Back in drizzly Finland. Actually, back almost a week ago.
Trip went well, and even though it was a very “active vacation” it left me feeling relaxed and I feel I’ve been away for a long time (even though it’s only been a month). We visited Iceland, then flew over to California & Burning Man. Janka provides some trip recap in her blog, so I won’t repeat (much) of that here. I took a ton of photos – nearly 2000 – but then again more than half of those were 3-picture HDR composites, and then after the obvious failures are weeded out… well, the number of “reasonable” shots left is a lot smaller. Still, took lots of pics. The batch from Iceland is now available (slideshow), I’ll add the rest later once I get them processed.
Since I don’t have pics available yet I also won’t talk about the U.S. or Burning Man here, leaving that for later.
So, Iceland. I found the country quite amazing. Sure, it was expensive, and sure, it’s small and insular – but somehow, that insularity wasn’t as annoying as it can sometimes be in Finland. Maybe it’s just the fact that I was only on a short visit and didn’t see the reality of things, or maybe it’s also other things: I found the Icelandic elitist megalomania quite refreshing (compared to the Finnish traditional cultural inferiority complex), and the fiercely independent ethos of the people was also very appealing. Sure, Finland is supposed to also have some degree of that, but I think that died out at some point in history and was replaced by a general “it’s not my fault, I’m a victim of society!” outlook. Having said that, there do seem to be a lot of common points between Finland and Iceland: tiny, insular societies that speak an incomprehensible language, endless long dark winter months, a love of (lots of) alcohol, lots of beautiful unpolluted nature.
…but as always, it’s the differences that charm you. I’m a sucker for harsh landscapes, and the Icelandic volcanic wasteland was just too cool for words at times; especially so during our hike of the Laugavegur 55km mountain trail. Some of the scenery up there was just breathtaking. Culturally, I mentioned the elitism… I guess it’s because according to the Icelanders, the Vikings did pretty much everything first, better and with more style than anyone else – and naturally enough, Icelanders are direct descendants of said Vikings. Somehow, all the rape and pillage involved gets a lot less press over there… In any case, while the place felt very insular, it didn’t feel annoyingly so; in fact, it felt quite charming to me. Oh, I’m sure the “everyone knows everyone else” thing gets old fast if you live there, but that’s just how it goes.
The music scene in Iceland is amazing, and the same applies to the arts scene in general… for some reason, it seems that arts are very much respected there culturally and pretty much half the population dabbles into some artistic pursuit. You could explain it away with “well, they have to do something during those long winter months”… but then again, why do Finns use those same months to plan suicide (or axe murder) and drown their depression with Koskenkorva?
Yes, I kid. Finns get artistic too, and I’m sure Iceland has its share of suicides, alcohol and depression. But still, you have to admire the amazing artistic scene in Iceland, especially when you compare to the population count (about the size of your average larger metropolis). To me, the music was (and is) especially impressive.
About that music… I have to mention the record store 12 Tónar. At the time we visited I wasn’t aware that it’s also a record label, and “home” of many known Icelandic musicians. We just saw an advertisement about “lots of Icelandic music!” while strolling around and decided to drop in. Glad we did. Since I didn’t know much about current local bands, I walked up to the guy behind the counter and asked for some recommendations, saying I was familiar with Björk & Sigur Rós and had a fairly eclectic taste in music. Now, that sort of approach generally tends to work in many non-chain stores, but here I got especially nice treatment. The guy gathered a pile of 8-9 CDs and said “start with those”, then sat me down at one of the many eclectic CD-players scattered around. He also brought me a cup of (free) espresso. That’s what I call service. In general, the place was what a good record store should be like (but all too seldom is): knowledgeable & friendly staff, comfy surroundings, and freedom to listen to a lot of stuf in peace. I ended up buying two records: “Það kólnar í kvöld…” by Rökkurró (excellent alt-folk-pop sung in Icelandic) and “Clangour” by Sin Fang Bous (weird but fun music, sung in English). Janka picked up an album of Viking poetry set to an ambient music soundtrack.
So… yes, I liked Iceland a lot. The food was great (though expensive), the atmosphere was nice, and the scenery awesome. I also really liked the language, it’s actually the first Scandinavian language I have any larger interest in learning – which is inconvenient, since it’s also arguably the most generally useless of said languages. Whatever, it’s quite pretty (in a weird fashion), and while it reads a small bit like Swedish etc, the pronounciation is almost totally alien.
I probably want to visit again, sometime down the road. Armed with a large travel budget, since the place was very expensive – and I say this as someone from Helsinki, one of the more expensive cities in the world.
After 1.5 weeks in Iceland, we hopped aboard a plane again and headed off towards the land of the free(ish) and home of the paranoid. More about that later.