20 Intriguing Fun Facts About Iceland

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Credits: UEFA Nations League

Iceland is not only the country of wonderful breathtaking landscapes. It’s inhabitants share a rich and fascinating culture. Here are 20 fun facts that will make you want to visit Icelanders and their intriguing island. Enjoy!

 

Food

NEVER SAY NO TO ICE CREAM

Cold temperature does not discourage Icelanders from standing in line at the Ice cream shop regardless of the season. You will find an Ice cream shop in almost every neighborhood in the capital area. Try Ísbuðin Valdís, Joylato or Brynja, our favorite ones!

 

NO MCDONALD’S OR STARBUCKS

Fast food restaurants do exist in Iceland but you will not find a McDonald’s or Starbucks anywhere unlike in most other cities. Although, the consumption of Coca Cola per capita is higher than in any other country!

 

BEER WAS ILLEGAL FOR 74 YEARS

Yep, there was a ban put on alcoholic drinks in Iceland in 1915. In 1935 the ban was partially lifted where stronger spirits were legalized but beer was not included until March 1, 1989. Still, to this day, the 1st of March is the Beer Day and it is very well celebrated by the locals.

 

TRADITIONAL FOOD IN ICELAND CAN BE QUITE SURPRISING…

These include hákarl (fermented shark), súrir hrútspungar (boiled and cured ram’s testicles) and lundabaggi (sheep’s loins also cured in lactic acid). These delicacies are mostly found during the annual festival of Þorrablot, celebrating the 4th month of winter according to the ancient Norse traditions and calendar. Oh, in Iceland, when someone thanks for the food, the answer will be “Verði þér að goðu!” Which can be translated into “Hope the food will do you well”! We will see about that…

 

Country

YOUNGEST LAND, OLDEST DEMOCRACY

Iceland has the world’s oldest extant parliamentary institution, Alþingi Parliament formed in 930. Which is remarkably interesting since Iceland is the last land in history to be populated. It is also, geologically, the youngest country to be formed.

 

ONE OF THE MOST ECO-FRIENDLY COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD

Roughly 90% of Icelandic homes enjoy heating and electricity from renewable energy and natural geothermal resources. This is one of the main factors that make Iceland rank one of the greenest environments in Europe.

 

ICELAND IS THE MOST PEACEFUL COUNTRY

First of all, the country does not have an army, navy or air force. Iceland has only waged one war, and it can barely be called war. Its name is “Þorskastríðið”, The Cod War, political disputes between the governments of Iceland and the UK over fishing grounds. The only weapons Icelanders used were scissors, to cut the enemies fishing nets…and WE WON! Also, the crime rate is very low in Iceland, hence, the police do not carry guns. The only officers permitted to carry firearms are on a special force called the Viking Squad, and they are seldom called out. One man has been shot by the police, ever.

 

IMPORTANT MAIN ROAD!

The “Ring Road”, road number 1, is the only national highway and goes all around the country. When it closes for bad weather conditions, there is no way around. One needs to wait for the main (and only) road to re-open!

 

Language

NAMING COMMITTEES

The government of Iceland has a naming committee for newborns. The Naming Committee approves the first names of all newborns in order to preserve the traditions and culture. The Icelandic Naming committee maintains an official register of approved Icelandic given name. Fun fact; the country also has a non-official government body, which two members are appointed by a government agency, regulating the name of horses, The Horse Naming Commission.

 

NO SURNAMES OR FAMILY NAMES

The Icelandic phone book lists people by their first name and the reason is that Icelanders do not use family names. Instead, they use the traditional Nordic naming system where the last name is taken from their father’s (or mother’s) first name with the addition of -dóttir (-daughter) or -son.  Jón Ólafsson’s offspring, for example, might be Einar Jónsson and Sigríður Jónsdóttir.

 

ICELANDERS SPEAK ON THE INHALE

This may be a surprise to some Icelanders (only because it is so natural) but we often speak on the inhale, mostly when saying Já (yes). The reason is a mystery but if you pay attention; you’ll notice and hopefully get a giggle.

 

A VERY PROUD NATION

The official written and spoken language in Iceland is Icelandic. It comes from the Old Norse and changed so little through time that students still read manuscripts written hundreds of years ago. On the 16th of November is “Dagur Íslenskrar Tungu”, The day of the Icelandic tongue (language).

 

Nature

NO MOSQUITOES

Yep, you can relax and enjoy a summer evening in Iceland without worrying about getting bit by these annoying insects. The weather stays too cold and windy during the summer to welcome them! There are also no reptiles or amphibians naturally in Iceland, hence there is none and is prohibited to own a pet lizard, turtle or snake.

 

THERE IS NO NIGHT DURING ALMOST 3 MONTHS

Because of its geographical position, Iceland gets extremely short days during the winter (only 4 hours) and no night between the end of May until the end of July. During the summer, the annual Arctic Open Golf Tournament in Akureyri, offers golfers to compete under the midnight sun, attracting players and watchers from all around the world.

 

Culture

GEOTHERMAL POOLS

Icelandic people use outdoor swimming pools in the winter just as much as in the summer as they are all heated with geothermal power all year round. Going to the swimming pool for an Icelander is like going to church for some. It’s a place where locals come together, chill in the Jacuzzi and catch up with other locals. And of course, it’s a blast for the kids with all the water slides.  Pools are very important in the Icelandic culture, and this, no matter the time of the year, the weather or the time.

 

ICELANDIC BABIES NAP OUTSIDE

Also no matter the season, it is very normal to see strollers and prams outside a coffee shop or a home as parents often let their babies nap outdoors (bundled up of course).

 

ICELAND IS A READING NATION

There is a word in Icelandic Jólabókaflóð, which means the Christmas book flood. Many books are being published before Christmas, as books are a very popular Christmas gift in Iceland! Surprisingly, they also watch more movies in the movie theatre than any other nation worldwide

 

AN EGALITARIAN NATION

Iceland became the first country in the world to democratically elect a female president in 1980 Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and then an openly gay prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir in 2009.

 

THE SMALLEST NATION EVER TO QUALIFY FOR WORLD CUP FINALS

A mere year after making into the quarterfinals at the 2016 Euro cup with an epic win against England, the Icelandic football team beat the odds again by qualifying for the world cup finals in 2018.

 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST

Iceland has a total of 13 Santa Clauses called the Yule Lads, and they are all brothers and vicious Sons of the dreadful ogress Grýla and her husband Leppalúði. They also have a Christmas Cat, who eats children if they are not wearing a new piece of clothes on Christmas Day. Brutal I know!

Hot Spring Wonders

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If you are staying in Reykjavik for few days, you might want to take a day (or two) of travel in the countryside close to the city. Iceland is full of breathtaking landscape and the wonderful thing is that you don’t need to go very far to explore them.

The south of Iceland is extremely rich in astonishing and dreamy landscapes. It has to be one of the reason why the popular Golden Circle features several points of interest in that region! Geysers, waterfalls, glacier, geothermal rivers, volcanoes and many more natural wonders. If you feel a little bit more adventurous and wouldn’t mind some exercise, then this experience is for you!

Only 45 km away from Reykjavik, there is a small town called Hveragerði. They call themselves the hot springs capital of the world, or the earthquake town; you can see where this is going! The town is situated in the geothermal area of the Hengill Volcano; still active, but its last explosion is going back to more than 2,000 years ago. Such volcano activity is not dangerous but means several geothermal mud pools, hot springs and thermal rivers!  

 

Reykjadalur Valley, which is approximately 5 minutes driving from Hveragerði,  is one of the popular stops in the Hengill area. The name of the breathtaking valley translates to “Steamy Valley”, which will make sense once you see the numerous fumaroles decorating the landscape.

The access is very easy to find and there is a parking lot and a small coffee place near the entrance of the trail.

 

The hike itself is not very hard; it’s 3 km long (6km back and forth) with plenty of photo stops on the way. It lasts between 1 hour and 1 hour and a half depending on the experience of the hikers. In general, there are few steep paths and several flat ones. The quality of the trail is quite great, but of course one needs to be careful in nature; muddy in warmer period, icy in colder ones. Also, the trail could be impressive for someone uncomfortable with heights. As you can see on the picture, the landscapes are quite impressive and the trail follows the top of some hills.

The best and most rewarding part of this hike is reaching the hot springs. You will know when you are getting close as the sulfur smell gets more intense and steam pops out of the ground and from the mud pools. Those are extremely hot, it is dangerous to leave the path to get closer. Once you get to the geothermal river, there are some wooden paths that have been installed to facilitate your safety and also protect the surrounding nature; please use them.

After changing behind the panels installed, you jump in the warm river and feel the tickles eating your toes and enjoy! If going during the weekend, there are more people, but it is a lot more quiet on weekdays. The higher up the stream you go, the warmer the water is.

The trail is open all year long and we highly suggest to do it during winter time. The contrast between the warmth and the cold makes the hot springs even more welcoming. Not only this, but the snow and the cold creates a white paradise that brings you on another planet for few hours. When the light of the afternoon hits the top of the hills and colours the snow with an orange and pink light, the feelings is indescribable. The pictures speak for themselves.

What you will need for a perfect hike:

  • – Hiking boots OR sports shoes
  • – Bottle of water
  • – Warm unders
  • – Warm coat
  • – Gloves, hat, neck warmer
  • – Swimsuit
  • – Towel
  • – Extra pants (if you are cold when coming out of the hot springs)
  • – Extra socks
  • – Something to take pictures (you probably thought of that one already…)
  • – Snacks
  • – A trash bag (please make sure to take all of your trash with you when you leave)
  • – Beer (Why not enjoying your time in the hot springs a little?)
  • – Happiness
  • – Your smile!

 

If you would like to know more about other warm bathing options, in nature or not, I invite you to read another of our blog: https://www.centerhotels.com/2018/09/06/pools-and-hot-springs/

Ice Cold Ocean Swimming

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Iceland and Icelanders are known for soaking in hot springs and warm geothermal pools. But Ocean swimming, not as much. 

As you can understand, swimming in whichever conditions is part of the wonderfully curious Icelandic culture. It is not rare to see Icelanders on their daily (or weekly) visit to the public pool, enjoying the hot tub and dipping into the cold tub after coming out of the steamy sauna, and this all year long! 

So taking a cold dip is a popular Nordic tradition. The Finnish and the Russians enjoy an ice cold ocean dip after coming out of the steamy sauna. The same applies to Icelanders, but don’t forget the Víking factor… They live more intensely!after  Moving back and forth from steamy saunas or hot pools into the the cold ocean. 

So it is not uncommon to see Icelandic locals go dipping into the ice cold ocean, the North Atlantic Ocean! Even now, in January with ocean temperatures as low as 4°C (39.2°F). Oh, those Viking genes…

The most common place to go ocean swimming in Reykjavik is Nauthólsvík beach (www.nautholsvik.is/en/), a geothermal beach not so far from the center of Reykjavik.  It is open all year long and can be very busy during warm summer days. During the winter, obviously, you won’t find many people sunbathing… But definitely, the ice cold dipping as become more popular over the last years. In the winter season, there is a small fee of 650 Kr. for the access to the locker room, steam bath and most importantly, the geothermal hot tub.

When going for the first time, it is recommended to stay NO MORE than 30 to 60 seconds in the ice cold water. Remember that it can be quite a shocking experience for your body! The idea is evidently to use as little clothes as possible, as if you would go swim normally, in a pool. Hence, no wet suit! There is no “Ice cold swimming police”, but understand that you get the benefits (and the fun) from it by getting cold.  Granting all this, they recommend using special shoes in order to avoid being hurt by the rocks dotting the ocean floor. The shoes are available there and cost about 15$.

With practice, some of the experienced swimmers are able to stay in the ice cold water  for up to 15 minutes. On average, people stay 5 minutes, and it is more than enough, believe me! Regardless of the amount of time in the water, it is absolutely necessary to move around and make the blood circulate throughout the body. The prickling and numbness in the extremities and on the skin is completely natural and the muscles will start to contract, normal as well!

Many Icelanders believe in the many benefits of the activity on their health condition. Take Haukur Bergsteinsson, for example, an eighty-two years old man swearing by cold ocean swims for good health. When interviewed by MBL in April 2017, he said “I’m going to keep swimming, the feeling is just indescribable. For me, it is definitely unmissable!”

 

 

Some studies even showed that getting your body used to very cold water on a regular basis can help with the blood circulation (increasing the level of white blood cells),  to boost your immune system, to bring your endorphins higher and reducing stress. Overall, including this exercise in your routine assures a happier, healthier and more energized life, according to Icelanders!! Well being and energy; this is what the ice cold water from the North Atlantic Ocean can provide you with! Don’t think about it too much, just do it!

What makes it great, is the whole experience. Coming out of the water is extremely fulfilling and cold doesn’t seem so bitter anymore. Yet, it is nothing compared to the warmth feeling filling up your heart when jumping in the 38°C hot tub. The fizzing feeling on the whole body brings back alive some body parts you thought you might have left in the ocean… It feels like your body melts a little bit and as if the system reboots from the inside. It can be very addictive… You are warned now!

DO NOT TRY ocean swimming just anywhere in Iceland as waves can be EXTREMELY STRONG and it can be VERY DANGEROUS!

Nonetheless, by trying this experience in Nathólsvík, you get to enjoy your viking experience AND then award yourself by with a dip in a warm geothermal pool! Oh, and Nauthólsvík also sells coffee and snacks to warm you up after the adventure! Not bad, not bad at all!

I invite you to have a look! https://nautholsvik.is/en/

The Toy Spreader

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Superheroes, brave soldiers, furry cats, teddy bears, Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Tinker Bell, rubber ducks, cowboys, dinosaurs, the ninja turtles and many others can be seen around Reykjavik.

You may not have noticed them..yet..but if you pay close attention you will find little tiny toys glued to signposts, windows, rooftops, shop’s ensigns, all around downtown Reykjavik! And one thing is sure, once you see one, you pass the point of no return; you will start noticing them everywhere!

So now you must think: WHY AM I SEEING LITTLE TOYS ALL AROUND TOWN?

Dótadreifarinn, which translates into the Toy Spreader, is an anonymous someone who has been spreading these toys around town and no one knows who it is..kind of like the Icelandic Banksy.  The toys seem to all have the following things in common; small in size, has at least one flat surface, can stick easily to anything with glue, since they are all placed in some very difficult to reach spots.

But why, you say? We do not have the answer, unfortunately… Maybe because Iceland is one of the few country without a military force and the Toy Spreader is trying this as a solution? Jokes apart, it remains a mystery who the Toy spreader is and weather he/she works alone or with partners, if he is still in operation! Is it maybe the work of elves?  I personally prefer to imagine tiny elves laughing… Your choice eh!

Take a stroll around town and see if you can find some yourself. And welcome some friends to join! Just pay attention next time you walk in the downtown area of Reykjavik, you will see them. Here’s a little help…(keep in mind they may have changed places)

So, rather you start looking for them or just accidentally see one waving at you on your way to work, don’t forget to enjoy this little piece of simplicity and joy the Toy Spreader is gently offering to the citizen and visitors of Reykjavik!

 

Have a good day!   

EUROVISION, can’t help but to love it

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EUROVISION song contest 2018 will be held this Saturday, May 12th.

It is the world’s biggest music show and is held every year, usually in May. The contest has been broadcast for 62 years or since 1956 and is one of the most watched non-sporting event in the world. The show is always held in the country that won the previous year and this year it is held in Lisbon, Portugal.

Eurovision is a great exposure and stepping stool for participating artists and  several winners of the Eurovision song contest have had successful careers after the contest such as Abba, Céline Dion, Cliff Richard and Julio Iglesias.

Icelanders are generally very enthusiastic about Eurovision and particularly since Iceland started participating back in 1986. Some Icelanders would beg to differ but that is probably because they are closet fans and too embarrassed to admit that they love Eurovision. 

In fact there are few things that bring out extreme patriotism in Icelanders, the success of the national football team is one of them (Duhhh) and Eurovision is another. The contest unites Icelanders every year with its glitz and glamour, over the top outfits and of course with it’s (debatably) great song performances.

CENTERTAINMENT will host a Eurovision party at Centerhotel Plaza on the evening of May 12th for our Eurovision loving guests. The show will be broadcasted on a big screen, the bar will offer extended Happy Hour and Portuguese tapas, and to make things even more exciting there will be score cards for guests that would like to participate in the fun.

Free event so give in to your guilty Eurovision pleasure and join in on the fun.