Travel Iceland, Part II: The Hills Are Alive

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.

Travel Iceland, Part I: You're Hot and You're Cold

Words: Johanna Raudsepp

There’s something whimsical about this land. Mountains, black sand beaches, waterfalls around every corner — it looks like a picture out of a fairytale. I am utterly in love with this magical land, and here’s why.

For the most part, Iceland always makes me feel at home. The local people are so lovely, you can’t help but befriend a few. And then you go to sleep at night and realise that the sun never truly sets in July, and you feel like you’re on another planet again. Iceland is a place where fire meets ice. Literally. Because they have volcanoes hidden under massive glaciers. No, I haven’t seen a volcano yet, and I doubt I will, because let’s be honest — they’re rather scary things. But I have seen some pretty neat sights — from glacier lagoons and hotpots, to driving up and down mountain roads between fjords to reach the Easternmost settlement in the country. It is otherworldly, to say the least. 

For a first time visitor, the area around the capital, Reykjavik, is already astonishing — weird lava rock formations covered in soft moss cushioning and soil that is almost black in colour. Suddenly you get a whiff of cabbage farts. It’s disgusting (at first at least), until you know where that comes from. The aroma that makes you wiggle your nose comes from natural hot springs, The Blue Lagoon resort being the most notorious of them all. There the water is milky white and incredibly warm, putting the muscles [you didn’t even know you had] at ease. Plus, you can get a free mud mask. Elsewhere people call them hotpots — every pool has at least one hot pot, which is kind of like a hot tub… but hotter and naturally heated. I love going there, especially after a long, exhausting day. You do have to hydrate yourself properly before and after, because hot water works like a sauna, and you don’t exactly want to shrivel up like a raisin.

They have these hotpots in the nature, too — they are usually called geysers and they are scorching hot. I don’t recommend touching those, but you must have a look at least. The most famous being Geysir, after which all other geysers were named, apparently, is a must-see place. With little geysers bubbling around it, the big geyser shoots up hot water every 10-15 minutes or so. Nearby is Gullfoss, the Niagara Falls of Iceland, sitting like a staircase in the Hvita river canyon and making a lot of noise. The enormity of the waterfall is astonishing to me, because it makes me feel like a puny human. The water’s brute force is enough to swipe away rock and create a canyon. Compared to that, any human activity seems minuscule. That is something that stands out all over the island — it feels so untouched by human activity, to a point where a town of 1000 is considered a relatively big settlement. Sometimes the only signs of life you see for miles are sheep and tourists. Tourists and sheep. For miles. 

This untouched corner of the Earth offers a plethora of amazing views and activities. It is possible to see the entire island in about a week, if you wanted to. There’s something for everybody — you can take a day-tour around the Golden Circle, go on a roadtrip with your mates or do something more extreme, like ATV tours, helicopter rides, glacier hiking, or even whale watching. My most extreme encounter has been a motorboat trip on a glacier lagoon, Jökulsarlon. There’s something about fast boats and ice cold water I don’t particularly enjoy — but it was tons of fun. I even managed to see a piece of glacier breaking off with a thunderous noise, splashing into the icy water below. In such moments you forget that there is time and space, and you simply stare in awe. You stare in awe.