There’s not a lot to know about Iceland, right? It’s a small island. Not a lot of folks there. And its ‘city’ of Reykjavík is smaller still. You ought to get a good run through of the whole thing with fifteen minutes or so of Googletime.
Not at all, though. If we really believed that, we probably wouldn’t have bothered making a hundred and one (and counting!) issues of Grapevine detailing all the best (and worst) of Icelandic life. And we’re not the only ones. Musician, author, journalist and blogger Gunnar Hjálmarsson (AKA Dr. Gunni) recently released his first guidebook on Reykjavík. Entitled Top 10 Reykjavík and Iceland, the book is packed with information on all things pertinent to the casual visitor; where to go, where to eat, what to see and what to do.
We like the book, we find it one of the most comprehensive tourist overviews to Iceland currently available and we will happily recommend it to our friends that are coming over (actually, we were upset about the whole thing, as we were planning on making a similar book of our own). We got Dr. Gunni to tell us all about it (full disclosure: Dr. Gunni is a regular contributor to the Grapevine; he regularly writes our ‘History of Icelandic Rock Music’ columns).
“Basically, it’s the kind of tourist book I would like to have when I visit a new place,” Gunni tells us. “And since it’s enveloped in that ‘top ten’ formula, it’s pretty straight to the point. It’s contains a lot of information on a lot of different subjects, although the focus is mostly on Reykjavík. We do have a little bit of space devoted to the countryside, and to explaining Icelanders in general.”
Who is it intended for?
Well, it’s mostly aimed at English-speaking tourists that come to Iceland without knowing a lot about the country. People between the ages of 20 and 50. I didn’t undergo any market research prior to writing, I mostly did it in the way I imagined I would like my tourist guides written.
Being a big music enthusiast, the book does touch on that subject quite a bit. I think that a lot of the tourists we get are here because they’re familiar with Björk and Sigur Rós, I don’t believe anyone’s here because we were a bubble society a couple of years ago.
Are all the things on your top ten lists based on your own experience and likings? Or did you consult with outside parties?
I did seek advice on the fields that I am not especially interested in, such as gay life and Reykjavík churches. The best chapters, or my favourites, are what I write out of my own interests and experiences, but I did realise I couldn’t only write about that.
Do you have a favourite category in the book?
‘The top ten of Icelandic candy’ is a great new list. I haven’t seen anything like it in any tourist book I’ve read, but would really love it if they all had one. They always have lists of restaurants and hostels, but you never get to know about the candy that the locals love to treat themselves with. It’s like candy is some sort of third-rate hobby.
Some of our constant readers might know you as a ‘consumer watchdog’—we did a story based on your activities on that front last year. Are consumer issues featured prominently in the guidebook?
You might say I was placed in the position of consumer watchdog, rather than seeking it out. I just made a section on my website that reported on places that were prone to overcharge, and that seemed to find a big audience. But it’s a hobby of mine, I’ll admit as much, and it’s reflected in the book. We have spots on cheap-ish restaurants, places to buy second-hand clothes and the like. And we do come out and say that Bónus is the cheapest place to shop for groceries, and that people should avoid shopping at the 10-11 convenience stores. Which is funny, as the same company runs both. But maybe tourists don’t care so much about cheap these days, now that the Króna has shat its pants so profoundly.
You’ve always been sort of an alt. hero in Iceland, placed firmly on the borders of Icelandic culture, not having much to do with the mainstream. A tourist book like yours probably has to have a mass appeal to work. So how do the two go together? For instance: Do you like stuff normal people like? Are you fit to guide everyone?
Well, I believe that the people that choose to come to Iceland aren’t that normal in the first place. I don’t think the casual tourist makes his way all the way over here. I mean, what could normal people get from this place anyway? Going to the trouble of flying all the way to this rock that’s inhabited by a miniscule number of souls and has nothing going except for some crazy nature and weird musicians?