Text: Ellen Wild
There can be written a good many amazing things about Iceland, both culturally and naturally. However, as I’m packing my bags for my first post-covid trip (finally!), there is very clearly something on the very top of the list. Seems like I only need a wool sweater and a bathing suit.
Sun or storm, rain or wind, everywhere across the land, steam is rising from the volcanic soil. From beneath the warm surface, through cracks and crevices, warming rivers and oceansides. Bringing balance to the country’s extreme conditions, this natural resource very quickly found itself a fundamental part of the growing Icelandic population.
The absolute number of hot pots, swimming pools and spas that make use of this natural heating is unseen for such a small population of 375.000. Every tiny village has a swimming pool. A bigger priority than even a supermarket.
But is it for swimming though? Strangely, swimming laps is not even in the top 5 uses for all these hundreds of public pools throughout the land. Even though the pool is fairly full of people, you might very well be the only one dispensing energy like that.
No, the purpose of these places is first and foremost social. It’s a gathering place, a place of tales, gossip and small talk. A place where you can sit together, comfortable in silence. A place of friendships and kindship. Of schoolfriends and colleagues.
Everyone is just human when you take clothing away. No status, economic situation or career can be written from bare skin. A place where a body is a body, where there is no shame about our humanness. How refreshing.
These are places of relaxation. Nothing is so good for stress than exposing yourself to the extremities of hot and cold. The Nordics have known this for a very long time. People may be soaking in hot water; a cold plunge is always available close by. And many do take the opportunity.
The most badass senior clubs can be found in the tiniest village’s swimming hall. Drinking coffee in their swimming attire, while casually taking an ice-cold plunge.
The warm heart of Iceland lies in the water, bubbling and steaming from beneath the soil. Showing once again how land and culture are interconnected like a tapestry. It’s people an extension from its nature.
There is only one thing I wish for myself on my trip this week. To bathe every single day. Preferably more than once. Especially now that summer is officially over, these steamy places beneath the cold and fresh skies, are even more attractive. I don’t think there is anything better on earth. Soaking in Iceland’s warm soil, surrounded by the mountains and oceans. Beneath the northern winds, stars and storms. Finding peace in the centerpoint of nature’s biggest extremes.