Highlands adventure – By Arjan van der Weck

I have to admit, I didn’t share my true objectives with my travel companions until after we rented the Landrover. Contemplating the costly consequences of damaging an almost new but uninsured car during a river crossing is an effective way of killing any adventure in the making. And an adventure was what I was after.

It was the same dedication that didn’t make us stop for long at the warning sign at the beginning of route F88 to the Askja crater, telling us not to continue without proper preparation, experience and gear.

‘Áfram bara!’ we said to each other, the Icelandic version of ‘Let’s go!’.

Photo by Arjan van der Weck

 

And the road turned out to be challenging indeed. We were driving for hours through the lunar landscape of the highlands, crossing rivers with the car we would never consider wading through.

There is video footage of our first river crossing, in which you can hear me giving instructions to myself on how to handle the car while trying to radiate confidence to my passengers – obviously in vain. Every now and then we were overtaken by faster and bigger cars that were ferrying tourists up and down from Akureyri in one day trips. With a nervous grin on my face, I assured my travel companions our self-drive adventure was the better option.

The stops were as welcome as magnificent. Herðubreiðarlindir, Herðubreið herself, Askja and Öskjuvatn exceeded expectations, already raised to astronomic levels by pictures and travel guides.

Photo by Arjan van der Weck

 

But the best was yet to come. As often, the highlights of the trip aren’t the ones predicted in the travel guides. From a chat with one of the rangers of the Vatnajökull National Park, we learned there was a recently risen opportunity to take a natural hot bath in one of the upstream branches of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river. Following an unmarked track, she was happy to point out to us, we arrived at a recent extension of the Holuhraun lava field.

None of us is ever going to forget the experience: being absolutely alone in the middle of the highland wilderness, swimming in a warm glacial river next to a steaming lava field at arm’s length of the Vatnajökull ice cap truly was the highlight of the holiday.

Photo by Arjan van der Weck

Unfortunately, some of us weren’t fully prepared for everything. While most of us packed their swimming suits in the morning, some didn’t. Which wasn’t much of a problem while being amongst ourselves.

But when the local rescue team on duty showed up at the site after an hour, the situation turned mildly awkward. Keeping cool already was the theme of the day but doing so when climbing out of a river without swimming trunks under the watchful eyes of six Vikings wearing survival suits and sunglasses is something else.

Fortunately, they planned to do the same as we did, and fortunately some of them were as ill prepared as we were. Shared awkwardness turned into a funny situation.

Never forget to bring your swimming suit regardless where you are going is a lesson not to be learned often enough in Iceland.

Photo by Sara Lind

 

And so, we found ourselves at a distance of more than 150 kilometers away from the nearest paved road early in the evening. It wasn’t going to be dark anytime soon, but we still had to travel quite a distance before we finally reached the Möðrudalur skáli just before closing time.

Our dinner of sandwiches, hot dogs and soda could not have tasted better…

Arjan van der Weck is a geographer, specializing in international projects. He is based in Delft, The Netherlands and his wife Hanna Lára is Icelandic.

More on personalized travel planning on the website of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina

The Feeling of Iceland – By Helga Stína

Iceland is again on the top of many people´s list to travel in the post-pandemic era.

My clients have been looking forward to traveling for a long time, and are eager to explore the beauty of Iceland.

The feeling of Iceland is someting I love to promote to my clients.

The feeling of feeling like you are alone in the world.

The feeling of seeing uncountable beautiful waterfalls

The feeling of being cold and warm at the same time.

The feeling of having four seasons in one day (or at least, three).

The feeling of tasting something you are not quite sure what to think about.

The feeling of being in a place that is between north America and Europe and not entirely either.

The feeling of bathing in water that smells of sulfur.

The feeling of being able to drink clean water straight from the ground outside in nature or inside from your tap.

The feeling of having 24 hours of daylight, and energy that you haven´t felt before

The feeling of taking the country in slowly, to enjoy the extraordinary scenery on your path.

The feeling of having a cold drink in a hot tub, outside and seeing the Northern Lights dancing above your head.

The feeling of being put in your place where nature rules

That´s the feeling of Iceland.

It’s time to come visit.

 

Contact us to make an apointment to talk about the possibility of your dream coming true in Iceland.

Iceland by the seasons: and why you need a travel planner for each

A season-by-season guide to planning an Iceland trip

Iceland may be a small country with only 330,000 residents. But the combination of high tourist numbers, predicted in 2022 and a difficult-to-navigate language makes local knowledge a valuable resource for a visitor who wants to get maximum value from their Iceland experience. In a country with turbulent, ever-changing weather, and extreme seasonality of sunlight, Iceland becomes several ‘different’ destinations as the year unfolds. Each of which requires very different travel planning strategies. Read More

Peaceful Iceland – and its appeal to the 2021 traveler

When people mention Iceland, the first things that generally come to mind are mountains, volcanos, geysers and breathtakingly stunning landscapes. 

Oh, they’re all included in the price of a plane ticket (assuming you can rent a car, a guide or take a tour that will get them to you). But, having lived in Iceland since July of 2020, I get a sense there’s another side of Iceland that will have some appeal to those willing to travel this spring and thereafter.

It’s peaceful.  

And by peaceful, I don’t necessarily mean “quiet”.  I mean, rather, that Iceland works and is more than ready to accommodate its next visitors.  

Rain and shine in Reykjavik – Photo by Helga Stina

 

While it will take some time for Iceland’s tourism industry to recover, the country is emerging from the worst of COVID-19 relative to other destinations.  

Never a big package-tourism place, Iceland has a great base of small hotels and rental properties (many optimistically called “summer houses”).

Being in total relaxation for a couple of days in this environment is a treat of a lifetime – Photo by Helga Stina

 

Many summer houses are secluded and have scenic views and built in hot tubs, some using Iceland’s famous geothermally heated water. Most have fully equipped kitchens. As seclusion in Iceland does not mean being completely cut off, Iceland’s well-supplied supermarkets are rarely more than a half an hour-hour drive away.  

 

Town life, and the comings and goings in Iceland’s university-town-sized capital of Reykjavik, has remained active throughout the pandemic – with restaurants and cinemas remaining open, and with the local geothermal spa/swimming pools fully operational in most towns across the country.

Iceland is perfect for picnic. Reykjavík autumn sun – Photo by helgastina

Reykjavik has an easy feel to it at the moment.  No crowds, plenty of dining choices, a selection of small museums and local sights.  A brief drive of 15-20 minutes outside the city or its suburbs situates you in sweeping seascapes, lunar landscapes, silent volcanos and steaming geothermal zones.  To make the most of your Reykjavik area experience, the services of local experts like Iceland Unwrapped are invaluable now because many sites and locations have closed or are changing hands as the recovery gathers pace.

The mercurial national currency, the Icelandic Krona, is also the most tourist-friendly it’s been in years, bringing prices down to levels comparable to larger cities in North America and Europe, excepting of course the nation’s pricey if diversely supplied chain of state liquor stores.

To be sure, you can come to Iceland and be blown away by the scenery.  But travelers seeking peace, quiet, comfort and space will be pleased by a trip to the Land of Fire and Ice.  2021 will be a good time to come.

Mike Klein is Principal of Changing The Terms, a Reykjavik-based business communication consultancy.  A US native, Mike has lived in Iceland since 2020 and has also resided in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.  He is the former Europe – Middle East – Africa chair of IABC, a leading global communication association.  He is particularly fond of Icelandic cod and the Gull brand of Icelandic lager, and is married to Helga Stina, founder of Iceland Unwrapped.

Happy New Travel Year 2021

This has been a weird year to say the least.

Everything we have taken for granted has been put on hold: such as hugging each other or shaking hands, traveling or meeting up with all of our family and friends at once. Some places have been hit very hard and are still in the middle of this Covid hurricane.

Last month the first vaccines arrived in Iceland. The minister of health, a fine lady, was following the flight on radar to make sure everything would be as it should be and nothing would stop this important cargo to arrive safely to the shores of this rock in the north Atlantic.

There is a relief in Icelandic society now as we can see an end of this situation in sight and possibilities of getting life back to normal, whatever that normal will be.

At the moment health staff are vaccinating our most vulnerable, along people in nursing homes and health personnel, the heroes of 2020 without a doubt.

But what will 2021 look like? 

The travel industry in Iceland and around the world has shrunk, collapsed or been put on hold.

Will we be able to recover from this? I am sure we will. But it will take time,

I also know that people have kept on dreaming about travel and destinations because dreaming is important when you are in the middle of a pandemic. Dreams that might come true in the New Year or in the year after that.

Iceland has been a popular destination and will likely see something of a travel revival. Here are 4 main reasons:

1. Space. People need to get used to the idea of being around other people again and will want uncrowded destinations with space for social distancing. Iceland becomes a strong choice because of its low population density and abundance of open space. All 360.000 of us live in a space the size of the US state of Ohio, twice the size of Denmark and nearly two and half times the size of the Netherlands

2. Hospitality. The Icelanders are aware of the importance of receiving guests with respect and the uniqueness of a small society. That is why all around Iceland you can find entrepreneurs who have built up wonderful businesses with their heart, soul, and bare hands to be able to show the best of Iceland’s nature, culture and gastronomy. You can even visit people in their homes for dinner or a home concert. The diversity in accommodation is also important – you can find any type of accommodation on the island, from a farmer’s guesthouse with animals in sight to a fancy hotel in one of the towns.

3. Diversity. There are few places on earth that offer the diversity in landscape as Iceland does. The land of fire and ice offers geothermal pools that are open all year round, waterfalls, glaciers and lava formations that will make the imagination go crazy. Ocean all around, rivers and creeks with pure water to drink on your hikes. The midnight sun in June and the Aurora Borealis in winter are experiences everyone should have at least once in their lives.

4. Distance management. I always recommend my clients to take it easy even as they take their extraordinary excursions in Iceland. Feeling the culture, nature, fresh air and the purest water imaginable is a part of the experience. And to be able to do that you need to know how to do it. Distance is a big part of planning your trip in Iceland. That is why working with locals is essential to make the most of visitors’ time and money.

Keep dreaming. Iceland will be waiting when you are ready. It will be wonderful to receive you in the coming months – or the coming years.

Wishing you and your loved ones a happy new year 2021.

Helga Stína – Founder and owner of Iceland Unwrapped by helgastina

The distance makes the mountains blue

Today is the longest day of the year in Iceland.

What I have heard from my clients is that having so much light can both be positive and negative. Negative because it is hard to sleep. Positive because you need less sleep and you can enjoy more, even during the night.

But why is this time of year so precious to the Icelanders?

Imagine 3 hours of daylight in winter. You still have to  go to work and school at 8 in the morning anyway. No mercy when you need to have a functioning society even though you are a rock in the middle of the north Atlantic.

When I was a kid in the memory, it was never that dark. We had loads of snow in the winter so we would be stuck inside, the electricity went out and my mum wanted to iron, because there suddenly was time. But no electricity so no ironing.

When we could go out we used to go skiing in any nearby hill and build snow houses and drink warm chocolate until our toes were frozen and we went home.

There was no TV on Thursdays when I was a kid in Iceland and no TV for 6 weeks in the summer. No video games. The book nation read a lot .

In the past my grand parents and great grand parents lived in very hard conditions in horrible weathers as fishermen and farmers on the Snæfellsnes peninsula and in the Westfjords. Then life was about surviving or not and many had to give in to harshness of nature.

Because of the hard conditions of winters of Iceland, long summer nights and midnight sun add this romantic atmosphere, where everyone is just enjoying, hiking at midnight and even playing golf in the middle of the night.

In the poetry I read in school as a child, our most loved authors, who often spent majority of their lives abroad, mainly in Copenhagen, would write about the summer of Iceland. Their writing was filled with longing for the colors of nature and the freshness of the landscape. The distance makes the mountains blue, is a saying we use i Icelandic.

In summer time children forget time and their parents do too, and there is nothing like receiving a very tired and dirty child after a whole day and evening of adventures outside with friends.

Collecting energy, vitamins and memories is imporant to the Icelanders during the summer months in our beautilful country, to get through the winter ahead.

The shortest day of the year in Iceland in December is important for the Icelanders because then the days start to get longer again.

The longest day in the summer is important because you have constant daylight and the hidden people and the elves come out during that time of  year. That is not a common event as it happens only also duing New Years and on the 13th day of Christmas. After the longest day the days start to slowly get shorter again so there is no time to waste in enjoying the daylight.

Jónsmessa is the time of year when the day is longest.

It is said that people get magical powers if they dance and roll naked in the dew of the longest night of the year. I won´t say they don´t, but I guess you have to try it out when you are in Iceland in June next time.

Happy Summer – Happy light – Happy playing outside all night..before it starts to get dark again.

More information on personalized travel planning and connecting with the Icelanders and their culture on www.icelandunwrapped.com

WHEN TO GO

The beautiful thing about Iceland is that no two days are the same. And that’s because the weather can be so changeable. Iceland isn’t a country where people should wander about on their own, unless they are prepared for the weather. Some parts are so uninhabitable that I always recommend that my clients are accompanied by an experienced guide. After all, the wildest places are always the most spectacular, but also the most unpredictable.

So when is the perfect time to go?

Winter can be a very pretty time to visit, but it does get colder then. Avoid December to February if you don’t like ice and cold winds. Although it never goes below minus 15°C. For those who love photography and breathtaking views, just pack your thermals and get ready for sights that you’ll never forget!

Iceland seasons

Amazing sights and sites

When people think of Iceland, they often think of the Northern Lights, which appear from September until the end of March.

If you love taking photos and long days outside, then avoid November through to January. These are seriously dark days with just a few hours of sunlight a day. Because of Iceland is the land of ice and fire – on the flip side, the ‘bright nights’ are from April to September. with June and July giving you the chance to see the midnight sun. Yes, this sounds ideal but it also means that it’s difficult to sleep, so bear that in mind. By August, the nights begin to darken.

Whale watching and nature tours

For those interested in whale watching, contrary to popular belief this can be done all year round. From Spring to Autumn is best! I work with the country’s best boat guides and nature experts, ensuring that you will see some truly unforgettable animals.

Iceland travel planner

The best thing about having your own Iceland travel planner is that I advise on all the things that are vital for making your trip not only exciting but safe and comfortable. Driving conditions, security and clothing – you’d be surprised how many women I’ve known to climb a volcano in high heels!

Northern lights Reykjavík

Beyond the tourist places

I also ensure that my clients keep away from the touristy places, while still being aware of the most popular places. So you are free to pick and choose as you wish. Most importantly: I am in constant personal contact with all my colleagues and partners in Iceland. This ensures you get the very best in quality and personal service.

Every season has its charm

All in all, there’s no bad time to go to Iceland. Simply make sure you consider the time of year when we talk about the activities you’d like to do there, and the things you would like to experience.

You can read more in my blog about the seasons in Iceland and why you could use a travel planner for each.

If you have any further questions, just fill in the contact form and I’ll be in touch.