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Portfolio: Story Sample from T+E Magazine: Iceland Issue (Sept. 2013)
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Portfolio: Story Sample from T+E Magazine: Iceland Issue (Sept. 2013)

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  • 1. For decades, urban travellers have dismissed Iceland as a remote land of northern lights, overcast skies, unruly volcanoes and cozy wool sweaters. While arguably one of the more photogenic and identifiable places on earth, Iceland remains an exotic mystery to many; a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where people believe in elves (the huldufólk, or “hidden people”), there are no last names (they use the Icelandic patronymic system ), and where musician Björk became…well, Björk. It’s true that Iceland is remote and mostly untouched by big brands and chains (McDonald’s pulled out in 2009 and Starbucks has yet to infiltrate it), but it has successfully shaken its rep as a land of ash and ice. Capital city Reykjavík’s average winter temperatures actually hover around the freezing mark and it’s remarkably green in the summer. Nature’s still the number one draw, but in recent years, travel tastemakers have been whispering about Reykjavík’s rising potential as an urban weekend destination. Reykjavík has bolted to the top of travel wish lists as a small but sophisticated city, luring visitors on their way to and from Europe, and reeling in crews of beer-guzzling bachelors. A recent report by the European Travel Commission claims Iceland is now one of the fastest-rising European destinations for U.S. travellers . Statistics Iceland reports that the number of visitors to the island has more than doubled since the year 2000 and that American and United Kingdom tourists top the list . Over 673,000 people visited the country in 2012— more than double Iceland’s entire population. Super-savvy travellers have been tapping into Iceland’s stopover potential for years, snagging cheap flights to and from Europe, but it has yet to catch on with the mainstream. Major airlines like Icelandair offer stopover packages for up to a week at no extra cost but even with the increase in tourism, nature tops the list of reasons to visit, with stopovers accounting for only 11.8 percent of visitors last summer, and 8.2 percent during winter . Reykjavík Weekends A lot can be packed into a single weekend here, from nightlife to some of the country’s most photogenic natural wonders. Scenic attractions are a short drive from the city, including the Golden Circle tour featuring the Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir, and Northern Lights missions in winter months. The recognizable Blue Lagoon actually sits in lava fields near Iceland’s main travel hub, Keflavík International Airport, and is considered by many to be a mandatory stop on the way to and from the airport. Reykjavík is home to just over 200,000 people (New York City has more than 40 times the population) but it still upholds a notably urban vibe. Fine dining restaurants are on the rise and the downtown area is lined with bars, pubs and designer shops. Manufacturing and fishing are still Iceland’s major industries (though tourism is growing fast) and Reykjavík’s working downtown harbour reels in travellers for several whale watching and Puffin Island boat tours departing from the docks. Local landmark Sægreifinn (The Sea Baron) serves up world-famous lobster soup, Iceland’s infamous fermented shark cubes, and their specialty, “Moby Dick on a stick” (whale kebabs, which can be a controversial topic here). Almost everything is within walking distance and various downtown walking tours depart regularly, with many meeting by the Tourist Information Centre . Or, wander the streets and seize photo ops at high vantage points such as The Pearl water tank complex and revolving restaurant, or Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran Church , which doubles as an observation tower. Waterfront paths take you past the glistening new Harpa concert hall and conference centre and offer gorgeous views of the Mount Esja range (also called Esjan), whose famous flat top was formed by layers of lava eruptions under a glacier during the Ice Age. The mountains are especially beautiful during evening hours or under the midnight sun, by one of the country’s most photographed steel sculptures, the Solfar Sun Voyageur . Icelanders are bathers by nature and it’s common to stop for a swim on the way to work and a hot tub dip on the way home. All of Reykjavík’s neighbourhoods have large public geothermal pools. The Nauthólsvík’s Ylströnd beach is the city’s sandy, man-made geothermal beach with hot- and-cold waters, thanks to mixing seawater and “hot streams” from heated Reykjavík water tanks. Reykjavík’s Artsy Side Culturally, the city is an intersection of Scandinavian and Gaelic traditions, sprinkled with modern European sophistication, then churned into something uniquely Icelandic—due in part to their isolation and general dismissal of global pop culture, but also from a deeply ingrained creative spirit. People here are overwhelmingly artsy and stylish. Many claim to be a musician, artist, chef, designer or photographer—and somehow they all rock a traditional lopapeysa wool sweater like they’re on a fashion runway. Maybe it’s something in the glacial water? When it comes to experimental arts, the weirder, the better. The annual Reykjavík Arts Festival held each spring is a gateway to the city’s eccentric arts scene. One of this year’s most buzzed-about exhibits featured a “Vessel Orchestra” . Local artist Lilja Birg­is­dóttir wrote the score using the different sounds of horns from working ships in the Reykjavík harbour, then coordinated a public performance with ship captains. In 2011, the City of Reykjavík even hired an Official Illustrator, Rán Flygenring, to capture local street life in art form. A Growing Interest in Iceland Illustrations by Rán Flygenring N E X T Reykjavík Nightlife Table of Contents

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