I am a singer from Los Angeles and doing my best to take advantage of my lack of true life responsibilities in my 20’s. In the past 5 years, I have checked many things off my “bucket list” ranging from trips to Johannesburg and Paris, to Sky Diving and singing Chumbawumba at Karaoke. I began a tradition of adventure September 2 years ago where I do something new every day. Eat something new every meal. This september, I went the whole month without speaking… that was an adventure. But this Christmas, on a last minute whim, I was lucky enough to check a BIG one off. One that I can only assume is on most people’s list. One I could’ve sworn I’d do once I had an AARP card & too much time and money. Iceland. The northern lights. And I must say, there is a lot about this incredibly eco-friendly country I was not prepared for. ( I also probably could have done it all in 3 days as opposed to 6 ) Hopefully, I can prepare some of you for your future trip up here to the Arctic Circle.
I brought the majority of my essentials. Camera. Chapstick. International Socket Converter. A friend who makes me laugh. A credit card pre-approved for international usage. and a jam mix of my favorite #1 hits from 1998-2004. I recommend all of these things along with a few more suggestions or tidbits.
1) CLOTHES: Two words. warm and layers. When I tell you it is cold here, and the wind is strong, I am not exaggerating. It’s ICEland. don’t let all the pretty photos of it being green mislead you. Those must have been taken during the one week of summer they experience. But this here… is December in the Arctic. Don’t bring your Payless knock off Uggs, they will not do the trick. I brought tall thick soft socks that saved my toes. Layers are important though – as most places keep the indoor heat blazing. I recommend a hat for winter as well a face mask if you will be doing much out door adventuring as wind chill is quite high. Most days were -2 Degrees C.
2) A PLAN: Though I believe the adventure is in the journey and always try to keep flexible and spontaneous – a rough plan is still a good idea. If you are flying Icelandic Air, they include free entertainment ( you pick through an array of films, television shows, or music) and your first two checked bags are free. Once you arrive. Every sign looks like this ” ttrygukilivvugrekl” Unless you speak Icelandic, It can be tricky to get around. Have a list of places you have researched ( that are open at the time of year you are going -as we accidently made our commercial “downtown shopping day” on an icelandic holiday we didn’t know about and everything was closed…) and rent a GPS if you can. I also recommend you research the costs of entry as Iceland had a huge economic crash and they typically charge for everything. * Most museums have a student discount if you have an ID
Look into the day-light hours for the time of year of your visit, some days we only had 3 hours of light, and in the summer, you may have up to 24 hours of daylight… consider a sleep mask if you are traveling in summer.
The icelandic currency is far from the Euro. Consider saving the conversion in your phone, etc. Also, if you are car-less and the weather is warm enough- You can rent a bike through www.borgarhjol.is or www.bikecompany.is
3) THE NORTHERN LIGHTS, as it turns out are not a guaranteed thing. Admittedly, I was very naive to assume they were. I am on day 6 and have not seen them… Yup. That’s a thing. The “500 Photos of Iceland 2013 Calendar” I saw at the mall kiosk was misleading. The entire winter sky is not permenantly on acid as you may believe. Check out a projection of where it is best, what times, etc. They are best on cloudless nights between 6 pm and Midnight and a drive out of town to get the best view is highly recommended. [ Edit: The trip has now ended. and I never saw the Northern lights ]
4) WATER: Bring perfume. This part is HILLARIOUS. I still can’t believe no one warned me. Iceland is COVERED IN SULFUR. All of the water, pools, spas, sinks, showers, smell horribly of sulfur. Seriously when you shower, it honest to god smells like Diarehha. Just streams of Rotten eggs. This is when bringing a funny friend comes in handy. You learn to laugh it off. (or to shower less i.e. dry shampoo) I tried rubbing Tea tree oil and other essential oils in and below my nose before going into a hot spring. That helped. a bit. ** Do not bring any jewelry that you don’t have to. The water is high in mineral content and taking a shower with rings on, even washing your hand can stain a silver ring gold, and cause other cases of unfortunate discoloration. ( See my two-tones David Yurman Ring?)
5) NATURAL SIGHTS to see: Iceland is sitting on both the european and asian tectonic plates and is slowly separating which is one of the reasons for it’s high volcanic activity ( 200 Eruptions in 1100 years) We saw the Gullfoss Waterfall that goes directly into a deep crack in the earth where the two tectonic plates are shifting apart which is a one of a kind view. It is about an hour drive outside of Rekjavik. The famous strokkur geyser is about 9 KM away and is also incredible ( again- note it smells like shit, don’t say I didn’t warn you ) Both impressive sights to see / both challenging to stay around and really observe because of the cold. The National Botanical gardens are located in Reykjavik and were beautiful as well. Thingvellir has Diving and Snorkeling tours (www.scuba.is) and the water is incredibly clear if you are permitted to drive, I highly recommend it. The Golden circle is another drive you don’t want to miss.
** NOTE FOR GULFOSS: When your GPS takes you to the Gulfoss, turn off at a small split in the road RIGHT before you are there. Literally like 200 yards. It takes you directly to the waterfall. Otherwise you park up by the souvenir shop and take a VERY steep windy stair case down to where you could have parked ( had you known… and now you do! Your welcome)
6) ART: We ventured to the new HARPA opera building which is stunning and has some reasonably priced shows. We saw a comedy show entitled ” How to be Icelandic in 60 minutes” If you come in the next 6 months – I certainly recommend catching it during its run. You can’t miss the building by the way, It is massive, modern, lights up, and is right on the harbor. They recently built it even being in billions of dollars of debt, and apparently the biggest argument was who will clean all of the windows. So look for the building with way too many windows. (www.HARPA.is) They have a record shop in the lobby filled with local icelandic artists as well as some of the bigger names like Of Monsters and Men or Sigur Ros. (Shameless Plug: They also sell my bands album “VOl.1” by Me and Mr.Cassidy there.) There are also incredible Art Galleries in downtown Reykjavik – a volcano museum, viking, and photography as well as their national art gallery. There is also incredible arcitecture in the large churches in town
7) FOOD: I ate weird stuff. and you can too! Whale, Puffin, Reindeer, Snails, Goose, etc. These are all readily available. If you are vegetarian – there is honestly not a lot of fresh fruit/vegetable options so I do recommend packing some snacks. I was told that the best place to eat is a tiny hot dog stand in downtown. They have Lamb dogs, with some crispy onions, runny mustard, etc. It’s a popular thing. It is a cheap meal, but I gotta be honest, myself and all 4 people I was with were not impressed. But by all means, it’s only about $2 USD so give it a try. There is also a mexican restauraunt, in downtown Reykjavik run by Asian people- we went because we try mexican restauraunts all over the world and think it’s funny…. BUT… I would also skip that. It’s exactly what you would imagine. Hereford Steakhouse however was incredible from start to finish (www.hereford.is)
8) THE BLUE LAGOON is truly as beautiful and magical as a quick google image search makes it seem. It is also, to be fair, incredibly touristy – but I must say worth it. National Geographic has listed it as one of the 25 modern wonders of the world. It is basically a volcanic hot spring that is an opaque bright blue due to the minerals and high salt content. Your entire body is steamy, but any drips of water on your hair and face freeze into tiny pieces of ice. Although it is indeed touristy ( fully equipped with a swim up wine bar…) I appreciated swimming in this weird natural hot tub with dozens of people all speaking different languages. You are given 2 free bands, one to cover a drink, and one for a face scrub. There are also free boxes of a mineral face mask on the edges of the lagoon. It really does incredible things for your face. Make sure to swim into the small cave located near the large clock. Press a button on the inside for a brief speech on the science behind the lagoon. Many people had water proof cameras which I cannot recommend enough. If it isn’t quite for you, there are many other local pools and hot springs. A smaller local alternative to Blue Lagoon is the Laugar Spa suited with a fitness center, beauty and massage spa, cafe and thermal pools as well. ( www.laugarspa.is)
9) CULTURE: Do a little Icelandic research, because it is a fascinating country. ( Or just visit a ton of museums and films while here…) Only about 320,000 people live here, about the same as live in Buffalo NY. Iceland is the size of Kentucky. Everyone who has EVER lived in Iceland is in the ” Book Of Icelanders”. Everyone is accounted for in detail. Which is actually a beautiful thing in a world where some people are forgotton and some are not registered citizens anywhere. Basically, a Viking got lost on their way from Norway to England, ended up in Iceland, and invited all of his other Viking-like friends to join him. and BOOM. a tiny country started and someone had the brilliant idea of keeping excellent historic account of all of their adventures ,settlements and names. Still to this day. Very few people immigrate into the country – and in some ways what is left is one giant family. While downtown, visit Underneath Hotel Reykjavik and you can see the oldest found home foundation. You can walk through and actually touch. It is an incredible modern museum they literally built around the site. The home was found while the hotel was doing renovations.
Though I didn’t see very many locals out and about, those who we came across were friendly and helpful. Also, though all signs are in icelandic, all students take English in school so we never ran into any huge language barriers. It is a country with a very beautiful population. Miss Universe has reigned from iceland several times. The Prime minister is one of the only world leaders to be openly gay and her direct phone number is listed in the phone book. Overall it is a very liberal and connected population who overcame a lot to create and preserve the country.
Overall- I’d say take a trip there if the ability to is in the cards for your life. Whether or not you can make it all the way to iceland- Keep on Adventurin’ and Keep on Livin. Live like you are on Vacation.
for more adventures with Hope find her on instagram @hopeleigh
and jam to her music Www.meandmrcassidy.webs.com