As one of the tourist destinations du jour, Iceland welcomes over 2 million tourists every year. That’s more than 6 tourists for every resident (yes, this sparse land is indeed about as populous as Croydon). We bring with us cameras, ill-advised footwear and a wealth of misconceptions about this remote, mysterious island.
Here are 4 of those myths that were quickly busted on my four-day adventure into the northern wilderness (from which you can see my photo diary here).
Well, cocky London girl (see above), this is the first time you’ve been to Reykjavik, where a box of Corn Flakes will set you back £7; the bus from the airport into town is £35; and £6 for a sandwich is show-stoppingly cheap. I even saw a stone with a smiley face painted on it for £63.
If you can’t afford Laxness* on the purse strings, here are some tips:
*Halldor Laxness was a 20th century writer and something of a national treasure for Icelanders.
…And as we all know, puns that require an asterisked explanation are the best puns, can I get a hell yeah?
Ok, let’s move on then.
Think again, sweetness. On the plane back, I got chatting to the chap next to me, who’d taken his mother to see the northern lights for her birthday. Bless his little heart. They paid for two bus tours before giving up on the third night which, sadly for them, was the night the Aurora Borealis put on its famous light show (luckily for me, that was the night I happened to go out in search of them).
Just the one tip this time:
Well, to some extent, this is correct; but the prevailing belief of elves existing among Icelanders has been, as I discovered, somewhat exaggerated and popularised. Older generations are more open to their existence, but the belief is connected to clairvoyance, spiritual tendencies and a healthy reverence for the hazards of nature. On a walking tour, our guide put on a hilarious display of his disregard for the idea of their existence; but in all seriousness, asked us to treat the issue with its due courtesy.
If you’ve watched documentaries like The Cove and Blackfish, you’ll have heard of Iceland’s less-than-pristine reputation for whaling. It’s true that Iceland doesn’t officially recognise the authority of the International Whaling Committee, much to the chagrin of environmentalists. But one Icelander I spoke to (charmingly, his name is Ziggy and he’s from a village of 300 people) suggested it’s only eaten once or twice a year. It is, by no means, a common lifestyle food. Last year, 17 whales were killed for their meat.
No, I’m not excusing (or condemning) this – I don’t even begin to have the authority to do so. I’m just putting things into perspective. As far as I understand it, it’s like dog meat in Korea: whale meat in Iceland is rare, but predominantly on the plates of the rural elderly.