I am so lucky that my buddy Svein Nordahl has given me permission to publish some of his photos from Iceland on my blog. Which ones are his is stated on the photos. You can find more of his photos on: Svein Nordahl – Home in the Arctic
As already established in this post from Þingvellir, Iceland has extensive volcanic and geothermal activity. Half of this land area consists of a mountainous lava desert and other wasteland. The highest elevation is 2,110 m (6,923 ft.) above sea level.
Only 1 per cent of the land is cultivated, and 20 per cent is used for grazing. The forest that I mentioned in Þingvellir post, has been lost along with most all of the woodland that previously covered between 30 and 40 per cent of the island.
Around 10 per cent of the total land area is covered by glaciers, the four largest being:
- Vatnajökull (7764 km²)
- Langjökull (868 km²)
- Hofsjökull (827 km²)
- Mýrdalsjökull (542 km²)
We visited from way further north, from the real Arctic, and seeing the glaciers were not a priority at all. However, if you travel to Iceland from glacier-less parts of the world – then experiencing said glaciers comes highly recommended.
Iceland’s climate is rather “blah”. Due to the Gulf Stream passing by, the climate is characterized by damp, cool summers – and relatively mild, but windy winters. Just… “blah”! Reykjavik, the capital, averages of 12 °C (53.6 °F) in July and 1 °C (34 °F) in January. The weather is notoriously variable – all year around.
In the wintertime, the aurora borealis is often visible at night, but midnight sun can only be seen on the island Grimsey off the north coast – as it is the only part of Iceland that is north of the Polar Circle. You do get very light summer nights in the rest of the country though, even though the sun does set briefly.
Now, this landscape and rapidly changing weather conditions are not without dangers, and I believe that some of the folklore has its origin from busy parents trying to scare their kids from getting themselves into harm’s way. Other legends are explanatory – they give a reason why, for instance, the Golden Falls are – well – golden. Sometimes legends are pure incentives, as you do this – the elves will reward you, and so forth.
The Icelanders call the elves, fairies and gnomes Huldufólk, which translates to “hidden people”. The belief in the Huldufólk is so strong that building projects are sometimes altered to prevent damaging the rocks where the Huldufólk is believed to live. Also, please refrain from throwing stones in Iceland, to eliminate the possibility of accidentally hitting the Huldufólk in the head. That would piss them off to no end!
According to the folklore, the Huldufólk is everywhere, so tread carefully as they are easily offended, and can retaliate with all kinds of mischief. They also dislike crosses, churches and electricity. (A thoughtfully placed candle on New Year’s Eve to help them find their way when they move, is highly appreciated, though.)
On Midsummer Night, folklore states that if you sit at a crossroads, elves will attempt to seduce you with food and gifts; there are grave consequences for being seduced by their offers, but great rewards for resisting.
Like in Norway, it is customary in Iceland to clean the house before Christmas, and to leave food for the Huldufólk on Christmas Eve.
There is great likeness between Icelandic and Norwegian folklore, which does not surprise me at all; we are from the same origin. I was, however, surprised to learn that many Icelanders actually believe in the existence of Huldufólk. It is very much so a part of their culture and every Icelander has a grandmother who used to dance and play with the Huldufólk as a child.
Come to think of it, isn’t it better to believe in the Huldufólk then an invisible and judgmental god who demands a tithe of everything you own? The Huldufólk just wants to be left in peace, and to be treated to a nice meal once a year!
We are not done with Iceland yet, so check back for my next post – from the sky!