The first thing I noticed when we stepped outside of Pearson International after returning from Iceland, is that, at the time, it was colder in Toronto than in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city.
Iceland gets cold, of course. When the wind blows in off the ocean it’s damn brisk! But our last night there, on a walk along the harbour, the air was still and the temperature of -1C felt very comfortable.
The Blue Lagoon spa is very trendy. It’s a geothermal-fed hot spring pool, which is said to possess skin-healing qualities. We went there first, but we hadn’t pre-booked and it was packed solid all week. From what we heard later, it’s nice but over-rated, and we were booked at another hot spring for another night, anyway.
We did capture a selfie in front of the sign, though!
On our hotsprings adventure, we enjoyed a dinner of traditional Icelandic fare after frolicking from pool to pool, and visiting the sauna. A Northern Lights hunt followed. I learned later that other buses went back to Reykjavik, having not seen the lights because of an overcast sky to the north. But our tour guide refused to give up. The excursion was supposed to end at about 10 pm, but his tenacity is what led us to stand at the tip of the harbour, watching northern lights dance in the dark sky, at about 1 am.
We walked between two continents: North America and Europe. The tectonic plates are separating by about 2 cm per year, and it’s a spectacular natural phenomenon.
Something we learned: buying hiking boots with little ice-pick cleats would be wise! We occasionally saw experienced ice-hikers pushing up little pegs on the soles of their boots. Although I had heavy tread on my boots, they were no match for an icy outdoor staircase we encountered and I didn’t even make an attempt. Icelanders don’t seem to get too worried about people slipping and falling. The attitude is, it’s icy – what did you expect? Bring better footwear!
The people are friendly and everyone speaks English. As one shop owner put it, “If we don’t learn another language, we are finished for travel or communication outside of Iceland.” They learn English and Danish, and then have a choice between German, Spanish or French. In other words, Icelanders know four languages.
They’re very fashionable. Reykjavik’s main street, Laugavegur, is long and pedestrian-friendly. It houses an eclectic collection of high-end boutiques, nice souvenir shops, restaurants of all types, coffee shops, hotels, bars and travel info centres. Their Starbucks is called Kaffitar and an Americano hits the spot. There are a couple of casinos and the famed penis museum, which we didn’t visit, but we certainly looked in the window and giggled at the souvenirs! Every block and a half there’s an Icewear store, Iceland’s own outdoor-wear line. We bought hats, of course. Thankfully they offer one style in acrylic because I’m allergic to wool! I could never live on Iceland because of it. Everything is made for the wool-friendly and it’s one of their main exports.
Iceland isn’t overly Americanized. Burger King and McDonald’s couldn’t make a go of it in Reykjavik but KFC, Subway and Quiznos are doing fine. There is an Ikea, which isn’t surprising given the island’s close proximity to Sweden, but it does go against their self-stated rule of only opening a full store where there’s a population base of one-million. Iceland’s entire population is about the same as London’s; 340,000. You can’t tell what any store is by just looking at it. There are no Shopper’s Drug Mart cookie-cutter buildings. They don’t tear down and build anew to boost someone’s ego. Europe has always been smart about things like that. Supermarkets don’t have freezers. They have rooms where frozen food is kept. There are two doorways but no doors. It’s a shock to the system, but not for Icelanders, I suppose.
Wherever it’s needed, the island is warmed by geo-thermal heat. It’s efficient and, except for the pipes to transport it, it’s free. We saw clouds in shapes we didn’t know existed; like folded, fuzzy blankets. We stood on the edge of a famed meteor crater and visited a volcano, walked on a Viking boat and toured a decommissioned Coast Guard ship while learning about the Cod Wars. Yes, Wars over Cod. We ate fish dishes and traditional foods, discovering that Icelanders aren’t big into sweets or anything terribly unhealthy. They only legalized beer in 1989. And in case you’re wondering, because I did, there’s a website where Icelanders can check the lineage of a paramour to make sure they’re not about to sleep with someone whose branch is too close on the family tree.
There’ll be more tomorrow. Thanks for visiting today!