Congratulations! You've just purchased your airline tickets and are committed to a vacation in the truly remarkable country of Iceland. What can you expect?
IT IS COLD. Iceland is called Iceland for a reason. If it were Sunland or Warmistan you could be forgiven for being upset at the absence of heat you will undoubtedly experience. There's no false marketing here. The country is called Iceland precisely so that there are no surprises. In the Icelandic summer, which I understand is about a week in August or something, the temperatures may even reach 70 degrees for a few hours. Do your weather homework and pack accordingly.
IT IS PERFECT FOR AMERICAN TOURISTS. Americans are generally terrible tourists which is why I pretend I'm not American when I travel. No matter where they are they tend to assume everyone speaks English. They point at things and say, "What's in that sandwich, is that ham?" or "Hey, buddy, do you know where I can find a Citibank ATM?" and they are flummoxed when people shrug their shoulders and say "Je ne comprende pas, je ne parle pas l'anglais." But that doesn't happen in Iceland because everyone speaks English. Everyone. And they speak it better than most of the kids I come across in New York. Even a guy working a gas station, seven teeth, filthy hands, looks like he was recently beaten: "Will there be anything else, sir? No? That will be six thousand eight hundred Kroner please."
IT'S GOING TO SUCK CASH FROM YOUR WALLET. Even after the collapse of their economy Iceland is ridiculously expensive. That's because Iceland is a giant volcanic rock covered in moss. Only 0.07% of their land is arable. As a result, practically everything is imported with the exception of fish and horses. Plus it's an enormous welfare state. One Icelander hotel manager told me she'd be much better off financially if she was an unemployed single mom. How does the government foot entitlements like that? They tax the living crap out of absolutely everything. The tax on alcohol is amazing - it rakes in more than their gas tax. Bottle of crappy, horrible, lousy, awful Gallo white wine that you'd get for around $12 in the States? It's $53. Cheers!
IT'S CLIMATOLOGIC ATTENTION-DEFICIT PARADISE. The weather changes every few minutes. It snowed. Then it was sunny. Then it rained. Then it was cloudy. Then there was hail. Then it was sunny. Then it snowed. And it was sunny. Then cloudy. Then we went to bed and heard the world's most incredible windstorm. And it apparently rained after that because the car was wet. You will most likely never be bored with the weather.
YOU'LL THINK YOU'RE ON A STAR TREK SET. Hot sulfuric steam comes out of the ground. There are pools of boiling blue mud. There are geysers. There are bizarre lavascapes formed by eruptions of the past. Endless fields of rock. Sub-arctic plants. Black sand beaches. There are giant fissures in the earth's crust that let you totally visualize the tectonic plates underneath you. And it's freaking empty. Assuming you're traveling on your own and not in a tour bus you'll soon come to realize that you are the only representatives for humanity in the area and if your car breaks down you're probably going to die.
IT'S A DRIVING PARADISE. Since only about 318,000 people live there the roads are often empty once you're out of the main city of Reykjavik. And it's hard to get lost because the main road is a circle around the island. If you get lost, just ask someone "Where's Route 1?" and they'll say, "It's right over there," and then you're back on your way. Naturally in a country so small, the police presence is limited. I saw one Lögreglan the whole time I was there and he was just going about his business. I drove as fast as I wanted mainly because I was an ignorant tourist who had no idea how dangerous that was to do.
IT'S AN OUTDOORSMAN'S PARADISE. Do you like fishing? You are surrounded by a giant ocean filled with them. And rivers and streams and ponds and puddles. All the snow sports are accounted for, of course, and even if it isn't snowing where you are you simply hop in a car and three minutes later you're on top of a mountain and it's winter wonderland. There are tall rocks everywhere to climb. And mountains, of course. And hiking trails everywhere. And majestic glaciers galore. I did not realize you could simply drive up to a glacier, but you can. Driving, driving, driving, GLACIER. The particular glacier I drove up to, Svínafellsjökull, had a plaque dedicated to two Germans who vanished in it so I opted not to try walking on it. Or rather, my wife told me I couldn't.
IT'S GREAT FOR KIDS. What kid doesn't love a boiling pool of blue mud, natural steam vents or a spewing geyser? And exotic animals! Kids have to love adorable (and edible) puffins. And gorgeous (and edible) whales. And they're sure to love the fact that the only affordable meal consists of Iceland's (totally delicious and edible) gas station hot dogs. Just exercise some caution because unlike America where we put up fences and walls and barriers and 300 signs telling you how to not injure yourself, Iceland puts an ankle-high piece of string around a pool of mud with a little sign telling you it's 250 degrees.
MANY ICELANDERS HAVE EMBRACED AMERICAN OVERWEIGHTNESS. Based on a chance encounter with an attractive Icelandic woman 20 years ago, and because of the singer Björk, I assumed Icelandic women were svelte and pixie-like. This is not the case at all. Many are some degree of overweight. Perhaps it's because gas station hot dogs are the only affordable food. Or because they're stuck indoors for seven months because of the weather, surfing the Internet for pictures of what the sun looks like. I have to say my wife found the men to be more attractive.
THEY LOVE SITTING IN WATER. Even tiny towns have community swimming pools, often heated by a pipe that goes way down into the earth and taps an endless supply of incredible, pollution-free heat. These are year-round social centers where people just sit outside in hot tubs and talk about stuff with their friends and neighbors. They sit and chat as the snow falls, turns to rain, sun comes out, hail falls, etc. I imagine they ask each other things like "What are you going to do for the week that is considered summer?"
YOU WILL GET BORED OF AWESOME WATERFALLS. The country is completely littered with amazing waterfalls. At first you'll be screaming, "Look at that!" and "Oh my God!" and "Wow!" Several days later you'll be so jaded that you won't even bother letting other folks there's some spectacular waterfall off in the distance. Every time you see a waterfall, you'll fantasize about swimming under it. Then you'll remember that the water is always a few degrees short of freezing and you'll fantasize about drinking it instead.
I love Iceland. Also, I am declaring bankruptcy.
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