Welcome to Iceland! We arrived in Iceland, Country #18, as the grand finale of our big trip around the world. Yes, we visited Boston on our way to Seattle, but this was our last new country… It would not go as planned.
Before getting into all that, let’s start with the Icelandic language. I think it’s safe to say it’s incredibly weird sounding. So much so that when you ask for direction the locals will say, “go down to the road that starts with a ‘K’ and then turn left at the road that starts with a ‘J’.” Luckily everyone speaks excellent English. We did what we always do in a new country, we asked, “How do you say ‘hello’ in Icelandic” and the response? “Hello.” Hmmm?
We have so many good things to say about Iceland. Even though a lot of things didn’t go as planned, it’s incredibly beautiful wherever you look. And Iceland has tourism figured out! I felt the same way when I backpacked in New Zealand 15 years ago. They just know what tourists need and make it incredibly easy to get around which is paying off with tourism growing exponentially — exceeding 1 million visitors last year. I believe it, too, as even in January the place was packed with tourists!
Iceland Air offers super friendly and comfortable flights with free layovers of up to one week AND free checked luggage. Imagine that!? Whatta concept. Not only do you get to see Iceland, but it’s a great way to break up the long travel between the US and Europe. Once you arrive, the airport has busses and shuttles waiting to drive you right to your hotel. Seriously. They are timed to when flights arrive and ALWAYS available. Amazing. Once in Reykjavik there are tours galore, gear rental so you don’t have to pack those giant coats or hiking boots you might not need for the rest of your trip, and the friendliest people all ready to help.
Ah, Reykjavik – the capital of Iceland and where most people live. The place is booming because of all the tourism, but still has quite the small town feel. Everyone was incredibly nice and I was surprised by just how many handmade items were for sale. Iceland, surprisingly, also has quite a fashion scene! Barcelona, look out!
It might not be the Sagrada Familia, but the Hallgrimskirkja church stands out with some really cool architecture. This church is the landmark you use to find everything else in town. It’s either on this side or that side; close to or far from …the church. It has a nice presence in the city, standing at the end of the road, exactly where you think it should be. You can also see how neat and tidy everything is before the snows started. Whoops, probably should have given you a spoiler alert there, huh? Well, yes, snows were a-coming!
Iceland was the furthest north we went on our trip. In fact, we were just about as far north in Iceland as we were south in Chile. Such symmetry! Being in the north, Iceland is known for its Auroras. We have both seen the Auroras in Alaska, but we were eager to see them again even more dramatically since we were so far north. Here we encounter the first thing that didn’t go quite as we hoped. You guessed it – the clouds were ever-present, so no auroras during our one week stay. Sigh. Luckily we had done our homework and picked Gateway To Iceland for our planned Northern Lights tour because, (1) they don’t go out unless there’s a good chance to see the auroras, (2) you get one free re-do if you don’t see them the first time, and (3) you don’t pay until you go out. That meant that, unlike some other folks in our hostel, we didn’t spend four hours driving around freezing at night with nothing to see. So even though we never stepped foot in a Gateway to Iceland tour van, we recommend them! We think we’re pretty lucky we didn’t have to sit in the cold and pay for nothing. Sorry we can’t offer some gorgeous aurora photos for you, but how about a fine, snowy shot?
Okay — so this is the one thing that pretty much went as we expected! Better than expected, in fact. It was so good we’re devoting our entire next post to it, but here’s the teaser….yes, you can snorkel in Iceland! In January! More to come, more to come!!
Stay tuned for our epic winter snorkeling post! Until then, you can start planning your Iceland getaway – it’ll definitely be worth it!