(This is going to be the first of my two posts on my recent trip to Iceland. This post will focus on Iceland the country. The second post will focus on Iceland the travel destination.) Link to the pictures.
Iceland is a small Nordic country in the middle of the North Atlantic, halfway between Europe and North America. Aside from the climate (more on that in the second post), I found Iceland to be a thoroughly pleasant and progressive country that will warm the heart of Bay Area folks who love to proclaim "it's different here." The people I meet were well scrubbed, pleasant and English speaking. I found Icelanders on average to be on par with physically attractive than the residents of your typical upper middle class coastal bedroom community, but less tanned and more confident.
The owner of this blog knows far more about small open economies such as Iceland than me. However, from what I can observe, Iceland appear to be setting itself in for some hurt from the global housing and credit bubble bust. Believe it or not, tiny Iceland has its own housing bubble, especially of Reykjavik mid-rise condos and office buildings. I have no idea if they are intended for locals or for rich foreigners...I suppose that if rich people can make London real estate the most expensive in the world, they might be foolhardy enough to buy in Reykjavik. They might even get a used house salesman from the Reykjavik branch of ReMax.
I was also surprised by the amount of new and large vehicles. I live near Washington DC, one of the most car-obsessed metropolitan areas in car-obsessed US, but I felt very much at home in Iceland. I saw almost no vehicles over 10 years old and most vehicles appear to be less than 5 years old. A good many of them were gas-guzzling SUVs, even though Iceland petro is about $8/gallon (so much for the theory that high gas prices contribute to greater gas efficiency). Many of these vehicles are obviously not tourist rentals (Porsche Cayenne, BMW 7-Series, modified jeeps).
One of the most surprising things about Iceland is the prominence of accounting firms. I saw KPMG/Deloitte/PWC offices at all major settlements (some with less than 5,000 people). Sometimes it feels like Iceland society is composed exclusively of gas station attendants (there are several hundred gas stations for a country of 250,000) and accountants.
Some other random observations:
- The US embassy in Iceland has concrete blockades in front - do not attempt to photograph those concrete blockades.
- You can see Northern Lights in late August if you're extremely lucky (largely cloudless night sky are hard to find) and stay up until at least 11:30 PM.
- Reykjavik's harddrinking reputation is well deserved. A reveler climbed onto our extremely dirty rental at a crosswalk and spent the next two minutes telling the car (or us) "I loved you. (In fact, be wary of crosswalks in general. At the start of our trip, a bunch of kids pushed one boy onto a crosswalk and we had to jam on the brakes to avoid hitting him.)