Words: Johanna Raudsepp
Lava landscape, sheep, waterfalls — it’s something common for an Icelander. However, I don’t think the country would hold such a significant place in my heart, if it wasn’t for its people. Their hospitality is like nothing I have ever encountered before — apparently it’s a law that if a traveller asks for water, Icelandic people are obligated to offer them some.
I got a real taste of the Icelandic spirit this summer. (And I don’t mean their herb schnapps called Brennivin — that’s a whole different story!). Since it was football season and Iceland was the underdog, the entire small town I was staying in, gathered at a local school to watch England vs Iceland on a big screen. And do believe me this time, the infamous Viking chant is even more frightening in real life than it is over the telly. HU! HU! HU! I almost got the chills. And we won! A country so little in population, but the passion, the fire they have in them, comes straight from those volcanoes, I’m pretty convinced.
Icelanders value their time — they don’t rush. They take time to eat and their love for food resonates everywhere. Camping trips passed only with delicious homemade food and barbecue. Fish plays a big role in their cuisine. In fact, I have gone camping, fishing and hiking on the island more times than I have in total in my entire life. Despite the harsh terrain and chilly weather, the views are breathtaking. I would hike every day just to see those views. One time, I even managed to see Hekla, the volcano that is about to erupt. It hasn’t blown yet, thank heavens.
My journey in Iceland continues in the East Fjords. I had never before driven through a tunnel in the mountains, and let me tell you, it is a bit frightening even after the first kilometres. Going from the capital, Reykjavik, to the East is a day-trip on its own. I cannot stress enough how many sheep and horses they have in the countryside. And most of the country IS countryside. At the other end of that tunnel was a view straight out of a storybook. The East is magical for someone hailing from a flat land by the Baltic Sea. You wake up in the morning, the sun, having just risen above the mountain, blazing through your window.
We drove up and down the mountainsides, waited for sheep to cross the road, and enjoyed a picnic at the Easternmost inhabited fjord in Iceland. We could almost see Norway! The most memorable moment was stopping on the side of the road to see a waterfall. The sun was warm on my skin, light sea breeze in my hair, the area was so remote that it was completely devoid of traffic. I took off my shoes and ran through the field of moss to the waterfall. I could not help but sing “Sound of Music” songs in my head. A moment of bliss. Time stopped. It was just me. And the mountains. The hills were alive.
I have tried my best to put my experiences down on paper, but seems like it’s never enough to pass the experience forward. One thing I can say, though — it’s a wonderful mixture of rustic, natural culture and environment, and of modern design, exquisite restaurants and beautiful music. A great thing about the Icelandic hospitality and inclusiveness is that I was fortunate enough to experience Iceland the true, authentic, Icelandic way. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.