My wife and I spent the last week on vacation in Iceland, which is like a liberal’s dream: an peaceful, egalitarian society with no standing army, very low inequality and scarcely any crime, consistently ranked as one of the best countries in the world for women and LGBT people, with a Scandinavian-style social welfare system and energy derived almost entirely from renewable sources. And its people were the friendliest, politest and most hospitable I’ve ever met – possibly surprising, considering that Icelanders are mainly descended from the notoriously violent Vikings who settled the island about a thousand years ago.
Despite Iceland’s high northern latitude, it sits in the path of the Gulf Stream, giving it a mild climate that’s more like the U.S. Pacific Northwest than like Alaska. And as befits a Seattle/Portland-type climate, the capitol city Reykjavik is an up-and-coming hipster town, a mecca of craft beer, fashion, music and food. (One thing I will say is that just about everything is shockingly expensive there – which may be partly because of taxes, but I suspect more because Iceland is a small and isolated island nation that has to import nearly everything, including food.)
One of Reykjavik’s landmarks: the Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland. (Like other Nordic countries, Iceland has an officially established state church which most of the population belongs to in name only; actual religious interest and attendance is much lower, and in fact Iceland has one of the highest percentages of atheists in the world.) The architecture is designed to resemble the columnar basalt formations common in the volcanic countryside.
Wide view of Reykjavik and Faxaflói Bay, from the observation deck at the top of the Hallgrímskirkja.
The statue of Ingólfr Arnarson, the first permanent settler of Iceland according to the Norse sagas.
The midnight sun: even at nearly 11 PM, this is what it looked like outside. It never gets dark in Iceland in July, not really.
Höfði, the house that was the site of a major Cold War summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Another of the landmarks of Reykjavik: the Harpa concert hall.
Streets of the gods. (The “Þ” is the letter thorn, part of the Icelandic alphabet by way of Old Norse, and pronounced like “th” – so this is really “Thor’s Street”.)