Bonus Blog Post – Iceland!

I should have written this months ago but then a hurricane happened and then I procrastinated until late November. I was going to write a series of posts on my experiences in Iceland but my memory has started to fade and my notes aren’t particularly good. Instead, I’m going to take an email I recently sent to a friend who is going to Iceland and talk about some of my favorite things and lessons and observations and such.

So, here we go.

First, as a reminder, when Anna and I went to Iceland we didn’t really have a solid plan. We mapped out a few places that seemed cool and then just headed in a rough direction towards them. We stopped when we saw something cool, we took wrong turns and met interesting people, camped out next to waterfalls, and really only drover about 2 hours per day.

Second, some random practical stuff that I wish I knew ahead of time.

  • If you are renting a car and planning on going to the highlands make sure you get one specifically outfitted for that or you won’t be able to access that area.
  • Gas was about $8 a gallon while we were there, so just be prepared for that.
  • Eating out can be expensive but if you go to grocery stores it isn’t so bad. There is one called “Bonus” that is really popular and has prices similar to here.
  • If you will be camping or eating grocery food bring your own utensils, there are almost no disposable plates and utensils in the country.
  • An Icelandic/English dictionary isn’t necessary for speaking but it is really helpful for reading and shopping.
  • Cash is accepted but it rarely used, American cash is accepted pretty much everywhere in Reykjavik too. And all the banks in Iceland will exchange Krona and Dollars
  • You can’t by medicine like Tylenol or Advil at grocery stores or gas stations, you need to go to a pharmacist (Apotek or Lyrja).
  • Traveling is pretty easy because the way they name things is pretty universal. “Foss” means waterfall, “Hvir” means hot springs, “fjara” means beach, and just about every fall, hot spring, or beach will have that word at the beginning or end of the name.
  • The one part about driving that was difficult was when we were in Reykjavik. Make sure you look up the street signs. Some of them are really intuitive and some make no sense. No Entry, No Parking, No Stopping, and No Traffic At All are similar.
  • If you are driving to somewhere in Reykjavik I would print out your directions first, there are a lot of one-way streets and pedestrian-only zones that make winging it pretty tough
  • WiFi is pretty common, even out in the small cities. Most coffee shops, breweries, and tourist locations have it for free or pretty cheap.
  • It is worth it to buy a road map
  • Google is really incomplete, there are a lot more options in most towns than appear on internet searches
  • There are almost no cops outside of Reykjavik but they have speed cameras along the highways and will ticket the rental company, who will then charge you.
  • Bring a notebook and pen to write down assorted thoughts and places you go. It will all become overwhelming at some point and it is nice to have pictures and notes to look back on.

Thirdly, some assorted observations about Iceland in general.

  • Reykjavik is a really international city. We heard half a dozen languages just walking down a short street.
  • The people are kind of “grungy”, in a good way. There isn’t a lot of fashion or heavy makeup, a lot of the clothing is practical. High quality and meant for the environment.
  • There is an interesting balance of nature and technology. You can camp at a sheep farm that has WiFi.
  • It was actually really easy to be vegan in Iceland. The grocery stores had clearly labeled vegan items, even at gas stations.
  • The whole country is entirely environmentally conscious. I don’t know if this is because of the culture or for practical reasons. When you live on a volcanic island that is mostly glacier you don’t have a lot of good options for disposing of trash. I don’t remember every getting a straw or a disposable plate while there.
  • Things are expensive, again for practical reasons. Shipping things costs money and most things are shipped in.
  • Similar to the clothing, all the vehicles were very practical. They were either really fuel efficient (gas was about $8 per gallon) or they were meant to go off-roading into the highlands. There weren’t any trucks that clearly had never seen mud and I only saw one sports car.
  • The general culture for being out in nature is “do what you want but if something bad happens it is your own damn fault”. Due to that, there are hiking trails that go along cliffs without railings and there are almost never any employees, even at national sites. They trust people to be adults and not do something that they can’t handle. For the most part, everyone respected the signs that forbid damaging plants or going certain places.
  • We were only in Reykjavik two days and one night, but there was almost no visible alcohol culture. Beer was available everywhere but nobody got drunk
  • I also didn’t see any homeless. A quick google search says there are 111 people living on the streets or similar conditions in the country. I think this is due to three factors: the social welfare system in place, the chance of dying if you are in the cold, and the fact that most people in Iceland have strong social networks (you don’t just hop a train to Reykjavik alone like you might to Seattle or Los Angeles).

Lastly, you can’t go wrong in Iceland. I don’t think there are any “must see” places, but the whole country is a “must see”. That being said, here are a few of the experiences that stood out to me.

  • Glymur Waterfall – The hike to the falls took about 2 hours and we didn’t make it all the way up because we ran out of daylight. It was a fantastic climb though and not very crowded because a lot of people don’t do any physical activity when they visit.
  • The Golden Circle – This is a route near Reykjavik that circles around the area. There are a lot of cool falls and geysers and such, it is definitely worth doing at least once.
  • Akranes is a city north of Reykjavik and kind of off the normal path but it has some beautiful light houses that you can climb to the top of and an amazing view over the Atlantic.
  • Seljavallalaug Hot Spring – A natural hot spring that has been diverted into a pool. There is a room to change your clothes in. Just to warn you, a lot of the natural hot springs don’t really break up changing areas by sex, people just all kind of change in the same room. If you go to this place and it isn’t really your thing then continue along the path to the right of the building. There is a isolated hot spring back there away from the crowds. Anna and I had it all to ourselves.
  • North of the town of Hveragerdi is a place called “The Boiling River” where basically boiling hot springs dump into a cold river and you can go swimming in it, alternating between hot and cold water in just a few feet. There is also a geothermal park in that area.
  • We traveled south along Route 1 and kind of stopped at waterfalls and such, they were all pretty awesome.

If anyone has further questions please feel free to hit me up 🙂

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Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”

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