than the sea sitting just behind it. Besides sunbathing and swimming the area is excellent for jogging and, obviously, sailing. Swimming in the sea is in fact popular throughout the year here, even during winter when the sea temperature is much lower than 12-16°C.

We visited Nauthólsvík just last weekend! The tide was out so swimming was out of question, but the beach is a beautiful place for walks and excellent for just relaxing and killing time.

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The water was so low that the edge of the lagoon was visible. If the tide was higher this part would be underwater.

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The view out to sea. A little way away all that light, golden sand turns back into familiar black lava.

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This rope is here to help people both descend and ascend from the lower part. There’s a small yet steep drop and the wet rocks are slippery. When the tide is in water comes up all the way to the top of the seaweed growth on the rocks.

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Another look at the rocks. Above the seaweed layer is a layer of barnacles, I was thinking of coming back here when the tide was up just to see how different the place would look. It would also be fun to swim here – well, maybe, I’m really bad with cold water… 😀

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I found an awesome starfish! Alas, it was dead, but at least I got a great photo with it. I also found a few pretty shells.

What to keep in mind when swimming in Nauthólsvík

  • Don’t let children out of view; it’s banned to let small children alone for even a moment here
  • Don’t stay in too long and always swim along the beach, never directly out to sea
  • A lot depends on the tide. When it’s out the lagoon is almost drained, when it’s in it brings more cold water from the Atlantic, lowering the temperature of the lagoon

Some beach vocabulary. With Icelandic you can easily broaden your vocabulary by selecting a few “target words”, f.ex. sjór or sund, and then find out as many compound words that start with those two as you can.

Sjór = sea
Haf = sea
Sjávarloft = sea air
Hafgola = sea breeze
Sjósund = swimming in the sea
Heitur pottur = lit transl. hot pot, a hot tub
Sundbolur = bathing suit
Sundbuxur = swimming trunks
Handklæði = a towel