I just visited Iceland for the first time, and it was every bit as stunning as I’d imagined. It definitely falls into the “a nice place to visit” category for me. One of my Pacific Northwest quirks is a penchant for large trees, deciduous trees, forests… foliage in general. The lichen-covered lunar landscape doesn’t quite cut it for me. I’d definitely like to visit again, and for longer next time… maybe in the Summer. The thing about Iceland is…
It’s very far North. I knew this, of course. Their midsummer days are endless, and in Winter daylight hours are few. Being a Northish girl, I’m used to some lesser degree of this. But I’ve lived my entire life around the 47th parallel and Reykjavik is at about the 65th. The furthest North I’ve traveled before is Stockholm, at the 59th parallel. So I should not have been surprised that in Reykjavik in February the sun rises around 10AM and sets before 6PM. I got to watch the sunrise every day, which is something I’ve done rarely in recent years. The downside is that going out before noon basically means enduring the Arctic dawn. It can be very cold.
Icelanders are nice, but not at all friendly. Don’t expect service with a smile in Iceland. This aspect was kind of refreshing, actually. No one wanted to be my friend, and that’s fine, because I mostly prefer to be left alone when I’m traveling. I rarely stay in B&Bs or hostels because I don’t want to have to make conversation. I’m weird, I know. I prefer to observe people, rather than interact with them. If I had wanted to make some Icelandic friends, apparently the key is binge drinking. I read in a couple of places that getting to know the locals is best done between the hours of midnight and 10AM over several dozen drinks.
It’s not cheap. You’d think tourists might benefit from the recent economic collapse and unstable currency, but no. Iceland is the most expensive place to eat and drink I’ve visited outside of (maybe) London. For example, a sandwich and a glass of wine in a café set me back about $25. That was my cheapest meal.
It has the best drinking water I’ve ever tasted. While in my hotel room I drank glass after glass of tap water. It was delicious, and probably has magical healing qualities because of the minerals and the elves. Restaurants generally give you a big flask of drinking water, and free water is considered a basic human right in Iceland. Icelandair gives every passenger a free bottle of Icelandic water when they board the plane. When you go to Iceland, drink the water!
The women are beautiful and available. Apparently there’s a shortage of men in Iceland. At the Blue Lagoon I observed numerous men with definitely-out-of-their-league supermodelesque blondes on their arms. I’ve also read that women in Iceland are sexually *ahem* liberated and have fewer qualms about casual sex than women in some other countries. If you’re a heterosexual man who likes thin blondes and can afford several hundred dollars for drinks… Iceland is a good place to get lucky, it would seem. Legend has it that the Vikings stole all of the most beautiful Irish women as they pillaged westward, which is why Icelanders are so much prettier than the Vikings were, and the Irish are not. There are many beautiful Irish people, but Icelanders do seem disproportionally attractive.
You will get into a thermal pool in below-freezing temps and soon become comfortable running around outside in wet swimwear. The Blue Lagoon was pretty busy on Valentine’s Day. Mostly Brits, with a smattering of Europeans and locals. I heard maybe two American accents. I thought any un-submerged part of my body would be uncomfortably cold, but no! After about an hour of crouched walking and/or half swimming, the cold air felt downright refreshing. I found an extra-hot nook for myself, and actually had to sit up out of the water to cool off every few minutes.
So few humans! The population of the entire country is around 320,000, and 200,000 of those live in Reykjavik. A couple of weeks ago there were over twice the number of people in all of Iceland in Seattle to celebrate a football victory. Iceland is a very empty place. Which makes some sense, as much of the island is relatively inhospitable. On top of that, the Vikings depleted the scant resources of the island, and it has never completely recovered.
The sky is magical. Despite the “Patience and Positive Thinking” demanded by our tour guide, the Northern Lights tour did not result in any Aurora. My expectations were low, so I was happy enough to have a nighttime tour of middle-of-nowhere Iceland. I’ve seen the Aurora before — as a kid — so my bucket list is not in danger (I don’t have a bucket list). The sky gave me enough amazing sunrises, sunsets, blue dusks, huge orange full moons, and artistic clouds, I felt I got my money’s worth.
So much volcano! Iceland is on top of the Eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate. I spend most of my time on the Western edge of the same plate. I’m fascinated by volcanoes. My top childhood memory is the day Mt. St. Helens erupted and my hometown was blanketed with four inches of volcanic ash. Now I have soaked in the thermal waters at both edges of the plate. That feels like some kind of accomplishment, though I never really planned it that way. Iceland has some active volcanoes, as evidenced by the 2009 eruption that inconvenienced all of Europe (and still drives novelty t-shirt sales). It also has tons of tiny volcanoes and volcanoes that look like the top half of the mountain exploded off at some point. These flat mountains surround Reykjavik. I’d like to learn more about the geologic history, because that stuff fascinates me.
There are elves. Rumors that most Icelanders believe in elves are greatly exaggerated, but there’s still a great deal of folklore about the “hidden people.” I had my airport shuttle ticket stolen by an elf — which is just the sort of mischief they get up to. I was sitting in the hotel lobby with my ticket in my hand. At some point I must have put it down, because when I got up to get on the bus it was gone. Poof. I checked all the pockets, the sofa, the table. I hadn’t gone anywhere, and no one had come near me. Clearly the elves didn’t want me to leave.