I’m always asked “Why Iceland?” So let’s get that one out of the way now.
Icelandair flies direct out of Denver and they offer packages that are insanely affordable. My girlfriends and I flew Icelandair to Paris last year because they offered a special rate so long as we stayed one night in Reykjavik. The country is trying to drum up tourism and so they have all of these great deals. Our one day and night there was so amazingly fun! All we could think about was coming back with our husbands because we knew they’d enjoy it.
In October, our fearless leader Hobbs, told us all of a package they listed on Icelandair. The deal would cost our group of 8 less than $6000 to fly to Iceland and it included all of our hotel stays for 4 nights (which included breakfast), a Blue Lagoon experience and a boat tour to see the Aurora Borealis. People, it was basically less for my husband and I to have a long weekend in Reykjavik together than for one of us to fly to the east coast.
“The offer is closed Sunday so we need to decide by then if we’re in or not,” Hobbs told us. And if memory serves, we all pretty much decided right then and there that it was a Must Do.
Some things one must consider about a trip to Iceland:
1. Take the right people. Iceland does not have a comfortable climate and not everything is going to go according to plan. For example: for reasons I will not divulge, we missed our boat tour on the first night. My lovely travel companions shrugged with a laugh and voted we head to a bar. That’s the kind of laid back and flexible attitude you need on really ANY international vacation. We returned the next night for our boat tour but the water was too choppy to take us out. Instead, they offered to drive us out in a bus to a really great viewing area. Honestly, I think this was better as being out on a boat in the freezing cold was not the most appealing idea.
However, the Aurora Borealis failed to give us a very good show. There was a faint band of light in the sky. They claimed it was green….but it was not the laser light show you see in the brochures. Apparently, that was two nights prior to our viewing. Well, poo. So your travel team needs to know that nothing is guaranteed and they need to be people who make the best of bad situations. You’re on an adventure! Be ready for anything!
2. Be ready to pay. Iceland is an island country and like other island habitats (Hawaii, Orkas Island) everything is imported. Plus its a tundra so there is very little that they are producing themselves, hence the drum up of tourism. They have the wool from their sheep and they grow vegetables in hot houses but that’s costly too. So in short: inexpensive to get there but once you are there, food, drink, clothing, etc. is going to be pretty spendy.
3. Research. The weather there is pretty much always cold but I understand it can warm up into the 70’s in the summer! Besides the weather, investigate the time of sunrise and sunset for when you go. For us, the sun was still rising at 9 a.m. It seemed to take forever to climb all the way up over the horizon too. It set about 6, 6:30 which wasn’t so bad. When Hobbs, Caren and I were there in April, the sun did not start to set until 11 p.m. I don’t recall what time it rose. There are times when it’s dark pretty much all day. If that would aggravate your disposition, you would want to avoid visiting that time of year.
We landed in Iceland at 6:30 a.m. We bought our bus tickets and they drove us from the airport to the hotel. The hotel check in was not until 2 p.m. but they allowed us to check our bags in their closet and then we were tossed out onto the mean streets of Iceland. That’s a joke. Iceland has virtually no crime. There was an incident just a few months before our arrival, where a cop shot someone. It was the first time in their history that a cop had shot someone. Think about that a moment. Amazing! There is a graffiti issue. For whatever reason that’s as hard as the Icelanders get. From a Viking history to graffiti. Go figure.
We all needed sustenance and a hit of caffeine to the vein so we headed for the nearest café. We had a great breakfast and not so tasty but highly caffeinated, coffee.
4. Shots. No, you do not need shots before traveling to Iceland but be ready for every beverage you have to be served in a shot glass. First of all, when we came in the Spring, we were greeted at the luggage carousel with shots of something strong. Not so this trip. Apparently, Iceland does not care that it’s 5:00 somewhere or even if it’s 10:00 where you just flew in from. It was 6:30 in the morning and they just put their glass down about 3 hours ago so…No shot for you! Strangely though, water and coffee always comes in these little shot glasses. Beer and wine come in large pours in tall glasses but water and coffee is poured sparingly.
5. Stores do not open until 10.
So we did a little preliminary window shopping on our way to the Visitors Center. There, we made plans for a driving tour to Vic. We learned though that it would be cheaper to rent our own van and do a self guided tour. Hobbs’ Man had been to Iceland a few times now and had an idea of where he wanted to go. He’s also a Geologist (which sounds cool but we all know he is not a REAL scientist) and Iceland is a geologists dream!
6. Iceland is the youngest spot on our planet. In fact, it is still being birthed! I may have this wrong, but under the center of the country is a volcanic plume that is constantly emitting “liquid hot mag-ma.”
The whole country grows an inch every year. To give you an idea of how fast this is, every time you need to trim your fingernails, Iceland has grown just as much! The country has active volcanos, geysers, and hot springs. Most of the country is heated by geo thermal energy. You just look out on the horizon and can see steam spouting from the ground. The landscape is barren, lava rock but it has such a sense of life at the same time. It’s just a baby!
After the Visitor Center we shopped and began a café/pub crawl until 2 p.m. At one of the restaurants we stopped at, they had whale on the menu. We had a mix of being appalled and intrigued… We asked the waitress about it. She said that the whale they serve is the Minke whale. The Minke whale is not an endangered species and is on the Low Risk list. We ordered one plate so we could all try it. My conscious still had a very hard time with this. I don’t like seafood anyway so…there’s that but the whole eating whale thing was hard for me to reconcile. It looked and tasted like an amazingly tender steak. The texture was so much like beef we wondered if they were serving us cow and hiking up the price and claiming it to be Minke. We figured the cost of importing beef would cancel out the profit of doing something like that so…it must be Minke.
Many jokes were made about Minke’s winky. It was a good time.
7. Icelanders eat whale. They also eat puffins and wear furs. At home I would be offended by a fur. I’d also laugh at the fur wear ostentatious fashion but when I was freezing cold in Reykjavik and a local walked by in a full length fur, my thoughts were more like, Lucky. It makes perfect sense. I mean, I was ready to slit open a Taun Taun and climb inside. This leads me to confess: I was shopping with Caren at a vintage shop and they had a bin full of fur hats. I had seen a rabbit fur hat at the airport but they wanted an astronomical $200 for it. I’m not opposed to wearing rabbit because they are plentiful little vermin. I was not, however, ok with spending $200. So we go through this fur hat bin that had very reasonably priced hats.
“Try this one on,” Caren said, throwing a spotted lid at me.
“Nah…I don’t really like the spots,” I said and tossed it back.
“Ugh! Just try it on!” she insisted.
“OK, DOLORES!!!” I called her by my mother’s name as mom always would insist that I “humor her” on shopping excursions. I popped the hat on my head, looked in the mirror and quickly pulled it off.
“It’s awesome,” I growled. “I hate when you’re right.”
“Well don’t put it back! You have to buy it!”
I put it back on and could feel myself fall more in love with it.
*sigh* “I do have to buy it. Poo. How much is it? Maybe I can’t afford it!”
“It’s 3400 kronur,” Caren said.
8. The Krona to dollar ratio is 114K to 1 USD. Krona is singular. Kronur is plural. It is not Kronurs. It is Kronur. When in Iceland be prepared to have a heart attack every time you are handed the bill or told a price. It freaks me out every time!
“Oh my lands! How much is that?!” I asked.
“Just cover the last two zeros,” Caren advised. “It’s not the exact price but it’s closer to what you are paying in US dollars.”
The 3400 kronur hat that I must have, was closer to $34. In fact it was $32. An absolute BARGAIN for a real fur vintage hat!
We walked out of the store and I was feeling quite adorable and pleased with my purchase.
“You have to look at how cute you look in that hat!” Caren crowed. “You know I think it’s seal!”
“Yeah, I mean, what rabbit do you know with spots like that.”
Ugh. Whale eating and seal wearing all in one day. I was not doing well. Maybe it was the jet lag.
“I saw a picture of a seal once. It had blood dripping all over it’s face as it was eating a cute little penguin,” Caren said. “Don’t beat yourself up about it. Besides, this is an antique. You aren’t contributing to any kind of present seal killing.”
Except that I do look pretty adorable in it and that may cause people to want to buy seal. I’m still not 100% convinced. We’re going to take it to be appraised. We named her Lu-seal. I have to say…it kept my head very, very warm. Much better than my wool knit hat. Thank you to whatever animal made the sacrifice to ride upon my head. *cringe* Oh the hypocrisy!
Day two we walked all over the city. One couple went on their own and got so lost they ended up in a part of the city where no one spoke English.
9. They speak English very well in Iceland. They do. There was very little confusion. They seemed to understand us great and their English was very good. Some jokes do not translate so well but otherwise we communicate very well together. It’s not bad to learn some of the language of any country that you visit. It makes you seem like much less of an entitled ass hole, even if you are. Here’s a little Icelander for you: snyrtngar. The snyrtngar is great to know as it is the restroom. We called it the snyrt for short. I’m happy to inform that the snyrts in Iceland are very clean! It could be because the whole country has a population of about 320,000 people. 118,000 live in Reykjavik. When we were in Paris we would send one brave soul into the restroom of whatever place we were at and they would rate it for us on a scale of 1-10. This would then allow the rest of us to decide whether or not to “go” here or wait for the next stop. A Paris toilet, even in a nice restaurant, could rate as low as a 3 or 4. We got really excited about a 6. In Reykjavik the snyrts ratings never fell below an 8. It was potty paradise people! The other bit of Icelander I can offer you is a phrase. “Svoooo gott” was emblazoned across a KFC sign. So if you find something to be “Soooo good!” you can now beautifully give your praise in Icelander. P.S. They do not serve puffin at KFC in original or crispy recipe. They don’t serve it at all there. We checked. Oh and good morning is: Godan doggin. That’s all I’ve got for you. Oh! I’ve just remembered more for you. Foss means falls, as in water falls. And Gull means gold. It’s also the name of a beer. The double “L” is pronounced like lk but the k part is soft. So if you order a Gull it’s more like, Gulk. Sounds like a gulp. gulk, gulk, gulk, gulk.
This is where I’ll stop for now. My duties in the home are calling. “Shut up, you!” No, they do not listen. I have to go. I’ll write about the rest later.