Iceland, A strange and beautiful place.

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So when we decided to go to Iceland, most people’s reaction was….why?  First — this is why:

Iceland is a ridiculously beautiful place.  With clear ice water, black sand beaches, and volcanic rock, it’s not like any other vacation spot I’ve been to in the past.  You should go to Iceland if you’re looking to hike through waterfalls, climb glaciers, and feel like you’ve time traveled or perhaps are visiting a place that was recently bombed and is rebuilding through the rocky wastelands and landscapes that look like the surface of the moon. You should NOT visit Iceland if you like to be warm, are a foodie, or thrive in over-populated areas.  We took an ATV tour around Lava Beach on our first day.  With the lack of trees and the volcanic hard rock, the surface of the areas surrounding the major cities look like the moon.

Since I know people love lists, here are 16 things I learned on my trip to Iceland:

  1. Prepare to have some alone time.  There are roughly 325,000 people Iceland and it’s rumored that as this point, they’re all basically related. I’m not confident that they’re all 100% human — possible vampire haven. Their history is a relatively boring one, as we discovered in the Icelandic History Museum.  They are basically like “people moved here and … yea some of them had red hair and it’s cold and stuff….we think.  We don’t really know much on the subject.”  Probably because the vampires glamoured all of the residents into forgetting their history, and/or all of their artifacts are buried under the layers of volcanic ash and rock that coat the countryside.
  2. Pack some granola bars.  We had TWO meals at gas stations or awkward rest stops because the restaurants are few and far between.  If you do stumble across a dining establishment in your travels through the country, the food will be expensive and for lack of a better descriptor, not good.
  3. Don’t bring any cash.  Iceland is almost 100% cash-less. We didn’t see a single Icelandic Kroner while we were there.  Credit cards are king – but you must have a credit card with a chip.  No pin is required. 
  4. The gas stations are a little tricky.  You have to guestimate how much you’re going to spend, pre-pay, then pump away.  To give you an idea — we had a Toyota Land Cruiser and it cost us about 7500 Kroner to fill half the tank (That’s about $57). Gas runs close to $8 a gallon (so pipe down with your screams as the summer prices rise over $3.00 here in the states).
  5. Bring a GPS and make sure your car is a 4×4. The Icelandic language is virtually impossible to read, write, or speak.  There are no people to ask for directions. There is no cell phone service, even if you have a portable WIFI hub, so it’s basically like 1990.  Bring a map and bring some mix CDs from the 2000’s and enjoy the ride.  We had no idea we were driving around a $80,000 car otherwise we would have acted way more gangster.  Most of the cars look like this one — so we’ll just pretend ours did too for the purposes of this blog. 
  6. Bring waterproof clothing.  It rained probably 3 of the 5 days we were on the road in June.  Never debilitating rain that caused a cramp in our hiking game, but enough to make you feel kind of damp and a little depressed.  Although we did hear from other tourists in the area that it has been a particularly wet June.  Also there are SEVERAL waterfalls — most are pretty neat and offer stories about Icelandic women threatening to throw themselves into the waterfall, lovers being separated by the waterfall, and/or the waterfalls eroding the rocks into weird shapes like this one.
  7. Biking the ring road is probably a bad idea.  We felt pretty badly for the folks on their cycles as we struggled to stay upright with the whipping winds, unpaved roads, on and off rain storms and 48 degree temps.  Iceland is pretty flat for the most part, which is cool for bikers, but conditions including several unpaved gravel roads, make the trip a pretty big challenge. I wish I had a picture for reference.  Just picture this as two bikers next to each other trying to go straight:  /  /  If you’re a bad ass and love being slightly miserable at a 45 degree angle for 10 days, then by all means, you do you.
  8. There are no animals.  Sure you’ll pass some horses, and some sheep, and some cows, but for the most part, you won’t have to worry about running over squirrels or swerving around deer.  There is in fact, only one “native” animal in Iceland called the Arctic Fox.  Allegedly it turns white in the winter and an auburn red in the summer, but we didn’t encounter any on our travels. Nor did we see any puffins (still mad about it).
  9. In the words of my friend Jesse, no you didn’t just fart.  The hot water in Iceland is provided by several hot springs and geo-thermal plants.  All that means is woof, hope you like the smell of hot rotten eggs in the morning. Expect this smell at the Geyser too! 
  10. Once you get to Reykjavik, you can probably skip the National History Museum and go to Phallus, the penis museum instead.  I know *GASP* SKIP THE MUSEUM!?  I mentioned earlier that it seems that even the Icelandic historians are still not really sure what happened here. Most of the stories are super vague with the occasional “we found this in the ground, we don’t know much about it.”  The highlight of the experience was the kids play room upstairs where you could try on Icelandic garb and look really cool like Tara does below. The Phallus museum however, is a museum of penises.  Elephants, humans, sperm whale – you name it –  this creeper collected it.  There are more than 215 penises and/or penile parts within these four walls.  
  11. If you’re looking for good places to eat in Reykjavik — Try Meze or Grillmarkadurinn — we had really great meals at both spots.  The hotdogs are all the rage, and drinks are about $15 a pop so choose wisely.
  12. Definitely don’t put your hair in the Blue Lagoon (or any hot spring for that matter).  The sulfur will leave your hair feeling stringy and dry for days — possibly weeks. Pack an extra bottle of conditioner just in case. Also get ready to get naked.  They split you up into boys and girls locker rooms, but you’ll dodge more boobies here than a full season of Game of Thrones.
  13. Beer to go is not really a thing in Iceland.  The grocery stores only sell “light” beer, which is 3% alcohol or less.  We tried to take a few beers “to go” at a local restaurant and ended up confusing the service staff as we drove back to the AirBNB with 4 open beer bottles in the cup holders.
  14. If it’s a nice day in Dyrhólaey, lay on the ground (it’s warm) and don’t forget to sign your name in the church guestbook.  There only 8 pages filled out and the first page dated back to 2011 (I’m writing this blog from the future, 2015).  Sort of an interesting experience to be somewhere that most people don’t bother to go.
  15. Walk on a glacier!  We hiked across Vatnajokull. It is forever changing – so we got to see some small ice caves that would be gone in a matter of weeks due to the warming temperatures.  Don’t be scared — if I can do it, you can do it.  They have different levels of difficulty.  You get crampons and an ice pick and you feel like an extreme adventurer. Here is one of the ice caves:
  16. Also make sure you hit up the Glacier Lagoon at Jökulsárlón.  It’s about a 5 hour drive from Reykjavik, but if you’re driving the circle — it’s an easy add-on and well worth the extra miles.  It’s basically a lagoon of bright blue glaciers. We had planned on taking a boat tour and screaming ICEBERG! RIGHT AHEAD! the whole time, but our tour was canceled due to intense wind.  We did get to walk along the edge and take pictures like this one: 

All in all, Iceland is unique, quaint, beautiful, and weird.  As Iceland seems to be increasing in popularity, I would suggest going now before the masses get there and ruin all of the untouched landscapes and peaceful beauty of the country.  Happy Travels!

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