Local Voices - Jóna & Júlía from Iceland
Local Voices - insiders' look at the destinations we love
As we continue our series of Local Voices, we are excited to talk with two people from the beautiful Nordic island nation that is our latest destination. Here is a look at how Jóna Kristín Erlendsdóttir and Júlía Kristey H. Jónsdóttir view their home country, Iceland!
What makes Iceland special to you?
Jóna: The nature, the clean water and air is what comes first to mind when I think of the country itself. I also love the concept of þjóðarsál, the nation's soul. The way I interpret it is that because we are so few, only about 364,000, we feel a lot of empathy when something bad happens to someone. A murder in Iceland - they are few and far between! - is often considered a national tragedy. I also have to mention the Yule Lads and their mother Grýla (pron. Greelah), as they are a big part of Icelandic Christmas, especially for children.
Júlía: I think nature is what makes Iceland special to everyone. It has so many opposites, differences and riches it doesn‘t really need advertisement. But what I think makes Iceland special is our history, sagas and how our people found a way to survive in that nature. Our folklore and legends are important to us, which might be more visible in the smaller town and villages. Our traditions are not always connected to faith or religion, so sometimes I think other countries don‘t see the historical connections and we tend to not explain it very well. I also think there are bounds to how open we are, some aspects of our culture are things we like to keep local and to our own. As I am sure most native people tend to do, no matter where in the world they are.
As a local, what is the one thing you would recommend a visitor do in Iceland?
Jóna: I would suggest going to a public swimming pool, they are open year round and are a big part of our culture. But you can't be too shy to be naked in front of people of the same sex if you're going to go. The locker rooms are divided into two, one for men and one for women, and sometimes there is also one that can be locked, for people with disabilities or if a person is transitioning physically from one gender to the other. If you don't like the idea of being naked in front of strangers, then I would recommend to you to put on a bunch of clothes and go see the Icelandic nature.
Júlía: This question is always hard, because some people tend to forget how big the island actually is. It is twice the size of Denmark and is about the same size as the state of Kentucky. If you can, go outside of Reykjavík. I recommend just driving Route 1, the Ring Road. People come for the nature and you will see signs for most of the places to stop along the way, but if I have to name one place then it would be Hljóðaklettar. The Golden Circle is popular for a good reason as well and you will get amazing sights of both Icelandic history and nature. And no matter where on the island you are, I think the most Icelandic thing you can do is to go swimming in a swimming pool. We are big on baths and after the swim you should go for an ice cream or to a café. The ice cream is not for everyone but we eat a lot of it during the winter!
Where do you like to spend your time in Iceland?
Jóna: I'm a homebody so I love to relax in my own home. Besides that my 3 favorite places are my late grandfather's summer cottage, where we are used to having bonfires singing, drinking hot cocoa and enjoying the mild summer weather, my grandmother's place where it's always so warm and cozy, and finally the Westman Islands. They are kind of like mini-Iceland, with an even tighter-knit community, beautiful nature and a nice, relaxing atmosphere.
Júlía: My favorite is just to drive around in the country and find new things to see. Drive to a new town, museum or find a new place to just enjoy nature with friends and family. Spending time outside in nature with people you care about and a cute dog is great. Going to the swimming pools or the hot springs is also amazing.
When you travel, what is your favorite destination?
Jóna: I haven't traveled a lot in my life but in Italy I loved staying in a region called Marche. I really like exploring new places - preferably warm ones, haha - and even though I love getting to know new people I prefer the more hidden places with fewer people!
Júlía: I love Austria - I lived in Salzburg for two semesters so that is a favorite. Finland is a close second, an amazing country, and then Brussels because I have been there often to spend time with family.