Iceland: reflections and final thoughts on a first solo trip
...And my first trip outside of the United States in 7 years
I thought I would include some photos that didn’t make it into the photo roundups of nature or of the city. In showing a lot of my photos to friends and neighbors, I encountered questions that I also thought might be good to answer too, so here goes.
- What airline did you fly and was it expensive? I flew Icelandair and my flight was $662 from Boston, purchased a few months ahead of time because I knew August was high travel season. I purchased a flight on American Airlines to fly from Chicago to Boston at $176. So, it is entirely possible to book a flight for under $1000 to a European country for summer travel.
- Was it expensive and how much did you spend per day? Was food expensive? Yes and no. I knew coming in that meals would be expensive and planned to spend about $100 day. I like to spend $25-$30 on myself when I go out to dinner, and I live in Chicago where that is not difficult to do. If you’re coming from a mid-sized city or smaller, be prepared to shell out the equivalent of $18 for a burger at a restaurant and about $10 for any beer, anywhere. I tried any local beer I could get my hands on, trying local food and drink is one of my favorite things about traveling. The Icelandic Krona is the currency and $10 is approximately 1250-1300 ISK. For example, a one-way bus ticket on the Reykjavik bus system, Straeto, was 400 ISK. Since I stayed in an airbnb ($268 for my entire stay and very Spartan, but private, clean, and quiet) and had access to a full kitchen, I could have cooked but I chose to stock the fridge with yogurt and fruit for breakfasts instead of spending money on that. The yogurt in Iceland is called skyr and it is delicious and thick and I highly recommend you try the only brand I’ve found in the United States called Siggi’s, it is life-changing. I’d been eating it for years and was excited to go to Iceland and try their brands. I went without coffee most mornings, which I normally don’t do, but when I did get it from a gas station on my last morning and I was exhausted it was 100K for a cup and damn tasty at that point. I ate a lot of mussels and smoked salmon and I ate pizza, twice. I also ate a lot of sandwiches for lunch and soups, my two favorites were a lamb meatball soup and an asparagus soup that was creamy and delicious. I probably spent the equivalent of $75 on food per day (9550 ISK) when all was said and done. There were afternoon stops for coffee when I wanted to use wifi, or a glass of beer before dinner, or snacks. If you book a lot of things in advance, your meals will be your largest expense, plan for it. I also think it is possible to be a vegan or vegetarian traveler in Iceland, it just takes more work. There were numerous Asian noodle shops (usually good options when you’re looking for meat-free) that were very busy or closed when I walked by them. They were also on the list of inexpensive places I should go, but alas, I did not go to them. There’s also a very nice restaurant called Dill, billed as “modern Scandinavian” cuisine that I wanted to try, but just didn’t get a chance to eat there. Someone needs to go there and get coffee at Reykjavik Roasters and report back to me. I walked into Reykjavik Roasters when they were already closed and didn’t have another time to go. Also! Go to Mikkeller and Friends, gypsy brewery/interesting flavors, even my friends in the States who are really into beer had not heard of Mikkeller, so I felt like I had discovered a secret. I can thank a new friend I met on my trip for introducing me.
- What’s the weather like? OMG, in a word, delightful - in the summer. I am probably in the minority in that feeling though, so let me explain. Imagine Seattle, but a little windier and cooler. So, overcast, no warmer than the mid to high 50′s F while I was there, and periods of sunshine, drizzle, and one downpour. During said downpour, I had just ducked into Hofnin after a 2 hour hike and I was feasting on mussels, fries, and a Gull and reading a book in an empty restaurant since it was about 2:30 pm. Apparently they were having a cold summer and it can get to 72 F. That’s still wonderful, in my opinion. I don’t get cold easily, so I was fine in a lightweight, faux-down jacket and a pashmina-style scarf. If you’re visiting from a warmer climate, I suggest you bring your winter clothing. After 12 years as Midwesterner, and thus being fully accustomed to COLD winters and HOT summers, I was enjoying the autumn-like temperatures in August. Apparently, Reykjavik winters are windy with light snow but I honestly don’t think they’re probably as cold as Chicago winters, they can thank the polar jet stream for that.
- How are the locals? So nice, polite, friendly, helpful, a bit reserved, as most Northern Europeans tend to be at first. I talked to people at the bus stop, one woman helped me figure out the schedule and we saw each other again two days later and we acknowledged each other with a smile. I rode the bus with a gaggle of high school girls twice and while they were typical teenagers, they were not obnoxious or loud. I walked into a bicycle shop in the Old Harbour and spoke to the owner, a German expat who followed a girl to Reykjavik and that girl is now his wife, I love that story. I chatted with another couple because the man was wearing a Chicago Bulls hat and when I asked him if he was a fan, he excitedly told me he was more of a Bears fan and that he had just done his fantasy draft the night before! I laughed and replied that I didn’t know fantasy football was popular in Iceland and his wife rolled her eyes and said “it's not, it's only him.” We all laughed at that. Side-note, I am an introvert and a bit shy. I don’t find it easy to talk to strangers but maybe this trip and future ones are bringing me out of my shell, or maybe I’m just more comfortable and confident now, who knows?
- Does anyone speak English? As evidenced above, yes, nearly everyone, and very well. Especially if they’re 50 and younger because it became mandatory in schools 45 years ago or so, according to my first cab driver. It is interesting to hear the different accents and I wonder if they’re influenced by who they were taught, or what part of the country they grew up in. I heard everything from a more Irish-sounding lilt to a very stilted, German-sounding accent (all of these speaking English, I mean) to a more British-sounding accent. Then I encountered one person who could have been from the United States with her flat accent, I would have been fooled by it. I always asked people if they spoke English before asking a question, ordering, or launching into a conversation. My first two days there though, more than one person approached me and started speaking Icelandic or spoke it to me upon entering a restaurant. I was happy that I didn’t stand out as a tourist. When someone helps you with something, you say “takk” (thank you).
These are the questions I’ve been asked, if you have any more, you should ask me and I will be more than happy to try and answer them!