I chose to go to Iceland on a whim.
I’d been listening to a band called ‘Of Monsters and Men’ (if you haven’t heard of them then please, check them out. They’re amazing!) and heard that they were from Iceland. While I was booking my flight to Italy I decided to check the prices on flights from Vancouver to Iceland, Iceland to Rome and was excited to see that the cost wasn’t all that much more. After thinking about it for all of 30 seconds I decided – why not go to Iceland? Few people can say that they’ve been there and going to a country 66 degrees North of the equator would be something cool to experience.
Now that I’ve visited Iceland for just over a week I can tell you that I’m happy with my decision. Truth be told, the country didn’t capture my heart as much as some other countries have in the past. I found that the natural phenomena, although amazing, was just that and since I’ve been blessed to live in an area such as Vancouver which is surrounded in natural phenomena, Iceland’s nature wasn’t as amazing to me as it was for others. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy everything I saw very much but it didn’t blow my mind like it did others.
What I did enjoy about my trip was that it took me out of my comfort zone. Four years ago when I did the whole hostel thing I tended to keep to myself and I didn’t meet many new people. In Reykjavik I was forced to talk to people, invite people to join me and invite myself to join others. By doing this I met many awesome new people and my week was filled with activities that I did with all the new people I met.
Some of the highlights throughout the week included my visit to the Blue Lagoon, a road trip around southern Iceland to see the Golden Circle, my trip to Videy, a bus tour further south and whale watching.
I went to the Blue Lagoon with a girl called Anna from Seattle. We had met on the bus from the airport to our hostel (KEX hostel – which was another highlight in itself) and spent the majority of her time in Iceland together. At the lagoon we met a couple other girls from midwest USA and all spent our time basking in the warm waters of the natural blue pool. Although a complete tourist trap and extremely expensive (much like everything else in Iceland) the lagoon was worth the money and it was so nice to just lounge all day without having to think about anything. Later that evening, after pruning up nicely, a bunch of us from the hostel went for dinner as well. It was a nice, nice day.
On Monday the midwest girls, Kayla and Kim, and my roommate Jack from Bristol rented a car to see the Golden Circle. I did the driving and after about 10 hours of traveling we were able to see Pingvellir National Park (the place where the North American and European tectonic plates separate), Gullfoss (a massive two-tiered waterfall) and Geysir Hot Springs (“Geysir” hasn’t been active in over 30 years but “Strokkur” erupts every few minutes) while going at our own speed and stopping to see anything else we found interesting along the way. Not only did we save money by renting the car but we had a good time getting to know each other better and going to see everything at our own pace.
Of the three wonders in the Golden Circle I enjoyed the waterfall the most. Since I have seen many geysers before (thanks Mom) and was semi disappointed by the lack of signage at Pingvellir stating which was the North American plate and which was the European plate, the Gullfoss waterfall was brilliant to look at and photograph as well. But even if I hadn’t seen any of the natural attractions, the whole days was good in itself.
The island of Videy is small and is just off the coast of Rekjavik. It is no bigger than the country of Monaco and despite several attempts to colonize the island, it is now deserted making it open for tourists to roam around on to take pictures of the nature or ride horses across the hills. I spent the afternoon there amusing myself by taking numerous pictures and just relaxing really.
On the way back from the island I ran into a girl, Anya, from Seattle who was working in Reykjavik for the summer. We hit it off and after discovering that she was moving to Florence for the next 4 months for school we went back to my hostel to bake banana bread and to talk some more. Later in the week we met up once more to have dinner at her place with some other friends and I hope to see her again while we are both in Italy.
The final major tour I did was along the southernmost coast of Iceland. I went with Jack and a couple other roommates, Margaret and Tyler. This time we took a bus tour so I was able to look out the windows to see the scenery. Iceland is very rocky and has many rolling hills. Since a lot of the volcanoes in Iceland are active the lava rock makes it difficult for any trees to grow. Despite this, Iceland is fairly green as it is quite wet there and a lot of moss covers the rocks.
The highlights of my trip south included seeing the black sand beaches and the huge cliffs edging onto the northern Atlantic and visiting two major waterfalls (Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss). It was an incredibly sunny day when we went and when we looked at the waterfalls there were beautiful rainbows that reflected off the water. Seljalandsfoss was cool because you could walk all the way around it and although I got soaking wet it was incredibly beautiful to see a 360 degree view of the waterfall.
On my second to last day in Iceland Jack and I went whale watching. Not only was the water still and the sky sunny but we completely lucked out and saw a couple Minke whales and nearly 10 dolphins that were swimming alongside our boat for almost half an hour. The tour lasted 2 hours and fortunately we were able to see the whales and dolphins nearly that whole time. Unfortunately my roommates weren’t as lucky and later on that day, after spending 4 hours in the boat, they didn’t see anything.
Iceland only has about 300,000 inhabitants and the city and it’s surroundings contains about 200,000 of those people. Despite this Reykjavik is a seemingly small city and is completely deserted in the mornings until about noon. It was fun to walk around the city and to see all the colourful houses but an afternoon is all the time needed to see everything there is.
The people in Iceland are extremely nice and don’t seem to be annoyed that you are a tourist but instead they conveniently change to English whenever you need to ask a question and seem genuinely enthusiastic that you are visiting their country. The people are also extremely beautiful (ahem Mr. Whale-Watching Tour Guide) and stylish. I was wearing my best and most stylish clothes (if you can call my clothes stylish) and still, I looked completely stupid next to the Icelanders. At least I had the height thing going for me – nearly all Icelanders are around my height.
Like I mentioned earlier, my hostel was amazing. Not only was it in a very convenient location but it seemed to be the place to hang out for tourists and Icelanders alike, both young and old. There were a couple concerts a week, the bar was open all day and there was a restaurant as well, adding to a homey and well-travelled type atmosphere. Every night I hung out in the common area and had good conversations with many of the people I met throughout the week. This was definitely a big highlight as well.
Okay, I’m finished describing my trip. Of course, a lot more happened then the few things mentioned here but hopefully you get the general idea of all that I did and experienced.
To sum it up…is Iceland a place necessary to see before you die? No. But, that being said, if you like nature, smallish Scandinavian cities, nice people, cool fashion, good nightlife (so I’m told – I didn’t go out to see it though as people hit the bars and clubs around 2 am – too late for me!), don’t mind high prices, and want to go someplace out of the ordinary, then Iceland is for you!
Thanks for reading everyone – information about Rome thus far is next!
P.S. If you haven’t seen my photos of Iceland on facebook then don’t forget to look at them for a better idea of the things I did and saw on my trip up north.