I didn’t really know what to expect of Iceland on my first visit. I just went on short trip because I wanted to see Sigur Rós. Little did I expect to be blown away in more ways than one… and that it would trigger many more trips to come.
Sigur Rós has stirred my soul from the moment I accidently stumbled upon them early 2006. Out of curiosity I clicked on a link to a concert they played in Reykjavík at the end of 2005. It sounded interesting, and I left it playing in the background for the full length of the gig. Then, at the very end, came the song that truly blew me away. The song that made me an instant fan, ‘Popplagið’ – their epic masterpiece. Starting off with gently flowing guitar melodies, like a spring shower innocently drifting by. Then suddenly advancing like a distant thunder, changing into eerie chanting, slowly building up and finally unleashing in a furious explosion of sound, overwhelming like a lightning storm. It flooded into my soul and left me in complete awe. Wanting to hear more.
I just had to go & see them live.
So when they announced a free gig in a park in Reykjavík at the end of July 2006, it triggered me into going on a short trip to Iceland just to visit that concert.
I had no idea what to expect of Iceland, except for some general characteristics. That it is where the original natural phenomenon of the geyser comes from, and named after. And Reykjavík was supposed to be quite a nice & charming town. Other than that, I imagined it to be rather barren & cold – which are not my favourable conditions to be in. But the thought of seeing Sigur Rós on their native territory made me go for it with an open mind. I could book a weekend trip to Reykjavík and just turn up to this concert in the park. And while I was there anyway, I added a few extra days to explore the surroundings.
Little did I expect to be blown away in more ways than one.
The Sigur Rós concert was awesome, all 2 hours & 15 minutes of it, accumulating in that mind-blowing eruption of sound that is their epic song ‘Popplagið’. I stood about five rows from the front of the stage, and was blasted off my orange coloured socks by their breathtakingly brilliant sounds.
Sigur Rós @ Klambratún Park.
It turned out that the Reykjavík concert was part of a documentary they were filming, taking them to all kinds of weird off-the-beaten-track locations around Iceland, with exotic names like Ólafsvík, Ísafjörður, Djúpavík and Öxnadalur. There were two more concerts coming up in Seyðisfjörður and Ásbyrgi – but unfortunately they were taking place just after I’d gone home. I wished I had a bit more time to explore, so I could see Sigur Rós in this enticing wilderness…
Colourful & cozy Reykjavík.
I loved the atmosphere of Reykjavík, the coziness of the colourful corrugated iron houses in the town centre and the beautiful views to stupendous mountains in all directions. And I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as cold as I expected.
I went out to a couple of bars with fellow travellers from the hostel, and it rocked! Danced my purple coloured socks off, and walked back along the harbour in broad daylight in the middle of the night. Blissfully drifted around in the hot outdoor swimming pool next to the hostel and soaked myself silly in the Blue Lagoon (still affordable at the time…) I did a walking tour in Þingvellir and stood on the edge of where the continental plates drift apart, and even though it rained, it was utterly beautiful.
Þingvellir continental rift.
I was intrigued by the luminosity of the light that never really went away, the way the language sounded, and those funny extra letters.
And, another thing I noticed: English spoken with an Icelandic accent is one of the sexiest accents I’ve heard. Sometimes I couldn’t help myself asking random people for directions or other information, just to hear them talk. Those rolling r’s just seemed to make me melt like a glacier on a steaming volcano…
Incredible craggyness & overwhelming beauty
After Reykjavík I had two full days for some further exploring. I rented a car and drove inland to the geyser area & along the south coast to Vík. And got lost in some of the most overwhelmingly beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen.
Skógafoss rainbow waterfall.
It was full of steaming fields and surreal rugged & craggy mountains, with countless waterfalls tumbling from their hallucinating green edges. I saw a brilliant sunset on a shimmering glacier looming in the distance at half past 10 at night, and I was well & truly blown away. It was beyond anything I could have imagined or expected beforehand.
When I woke up the next day to clear blue skies & warm sunshine (!) and walked up to the craggy Reynisfjall hill, I was lost forever, and on a continuous natural high all the way back to Reykjavík. Iceland had taken me completely by surprise. I decided there & then I just had to come back for more.
Reynisfjall with Vík in the background.
The unpronouncable glacier mountain
It was probably the incredible craggyness of that obscure mountain massif with a glacier on top that did it. I had no idea what it was called – and no-one except Icelanders could pronounce it anyway.
And those mysterious island shapes shimmering in the distance just off the coast. Somehow I felt immediately drawn to them. It was like a force of nature that couldn’t be denied. I just had to go there…
Vestmannaeyjar shimmering in the distance… Those mysterious wisps of fog swirling around the island to the left (Elliðaey) are what is called ‘dalalæða‘ in Icelandic – a spectacular phenomenon to see!
So I went back in 2007 for a rúntur around the Ring Road. It wouldn’t be the last time either. The first thing on the route had to be those islands. The Vestmannaeyjar! It was beautiful beyond belief, and I felt this was one of those places I would want to come back to.
Way beyond awesome…!
On Heimaey, the main island of Vestmannaeyjar, I bought a card with that awe-inspiring glacier mountain looming across on the other side. I finally found out what it was called – its unpronounceable name was written underneath.
A couple of years later – in 2010 to be precise – it actually became world famous… 😉
So that’s what it is called… 😉
Funny Icelandic words
- Farfuglaheimili: Migratory bird’s home = Youth hostel.
- Þjóðgarður: Community (people’s) garden = National park.
- Rúntur: Round tour; driving (or walking) around from one place to another = Pub crawl.
- Dalalæða: Valley crawler. An untranslatable word for a specific type of fog, slowly crawling up from a valley. Læða is also the word for a female cat.
Sigur Rós documentary
The documentary Sigur Rós were filming is called ‘Heima’ and was released in September 2007. It features several tracks from their concerts in remote places (and Reykjavík), along with beautiful footage of Iceland and its people, and personal observations from the band members.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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Popplagið – The song that started it all. The epic masterpiece. Played at the Reykjavík concert of 30 July 2006. And I was in that crowd, tripping out of my orange coloured socks. It did indeed cause a Natural High 🙂
Heima – Trailer of the Heima documentary.
Sigur Rós Live in Reykjavík 2005 – The video of the concert that originally lured me to Iceland.
This story was originally published by Stuck in Iceland Travel Magazine (in a slightly different version) on 15 August 2016.
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