Iceland's people are shaped by the land, and many are only two or three generations off the farms. There is an underlying sense of continuity born of centuries of self-sufficiency. This is a land, settled in the 800's, where almost everyone, for all time, could read.
Their heroes tend not to be politicians, but poets and warriors, often in one and the same person. They don't seem to name anything after politicians. Volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers and rivers punctuate the scenery.
Fishing and pasturing have always been important bases to their economy and survival. Early settlers are said to have depleted the forests. The introduction of sheep, as in other parts of the world, certainly prevent reforesting. Most Icelanders are only two or three generations away from farm life. The well-regarded Icelandic Horse with its great riding qualities is part of that agrarian heritage that had little reason to build good roads for wheeled vehicles until fairly recently.
The Gulf Stream brings warmth (and moisture) to moderate what would be a cold land; Iceland's average temperature is close to that of Wshington, D.C. Many homes and businesses get their heat and hot water from vast geothermal installations and some have their own local hot wells. Hot water is supplied to to the swimming pools that most towns and most schools have built and that are very popular; Icelanders will stop for a swim on the way to or from work. Hot tubs ("hot pots") are often just outside the back door to the house. A few years ago the streets in Rekjavik were repaved with steam pipes in them to melt snow and ice.
Gasoline is imported for tansportation but that's about the only use for petroleum. We were passed by a bus in Rekjavik in November '03 whose exhaust pipe near the roof seemed to fly a little banner of steam. It was one of the buses that run on hydrogen, and when we stopped at our usual gas station in Rekjasvik we discovered that the gas station has a refuel station for hydrogen vehicles. Electricity is generated by hydro and geothermal steam.
The Icelandic language is Germanic like English and a few roots become obvious with little scrutiny. In Icelandic Hus is house and Bondi is farmer or land owner. It's a small step to the English word - husband. Icelanders can easily read the 12th century Sagas, and these Sagas have gained some respect as history. The Saga describing some trips to Newfoundland around 1000 A.D. have been validated by the discovery of buildings sites, domestic goods and evidence of iron working for boat trepairs.
A driving tour of Iceland is a treat, one that offers a chance to sample some of the off-beat roads and stopping at a whim.- although driving in the interior requires 4 wheel drive. Roads are well marked, maps readily available, and Icelanders have a very good sense of the geography of their country and a willingness to help, so asking for directions always gets you to the next destination.
Escorted tours use different sized vehicles depending on the group size; the largest buses are smooth-riding, and always offer a scenic ride without the distraction of driving yourself on the way to your destination. We've travelled through the highlands in a ruggedized, all-wheel drive bus and were surprised by its very smooth ride
Iceland is a country that invites exploration and adventure.. Hikers, bikers, bird watchers, horse back riders and anglers are drawn to the valleys and mountains, coasts, fjords and highlands. Bird life is rich and varied - from huge Gyrfalcons and Skuas to little Puffins and Murrelets. Salmon and trout fishing is rated close to the world's best.
For many travelers the chance to step on a glacier or touch an iceberg is a unique attraction.
And being able to walk up to and onto a glacier may be a once in a lifetime experience.
A northern peninsula is formed from ancient oceanic sediment and is known for fossils.
Iceland is about the size of Ohio. There are less than three hundred thousand Icelanders and they live around the edges of the island. Like the rest of the world more and more are settling in urban areas.
Iceland's culture has been developing for over a thousand years on this island in the North Atlantic. An island that's been built in recent, (geologically recent), times by volcanoes. The volcanic ridge that splits Europe from America shows itself dramatically in many places across Iceland. Tradition says that the forests covering much of the land were cut down by the early Viking settlers. Sheep and volcanic fallout have, at least, stilted any forest's returning. With some husbandry and fences there are now a few forested places.
Of Ireland the Irish tourism people say "No one comes to Ireland for the weather" - Iceland is in the same boat! There have been afternoons we spent in shorts and T-shirts, they will always be the exception. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream bring a softening of the temperature, but all the green grasses, mosses and the many waterfalls of Iceland depend on its moisture. Warmth from the Gulf Stream gives Reykjavik an average winter temperature close to that of Washington, DC.
Volcanic energy heats homes, the warm water community swimming pools and back-country hot springs. With hot water available by drilling a hole, Iceland's cities and towns have large number of swimming pools, indoors and out, which are widely used year round. Much of the population of Iceland, especially those who live in and around the capitol city of Reykjavik enjoys hot water and space heat that is exclusively geothermal. A few years ago the streets in Rekjavik were repaved with steam pipes in them to melt snow and ice. We were passed by a bus in Rekjavik in November '03 whose exhaust pipe near the roof seemed to fly a little banner of steam. It was one of the buses that running on hydrogen, and when we stopped at our usual gas station in Rekjasvik we discovered that the gas station has a refuel station for hydrogen vehicles.
The Icelandic language is both foreign and familiar. It's strong ties to English and other Germanic languages gives some words a familiar look. ( If someone hollers "Locketh!" at you while you're holding open a corral gate you know just what is expected.) But it also has retained its ancient structure - with noun cases and verb declensions that make it even more difficult. Vowels, with their many different accents, are enunciated clearly, (sort of, to our ears) and consonants seem to be greatly elided. In a land with few immigrants and no dialects there is no allowance for mispronunciation and even with many years of residence foreigners who've learned Icelandic say that Icelanders usually speak with them in English or German or Swedish, just so they can understand each other. Icelanders have to speak two foreign languages before they graduate from high school.
With the highest per capita use of cell phones and internet usage and e-mail, Icelanders are very connected to the rest of the world, and they like technology. In the US and Mainland Europe the latest hot term for idenification of individuals is "Retinal Scans". Well, at an early Thanksgiving meal with Julianne and Stebbi, of Polar Hestar, we learned that the High School in Akureyri gave up the use of tickets for lunch payments and now uses retina scans of pupils for tracking lunches. Any household we've visited in Iceland that has small kids always has a few old cell phones in the toybox.
Icelanders in some ways are reserved, but as you might expect in a land where telephone books are listed by first name, it's a very hospitable country. People may appear reticent at first, but they're quite accommodating, adding to Iceland's standing as a very traveler-friendly country. We know of travelers who missed a connection and then were taken care of by a bus driver, and of a lost address book that was reconnected with it's owner because a helpful employee at the business where it was lost started calling people listed inside to find out who the owner possibly could be! (This being Iceland, the first name listed inside was an old friend of the employee!)
Reykjavik is small, but being a European capitol it's full of shops, clubs and art, lots of fashionable haunts, hot political discussions, and people who know a lot about the larger world. It is a very self-assured culture.
Nearly all our tour prices include airfare from the United States. Domestic travel in Iceland is quite European in quality. Air connections link many small towns together, and without railroads (topography very much precludes them), Icelanders tend to fly a lot.
Bus service is very far reaching and a good choice for internal travel if you have the time and want to see the landscape. The buses are large, smooth-riding, and always offer a scenic ride on the way to your destination. We've travelled through the highlands in a ruggedized bus that delivered a very smooth ride
A driving tour of Iceland is a treat, one that offers a chance to sample some of the off-beat roads and stop at a whim.- although driving in the interior requires 4 wheel drive. Roads are well marked, maps readily available, and Icelanders have a very good sense of the geography of their country and a willingness to help, so asking for directions always gets you to the next destination.
Iceland is a country that invites exploration and adventure.. Hikers, bikers, bird watchers, and anglers are drawn to the mountains, and valleys, highlands and coasts. Rich and varied bird life abounds - from little Puffins and Murrelets to huge Gyrfalcons and Skuas. Some of the best salmon and trout fishing in the world is found in Iceland's countless streams. And being able to walk up to and onto a glacier may be a once in a lifetime experience.