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Iceland - The author’s take
Snow-covered Kistufell in the West Fjords © WestFjords, www.westfjords.is
This is a land where horses grow long hair on their backs and where the liquorice aisle is the longest one in the shops. It is a place where everyone calls each other by their first name and where mailing addresses haven’t changed in 1,000 years. What’s not to love?
The best part about writing a guidebook to a country is that it allows you to go back again and again. After so many years of continuous travel to Iceland, I am still amazed by this marvellous country – its incredibly raw nature, its ancient culture and its overwhelming beauty.
Travelling to Iceland is much less about sightseeing than it is feeling things you’ve never felt before – what it’s like to be the only person on earth or how it feels to be outnumbered by a million-odd puffins. Iceland’s gargantuan nature stirs the soul or it can shake you in your boots. That plume of mist on the horizon could be steam from a hot spring, the salty breath of a spouting whale, the early wisps of a week-long fog, or the conquering cloud of a massive volcano.
In some ways, the surprising eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano was symbolic of the country itself. Iceland might appear small and remote on world maps, but it has a funny way of affecting all of us. In turn, the great cataclysms of the rest of the world affect Iceland. Even today, the global financial crisis still marks Iceland’s economic landscape and has returned Icelanders to their more frugal traditions of self-reliance.
And yet, in spite of exploding volcanoes and a dire economic crash, the numbers of tourists to Iceland continues to grow. They come for the rumbling waterfalls, to soak in heavenly hot springs and to witness the last great glaciers of Europe. They discover the strange shapes of the bright-green mountains, the colours of the daunting sky and the shimmering fjords, and the joy of sunbeams after a hard-hitting rain. This is a land where horses grow long hair on their backs and where the liquorice aisle is the longest one in the shops. It is a place where everyone calls each other by their first name, where all the churches have tiny gold stars painted on their ceilings, and where mailing addresses haven’t changed in 1,000 years. What’s not to love?
The first edition of Bradt’s Iceland found a loyal following all around the world, especially among readers and travellers who desire a deep historical and cultural background as they discover this great nation. Since the first edition, I have tried to incorporate the drastic changes that have put Iceland on the map in recent years while staying true to the eternal spirit of the country itself. I hope that you enjoy Iceland as much as I do – may yours be a wonderful trip and may the sun shine brightly at least some of the time.
Before I fell in love with Iceland, I fell in love with a map of Iceland. As a boy, I used to spend hours with my atlas and I remember staring at Iceland’s crazy coastline and trying to read all those impossible place names. I made my first trip right out of college – the fog never lifted once and yet I thought it the greatest country on earth. I went back six months later just to see the snow and have kept going back ever since.
All those fjords with long names have long histories to match and these are the stories I wanted to tell.
When Bradt gave me a peek at potential new titles, I jumped on Iceland like a little kid (‘me, me, pick me!’). While they were thinking on it, I jetted off to Iceland for a weekend of hiking and came home even more exuberant. I wanted to write a book that opened up the whole of Iceland, not just the easy places and not just in good weather. I have been fortunate to write for Bradt in the past and encouraged by their step away from the obvious. For this title especially, I was grateful for their support of personal exploration in lieu of mere fact-finding. What I learned was that Iceland is a huge place, much larger than I had ever imagined or experienced. All those fjords with long names have long histories to match and these are the stories I wanted to tell. Indeed, the most challenging aspect was discovering that no place in Iceland is too small and that this country is changing constantly.
Over the past few years, a major financial crisis and some serious volcanic activity kept Iceland on the map and in the minds of people across the globe. Yet despite the agitated news stories and overwhelming public concern, I was never really alarmed. In writing Bradt’s Iceland I have learned that these events are mere hiccups among the real excitement and melodrama of Icelandic history. The new edition is the culmination of four years of collaborative research, comprising the updates of so many key friends and contributors in Iceland and at home. I am grateful to them all but most grateful of all that I still have the amazing opportunity to keep travelling to Iceland.