Interesting Facts About Iceland

Iceland

If you want to know some interesting facts about Iceland, then you’re in the right place. On this episode of Go, we’re listing some of the most amazing things about the Nordic island. Press PLAY to listen to the episode below or read the article further down.

Arctic Tern

Iceland is home to the Arctic Tern. This small white bird spends time in Iceland during the summer months, then flies all the way to Antarctica during the southern hemisphere’s summer months. This bird has the longest migration known for birds. An Arctic tern ringed as an unfledged chick on the Farne IslandsNorthumberland, UK, in the summer of 1982, reached Melbourne, Australia in October 1982. Only three months after leaving the nest, it flew over 14,000 miles.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik has the lowest murder rate in the world, per capita of cities with more than 100K people.

Thingvellir

Iceland is home to the first parliament in Europe. In the year 930 AD, the first Parliament met in what is now Thingvellir National Park. Today, this park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Silfra Fissure

Iceland’s Thingvellir National Park is one of only two places in the world where you can see two tectonic plates meeting above the earth's surface (the other is in Africa). These plates move apart about 2 cm per year. There’s even a place where you can scuba dive between the continents called the Silfra Fissure. Our 4th Episode covers the fissure, you should check it out.

Icelandic Forest

Iceland has no forests. When settlers first arrived they chopped most trees down to build houses and use as fire wood. Iceland’s soil layer is also really thin and the ground is mostly volcanic rock, making it hard for trees to grow and plant deep roots. The cold weather and short summers don’t give trees enough time to grow either. Icelanders are trying to change that with restoration projects around the country.

Glacier

Roughly 10% of Iceland is covered in glaciers.

Iceland Population

The population of Iceland is about 333,000 thousand people. California alone has ten cities with bigger populations. Wyoming, the least populated state in the US, has 250,000 more people than Iceland.

Reykjavik Population

94% of Iceland’s population lives within Reykjavík and 34 other towns.

Eyjafjallajökull

Since Iceland sits right on top of the Mid-atlantic Ridge, it’s very geologically active. Every 4 years there’s a volcanic eruption, like the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull. This eruption sent thick plumes of ash into the sky above Europe. This halted air traffic for 6 days in several countries. Volcanic ash may look like smoke, but it’s actually made of tiny volcanic rock particles. This can be dangerous for planes to fly through since it can damage their engines.

Strip

In 2010, Iceland banned strip clubs.

hakarl

Icelanders eat fermented Shark meat. Some people say it’s the worst thing they’ve ever eaten. The meat comes from the Greenland Shark, which can live to be over 400 years old.

Hydropower

Iceland generates their electricity from the environment. 80% is gained from 8 hydro-electric power plants. The rest comes from 5 geothermal power stations.  

Geothermal

Homes in Iceland don’t need a hot water heater. Geothermal power stations heat water that keeps the homes in Iceland warm.

Reykjavik Sidewalk

Some sidewalks and roads in Iceland have hot water pipes running underneath them to melt the snow in the winter.

Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic horses are a direct descendant from the horses brought by the first Vikings. They grow a thick coat in the winter to keep them warm, but their coats are often a different color from their summer coats. So a tan horse in the summer can turn into a dark brown horse in the winter. They're also the only horses in the world to have 5 different gaits, while all other horses have 3 or 4.

Internet Iceland

Iceland has the highest internet usage per capita in the world, with some of the best speeds. This could be the fact that Iceland is only 39,000 square miles, about the size of the state of Virginia.

Laundromat coffee

The picture above shows the inside of the Laundromat Coffee Shop in Reykjavik. Iceland consumes the 3rd most coffee per capita, in the world.

Elf Village trolls

Most Icelanders believe in Elves, Fairies and Trolls. This has been likened to the belief in Santa Claus, by Western cultures. Yet, enough Icelanders believe in trolls that construction projects have been forced to stop and even road plans have changed to go around sites where trolls are believed to live. 

Northern lights

Iceland is so close to the arctic circle that during the summer, the sky never gets dark. In the winter, it’s almost always dark. This makes the winters great for seeing the northern lights.

 

Icelandic Author

10% of the Icelanders are published authors.

Icelandic Alcohol

In 1915, alcohol was banned in Iceland. This is until 1921, when Spain refused to buy Iceland’s Cod unless they legalized wine. Spirits were still outlawed until 1933, but beer remained illegal. At the time, Icelanders wanted independence from Denmark and beer drinking was associated with the Danish. Eventually, Iceland became independent in 1944 but beer remained illegal until 1989. The only place you can buy alcohol in Iceland is at a government run store called a Vínbudin.

Iceland Phone Directory

Icelandic telephone directories list Icelanders by first name alphabetically.

Iceland Sagas

The Icelandic language is very similar to ancient the Norse language. 1,000-year-old books are still easily read Icelanders.

Iceland Police

Icelandic police don’t carry guns. Only one person has ever been killed by the authorities there.

Blue whale penis

The picture above is of a blue whale's penis. Reykjavik is home to Iceland’s penis museum. They have penises from over 200 different mammals, including one from a human.

Iceland winter New York

Although Reykjavik is near the arctic circle, the average temperature in January is about the same as New York City.

 

Icelandic Naming Committee

There are a limited number of names that you can give your newborn baby in Iceland. To preserve tradition, the Icelandic Naming Committee controls what names can or can’t be given to children. If you want to give your kid a name not previously approved, you have to submit a request to Committee, which will accept or reject it. Right now there are 1,712 male and 1,853 female approved names.

Mosquito

There are no Mosquitoes in Iceland.

geysir

The word "geyser" is an Icelandic word. In fact the first geyser ever named is called, Geysir.

Vigdís Finnbogadóttir

In 1980, Iceland became the first country to elect a women president. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was president until 1996. Although the first female president was Argentina’s Isabel Martínez de Perón in 1974, she wasn’t elected president, she was serving as Vice President when the President died.

There are some places in Iceland where the ground is so hot from geothermal heat, that people use the ground to cook their food.

Icelandic Coast Guard

Iceland doesn’t have an army, navy or air force, but they do have a coast guard.

Dating App

Since Iceland is a small island, a lot of people are related to each other. There’s a dating app called, Islendingabok, which translates into, The Book of Icelanders. The app lets people see if their love interest is closely related to them or not.

whale watching

Iceland makes more money from whale watching tours than whaling.

Norse

Iceland was first inhabited by humans around the year 800.

Iceland golf

Iceland has the highest rate of golf courses per capita. With 6 golf courses, this equates to 1 golf course per 4,825 Icelanders.

Swimming pools

Iceland has over 120 swimming pools.

 

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Cuba, Old Havana, and the Collectivos

havana cuba

EPISODE 10: CUBA

After being cut off from the US in the 1960s, Cuba became a travel relic. Now that it's slowly opening up, Americans are flooding the island for the first time. But Cuba is unlike any place else in the world; there are certain things American travelers need to know before visiting. Press play to find out some essential Cuban travel knowledge, and check out the article below.

Brief History

In 1961, during the height of Cold War tensions, the United States cut diplomatic ties with the Cuban government. They restricted trade and commerce between US businesses and Cuba, as well has prohibited Americans from spending money there. 

For the last 50 years, Americans faced a $250,000 fine and 10 years in US prison for spending money in Cuba. Technically, it couldn't be made illegal to go to Cuba, so instead they made it illegal to spend money there. Although the law was rarely enforced, it was still difficult to travel to Cuba since there were no direct commercial flights from the US.

In 2015, then President Obama announced that the US would reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. By the summer of 2016, the first commercial flight from the US, landed in Cuba. Today, more than 8 airlines fly direct to Cuba everyday.

 

Taxis

Collectivo

Published: Apr 18, 2017 by Alex Cwalinski

 

Check out our featured guests:

Andreea Christina

Andreea Christina

Elizabeth Viatkin

Elizabeth Viatkin

Jon Barr

Jon Barr

Cubans have a lot of different ways of making money. One very lucrative way is to drive a cab. Taxi driving is one of the best paying jobs in Cuba.

Most Cubans earn between 20 to 200 dollars a month, but just one cab fare from the Havana Airport to the city of Havana can pay really well.

"A taxi from the airport to old Havana. It was between 25 to 30 Pesos," said, travel and beauty blogger Andreea Christina, who runs SimplyAndreea.com

These pesos are worth as much as dollars (before taking exchange rates into account), so a cab driver can earn in one ride, what some Cubans make in an entire month.

 

Frankencars

collectivo cuban car

After the US Trade Embargo in 1961, Cubans lost access to the US auto market. Instead Russian cars were available, but they were rationed, so there weren’t that many for sale. The only way to buy a new car was through the government, but taxes for new vehicles were extremely high. Coupled with so little income, Cubans couldn’t afford new cars for decades. Instead they repaired their old ones over and over.

Some of these cars have parts from four or five different vehicles, giving them the nickname 'Frankencars.'  Some of them use boat engines or even lawn mower engines to keep them on the road. One car I rode in looked like it was from the 1950s, but the steering wheel said 'Toyota' on it and the seats were couch cushions.

Most of these cars operate as taxis. In Old Havana you’ll find a lot of the nicer ones that look fancy and have shiny paint jobs. Those are more expensive to ride in.

"But if you get a really shitty one, with the not so good paint job, with the seats in the back that are bouncing with every pot hole, then it’s fine." Viatkin said. "It’s just a regular taxi."

These taxis are called Collectivos. The fare is really cheap, about 80 cents, but don’t expect them to have any safety features like airbags.

"I’ve never seen a car with a seat belt in Cuba, never," Viatkin said.

Getting into pretty much any car in Cuba is going to have its risks.

Many Cubans are dependent on their collectivos for income, so cars are very valuable here. Families will even pass down their one car through several generations. To give you an idea of how important these cars are, I spoke with Youtube Vlogger Elizabeth Viatkin. She told me about a conservation she had with one of her cab drivers.

"This taxi driver we had, bought this car, it was like a 1996 Peugeot, that he bought already ten years used. He bought it in 2006. And he bought it for 30,000 CUCs, but someone is offering him 40,000 CUCs. I was telling him, why don’t you sell it? He said, 'how am I going to live without the car? That’s my livelihood.'"

 

Havana Streets

Havana street

I spent my first week in Havana, in an area called El Cerro. It’s a residential neighborhood with a lot of foot and vehicle traffic. In most of Havana, it feels like people are always heading somewhere, it’s a very busy city. After work, locals spend a lot of time outdoors, either sitting in from of their homes, or hanging out on a corner talking. The culture is very inclusive and the people are really friendly.

 

Old Havana

IMG_5843.JPG

My favorite place in Havana is an area called Old Havana, it’s where the city was first founded in the year 1515. Some of the buildings are hundreds of years old and you can find a lot of museums and restaurants here.

"It’s close to everything and it’s very very walkable, and for a girl, it’s very safe," Christina said, "You know, it’s more lit up, close to many restaurants. I think for being comfortable, I would definitely do old Havana,'cause it’s easier. That’s where the hotels are and the wifi is easy to find."

 

Wifi and internet

Wifi

Easy-to-find wifi is a huge perk when you’re in Cuba. There’s currently no data service for cell phones so you won’t be able to surf the web on your phone without wifi.

You’ll know when you’re near a wifi hotspot when you see at least a dozen people looking at their smart phones. These are called wifi parks. If you want to use the internet here, you’ll need to buy a wifi card with a scratch off code and a password. They’re called Etecsa cards and will cost about 2 to 6 pesos, depending on how many hours of wifi the card has.

 

Etecsa cards

etecsa card

Most cards have an hour worth of internet, but it can be a hassle using them. I was get kicked off of the network many times and it could take up to several minutes to even connect.

The place where I was staying wasn’t near a wifi-park, so I’d have to set an hour of my day aside to travel to the park.

"So essentially the internet was more of an activity than something you were always connected to." according to Youtube Travel Vlogger, Jon Barr.

Barr was just in Cuba, traveling and filming for his channel. 

"I would find time in the evening if I had nothing better to do," he said. "I think that internet use is one of the biggest frustrations for most people I’ve met that have gone to Cuba. At first it’s liberating and then after a while it gets pretty annoying."

But limited access to the internet can have its perks.

"When you don’t have a smart phone and the internet isn’t as important in your life, I think community relations is a little bit different, I think neighbors are more friendly," Barr said. "I would walk down the street at night and the people who recognized me would invite me over. I felt like the community was pretty tight-knit because they weren’t distracted by other things."

This sort of tight-knit community probably helps to keep Cuba very safe. I’ve traveled to many places in the world and despite how economically poor Cuba is, it’s the safest place I’ve been.

 

Safety

safety in Cuba

"It’s so safe, it’s amazing," said Viatkin. "We’re walking around at night through really dark alleys and you see five young guys sitting around looking at you, but you don’t ever feel unsafe. In any other country I would think, 'am I about to get robbed?' as the very obvious tourist in the dark alley somewhere. Over there that thought doesn’t even cross your mind. It’s all safe."

Barr felt the same way about safety in Cuba, and had his own take as to why it’s safe, "With communism there, nobody owns guns except for the military or the police and not a lot of wage disparity. So a lot of the reasons for street crime in other countries, as far as someone with lower income needing it, or a lot of gun use in the United States, those reasons for crime don’t really exist."

I’ve also heard from locals that Cuban police are really strict about crime against travelers. One local told me a story about two tourists who were kidnapped in the town of Viñales, around eight years ago. The kidnappers held them overnight and raped them. The next day they were dropped off in town and the kidnappers drove away. The tourists went immediately to the police station, and the police were stunned that this had happened to them. This sort of crime was so rare that the Viñales police called all the surrounding police stations to activate a search for the criminals. The cops went door to door searching for clues and suspects. Within 24 hours both men were caught and identified by the tourists. The criminals were both executed that same day.

The Cuban who told me this story told me that Viñales is a small town, dependent on tourists and that they couldn’t afford having tourists getting kidnapped in their community and ruining their reputation.

That story is rare and also unverified, but the takeaway is: Cubans are very serious about crime. So you’ll generally be very safe there.

 

The Money situation

Cuban Peso

Credit and debit cards, issued by America banks, don't work in Cuba. Not at any stores, ATMs, hotels or banks. Not even at the airport.

"I heard stories of people who didn’t factor this in and got screwed over, not having money or having to get money wired somehow," said Barr.

He helped explain the unique currency exchange situation for Americans in Cuba.

"There’s a ten percent penalty for using US dollars at an exchange house," Barr said. "I went for two weeks. For me it made sense to go from US dollars to Canadian."

Barr exchanged his US dollars for Canadian dollars, before going to Cuba. The currency exchange fee is around 3%; exchanging Canadian Dollars to Cuban Pesos was another 3% fee. In total, it cost him 6% in fees to exchange US dollars into Canadian dollars, and then into Cuban Pesos. This is still cheaper than exchanging US dollars directly into Cuban pesos. That will cost you the exchange fee, plus the ten percent penalty, totaling 13%.

 

Exchange Booths

Cambio de Moneda

Currency exchange locations are called either, Casa de Cambio or Cambio de Moneda.

Make sure to count your bills one by one, in front of the person at the booth, so that you can both see how much money you're putting down. There are countless stories online about travelers in Cuba getting ripped off at these places.

At the airport in Havana, I had the first of many 'under the table experiences'. Encounters where local Cubans conduct business that was in some way, not legal.

When I arrived to the exchange booth there was no one behind the counter. A police officer standing nearby asked me what I had to exchange (I still had some US dollars on me that I forgot to exchange earlier). The officer told me I should speak to a lady standing near the booth. When I approached her she said she could offer me a US dollar exchange rate for 10% instead of the standard 13%. We walked into a small office nearby and did the exchange. It felt a little sketchy, but the rate was better, so it's a win-win I suppose!

 

Only Bring Cash to cuba, lots of it

Money

Since Americans can’t use their credit or debit cards in Cuba, you’re going to have to bring enough cash to last you the duration of your trip.

"I brought more than enough cash, I never ran into any money problems," Barr said.

It can feel a little sketchy traveling with that much cash on you, but right now there aren’t other options for Americans. One thing you should do, to avoid carry even more cash, is book your accommodations in advance. You can do this online, through Airbnb or other online booking sites.

 

Casa Particular

casa particular

Cuba doesn’t have that many hotels, so you’re most likely going to stay at a Casa Particular.

"Casa Particulars are essentially a chance for any local to open up their homes to tourists, and basically you can tell it’s a Casa Particular because they have the blue cross on the outside," Barr said.

 

The Blue Sign

Casa Particular

The blue sign you see above, indicates that this house rents rooms to travelers. You'll see these signs in every Cuban neighborhood.

Renting rooms to foreigners is a really new development in Cuba.

"Just maybe two years ago people were allowed to host people in their homes," said Viatkin. "It wasn’t like that a couple of years ago, but right now if you walk around Havana, you can see practically on every door, there’s this little sign, and you can knock on any door and they will just let you in."

They’ll let you in if they have availability, and you’ll find that the prices can range from 20-50 dollars a night. I’ve been to six different Casas in Cuba, and the quality can be pretty hit or miss, but all of them have the basics. 

"The Casas are actually pretty strictly licensed," Barr explained. "You have to have running water, most of them have to have air conditioning too, 'cause most tourists aren’t going to go to Cuba without air conditioning. So they’re actually pretty tightly controlled by the government."

We've only scratched the surface of things you need to know about this fascinating island. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast for updates and stay tuned for the next episode.

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