New Year, Old Adventures

Nicole and Craig go glacier hiking

Take adventure where you find it. For me, there were great opportunities to discover last year, and part of that was traveling to do research for writing. That’s especially true of my trip to Iceland last October.

There’s been a lot written about Iceland recently, particularly how it’s the new it destination. Grapevine has a great article about the rise of tourism in the country, crediting music for the boom, but there’s been something crazy like a 20 percent increase just over the last five years. I read somewhere that Iceland is the number one destination for travel bloggers. It’s justified, is the thing. I had an amazing time and would return in a heartbeat–and not just because the novel I’m currently outlining benefited from my trip.

So, what’s so great about Iceland? Scenery, people, art, and food. That pretty much sums it up. But before I head into opinion, here are the facts:

  • Visit date: October 26-29, 2015
  • Housing: Airbnb, 1 bedroom (about a block from The Sun Voyager sculpture, and right around the corner from KEX Hostel)
  • Airline: WOW Air (PHL-BOS-KEF-BOS-PHL)
  • Weather: The temperature ranged from 30 degrees F. to 50 degrees F. It was sunny with blue skies on our first day and overcast the rest of the time. It did pour down rain once or twice, but there was no day where it rained the whole time. We also got a taste of the famous Iceland winds one day, but it was location-specific.

Scenery
Most people think of Iceland and immediately assume I’m going to talk about the Aurora Borealis. And, well, I guess I am right now, but sadly we did not actually see the Aurora. The Kp-index dropped to zero the second we set foot on Iceland and pretty much stayed there. Alas: no lights for us. But it’s not like that soured the trip for us–the lights would have been a bonus. I mean, come one–look at Reykjavik. This is the view from the top of Hallgrimskirka, the big, Lego-esque Lutheran church in the middle of the downtown area . . .

View from Hallgrimskirka

My husband and I took the tiny little elevator up to the bell tower of the church and could not believe how beautiful the views were. But Reykjavik on a sunny day is nothing compared to some of the other scenery (click to embiggen):

Lava field outside Reykjavik Reykjavik bay lighthouse Vik beach Solheimajokull glacier waterfall Houses in Reykjavik

We were able to visit Vik beach (an amazingly gorgeous black sand beach that is very, very windy), several massive waterfalls, Solheimajokull glacier, and a lava field outside Reykjavik for a lava tube cave hike. The glacier hike was a definite highlight. After all, it’s not every day that you get to strap on crampons and wield an ice axe so you can cling, feet-first, to a glacial tongue. It was fairly terrifying since there are basically no safety lines (and a lot of crevices to fall into, etc), and it’s hard to learn to trust crampons, but it was also one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Plus, I was able to spend some time on the hike with one of the guides, who has inspired an upcoming character.

One thing of note: we did make a stop off at the Blue Lagoon on our way to the airport on the last day. My husband enjoyed it, but I was less impressed. I mean, it’s a hot bath with hundreds of your closest friends . . . and most of the Americans have managed to avoid taking the mandated shower prior to entering (you know, because we’re all such prudes about nudity). I know because as a writer, I’m a champion eavesdropper–and most of the Americans I overhead felt the need to brag about it. Gross. But the setting (out in the middle of a lava field) was very pretty.

People
Icelanders have a reputation for being tall and blonde. Some of them were. What’s strange is that the guys were blonde but didn’t seem extraordinarily tall, while a lot of the women were dark-haired and seemed fairly Amazonian. Regardless, they were all incredibly nice. There wasn’t a single Icelander we interacted with who didn’t give off an air of kindness. Maybe the huge tourist boom hasn’t reached peak saturation yet . . . or maybe Icelanders are just genuinely nice. After all, Iceland is regularly voted one of the happiest countries on Earth, and it always tops the list of the safest places.

The tour guide for our lava tube caving excursion told us that the Icelandic happiness quotient, though, is all about having low expectations. She gave us a fairy tale that all Icelandic children are told, something about parents killing their children by throwing them in the river (yes, really). Then she just shrugged and said, “If you wake up in the morning, and your parents haven’t drowned you in the river, you’re happy.”

Hey, whatever works.

Art
Reykjavik artReykjavik has a lot of public art. In early October last year, the big music festival, Airwaves, committed to creating ten big murals as part of the party. But there was art even before that. Some of it is murals, some are weird little storefront displays, and some are oddball exhibits on fences.

On our first night in Reykjavik, my husband wasn’t feeling very well. I ended up canceling our plans and walking around town by myself. It was during my hike around the streets that I discovered quite a few of the murals and exhibits for myself. And maybe it’s just how laid back everything feels, but I felt rather creative myself. All I wanted to do is sit down in a cafe with my laptop and write. Of course, I didn’t have my laptop, so I settled for brainstorming about a new novel and people watching while I sipped a mocha in bookshop on the main drag.

Iceland is a place that breeds creativity. Allegedly, one in ten Icelanders will publish at least one book during their lifetime, and there are an awful lot of them who play instruments and are in a band, too.

Food
Iceland is known for food, all right, but not exactly the kind you’re dying to eat. Fermented shark (hakarl), anyone? I was faced with the opportunity to try it at a tiny little Icelandic tapas joint one night and declined. I did try the marinated minke whale, though, which was tasty. But Fear Factor-esque food is not all there is to eat in Iceland.

Icelandic tapas

I’ve seen people say that food in Iceland is expensive. That’s not really true. Granted, if you live on fast food, real food–any real food–will seem expensive by comparison. That’s not to say we didn’t have an expensive-ish meal. We at DILL–seven courses are 11,900 krona per person, or about $96. All things considered, though, it was a bargain. It was really seven courses, plus six “snacks” (appetizers). It’s tons of food–and really amazing food at that. There was wild boar, lamb hearts, goose, reindeer, lots of fish, and two dessert courses, but my favorite was a tiny purse made of a thinly shaved beet slice, inside of which was liver mousse and roasted yeast. There are also lots of fish and chips joints scattered around the city, and those are great–mostly because of the freshly caught fish that is so widely available.

And then there’s the skyr. If you’re not familiar, it’s more or less yogurt–sort of a cross between regular and Greek yogurt. I don’t know what makes it different, really, but I love it. It was the thing I wanted for breakfast, and I still want it. The only thing I can find that’s close is Siggi’s yogurt, which is “Icelandic style.” It just doesn’t taste the same, though.

So, there you have it: my Iceland trip. My husband and I agree that we’d love to go back. In the spring next time, I think, so that we can rent a car and drive the ring road all around Iceland. True, there’s no chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis in the spring and summer, but that’s okay.

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