Arriving in Iceland
Our Children’s Culture week in Reykjavik begins like most people’s holidays begin; on a plane. It’s a bit of shock to our system as we’re more used to rolling the bikes onto ferries and retiring to our cabins before sea sickness kicks in. But as we step onto the Icelandair flight, we realise this is just the start of a very different experience…
A very different kind of place…
Before we even put a foot on Icelandic soil, I know without a doubt that this country is different. What’s not clear to me is how deep the difference goes. Is it one of the quirkiest places on earth, or does it have the world’s best marketing team? At the end of my first day here, I realise the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
Icelandair’s inflight entermainment system tells me the most important things I should know about Iceland. I learn that it’s not the lush whale population or the midnight sun, it’s the fact that the President is listed in the phone book.
Even our kids get with the campaign. “The President is in the phone book Mum. Can we call him when we get there? Can we? Does anyone know his name?”
The President doesn’t just do phone chat though; as part of the Inspired by Iceland campaign last year he invited tourists for pancakes in his home. He was inundated by willing guests; one woman flew from Seattle to join him for breakfast. Our kids love pancakes and would be happy to take him up on that offer.
Next I’m informed it’s not the geothermal pools or the volcanic landscape that define this place, it’s the fact that half of the population believe in elves.
“I believe in elves!” says Hannah, instantly bonding with a nation who shares her passion for the pointy eared. Hannah has a long term fondness for mythical creatures; she left a trail of chocolate to her bed at Easter in an attempt to entrap the Easter Bunny.
Designer Ooruvisi Gjafavorur, who is running an art workshop in the festival we have come to check out, says it goes deeper than superstition, “This is our religion,” she laughs. “We bend roads around the rocks to avoid upsetting the elves.”
Apparently it’s not the lava fields or the geysers, it’s the fact that the most popular restaurant is a hot dog stand.
Cameron’s passion for bratwurst is a legend in our family lunchtime. You can hear his squeal right down the plane when he takes in that message. And I find myself admiring a country that puts highly processed sausages in the same league as geothermal wonders of the world.
Inspired by Iceland?
I first became aware of the power of Icelandic branding at World Travel Market last November. While all the stands were impressive, none of them stood out like the Iceland stand who were offering people a simple proposition; to spend time with real people, doing real things like walking the dogs or having dinner without any money changing hands. I was instantly inspired and decided I had to visit.
“Look at this,” says Stuart pointing at the latest message on his screen. “‘Did you know the conditions may not be what you are used to?’ Brilliant. What they’re saying is ‘Yes, we’re different, but we’re not different in the way you think we’re going to be different. We’re more different than that!’”
Later I meet Hera Brá Gunnarsdóttir, Project Manager for Marketing and Visit Iceland, who says Stuart is spot on; their mission is to bring in visitors who are looking for something unique. “We are looking for people who want to experience something different; not those who like to follow the herd, or do the same thing as the person before them.”
The Inspired by Iceland campaign came about after tourism was wiped out overnight by the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökulla, a volcano on the south of the island. This followed the 2008 economic crash that had an impact on just about everyone living here.
“We thought no one would come to Iceland again,” says Hera. “People got the impression that the whole country was covered in ash. But it was only like that in the south.”
Hera tells me that visitors to the island need to take what’s thrown at them and bring a warm coat. “Within five minutes we can have sun, rain, wind and snow,” she smiles.
Stepping out into strangeness
It is sunny when we step off the plane. The revolving doors at the airport swing us out into a green space where a giant egg stands glinting in the daylight. Something is pushing out of it, and we argue about what it is.
For me it’s a dinosaur tail. For Stuart the egg is the earth, pushing out a lava stream that represents the birth of the youngest country on earth. Cameron is hungry and the egg reminds him of dinner.
Reykjavik Excursions pick us up from the airport in a luxury bus to take us on an outing to The Blue Lagoon Iceland. The boys are delighted at the seat belts and free wi-fi and we lose them for the journey. Hannah looks out of the window and asks questions about the extreme landscape as we travel down empty roads laid between kilometres of gnarled blackened rock. The pitted, pockmarked mineral looks like it has been recently and violently spewed from the mouth of hell, while in contrast the marshmallow peaks, in various shades of white, draw the eye directly to heaven.
It’s a bit of an out of body experience. One minute we are dragging through the grey drizzle on the way to Heathrow, and seemingly the next we are floating in a blue lagoon, legs gently kicking above two tectonic plates.
We have plastered our skin in quick dry silica that resembles wallpaper paste, and we can hardly see each other for steam. People around us are drinking cocktails as they swim, so we order a frozen slush. (You have to admire a country brave enough to brand its junk food with the title Krap.)
The sun is shining, we are sipping crushed cherry ice through a straw, bathing in hot water that’s burning our toes, and suddenly it starts to snow. I get the feeling we are in for quite a ride.
This post is part of our 2012 Iceland Season. We visited Reykjavik in April for the Children’s Culture Festival, then spent a summer exploring the wilder parts of the country expedition style by car and bike. We’re grateful to Visit Reykjavik, Icelandair and Icelandair Hotels, Reykjavik Excursions and The Blue Lagoon for their support in helping bring you this season of posts from the Reykjavik Children’s Culture Festival.
Read more from our Icelandic Spring 2012 Reykjavik Children’s Festival season:
- Looking for the Source – preview post
- Not your usual Golden Circle tour
- Culture and happiness – at the Children’s Culture Festival
- Letting go of the reins – Icelandic Horse Riding
- Making music with a carrot – Contemporary Music for Curious Children
- 8 things that make Iceland the most creative, kooky place I’ve been
- Does a happy revolution sound like this?
- Whale watching or whale eating – what’s would rather you do?
- Spin but not as we know it – the Icelandic art of marketing
- Posts from our Adventure Islands Season in Iceland and The Faroes