My Iceland Trip!
John and I recently had the pleasure of visiting Iceland for about 5 days. I hadn’t been on a travel-for-travel sake trip in a while, and Iceland interested me because it just sounded so different and interesting. It has the added bonus of being very easy to get to from NYC, and I was anxious to get there before their economy bounces back from their 2008 crash and they get the Euro. Like many islands, It’s an expensive place, but it’s not as costly right now. Late March seemed like a good time - the sun was out about the same hours it is in NYC right now, unlike the 24-hour darkness of deep winter. It’s still off-peak prices, and the temperatures are how they are much of the year: 35-45 degrees. Iceland actually has mild winters - they’re just long.
We stayed in Reykjavik the entire time, in a little apartment/hotel called Castle House right in the City Center. I was really happy with this place. It was about $100/night at the time we went in late March (probably more in the summer!), is in a great location, and has a well-equipped kitchen which we used to prepare more than half of our meals to save money.
What I didn’t reailize before our visit (and I would have had I done a little wikipedia research) was that there are only 320,000 people in all of Iceland. So Reykjavik wasn’t quite the metropolitan center I was expecting. But it’s surprisingly culturally rich for a town of its size. (60% of Icelanders live there.) We went to a couple great, oddly-named vegetarian restaurants: A Naestu Grosum and Gardurinn: Ecstasy’s Heart-Garden. And bars! What they say about the night life is true - the bars start to get busy at midnight and things really get going around 1:30am, which was when we light-weights turned in. The shops in the city center are mostly focused on design and fashion, and there seemed to be a lot live music going on.
My favorite place for a drink in Reykjavik was the Laundromat Cafe. It’s a new bar/diner/cafe with tons of paperback books and board games for your amusement while you do your laundry. I never saw the machines though - they kept them hidden away so as not to detract from the vibe. We went there twice - once with our good friend Petra who was on her way to the rest of Scandinavia, and the a second time to grab one last Icelandic beer (um, the beer there is just ok, btw) and play Small World on the iPad.
Oh, and there are geeks like us in Iceland! EVE Online, a popular space MMO, is made there, and the company was actually having their own version of Blizzcon while we were there! There are even a couple videos about EVE on Icelandair’s in flight entertainment system. How cool is that.
Reykjavik is fun, but we wanted to get out and see the countryside. If we were braver or traveling in the summer when road conditions are better we might have rented a car. Instead we did some bus tours with the company Reykjavik Excursions. They whisked us away to the geothermal pool of Blue Lagoon, and two all-day tours: The Golden Circle and South Shore. I heartily recommend all three, whether you do it by bus tour or rental car. I know bus tours aren’t for everyone, but John and I kind of like them. We can stare out the window as we travel to our next stop, listen to the guide tell us interesting things about the area, or catch some zzs we lost from jet lag or a night out at the bars. :) Plus we went to at least one area rental cars weren’t allowed.
The Blue Lagoon was a unique experience: you walk outside, freezing in your swimsuit in 40 degree weather, and immediately get into the naturally hot pool. Put some free exfoliating mud on your face, grab a Viking beer from the in-pool bar, and soak in the geothermal suds. The lagoon is surrounded by some of Iceland’s many lava fields. I had no idea what lava fields were before this trip. But they’re cool! They’re fields of big rocks - lava rocks! - usually covered with moss. They look like they’d be very difficult to traverse.
The Golden Circle is a popular tour that goes to a giant waterfall, some active geysers, and Thingvellir. That last one was my favorite. It’s the site of the yearly meeting of the old viking parliament, and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasion and North American tectonic plates meet. I thought, whoa. scary. Earthquake? Well they have them, but they aren’t supposed to be dangerous there because the plates aren’t pushing together like in places like California. They’re pulling apart!
The South Shore took us south, duh, to see glaciers, black sand beaches, a folk museum with hobbit-like homes, and waterfalls. This was my favorite day. We had sunnier weather and everything was so beautiful and different. We saw the volcano (underneath a glacier) that erupted last year and caused that ash cloud that grounded European flights. We looked straight south from a beach - there’s no land until Antarctica! Cool feeling. We visited a folk museum packed with oddities, with an open air part that had homes that reminded me of the Vyrkul houses in WoW - only much smaller.
And now we’re home! Go to Iceland if you can. It’s beautiful. The people are so nice and have a great sense of humor.