Iceland Highlights: Elves and Hot Dips

Katie didn't know much about Iceland before she traveled there, but here are some of the things she learnt along the way.

Blue Lagoon in Iceland Photo © Getty Images/pidjoe

I would describe myself as a ‘fair-weather’ traveler – and by fair weather, I mean… hot weather. A holiday isn’t a holiday unless it’s in the sun. So when I was asked to visit Iceland, with a film crew in tow, I wasn’t looking forward to the cold.

I've done a 10-month stint around Southeast Asia, spending my days diving and exploring the beaches. This helped me acclimatize to the Australian weather – namely the heat.

Originally from the UK, I’m used to a constant drizzle of rain, and as a child I'd get really excited if it was more than 15 degrees outside (summer in the UK). I moved to Sydney for the sunshine – but I also like to travel to places where the sun shines – like Bali, Turkey or Fiji.

Iceland was not at the top of my list.

Things I Knew About Iceland

1. Bjork was from there.

Things I Found Out on a Very Brief Google Research Mission

1. Iceland is very expensive.
2. Iceland suffered a massive financial crisis at the beginning of the GFC
3. Icelanders believe in elves.

Yes elves… and it turns out some people also believe in trolls, dwarves, gnomes and fairies.

This belief isn’t just for the wacko’s and old timers who live in the middle of nowhere, but it’s actually interwoven into their culture, environment and some would say that people from there have a very ‘elf-like’ look themselves.

Obviously it’s not like they have a cultish ritual or burning at the stake for anyone that doesn’t believe, but there is an underlying expectation that the majority of Icelanders knows someone or is related to someone who has had an elf-related encounter.

Picture a quaint red wooden house; nestled at the foot of a snowy mountain, chickens in the garden and a large boulder in the basement, this is were I met Lizbeth and her occupant elves.

So, I didn’t meet the elves but she did tell me the story of how she came to live in the little red house that was home to a family of elves and the huge rock in the basement was their home. The red house had been built around this rock as to not upset or offend its residents.

Lizbeth was not a crack-pot old hag, but actually very beautiful, very fertile (I think she had 4 kids) young 20-something.

She had a painting on her wall of a blonde woman, with striking green eyes – not dissimilar to her own. Apparently, this picture had been painted by the previous owner of the house after a dream she had, several years before Lizbeth came to view the property with the intention of buying it.

The old woman who had lived there prior recognized Lizbeth from her painting and knew she was the only one who would respect the basement inhabitants and therefore sold the house to her at a bargain price.

I’m a realist and not that gullible – but I kind of liked this story, and it got me thinking, what if there really were elves in the basement? Could they be all around? Where else do they live?

I suddenly started noticing mounds of rock, in the middle of roads, roundabouts, paths and in gardens – these had been left untouched so as to not upset the house holds that lived within. A couple of locals told me stories about people that had been hurt because they had upset the elves…

Yes now I’ve written it down, it does sound insane – BUT there was something about the myths and legends that intrigued me. Throughout my trip, I kept my eyes peeled and even went on a guided ‘elf’ tour just outside Reyjakvik.

In the end I found the stories to be a bit contradictory with their other beliefs, Christianity for example – I did go to church growing up, however, I am no expert, but I’m pretty sure there is no mention of tiny winged pixies or trolls that turn to stone in the bible…I might be wrong though. I do however think that their beliefs come from a place of reasoning, a reason why bad things may happen (because you moved an elf rock without permission from the elf king) and also being so exposed to nature, traditionally their lifestyle would revolve around and be subject to the elements.

There is a population of only 340,000 in the whole country, so some people live very remote lives which makes sense that they might have made up a little friend at the bottom of the garden, there was no one else about to talk to!

I packed a lot into my 7 day trip, spending the majority of my time in Reykjavík but also visiting Isafjorour, a small village in the North west for a local music festival, a couple of my highlights would be: Sea Kayaking on the fiord in Isafjordur, it started snowing and it really made the place feel magical.

Joining a local swim club in Reykjavik for a dip in the 4-degree ocean, followed by a coffee scrub down and a dip in one of their famous hot tubs.

Also try the local cuisine, although the majority of the ‘traditional’ food wasn't to my taste it was a privilege to have locals to talk me through the preparation and reason behind foods such as fermented shark, wind-dried fish and horse meat.

Iceland is so different to anywhere I have ever been before. The country is a vast landscape of volcano’s, geysers, snowy mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and lava fields. Although there is a tiny population they have mastered the art of using what they have. 95% of the countries power comes from 7 geothermal plants, utilizing the heat from the ground to make electricity and heat homes, this means they are VERY green!

In my opinion you cant fully understand, or ‘get’ the Icelandic people unless you are one of them and have grown up with all that nature, being completely exposed to the elements – if a blizzard closes the road to your house – your staying put until the weather clears – no matter how long it takes!

I do feel as though I got a tiny peek into what the Icelandic people are really like, mystical, open, quirky, welcoming and totally accepting of their surroundings.

And the country itself is just as quirky, wondrous and welcoming as the people. I have so much more to tell you about this trip but the videos and pictures will do the place much more justice than my ramblings….Enjoy.

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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