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

Is it a bad idea to visit Iceland in the winter?

It’s officially winter now on this side of the globe. In Europe we have moved the clock. In Iceland, the clock has stayed out, but the weather is starting to get tricky in some areas of the country.

Time to relax and stay inside

To survive the winter where you are… Or…?

Have you ever thought about Iceland as a winter destination? Read More

Have you ever dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights dance?

Do you want to see the northern lights while staying in Iceland? For that you will need a bunch of luck and also a good forecast. The northern lights can vary a great deal. Sometimes they are barely noticeable, looking like a faint green veil on the sky. Other times they shine breathtakingly bright and dance across the sky in various shades of green, yellow and pink.

Read More

“We tell the stories of all types of exploration – from inner caves to outer space and many places in between”

“We tell the stories of all types of exploration – from inner caves to outer space and many places in between”

By Mike Klein @mklein818

 

Thirty miles from the Arctic Circle, in Husavik, a town with 2200 souls, a small but ambitious museum invites visitors to experience stories of exploration – including the most complete explanation of Iceland’s own “lunar mission” as a training location for the Apollo astronauts.

 

“The Exploration Museum tells stories of all types of exploration – from the Vikings to caves outer space.  The common themes – human curiosity and the desire to uncover something new,” said Örlygur Hnefill Örlygsson (Orly), the museum’s founder and leader.

Orly explaining the geology of the Askja region to the family of Neil Armstrong during a visit in 2015.

 

The story of “Iceland’s Lunar Mission”

 

Orly’s own interest in exploration dates back to his early childhood, to the time of NASA’s Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster. In spite of the tragedy, Orly began to develop an interest in space and in the reasons why people were interested in heading there.  “My mother bought me a book, I was so interested – in space, planets, space suits, and even though I focused on other things when I was 10-25, my interest was re-sparked when I found out that the Apollo astronauts had trained here.”

 

“I was reading a book of old newspaper articles and saw an article, but also noticed there was not an effort to put the whole story together, which dated from two training missions in 1965 and 1967. So I started to gather the oral history of the event – locating the people involved, the drivers, journalists, and caterers, and they had a lot of stories to tell.”

 

 

“I managed to get some good stories and some amazing photos, which form the heart of the exhibit,” Orly added.

The family of Neil Armstrong unveiling a monument in Húsavík, Iceland honoring Iceland’s part in the Apollo program.

 

In collecting the stories, Orly noted a number of themes:

  • The astronauts themselves: “It was very powerful to get to know the astronauts. The stories about them were still vivid fifty years later. The astronauts were expected to be role models, and they had to be very discreet about their partying activities. And they partied a bit in Iceland too. In order to purchase liquor, they created a coded language with a local journalist to radio in orders. ‘Blue shirts’ was code for Vodka, ‘white shirts’ was code for whiskey. They also went fishing and did the touristy things one did here in those days.
  • Why they selected Iceland: “It wasn’t just that Iceland bore a resemblance to the moon, but that the types of geology were relatively similar compared to other locations around the world. As most of the Astronauts were trained as test pilots, they needed to learn geology and learn to pick the best rocks to return with.  It’s a common misconception that they came here to practice moonwalking.”
  • Connecting with local history: the mission was not secret, and the Astronauts even had a press conference when they arrived. One of the first things they mentioned is that the Icelandic Loftleidir airliner they had flown from the US was named for Leif Eriksson, the Viking explorer said to have been the first European to land on North American soil.

 

The Exploration Museum’s exhibit is built around these stories and photos, but also includes personal items from the astronauts, an Icelandic coin from the astronauts’ first trip, rock samples used during the geology part of the training and even a small moon rock.

 

 Exploring beyond the museum

 

As part of the Exploration Museum’s mission, Orly and his team also offer interested travelers opportunities to visit some of the locations where the astronauts trained. “We can take people to all of the places, and we have actually had eight of the thirty two astronauts come here with their families.”

 

The mission of the museum also focuses on stimulating the spirit of exploration more broadly.  Every year, the museum hosts the Explorers’ Festival, where up to eight explorers from around the world come to exchange their stories, be they astronauts, cave specialists, or even scuba divers. Aside from sharing their stories, they share their art, sketches, poetry and music, and the Leif Eriksson Awards are given for life exploration achievements and for young explorers.

Here is a video focusing on how Iceland and the area near Husavik can be used for training purposes for future astronauts.

 

For those who make the six-hour trip from Reykjavik to Husavik (or the faster but pricey AIr Iceland Connect flight), there is much to explore in the nearby area, including glaciers, fjords, bays and opportunities to get out onto the sea.  In the summer, it is also possible to drive across Iceland to Husavik through the stunning and largely untouched Icelandic Highlands.

Moon walker Charlie Duke visiting Ásbyrgi last year with Orly and his daughter Aníta.

 

 

If you are interested in being a part of an extraordinary trip visiting the highlands of Iceland and specially chosen locations, a cooperation of The Exploration Museum and Iceland Unwrapped, please have a look at www.moontrip19.com

Travel time can be in August and September 2019

 

This trip combines the wonders of Iceland with an adventure of a lifetime in the highlands and with a tailor made exploration trip in the Husavik area. This trip is for groups of families, friends, workplaces or anyone that would like to explore extraordinary nature, get to know the history of the exploration to the moon with experts in the field, don´t hesitate to contact us. All you need is a group of minimum four and a dream to do a trip like no other. 

 More information on the Exploration Museum can be found on their website www.explorationmuseum.com

More information on Personalized travel planning in Iceland with Iceland Unwrapped can be found here 

Photos by Helga Stina – Frida Hjaltested and courtesy of The Exploration Museum in Husavik.

 

 

 

Winter – Iceland Style

Iceland has four seasons. Even though , they tend to come and go rather randomly. That means you can have snow in June in some places. You can have a “red Christmas“, as we call it, without any snow (almost destroying the holiday spirit, as it is not very Christmas-like in Iceland when there is no snow). You can even also have four seasons in one day, as I‘ve experienced on surprisingly high number of occasions.

In  the Winter, Icelanders read books voraciously, and we are obsessed with coziness: candles, good food, music, knitting or singing, and swimming of course in the warm geothermal pools. There is nothing like sitting in a hot tub in the middle of freezing cold weather with a blizzard going on…one is safe and warm in a geothermal pool, and you don´t even feel the cold when you have to walk back through the same blizzard to your locker rooms to shower and get dressed. I dare you to try it. It makes a Viking out of you.

A pool at the end of the road

I remember a Danish friend of mine who was traumatized by the cold in December when he had to run 50 meters (or walk-run in agony) to the hot tubs at the swimming pool in Reykjavik. He jumped into the warmest one he could find, but that was shock number two! When he got to the good one, I couldn´t get him out as he didn‘t want to ever leave. Whenever he goes to Iceland he needs to go every single day to the pool and it doesn´t matter if there‘s a blizzard or not. Add a dash of Northern Lights…need I say more ??

I could go on about the winter season in Iceland, but even though it is the darkest time of the year and the weather can often be blustery and rough; we can always look forward to the national book flood happening in December when the Icelanders read like there is no tomorrow and life is not fulfilled until you have received at least one if not two books for Christmas.

Winter is a wonderful time to visit Iceland. It‘s even better when you can connect with the locals over a home-cooked meal or through a tour to come of Iceland‘s hidden winter gems.

More on personalized travel planning, connecting to the Icelanders and enjoying all seasons on www.icelandunwrapped.com

Photos by Helga Stina

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Unforgettable experiences – Spectacular views and adventures

Last September I went to Iceland for a week to work and to enjoy the nearness of my family and friends.

Someone once said that the Icelanders are the most homesick people in the world and I believe that is true. The power of the nature plays a big part in me having to go home as often as possible, to recharge and connect.

The aim of the trip this September was to collect material, contacts and information about the upcoming Moon Trip 2019 in September of next year.

I decided to take a trip to the highlands of Iceland, to cross an old road called Kjolur, crossing from the south of the country to the north.

Geothermal highlight of Iceland in the middle of the highlands

As I am a believer in seizing the day and enjoying the moment as much as possible, I decided to enjoy the company off four of my best friends, including my sister, on the trip.

We rented a Land Rover, found an experienced driver and off we went in our hiking shoes and with a trunk full of material for an outdoor picnic in the wilderness of Iceland.

The weather was like a dream. We had a little stop at a road gas station, had a hot dog with everything and some coffee, surrounded by tourists in the Golden Circle.

Our Land Rover and a dry fish on a rock

But we were not staying there, in the massive crowds, as our adventure began for real when entering the challenging mountain road of Kjolur.

The road is an old pathway between the south and north of Iceland and it closes during winter because of weather conditions in the Highlands of Iceland. In the old days, people would walk over this road or go over it on horses. There are stories of people not completing the journey, as the weather can change very suddenly and there is no one living permanently in the Highlands.

On a day like we had, it is hard to imagine the weather changing fast. The Sun was shining, and the clouds looked like something out of a cartoon. There was no wind and no sound in some of the places we stopped at.

Total space, total silence, total peace.

The lunar landscape in the highlands of Iceland

It is an adventure I would wish everyone could experience. The landscape changing with each kilometer. From green and grown to total lunar like desert and again to beautiful colors of the Icelandic fauna and moss, that has been growing in these hard conditions for millions of years.

We forgot the champagne but we didn´t need it. The experience of this wilderness, connecting with nature, and being with people you love was enough to make this experience one of the most memorable in my life. Something I will share with my friends forever.

Precious memories with my childhood friends and my sister

Iceland Unwrapped is offering The Moon Trip 2019 in Iceland next autumn. Following the footsteps of the the astronauts that went to the moon in 1969, fifty year ago next year. It´s appropriate to celebrate that amazing achievement by visiting Iceland, where those brave men practiced for their landing on the moon.

More information and registration here

 

Experience the feeling of Iceland with Iceland Unwrapped when you get the chance.

Iceland Unwrapped

Gravity won´t pull you to Iceland – But this will

Going to the moon is still impossible for all of us.

But a trip to the lunar landscapes of Iceland’s highlands can bring you as close as possible.

50 years ago, Neil and his mates in the Apollo missions had an unprecedented experience when they were exposed only to the solitude of the emptiness of outer space and the odd landscape of the lunar surface.

It was something they had never seen, but it was something they prepared for. They prepared in Iceland.

Now you can walk in their footsteps as well.

For five days next September, Iceland Unwrapped can take you as close to the lunar surface as you can get on Earth. An exclusive tour of the very places in the Highlands where the Apollo Astronauts trained. Combined with many of the unique sights, sounds and tastes that only Iceland offers.

Come join us in September 2019.

More information www.moontrip19.com

(Contribution by Neil Jaschinski partnering on this trip)

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

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