Ice Cold Ocean Swimming

Posted on Categories Activities, Culture, Iceland, Nature, ReykjavikTags , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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/

Þorrablót – Midwinter Festival

Posted on Categories Culture, Culture, heritage, Iceland, TraditionTags , , , ,

Hip Hip Hooray-it’s midwinter in Iceland which means only one thing..it’s celebration time again!

According to the old Icelandic calendar which was developed in the 10th century, the fourth winter month (mid January to mid February) is called Þorrinn (Thorrinn).  The word is most likely derived from Thor the thunder god from the Norse mythology or from the Norwegian king Thorri Snærsson.
The old Icelandic calendar is not in use anymore but some Icelandic holidays and annual feasts are still calculated from it.

 

Þorrablót (Thorrafeast)

In pagan Iceland Þorrablót was a midwinter sacrifice, held to honor the Nordic gods, however with the Christianisation of Iceland the sacrificial festival was banned. Then in the 19th century, when Icelanders gained religious freedom, Þorrablót festival was brought back but without the sacrifice part. This midwinter festival is still a popular tradition in Iceland today and is a feast where locals get together and celebrate their heritage by singing, dancing and eating traditional viking food and of course lots of drinking because how else should we keep warm during these cold winter days.

The food, often served in wooden trays, consists of uncommon delicacies, like boiled sheep’s head, rams balls, blood and liver sausages, fermented shark, traditional herring and more.  All this is often washed down with an strong Icelandic schnapps made out of potato and caraway called Brennivín, also known as Black Death.

Assuming your mouth is starting to water, most grocery stores sell tasting trays during the month of Þorri.  And you can also find some Þorra inspired menu items at some local restaurants.

 

Bóndadagur (Farmers Day)

The first day of Þorrinn is called Bóndadagur (Farmers Day) and this year Bóndadagur is on Friday January 19th. On this day it is customary that the wives and girlfriends are especially attentive to their men.

So ladies, why not make your man feel like a viking for the night by treating him to the Old Iceland menu at Ísafold Restaurant, a three course menu that showcases the best of Icelandic traditional cuisine with a modern twist (don’t worry there is no rotten shark on the menu).  And if your man is a whisky fan, you can end the evening with the whisky flights tasting which consists of three different types of exquisite whiskeys on a specially designed tray.