After such an unexpected, bitterly cold NYC winter, I was much looking forward to leaving my beloved, albeit frozen, big apple for a few days. Who wasn’t stir crazy from too many days inside staying warm. Time to get outta Dodge.
So while most people were flying South, researching affordable airfare to Aruba or package deals to the Mayan Riviera – I welcomed a trip near the Artic… hello REYKJAVIK, ICELAND. Crazy, right? As my friends quipped “were you out sick the day they taught geography? You are headed in the wrong direction…Are you misspelling, and you mean IRELAND not ICELAND!” Such cynicism! So I started to question my internal compass. Perhaps there is an unknown by product of the polar vortex, and my usually sound judgment was severely impaired by NYC temperatures consistently in the teens? Truth be told, the only thing I knew about Iceland is that the great chess champion, Bobby Fisher, lived there. I dimly recalled many global economic summits being held there. I found this reassuring as would the world’s leaders gather in an uninhabitable – albeit neutral – setting? However I was well aware that the Aurora Borealis could be spotted from Iceland and that was enough of a draw for me.
There are no words to describe such a striking event except to expect the unexpected. I was awestruck.
I just couldn’t resist this incredibly inexpensive junket being offered by Icelandair. For a modest $739, including round trip airfare in/out of JFK – a mere 5 and a ½ hour overnight flight- I stayed four nights/five days at the excellently located Center Hotel Plaza which included a full, diverse buffet breakfast every morning. In addition, a 3+ hour cruise out of Reykjavik’s harbor to view the phenomenal “Northern Lights” was included and to further sweeten this deal, a trip to the fabulous Blue Lagoon, a natural, geothermal outdoor pool and accompanying spa, was also a part of this particular package. The Blue Lagoon even threw in a free drink and samples of their natural skincare products.
Needless to say, all the jokes about trolls and elves attacking me in my sleep, sleeping in an igloo, living on reindeer meat, four hours of daylight, and an incomprehensible language did not prove true. Yes, there is a consonant driven Icelandic language but everyone, fortunately, speaks English. There were about 7 – 8 hours of daylight; the sun came out about 10 AM this first week of February. However, come summers, there is almost 24 hours of daylight. I searched high and low, no elves excepting as souvenirs in gift shops. Trolls? Totally subjective! No snow houses anywhere, but many bright, shiny greenhouses for growing vegetables and fruits illuminate this strange landscape.
There is an unearthly beauty to Iceland, it looks like no where else – excepting possibly the surface of the moon – roughly cratered by centuries of lava flow, it is not naturally green and grassy, but eerily earthy and icy.
It’s the natural phenomena unique to this unusual country that present its key attractions. The volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls, glaciers, a rugged yet evenly aligned coastline, and that ultimate sighting – the Aurora Borealis- uniquely define this peaceful little country. Iceland has a tiny population of approx. 320,000 (most of their citizens reside in Reykjavik) no army, and quite literally, a cool, calm, collect way of life. Yes, the city of Reykjavik has its share of interesting museums, especially The National Museum of Iceland, and a wonderful waterfront full of interesting, outdoor artwork acknowledging their Viking heritage, and architecturally bold, modern edifices hosting the day to day operation of a country. And I had a great time walking its hilly streets, browsing some diverse art galleries, shopping for the familiar patterns inherent in Icelandic outerwear (these people know how to stay warm while still looking fashionable) and admiring some lovely residential neighborhoods. But this is an outdoor oriented city gorgeously surrounded by blue skies and serene, snow peaked mountains which constantly remind us to leave the comforts of urban life and come enjoy the natural world.
Oh, lest I forget….it was 35 degrees while I was in Iceland, not a dot of the white stuff, while NYC was snow packed and 22 degrees.
You can rent a car, and quite easily do Iceland’s famous “ring drive.” Experience the wonders of walking on a glacier or under a waterfall; feel the warm earth of a geo thermal terrain while viewing the numerous volcanoes defining this unique habitat; marvel at a spouting geyser, and explore several breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But there are so many affordable bus tours (they pick you up right at your hotel) with knowledgeable, helpful tour guides, why bother? Yet the zenith of this sojourn is the cruise away from the city lights (bundle up, the boats travel an hour and a half north of the city) for a view of the Northern Lights, that ultimate, fantastic neon light show. Passenger only, small cruise ships depart the small harbor of Reykjavik about 9 PM for ideal viewing time around eleven pm. And should there be too much cloud cover preventing this magnificent spectacle, you are welcome, free of charge, to take the cruise over until you finally get the chance to view this wonder of nature. There are no words to describe such a striking event except to expect the unexpected. I was awestruck.
Food is costly, I admit, but oddly enough, Iceland is known for their inexpensive hot dogs (a special kind of lamb is mixed in the beef) and a seemingly limitless selection of beers and burgers. Hearty soups and breads abound (highly recommended) and of course, a fish dinner is the obvious splurge. Walk down to the harbor where numerous seafood restaurants circle Reyjkvik’s small harbor, and order the catch of the day.
Oh, lest I forget….it was 35 degrees while I was in Iceland, not a dot of the white stuff, while NYC was snow packed and 22 degrees. My heavy UGG boots, sweaters socks and thermal tops lay unused, a waste of suitcase space. So all you jokers – and you know who you are – who had the last laugh? Glad I didn’t listen to the naysayes and packed my bathing suit for use in the 80+ degree outdoor, volcanically warmed pool!
Have you experienced your own perfect winter getaway this year? Share below!
By: Joanne Theodorou
This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.