A friend of mine took a career break & decided to explore northern Europe. First on the list – beautiful Iceland. I would like to share her experiences & some amazing pictures with you guys. I’m hoping one day I can follow her footsteps to collect my own exciting memories, pictures & relax from the busy big city life.
Welcome to the land of Vikings, Elves & Trolls. The part of the world with the most beautiful country scenery, where humans live in symbiosis with the nature. Welcome to Iceland.
Brief itinerary 31.8-18.9.2015
31.8-3.9 – Reykjavik: craft beer pubs & getting ready for the hike.
2.9 – Group trip to the Golden Circle: Geyser & an amazing waterfall Gulfoss. Thingvellir national park & the Secret Lagoon.
4-8.9 – Laugavegur track: one of the most beautiful hikes in the world. Sleeping in huts with quite a few fellow hikers was one hell of an experience. Some cabins don’t have showers. Everything is strictly environmental. Electricity is generated from the solar power.
9.9 – Reykjavik
10.9 – Morning bus to Jökulsárlón (6h trip) to see floating Glaciers. Tonnes of tourists everywhere, even outside the season. Sneak pick & booking www.icelagoon.is.
11.9 – Visiting my mate, a drive along the South coast (Skaftafell, Vik) to the West.
13.9 – West coast: Snaefellsness Peninsula – golden beaches, black basalt cliffs, tiny little towns.
14.9 – Reykjavik
15.9 – Bus – ferry – bus to the West Fjords. Driving around by car & bike, thermal pools, food, food & more food.
18.9 – Flight back to Reykjavik & then home sweet home, back to the Czech republic.
“Traveling alone wasn’t an issue whatsoever! Met a lot of interesting & fun people, whether they were locals or fellow travelers.”
What surprised you?
“Groceries. The stores had a rather odd opening hours. The cheap super markets (Bonus logo is a gem) hardly ever open before 10am and never closes after 6pm. If you are after alcohol, that is available only in a Liquor stores – Vínbúðín – which are usually opened only 3-4 hours a day, even less on the weekends or in small towns. Overall opening hours, especially outside the bigger cities, are more or less flexible & seasonal I would say. Sometimes there is only a note on the door: “If you wish to buy something, call this number …”. You can often find jars of marmalade, fruits or other local produce on the side of the road with the note: “Here’s a jelly, take it & put some money into the box. Thanks”. Enormous trust, which definitely would not last for long in Czech republic :)
Shopping. Iceland isn’t a shopaholic paradise for sure. Choice between an expensive Icelandic brands (66-north) OR a very limited selection in Next would hardly satisfy fashion lovers. What I found refreshing is, that there are hardly any international fast food chains such as McDonald’s or Burger King. There are only a few KFC’s (mostly in the suburbs), or their local food chains. Subway arrived to Iceland not long ago.
Apparently stealing doesn’t exist there. I rented a bike (£30/day) & on my request for the locker, I got the most surprising answer: “Well, in fact you don’t need a locker, no body steals here!”. And it was true indeed. Most of the people leave their houses & bikes unlocked. People are so relaxed & trust each-other, they didn’t even seems to care to check my papers or documents. They basically threw the car keys at us without a single question. On the return of the vehicle, keys can be given to ‘a guy working at the airport’. :D
Very expensive coffee from 400-600 kronas (£2-£3). Not to mention that most of the time you get a half empty cup. In the small towns, it’s hard to get anything else but a coffee from the machine for almost the same price.
Fantastic thing – WiFi was everywhere! Yay!”
Are Icelanders cold people?
“Generally people are very polite & nice. I have to say I was quite impressed that EVERYONE speaks English there, the village bus driver or the old lady collecting an entry fee at the pool. Funny thing is that younger generation has quite a strong American accent. I was surprised to find out about the Icelandic surnaming system. They use their fathers’ first name and add ‘-son’ (son) OR ‘-dottir’ (daughter) on the end of it. For example if Johan has 2 kids – his son would be Gunnar Johansson & daughter Agnes Johansdottir. Funny ain’t?”
What about the everyday life?
“Reykjavik’s notorious nightlife lasts until early morning. Outside the season all towns are dead (Reykjavik is the only exception), where all the people are & what the do all days, that’s a mystery to me.
The beer is great (especially from the small local breweries). Home beers are usually on tap everywhere, together with imported beers like Guinness. Comparing with Czech republic, beer was incredibly expensive. Normally you would pay around 600-1000 kronas (£3-£5) for a regular beer & 1000-1800 kronas (£7-£9) for the craft beer. Shot of the local schnapps (Brennivín – potato & cumin) about 990 kronas (£4.5). Expensive for Europeans, not so much for Londoners I guess. An interesting fact was that beer was prohibited (to some extent) until 1989. March 1, (when the prohibition ceased) is still celebrated as „Beer Day“. I mean WTF? How did they survive until then? :)
Another unusual fact is that dogs were banned in Reykjavik until 1986. The believe was that dogs don’t belong to the city and are much better off in the country. Some exceptions were given now & then. Since 2006 dogs are allowed everywhere.”
How easy is to travel around the Iceland?
“Each family has a 4WD. I would say it’s quite a necessity here. Tires can be blown into monstrous proportions, but it’s not a fashionable thing (well, mostly not… some people just have to show off), many roads are simply impossible to access with ‚normal‘cars. Getting to the middle of Iceland without a terrain vehicle, (even in the summer) is unthought of.
Good news is – hitch-hikers will hardly ever wait longer than 30min. Billboards along the roads are not permitted, but I spotted a few promoting beer every now & then. Cheers.”
The most important question – How was the food?
“Here is the list of some typical dishes I came in contact with:
Skyr – something like a yogurt, same taste as thick Greek yogurt, but contains NO FAT.
Fermented shark – I haven’t tried it. It’s a rotten stinking piece of meat and everyone are disgusted by it…
Lamb – they eat all kinds of meals with lamb. Even the lamb head is on the menu.
Rhubarb is one of the few plants that withstand the climate, so it’s a very popular ingredient :).
Rye bread – their speciality is to make it a bit sweetish. Often it’s cooked in the ground heated by the hot thermal steams. It’s buried in the ground, in the evening & ready by the morning. What a great idea… please don’t try that at home (burying strudel under the hot water pipes :D ).
Fish – Dried fish with butter is a favourite snack.
Lobster soup – Delicious soup.
Cola & chocolate milk are very popular, especially among the youngsters.”
Iceland vs central Europe
“Their cities are more like a super small villages to us Europeans. Some of the villages have only one house & church. Surprisingly there is a church in every single village, even there are only 4% of Catholics among Icelanders.
Water (especially hot) from the tap, stinks after sulfur. At first I thought it was a smell from the toilet, then someone explained to me – they pump water from the thermal steams, obviously as they are everywhere. It’s quite hard to drink, but I did get used to it. Icelanders claim they don’t smell the stink at all :) An amazing human ability to adapt ain’t?
Thanks to the incredible sceneries that Iceland has to offer, a lot of famous movies were filmed here – Lara Croft, James Bond, Game of Thrones, etc. Because of the scenery, NASA have their astronaut training station in the middle of Iceland.
The hospitality industry relies mostly on local products. Most hotels & restaurants bake their own bread, and grow fruits & vegetables in greenhouses. They’d have their own sheep & prepare the meat in their own kitchens. Alternatively buying from a neighbour. Good old lifestyle & symbiosis among all people.
Hostels are a lot cheaper when you have your own sleeping bag. They charge extra for linen. Every other rat-hole has a swimming pool with hot water, thanks to the thermal steams.”
What about amazing Iceland nature?
“Unpredictable weather – extremes from nice & sunny to fog, rain or freezing wind. Because of the constant weather changes the rainbows are everywhere & all the time.
Quite easy to see the Northern Lights on cloudless nights, well though there is no many of those :)
The most beautiful waterfalls are everywhere… but after while it gets almost boring (just like pyramids in Mexico :D)
In certain areas (i.e. arend Laugmannalaugar), there is no vegetation! There’s even a joke on that: If you get lost in the forest, what should you do? STAND UP! :D There’s only moss everywhere.
Most amazing feature – NO mosquitoes. Never were, never will be! A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
It is a country with the most beautiful & most unusual nature I’ve ever seen. Would be nice to have at least some trees & bushes, as it’s quite difficult to find the place to execute basic human needs :)
The North-Western Fjords (Hornstrandir) are strictly protected – almost untouched by humans and they intend to keep it that way. There is a ban on low flights over this part of the country in order to preserve ‘the serenity of nature’ (read this article for more). The easiest way is to get there by a seasonal ferry.”
“Icelanders claim that Iceland is the best country in the world! It is the most beautiful for sure :)”
Iceland has a concentrated tourist season, peaking from mid-June through August. But Iceland also offers plenty to do in spring, fall & winter. Big advantage is that prices are dramatically lower for airfares, car rentals & accommodations. Take your pick & enjoy this beautiful country.
Hope you enjoyed Iceland adventure by Pavla. Well if you are not packing guys, I am! Special thank you to Pavla for her travel adventure and of course to you guys for your time & support. Xxx
All pictures above are from Pavla, taken with iPhone4S & some old Lumix.