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

Have you ever dreamed of knowing more about the trolls and the elves and the hidden people of Iceland?

The Icelanders were a nation of fishermen and farmers until the Second World War, when people moved to the capital Reykjavik and other towns in Iceland. This was mainly because of work provided by the American military that stayed in Iceland during the war. Here is a bit of information on the Occupation of Iceland during that time. 

Before that people stayed in fisherman villages and on farms and made life work for themselves, using folktales among other things to entertain themselves during rest hours and evenings.

Imagine being on a farm in Iceland, surrounded by lava fields, extraordinary nature and the colors and power of the mountains everywhere you look. As you can imagine the possibilities of story telling about natural phenomena such as lava formations surrounded by geothermal smoke, fog and lack of sunlight during the winter months could encourage creative minds to form stories and tales through the centuries.

Photo by Frida

The book nation Iceland is known for having shelves filled with books by Icelandic authors and sometimes specially chosen foreign ones. In recent years this has changes a lot and the selection of books in the Icelanders shelves has changed from being Icelandic to being more international.

When I was growing up there were at least two Icelandic authors that were in every shelf in every home in Iceland I dare to say. One was our Nobel Price literature author Halldor Laxness. The other selection of books I was especially scared of and excited about at the same time as a child, were the folk tales collected by  Jon Arnason

These books were so exotic, scary and exciting at the same time, about trolls, elves, hidden people, ghosts and other unexplained creatures. Enough to scare the hell out of everyone or at least get you wondering what was real and what was not.

Dimmuborgir – North of Iceland – Photo by Helga Stina

And where did these stories come from? Yes they came from people living in extraordinary landscapes where the formation of the lava when the sun was setting or rising could be anything from a troll to an elf or a Christmas cat (yes there is such a thing in Iceland).

These stories have integrated into the soul and being of the Icelanders through the centuries and influence a lot of everyday life and way of being. Perhaps you have heard stories of elves disturbing and changing plans of constructions in recent times in Iceland

Not it´s not a joke.

When asked if I believe in elves, trolls and hidden people, I always say that I don´t know if they don´t exist so why not believe and make your reality a bit more colorful and exciting. You can even get a guided tour and hear tales in areas where elves and hidden people have been living. That is a very exciting experience to try.

Here is an example of one of those stories with a bit of background

In modern times the Icelanders have integrated the believes in hidden people, trolls and elves into daily life such as during Christmas, New Years and midsummer celebrations when these creatures appear for some people to see..and some not.

You don´t need a huge imagination to understand where these tales come from if you have experiences being outside in the fog on a mountain surrounded by lava fields and no sound..

…until you hear something…..

Grýla – Mum of the Jule Lads

(Helga Stina – Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped)

If you want to know more about unwrapping Iceland and get a personalized travel plan for you and those who travel with you contact Helga Stina

In Iceland we eat shark – but that´s just part of the story

The funniest thing many of us Icelanders know how to do is to make foreigners taste our food.

I have made countless “enemies” through the years while encouraging people to have a bite of shark with me, with a schnapps of course, to survive the experience. Fortunately for me they all survived and some are still thinking of how to get back at me for being so persuasive.

I don´t know what it is. Probably the Viking in us wanting to show the world our super powers in being able to eat things such as rotten shark, sheep testicles, dried fish, sheep heads or Skata (something I guess you just have to come to Iceland to try, …to give you a clue, it smells worse than it tastes).

Smoked lamb, fish oil, butter, shark and other important delicacies in the Icelandic Viking food tradition.

 

I could continue for a long time to tell you about which parts of the animal were eaten in Iceland before the days of refrigerators,but as I would like you to continue reading, I’ll stop for now.

Because in Iceland we also have wonderful traditional things we enjoy such as smoked lamb. Lamb is sometimes referred to as mountain lambs or road lambs, as they run free in the Icelandic midnight sun during summer, mostly in the mountains but sometimes needing to cross a road (don´t we all).

Mountain/Road sheep minding their own business.

 

We are able to use our fantastic geothermal energy to grow tomatoes, lettuce, mushrooms and even strawberries in greenhouses. We have wonderful fresh herbs in the Icelandic nature and vegetables in autumn, such as potatoes, cauliflower and other root vegetables.

What is for sure though is the amazing experience of having a good meal together, laughing, connecting and tasting something new, made with passion and traditions. This is valued all around the world.

That´s why I started offering the Dining with the Icelanders experience three years ago. I met a lot of people that had had an amazing trip to Iceland but had never met any locals, and certainly not had dinner with them.

I have already planned many dinner parties in cooperation with my network in Iceland and the travelers have been thrilled with the experience and the uniqueness of meeting the Icelanders in their homes and connecting with them on a personal level. People have formed friendships and have even met again in other places around the globe.

Mandy and her group from Tennessee enjoying a wonderful dinner, opera singing and cultural experience in the company of Bergþór and Albert – Photo courtesy of www.alberteldar.com

 

Many places in the world offer this experience to get to know the locals and in my opinion that is an important way to get the most out of your travel. It´s also an important way to make the world a bit smaller, to look your prejudice in the eye and to experience how human we all are.

I am very fortunate. I have amazing hosts all around Iceland. They are as different as they are many, making it possible for me to offer a personalized service, connection and inspiration, all depending on the interests of the visitors.  The group size depends on  the needs of the travelers and everyone can enjoy the experience, big groups, small groups, families and individuals.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner in nature makes everything taste even better.

 

My hosts have a big passion for what they are doing , details are in place and some of them even go out in nature picking fresh mountain herbs for their guests or they go fishing or hunting before the meal to provide fresh Icelandic ingredients.

No dinner party is the same as we are all have different approaches and the seasons change.

I encourage you not to miss the opportunity to meet the Icelanders, connect, enjoy a meal and hopefully have a good laugh together.

Geothermal energy is essential to the Icelanders daily life.

No worries. Nobody will be forced to eat shark or other viking things as the dining experience offers you a home cooked meal, something the Icelanders would have themselves for dinner and nowadays most of us only enjoy viking food in the old month of Þorri, after the New Year.

More info on Dining with the Icelanders, music in the homes of  the Icelanders and personalized travel planning for all humans,  on our website Icelandunwrapped

 

Photos Iceland Unwrapped – Frida Hjaltested . Road sheep picture courtesy of Gudmunda Magnusdottir

Let’s go for dinner in Iceland

 

I guess some of you have seen videos and pictures online of visitors to Iceland tasting something terrifying as rotten shark, or fish that smells like ammonia.

It might seem that Icelanders walk around in wool sweaters all day, while eating challenging parts of animals and slaying each other with axes.

But don´t worry. In fact, Iceland is a very developed place to visit if you like to explore great trends in food.

Of course, you can choose to swallow a bit of rotten shark along with a good cold schnapps, followed by a bit of dried fish covered in wonderful Icelandic butter, or even a tongue from a sheep that once jumped around the beautiful nature of Iceland. This is possible in many restaurants around the country. In February the Icelanders celebrate “Þorri (pronounced thori)”, an old Viking traditional feast where the main theme is to eat whatever possible from any given local beast.

But despite being a nation of only 333,000 people with a fairly primitive and limited culinary history, Iceland has managed to develop a very appealing restaurant scene that proudly can be presented to those visiting our little rock in the North Atlantic.

The reason for this is that the Icelanders are not afraid of seeking knowledge elsewhere, whether in gastronomy or in other fields. Many Icelanders have gone abroad for inspiration and then returned with knowledge and appetites that have fused with local traditions and unleashed the potential of local ingredients. The possibilities are endless both with fresh ingredients and often with using nature to make a terrific meal.

That leaves the Icelandic restaurants scene very diverse, noted by fresh ingredients, humor and professionalism all over Iceland, sometimes with unbelievable views included in the experience.

Even visiting a gas/petrol station in Iceland for picking up ingredients for a picnic or to taste the “pylsa med ollu” (Icelandic Hot dog with everything), is an experience that I recommend at least once or even twice on your trip.

If you would like to connect to the locals in terms of tasting their own food inspirations, you have the amazing possibility of visiting the locals and have a wonderful home cooked meal. Sometimes included with musical experiences and of course beautiful views and nature.  My aim with offering Dining with the Icelanders is to present to the visitor to how Icelanders choose to have their dinner at home with fresh ingredients and in wonderful and inspiring company.

Furthermore, being adventurous in trying out what Iceland has to offer around the country in all kinds of locations, is something I would recommend. The food scene is very interesting no matter if you are a vegetarian, meat fan, vegan or have any intolerance’s, Icelandic restaurants are known for accommodating you and your wishes, and as the ingredients are fresh and simple I know you will find what you need and maybe have a little adventure while you are at it.

 

For more info on all kinds of food experiences in Iceland contact Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina

Photos by Frida Hjaltested and Helga Stina

Is it a good idea to travel with children to Iceland?

Travelling with children in Iceland

Iceland is many people’s dream. Sometimes I get the question if Iceland is suitable for children or that even if it is too dangerous to bring children along.

To me Iceland is a paradise for children. Living in Denmark for ten years and in Holland for the last four, I appreciate what Iceland means to my son the ten year old.

Space is what comes first to mind. The possibility of running around, running on the lava fields, running up and down a hill or a mountain, running on the shore in crazy winds.

Our favorite when travelling in Iceland is going to one of the geothermal pools you can find in almost any tiny town in Iceland. Sitting in a warm pool, going on a slide into the pool or just hanging around talking to the locals, looking at the view. Many locals visit the local pool at least once or twice a week, some of them daily.

Iceland is filled with mystical things like the trolls, elves and the hidden people. These folk stories are a big part of the culture of the Icelandic people and are integrated into the habits and way of living.

History is important to explore in Iceland. Histories of Vikings and other historical figures can be found everywhere around the country, and this is a fascinating way to explore and to understand a bit more how this nation, on a rock in the middle of the Atlantic has survived hard nature and has been formed in many ways by nature, folk tales and the will to survive and invent solutions to have a good life.

Last but not least, meeting the locals for a dinner where you can meet other children to discuss the differences and also how we all are connected is a precious experience to give to one’s child.

 

More information on personalized travel planning, also for children can be found on the website

www.icelandunwrapped.com

(Picture – Midnight in June camping)

Why Dining With The Icelanders?

“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.

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

When I was younger I was fortunate to live in a couple of places while studying. The most amazing people I met on these stays were the locals who invited me and sometimes my friends 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.

Therefore in the memory I remember being at peoples 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. Both in Austria and in Brazil i even received a cooking book from the area so I could try the recipes at home.

Sometimes interesting stories came along.

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 mum always did and so did my grandma”. The story unfolded when the grand mother reviled the secret.

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

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.

In Iceland organic spices from the Icelandic flora have been used in cooking for centuries. It is not a secret that growing spices in Iceland can be hard because of the weather and conditions, even though people have been growing vegetables and other delicious food products using the geothermal  heating, the cheap energy, to warm up green houses for growing things.

The Icelandic flora is amazing and the smell, colors and possibilities of it endless. In recent years companies and individuals have been exploring and investigating the strengths and the possibilities of the Icelandic flora in medicine, cosmetics and food.

For some of my friends over there, collecting eatable mushrooms is one of the tradition of the family when summer is almost over.

I visited my friend this summer who lives on the country side close to Reykjavik, surrounded by a forest, her partner has been growing for years, and a salmon river in her back yard. In this area organic production has started on the nearest farms where entrepreneurs have seen and tested on their own skin how organic products both taste better and make you feel better.

I had a lamb for dinner at my friends house, as one does a lot when visiting Iceland, with freshly picked herbs from the mountain next to her (she took a little walk to get them for the dinner). This was enjoyed with products from her own green house and from the organic farm next door.

After that day I was feeling totally relaxed, physically tired after our walks that day. Breathing deep because of all of the fresh air and feeling warm inside because of an amazing company.

This is what I love about Iceland. It´s personal and the people are warm and inspiring. The air is fresh,  the nature is right there and the weather changes constantly. Gives a lot of spice in life in a short time.

The local partners of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina are people with different backgrounds and interests but all are enthusiastic to receive you and give you an experience of a lifetime.

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

More information  – www.helgastina.com

EXCLUSIVE EXCURSIONS

Unwrapping Iceland’s gifts

If you think visiting Iceland is only glaciers, mountains and Northern Lights then think again! There is so much more to this unique and magical country than meets the eye. That is why I love showing visitors just how much they can get out of their stay in Iceland. The reason why I called my company ‘Iceland Unwrapped’ is because that is exactly what I do. Visiting Iceland is a gift no one will forget, but most people only see a small part of it… Through my exclusive excursions I reveal the best this wonderful country has to offer bit by bit.

And the best part? Every trip is tailor-made to your specifications.

What exciting and authentic treats do I have in store for my clients?

Connecting to a network of professionals in Iceland. Are you a company or an institution and would you like to get insights from the Icelanders and from Icelandic society? Please contact us for more information on what is possible.

Professional and educational trips

Tours for professionals in various fields. Iceland Unwrapped has planned trips for professionals in various fields. Iceland has a lot to offer for professionals that would like to be inspired by other professionals, and by the nature and culture of Iceland. Have a look at these options for the possibilities of connecting and being inspired in Iceland. And because Iceland is located almost half way between Europe and North America, you can have your team meet in the middle.

Unique experiences and adventures

Moon Trip – A possibility of stepping in the footsteps of the Astronauts that went to the moon 50 years ago.

Wool in Iceland – Knitting in Iceland and getting into the world of wool in Iceland.

Dining with the Icelanders – The very best food, hosts and produce the country has to offer.

Geothermal Health clinic – Read all about how our healing spas and lagoons can revitalize you and heal.

Female-empowerment trips – We connect successful women with the locals and teach you about Iceland’s fascinating history and how women have emerged as a driving force behind the country that you see today. This is a trip that both women and men should do, as gender equality can never be reached without the participation of all humans.

unique exclusive excursions iceland

Nature and wildlife

Nature photography – Join our local experts and learn how to capture the magic of the country.

Fishing, sailing and diving – You can’t escape the sea when you come to Iceland, and the surrounding oceans produce some of the freshest fish you will taste.

Animal and whale watching – Year round Iceland has some spectacular whale sightings!

Hiking, biking and extreme sports – From horse riding and biking to adventures in the wild windswept wilderness.

Family travel and culture

Iceland for families – Did you know we offer walks in nature where your little ones can discover elves in Hafnarfjordur? Not to mention some amazing days out, museums and family friendly outdoor pursuits.

Iceland and the arts – Meet local authors and artists and learn about how the amazing history and culture of the country has influenced their work. You might even be invited for a private concert in a musicians house.

Glamping and eco-travel – Immerse yourself in the beautiful countryside the responsible way.

And this is just the tip of the Icelandic iceberg!

Personalized travel

If you have a specific themed trip you would like to make alone, as a family, or with a group of people, please get in touch and my team and I will help you plan your dream Icelandic escape or work related dream trip.  We also cater for special needs and very specific requests… No request is too big or unique.

Your travel planner, Helgastina.

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.