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You're reading: Many reasons, including ice and sheep, to travel to Iceland

 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. (

– 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

– 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
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

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

Alina Rudya is a former staff writer and
photographer for the Kyiv Post now living in Berlin. Her work can be found at and her instagram at

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