If you’ve met or spoken to me in the last two years you quickly learn a few things about me. Aside from the glaringly obvious (short, bald, the presence of bacon in my mouth), one thing that ends up sticking out is my enthusiastic obsession with Iceland. This is usually met with one of two reactions: Those who have been to Iceland get just as excited as me and we furiously back-and-forth stories and lists of the amazing things, places, and people we saw from our time spent there. Those who haven’t yet been there normally cock their heads and respond with “Why Iceland?” Thinking it some barren, freezing wasteland with nothing to do or see.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting this amazing country 4 times in the last two years: 3 of them while on the way to Europe, using Icelandair’s amazing stopover deal, and once solely to visit Iceland itself. I’ve been to Iceland twice in the summer and twice in the winter. Two of those times were short stints in Reykjavik while the other two were week-long adventures into the north and the west, respectively. I can say with some confidence that I’ve seen a wide swath of what Iceland has to offer, and it leaves me amazed, content, and in a state of wonder.
And yet, I have yet to really write about my experiences on this blog. Sure, my Instagram is rife with photographic evidence of the wonders that are to be found , but it’s taken me this long to really sit down and use words to answer the question:
The answer I’m going to give is very much in the context of who I am and where I’m from, but I hope it resonates with others nonetheless.
As a born-and-bred resident of New York City, Iceland is particularly appealing: in fact, I think of it as the antithesis to NYC. In population density alone, the difference borders on ridiculous. NYC’s average population density is approximately 26,400 people per square mile. Iceland’s? 7.5 people per square mile. Perhaps one of Iceland’s best qualities is that it’s the perfect environment for an american to experience solitude without loneliness. The combination of amazing things to see, an English-speaking population, and a nigh-absence of crime makes it ideal for a person’s first solo venture into a foreign country.
In a more general sense, I think of Iceland as a place of incredible contrast; of beautiful and not-at-all cliche juxtaposition. Famously called the land of “Fire and Ice,” It’s also the land of moss and rock, rainbows and seaside cliffs, blue skies and northern lights, calm scenery and volatile weather. It’s an incredibly safe society thriving alongside a (sometimes) dangerous natural environment.
It’s a place I’ve grown to love deeply, in many ways. It’s my sanctuary; only a five hour flight away from subway delays, sirens, buskers, crowds, work, and stress.
I’ve made some incredible friends along the way as well. Icelanders, seemingly stoic when you first meet them, belie an intense sentimentality for their country, their family, their friends, and their work. I know that many of my Icelandic friends will be friends for life.
Adding further to the contrast: The art, culture, food and music of this isolated and raw land can be one of amazing sophistication. Nordic sensibilities shine here: it’s a place that welcomes good design, experimental music, and adventurous foodies.
While we’re on the subject of food: Iceland’s food culture is a curious mix of myriad foreign influences as well as an immutable core of ingredients and preparations that connects it to the land and the things that come from it. Puffin, Minke Whale, Horse and Sheep are prepared alongside the bounty that comes from the sea, making for amazing surf n’ turf combinations that you won’t find anywhere else. Budding microbreweries are producing amazing beers as well, and the coffee scene in Iceland gives NYC a run for its money, featuring a characteristically lighter roast that nordic roasters are known for.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about and sharing some of my more memorable experiences from Iceland, but I felt the need to set the tone with this post first. I hope you find it to be a decent answer to the original question.