Well, I just returned from one of the most exciting trips of my life – a week spent in Iceland. For seven days we drove around Þjóðvegur 1 (also called the 'ring road'), Iceland's main circular artery, exploring every inch of the inhabited coastal regions. We experienced nature at its fullest force (more on that later) and relished in the strangely Scandinavian culture.
Iceland is an odd country, a historical fluke. The sparse population is descended directly from the early Viking settlers (and their Celtic brides) who came from Norway, Scotland and Ireland, to find more space and escape the rule of the Norwegian King. Because of expert documentation and the Icelanders' famous sagas, they have preserved their family trees going right back to the settlement period in the 9th century. Iceland is almost unique in recording its history in such detail. Iceland is also unique in having preserved its language and culture for so long. Modern Icelandic is incredibly similar to Old West Norse, the original settler language, and the population's relative isolation and small size has meant their traditional ways of life have barely changed over the centuries.
My first few days in Iceland focused on the capital, Reykjavík, and the surrounding historical region known as The Golden Circle. We explored the stunning new Harpa concert hall (and ate at its restaurant, Kolabrautin), best seen by night. We learnt about Iceland's history at the National Museum and took in the austere yet calming Hallgrímskirkja designed by Guðjón Samuel. At Þingvellir we found where the original settlers created the world's first democratic parliament – the Alþingi – and then carried on to see the original Geysir (from which all other geysers derive their names) and the impressive Gullfoss waterfalls. It was the perfect start to our trip and gave us the relevant historical and cultural information required to understand what we were about to experience in the more remote regions of the country. Which will be coming up in my next few blog posts...