Sitting in a coffee shop with my wife Sara ordering decaf cappuccinos in downtown Reykjavik a couple of weeks ago, I felt that I was transformed to a new world. Most of the people who were sitting there were in their late twenties to mid-thirties. Some were drinking coffee and eating cake while others were drinking beer or wine. It seemed strange to be in a coffee shop where you can drink coffee or alcohol — that usually does not happen in the US.
Our trip to Reykjavik was easy, and the airport was small and cozy. We cruised through the customs smoothly and the officer was interested to know if I had any plans for fishing. I was happy to hear him making conversation; his friendly smile reflected the great demeanor of Icelanders, which we appreciated throughout our time in Iceland. I told the customs officer: no , I have no plans for fishing on this vacation, but I do have plans for Icelandic horseback riding!
Our first morning we made our way from the central bus station on foot to the meeting place of the Free Walking Tour where we met our tour guide Sara. Sara, Icelandic, was funny and she was not shy to tell us her unfiltered opinion as she led us through the streets of downtown Reykjavik. Iceland is the most peaceful country, she started. Iceland does not have an army; the police are very rare, and they don’t carry guns. There is no security anywhere in Iceland, she said, except around the American embassy!
The day of the tour, the weather was marvelous, breezy and sunny with a lot of joy in the air by the people around us. Iceland has the lowest crime. In fact, most of their crimes are white collar. In 2008 when the economy of Iceland started to collapse because of the recession, the banking industry in Iceland, similar to the US, took on a lot of risky debts, ending up not being able to pay. As a result, more than 25 bankers went to Iceland’s Kviabryggja Prison, an old farmhouse, surrounded by the North Atlantic on one side and fields of snow-covered lava rock on another side. In a recent article Bloomberg Business News called Iceland “Where bad bankers go to prison.” Iceland still remains the only country that imprisoned top executives in the 2008 crisis.
Back to the tour — the tour included some quick history of the Viking settlement of Iceland up to its independence from Denmark in June 1944 and its relationship with Europe. The education system in Iceland is available to everyone. Universities and schools are free with a minimum amount of registration fees. The healthcare system is free as well. Sara continued telling us that all the water of Iceland comes from geothermal hot water, and it is free. Electricity is generated by waterfalls. People start high school when they are 16 and finish when they are 20. Most of the people in Iceland go to college when they are 20 for 3 years for a B.S. and 2 years for a Master’s degree. Iceland has the highest number of single mothers in the world, and almost 60-70% of the people in Iceland came from unmarried parents.
Back to the cafe in downtown Reykjavik, we ended up talking to Andrew who is working in the film industry moving from Atlanta to LA, and Federica at a different table from Italy, who just finished her Chemistry degree and is thinking to open a hostel in her town in Italy. We spent two hours talking while I was writing this article. I decided to take a picture of all of us before we parted–having enjoyed our chance meeting. This was the first of many enjoyable conversations we had with strangers in Iceland.
This will be my first article about travel and the effects of vacations. Stay tuned to hear about the rest of the trip.
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