Iceland – Katla

Viking Power

I’ve always been fascinated by the World’s Strongest Man competitions. Iceland, is home to two of the sport’s greatest icons, Jón Páll Sigmarsson and Magnús Ver Magnússon, who combined won the event eight times (four each), ranking Iceland at the top of the powerlifting game. Let’s take a look at these two hulking men and their contributions to strongman lore:

Jón Páll Sigmarsson

Born in Hafnarfjörður (just don’t ask the Sip Advisor to try and pronounce the word), Sigmarsson was the first to win the World’s Strongest Man event four times, doing so in a seven year span. His lowest finish in the tournament was third place in 1989. From humble beginnings, Sigmarsson’s legend grew as he participated in events around the world, including Scotland’s Highland Games.

Sigmarsson was a showman and loved to put on a performance. His charisma came through the TV screen with roars, shouting, and celebrations. During one event of the 1985 World’s Strongest Man, an audience member made the mistake of calling Sigmarrson an Eskimo, to which the powerlifter replied, “I am not an Eskimo, I am a Viking!” before snatching and seemingly with ease, lifting a 495kg cart.

Sigmarsson

Sadly, Sigmarsson passed away at the young age of 32, from a heart attack. He died doing what he loved, lifting, in his own gym, Jakaból (which means Giant’s Nest). While steroid use played a role in his death, there was also a heart defect that others in his family had suffered from. Sigmarsson was survived by a son, Sigmar, and I wonder if he ever followed in the footsteps of his dear ol’ dad?

A fascinating documentary was made on the life of Sigmarsson, titled Larger than Life. The Sip Advisor actually watched it en route to Iceland and it gave me a different perspective going into the country. Sigmarsson was enshrined in the World’s Strongest Man Hall of Fame in 2012, one of only three competitors to be selected thus far into the hallowed halls.

PIPES_grande

Magnús Ver Magnússon

Hailing from Egilsstaðir (again, I don’t even know where to begin with the pronunciation of this place name) and already owning one of the greatest villainous names in entertainment history, Ver Magnússon seemed like the perfect fit to take the torch from Sigmarsson and become the next great Icelandic strongman. Like Sigmarsson, Ver Magnússon travelled the world in his early years of lifting, winning competitions across the globe.

Equaling Sigmarsson’s achievement of four World Strongest Man titles (between 1991 and 1996), it should be noted that Ver Magnússon also ranked as the event’s runner-up in 1992 and 1993. That’s domination if I’ve ever seen it. The two Icelandic warriors are only surpassed by Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland, who has five wins to his name.

magnusson

Ver Magnússon reached mass American audiences, not only with his World’s Strongest Man accolades, but with an appearance in a Coors Light commercial, as well as an appearance on The Daily Show, in 2008, where he showed off his still formidable strongman skills. There are rumours that Ver Magnússon has been trying to raise funds to film a movie about his life, titled ‘My Way.’

In the meantime, Ver Magnússon has gone on to own the Jakaból gym, replacing Sigmarsson, and training the next generation of Icelandic Vikings. One of his protégés is Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, nicknamed ‘Thor.’ Bjornsson recently appeared on Game of Thrones as the fearful Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain. Ver Magnússon also judges strongman and powerlifting competitions internationally and remains a face of the sport.

Iceland: Katla

Katla Cocktail

  • 1 oz Brennivin
  • 0.5 oz Kahlua
  • Top with Club Soda
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Garnish with a Lemon Slice

I can’t even imagine lifting some of the items these two behemoths tossed over their shoulder or hurled through the air. Simarsson even set a Guinness World Records by lifting the largest whiskey bottle… that’s a feat the Sip Advisor can truly appreciate!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
Brennivin is also known as Black Death, which I don’t fully understand, given the spirit is clear and doesn’t taste bad at all. Icelanders might disagree with me on the taste experience, but I think I know my liquors. This cocktail is named after an active volcano in Iceland, but it will certainly not cause you to erupt and is actually quite nice.

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Iceland – Northern Lights

Around the Loop

Iceland is a fascinating place, full of so many interesting facts, sites, and experiences. If you visit the country, the best way to get around may be to travel the famous Ring Road. Here are some items of note about highway and a listing of some of the things you can see and do along the trek to get the full Icelandic experience:

Known as Route 1, this road circles the entire island of Iceland. Stretching 828 miles long, it was only completed in 1974, coincidentally while celebrations for the 1100th anniversary of the country’s settlement were ongoing. Most of the road is paved, but much like other parts of the country, there are stretches that are not. A number of bridges and tunnels link the route and the max speeds are 90 km/h on the paved sections and 80 km/h on the gravel portions.

icelanders_driving

If you’re expecting tons of ice (to live your fantasy of being an Ice Road Trucker), you will likely be disappointed. As the old joke goes, Iceland is green, while Greenland is ice. When Erik the Red set up shop in Greenland and colonized the island, he chose to call it something more appealing, hoping it would cause others to be more likely to settle there, as well.

With a couple drivers, you could take advantage of the near 24-hours a day of sunlight available during the summer months. That said, if travelling during the winter, you might get to enjoy the Northern Lights (not just the name of today’s cocktail and a wrestling suplex), more scientifically known as the Aurora Borealis. In winter, there is only four to five hours of sunlight and one portion of the Ring Road is closed, forcing drivers to take a detour along the coast.

Some parts of the road may wind in odd ways due to construction being done so as to not upset the elves of Icelandic folklore. Huldufólk, as they’re called, have been blamed for bulldozers malfunctioning when working in rock-filled areas, said to be inhabited by elves. The whole concept has created jobs for those claiming to have special powers in negotiating with elves. Sticking with the Huldufólk, you may often see doors painted on rocks or tiny churches, all meant for elves to live comfortably.

Elf in Iceland

Parts of the popular HBO series Game of Thrones have been filmed in Iceland, namely the scenes set at or past the ice wall, guarded by the Night’s Watch, that keeps the wildlings and white walkers from entering the Seven Kingdoms. There is a five day tour that specializes in bringing fans of the show to these areas and allows them to live out their fantasies of snuggling up with Jon Snow.

On your journey, you may not come across many people. Two-thirds of the approximately 320,000 population living in Iceland, call the capital city Reykjavik home. If you travel to Iceland, you will enter in and out of Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital. You will more likely see vehicles, as the country has one of the highest per capita rates of car ownership across the globe. There is one car for every 1.5 people, necessary because there are no rail lines for transport.

When in search of eats along the Ring Road, you may not find traditional comforts. There are no, I repeat NO McDonalds in Iceland, with the last of three restaurants getting out of Dodge in 2009. Hopefully you’re not a picky eater, as your options may include whale, puffin, harkarl (fermented shark), and skyr (yogurt-like substance). Also, be reminded that things are incredibly expensive in Iceland: Mrs. Sip and I spent $50 on two beers and a small pizza.

mcdonalds-one job

Iceland is home to the youngest place on earth. Surtsey Island only appeared from the ocean in 1963, following volcanic eruptions. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Speaking of volcanos, Iceland is one of the most geologically active spots in the world, thanks to 130 volcanoes (although only 40 have erupted in the last 1,000 years), continental plate action, and almost daily mini-earthquakes.

As you travel along, you may want to blast some Björk tunes and if you happen to get pulled over by the fuzz, just remember that they are not allowed to carry guns and will only have a club and pepper spray with them. When stopping for a meal, make sure to enjoy an expensive beer and toast the fact the ban on brews was only lifted in 1989 (March 1 is Beer Day, celebrated across Iceland). You should note that strip clubs have been banned since 2010, so don’t expect to see any Icelandic skin!

Other attractions you may come across in your travels: glaciers, three of Iceland’s five are the largest in Europe; Icelandic horses, 80,000 of which roam the land and are so unique that other horses are banned from Iceland and once a horse leaves, it is not allowed to return; and geysers; Iceland invented the word when their Great Geysir was discovered in 1294.

Iceland: Northern Lights

Northern Lights Cocktail

  • 1 oz Brennivin
  • 0.5 oz Amaretto
  • Top with Grapefruit Soda
  • Garnish with an Orange Slice

In closing, I must point out that D2: The Mighty Ducks featured everyone’s favourite hockey squad, as Team USA, battling an evil and favoured Iceland unit. All this, despite not one single hockey star having ever come from the nation and the country playing their first international game ever five years after the movie’s release. What do you expect from a film that also included Trinidad and Tobago as a top hockey power!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
Brennivin is described as an unsweetened schnapps and is quite similar to Akvavit. This drink was pretty good, with the strong tastes of the Brennivin and Grapefruit Soda subdued by the always pleasant Amaretto.