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29 March 2011

Iceland #1: First Impressions of Ísland

Upon arriving at the Keflavik International Airport (about an hour southwest of Reykjavik, the capital) at 6:30am, we made our sleepy way to the rental car counters. An arbitrary decision to choose Hertz resulted in a very expensive rental of an automatic car (I recommend you learn to drive manual before renting a car in another country). We headed out to the parking lot and wandered around for a while until we found the corresponding license plate. Our first impression was "wow! this is fancy/cool. woooo heated seats!". (This did not last long once we realized the ground clearance was very very low... more on that later.) It also managed to make itself look like a car commercial in every location we parked it. I'm not sure whether this was a function of the location or the car.  

In accordance with my favorite writing style (lists), these were our first impressions of Iceland!

Somehow everything in Iceland looks epic
It seemed like every landscape, waterfall, mountain, beach, and herd of horses we encountered was very visually dramatic. Maybe it was the stark contrast between the snow and black lava, or maybe it was the way the sun would shine at an angle through the ever present layer of clouds. I'm not a particularly good photographer, nor is my camera very fancy, but my ratio of exciting to boring pictures was much higher on this trip...

Iceland smells like sulfur
. We noticed this as soon as we left the airport. Now that I think about it, we must have gotten used to it because we stopped noticing it after about the first day. The hot water in Reykjavik smelled very strongly like sulfur though...

Anywhere outside Reykjavik feels very deserted
- at least in the winter time. Every once in a while we would pass a car driving by on the ring road (the road that goes all the way around the island), but it wasn't a common occurrence. For the first few days, when we were traveling along the southern coast, we actually had a hard time finding food. The only places that are open reliably in the winter are convenience stores on gas stations. This impression may have been exacerbated by the fact that we arrived at 6am on a Sunday, and everything was closed all day...

This is one of the few countries where we could pass as a natives. Although nearly everyone speaks English, we were almost always first greeted in Icelandic, after which an awkward look of confusion quickly converted the conversation to English. I guess I have to go to 65 degrees north - one parallel from the Arctic Circle - a place where people are incredibly pale and light-haired, to fit in.

It kind of looks like the moon (or Colorado in the winter time...). Big expanses of very level yet bumpy lava fields punctuated by nearly vertical cliffs down to the ocean and up to the mountains.

Traffic lights make sense! In addition to having a single yellow light as a warning to slow down for the upcoming red light, they use the yellow light when transitioning from red to green by having both red and yellow illuminated. This makes it so there isn't as much of a lag time from when one direction of traffic stops and the other starts.

On a similar transportation note, HUGE tires (and studded tires) are very prevalent. These can be very helpful when getting around anywhere outside Reykjavik in the winter. More on that later... 

The yogurt is amazing. I was recently informed that Icelandic yogurt is the next yogurt rage after Greek yogurt, and I'm in full support. The brand that's popular there is Skyr. Yum!!

The dried fish is not so amazing. Found in any convenience store, these bags of fishy smelling strips of haddock make you feel like you're chewing on leather that tastes like rotten sardines. We had to be really hungry to try these.

This last impression wasn't really a "first impression." It was more of a conclusion that we came to with some other travelers in our hostel. Iceland does an amazing job of screening the photos you find online so that you manage to (wrongfully) convince yourself that it never snows there. There is snow in Iceland for most of the year! Don't let your Google image search for Iceland convince you otherwise...


Simon said...

Technically, skyr is the type of yogurt; not the brand ( Also, in exciting news, some Whole Foods in New England apparently carry skyr. I'll be investigating shortly.

Rabindra Parajuli said...

Can't wait to read more and more and more and more!

Have fun Nena Ji:)