Many college students make traditional spring break getaway plans, hopping flights to Cancun, Fort Lauderdale, and Las Vegas. I made the decision to pack my bags and reserve a roundtrip ticket to the nation of Iceland. I know it sounds random, but this was definitely a trip that I will never forget. Due to the recent economic collapse, Iceland has seen the value of its currency drop significantly, and subsequently an increase in tourist traffic in a country once known for being rather expensive to visit. From the moment I landed at Keflavik Airport and drove in the early hours of the morning into the capital city of Reykjavik, I was amazed by the sheer beauty of the natural landscape.
As I began exploring the tiny city, I saw young people dressed in skinny jeans with keffiyehs tied around their necks. It was as if I hadn’t left Washington. On my first night, I saw a crowd of kids gathered outside an establishment called Q-Bar, located just around the corner from my hotel. I stepped inside for my first taste of Icelandic beer and to listen to some live music. I was later surprised to learn that it is actually Iceland’s largest gay bar, but one might not guess that immediately because the clientele is a mixture of young and old, gay and straight. This is hardly a shock within Iceland’s liberal culture, which recently ushered in the world’s first openly gay head of government in the wildly popular Johanna Sigurdadottir.
I’d been very curious as to what the music and cultural scene is like in Iceland, and that night I found out. The main performance that evening was Seth Sharp, a singer-songwriter originally from Hartford, CT who has been based in Reykjavik for several years now. Sharp gathers his inspiration from soul singers like Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. His original songs vary from up-tempo numbers to somber, rock influenced tunes. Sharp ended his show with a crowd rousing performance of Prince’s “Darling Niki,” complete with blindfold and baby oil.
Twenty year old Ragnar Arni told me that “most people are into experimental music, not a lot of mainstream stuff…we don’t really like death metal.” I wanted to know from where these tastes derive and my tour guide explained to me that unlike in other countries where teenagers seem to be encouraged to do what’s fashionable, the Icelandic people value individuals with the courage to be unique and stand out from the crowd. It makes perfect sense why someone like recording artist, Bjork, could reach such heights of fame while incorporating eccentric and trippy aesthetics.
While we’re on the subject, when the name of Iceland’s arguably most famous resident comes up, it brings out feelings among the people that oscillate between utter adoration and complete disdain. But while standing atop Þingvellir (Thingvellir, the volcanic rift valley where the parliament was founded in 930 A.D, I absolutely understood where Bjork gets her inspiration. Thousands of years of Viking history and Nordic folklore are in every inch of this island. Many citizens still believe in the existence of magical creatures that enchant the rock formations.
“Most Icelanders go abroad for their studies but we all return to Iceland because this is our home and we love it here,” said 22-year-old student Katrin Hakonsdottir. Due to the fact that Iceland is so far north, the parties do not stop during the summer months because there is almost perpetual sunlight. I hope to make the trip back this summer to experience the hospitality and free spirited culture that is Iceland.
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