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Thoughts on Iceland (by Renee)

by on August 9, 2013

Lots of things to share about Iceland. We did a bus tour of the Golden Circle and learned LOTS from our very well-informed guide.

Iceland has 200,000 earthquakes annually. The cold water is delicious but the hot water (in Reykjavik) stinks like rotten eggs. This makes long showers a bad idea.

There is no strong architectural style in Iceland. In fact, up until 3 years ago you couldn’t study architecture in the university, you had to go abroad. But what they lack in style they make up for in colors. There are buildings of every color and when you look down at the roof tops – even more color. From our apartment the three buildings across the street are bright yellow, pink and blue. The roofs are various shades of blue, green, red — it’s a colorful sight.  Maybe they do this to make up for the weather and the rocks being so grey.

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Another interesting this is what’s NOT in Iceland. There are only 122 inmates in jail (2 women, 120 men). There is a murder approx every 28 months and only 9 deaths in car accidents this year. Only 400 policemen in the whole country. It has only just become legal to own a dog in the city of Reykjavik (was previously only allowed in the country) and there are no strays in Iceland. When the first people arrived to settle in Iceland, the only ‘wild’ animals were the arctic fox. Human intervention has introduced 8 more land-based animals into the wild (reindeer, rabbits, minx, mice, rats to name a few). Note there are NO SNAKES in Iceland – a major bonus in my opinion! They are very proud of the traditional isolated nature in Iceland and there are very strict laws about importing any plant or animal. They export sheep, horses, etc — but is a one way trip out of the country.

There are animals everywhere in the countryside. The sheep are turned loose in summer to roam the fields and hills…and then all the farmers do a mass collection in the fall. They have sorting circles where they bring all the sheep and then each farmer sorts out his flock. They LOVE numbers here – the horses are branded by freezing a number on their backs. The sheet and cows have big numbered tags in their ears and the (tens of thousands) of bales of hay are numbered or lettered to identify who owns them. Maybe this over-numbering system contributes to the low crime rate??

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They have a LOT of water here in Iceland, mostly runoff from the glaciers. The ground is so wet that all the fields have trenches every 100 yards or so…these trenches help drain the fields so they can grow hay and other food for their animals. There are some crops (namely tomatoes) grown in hothouses, but most of the fields are livestock food.

The winters are long and hard here — its not that it gets way below freezing, but its wet and windy and about -10C on a typical day. The cows and sheep are kept indoors all winter, only the horses are left outside. This explains why the Icelandic horses are more furry than Alabama horses.

Our experience is that the people of Iceland are very friendly and speak excellent fluent English. They like Americans (one guide told us Iceland is probably the only nation that benefitted from WW2 and being occupied by the Americans: our tax dollars built a road around the island, upgraded the infrastructure, built two nice airports, introduced technology like the radio and generally brought Iceland into the modern world. When our Air Force base was closed in 2009, we walked away and gave them the keys.. it’s now the international airport.)  The first wheel on the island.,.. ever… was in 1870 when the Danish King gave a set to a farmer. Not sure why they hadn’t figured out the wheel on their own before that. They walked everywhere (in olden times a typical pair of shoes, made from thin sheep leather, lasted 3 days! The joke was if you are going on a journey, take food and shoes). Another (surprising) fact is that as recently as 1950 33% of the population still lived in TURF HOUSES (think Laura Ingalls Wilder and the little sod house on the prairie.)

One of the most unusual things we’ve learned is about last names. Each child is given a first name and then their last name is the name of their father + “son” or “daughter”. So Alex’s name would be Alex Davidson and Anna’s would be Anna Davidsdottir. (note the owner of the apartment we are renting is Einar Einarson -we’ve seen several examples where parents named their son the same name as his father.)

You’d think this would make tracing your family tree hard work. But because the population is so small and they kept good written records, they’ve been able to build the complete genealogy database of every Icelander, ever.  Our tour guide traced herself back 30 generations to the first settler.  People look up potential mates in this database to make sure they’re not close cousins.

Yesterday’s trek in the wind and rain was quite an adventure. I was surprised to learn (and see photos) of lightning bolts inside the ash cloud, generated by static electricity between all the ash particles. I’d never heard of that.

There is almost nothing to buy here. Early in our trip (Turkey) I wanted to buy lots but didn’t want to carry it all summer. Now on our last stop there is very little to buy and a 25% tax rate on all goods!

Overall Iceland is interesting and unusual, but will go right next to Paris and Rome in our “been there, done that” list!

 

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