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.

What happens when the power is out? By Helga Stina

Iceland is a land of extremes. The elements of nature impact everything in life there.

Being raised in a place that sometimes makes it difficult to plan ahead, is a privilege. You might ask why that is the case, and it is because it teaches one to respect nature and its ways, to constantly find solutions and to think out of the box.

I remember clearly when I was younger and we had a lot of storms in the winter in Iceland, and the power went out a lot, as is to be expected when living on a rock in the middle of North Atlantic. Somehow in the memory, my mum always wanted to use the time to iron things. It was like, Yes now there is no electricity, now I finally have time to iron in peace, until she realized of course that, that wasn´t even possible 😊

Reykjavik in winter, after a storm – Photo by Helga Stina

I personally think we should have the power out more often in our modern lives to forcefully make us do other things, such as read,  talk to each other, read to each other, sit by a candle light, take a long warm bath (possible because water in Iceland is geothermal) or just to listen to the weather outside, and being thankful for having a warm house. I don´t think this will ever be possible again because of phones and computers that are pre-charged. But one can always hope 🙂

A beautiful winter sunset at around 15.00- Photo by Helga Stina

But how is it to live in a place with such darkness? 

When you live in a place where you have about 3 to 4 hours of daylight during the darkest months and almost 24 hours of daylight during the brightest months, you learn how to cherish what is possible at these times. Culture blooms in winter in Iceland and when you think about that it is a society of 330.000 people it is stunning that there is so much going on. And don´t get me started on quality of life included in the geothermal pools.

I, for example get frequently asked by non-Icelanders, why there are so many good musicians in Iceland. The joke is normally, that it must be so boring over there that people need to do something to survive the boredom.

That is far from the truth. Calmness and quietness to be able to create might be a big factor, great possibilities of music teaching for children from early age, access to possibilities of having concerts for young artist and, perhaps, the need to create something real when you can´t control everything…like the weather, the darkness, the storm or whatever it may be. Nearness to the elements of nature plays a role for sure.

Here are two examples of my favorite Icelandic artists singing in English. Júníus Meyvant and Hjaltalín. You probably already know Sigur Ros, Of Monsters and Men, Björk and Kaleo.

 

What would you do if the power went off?

If you would like to get connected to Iceland, nature and the elements, contact Iceland Unwrapped

Every travel plan is a personalized one.

Make an appointment for an informal talk with Helga Stina to start the adventure.

Advent in Iceland – It´s about warmth, traditions and surviving the darkness – By Helga Stina

One of my favorite times of the year has arrived. Advent is something that warms my heart and gets me excited every year, wherever I am.

When I was a kid, it always seemed to be snowing during this time of year. Everyone was busy getting ready for Christmas, baking, buying presents, cleaning their houses. Some even used the opportunity to paint the house. New curtains, Christmas dances, shoes in the window placed by children hoping them to be filled with a treat from the Yule Lads.

Iceland is sometimes Iceland – Photo unknown

Most importantly, everyone was making sure to get new clothes for Christmas, to avoid an encounter with the horrific, murderous Icelandic Christmas Cat. Writing the Christmas cards for loved ones was a wonderful tradition in my home, and one of my warmest memories was when I helped my grandma writing hers, because she said her handwriting wasn´t good enough. My mum´s Christmas cookies are a precious part of the memories. Wonderful to come inside with red cheeks after playing in the snow, a cookie and cold milk was exactly what was needed.

The most precious feeling of advent to me is the kindness of people and the importance of gathering, giving each other small presents and listening to beautiful music on a cold December evening. Even though the Icelanders have a tendency of overdoing it a bit during Christmas, that is just a part of the experience, and when people sit down together at 18.00 on Christmas eve, all stress is gone and nothing left to do but to enjoy to the fullest with your loved ones.

With age, I have come to miss Iceland a lot during this time of year as I live in The Netherlands, where there is not a lot of fuss about Christmas. They have other traditions that are highlighted here.

In the memory, the Advent was always filled with snow and beauty and yes cold – An overview of the pond in Reykjavik. It´s possible to skate here when the ice is thick enough – Photo by Helga Stina

Advent is also a mystical time of year. When you live in a land of fire and ice it is not surprising that stories of trolls, elves, hidden people and all kinds of creatures are created, especially during the darkest months of the year. A lot of mystical-looking areas encourage a vivid imagination. The stories told this time of year are some extraordinary and exciting.

There are many traditions in Iceland that are not, to my knowledge, practiced elsewhere. Many of them are only practiced in some parts of Iceland and some are well known to everyone.

My father puts up his old, handmade Icelandic farm with the Yule Lads every Christmas. It´s always exciting – Photo by Helga Stina

The 13 Yule Lads (instead of a single Santa Clause), Laufabraud (a beautifully decorated fried flat bread), skata (fermented fish), the Christmas Book Flood, shoes in the window and Christmas dances for the children. These are some of the traditions that make Advent and Christmas exciting and different in Iceland.

The Icelandic Parliament and the one of Iceland´s most iconic churches -Domkirkjan – Photo by Helga Stina

Many people go to Church only on Christmas Eve to welcome the peace, the light and the warmth for themselves, their family and others. Iceland is not now a very religious country; we were in the past and the traditions come from people putting their effort and pride in celebrating the good in the world, and during these hard months of winter in Iceland, that was a true gift of light into people´s life.

A beautiful Christmas eve with good food and presents or treats – Photo by Helga Stina

The traditions are mixed as Iceland became Christian in the year 1000 without blood being shed, under the condition of being able  to practice secretly their heathen traditions, believing in the Viking gods and goddesses, such as Thor, Odin and Freyja. That influences Iceland’s history from early times and explain the diversity of these traditions compared to those of some other countries. This influences the Advent, Christmas and New years traditions a lot in Iceland.

Advent is the time of warmth and trying to survive the darkness in Iceland. Being in love helps 🙂 – Photo by Helga Stina

 

In the month of December Iceland Unwrapped will be presenting you with many of these traditions.  Make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

A lucky follower on Facebook and Instagram will receive a gift from Iceland Unwrapped in the post.

See more info coming up.

Just a hint. It is connected to the Christmas Book Flood.

Greetings – Helga Stina founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped 

Contact me for more information on how to combine Icelandic traditions in your vacation.

The Christmas book flood in December aims to get everybody reading during the holidays – Photo unknown

 

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

An autumn journey into wellness – By Helga Stina

Last week, I returned again to Iceland to visit some of my hospitality partners – and made yet another interesting discovery in the town of Hafnarfjordur, just outside Reykjavik.

The town council has decided to use one of the most beautiful buildings in Iceland, a former hospital, as a home for new businesses focusing on wellness. Together, they offer a holistic approach where mind, body, and soul can be nurtured in the same place.

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

Guðbjörg and Ingibjörg, two of the founders, are looking to serve companies, institutions and individuals by offering them the opportunity to snap out of their stressful realities and focus on being present and exploring themselves, taking advantage of the nearby lava fields and the unique and inspiring scenery of the area.

A particular focus are those in service professions – people who work with people – who often give so much of themselves that they can benefit from some restorative care in a peaceful yet beautiful setting.

It´s precious to have nature and peace close by – Photo by Helga Stina

This includes, doctors, nurses, teachers and everyone else that is specialised in helping others. Come to think of it, everyone working anywhere can fit the criteria, bankers, lawyers, engineers, shopkeepers, human resource managers, PR directors and the list is endless.

As they say when you are flying on an airplane: put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. That makes sense don´t you think? How can we become better professionals without forgetting to nurture ourselves in the process.

Every season has it´s charm in Iceland. Autumn is beautiful with it´s colors and mystical light – Photo by Helga Stina

Groups from workplaces, institutions or private or family groups can focus on themselves, get inspired, have a mindful experience with great walks, conversations, healthy food and guidance of qualified specialists with great experience in working with people, getting the best out of each and everyone. A focus on you as a human to make you even better as a specialist working with other humans.

But why Iceland?

It is quite incredible to witness what happens to people when they visit Iceland. In a few days people de-stress and gain a new perspective towards themselves and the nature surrounding them. In that atmosphere, there emerges a possibility for growth and expression that might be difficult in a big, busy city or in a person‘s normal routine.

Iceland is great for all ages. Always time to let the imagination go free – Photo by Helga Stina

Being able to rejuvenate in nature, yet be only five minutes from a town with all the required amenities is an extraordinary possibility, a rare one indeed.

If you are interested in an informal chat about possibilities contact Helga Stina

If you are interested in reading more blogs by Iceland Unwrapped open this link

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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

It just might be good business – The opportunity of connecting and getting inspired in Iceland

Iceland is known to be a magical place. The nearness to nature, the warm-hearted people and the sense of isolation on this island far away from it all in the North Atlantic.

But why is Iceland a good option for getting inspired? Why would you even consider going to Iceland for a professional event or a conference?

Peaceful fjord in the east. Ideal for a place to gather a group of people and focus – Photo by Helga Stina

 

There are three obvious reasons for considering Iceland as a destination for your company or institution.

  1. Imagine having your group secluded on a island in the North Atlantic where you can focus on the subject, while at the same time, share some extraordinary experiences in nature with the group. It´s great for group building and for getting people to be fresh while working.
  2. Iceland is ideally situated between Europe and North America, with excellent service from the local airline and a number of other carriers on both sides of the Atlantic. That positions Iceland uniquely in that you can join people together in the “middle.” The flight from for example Amsterdam to Iceland takes less than three hours and from Iceland to NY or Boston takes about 5 hours.
  3. Aside from world-class nature, Iceland has hotels and venues that can handle any kind of a visit – be it a management conference, an exposition, a visit to multiple companies or institutions, or an intimate seminar at a boutique hotel with its own hot spring (if you’d like).

But the appeal of an Iceland event isn’t limited to nature, Northern Lights or hot springs.  

The beautiful colors of autumn – Photo by Helga Stina

Iceland Unwrapped builds on a strong network of personal and professional connections across the country to connect our guests with Icelanders from all walks of life, including their own peers and counterparts in their fields.

Sometimes this comes together as guest visits or speakers events – such as professors, practitioners or public officials. But these encounters also include the popular Dining With The Icelanders events, where participants dine in the homes of locals. Hosts include a noted opera singer and all kinds of professionals,  couples and families all over the country. 

The plan is made in cooperation with you to meet your wishes and needs, including all kinds of cultural experiences and connecting to the locals.

Reykjavik has a beautiful coastline – Photo by helgastina

 

“Helga is very involved and makes your trip a unique experience. She has good contacts in Iceland, making it a successful study trip.” (An anonymous client –  Rotterdam)

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About Helga Stina Travel Planner – “11/10. She is a gem. The week was really well organised, before and during – great communication. Many thanks for a great week!”
(Tom Huntingford – Filmmaker in London)
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“The trip was very professional. Thank you so much for your warm hospitality, for your excellent organisation, for integrating a great variety of experiences into the trip and for your active contributions to the discussions. On this third point as well, I think it is important to obtain input from tour operators, such as yourself, so that we are not just discussing these topics in a vacuum but can benefit from the input of Icelanders who work in the tourism sector. “ (Anonymous client)
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“Fantastic job – and academics are a difficult bunch (like herding cats). Helga Stina is amazing, warm, fun and easy going.” (Anonymous client)
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“Well done! you had a lot of us to juggle and did a brilliant job. thank you. It was very professional.” (Jonathan Turner – NLA International Ltd.)
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You want to know what is possible?
Mystical lava fields – Photo by helgastina

 

Why time is so important in Iceland

I have just returned from my ever changing island after a fabulous work trip. I was exploring new places and meeting fantastic entrepreneurs in the areas that I recommend for my clients. It seems that there is never enough time while in Iceland. Many of my clients get the taste of Iceland on their first trip and then choose to go again and again. Read More

Windy Wine tasting – By Brynja Bjarnadóttir

Have you ever dreamed of opening up a bottle of wine by the ocean?

A friend of mine inspired me by writing down one hundred things she wanted to do or accomplish in her life. I followed her example and did the same. I started of with the most obvious things (like meeting Beyonce and climbing Mount Everest) but after writing around thirty things, my idea bank started running dry. Then came the fun part, I had to be creative and come up with a lot of less significant things, I remember writing things like cooking a three course meal, sleeping under the bare sky and knitting a scarf. My favorite one was definitely opening up a bottle of wine by the sea. It had that romantic feel to it and I was very excited about doing it.

Windy Wine – Photo courtesy of Brynja

A friend of mine from the Check Republic told me he was coming for a short visit to Iceland and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to check this thing of my list, we could open a bottle of wine up together by the sea. He had one night in Reykjavík before he would go driving around the country, so the day was set and I bought the bottle of wine. The day arrived but unfortunately it was an extremely windy one, definitely not an ideal time to go and sit by the ocean.

Windy Wine – courtesy of Brynja

 

I had a decision to make, to be defeated by the weather or to be stubborn and go anyway. I chose the ladder, it was an absolutely crazy idea. We went to Ægissíða together with some friends, where there is a small hot tub for our feet and we all huddled up there together, fighting off the wind and opened up the bottle. The bottle went from one person to the other and we were laughing so hard at what we were doing. It didn’t have that romantic feel that I was hoping for but it was perfect anyway, even better then what I had imagined.

 

Later my friend told me this was the best thing he did in Iceland.

For more information on extraordinary places to experience hidden gems contact Iceland Unwrapped 

Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina is a travel planning company focusing in connecting to the Icelanders, culture and nature in Iceland. Please contact us for more information
Brynja Bjarnadottir – Musician – Dancer- Filmmaker – Freelance writer for Iceland Unwrapped