Review by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. Courtesy of Bjartur.
The original tour guides/photography books in Veröld’s “Iceland Cool & Crisp” series, Reykjavík and The Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon, offered a fresh perspective on tired tourist destinations when they published in 2007.
Reykjavík is particularly interesting for the fact that it’s written by a blogger, Maria Alva Roff, as sort of a print version of her website Iceland Eyes.
Just when people predicted that the internet would kill print media, fascinating developments occurred. Media began to merge in all possible ways and Roff is certainly not the first blogger to be offered a book contract.
Born to Icelandic parents and raised in California, Roff decided to relocate to Reykjavík to reconnect with her roots. Due to her background, she has quite a unique perspective on Iceland’s capital, somewhere between that of the local and outsider.
Although some of her photographs may not be especially strong or eye-catching at first look, they offer a curious glimpse into Roff’s Reykjavík, things that, if not for her careful documentation, might both have passed capital residents and foreign visitors by.
Roff’s captions are insightful and provide readers with small doses of information on city life, history, geography and culture, some of which I, having grown up in a different part of Iceland, was unaware of. For example that the third-year students of Kvennaskólinn high school dress up in the national costume and parade the streets of Reykjavík every spring (page 38).
I also appreciate her paying attention to buildings other than the capital’s most famous landmarks, such as Háteigskirkja church, which I’ve always found strikingly beautiful (much more beautiful than the gray spiral of Hallgrímskirkja) and attention-deserving (page 42).
However, given that the book was published in 2007, some of the information in Roff’s Reykjavík is dated, for example her coverage of the obsolete whaling industry (page 22)—which with a controversial quota issued by the Ministry of Fisheries this year is set to become a “real” industry in Iceland again.
But even so, by keeping themselves up-to-date with current affairs, readers can enjoy Roff’s original guide to Reykjavík and let it open their eyes to some of the capital’s lesser-known characteristics and places that they might otherwise have missed.
As for The Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon by Gunnsteinn Ólafsson (also published in German), including pictures from a range of photographers, primarily Ragnar Th. Sigurdsson, I had prepared myself for the usual clichés.
The name of this most-frequently taken day-tour in Iceland—of Thingvellir national park, Geysir hot spring area and Gullfoss waterfall—alone has become a cliché, not to mention the Blue Lagoon natural thermal baths, which is almost an obligatory stop for every tourist that comes to Iceland, either on the way to or from Keflavík International Airport.
However, there is a reason for these places being frequently traveled: They are not to be missed (although for people traveling on a budget I’d rather recommend outdoor swimming pools, see page 30 in Reykjavík, than the overpriced Blue Lagoon).
While containing detailed information on the most famous destinations of the Golden Circle tour, such as UNESCO world heritage site Thingvellir (pages 16-30), the guide also covers lesser-known places in the region and on Reykjanes peninsula, which is usually not included in the tour.
The book includes pictures of different quality, some typical, others unusual—almost magical—for example “Gullfoss in Winter’s Grip” by Sigurdsson (page 52).
All in all The Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon is a recipe for a long and comprehensive tour, which, if every stop is included, is likely to take more than a day.
Both books are easy to read, yet informative, and tastefully designed. And despite covering well-trodden paths, especially The Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon, and Reykjavík being a bit dated, they still provide old clichés with new angles and should prove interesting for those interested in digging a bit deeper.
Now all that is needed are guides like that on other parts of Iceland that are not as frequently-traveled by tourists!
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