Listen to the locals please – An interview with Hrútur Ærson The Sheep

With only 350,000 human residents, some people think Iceland lacks a diversity of opinion.  But at Iceland Unwrapped, we have what it takes to seek out local expertise where it can be found.

Happy sheep can fly

For a thoroughly different perspective, we interviewed Hrútur Ærson, Iceland’s oldest sheep, for a special perspective on the place he has called home since 930.

IU: You’re very old for a sheep.

HÆ: Yes, I know.  I’ve been roaming around Iceland since end of settlement 930.

IU: How have you managed this?

HÆ: Iceland isn’t the biggest country and I know all the good hiding places by now.  

IU: So you’ve seen all of Iceland?

Sheep rule Iceland so please make sure to drive safely if you encounter them on the road.

HÆ: No. Haven’t been to the Blue Lagoon yet.  Or the Westman Islands because I’ve never been able to stow away on the ferry

IU: But you have been everywhere else?

HÆ: Yes – certainly everywhere a visitor can get with an SUV.  I used to be more adventurous, but then again, I am several hundred years old.

IU: What are your favorite places to visit?

HÆ: I usually walk the Ring Road every two or three years.  The main thing is to do it in opposite directions, because the look and feel of everything changes based on the direction, time of the year, and the amount of light at any time.  The amazing thing about the ring road is that the scenery is constantly changing. In a couple of hours’ walk – or ten minutes drive time – the landscape is unrecognizable. Mountains change to desert to prairie.  I always love that trip. The Highlands of Iceland are also extraordinary. Only important to get down from there before winter arrives or you are toast. Or as we sheep say – A toast with smoked lamb. 

IU: What do you do in the years you don’t walk the Ring Road?  

HÆ: I really like the Snaefelsnes Peninsula.  It has a varied landscape, and it’s a bit grassier than the Ring Road, which I find quite satisfying.  The glacier is also a wonderful place to chill.

IU: What do you recommend for visitors to eat?

HÆ: DEFINITELY THE FISH

IU: Why?

HÆ: I’m a sheep. You can figure out the math.

IU:  OK, I’ll keep quiet about the lamb.

HÆ: Thank you.

IU: Do you think Iceland has too many visitors?

HÆ: Not too many, yet.  It depends on how people visit.   It’s always nicer to see Iceland on one’s own, but you have to really look out for the environment.  Don’t leave a mess. Listen to the advice of us, the locals. Stick to the tap water and respect the rights of sheep, horses and wild animals. 

IU:  Thank you for the guidance

HÆ: So you didn’t think that was baaaaad?

IU: Not baaad at all.  Thank you!

Be aware of sheep crossing the roads in Iceland during summer – They are in full right – Photo by Guðmunda Magnúsdóttir

2020 – Your Travel Year – Is Iceland just a tick in the box? By Helga Stina

“That´s over and done with” is something an old friend of mine sometimes said about both good and bad things and events in his life.

But is traveling something you should just get over and done with, to tick a box, to show off on social media?

Is it time to start thinking of how you want to travel in the new year 2020?

Iceland has been a very popular destination in the recent years due to a famous volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull glacier, great marketing of tourism authorities and amazing entrepreneurship and courage of people working in tourism in Iceland. The innovation is quite incredible and worth exploring.

But is Iceland a destination to tick the box? Where are people traveling to in Iceland and how do they see this destination.

Many people contact me with a very solid view on what they would like to see in Iceland, and perhaps want me to confirm that that is the only thing to do in Iceland. The Golden Circle, The South Coast and Reykjavik are usually the destination people mention as an absolute must see on their journey. Others don´t have any idea on what to do or see and are up for an adventure.

Sometimes it is good to take a break and focus on where you are at and where you are heading – photo by Helga Stina

More and more of my clients mention that their friends and family have been to Iceland and that they don´t want to take the same pictures as their friends did. They want something new and more and more people have the need to get connected to the Icelanders. With this social media focus I think we are heading in that direction, more face to face encounters like in the old days 🙂

Every Icelanders pride is shown by the books in the shelves of his home – Photo by Helga Stina in Laugarvatn Iceland

Is it possible to connect with the locals?

Dining with the Icelanders has been a great success since I started offering this possibility 4 years ago. The 14 individuals and families around Iceland who work with me on this are all unique people with a big heart and a lot of knowledge and curiosity about people and other culture. It always works both ways. Not to mention the great food they make for their guests.

It is quite incredible to be able to connect people with all kinds of interests together for a meal in the warmth of a home in Iceland. Politicians with politicians, health professionals with health professionals, teachers with teachers, feminists with feminists, knitters with knitters, cross fit enthusiasts with other cross fit enthusiasts and so on and so forth. The consequences are sometimes incredible and sometimes people come from completely different directions and just enjoy each others company and form friendships for a long time, and continue talking and even meet again.

Iceland is for sure not a tick in the box, been there, done that. When traveling around Iceland and into the highlands in the summer of 2019 my husband, who is American, mentioned that any one of the beautiful gems we visited would be enough as an attraction in any other country. Iceland has thousands of these gems and they are located all around Iceland. You just need to now what you are doing to enjoy and yes, you might need to come again. And for goodness sake take your time to enjoy and relax at the same time. Vacation is about recharging and enjoying and nature is in charge over there, you can plan as much as you like, at the end of the day nature can decide if you have to stay in one place for longer, reading a good book or if you can move forward to explore. That is the beauty of it. Iceland puts you in your place and Iceland is the perfect location for that if you don´t think of it as a tick in the box destination.

More on personalized travel planning, dining with the Icelanders, Icelandic culture, people and hidden gems on www.icelandunwrapped.com

Contact me for a chat on possibilities and to see if we match together in making a perfect travel plan for you and your fellow travelers in Iceland.

Here you can find out what season fits you the best when traveling to Iceland.

Helga Stina – Founder and Owner of Iceland Unwrapped

The national book flood – By Helga Stina

In Iceland we have two kinds of floods. We have normal floods when glacier rivers flood because of unease and geothermal activities under glaciers. This is something the Icelanders are used to being aware of and manage reactions very professionally.

The magical Black water fall in the glacier area on the South Coast of Iceland – Photo by Claudia a client from The Netherlands

The other type of flooding in Iceland is the Christmas book flood.

One Christmas I didn´t get a book for a Christmas present from anyone.   The family was in total shock and I got looks of comfort, guilt and some kind of a pity, „poor you, didn´t you get a book“?, said with a mix of bad conscience, disgust and shock.

All cats in Iceland love to read..- Photo by Helga Stina (Model is Belle)

 

Well..there is a reason for this reaction. Iceland calls itself the book nation. Since the Viking age, Icelanders have been known for writing the Sagas and that has been the pride of the nation. When some of our old manuscripts were returned from the Danes some years a go, people gathered by the harbor to receive the coast guard ship bringing the manuscripts home.  It was a celebration, this was a proud day in the nations history and kind of made us fully independent even though we became independent in 1944, while Denmark was occupied by the Germans.

The Sagas are extraordinary and Icelanders can in most cases still read the original manuscripts as the language hasn´t transformed as much through the centuries, as for example in the other Nordic countries, due the isolation of this island in the North Atlantic.

Iceland is sometimes Iceland – Photo unknown

This is totally understandable, as the language, traditions, history, culture, literature, music and the arts are such a big part of the identity of a nation.

There are 330.000 people living in Iceland. We have had a football team, both women and men in the World Cup, we have had amazing musicians conquering the world, we had the first female president in the world,  we even have a Nobel Price winner in literature, in 1955 when Halldor Laxness was honored. We have almost won The Euro-vision Song Contest twice, but who´s counting…The winner takes it all. That said, I know that Icelanders are very proud to be a book nation and proud to be known for that in the outside world. Therefore there is a good will towards authors in Iceland, it is respected by most, and especially if the authors “make it” internationally. Here are some suggestions. 

Every Icelanders pride is shown by the books in the shelves of his home – Photo by Helga Stina in Laugarvatn Iceland

But back to the books and my book less Christmas trauma.

The season for books in Iceland, is before Christmas. That is the harvest time for our amazingly hard working authors. Some who have made a great success in the international world, such as Arnaldur, Yrsa and Jon Kalmann. It´s sometimes like there is a factory of making books for the book flood season, as these authors, and others, somehow manage to create one book after the other, almost as by demand, every year, for years. Kind of like Santa Claus (Some people believe exists) in Finland, having a factory for toys. Quite extraordinary.

And the funny part is, that these authors always manage to write good books, interesting books, fresh books that mostly  keep the reader in a spell until the book finishes. You should try it.

A beautiful Christmas eve with good food and presents or treats. At least one book per person is a must – Photo by Helga Stina

I agree. It was horrible to not get a book for Christmas ones. I felt that I wasn´t a part of the community anymore. God forbid that ever happens again. My family has sworn that they will use all methods possible to prevent this from happening, no matter where I am located in the world 🙂

Because there is nothing like the smell of a new book, a cup of warm chocolate and some scones with smoked lamb, and maybe a home made cookie, on Christmas day morning. Then the holidays have arrived for me.

Icelandic Chocolate is delicious – Photo by Helga Stina

 

More information on how to connect to the Icelanders, their culture and beautiful nature at Iceland Unwrapped 

or connect Helga Stina directly.

Four years of Unwrapping Iceland

It feels quite incredible that four years have passed since I founded what is now called Iceland Unwrapped, my Iceland travel planning business. Iceland Unwrapped offers unique travel experiences based on a personal approach, deep knowledge of the country‘s hidden gems and a commitment to help visitors connect with the Icelanders, Icelandic culture and natural beauty. Read More

The Icelandic people – Entrepreneurship and travel in Iceland

 

Are you kidding me? That‘s what came to mind when I visited a travel presentation market in Iceland this week.

Entrepreneurship in Iceland is extraordinary, in my opinion, for three main reasons:

First of all, as there are only 330.000 people living in Iceland, the need for people who can wear multiple hats is immense. When I used to work with young people in the municipality of Reykjavik many years ago, we used to hire really multi skilled people. The engineer and mountain bike geek, the actor and social worker, the musician and journalist  and I could talk forever about the diversity of these combinations.

In Iceland you need to wear many hats to make things work. You need to be able to take a chance on trying new things, be brave and believe in yourself. That is why, in almost every tiny town in Iceland, (sometimes with less than 500 inhabitants) we have a swimming pool, restaurants, choirs, acting groups, reading groups, schools, shops and so much more.

Always good to have dried fish with you in Iceland as you cannot just grab something to eat whenever you need to.

This facts makes it common that the Icelanders use the term „Þetta reddast“ (which means ‘all will work out’) often when things look impossible. You can always find someone, somewhere who can help.

This is what makes entrepreneurship accepted and treasured atop this rock in the Atlantic. People need to help each other, finding solutions and putting on different hats.

Secondly, entrepreneurship is important and common in Iceland due to resources.

Every season has it´s resource needs and you need to work fast in making the most of each season. If it is blueberry picking in fall, mussel picking in all months that have the letter R in them (September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April), trout fishing in the summer, getting wool from sheep in the fall. The summer months are crucial, and the winter months as well, where you can use the time to smoke products, preserve them in sour, and so on.

In Iceland we can promise you weather. All kinds of it. Even in one day.

This means again that people have to work fast together to make the most of things, to be innovative from how to preserve food so you can enjoy it all year round, to how you can create different uses for products (like opening a beer spa at a brewery).

Thirdly, Icelanders are a bit crazy. We believe in ourselves. We rely on our abilities to make things work and we have Viking blood inside so we are eager to explore both new worlds and new possibilities around us.

I invite you to come see for yourself and to experience the entrepreneurship of Iceland in its many forms.

More information about personalized travel planning on Iceland Unwrapped

The importance of connecting, being and having peace

In my talks with many clients traveling to Iceland with Iceland Unwrapped there has been a red thread.

Connection, peace and the possibility of experiencing quietness is at the essence of a journey to Iceland.

My suggestions often include traveling around, stopping, breathing, having a picnic, reading a book, hiking a bit, meeting the locals and laying down in the moss for a little nap, is a perfect way to explore Iceland for some people. And if you decide to read a book by one of Iceland‘s authors that takes place in the areas you travel in, even better.

Iceland is all kinds. There is a chance to do extreme adventures like glacier climbing, kayaking between glaciers, hiking for days, rafting and fishing.

But for some people living in big cities or with intense jobs or personal pressures, the need for peace and inspiration in crucial for their wellbeing, so they choose vacation destinations that offer that.

That is very interesting for a travel planner who is interested in the well being of her clients and wants to offer a trip that is unforgettable for all senses, adding the spice of connecting to inspirational people and hidden gems all around the country.

On my recent trip to Iceland during the holidays, I met partners that I work with in Iceland that focus on wellbeing, on the experience of using your senses to experience Iceland, it´s beauty, power and diversity.

As a busy mum, wife and entrepreneur, I can relate to this need and the imporartance of finding yourself and nurture the senses in a place like Iceland. Iceland is for all. With a travel planner the option of a tailor made experience can give a visitor exactly what they need, away from the crowds.

Would you like to explore, get to know the people and culture of Iceland? Would you be interested in visiting hidden gems and go off the beaten track?

Are you interested in being actively involved in the adventure of creating your own tailor made travel plan in cooperation with an experienced Iceland specialist?

 

Contact Iceland Unwrapped for more information.

 

Let‘s have a talk on possibilities for you if you are traveling alone of if you are traveling with friends, family, your workplace or other people in your life.

www.icelandunwrapped.com

Authentic experiences and hidden gems – This is personalized travel planning by Iceland Unwrapped

Traveling to Iceland has never been easier. You can fly from all over the world to this isolated rock in the North Atlantic ocean.

There are many ways to visit Iceland. You can book a package and travel around with a group of tourists to the most popular places, the places you see pictures of in every tourist magazine, on Instagram and on famous travel sites. You can rent a car and travel around to the most popular places and get a trip of a lifetime.

I would love to present you to another possibility.

If you are up for something different like connecting to the Icelanders through food and music, getting the feeling of being Icelandic, discovering hidden gems and amazing peace, you should read further about personalized travel planning. That might be something for you and your fellow travelers.

The aim is always to make every trip unique for each group or individual and it is done in cooperation with the client.

Personalized travel planning includes bookings of activities and accommodation, car rental and assistance with booking good flights.

Furthermore insiders information on what to see, eat, drink and experience. Who to meet and how to get the feeling of the Icelandic culture and nature with the locals.

You will get information on how long your adventures will take and how to breathe in the amazing Iceland.

When you are there you have access to your travel planner in case of change of plans or if you want more insights about something on your path. Or if you simply want to share the excitement and feeling of being there.

Iceland is not an average place. Iceland Unwrapped is not a normal travel agent but a planner that takes into account your uniqueness, wishes and needs on this trip of a lifetime. The goal is always to make every trip a personal and unique one and to take you off the beaten path for authentic experiences and hidden gems.

Get in touch with Helga Stina for more information.

Photo by Frida Hjaltested 

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

DINING WITH THE ICELANDERS

What do you know about Scandinavian gastronomy and dining in Iceland?

If you are like most of the people I organize tours for, the answer will be ‘not a lot’. Well, get ready for some truly exciting discoveries. Iceland isn’t only famous for its spectacular nature and healing spas, its food is also an adventure in itself.

The best producers

Not only can your trip to Iceland include visits to local fishermen, ale producers and the best restaurants the country has to offer. I also provide clients with the unique opportunity to ‘Dine with the Icelanders‘. This is something visitors to Iceland rarely get to do without help from an Icelandic planner!

Sharing customs and traditions

Over the years I’ve got to know some really inspiring locals who love to share their knowledge. They also enjoy sharing their home with visitors wanting to connect with the Icelanders. That’s what it’s all about, connecting people from all over the world with those that make Iceland so wonderful.

To truly appreciate a country it helps to fully immerse yourself in their customs and traditions. When you ‘Dine with the Icelanders’ you’re welcomed around their table. You sample delicious home cooked dishes and learn all about their history and the food you are eating.

Picnic place, Mývatn, Iceland

So who will you meet?

All around Iceland there are hosts excited to meet you. Families, individuals and couples from all kinds of backgrounds and all over the country offer a warm and nice meal and atmosphere sometimes combined with a walk in the area, checking out the horses in the backyard or meeting other locals in the area.

A great meal in good company

Sharing stories, laughter in great company, having a great meal made with fresh ingredients is an unforgettable experience.

We offer this experience for minimum 2 people. If you have a big group of people it is easy to enjoy the hospitality of different hosts for an authentic experience.

Dining with the Icelanders, Thingvellir

Recommendations

Dining with the Icelanders is a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. Everyone I’ve arranged this for has loved it! Here’s what they had to say…

“The dinner we had in the Meeting the Icelanders experience was one of the best meals we had on the trip. The food was spectacular – so fresh and prepared perfectly! The ingredients were all locally sourced. The fish was just caught by her father and the lettuce fresh from the greenhouse … It was all so, so good. And it was also just wonderful to enjoy a well prepared meal with nice and interesting people.”

Sara – USA

“A true highlight of our visit was meeting our guide and ending the day with a meal with her family at home. Helgastina knows many people and is a true connector. She connected us with people in Iceland that share our interests, are able to give us the sorts of insights into life in Iceland. It was wonderful to simply relax in the company of good people.“

Lin McDevitt-Pugh – The Netherlands

The pricing for a guided tour and dinner depends on the size of the group and length of the guided tour or experience.

Get in touch for a free consultation.

HOW IT WORKS

How I will plan your holiday of a lifetime

So you want to go to Iceland and you’ve booked your flights… What’s next?

You get in touch with me!

A unique trip to Iceland

Iceland isn’t just a holiday destination – it’s an experience of a lifetime. A small country with a wealth of history, adventure and scenery that changes daily you need someone who knows Iceland well to ensure that your time there is well spent. Not to mention that you stay safe. Iceland is not a country you venture out in alone.

Individual experiences and service

At Iceland Unwrapped I offer a unique service. I get to know each customer individually and really find out what makes them tick. Sports? Gastronomy? Nature? Getting to know the locals? Whatever your dream holiday to Iceland consists of…

Me and my team can make it a reality.

unique trip iceland, mossy lava field

Expert local guides and companies

I work with the best hotels, guides, transport companies and local attractions to put together an itinerary at your pace and to your tastes. I cater for all ages and types of holidays. If there is anything that you can’t find on this site that you want to experience in Iceland – I can make it happen. Not many others can say that!

It’s easy…

All you have to do is get in touch and we’ll have a chat on the phone or on Skype. We can discuss your budget, timings, needs and everything you want to do during your time in Iceland. You can quiz me on my favorite topic – Iceland – and we can take it from there.

Connecting with Icelandic professionals

My dream clients are people traveling alone or with their families, with their group of friends or colleagues. My dream clients are also professionals that would like to combine connecting with Icelandic professionals and exploring the wonderful nature and culture of Iceland.

A once in a lifetime trip?

For most people Iceland is a once in a lifetime trip… That’s why you get a professional travel planner. And make sure you get the best out of this magical land!

Contact me for a free consultation.