Iceland was never really in our top tier of must visit places when we arrived in Barcelona. I honestly don’t even think it ever made our second tier list. Yet somehow in recent months both Josh and I were drawn to visit here. I don’t know if it is the abundance of news articles that we’ve read about the northern lights or what it was, but before we knew what was happening, we decided let’s do it!
Top of our list, of course, was to see the Aurora Borealis. Second is the Blue Lagoon. And then anything else goes. We found that a lot of the fun tours were not appropriate for the kids given their ages but figured we would plan what we could and wing the rest. Vacation is about having fun, not packing in “stuff” in every moment of the day. And I’m thankful for that because today, as I write this, is our first full day here and our day of rest since we were out last night til after midnight doing the Northern Lights Tour (that’s getting it’s own entry) and Aidan ended up sleeping til past 10 tonight. Guess it wiped him out!
Anyways, when we landed in Reykjavik, I was somewhat surprised at how barren it is. I knew that the weather is challenging here to say the least, but I expected more trees and less… mud. In a way, it reminded me of Lanzarote (in the Canary Islands) but much much much colder. And like Lanzarote, it’s a very volcanic island.
The drive from the airport to Reykjavik is about 30 miles give or take. I’d say a good 20+ were totally barren. But funny enough when we did come upon civilization we saw things like Subway, Toyota, IKEA and yes, a Crossfit gym. Apparently Crossfit has made it’s reaches even as far north as Iceland.
The images below are all from the drive from the airport to Reykjavik – yes, it is really that desolate but beautiful. The majority of the drive looked like this.
And my guess is that this land is not barren just because it is uninhabitable, but because there just aren’t that many people here and most live near the cities. There are approximately 300,000 people that live in Iceland and 2/3 of them live in the greater Reykjavik area. Yes, this entire country, slightly smaller than the UK, has less people than Boston proper. You need to be hearty folk to bear with this climate. And yet, despite the harsh climate, Iceland ranks in the top 10 for quality of life in the world. Apparently whomever creates these charts doesn’t place weather not topping 50 in their criteria of importance. Ahhh but it’s all relative. The point is, despite the Subway and KFC that I saw, there is significantly less commercialism here than I have seen pretty much anywhere.
And any commercialism seems to be aimed at tourists as they have about 1 million tourists (that’s 3 times their population) that come here annually. Regardless of quality of life, commercialism, etc, I will admit that after seeing how barren the terrain was, I was surprised at how advanced everything is here and access to more goods than I anticipated. In fact, there were more goods here than I can get in Spain – apparently a better trade agreement with other nations. For instance, Burts Bees, Skippy Peanut Butter (I personally prefer Jif but even that I have to go to the American store for), Cheerios (again, would need to go to the American store). And this was just in the Store 24 (which they call 10-11). But aside from foods and chapstick, even the apartments were of better construction than that we have in Spain. And bonus, the fridge here has a water/ice dispenser which ranked in the top 3 (yes top 3) of things Aidan has missed from home.
Random facts, after doing some research I also found out that 85% of energy used here is renewable. When you live in a land of volcanos, waterfalls and wind, it’s easy to source hot water, hydro and wind energy. So while the cost of many imports is probably pricey, they make up for it in inexpensive utilities.
The bus to get us to Reykjavik took close to an hour from the airport. As I mentioned, it was pretty desolate thru most of the drive and uneventful. No traffic whatsoever. When we would pass thru a small city, they were nondescript – nothing special to write home about (and yet here I write). Many were just simple concrete type structures. Nothing looked old or historic to me. Even as we entered Reykjavik, it did not feel like a very large city (and how can it be with only about 200,000 residents?) but more of a very large town.
We made it to our hotel apartment which is perfect for us. It’s run similarly to a hotel and yet, has all the amenities we need of home like a kitchen and separate bedrooms (a total plus right there). It has heated bathrooms – OMG the luxury! And it’s right on the main (touristy) strip of Reykjavik which means it’s near local shops, grocery stores and restaurants. It’s the perfect location for us.
We took a little schmooze after settling in to run out and grab some groceries (god forbid we don’t have milk in the morning) and grab a quick bite to eat before our Northern Lights tour.
So our plan while we are here… Northern Lights (which technically we’ve already gone to as I write this but I won’t spoil it for you yet), the Golden Circle which will include stops at waterfalls and geysers and the Blue Lagoon. We’re still trying to figure out the downtime, but I’m not worried – it will all come together.