Iceland Trip Planning: Inspiration
Updated: June 29, 2017
(You can skip this short narrative and get to the recommended resources by scrolling down this page…)
When the wind and rain are a’blowing and the city becomes a waste of concrete and steel, all hard edges and painful symmetry, my Nordic heart goes a-viking…
“Why do you always research the backstory, never the practical details?” R., my wife and travel companion, asks when I show her my latest finds: a documentary about strongmen in Iceland, say, or a catalogue page from the website of Iceland’s homegrown outdoor gear brand (links to both included below).
How else to appreciate the spirit of place, the Genius loci, “the unique, distinctive and cherished aspects of a place; the invisible weave of culture” and “the tangible physical aspects?” I think.
Until recently, at least, and despite a penchant for bleak landscapes, Iceland has been a blank space on my mental map of the world (admittedly, there are many), a place too surreal to exist outside of fantasy lit: Volcanoes; Norse gods; magic; trolls; fairies. Ultima thule,* more legend than fact. Other than legends from childhood — that Iceland was misleadingly named by the Vikings who settled there to scare others from its rich volcanic soil; the setting for Jules Verne’s fantastical Journey to the Center of the Earth — “the land of fire and ice’’ fell onto that edge of the imaginary map which warns “Here be Dragons.” An impression which only deepened in university from reading Njal’s Saga, and watching music video dispatches from a parallel universe sent by The Sugarcubes and the sylph-like Bjork.
Then came Cameron Crowe’s 2001 science fiction/ romance Vanilla Sky and Jónsi Birgisson’s falsetto and bowed guitar on the song Njósnavélin, “The Nothing Song,” in the final scene. Mind. Blown. I listened to all the Sigur Ros I could get my hands on, and even today — 14 years later — Sigur Ros and Jónsi’s solo work are on my iTouch’s Most-Played list. Sigur Ros is our favourite song. Ever.
Around the same time, I discovered Michael Reichmann’s landscape photography on Luminous Landscape. Iceland quickly rose to our shortlist of “Must Visit” places — a position only re-enforced by scenes in Prometheus, Noah, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Batman Begins, and “north of the wall” in Game of Thrones.
Ever since, I have gathered books and music and videos and readings and whatever else I could get my hand on to feed this magical, fanatastical place, Iceland, the land of fire and ice, and keep it alive in my imagination. Even now, in the midst of my second trip, I continue to find that Iceland is increasingly, it seems becoming a kind of virtual reality online and in print, as it continues to be shaped by seismic geological forces and the power of imagination.
Forthwith, an — ongoing — list of the best resources I have found to keep and nurture Iceland, the Ultima thule, alive in mind and body.
History, Creative Nonfiction, Ethnographies, Documentaries, Blogs, and other Sources of Info
Karen Oslund, Iceland Imagined: Nature, Culture, and Storytelling in the North Atlantic (available as audiobook on audible.com — I’m listening to it as I write this…)
… and, because it’s always interesting to see how the locals live, Bjork’s House in Iceland (probably not a typical abode!).
The Vice documentary Giants of Iceland grants insight into Iceland’s strongman subculture; highly recommended!
Reykjavik: UNESCO “City of Literature” http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/CLT/images/Creative_cities_Reykjavik_en.pdf
Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness, Under the Glacier excerpt
Sjon, The Blue Fox excerpt
Hannah Kent, Burial Rites excerpt (Jennifer Lawrence will star in the upcoming movie adaptation)
Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth text on Project Gutenberg
Photography & Video
On Luminous Landscape:
Iceland 2003 by Michael Reichmann
Iceland Locations by Ben Hattenbach
Iceland: A Photographer’s Paradise by Michael Reichmann
Hans Strand, Iceland Above and Below book review, including great pics
Burial Rites: a photo essay by Hannah Kent, author of the novel Burial Rites
Iceland map from International Photographer (haven’t ordered this, as it wouldn’t arrive in time, but it looks very useful)
Outdoor Clothing Brand
66 Degrees North “Keeping Iceland warm since 1926” (I love their knit caps, lined with plastic inside the weave to block Iceland’s frigid winds! Makes a brilliant souvenir)
… and, despite what my wife says, I do actually research some practical details before each trip. Check out Iceland Trip Planning for resources I’ve found especially interesting and/or useful in planning our trips to Iceland
* The Roman poet Virgil used the term Ultima thule to describe a far-off place or unattainable goal