From Iceland — Tourist Of The Year 2013

Tourist Of The Year 2013

Published January 10, 2014

Tourist Of The Year 2013

For our second annual ‘Tourist of the Year’ award, we teamed up with Promote Iceland to make it a real contest with a real prize this time around. To that end, we created a website where tourists could submit their stories for a chance to win two plane tickets to Iceland plus hotel accommodation.

All in all, we received more than 500 entries. Not all of them qualified, as it was imperative to have visited Iceland in 2013. And not all of them were that compelling: telling us that you visited the Blue Lagoon and “fell in love” with the country is hardly original. But some of the entries were actually pretty good, and one stood out as a clear winner.

Much like last year’s winner—the woman who “found herself” many hours after being reported “lost” in the highlands due to a bus driver’s poor counting skills—this year’s winner also happened to make headlines all over the world (note: this was not a requirement).

Perhaps you recall some of these: “American tourists having picnic on Iceland glacier rescued after it becomes iceberg and floats away – with them on it,” “Tourists in Iceland rescued after picnic on iceberg goes wrong,” “Idiots try to eat dinner on iceberg, get blown out to sea…”

The Glacial Picnickers

Indeed, we picked “The Glacial Picnickers,” as they were dubbed by whoever nominated them. Here it is, the winning entry, submitted on November 29:

In May 2013, a quartet of American tourists traveled out to Fjallsárlón, a somewhat lesser-known glacial lagoon along the Southeast coast of Iceland, and decided to have themselves a truly memorable picnic. And not just in sight of the stunning lagoon—in it. On an ice floe, to be precise, because: awesome. They were prepared for quite a feast—brought folding chairs, a table, and a cooler—but got more than they bargained for when a strong gust of wind cracked the ice away from shore and started it drifting.

Now, safe though it is to say that these intrepid travelers had maybe not thought this plan fully through, one of them nevertheless had the presence of mind to call search and rescue before losing their phone signal. They kept their composure, and waited. When the first rescue boat arrived, the picnickers had drifted a full ten meters from shore. Had there been another strong blast of wind (not unlikely in Iceland, as we know), they may have actually capsized, but luck was with them and they were rescued, perhaps a bit sheepish, but none the worse for wear.

For their blithe (and truly American) optimism, for their delightful dedication to meals al fresco, for their woeful misunderstanding of the dangers inherent in Icelandic nature, for their presence of mind when disaster struck, and for sheer ridiculousness: I nominate the Glacial Picnickers for Tourists of the Year.

Picking them was easy but, unlike last year’s winner—who we never found because she apparently went back into incognito-mode as soon as the search for her was called off— we actually had to track these people down to award them their plane tickets and hotel voucher (as it was an official contest and all).

The chances of finding them were pretty slim considering how many Americans visit us every summer. Realistically speaking, our chances were slim to none, that is, unless they weren’t really American tourists and some of them had actually spent a good chunk of time here. If that were the case, they would probably have fessed up to their friends who would probably be our friends too because, well, this is Iceland.

And just our luck (or theirs!), that was precisely the case. No sooner had we posted a link to the entry on Facebook than one of our friends (and incidentally writers) revealed to us that these people had been erroneously identified as American tourists. He put us in touch with one of them who agreed to speak to us as long as we agreed to keep their identities secret, as they were (rightfully) pretty embarrassed.

It turns out, the story that made headlines all over the world had a few factual errors in it. The Glacial Picnickers were actually a group of five—two Americans (one of whom had lived in Iceland for a couple of years), two Germans (both of whom were just visiting) and one Irish person (who is a student at the University of Iceland and has been in the country for five years).

How On Earth?

So you’re probably wondering what we were wondering: How on Earth did this happen?

“Let’s just say there were a few photographers amongst us,” the Irish one told me over Skype. “We were on a camping trip, wandering around, joking about how we could camp on an iceberg. Then we saw one a metre away from the shore and we started taking photos of ourselves on it. One guy in the group then suggested we could have lunch on it and make a time-lapse series of photos.”

So they set up their picnic table and started eating, apparently ignoring the camera that was all the while shooting photos from the shore. Not until they finished eating, she told me, did they realise that their camera (and the shore) looked considerably further away than it did when they started.

Realising that the iceberg wasn’t about to float back, the trained lifeguard in the group decided to swim to shore to get some rope, but he was so cold that he couldn’t come back for them (it is a glacial lagoon after all). The iceberg had drifted 10 metres from shore at that point, and they all agreed that it would be best for him to call for some help.

“Luckily one of us had left our phone on shore, so he could call, and eventually the Iceland rescue team came with a zodiac and picked us up,” she said. “Apparently icebergs can flip over unexpectedly. It’s actually pretty dangerous, but we didn’t know that until later.”

So there you have it: the story behind the tourists who were rescued from an iceberg after they lost control of their picnic. The photos that they sent us from their own rescue were a bonus to this already hilarious story. We can’t look at them and not smile. And we sort of don’t blame them for not wanting to reveal their identities.

NOTE: The Reykjavík Grapevine and Promote Iceland would like to make clear that this selection is not meant to endorse the type of reckless behaviour displayed by our winners. On the contrary, this story serves to underline how easy it is to find yourself in grave danger if you test mother nature. Although our merry band of glacial picnickers were fortunate enough to come out of this experience unscathed, their story could have had a very different ending. Please visit before making your travel plans in Iceland, and remember that nature is not to be taken lightly.


The following three tourists were strong contenders and we would give them plane tickets and hotel vouchers if we could, but we can’t. We can, however, give them GRAPEVINE T-SHIRTS! And that’s what we’re going to do.

Tony Pandola From The States

Tony’s entry was sincere without being cheesy (lots of cheese was thrown around in these) and it gets bonus points for being by far the best piece of writing in the batch (Tony, if you want to write for us, drop us a line!). Here’s an excerpted version of his entry:

“…When I reflect on our two weeks in Iceland, a lot of things come to mind. There are the funny moments: like when we were parked on the side of the road and that horse stuck its massive head into the driver’s side window of our car to probe for snacks and startled the hell out of me (much to the gut-laughing delight of my girl); or the time I lost my flip flop in the mud when we were searching for that hot spring, and I reached in shoulder-deep to retrieve it, only to come up with someone else’s. There are the people we met: like Bói, the warm and friendly man who runs the Höfn airport—our flight was delayed and he treated us to an impromptu lesson on the history of Icelandic aviation, complete with personal stories and photos from his private collection; or Kristún and her mother who run that café in Arnarstapi, the ones who gave us the key to their place in case we got too cold camping that night—we had only popped in to see if they could help me decipher the Icelandic cell phone message I was getting, and we ended up engaged in conversation with them until well into the night, all of us learning a lot more about life in Iceland and the United States. And then, of course, there’s the natural splendor of the country, too grand to describe. I think of all the glaciers of the Vatnajökull icecap and how comparing them to that crystal clear piece of glacial ice I held in the palm of my hand was a beautiful and necessary reminder that there is no such thing as big or small in this world, only an infinite and subjective spectrum of scale.

But perhaps the most appropriate story from our time in Iceland to share here is a memory from the very beginning of our trip—the first day of what was supposed to be a five-day trek from the highlands to the coast. It was only a moment, but it’s a good glimpse into how we approached our fifteen days of travel in the country. The weather had turned terrible (as it does) and somehow seemed to be getting worse (as it also does), and we were somewhere around halfway between where we’d come from and where we were heading.

My girlfriend was squinting through the freezing rain as it pelted her face, and shouting to me over the wind, “What do we do now?”

“Just keep picking up litter!” I shouted back, one hand on her backpack to keep her from blowing away, the other still clutching the apple core I’d picked up half an hour ago. You see, we were still just getting acquainted with Iceland then, and I figured it was just testing us. It had no reason to bother gracing us with sunshine and scenery yet. We had to show it some respect first. We had to earn it. “Eventually it has to work!” I yelled with a laugh. “You okay?”

She smiled back at me. “Nobody told me ICE-land would be so cold!” she joked, and we both began to laugh, pushing our way forward through the storm, stumbling a few steps sideways here and there whenever the wind felt like making us.

What makes a good tourist? Or in this case, the ‘Tourist of the Year’? Well, to me, it’s a lot of things: It’s surrendering completely to the reality of the place you came to experience, instead of wishing it were more like the place you came from. It’s the wisdom to know what’s out of your control (like the weather) and what’s absolutely within it (like your attitude). It’s smiling and saying hello to the hut warden, asking her name and where she comes from, before asking her tomorrow’s forecast. It’s realizing that minor annoyances like flight delays are opportunities for unexpected pleasures and making new friends. It’s setting a good example for other travelers, sharing knowledge and space in your Sadcar with every hitchhiker you pass—even if it means taking down the makeshift clothesline across the backseat where you’re trying to dry your rain-soaked hiking gear. It’s leaving no trace and picking up after others in a place where negative human impact can be so obvious on the biggest and smallest of scales; from a discarded candy bar wrapper to a melting icecap. It’s keeping your mind open enough to consider cultural and economic realities when faced with the slaughtered whale you see washed up on the beach, but also keeping your heart open enough to still struggle with the emotional and environmental impact of it. It’s knowing when to forget about the camera and just be completely present and in the moment. It’s the foresight to see that the most uncomfortable or unfortunate situations you find yourself in will soon be your favorite stories to relive. It’s the hardiness to push on when it’s time to push on, and the flexibility to change plans when it’s time to change plans. It’s showing resilience when things don’t go your way, and expressing gratitude when they do. It’s dancing and hollering with joy under the sun while you’re still wet and shivering from the storm that just passed. It’s recognizing that a place doesn’t owe you anything simply because you worked hard, saved your money and bought a plane ticket. It’s the willingness to pay it forward by arriving with a respectful attitude for that place and its people—who’ve been there long before you came, and will remain long after you go—in hopes that you might be deemed worthy of the best it has to offer…”

Ryan Gosling

Oh god. Ryan Gosling. Ryan. Ryyyyaaaaan.

Dear Ryan. How do we love thee. Let us count the ways. One, one-thousand. Two, one-thousand. Three, one-thousand. Four, one-thousand. Five, one-thousand. Six, one-thousand…

Please come back. We’ll play patty cake with you ANY TIME.

Laura Borchert from The States

After dreaming about “visiting the homeland of Björk” for 12 years, she finally made it happen for her 30th birthday last year. And, what do you know, she ran into Björk:   

“…We were seated behind her table and I couldn’t believe the odds. I decided not to approach her and was happy with the moment as it was. Right as dessert was served, the fireworks started. I ran outside to get a better look but couldn’t see anything. I then heard a voice next to me say, “Don’t you love when you can hear the fireworks, but can’t see them?” It was Björk and her daughter. We stood around and chatted about fireworks – having a great time. She then asked if I would like to join her down the street for a better look. OF COURSE! Running through the streets of Reykjavik with Björk and her daughter to get a better look at fireworks is something I never would have thought could happen. My trip was complete. After the fireworks ended I thanked her and finished my dessert. I still had 3 days left in the city and realized this place just doesn’t disappoint – and I can’t wait for what’s left…”

From a local’s perspective, this maybe isn’t as wild as it seems from the outside, but we can appreciate that it was completely out of this world for her. Laura, we wish you all the best in 2014!

Honourable Mentions
Shout outs to our favourite submissions for Tourist of the Year 2013
by Alex Baumhardt

Shout out to the number of submitters who touted their having gotten naked in the wildness of Iceland as their unique, ‘Tourist of the Year’-winning quality (we’re looking at you Laveleye Arnaud from Belgium). But you didn’t even send a photo! How can we believe you? Pics or it didn’t happen…

  • Shout out to the submissions we received written entirely in French (Marie-Christine From France, KRATZ From France, DEMONT from France…). Sadly, at Grapevine our French proficiency ranges from spotty conversational to just a few helpful pick-up lines. To be fair, just over 3% of the world’s population speaks French, but trying French at an English-language magazine in Iceland certainly was optimistic, and we like it! Omelette de fromage!
  • Shout out to the many Americans who couldn’t find any synonyms for “awesome.”
  • Shout out to all of the tourists who discovered the Blue Lagoon.
  • Shout out to the submissions that turned the “why tourist of the year?” question back at us into a “why not?” Our next contest prompt will be: “Should you rub your legs in herring and jump into the North Atlantic with open wounds and a silver swimsuit?” Looking forward to your entries!
  • Shout out to everyone that reminded us that you can see the Northern Lights from Iceland.
  • Shout out to the person from “Potugal” who wrote that if she was chosen as Tourist Of the Year, she would start a travel blog. We hope by then she has perfected the spelling of her home country.
  • Shout out to Adam Ziegenhals from United States who wrote “Hark all ye within eyeshot!” Adam said that if chosen, he would “Nord out” eating “every hot dog,” stacking “every elf stone” and that he would even film a half-assed music video of the trip to present to the Icelandic people. Hark Adam! We have enough of those…
  • Shout out to Ganley from USA who entered as a hedgehog and included a photo of a stuffed hedgehog. We’re glad you road-tripped the Golden Circle, but should you even be driving?
  • Shout out to all of the ‘Tourist of the Year’ submitters who claimed – “but really, I’m not a ‘tourist.’” Megan Scala from United States wrote that, “The word ‘tourist’ flashes in my mind like a panic attack.” For your own health, we felt the title of Tourist Of the Year would have been the straw that broke the camels back. Or your back.
  • Furthermore, Erik-Jan Vens from the Netherlands wrote “No. I should not be Tourist of the Year. I really shouldn’t. Call me anything else but not that.” Erik-Jan, we’ll honor your wishes.
  • Shout out to Thomas from Australia who claimed he should be Tourist Of the Year because he has, “the incredible luck of being a filmmaker and a 22-year-old male.” Man, we know in this rough-and-tumble-world it’s not always easy being a 22-year-old, white male from a wealthy, Western nation. We almost thought, “he’s really earned this!” and then we thought, “what the fuck?”
  • Shout out to Auliya Nur Amalina from Indonesia, who wrote that we should gift her Tourist of The Year for graduating high school and getting accepted into a college. We’re proud of you girl, and we’re sorry this didn’t work out, but graduation really doesn’t get much better than listening to Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” on repeat for a week right?
  • Shout out to William Shearer from UK who wrote in with a single line: “Because I really, really need a holiday.” We feel for you, mate.
  • Shout out to Doreen Darr from USA who said that, as Tourist Of the Year, she would come outfitted in a white sun visor, “fanny pack w/water bottle hangin’ on the side,” backpack with sun tan lotion, bikini and a smile. We have reason to believe Doreen was actually trying to win a trip to Disney World and that she found our website by accident.
  • Shout out to Martijn from The Netherlands who confided that his girlfriend is working in Iceland and he hasn’t seen her in awhile and he misses her a lot and it’s really expensive to visit and…
  • Shout out to Ana María Iriarte from Colombia who met her Icelandic guy on an online dating website. They’ve been together virtually for eight months, “[It] is so hard [when you] don’t hold or kiss someone you love, because I can tell pretty sure that I LOVE that man, he is so sweet and kind with me and I can say I finally found the love,” Ana María says. Sounds deep, but heads up Icelandic man, she’s already talking marriage and kids—at least to us…
  • Shout out to Elena Cazzola from Italy who said a tribe of prophetic elves told her she would win. At the moment, Grapevine has no elves on staff.
  • Shout out to everyone who nominated their kid(s) as Tourist Of the Year. Too bad we read right through this seemingly ‘selfless’ act and we’re a bunch of child eating trolls.
  • Shout out to Pooja from India who began her entry with: “I didn’t want to travel to Iceland and thanks to a bout of hepatitis, the plan came so close to getting called off.”
  • Shout out to the large number of people who skipped over the only submission guideline for tourist of the year—that you have to have visited Iceland in the last year to enter. We really hope that someday you make it here so you can legitimately enter the contest and feel the soft touch of a copy of The Grapevine in your hands.
  • Shout out to Pat Wheeler from USA who virtually spit on the single guideline of our contest (that you have to have visited Iceland over the past year). Words like “bummer,” “big disappointment” and “complaint” were thrown around, but you’ll never get us Pat Wheeler!!!
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