Glimpses of Iceland: A Brief Foray into the Land of Fire and Ice – by Marin Ekstrom. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
As I glanced out my airplane window, I saw a landmass that could be best compared to a moonscape: a vast sheet of black, jagged volcanic rock, covered with layers of pristine white snow, jutted up into the sky. This view marked my entry into Iceland, the “Land of Fire and Ice.” In the course of an hours-long layover that I would have in the country, I was able to explore the capital city of Reykjavik by foot and briefly experience the wonders of this truly otherworldly land.
After our plane landed, I hopped on a bus headed towards Reykjavik. The view from the ground level was just as astonishing as the bird’s eye view. We passed by seemingly endless craggy ridges of dark volcanic rock that were covered by meager layers of grass, moss, and lichen. An occasional pastel-covered house or two helped break up the monotony, and after what seemed like an eternity, we saw a congregation of these houses gathered over the horizon– we had reached Reykjavik! The wide spaces, charming dollhouse-like buildings, and abundant parks and green areas gave this city of 200,000 people a breezy, small-town vibe to it. On one street corner, you could be perusing through shops and restaurants, and a short distance away you could easily meander to Reykjavik’s embassy row. Reykjavik’s relaxed, accessible atmosphere made it stand out from most global capital cities, which tend to be frantic, congested, and heavily urbanized megalopolises. My glimpses into store and restaurant windows gave me clues to Iceland’s sense of national identity. The city displayed a lot of Viking souvenirs and regalia, which spoke to the fact that this group first settled the island more than a thousand years ago. Even the national language, Icelandic, pays homage to this heritage. Due to Iceland’s geographic isolation, the language maintained many aspects of Old Norse, and many Icelanders can even read centuries-old Old Norse sagas with relative ease. In contrast, its North Germanic counterparts, such as Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish, began to stray away from Old Norse due to linguistic and cultural interaction with their surrounding countries, and today these languages differ significantly from their ancestral language of Old Norse. Reykjavik’s buildings also nodded to its rich mythological and cultural traditions. Window-shops had troll and elf statuettes, which signified how important these creatures are in Icelandic folklore (in fact, many Icelanders today believe that elves are real!). Place names like “Loki’s Place” revealed the influence of Old Norse mythology in Icelandic society. Several places of worship scattered throughout the city also showcased the role of belief systems in Iceland. Christianity, especially Lutheranism, had a key role in Icelandic history, as it served as the dominant religion for hundreds of years after the Vikings converted to it from paganism. Other buildings and institutions highlighted how different religious traditions, as well as atheism, are starting to gain a more prominent role in modern Icelandic society. Lastly, the city displayed a deep reverence for the natural world. The ocean, green areas, and surrounding mountains all converge together to create a natural landscape that harmoniously blends in with the urban one. Many of the local crafts and everyday items in the city were made of natural materials, such as wood, wool, sod, and lava rock. Even many of the city’s artistic motifs incorporated natural themes, such as puffins, sheep, and fish designs. All of these seemingly small details proved to be highly reflective of Reykjavik and Icelandic culture as a whole, and they all helped me form a strong impression of the place during my stay there.
Although I was only in Iceland for a limited amount of time, I found it an absolutely enchanting place. I appreciated how I was able to glean many details about Iceland’s history, cultural traditions, and relationship with the natural world just by walking in and looking around Reykjavik. Nevertheless, I realize there is still much more to learn about the country, and I hope I will someday have another opportunity to explore Iceland for a longer period of time and discover even more of its unique aspects in the process.
Marin Ekstrom serves as an assistant managing editor for The North Star Reports
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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our guiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five years we have published over 300 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our volunteer student editors and writers come from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). We have an all volunteer staff. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang and NSR Student Editors and Writers. For a brief summary of our history, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm
Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Ellie Swanson and Marin Ekstrom, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.
(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu