First Impressions: Iceland

Usually, when I go on a trip, I research everything — the history, what we’re going to do, where we need to eat, drink, or see a show. But this time around, I didn’t have time to do research. I did just enough to know that, yes, my husband and I wanted to travel to Iceland, but that was  about it; I thought I would figure out the rest once we arrived.

Basically, I had no idea what to expect…

Now, my husband and I have been in Iceland for 12 hours, and let me tell you, I think I was better off NOT researching it first. This country has already made a strong impression in a short time. Here’s how this place has hit me so far:

1: I will not starve for want of good food. On the plane ride over, I worried about the food. I had no idea what Icelanders ate, so I wondered, would I like anything? I didn’t need to worry. Our breakfast was meats and cheese, sautéed vegetables, nutty breads, jams, granola and sweet treats. Dinner was a lobster soup that should be world famous and salmon so fresh it flaked under my fingertips (at Saegreifinn). It turns out, Reykjavik is a gourmet wonderland — of seafood (of course) and an array of international cuisines from Pakistani to Vietnamese.
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2. They take their coffee and alcohol seriously. Before the sun comes up, it’s very dark outside. If the sun isn’t going to do the job for you, you certainly need a strong cup of coffee to get you going, so it’s no wonder the city is filled with coffee shops… and almost as many bars. I suppose when it’s dark by 5 PM, what else are you going to do but have a pint? Speaking of the darkness…

3. When it’s dark, it’s dark; but when it’s light, it’s… weird. First of all, there is daylight during the winter, dad. This morning, it started getting light around 9:30 AM, by 11 AM the sun was fully up, and although it technically set at around 3:30, there was plenty of light until at least 4:30. But this daylight is not the kind of daylight I’m used to — at least not like Southern California. This winter light is peachy, hazy, purply… it feels mystical, like a golden halo encircling the northern capital.
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4. You have to be a little odd to live here — or to visit. While standing in line at the airport, my husband and I realized we didn’t know what Icelandic people looked like (turns out, rather Nordic). But we were quickly able to identify the people who joined our flight. It wasn’t by race, it was by… vibe. They were a little off. Perhaps a bit TOO rugged (toting backpacks, hiking boots, a scruffy beard — you know, as if camping on the side of a volcano is something these people DO on a regular basis). Maybe a little too 1990’s Eastern European trendy; not trendy today, but trendy 20 years ago with ripped hose and pierced body parts. Some looked like sad loners, others like supermodels, but none looked like regular people… What does that say about my husband and me?

5. They mix stuff the rest of us don’t. I see it in the food, the clothes, the Christmas trees adorned with menorahs. My favorite example of this unique mixture is Fish and More. It’s a coffee shop slash fish spot. The menu is half espresso, half steamed fish. I never thought my coffee shop needed more fish, but I think I’ll try it as long as I’m here!
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6. More English than Icelandic. Before I came, I also have to admit I was concerned about the language. In Europe, I have a working knowledge of both French and Italian, so I can usually get by, but I don’t recognize any words in Icelandic. And I have no idea how any of it is pronounced. I feared we’d be lost in translation… But in Reykjavik, EVERYONE speaks English. I’ve heard much more English on the streets than the native tongue, and in bookstores, there are more books printed in English than Icelandic.
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7. It hasn’t set world culture; it hasn’t even been affected by it. Usually I travel to places that have had a profound impact on world culture: Florence, Paris, London, Los Angeles… But Iceland has not been a major factor in creating western culture; in fact, being here, I wonder how much Iceland has even been impacted by the rest of us. It seems so removed from the world. It has a vaguely soviet era, Easter European feel in some parts (boxy buildings, graffiti, the cold grey), mixed with Nordic buildings — bright colors with pitched roofs overlooking the water… but the whole thing feels like it is lost in a strange time warp that has nothing to do with the rest of us…

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8. It’s small. And touristy. Reykjavik’s population is only about 100,000. Iceland as a whole has only 300,000 people. After 15 years of living in Los Angeles, it feels TINY. And the center of town is overrun with tourist traps and tour companies… However, I know this is NOT Iceland. The local spot where we ate dinner was proof that there is a weird, eclectic culture bubbling underneath this city — just like lava in the volcanos. Speaking of volcanos…

9. It’s not all about volcanos. Yes, there’s the Volcano House (which we haven’t yet visited) and tours of the country’s geological wonders (which we also haven’t been on yet), but if I didn’t already know about the catastrophic volcanos like Eyjafjnallajokull I would not know about them by visiting… not yet anyway. The city doesn’t teem with volcano tidbits or souvenirs. You’re much more likely to find a plastic elf than a volcano keychain.

10. It’s beautiful. A climb to the top of the tower of Hallgrimskirkja proves that this place is stunning. Snow-covered volcanic mountains in the distance, a jagged shoreline, those Nordic style houses… And I have a feeling this place is only going to become more beautiful as we settle in…
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2 thoughts on “First Impressions: Iceland

  1. Love your experiences, living them thru you. Our cousins, Tommy and Patty Morrisset have been there and they really liked it also.

    Like

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