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Journey to the island of volcanoes and geysers

Uta Kuehrt 09.02.12

On 31 January, the series "Meet the world" took us to Iceland, accompanied by two interesting guests.

Þorkell Gislason, an Icelander who now has been living in Estonia for two years, started off the evening with a short and enthralling Icelandic history lesson. We learned that it was the first Vikings who gave Reykjavik its name and that it was, in fact, Word War II that fuelled the economic growth of Iceland and eventually propelled Iceland into an independent state.

We also got to know that Iceland boasts the world's oldest parliamentary democracy and is a bastion of free speech and press freedom.


Next up was Mihkel Järveoja, who shared with us his stories from his time in Iceland, where he studied geology in 2009/2010 as an exchange student for a year. He even had a chance to witness live the notorious volcano eruption. He visited six different regions of Iceland and thoroughly enjoyed the variable and magnificent Icelandic nature. You can find his slide show here.

Mihkel recounted many amusing occasions during his stay, for example, blissfully enjoying a lengthy swim in the dangerous Viti geothermal lake, next to Askja volcano.

He also told us about the 50 km ski marathon he attended – and the (literally) uphill, and in hindsight, hilarious battle to finish it.


We also discovered that the perception of volcanic activities in Iceland greatly differs from the Western viewpoint. Volcanic eruptions are to be expected in Iceland.

During the first days of the Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption, while the world media was reporting of a disastrous eruption, Icelanders were looking for a place to rent a car and go see the live “action”. It was more of a family amusement, than a natural disaster scene. Granted, later on as the volcanic activity increased even Icelanders chose to rather watch it on TV.


Volcanoes and the French Revolution

While talking about volcanoes, Þorkell also told us about the legendary Laki eruption, which took place in 1783. “Icelanders believe that the eruption caused the French Revolution” surely brought out gales of laughter, but they did not last long. 

As it would appear, the eruption brought upon a devastating effect not only on Iceland, but in whole Europe, and even in North America. The Laki eruption resulted in several years of extreme weather, destruction of crops and livestock and eventually widespread famine and poverty – all of which triggered the French Revolution in 1789.


After Mihkel and Þorkell were through with their talk, came the time for questions and answers.


With help from Þorkell, we all learned how to correctly pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull”, though it took some tries to really get a hang of that.


Icelandic specialties

When talking about Icelandic food and drinks, McDonalds seemed to reign supreme until recently, when all McDonalds stores were closed, and Icelanders (mainly young ones) bought extra burgers and fries before the close up.

We learned that the most popular alcoholic drinks are beer and vodka, and of course we heard about the notorious Icelandic fish and meat gourmet dishes.

Apparently, after eating some of the traditional fish and meat dinners, the Icelandic vodka (branded “black death” by the locals, a reference to the disastrous consequences of overconsumption, as well as the “delicate” taste) tastes like mere Coca-Cola!


We also got to know that Iceland has a relatively poor fauna and flora (arctic fox being the only common indigenous wild animal), but some polar bears wander off to Iceland every now and then.


Þorkell had  brought along a traditional Icelandic sweater, which has recently gained popularity especially among the young Icelanders.


Mihkel described the Icelander through the eyes of a foreigner, and concluded that they were rather similar to Estonians – relatively introvert and quiet, but when you finally get to know them, great friends!


In the end, we got a better understanding of Iceland, both through the eyes of an Icelander and through the eyes of an Estonian. We discovered we have many similarities – from the sauna and hot pot analogy, to religion’s low prominence in both countries – we do have a lot in common!

After the formal talk was over, everyone got to taste Icelandic fish dishes that Þorkell had prepared for us, as well as freely talk to the performers and each other. The fish dishes, as it turns out, were in fact delicious!


Text by Dan Prits

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