Iceland: The Ultimate Land of Contradictions
Iceland always surprises and seldom disappoints. It has a knack for showing sides of itself the visitor would never expect to see. And it is a country that can get under your skin, demanding to be experienced again and again.
Writing about the whole country of Iceland on a single page is a bit like trying to condense edited highlights of Wikipedia into a Tweet: frankly impossible. There can hardly be more striking contrasts, for example, than between cultured downtown Reykjavík and the huge black sand deserts of the highlands; or between the top of Europe’s largest glacier and the peaceful Hallormsstaðir forest – just one of many forests in a land supposedly with no trees!
Iceland is a fairly big country by European standards (17th out of 50), but a tiny nation. At 103,000 sq. km. it is the second largest island in Europe, after Great Britain; but its smattering of just 320,000 people makes it the continent’s most sparsely populated country.
Two thirds of the population lives in and near the capital, Reykjavík. As a result Iceland can boast an endlessly vibrant, fun loving, creative and quirky city alongside seemingly endless space and the freedom to shout from the rooftops in the knowledge that no-one will hear you. Land of contradictions, you see.
Iceland loves the words ‘per capita’, because it holds many records. For example, the country’s minuscule consumption of the world’s Coca Cola supply doesn’t stop the fact that Icelanders drink more Coke than any other nation, per capita. It’s a dubious honor, shared with Mexico, but a good example. Less dubious honors include the fact that Iceland is the only country to provide nearly all heat and power from renewable sources; that it is consistently ranked one of the most peaceful nations; it leads the way in gender equality and minority rights; it has some of the world’s highest rates of university attendance and excellent health care and social support. True poverty, as understood by most of the world, does not exist in Iceland. And, most impressively of all, the country successfully emphasized maintaining these excellent services while dealing with one of the world’s worst recorded economic crashes of modern times – a crash which is now firmly set in the past, but which is still teaching valuable lessons.
Interesting as this may be, it is not a reason to visit. The country’s creativity is a reason, however. The quantity of world-class music, art, fashion, films and design coming from Iceland is quite startling (per capita, of course) and a stay in central Reykjavík gives the visitor opportunity to experience them all.
You don’t have to go far to escape civilization, though. Iceland’s wide, mountainous landscape demands to be explored and rewards the curious with unforgettable pearls including roaring waterfalls, glaciers, plains, hot springs, geysers, volcanoes, black sand beaches and soaring cliffs.
The Icelandic countryside is like two completely different places in summer and winter: asleep or awake, colorless or colorful, quiet or loud, still or in motion, fierce or gentle, dignified or playful. Both have considerable charm and thanks to good winter tires and snow ploughs, you can go exploring all year-round. Whether Iceland is more beautiful – more honestly true to itself – in the summer or winter is a debate which has raged between people for years and will never be settled.
It will never be settled because Iceland speaks differently to each individual soul that it touches. And every soul which comes near can count on being reached out to and touched by this mighty land.
What will Iceland say to you?