For some tourists, traveling to Iceland represents an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, while for others one trip can turn into a lifelong relationship with the island nation and its people. For frequent visitor Dr. Kimberly Cannady—who teaches ethnomusicology at Victoria University of Wellington—Iceland is just one of many stops on her most recent research trip across the Arctic.
An American-born scholar who is writing a book about music traditions in the northernmost regions of the world, Kimberly’s fascination for Iceland’s rich musical heritage and stunning landscapes keeps drawing her back to the country, and she believes that others should take time out of their schedules to explore the wonders of Icelandic nature and culture for themselves.
A Chance to Explore
When we track her down one sunny autumn afternoon, Kimberly says she’s spent the bulk of this visit writing, researching, conducting interviews, and attending concerts, with one trip outside the city to soak in some of Iceland’s glorious scenery.
“I did actually get out and drive around the ring road on this trip, which I’d never done before,” she explains.
The highlights of her excursion included seeing the glaciers of South Iceland and relaxing in some small, quiescent towns of the Eastfjords. Her favorite experience, however, was taking a floating tour at the “Secret Lagoon” near Flúðir.
“You can go to the lagoon on your own, but if you go with the Floating Tour Company they’ll give you special floating gear and then pump relaxing music through underwater speakers. You also get an underwater massage, and if the night sky is right you’re just floating there looking up at the northern lights…it was a relaxing way to spend one evening.”
As someone who has visited Iceland multiple times, Kimberly has established professional and personal connections with Icelanders during her travels and has grown to appreciate their unique way of life.
“This is a complicated place,” she says. “My impression of Icelanders is that they are a diverse group of people living in a small society that brings with it advantages and challenges.”
One aspect of Icelandic life that initially surprised her was the prevalence not only of the tourism industry but also of North American culture.
“Iceland conjures up images of a far away magical place, but the reality is that it’s nearly equidistant from New York to Iceland as it is to Los Angeles, and there are many things that the two places share in common…today what surprises me is how popular traveling to Iceland has become, and how the tourism infrastructure is constantly expanding.”
A Memorable Destination
When asked what she would say to someone who was on the fence about coming to Iceland, Kimberly gives the following advice: “It all depends on what you are interested in, how you like to spend your time, and what your other options are…Even if you live somewhere far away (as I do now), the long journey can still be worthwhile.” She recalls her mother’s enthusiastic reaction to Iceland and its nature when she came to visit her on one of her scholarly expeditions:
“She still talks about it and if you ever go and visit her, she’ll probably ask you if she can show you some of the pictures she took when she visited.”
This is not the first time Kimberly has visited Iceland, and it likely won’t be the last. “I think I will most certainly be back,” she explains. “My favorite part about Iceland is just spending time with friends and their families doing ordinary things like eating and drinking together…I enjoy the slightly less hectic pace here in Reykjavík as well as the ability to slip away somewhere out of the city for even more peace and quiet.”
For Kimberly, a research trip to Iceland also means that she has a chance to frequent Reykjavík Roasters—her favorite coffee shop. “I really like their chocolate croissants and find myself looking forward to one with a cup of coffee every time I return!”