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Many reasons, including ice and sheep, to travel to Iceland

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Sept. 16, 2012, 6:55 p.m. | None — by Alina Rudya

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa in Iceland is considered one of the best in the world.
© Alina Rudya

Alina Rudya

Kyiv Post

 After reading the non-optimistic political news from Russia and Ukraine, I feel obliged to write about something which will clear your head, give you hope for the future and inspire you to pack your luggage and spontaneously buy a plane ticket.

I am a huge fan of traveling. Since the age of 9, I dreamt of being a photographer and journalist for National Geographic magazine. I think of traveling as of one of the biggest, most influential parts of my life. So here, after this lyrical introduction, here is my article about Iceland, the land of obvious ice, sheep and Bjork.

Cold ocean and hot springs, waterfalls and unforgettable majestic volcanoes, friendly people and fluffy sheep. That’s Iceland, a country which maybe every experienced traveler, tired of the usual Turkey, touristic Italy and fashionable Thailand, dreams about visiting.

Of course, if you love the warm sea, deck chairs and a cold beer in hand, Iceland may seem not the best and not the cheapest way to spend a vacation. But if you are not afraid of the sub-arctic climate, wind in your face, freezing nights in a tent and hundreds of kilometers of seemingly extraterrestrial landscape, this icy country is just for you.

The first thing that struck me in Iceland was its empty roads and the absence of people. Despite the fact that this small island nation has become a very popular tourist destination, there are still less people than sheep or small Icelandic horses that you meet on its roads.
The island is famous primarily for a volcano with an unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajoekull), geysers and singer Bjork.

But the nature of the country is so a great and diverse that you will be hardly bored, even if you do not see any of the mentioned above.

The first tip for tourists in Iceland is at least a week of free time and a rental car. To be honest, renting a car in Reykjavik is more expensive than in continental Europe, but it is worth it. A small passenger car will cost you about 60 euros a day, and a small jeep about twice that much.

The ideal time to visit is July-August (otherwise you will have a chance to become stuck in a snowdrift, or literally never see the light of day), and perfect route for the starters is the A1 highway that goes around the entire island with all its beautiful natural attractions on the way . The road length of about 1,330 kilometers. With all the stops, picnics and crazy photo taking, it requires four to five days of travelling. During this time you will have time to see:

- Amazing landscapes (Hekla Volcano and its surroundings in the south of the island, and known volcanic region Landmannalaugar that showed up in the latest Ridley Scott's science fiction movie "Prometheus" are proof.)

- A unique climate (cold subarctic climate, due to the location near the Arctic Circle is softened by the warm current of Golfstream, which Icelanders should be grateful for a short but present summer).

- Knitted sweaters (unlike Ukrainian embroidered  “vyshyvanky,” warm sweaters with national ornaments here are not the subject of patriotism but a basic need. Icelanders wear these sweaters even in summer, because the temperature rarely exceeds 20 degrees Celsius, and foreigners are buying them as souvenirs).

- Natural hot springs and geysers. Thermal waters of Iceland, due to volcanic nature of the island are not only a tourist attraction but also the main source of electricity and hot water. Iceland in this regard is a self-sufficient country that requires neither nuclear energy nor oil from United Arab Emirates. According to my friends, the people here save neither water nor light, because these self-renewable sources are given by the very nature and are unlimited). One of the world famous spa resorts, "Blue Lagoon" known for its warm milky white waters, is situated not far from Reykjavik in the middle of a lava landscape. Conde Nast Traveller Magazine recognized him as one of the top 10 best medical spas in the world. The water is rich in natural minerals and algae, which helps in treating skin diseases. Generally, during my stay in Iceland, I did not see a single pimpled teenager. All thanks to the healing water that comes here even from the tap.

- The most beautiful waterfalls. Waterfalls will bore you already after the third day of your trip, but the most famous of them are still worth a visit - rainbowy Gulfoss in the south, which is located on the touristic "Golden Ring" route, a majestic  Dettifoss that is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and also starred in the Hollywood "Prometheus," and scenic Dinyandi that hid in the Western fjords.

- Extraordinary vacation photos (everybody’s bored of palms and the sea - but sulfur springs, geysers and icebergs are not something people see every day). Moreover Icelandic colors of nature and the northern sky are strikingly beautiful in both summer and winter. During my stay in Iceland, the number of my followers on Instagram doubled - and all thanks to the breathtaking landscapes. (http://web.stagram.com/n/rrrudya)

- Whales. In the capital and northern village of Husavik, there are special boat tours organized to observe the whales in their natural environment. Blue whales are rarely to be seen, but small pilot and minke whales occur very often. One three-hour trip will cost you 50 euros. If you do not see a whale in your first trip - do not worry - you will get another ticket for free.

- Stinky fish. In Ukraine, even my grandmother dried “Taranka” on her balcony. But here the dry and rotten fish is a national delicacy. It is worth seeing fields of openly drying fish, but the awful smell is hard to get out of your clothes and hair. Pregnant women and particularly sensitive people are discouraged to approach closer than 50 meters - a public toilet at a rural market is nothing compared to that stench. Needless to mention that I avoided tasting this delicacy.

- Nightlife in Reykjavik. Probably it sounds ridiculous that the town with only 115,000 inhabitants may offer some great partying, but believe me - Icelanders know how to warm up on a dark cold winter (or summer) evening.

- Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) can be seen in the north, for example at the fourth-largest city in the country – Akureyri - but only in the winter.

- Midnight sun. Similarly, you can experience in Russia’s St. Petersburg, but here they are longer and brighter. The best time for that – is June although even in August at 11 p.m. it was still fairly bright.

- Fjords. It turns out there are not only in Norway. Prolonged gulfs, which cut into the mainland of the island and form a unique coastline.

- Icebergs. The famous iceberg lagoon (Jökulsárlón) is located in the southeast of the island and was formed after the largest glacier of Europe Vatnayokul began to melt. The view of the icebergs, glowing in the evening sun is unforgettable. It is impossible to miss the lagoon, because it is located on both sides of the main A1 road. A tour around the lagoon on amphibia-cars, during which you will have the opportunity to bite off a piece of 10,000 year old ice, is also possible. If my memory does not deceive me, Ukrainian pop singer Svitlana Loboda shot her recent video here.

- Sheep. Fluffy and cute, sheep walk freely on the island and only in winter farmers gather them for shearing. Small and strong Icelandic horses are used to gather sheep from often rocky farm territories.

- Black beaches and lava formations. This is a unique volcanic phenomenon that can be seen in volcanic regions in the South and East. Black sand is not very sunbathing-suggestive, but the photos and the video looks mystical. Famous black beach near the picturesque Cape Dyrhólaey can be seen in the video "Stay" of the popular British band Hurts. The cape is also a nesting place of Atlantic Puffins - Iceland national symbols and just lovely photogenic birds.

- The abandoned towns. Industrial development of the Iceland after the Second World War led to the development of distant Western fjords. Now, many of the villages and towns of the West are abandoned and are attractive only for adventurers and HDR-photographers.
Interesting facts about Iceland, which are not mentioned in guidebooks:

- Professional boxing is banned. So are weapons.

- It is forbidden to own turtles, lizards and snakes as pets. Several years ago, one owner contracted salmonellosis from his home iguana. After the government decided not to take a risk anymore.

- Strip clubs and prostitution  are against the law since 2009. That was the way of Iceland decided to fight human trafficking.

- All McDonald’s on the island were recently closed, as well as products containing more than two percent trans-fats, were banned. Not surprising that in a dark and cold country, greasy food is the main ant-depressant that led Iceland to second place in the world after the United States in children obesity. Candy is a popular meal here too.

- The head of the government - the world's first lesbian, officially married to her partner. Generally there is no problem with gay people, in terms that all people here are so tolerant that question who is gay and who not, hardly arises. There are three gay bars in Reykjavik and a local gay pride event is held yearly.

- it is prohibited to give children funny and awkward  names. Apple or Princess Mirabella would not work here. The government here cares about children not getting bullied in school because of their parents’ fierce imagination. That is why there is a special committee that determines which name you are allowed to give to your child, and which not. For foreigners, however, slightly different rules apply.

- Icelanders do not have last names, only patro- or, in rare cases, matronymics. My Icelandic friend Leifur’s second name is Orasson, which literally means "Son of Ore". If leifur has a son in the future, he will be the “Son of Leifur”, "Leifursson", and if daughter - "Leifursdottir." And so on. Even the search in the phonebook of Reykjavik is by first name, not by patronymic.

Here my little story and guide come to an end.

I have visited many countries and have seen a variety of landscapes and met a lot of people.

But somehow the deserted roads of Iceland, cold wind and blue waves of the Atlantic Ocean, volcanoes and waterfalls come to me now in my dreams.

I suggest that if you are tired of the stress of the big city, traffic jams, huge metropolises filled with the concrete, people, advertising and cars, if you want lightness of being, fresh air and unspoiled nature - visit  Iceland, this exotic and unforgettable little planet.

Alina Rudya is a former staff writer and photographer for the Kyiv Post now living in Berlin. Her work can be found at www.alinarudya.com and her instagram at http://web.stagram.com/n/rrrudya/.

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