You know how much I enjoyed my stay in Iceland, and you saw the photos. Whoever visits Iceland will be impressed by the landscape, the incredible nature, and the Northern Lights if he’s lucky.
But for me, there were other maybe small things, or not relevant to someone else, that really made me feel extra comfortable and love the place even more. I wrote a list, and came up with 15 extra reasons why Iceland is so great for me.
- It’s gay friendly.
If you know me, you know that I am a huge advocate for gay rights, and that I get very mad whenever I witness episodes of homophobia (yes I often have a hard time in Egypt). No, I’m not gay (rolls eyes) but does it even matter?
Iceland is an openly gay friendly place. Being gay in Iceland is not even something that people notice. It’s just what it’s supposed to be. And I was so happy to see this!
Iceland had the first openly lesbian prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, and gay marriage was legalized in 2010. So yeah, this country is thatcool!
- Icelandic wool.
I told you these were random reasons!
In Iceland, one of the typical things you can buy is the über warm woolen clothes with their typical colors and decorations. I was almost buying some, but I reminded myself I live in Egypt, where I will never need them. But I had to give myself a souvenir, so I bought the coolest gloves you will ever find! I hate wearing gloves but these ones are great for photography and basically anything, as fingers remain free to move. And warm.
All the knitwear I saw in Iceland made me feel like start knitting again.
- The Icelandic accent, with hidden letters.
Man, I love the Icelandic accent. I can’t say I learned a lot of the language, but I listened enough to realize there are “hidden sounds” when you don’t expect them. Example: remember the volcano that erupted in 2010 and flights were stopped all over the world? Its name is Eyjafjallajökull. Now you don’t have to try and read it, but let’s just take the “fjalla” part. Well, as if the word was not long enough, the double “l” has to be pronounced as something like “tl”. So it will be “fjatla”.
Now apply this concept to the Icelandic people’s pronunciation, and you will have some very cute and funny effects. I remember the guy who hosted me once said he’s “a lu(kh)cky guy”. Aw!
- The weather.
No, seriously. There’s a saying in Iceland that goes like “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes”. I remember the first day I woke up in Reykjavik, I looked outside of the window and it was snowing so much. I was disappointed! I went to the car hire to get my car and had to drive in the snow… that was not a good start. Then I went home, took a shower and by the time I got dressed a beautiful sun was shining in the blue sky. And I was ready to start my exploration!
- No need for cash.
I honestly have no idea what the Icelandic money looks like. I never had to take money from an ATM, and I kept paying everything with my credit card. For coffee, supermarkets, souvenirs or gas, I never needed anything else than my credit card, and for transportation etc I booked everything online. I love this! It makes traveling so much easier.
- The relationship between humans and nature.
In Iceland, the relationship between humans and nature goes beyond simple respect. Here, nature comes first. If you are so stupid to challenge nature, nobody will be sorry for you if you hurt yourself. As simple as that!
In Icelandic nature, you feel so small and humble. You wonder if humans are supposed to live in such wild conditions… or maybe this is exactly what we are supposed to do.
- The typical colorful houses.
I love colorful houses! I guess it’s because of my background. In Iceland and in Reykjavik especially, I was so fascinated by the modern, simple houses that come in so many different colors. To me, they all looked very new, but I found out that some of these houses are more than 50 years old. I wish houses were so colorful all around the world.
- A comfortable kind of cultural shock.
In Iceland, the language is obscure, the currency is different, some (many) areas are inaccessible during the winter, the people have a totally unique mood, they eat some really weird stuff (rotten shark anyone?), etc. But even with all these differences, it’s a very comfortable cultural shock. Everything works, the place is clean, transportation is on time, there are no safety issues. You will still feel like you’re visiting a very differentplace, but with all comforts!
- It’s safe.
It’s incredible how safe Iceland is. I remember one night I was on the way to Reykjavik with a group of photographers, and we stopped on the way to have dinner. They all left their very expensive camera equipment in the car, without even bothering to hide it in the trunk or below the seats. This is something I normally do whenever I have to leave something in the car here in Italy! I didn’t feel comfortable doing that, and took my heavy backpack with me to the restaurant. I was the only one.
It’s great to travel and feel safe. I think I had this same feeling only in Japan. You can walk around with your bag open and your wallet will still be there at the end of the day. What a great feeling!
- Efficient, eco-friendly heating.
In Iceland, heating comes from geothermal energy, and is therefore eco-friendly and renewable. Which is really cool! But practically speaking what I enjoyed was the incredibly nicely heated houses and the constant, unlimited hot water. It felt so good. Oh and tap water is so good! No need for bottled water.
- The frankness of people.
I was very surprised at how people are frank and direct when talking about some subjects. In the Mediterranean culture (I am Italian and spend most of my time in the Middle East) there are some subjects you don’t openly talk about, at least if you don’t know the other person well enough: death, illness, problems in general, sex and sexual orientation, etc.
In Iceland I found people had no problems telling me they were not feeling okay (while I will always say I’m fine if someone I don’t really know asks, unless something really bad happened).
Another thing that almost puzzled me was how the guide on my excursions was warning us “be careful if you want to walk behind the waterfall, last week a person died attempting”, but I am pretty sure somewhere else she would have said “be careful (…), it’s dangerous”, or “don’t do it because it’s dangerous”. Got what I mean? It felt a bit uncomfortable, but it’s good to know a person is being 100% honest.
- Iceland has no army.
Standing ovation to this! Iceland is the only NATO country without an army. They only have a Coast Guard.
- The “hidden people”.
Huldufólk are elves in the Icelandic folklore. Most people in Iceland believe in elves, and respect them to the point that houses won’t be built if the area is believed to be inhabited by elves, one should never throw rocks in order not to hit them, and so on. Some people claim they can talk to the so called “hidden people” and give advice according to their conversations. I don’t know what I feel about this, but when in doubt, I would do what the elf says! I find this extremely fascinating.
- Icelandic pride.
I didn’t meet anyone in Iceland that was not proud of his country and its beauties.
Micheal, my host for the first two nights, studied abroad and sometimes still travels for work, but he told me he will always go back to Iceland because there’s no place like it.
I found it beautiful that people who live there are still fascinated and humbled by the Icelandic nature. For instance, you may think people are used to the Northern Lights, but many of them still go out at night to look at them.
Geothermal energy is another main reason for pride – some people even get married at the Hellisheidavirkjun Power Plant!
- It’s internet friendly.
Ok, let’s talk about Reykjavik here because I am not sure about the other cities. But I absolutely loved the fact that everywhere I was I could easily find a wifi network, and most of the times without a password too (and free of charge, of course). For a digital nomad and/or a blogger this definitely makes all the difference!
I also bought an Icelandic simcard (the carrier is called Síminn) and activated a data plan. I didn’t expect it, but I had a very good 3g coverage everywhere I went.
So these are some of the reasons why I really, really liked Iceland, besides the “obvious” Northern Lights and natural beauties. Would you add something?
I was fortunate to travel to Iceland in October 2011 with a group of teachers who lead student tours abroad. It was the most amazing trip I’ve ever taken! We rode the horses (small but sturdy, and feisty), snowmobiled on a glacier, saw the famous Geysir, toured the countryside, had dinner at the Perlan, went to the Blue Lagoon, walked around through Reykjavik, and ate amazing seafood everyday! The Icelandic people were very welcoming to us Americans, and I would go back in a heartbeat. Definitely best trip ever.