Iceland and Eurovision – A decades long love story

Oh well. My home country Iceland continues to amaze me and perhaps it is quite extraordinary how it somehow manages to stay in the discussion as one of the most important places to visit in the world.

In the past months we have been experiencing an extraordinary world. The world came to a stop and traveling was something that was not on peoples minds for the foreseeable future.

But the world has been helpful. In the past weeks there has been amazing publicity about Iceland in various media. This and the fact that Iceland has been successful in managing the virus, is making people opening up for the idea of visiting this rock in the North Atlantic during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A movie by Will Ferrell has been rocking the world in the past weeks. It is about the Eurovision Song Contest and how the Icelanders are obsessed with it. And they truly are, not only in the film.

When I was growing up Eurovision was one of the highlights of the year.

In the times of no TV on Thursdays and no TV for five weeks in the summer there were a couple of golden moments in front of the screen. Eurovision was one of them.

I remember those Eurovision evenings, when we only had one Saturday evening of Eurovision (now there are three). Good dinner, family gathered together, having an opinion on who should win. Amazing hairdos in the 80´s, Plastic Bertrand, Johnny Logan, Celine Dion, and my personal favorite, the Herrey’s singing about their golden shoes. Truly adorable.

One of the shocks of the century was that the Italians wouldn´t win with Gente di mare in 1987 and believe me, the shocks have been many due to the fact that somehow politics between countries has had an impact on the results, where former enemies would put their swords away and vote for each other, or not.

In recent years there have been some amazing songs, in my opinion, like the Portuguese winner. No doubt, this competition brings people together in the harmony of friendship and unity and can have a big impact on the artists involved.

When Iceland started to compete in 1986 we were all sure about that we would of course win. The devastation and shock was almost unbearable when the results were clear. Our song – Gleðibankinn (The Joy bank) ended up in the 16th place. The impact on the Icelanders’ identity will never fully be known and perhaps never to be fully recovered from.

Nevertheless the Icelanders never stop believing in winning and we have been the runner up twice, which was of course unbearable to live through, although no one really knows where to host this big event in Iceland if that would happen 🙂

This year was our year, but this damn virus prevented that from happening with this amazing song. We will probably never recover from that shock.

Eurovision is very integrated into the Icelandic soul. Originally I think it was because of our curiosity about the world around us which seemed far away and out of reach. So this one evening we could be a part of a bigger unit, united with our cool friends and role models in Europe.

Secondly I think it is because we are a small nation of 360.00 people that wants to be a player on the big scene and believes in the power of the small over the big. Kind of like in the old folklore where a small human would conquer over a troll, tricking it to stay out in daylight and turning into stone.

For more information on personalized travel planning including Eurovision or not on www.icelandunwrapped.com

Peaceful Iceland

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

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 

When is the boat picking us up? – By Brynja Bjarnadóttir

Have you ever dreamed of visiting a remote place , only reachable by sea in Iceland?

Can you think of a remote little town in Iceland?

Now think of an even smaller one and way more remote. That is Hesteyri. There are only few houses there, a run down whaling station and a cemetery. No one lives there any more except for a few people in the summer. To get there from Reykjavík you first have to drive to Ísafjörður, threading all the fjords on the way and once you’re there, you have to take a small boat to get to the final destination, a one hour boat trip organized specially on request.

The harbor in Hesteyri – Photo courtesy of Brynja

 

I went there for the first time with a group in 2016 to work on building a small hydro power plant to provide the summer habitants with renewable energy. Almost all house in Iceland rely on renewable energy but there are a few exceptions, some places are so far away from the grid that they have to rely on oil or gas. Hesteyri used to be one of them until 2017 when the power plant was ready.

Picture courtesy of Brynja

 

I had never heard of the place before I went there. Because I was going there to work I didn’t have a very glamorous image of the place in my head. But I couldn’t have been more wrong! As soon as I stepped off the boat I fell in love with the place. I remember seeing tall angelica’s and a field of purple and yellow flowers, I had never seen anything like it before. In Iceland it is quite uncommon to see a field filled with flowers and I didn’t realize right away why in Hesteyri flowers grow so wild. The answer lies in the remoteness; not even the sheep can get there. They are known to waltz freely around the entire country in summertime, eating all the grass they stumble upon and making no exceptions for beautiful flowers.

Flowers in Hesteyri – Photo courtesy of Brynja

 

While staying there I picked up a book from the shelf called Ég man þig (I remember you). It’s a ghost/horror story that takes place in Hesteyri. A group of people go there for a week and strange things start to happen. The scenery is perfect, abandoned houses with no electricity or phone connections. I recommend the book but I’m not sure I can recommend reading it there. I definitely had some nightmares.

Hesteyri – Photo courtesy of Brynja

 

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 

 

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

Unwrapping my Iceland – By Edda Jonsdóttir

Unwrapping my Iceland

When asked to unwrap my Iceland, I immediately thought about the opportunities I have had to show visitors around the country and provide them with insights into the culture. What a privilege that has been. That is why I admire the services offered at Iceland Unwrapped, where tailor-made itineraries often include interaction with locals and cultural insights that are sure to leave an imprint.

 

Iceland has become a highly popular destination in the past few years. But what does this remote volcanic island, in the middle of the Atlantic, really have to offer?

With Students At Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Postcard Iceland

Soft moss like green puddles in the midst of lava fields. White glaciers and black sands bathed in blue light. The Northern Lights dancing in the skies above magnificent mountains and rocky highlands. These are all parts that together make the mystic Icelandic nature. But how does a nature this unique mold the character of those who live on this remote island in the middle of the Atlantic?

 

Shaped by the elements of nature

 Some say that the constant fight with the elements of nature shapes one‘s character. If that is true, than it must be true for those who live in Iceland. The strong winds build fortitude as one fights a daily battle to get from one place to another.

 

The stark contrasts between the dark winter days and the summers when night and day are joined by endless light, creates a carpe diem mindset. You are bound to seize the day, whether your body is filled with the endless energy of summer or challenged during the gloom of winter.

Reynisfjara is one of my favorite spots in Iceland

Get to know the people of Iceland

 Nordic people are often said to be cold (much like the weather) and distant, but under the cool facade, molded by the harsh nature, you will often discover colorful characters.

At the risk of generalizing, the people of Iceland love telling stories. After all, storytelling is ingrained in our DNA, with folklore and Sagas being a part of our cultural heritage.

We also love swimming, which explains the number of geothermal pools and hot tubs around the country. For Icelanders, going to the pool is as much a social event as it is a healthy ritual. Political debates and business deals are often conducted in the hot tubs in public swimming pools around the country.

If you have visited Iceland during the winter months, it may seem that there are more pools than there are people, but that is not true. Most people just spend more time indoors during the winter.

The people of Iceland are indeed quite a small group. Although the population is growing, it still only counts around 350.000 people (yes, that is the total number of people living on the whole island!)

 

Group picture from one of many trips

 

The land of singing  

The music scene in Iceland is quite versatile. According to Interkultur, a website dedicated to the international choral scene, Iceland has more than 300 choirs with more than 9000 members. I think it is safe to say that we love singing!

 

Many renowned musicians have roots in Iceland. Of monsters and men, Bjork and Sigur Ros are worth mentioning, along with many more. If you love music, be sure to ask your Iceland Unwrapped travel expert to include a musical event in your itinerary.

Hraunfossar waterfall

 

Viking hospitality

The Vikings were avid travelers and had a lot to say about hospitality and being a gracious guest. Havamal, the sayings of the Vikings (you can get a copy in most bookstores in Iceland) are a wonderful read. The following are two verses with instruction on how to treat guests.

Fire is needed by the newcomer
Whose knees are frozen numb;
Meat and clean linen a man needs
Who has fared across the fells,

Water, too, that he may wash before eating,
Handcloth’s and a hearty welcome,
Courteous words, then courteous silence
That he may tell his tale. [1]

 

Dining with the locals

Traditionally it is considered a true privilege to be able to share moments with visitors. Particularly when it provides them with an inside into the daily life in Iceland. In the past few years, I have been involved in hosting a summer school in Iceland, so I have had the chance to unwrap my Iceland to groups of university students.

 

We have had quite a few vegan and vegetarian students and I have been pleasantly impressed with the food options available to them. But if you are neither vegan nor vegetarian, the local favorites are fresh fish, organic grass fed lamb and our dense, yogurt-like, fresh cheese called Skyr. When you dine with the locals, you will typically be given a taste of those.

Mashed fish, butter and Icelandic bread

 

I recommend asking your Iceland Unwrapped expert to book you a dinner with locals, so you can get a direct experience of what is hidden under the mystic facade of the people of Iceland.

The author is a leadership coach and responsible business management consultant at EddaCoaching

Originally from Iceland, she is a seasoned expat but spends several weeks a year in Iceland.

 

[1] https://www.ragweedforge.com/havamal.html

 

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

Equality is a goal of men and women

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

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

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

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

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

Now I want to take this concept even further and to connect international women and men and Icelandic women and men together with an inspirational trip to Iceland.

The idea is to join together men and women from around the world, to connect, share past and present stories, develop new contacts and possibilities in a wonderful, powerful and inspiring location in Iceland, and to interact with women leaders (and male leaders) in a country with a long and continuing commitment to equality and empowerment.

This is possible all year round and for groups with 4  to 15 members, and combines well with visits to many of Iceland’s natural treasures and other cultural highlights.

Involving both men and women in the process of gender equality is essential for future sustainability.

If you are interested in joining a group of friends or your workplace and get to know the power of equality in Iceland please contact Iceland Unwrapped

Two of Iceland´s most inspiring women

Picture by Frida Hjaltested

Hiking, collecting the sheep, berry picking and the wonderful Kjotsupa.

A few reasons why September is a good month to travel to Iceland.

So let´s imagine a day.

You are hiking in the mountains with the farmers in a little fjord helping with collecting the sheep.

On your path you taste fresh blue berries straight from the bush.

You get a drink of water from a creek after a long day of hiking in your Icelandic wool sweater.

At the end of the work day you have a wonderful “Kjotsupa” – meat soup, with the locals followed by the dairy product Skyr and blueberries for dessert.

After dinner you lay down in a beautiful warm geothermal pool, with a view of a lifetime hoping to see the Northern lights dancing in the sky.

Sounds like a dream to me.

The fact of the matter is, that this is possible. All of it or parts of it.

This is possible in Iceland at the end of august and in the beginning of September.

Autumn in Iceland is beautiful in so many ways and it´s very precious to be a part of nature when summer is almost over.

The sunsets are unbelievable and one of the biggest events of the year takes place, when the sheep get collected from the mountains before winter starts.

In the old days and to a certain extend in modern times, the autumn is the time of collecting as much food as possible for the hard winter months in Iceland.

Berries are used for all kinds of delicacies, mushrooms are collected and dried, fish is caught from the rivers, potatoes, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables, that manage to grow in Iceland, are picked from the ground and we make something called Kjotsupa.

It´s a celebration of food.

Kjötsúpa is a wonderful dish. Lamb soup with vegetables of the autumn, warm and delicious on wet autumn nights. Some people even have Kjotsupa for every meal in the autumn they say.

Fresh – authentic and delicious Iceland.

Interested in getting an authentic experience?

Contact Helga Stina for more information

HUH – Football Iceland style now at The World Cup

At the moment the Icelanders are in a dream, after the Icelandic football team managed to get a space in the World Cup in Russia this summer 2018.

It‘s an unbelievable results for a nation of a bit over 300.000 people.

I have been  thinking since I saw one of the games of this team in France last year at Euro 2016, how it was possible for these guys to manage to get to where they are and I think that is a very important story to tell.

The fact is that the guys who are playing for Iceland in the World Cup this summer are known for a good group spirit where no link is more important than any other. This is an ideology and management approach used in many workplaces in the world with success.

But why are these guys so humble? Why are they not flying around in a cloud of self love and arrogance because of their acheivements?

I think the answer is that they have had to work for it and they know that football isn´t life.

I have a personal experience, where I actually was the boss of one of these players. He was 21 years old at the time and starting his career as a starter for his team. To be able to keep on playing, he had to attend two practices every day. One in the morning and one at noon because they had games in the evening. To be able to do this meant he had to get special permission from his boss to attend these trainings. It wasn´t easy to make it work but boy I am glad that I gave him that permission.

Distances pay a big role too. If it takes only five minutes to get to your training location from work, it makes everything easier. That is the case in the Reykjavik area and in most other towns in Iceland.

This has been the reality of these players to work and play football as well in any kind of weather. At the time there were not many possibilities to train inside, like there are today as a result of Iceland‘s investment in indoor football training facilities, so these guys who now are entering the World Cup are truly modern-time Vikings, and the joy of playing and community in the team is their trademark.

Nevertheless, indoor facilities are not accessible everywhere for all clubs in Iceland, so many of these guys and girls have to play outside in all weather possible on this rock in the North Atlantic.

They take this task seriously but  they are also aware of that this is the time to enjoy the game, the challenge and the friendships with their fellow team members and other players at the World Cup.

I have my favorite team already and, you guessed it, it´s Iceland. Fee free to join team Iceland. We would love to have you.

If you can’t make it to Russia I think being in Iceland for this event is going to be an adventure of a lifetime.

To organize a custom Iceland Football Tour, or attend a match of the National Team or one of the country´s top club teams during your visit, contact me on www.helgastina.com