Two years and the importance of connecting when travelling

Our two year anniversary, and the importance of connecting when travelling

Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina is two years old this October.

The reason for establishing the company here in Holland was to try to combine my interest in tourism, connecting people and my love for my home country Iceland.

As you probably know, Iceland has gained increasing attention as a tourist destination in recent years.

What I was aware of before starting the company that many of the visitors that I met on their return from Iceland were super excited to meet me, the Icelander, as they had not made much contact with the locals when in Iceland.

In a country of about 300.000 people there is need of additional work force to receive tourists sufficiently and that is why many of those working in the tourist industry in Iceland are people from abroad who know languages and are excited to be a part of the development of tourism in Iceland.

I thought that of course something more could be done to provide visitors to Iceland a connection to the Icelanders, to make the trip even more exciting and fulfilling.

In the development phase of my company, I was in contact with my Icelandic network to hear about new trends and exciting entrepreneurs working on projects aimed at connecting people together, and to give an extraordinary experience while in Iceland.

This has been my goal ever since and on my trips to Iceland in the last two years, I have been around the country visiting people who offer personal service and unique experiences.

I am very thankful for my network  that has made it possible for me to develop extraordinary experiences for my customers.

Dining with the Icelanders, concerts in the homes of locals, personal guided tours based on the customers’ individual interests are some of the few things Iceland Unwrapped has discovered and developed on this path.

Did you know that Iceland Unwrapped has had a very diverse group of customers? That is the beauty of being a travel planner working with people´s interests and dreams.

Let me give you examples

Friends going on an adventure trip, a mother and daughter having a stopover in Iceland, a group of students visiting Icelandic institutions and enjoying the magic of Iceland between meetings, a group of employees invited by their company on a group building trip and a family of 5 seeking adventures, to name a few.

Did you know that you can go fishing and have your fish cooked for you in a fine restaurant after your fishing tour?

Did you know that there are 4 big international music festivals in Iceland during the year and a lot of smaller ones?

It is a privilege to learn the wishes and dreams of people wanting to go to Iceland and to connect them to the Icelanders.

It has been an amazing learning experience to start a travel company in the midst of a travel boom in Iceland. To decide that I wanted to do different things, and to focus on the personal and connecting people was a great step in offering diverse possibilities for people wanting to visit this beautiful and exotic island, Iceland.

“Meeting the Icelanders was my favorite part of the trip – in part because of the people we were able to meet, but also because that day we saw some of the most spectacular scenery. It was great to have a personal tour, to be able to learn about Iceland and connect with real people”. (Sara – USA)

I look forward to the years to come.

Helga Kristin Fridjonsdottir( Helga Stina)

Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina

More info on travel planning and extraordinary experiences

Beer – An important part of the Iceland experience

There has never been a better time to be a beer drinker in Iceland, with an unprecedented mix of clean-tasting lagers and craft-brewed ales, stouts, porters and Belgian-style options available to locals and travelers alike.

While Icelanders are fond of their beer, the good times have only rolled in the Land of Fire and Ice since 1989, when the country lifted its national ban on normal-strength beers.

The ban was intended to keep the hooch-loving locals on the straight and narrow, but its widespread subversion by bar owners and party hosts who mixed the watered-down 2% alcohol “Pilsener” with prime Icelandic vodka, led to a release of the small country’s untapped potential as a truly micro microbrewing superpower.

For those who indulge, Iceland offers a potent mix of microbrews.  Indeed, given the size of the market, even its standard lagers would be microbrews anywhere else.  I am a big fan of two: Gull and Brio, which are both brewed at Reykjavik’s Olgerdin brewery and benefit from the pristine Icelandic glacier water with which they are brewed. Olgerdin also has a small visitor’s center and a range of craft micro beers, the Borg range, anchored by Borg’s Garun Nr.19 Icelandic Stout and with more than 60 mainly British, Irish, and Belgian-inspired brews.

My preferences aren’t universally shared: rival lager Viking Beer, from the city of Akureyri in the country’s north, beats out Reykjavik’s Gull as the country’s market leader.  Perhaps its slogan gives some insight: “You deserve to feel like a Viking at heart. You deserve to drink like one too. You deserve Viking Beer.”

Akureyri’s also represented in the world of craft and micro beers, with Einstok, a local brewery. Einstok produces ales, bocks and porters highlighting the city’s proximity to the Arctic Circle, and enjoys good national distribution.

Sampling these brews is easy in Iceland’s often-excellent collection of pubs and beer bars, with Olstofan and Kaldi being personal favorites.  Olstofan is kind of like a laid-back journalists’ bar with enthusiastic bartenders, and Kaldi more like a US fraternity house from the late 1980s.

Outside of the bars and licensed restaurants, finding a decent beer requires some local knowledge.  Unless you go to the state-run Vinbudin, which has a healthy selection of more than 300 beer options, it will be as if 1989 had never happened.

But a cold lightweight “pilsener” with one of Iceland’s distinctive lamb-based hot dogs, or with a hamburger at a gas station lunch counter has its place. It is a traditional part of the Iceland experience.

If you are coming to Iceland, will beer be on your agenda? Helgastina can arrange brewery visits, recommend watering holes and make sure your favorite microbrew type is waiting for you when you Dine with the Icelanders.

Mike Klein is an American writer and Belgian beer enthusiast based in The Netherlands.

The Rolemodels, My Foremothers

When I was growing up in Iceland, I was surrounded by powerful women. My mother came from the “West fjords” in northwest Iceland where life was harsh, nature was brutal and women often had to lead the fight for their families survival.

My grandmother on my father’s side came from the relatively isolated Snaefellsnes peninsula. In most coastal areas in Iceland, the main livelihood at the beginning of the 20th century came from fishing the treacherous North Atlantic. My great-grandfather, Adalsteinn, had bought his own fishing boat to provide for his family: my great grandmother Helga, for whom I am named, and my grandmother Kristin for whom I also named. Adalsteinn’s ship tragically went down on the coast, visible to the village where he had been born and in front of his wife and two-year-old daughter.

The day after the officials of the area came to collect all of the belongings of the family to pay for the boat that had just gone down so tragically.

Fortunately Helga had a good friend, a woman, who agreed before the officials arrived that it would be best that Helga would give her belongings to her, to prevent them from being taken from her. A powerful act by a powerful friend who managed to save family treasures, some of which still belong to the family. When my wonderful Aunt Helga (also named after our grandmother) told me this story I was impressed by the power of this incident and the kindness and courage of my great-grandmother’s friend in those days.

Since I was a young woman, my group of friends and I have shared stories of our fore mothers in Iceland, we have talked about great women heroes of ours, like the first woman president of the Republic of Iceland, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, Audur Laxness, the wife of our Nobel prize winner, the women settlers and Viking women who went through tough situations, took risks, and found a way to survive powerfully in making the world more tolerable to those around them. We have made trips to honor these women, visited their places of birth and so on and so forth.

Indeed, Iceland has produced many women who have made a significant difference to its society, and in many cases, well beyond our borders.  Our heritage of empowerment—in many cases borne out of necessity like in the case of my foremothers—helps sustain a culture which, while not perfect, is one of high support, encouragement, and expectation.

Helga Kristin Fridjonsdottir (Helga Stina) is an Icelander based in Delft in the Netherlands.  A custom Iceland Travel Planner, Helga Stina is currently organizing an international women’s leadership tour of the country.

Dining with the Icelanders..but of course..

I am addicted to travel. I love seeing new places, meeting new people and dining different and exotic food.

I have so many memories and tastes that remind me of wonderful events in my life. This is for instance when me and a friend made dinner with our Italian friends in Pisa, a wonderful day with an Austrian family, a New years celebration in Austria, a Brazilian barbecue in Brazil, our kitchen in Klagenfurt, Danish Christmas, learning how to make spanish omelette in Barcelona, Swedish dinner on a wonderful summer night, tasting all kinds of Pakistani food, learning how to make Vietnamese food or Indian chai, dinner evenings with exotic food and friends in Iceland..and I can go on and on and on. These memories are filled with stories, scents, happiness and sorrow, sounds and memories.

When I was younger I was fortunate to live in different countries during my studies. The most amazing people I met on these stays were the locals who invited me to stay with them for some days, or for an evening, having dinner. I am forever thankful to these people for giving me the precious experience of “dining with the locals.”

11890002_10152980322310988_4175327837225794917_o

(A wonderful brunch and a memorable view and company in Thingvellir – Iceland)

Therefore I remember being at people’s houses, helping with preparing dinner, tasting new things and hearing the history of the food, the recipes, sometimes coming from the grandmother or great grandmother of the family. In Austria, Brazil and Portugal, I even received a cooking book from the area so I could try the recipes at home.

39344_416636065987_5179521_n

(Late midnight dinner in August in the Westfjords – Iceland)

Sometimes interesting stories came to the surface.

In Iceland I heard the story of the woman who always cut the leg of lamb in two before putting it in the oven on a Sunday afternoon.

She never thought about it that much, but when her daughter asked her why she was doing that all these years, she replied “my mom always did and so did my grandma”. The story unfolded when the grandmother revealed the secret.

9803035453_9f99157735_b

(A leg of an Icelandic lamb – See more on www.lambakjot.is)

When she was young, in the beginning of the 20th century, making dinner in the kitchen with her mom, they used to not have a big enough pot for the lamb leg for it to fit in entirely, so her mum had to cut it  in two.

Many years later when she moved with her children and husband to a new house, with big enough pots, she continued cutting the leg of lamb in two and that is where this tradition in the family began.

11889583_10152980321480988_2175571180302947662_n

(A wonderful dinner view by the lake in Thingvellir – Iceland)

I am sure that for this family the lamb would taste entirely different if not cut in two so I guess they continued the tradition, until this day.  And the lamb would not have been so memorable had they not told me the story first.

10942326_10152576253665988_213576517327897259_o

(Icelandic blueberries)

When I was working with young people in Iceland many years ago, I used to use the kitchen as a place to get to know people. It is actually my experience that when working together preparing a meal or cleaning up, your boundaries are less in the way of the communication and that allows people to interact in a better and more precious way.

13230125_10153475965840988_5218905448921439814_n

(Icelandic pancakes – sometimes only with sugar, sometimes with jam and cream)

The Icelandic gastronomy is based on fish and lamb mostly with influences from all around the world. The raw material is amazingly fresh and wonderful and the Icelandic vegetables help making the meal something to remember.

Iceland with helgastina is cooperating with Icelanders around Iceland who are excited to receive people from all over the world to inspire..and to be inspired.

I dare you to try the newest product of Iceland by helgastina – Dining with the Icelanders

It is an exciting way to get to know Iceland and Icelanders.

All information about getting a private travel planner can be found on Iceland by helgastina

(Pictures by helgastina and Eyglo Runarsdottir)