Dreaming Of Iceland

Today marks one year since we set foot on Icelandic soil. Just going through old photos of our Icelandic summer holiday (click here for all Iceland ramblings), make my heart ache for the fresh clean air, perpetual daylight, breathtaking scenery, and…so much more. As much as we loved our honeymoon down under, Iceland ranks top on our adventures. Not to mention, I miss my dear G!

But alas, it will be a while before we can return to Iceland so in the meantime, I live  vicariously through Iceland blogs, like The Icelandic Experience, who recently reconfirmed that we must visit Akureyri on our next trip to Iceland. And of course the adventures of Hörgdal and I’d Rather Be In Iceland also help keep me connected to the Icelandic dream.

To further help cope with Iceland withdrawal, I’ve come up with a list of the top 5 things I’d like to see and do the next time we’re there. I know 5 may not seem like a lot, but considering we’ll have to drive around the entire island to check off everything on my wishlist, I think we’ll be plenty busy. Seems the best route would be to start in Reykjavik and head north. If you have any tips on the best vantage points and other must sees, please do let us know!

1. Puffin watching in Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands).

Ridiculously adorable puffin!

Ridiculously adorable puffin (via News of Iceland).

2. See Hvítserkur and explore Húnaflói Bay with my own eyes!


Hvítserkur in Húnaflói Bay, North Iceland (via Travel Overload)

3. Visit Goðafoss in the Mývatn district of North-Central Iceland.


Stunning Goðafoss (via Travel Overload)

4. Explore the multicolored mountains of the Landmannalaugar region and have a soak in the geothermal hot springs.

Spectualr mountains in the Landmannalaugar region (via Travel Overload).

Spectualr mountains in the Landmannalaugar region (via Travel Overload).

5. Visit Akureyri.

Akureyri in Autumn (via www.parrikar.com)

Akureyri in Autumn (via www.parrikar.com)

Icelanders On The Climb

Congratulations to Leifur Örn Svavarsson and Ingólfur Geir Gissurarsonreach for making Icelanders (and Icelandophiles) proud, each making new records at the top of Mount Everest! According to 66°NORTH, Leifur Örn Svavarsson completed his climb to the top on the evening of 22 May and  by doing so became the first Icelander to reach the top of Everest by climbing the north side. Leifur, pictured below, was sponsored by 66°NORTH and sporting his custom made clothing when he reached his goal.

Leifur Örn Svavarsson at the top of Mt. Everest.

Leifur Örn Svavarsson at the top of Mt. Everest!

Earlier this week, The Reykjavík Grapevine also reported that at age 50,  Ingólfur Geir Gissurarsonreach became the oldest Icelander to climb Everest. Ingólfur began his ascent over a month ago and had been climbing with a team organised by Adventure Consultants, which included 10 climbing enthusiasts from Iceland, Sweden, USA and Australia, a support crew of medical and climbing professionals, as well as 23 local sherpas.

Well done Ingólfur Geir Gissurarson!

Well done Ingólfur Geir Gissurarson!

It seems to be a busy and exciting time for climbing enthusiasts as it was also reported this week that an 80-year-old Japanese extreme skier, Yuichiro Miura, who climbed Everest five years ago, but just missed becoming the oldest man to reach the summit, has finally claimed the title. Massive congrats to Miura-san, as well! It remains to be seen if his rival, 81-year-old Nepalese man Min Bahadur Sherchan, who has recently set off on his ascent will break that record.

After hearing about all of these extreme adventurers, I feel like it’s time for me to set a challenging goal for myself. If people well older than me can climb a massive mountain, surely I can climb one, too! Or not… haha. But I must say that I’m inspired to do something to push my limits!

The World’s Friendliest Countries: Iceland Ranks No. 1

Although we’ve got an exciting tropical island adventure planned for September, the hubs and I have been longing to return to Iceland (not the supermarket) and explore more of the country. But before we do that we have quite a few more countries to cross off our bucket list.

Daily Mail

Map from: Daily Mail

Last month, the World Economic Forum published The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013, which assesses 140 economies worldwide based on the strength of their travel and tourism sector. Not surprisingly, Iceland ranked number one as the world’s friendliest countries toward foreigner visitors.  Also not surprising, New Zealand came in second.  We loved our time down under and would love to visit Oz and New Zealand again, but if we had to choose between Iceland and New Zealand for a return trip, it would definitely be Iceland.   I’ve always thought Iceland was an underrated travel destination, and now I’m a bit worried that flocks of tourists will ruin the very reason why we fell in love with country to begin with (selfish, I know).

The top ten friendliest countries for tourists are:

  1. Iceland 
  2. New Zealand 
  3. Morocco 
  4. Macedonia 
  5. Austria
  6. Senegal
  7. Portugal
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 
  9. Ireland 
  10. Burkina Faso

And the winners for not so friendly:

  1. Mongolia (shame, though I’d still love to visit someday)
  2. Bulgaria 
  3. Slovak Republic 
  4. Pakistan 
  5. Iran
  6. Latvia 
  7. Kuwait 
  8. Russian Federation 
  9. Venezuela 
  10. Bolivia 

China ranked 130 on the list and the U.S. came in at 102.  The U.K. ranked 55, below Cyrpus at 48, which was surprising to me, and Finland ranked 31. Do you disagree with the WEF’s rankings? What is the friendliest country you’ve visited and what do you think is the least ideal place to go on holiday?

Dikta Discovered

I can’t believe I just found out about Dikta! Some of you may know I’m a huge fan of Of Monsters and Men and Hafdís Huld and now I’m delighted to add another Icelandic band to my list of favourite bands. Dikta is an indie rock band made up of four members, Haukur Heiðar Hauksson on guitar, piano and vocals, Jón Bjarni Pétursson on guitar, Jón Þór Sigurðsson on drums and Skúli Gestsson on backing vocals and bass. They already have four albums out–Andartak (Mistak Records, 2002), Hunting for Happiness (Smekkleysa, 2005), Get It Together (2009), and Trust Me (Kölski, 2011).

I don’t know much about Dikta other than what I gathered from a quick Wikipedia search. But I do know that I love their music–‘Losing Every Day’, ‘In Spite of Me’, to name a few and especially the song ‘Goodbye’ from the album Get it Together, even though it kind of pulls me down. The first few times I heard it I sat bawling my eyes out. I wondered what had prompted all those tears and then I realised it was because the song hit a bit too close to home…

The Day Is Dark

The fourth book in the crime novel series by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir features Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and the return of Matthew Reich. It is set in a remote and completely dreadful part of Greenland.

Nothing about the way Greendland is described in the book would entice most ‘normal’ people to visit but it seems incredibly fascinating and spiritual to me. Not to mention, it makes for a perfectly atmospheric crime novel setting. Perhaps due to the bizarre events leading up to the discovery of the truth, I didn’t find the premise of The Day is Dark as believable as the previous books. That said, Yrsa, as always, does a fantastic job at building up the suspense and keeping readers in the chilling dark until the very end. I was also happy to finally see Matthew back in Thóra’s life!

Yrsa’s first three books moved at a quicker pace but I still enjoyed this one just the same. I look forward to reading her next book, I Remember You, which is available at Amazon for pre-order.

Rating: 4/5

Ashes To Dust

Ashes To Dust is the third book of the crime novel series by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir featuring the beloved heroine, Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. In this enthralling book we follow her to Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) where bodies are discovered, along with a severed head, in the basement of a house that is part of of an excavation project to uncover houses that were buried during the eruption of Eldfell volcano. While trying to prove her client’s innocence, she ends up bringing to light the truth about murders that had practically gone unnoticed for decades.

Having recently seen a documentary about the 1973 eruption on Heimaey at Volcano House in Reykjavik (which I highly recommend), vivid images of the eruption served as a gripping backdrop to the story as I quickly turned page after page to find out what really happened on that fateful day.  Yrsa, in a word, is a genius! She kept me guessing the entire time and it wasn’t until the very end of the book that we find out the shocking truth.

Like with Yrsa’s other books, I highly recommend this one, either as a stand alone or continuation of an incredibly well written series. They just get better and better! That said, if you’ve read My Soul To Take and Last Rituals you may be disappointed to find that Matthew Reich doesn’t feature alongside Thóra this time and we still don’t really know what will become of their relationship. Not that their romance is key to Thóra’s crime solving but it adds more colour to the story and to her likeability.

I’m now looking forward to finishing Yrsa’s fourth book, The Day Is Dark, which has oddly inspired me to visit Greenland someday!

Rating: 5/5

Lost And Found In Iceland: Are You Looking For Me?

Have you ever been reported missing and not realised it? Or even better, have you ever joined a search party to look for yourself? Having recently joined a tour group in Iceland, I found this story to be particularly endearing and not to mention, incredibly funny.

On 25 August 2012, more than 50 people were involved in an extensive search and rescue operation around the volcanic region of Eldgjá in Iceland’s southern highlands in search of a missing member of a tour party. The tour guide reported the passenger as missing after a woman failed to return to the bus after more than an hour. The Metro reported that the tourist (described as being ‘of Asian origin, aged 20-30, about 160cm, wearing dark clothing and speaks fluent English’) had failed to recognise the description of herself.

Fair enough, if you take into account how many other tourists may have fit the description. I kept thinking, that could have easily been me (aside from the fact that G and the hubs would’ve noticed if I had gone missing, or so I would hope)! But what I’d really like to know is if Gunther had been the tour guide for this group!

We all know that being lost in the wilderness is no laughing matter, but especially in Iceland where temperatures can drop drastically even in summer. That said, it was a good job a helicopter hadn’t been sent out as the search was eventually called off after the missing woman was found ‘alive and well with the rest of the tour party’. But honestly, who would have thought that a simple change of clothes before getting back on a tour bus could cause so much trouble! Why they didn’t read off the names of people on the tour is beyond me. It would have saved a lot of time and trouble.

There are numerous stories about missing tourists dying due to exposure to the elements, so thankfully nobody was injured or killed in this incident. I love this story because it has a happy ending, although I still can’t believe it actually happened and in Iceland of all places! Further details of the story can be found online at Iceland Review.

My Soul To Take

Do you believe in ghosts? You may start to after reading Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s second book, My Soul To Take, which follows Thóra Gudmundsdóttir (the heroine of Last Rituals) to West Iceland where a murder is committed at a health resort on a newly renovated farmhouse. Her investigations lead to the discovery of some disturbing truths from the past in addition to another murder nearby the resort.  I literally could not put this book down and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning to finish it.

There seem to be so many more possible murder suspects in this story, and with all its twists and turns, it may be helpful to write out a list of characters as they appear.  You don’t necessarily have to read the books in order as they can easily hold their own as stand alone books, but if you haven’t read any of Yrsa’s books before I would recommend starting with her first. As silly as it may sound, I am kind of glad that I read this book after we visited West Iceland as I may have been a bit spooked to explore the towns near Borgarnes and the Hvalfjörður Tunnel.

Matthew Reich also reappears in the second book and I was hoping something more would become of his relationship with Thóra, but it seems we will have to just wait and see what happens!  If you thought Last Rituals was good, you’ll definitely want to read My Soul To Take as it’s even more dark and chilling, well-written, pacey and incredibly convincing. I could have sworn I heard a child crying when I went to bed last night.

Rating: 5/5

Last Rituals

While browsing for gifts in IÐA, a display of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novels caught my eye . I flipped through a few of the books and was intrigued. Due to space limitations in our luggage I decided to purchase them upon our return home. I was looking forward to reading my first Icelandic crime novel, or anything Icelandic for that matter, and was keen to find out what all the hype was about as Yrsa is arguably the most famous contemporary crime novelist from Iceland (not to mention a successful civil engineer and acclaimed children’s novelist as well).

I thought it fitting to start with Yrsa’s first novel, Last Rituals (Þriðja táknið), which turned out to be a surprisingly funny book given the dark subject matter.  It was exciting to follow Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and Matthew Reich on their investigation of Harald Guntlieb’s murder as it took us throughout the southern coast and passed through places like Hella, Hekla and Skálholt, all familiar spots from our recent South Iceland adventure. The Blue Lagoon even made an appearance toward the end!

You don’t necessarily have to have been to Iceland to appreciate the setting but it certainly does make it more engaging when you’re able to conjure up images of all the places in your head. And if you haven’t been to Iceland yet I hope that this novel will inspire you  to go! This is a great mystery with so many unexpected twists and turns and as I was reading I kept thinking this would make a great film!  Intensely disturbing, yet sprinkled with the right amount of humour to lighten the story. Not to mention, Thóra and Matthew are incredibly likeable and make a funny duo.

Not that it’s a problem for me, but my only criticism might be that the translation is very British and it might not be easy for non-Brits to follow, on top of all the Icelandic names.  But hey, it is an Icelandic novel so I guess it’s a non-issue after all.  I look forward to reading more of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s works.

Rating: 4.5/5