Cute little Iceland
I was in Iceland for New Years, participating in an Ultimate Frisbee hat tournament (teams arranged on-site, so more of a “for the fun of the game” tournament). It was a fantastic tournament with fun people (mostly from Europe), lots of celebrating, and a country that’s just too cute.
Iceland has 320,000 people. That’s approximately the population of Saint Louis, Cardiff, Bielefeld, or Panasonic. There are 100 times more people in the greater Tokyo Metropolitan area than in Iceland, and this is no city state either like Vatican City, Monaco, or Singapore. Iceland is the 18th largest island in the world and is comparable in size to Bulgaria (pop. 7.3M), South Korea (pop. 50M), or Kentucky (pop. 4.4M). It’s also not a “piggy-back” country like Lichtenstein which pretty much feels like an extension to Switzerland (I apologize to any Lichtensteiners who found this post). Iceland has its own coast guard, media, language, culture, frisbee team, etc.
One of the more surreal Icelandic experience happened when I was eating dinner with my Icelandic teammate from the tournament and her sister. To highlight how small Iceland was, the sister picked up the Icelandic national newspaper and started flipping through pointing at everyone she was connected to. “Same high school,” “neighbor,” “family friend,” “once acted in his company’s commercial,” etc. By the end of it, she was in some way connected to about half the people highlighted in the national newspaper. Pick up your own national newspaper. Do you even know a single person, in person?
During WWII, Iceland was invaded and taken over by the British who wanted to control the island before the Germans could. The invasion force consisted of ~700 partially trained marines with hand drawn maps from memory, and planning and weapons familiarization was done en route on the transport. The Icelanders, asserting neutrality and without a real military did not put a fight, and the island was conquered without a single casualty. The biggest resistance may have been put up by this man:
One Icelander snatched a rifle from a marine and stuffed a cigarette in it. He then threw it back to the marine and told him to be careful with it. An officer arrived to scold the marine.
Icelandic people believe that gnomes or ferries live in boulders and they should not be disturbed. This is taken very seriously with curvy roads being paved to avoid angering any of the fictitious creatures. You can imagine that in a country with lots of snow and icy roads, this is really hazardous. Further more, there are professional “elf-spotters” who are hired by city planners and home builders.
Iceland is part of the Schengen area but not part of the EU and definitely not part of Euro, which helped them rebound fairly strongly out of their economic crash in 2008. The Icelandic Kroner, roughly 160 ISK to the Euro currently, which threw off the Europeans and Americans who aren’t used to dealing with triple and quadruple digit prices (it’s not so far off from the yen for me), has five coins, and they all have sea creatures on the back:
Given the opportunity, I would highly recommend visiting Iceland. It’s not a cheap country to travel to or in, but the natural beauty (or surreality) and welcoming people make it worthwhile. The winter months are probably not the best time to visit, despite the saying, “Iceland is green and Greenland is ice,” there are plenty of ice, snow, and hail. The weather during my stay was actually brutal, and we had to save two cars that got stuck on a snowy hill (imagine 30 fit frisbee players exiting a bus and approaching your car during a snow storm, help start the car up the hill, and start cheering once it gets going). I hear that the summer months are gorgeous with very long days, and cycling around Iceland is a great way to see the country.
Lastly, Iceland has the greatest and largest hot tub I’ve ever been in, the Blue Lagoon:
I had a fantastic stay, and special thanks to the tournament organizers and the ultimate frisbee community for making it happen.