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Iceland - Land of storytelling

Guest writer: Mia Ulin

Iceland is worth staying for days or weeks, but if you only have one day, you can still get a condensed experience of much of what the island has to offer in terms of breathtaking natural scenery, warm baths and fantastic, fresh food.


I've always wanted to visit Iceland, so when the opportunity arose to stopover in Reykjavik on my way to Detroit, I jumped at the chance. I travelled with IcelandAir, which offers stopovers of up to seven days.

You don't travel to Iceland if you want to lie on a sandy beach and fry yourself. Iceland is an island of adventure, nature, volcanoes, glaciers and hot springs.

The view from the hotel room at Edition Hotel Reykjavik.

Living narrative art

Iceland is also an island of fairy tales and stories. Back in the early 13th century, the Icelandic politician Snorri Sturlasson wrote Snorri's Edda, a medieval handbook of skaldic art and a textbook of Norse mythology. The stories survive and are very much alive across the island.

Iceland is considered one of the world's most sustainable destinations, largely due to the fact that all heating is provided by geothermal sources, but also through conscious efforts. Tourism is the country's second largest industry, after fishing, and poses major challenges to the delicate nature of the country with around two million visitors per year.

Iceland has an area larger than Hungary but a population only slightly larger than Malmö, making it the least densely populated country in Europe and Reykjavik has only 126,000 inhabitants.

We arrived in Reykjavik early evening but as it was June it was still light, Iceland being just south of the Arctic Circle, and we took a walk from the hotel by the harbour down to the city centre.

We stay at Edition Hotel, a newly built, fresh hotel overlooking the old harbour near the Laugavegurgatan shopping district. Next door to the hotel is the spectacular concert and opera house Harpa, designed by the Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen (incidentally, the same architect as Uppsala Konsert & Kongress, where I spent a lot of time).

The glass walls of the Harpa concert hall are reminiscent of glittering fish scales.

Visit to food cellars

The centre of Reykjavik is like a small town with small low houses, complemented by modern ones here and there. We booked a table at Matar Kjallarin, a real food cellar, famous for its Icelandic specialities. There were five menus to choose from, not least an exciting vegan menu (one of our party was a vegetarian and well-prepared, exciting vegan or vegetarian options seemed to be a given at the restaurants we visited).

Downtown Reykjavik.

I chose a 4-course menu with cod, truffle, smoked lamb and almonds as the first course, smoked Arctic char as the second, glazed lamb fillet with celeriac, fennel and mashed potatoes as the third course and rhubarb pie for dessert. Delightful flavours and well prepared.

I've been warned about eating fermented shark and other things that feel foreign for various reasons, but there are no such dishes on the menu.

Flying experience

On day two, our tour guide Gaby takes us on a walk through the harbour to an industrial area. We are going to visit Fly Over Iceland, and none of us know what that means. Helicopter? Drone? Sport aircraft?

Fly Over Iceland is located in a rather dull industrial area, but I imagine there are plans to make it more accessible and appealing. The inside is worth the visit anyway.

It turns out to be a new experiential attraction using storytelling techniques, stories and film. Like all good stories, this one is built in three stages: the Longhouse, the Well of Time and the Experience.

First, we are led into the illusion of an old Icelandic longhouse from the Viking Age. As mankind has done since time immemorial, stories are created in the light of the campfire's shadow play that awakens the imagination.

In The Well of Time, we learn about the ancient forces of nature that played out when humanity arrived in Iceland. The presentation includes music, animation, video and a wise troll.

In the third and final stage, we are strapped into comfortable and safe aircraft seats. For the next twenty minutes or more, we experience a breathtaking journey across Iceland's magnificent natural scenery in different seasons. Chalk-white glaciers and icy rivers, glowing lava flows, stunning puffins and colourful mountains and valleys where few people have ever been.

Image: Fly over Iceland

Filmed by helicopter and drone, it's so realistic that you instinctively pull your feet up as you approach a mountain ridge or look down into a deep volcano. The whole film experience really makes you want to come back to Iceland and experience everything for real, perhaps on the back of an Icelandic horse?

After the experience, of course, pictures were taken of the group in front of different backgrounds.

A warm relaxation

After the flight, I'm almost a little dizzy and dizzy, so it feels very good to get on the bus and move on for maximum relaxation.

Many visitors to Iceland have visited the stunning Blue Lagoon about an hour's drive from Reykjavik, and there are several geothermal baths in Iceland. The Sky Lagoon is the latest, and is only a quarter of an hour's drive from the centre of Reykjavik.

Geothermal water is naturally heated under the earth's surface and often has a high mineral content. The hot water is used to heat homes, schools, greenhouses and swimming pools.

Bathing in geothermal springs is a great source of well-being for many people and the mineral-rich water is said to be good for the skin. Of course, the warmth of the water is nice and can relieve some pain in stiff muscles and create a relaxing and calm feeling.

The Sky Lagoon is right by the sea and not many visitors have found their way here yet. We go through a seven-step ritual; after the first descent into the warm water, I take an ice-cold swim which is supposed to give an endorphin boost, stimulate the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body.

After the cold demolition, it's nice to crawl into the sauna with a view of the sea through a giant window. A moist spray shower, salt scrub, hot steam and a final shower complete the ritual. Then it's nice to just hang out in the warm water with a cold Icelandic beer.

There is a well-stocked bar in the lagoon, and for safety reasons there is a limit on the amount of alcohol you can drink while swimming.

After the bath, we have a lunch of small dishes. I try one of the menus with gravlax, homemade mustard and dill sauce, smoked wild goose fillet and lean sheep fillet with horseradish sauce, pickled herring on rye bread, blue cheese and organic blueberry jam. The suppliers are local family businesses from all over Iceland: game is hunted by father and son in the fields of Landeyjar in southern Iceland, pickled herring comes from the fishing village of Djúpivogur, and so on.

Of course, there is a vegan menu consisting of "feta cheese" with pickled Icelandic vegetables, date and beetroot puree served on freshly baked rye bread, fresh hummus, olives and gourmet sauerkraut and a peanut cake for dessert.

The visit ends with some shopping in the stylish shop with the products we tried in the bathing ritual.

Travelling to Iceland

You can go to Iceland all year round, I travelled in early June. Iceland is an island, the only two ways to get there are by boat or plane. There are ferry lines from Denmark, then you can also bring your car to drive around on your own, or you can take a bus around the island.

I travelled with Iceland Air, as I was going on to Detroit, and they have direct flights from many of Europe's major cities. The journey takes about three hours. You can find more travel suggestions in Swedish at Visit Iceland.

Mia Ulin

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Mia Ulin

Mia is a writer, journalist and concept developer who for many years wrote for the back of Arla's milk packages and for For over 20 years, she has run the company Apostel kommunikation. In addition, she has Vasaborgen Uppsala slott, a 16th century ruin with a museum, tours, weddings and events. Travel, experiences, food and stories are a passion and always with an aspect of sustainable, preferably regenerative, travel.

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