The concept of distance most certainly has a different meaning in different cultures. A four to five-hour drive in Central Europe or the U.S., let alone China, may not be considered a distance worth mentioning. But, in Iceland it is almost insurmountable. That is to say, if you live in the Reykjavík area.
The Icelanders have a somewhat warped sense of distance. More than half the nation lives on the southwest corner and everywhere else is too remote. Those who live outside the Southwest have long realized that anywhere in Iceland is short-distance.
The Academic Scene
There used to be only one University in Iceland, so academics had little choice as to where to live. If you wanted to live in Iceland, Reykjavík it was. In Akureyri and West Iceland, further universities have been established during the last decades. The University of Iceland has also established seven research centers across the country. Amongst them is the University of Iceland's Research Centre (UIRC) in Hornafjörður with the main goal of increasing knowledge about the local nature, culture, and community.
Nine years ago one of Iceland's most prominent literature academics, Soffía Auður Birgisdóttir, moved to Hornafjörður when her husband became head of the UIRC there. Soffía, who had been a teacher and a researcher at the University of Iceland for some years, became a full-time researcher. She recently completed and submitted her, Dr. Phil. Thesis and published a book on the writings of Þórbergur Þórðarson, one of Iceland's best-loved writers. Þórbergur was born and raised at Hali in Suðursveit where the cultural center, Þórbergssetur, is based, in the district of Hornafjörður.
No Remoteness or Isolation anymore
When asked what prompted two prominent academics to move to this "remote" area in Iceland Soffía says Höfn is by no means remote. True; it doesn't have any neighboring villages and towns, but it has everything her family needs, a good music school for the children, as well as various opportunities to practice sports, such as soccer and basketball. And with all the modern technology, there is no question of remoteness or isolation anymore.
"We moved to Höfn because we were offered job positions here but mainly because we were open to moving away from Reykjavík," says Soffía, adding: "Moving here was much easier than we expected. Very early on we took action towards integrating into the community. I joined the female choir, and my husband joined the male choir, as we have always been members of choirs. Thereby, we instantly got to know half the population. We have never felt isolated here nor found it difficult to get to know the locals; quite the opposite.”
Lively Social Life
“The Research Center where we both work is a small establishment, housed in Nýheimar Knowledge Center along with a number of other establishments, amongst them the secondary school our youngest son is attending and our daughter graduated from last spring. It is, therefore, a large workplace and the canteen is very lively when various generations merge there at lunchtime.
What struck me when I moved here was the level of caring in the community. People stick together and make sure no one becomes isolated. Though I would like to see more varied extracurricular activities for the teenagers and young adults, the social life for the middle-aged and elderly is quite rich. We have various concerts, festivals, and feasts throughout the year and each autumn the local drama club stages a play along with the youngsters from the secondary school."
Unlike other parts of the country, this area has very little snow during winter. It hardly stays on the ground for more than a few days. Of course, we get our share of winter storms but they hardly prevent us from doing what we want to do and drive where we want to go. The snow has never been a problem here. The only thing that has caused us temporary isolation is eruptions with fumes too dense to drive or fly anywhere.
When we moved to Höfn, we were immediately captivated by the nature surrounding us. We have a fantastic view of the Vatnajökull glacier. We bought a house here and are now in the process of expanding it to get an even greater view of the glacier, as we are here to stay. Iceland's best-preserved secret is what a privilege it is to live in the smaller communities around the island.
Hiking and Photography
We have enjoyed the diverse nature around the Vatnajökull glacier thoroughly. My husband is a photographer, and after we had moved here, he took on the task of regularly photographing Jökulsárlón throughout the year and later published them in a book called Jökulsárlón, all year round. At the time, there were no tourists visiting the lagoon during the winter. Nowadays, though, it is always crowded, every single day of the year.
Tourism is the biggest change we have seen since moving to the area."
When asked if she has any favorite destinations in the area, Soffía is quick to reply: "Yes, the area around Hoffellsjökull eystri and the beach at Horn. Though, the whole area is exceptionally beautiful. You can stop your car anywhere and decide to go for a hike, and you will always discover something precious."
The greatest changes to Höfn, since Soffía moved there has been due to the increase in tourism. "We have witnessed great prosperity in Höfn in the nine years since moving here," she says. "We have now four restaurants to choose from when we want to go out for dinner, and two of them are truly among the best restaurants in the country. The area around the harbor has been redeveloped, and many of the old houses in the village have undergone renovation. There is no shortage of work here. In fact, we need more people but have a problem providing them with suitable housing.
The only downside of increased tourism is that people tend to rent their houses out to tourists instead of the workforce. The Municipality is faced with the luxurious problem of having to build houses to attract a bigger workforce to live here. This situation has developed over a very short period and is a by no means a regional problem here. Still, I think people with young families should seriously consider moving out of Reykjavík where the cost of living has become nearly impossible," says Soffía, who only faces one question at this point in her life: What to select for her next research project.