For the many weeks I’ve been here in London, I’ve had a pervasive thought: “No matter how much it rains or how changeable the weather is, at least I’m not back home where they’ve got all that snow and twenty-degree days.” If anything, the mildness of January and February in London has been a relief, and has allowed me to go out without having to worry about slipping on the ice that has covered my hometown for months now. That all being said, where I went for my first trip out of the country during our exam reading week was obviously the most logical location I could’ve chosen: Iceland.
My first thought upon landing in Reykjavik and seeing the snow covered ground, frozen ocean and feeling the icy wind, was that the whole story about Greenland and Iceland reflecting their opposite landscape is fake as hell. As far as I could see, Iceland was being pretty true to its name, if the indication from the ride from the airport to our hostel wasn’t enough; there were points where there was no way to tell where the gray-white sky and snow-covered landscape began and ended. Nevertheless, seeing landscape like that and being able to see mountains powdered with snow slowly make their way into view down the coast from the country’s capital made it clear Iceland had lots in store for us.
A word to the wise for those reading this who would like to visit Iceland: there’s some good and bad news about money there. The good news is that, at least at the time of me writing this, the exchange rate from U.S. dollars to Icelandic króna is almost identical, so you’re not paying double the price on things that seem reasonable. The bad news is that what I just said is basically a lie, because Iceland is crazy expensive, especially if you’re trying to find a well-priced meal. I won’t say much more about it, but let’s just say we got some small burritos for dinner one night that were the equivalent of $16, and it was a good deal. You’ve now been warned.
In terms of things to see in Iceland, your options in “civilization” are limited. The population of Iceland, as we were told numerous times, is only 340,000 people, 200,000 of which live in the capital of Reykjavik, and it’s not hard to believe having visited there. Reykjavik feels like Bar Harbor up in Maine; both are small, centralized coastal towns housing many opportunities for whale watching and national park tours and even more tourist shops selling puffin-related merchandise. However, you absolutely can’t say there’s nothing to do there. If you want to be blown away by natural beauty, Iceland has everything you could want. We went on their most basic Gold Circle tour, which lasted about seven hours and took us to Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the waterfall Gullfoss, nicknamed “the Golden Falls.”
Our tour was treated to some of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen, looking out over snow and ice covered valleys that go on and on forever. The remoteness and desolation of these areas of Iceland is what is so striking about them; similar to the moments on the drive from the airport to Reykjavik, there were times when you’d look out the window and the world outside very closely resembled a blank piece of white paper. There’s really nothing out there except these natural spectacles, and I’d never seen anything like it.
To catch a break from all the cold, we also spent a fair amount of time taking in Iceland’s infamous geothermal hot springs. During the night we visited the Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s most famous outdoor pool heated by hot springs. It’s located in a lava field, and being in it in the dark of night while also having Icelandic winter winds blowing in your face is a surreal experience, but is one we partook in again during the daytime as well at one of the local pools in downtown Reykjavik. Those pools are truly representative of Iceland; half the time you can’t believe something this insane and quirky exists, and the other half you’re too busy enjoying it.
Iceland is a really random place in general, and an even more random place to relax for spring break. That didn’t stop me from saying to both myself and the group I was with the whole time we were there, “We’re in Iceland! This is crazy!” It really is a crazy place, and I’d certainly jump at the chance to visit it again.