Be Surprised By Iceland

1.  Stop Lights with more Color

Did you know that when driving in Iceland the stop lights change from green to yellow to red, like the states.  But then they also change from red to yellow to green!  A good idea really, but confusing to a brain that’s been wired to associate yellow with slowing down to stop rather than getting ready to go.  Drive carefully!

2.  Good Coffee, plain and simple

Lattes, cappuccinos, mochas and americanos were all good but  surprisingly the plain coffee was just as delicious.  Even in the smallest towns or from the free dispensers in museums I was pleasantly surprised by the drip coffee…and it was often less than $3, whereas a latte could easily approach $7.

Knitting & Coffee in Rekjavik
Knitting & Coffee in Rekjavík

3.  Tourist Town

Iceland is a pretty hot destination right now, and it’s marketed for its wildness and stark landscapes.  This is all true but…there are a lot of tourists at the main sights.  It’s not impossible to get away from people but I wasn’t necessarily prepared to have crowds at the waterfalls or other natural wonders even late into the night.  So be prepared to enjoy your fellow travelers or really get off the beaten path…which means where you’re going probably wasn’t written up in the Lonely Planet guidebook.

This includes the Blue Lagoon.  I actually waited an hour in line before giving up to hit the Keflavík hot pots and swimming pool.  The Blue Lagoon was at its 700 person capacity on a rainy Sunday morning and it could only let people in one at a time as others left.  I’ll go back to the soak in the aqua blue water…but I didn’t expect that kind of crowds!

Have you been to Iceland, what surprised you?

Iceland Is In Europe…something this American did not quite realize.

This may not come as a surprise to any European readers out there, but to my American mind I never thought of Iceland as being part of Europe.  I mean, it’s an island out there in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, I just thought of it as a place of its own.

Iceland on the Polar Map

Do you see it there in orange, fairly close to Greenland and the British Isles?

In my travel preparations I learned that Iceland straddles both the European and the North American tectonic plates. But the sentiment is not also divided, Icelanders and Europeans consider Iceland to be part of Europe.  It hasn’t joined the E.U, yet,  and may not (touchy subject,) but it’s still European.

It’ seems to be a matter of culture and influence. The Icelandic settlers came almost entirely from Scandinavia and the British Isles…mostly Norway and Ireland.  And they estimate that by ship at that time, a 1,000 years ago, with the right winds you could make it from Iceland to Norway in just 72 hours!

courtesy of Reykjavík Museum of Photography

courtesy of Reykjavík Museum of Photography

Icelanders did travel to North America on multiple occasions (remember Leif Erickson) but they weren’t making regular trips back and forth like they were to Europe.  There was that small issue of North America being inhabited and those inhabitants not being too keen on the Viking visitors.  With Europe though there were more regular trade routes.  For example, the trees for the Icelandic boats and later, the kits for their timber houses were coming from Norway, not New England.

And then there is the whole historical issue of brief Norwegian Rule, quickly followed by 500 years of Danish Rule with eventual mandatory Danish language education in schools.  I guess my American history lessons didn’t exactly emphasize Icelandic history when they were covering Europe, leaving me just a little confused.

The design aesthetic is also far more Scandinavian inspired then any other region.  So while it may only take 4 hours to fly to Rekjavík from Boston or 6.5 hours from Anchorage..it’s still Europe fair and square.  Which now ups my tally to a measly 4 European countries….don’t tell, I feel so very unwordly.

If you have any final doubts they can be put to rest as Europe claims Vatnajökull to be their largest glacier and Dettifoss to be the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe.  Both are located in Iceland.

Dettifoss, Europe's Most Powerful Waterfall
Dettifoss, Europe’s Most Powerful Waterfall

Don’t Go to Iceland if…

Snæfellsnes Hike

Snæfellsnes Hike

1.  You want to be warm

At least not this summer!  I live in Alaska where 65 degrees is a great summer day.  I love winter.  I went to Iceland in mid-August and I was cold.  I wore my winter down jacket most days with a wool hat and more than once wished I had mittens on. It wasn’t too cold to sleep in my tent (with two sleeping bags) or be outside for long stretches of time, provided you were wearing wool.  But I wouldn’t head to Iceland if a warm weather vacation was your top priority.  But to be fair I heard that this summer was particularly cold and rainy.  If you want proof listen to this little soundbite and language lesson from I heart Rekjavík.

2.  You want to travel on the cheap

Iceland is as expensive as they say.  I found that often $22 USD was the cheapest item on the menu lunch or dinner and I paid $17USD for a glass of house wine at a hostel!  That being said, if you have some willpower I think you can see Iceland without breaking the bank.  But that’s going to mean not eating out all that often, not going out for drinks and not bringing home oodles of great souvenirs…and what fun would that be!  Continue reading

Home, I’m Making My Way Home

I’ve made it home and it’s bittersweet.  It’s good to be home, I was ready to be done with driving my overpacked little car, getting lost, spending money for every little thing and being rather perpetually wet. And what a place to come home to, Cordova is just spectacular, it’s really hard to top the beauty of this place on a clear day.  And surprisingly Alaska is quite a bit warmer than Iceland right now.  I feel like I’ve been catapulted back to summer, or at least the tail end of summer in the north.

Colors in Old Harbor District in Rékjavik

Colors in Old Harbor District in Rékjavik

But I was sad to leave Iceland.  My heart is heavy with the feeling of separation.

Goðafoss: Waterfall of the Gods

Goðafoss: Waterfall of the Gods

Iceland is enchanting: the waterfalls, the moss covered lava, the steaming hot pots, the stories written in to the land and the lovely easy going people.  I will miss the fulfilling chance encounters and long conversations over lingering cups of coffee.  I will miss the ubiquitous creativity. Continue reading

Leaving AK…Destination Ísland!

Where else...but the Anchorage Airport?

Where else…but the Anchorage Airport?

I had to park my wheelie cart here, next to the largest Kodiak bear ever shot,  as an attempt to dwarf the size of my enormous luggage.

Yesterday I found myself actually packed and ready to go with time to spare. Unfortunately that only left me with more than enough time to obsess about how much STUFF I was bringing with me.  Gone are the days of traveling lightly, at least not this trip.

In my defense, that gigantic duffel is full of camping gear…and car camping gear at that.  I figured I might as well bring Heath’s uber thick sleeping pad, my full size pillow and an extra sleeping bag in case it’s cold. I mean I do want a  good night sleep, even if I am in my tent.

But as far the other three bags I have no defense, try as I might I couldn’t bear to leave anything behind.  Not my 4 books or 3 journals or computer or winter coat or rain pants or chocolate bar or meals and snacks for 2 days or knitting needles or gifts of yarn or headphones or maps…you get the picture.

It all seemed absolutely essential.

And now that I’ve got it all, I intend to use absolutely everything I have, and if I don’t hopefully I’ll remember for next time and smartly leave it at home.

On Time!

On Time!

One hour till we board, I’ve got a hot mug full of tea, and enough to entertain me for days.  Unfortunately my flight is barely more than 7 hours!

See you tomorrow.