Global Travels: Iceland

I just came back from Reykjavik, Iceland and I had an amazing time. It was my first time traveling to Europe, but my second time in another country. Now many of my friends and family pondered why the heck would I want to go to Iceland of all places. I mean, it’s cold, there’s no black people, it’s cold, and there’s no black people. It’s the most whitest place on earth and surely the sunken place of Europe. I wanted to go because of its pristine and untouched natural landscape and the Blue Lagoon. Tourism is booming , with 2.5 million visitors expected. Plus, It’s Europe. I needed this vacation and to just get away from the noise of work, the city, and people in general. I posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram and was faced with many questions. I do not pretend to be an expert on the country after only a few days. I will give just a snapshot of my experiences and what I’ve learned. So here’s my take on Iceland regarding the Culture, Landscape, and Stuff to do.

Culture

Iceland is 90% Icelandic  with a few immigrants sprinkled here and there. They speak Icelandic which is a Germanic language, but only amongst other Icelanders. The language sounds like gibberish with a lisp. They speak English with tourists and pretty good English at that! Another thing I noticed too was that there are a lot of Americans that come to the island. And Germans. I rarely saw many old people there as Iceland seems to have been taken over by millennials crossing off Iceland on their bucket list. The people were courteous and not a-holes, but then again, I sensed that they felt some way about tourists in general.

We stayed in Reykjavik, the capital and largest city in Iceland. It is about 50 min from the airport and sits on the harbor. I have never seen so many Helly Hensons coats and 66 North bombers in one place. They are also known for the Icelandic sweater, a wool, handknitted sweater that adorns many boutiques throughout downtown Reykjavik. Another thing is that hiphop, kruitt and pop are pretty popular in Iceland. The crime rate and practically 0 – there were 2 murders last year.

Landscape

Iceland is a beautiful country with it’s ice capped mountains, vast lands driven by horses and sheep, and gorgeous coastline. However, once you take that first breath, it smells like sulfur. Since Iceland is run by geothermal energy, that smell is throughout Iceland. When you shower with hot water, that smell comes out and it takes some time to get used to. Also, there’s a lot of graffiti here, even as you drive away from the city and into the pastures. Like, A LOT! All that tagging made me think of being in a rough area. Who said Iceland ain’t got no hoods?

I also had a chance to travel outside of Reykjavik and to other towns such as Borganes and Husafell. These small towns are where the working class resides. The food here as a smidgen cheaper. The gas however, was not. Icelanders pay 20.19 ISK per LITER for gas ($18.16) and 19.82 ISK for diesel ($17.82). One Liter is about .26 gallons, so you do the math. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to pay over $400 – 500 just to fill my tank. Speaking of driving the roads here are narrow and many go in either direction. Yes, you heard that right, no median lines for some of the main roads in Iceland, which is why they tell visitors that want to drive to be extremely careful of the conditions. There are active volcanoes here as well. One is on the south end of the Island, Ejayfjallajokull  (that’s a mouthful) erupted back in 2010 crippling the European travel space and leaving 10 million people stranded at airports. Another one, Katla, is said to blow any minute now.

Stuff to Do

The Blue Lagoon

We used Reykjavik Excursions for the tours. There’s tons to do here in Iceland, especially things that are family friendly. Many of the activities are free for kids under 12 so I stuck with those. The first stop was the Blue Lagoon. It was not crowded and very serene. You have to shower before getting into the water first and they give you a wrist band and towels, slippers, even a bathing suit to rent if you didn’t bring one. Outside, I’d say it was about 35 degrees so as we went into the water, the water was very warm, not too hot, just warm enough to soak and relax all your troubles away. They serve drinks, smoothies, wine and beer while in the water. The water is soothing to the skin, but harsh on the hair and you will need lots and lots of conditioner to keep it from getting dry. Don’t hop in and out the lagoon though, as that cold will be bone chilling and stinging. There’s a cafe, restaurant, and gift shop where one can go in and buy some of the same silica, lava, and algae muds. I stayed in the lagoon for over 2 hours. The Blue Lagoon is heated using geothermal energy (heat from the earth’s crust).

The Golden Circle

The Golden Circle tour is a culmination of Friedheimar, Gulfoss, and Thingvellir tours. At Friedheimar,  a greenhouse is used to grow Icelandic tomatoes, basil, and even some banana tress, some of the freshest in the world. They rely on geothermal energy to grow the plants. After the tour, I went to the gift shop for some tomato syrup and birch schnapps. Next was Gulfoss, which translates to the famous waterfalls in Iceland. This was a wonderful treat as I got to snap so many pics of the waterfall to marvel at its majestic beauty. It reminded me of Niagara Falls. Thingvellir National Park is an interesting one  because of the way the park is shaped. Iceland sits on the Eurasian and North American Plates. Geologically speaking, the country sits on 2 continents. The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates separate at 2 cm every year and happen to be above ground. We got to walk through these plates.

Into the Glacier

I had to book a quintessential Icelandic activity, so Into the Glacier was it at Langjokull, the second largest glacier in Iceland. We had to ride a monster truck to get to the top of the glacier, then the truck shifted gears and literally crawled up the ice. It was so pitch white that we couldn’t see anything; they had to use navigation systems to get to our point. Walking inside the glacier, I managed to slip and fall on the ice twice. They fitted our group with some metal spikes on our shoes. The ice cave had many tunnels and a small seating area. The tour guide explained to us that Iceland’s drinking water come from the glaciers, but due to Climate Change, the glaciers will dry up within 1 life span of 80-100 years. That really struck a tone with me given the debate on climate change. People also go there to get married and other ceremonies.

Walking tour of Reykjavik

On the last full day, I decided to take a walking tour of the City of Reykjavik and snap pics of the city scene. So many fashion stores and boutiques adorned Laugavegur (the shopping district) that it reminded me of being in Federal Hill Baltimore or Annapolis. There are many souvenir shops, but lots of price gouging going on at those places. I tried to make my purchases reasonable and cheap at the same time. Many stores were within walking distance and right in front of the gorgeous view of the harbor. Fosshotel Rauthara, was pretty reasonable and all inclusive. We had an amazing time.

 

 

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