Monday, June 26, 2017

Reykjavik: 24 hours, 24 notes

I did the thing. You know, the thing that's all the millennial rage where you can get a "free" layover in Iceland for up to 7 days when you fly transatlantic with WOW or Icelandair?

[First, a warning: it's nothing new, but budget airlines are not as cheap as they seem.
Every time I fly budget, I tell myself "never again" because of all the extra fees and the added inconveniences, but then when it comes time to book, those sweet sweet low fares always reel me back in...there are many times when flying budget is a good idea - if you are going on a short trip without much luggage, if you're a person who doesn't need much leg room, if you don't care about the frills of regular air travel (which are sparse enough as it is). Don't just compare airfares; before you book, make sure you factor in the additional fees that generally come with flying budget, such as:
  • transportation to/from the secondary airports budget airlines often use (WOW flies out of Baltimore, not Dulles; Ryan Air often uses Stansted or Luton instead of Heathrow)
  • the food and snacks you'll buy (at airport prices?) since the airlines generally don't have free meals on board
  • high fees to check a bag - and sometimes even to carry on more than a "personal item"
  • sometimes you must print your own boarding pass before check-in or pay a fee - will you be able to find a printer while traveling? 
  • having to buy stuff in-country that you couldn't fit into your carry on
Anyway, that's my warning, now on to Iceland!]

I was in Reykjavik from 3:30 pm on a Wednesday, until 3:30 pm on a Thursday, here are 13 things I learned, saw, or noticed in my 24 hours.

1. It's we taxied on the runway after landing, my first glimpse of the landscape was the wind whipping up twisting coils of red dust across a low bumpy field of volcanic rock.

2. It's COLD! Late May, and I was wishing I had gloves and a hat. I only had a light, thigh length coat, and a scarf, and I was getting pretty creative with layering and wrapping so I didn't freeze! Especially with the whipping wind - worse near the port (although that's where you get the best views from the city).  

3. Many shops don't have set hours - they either open "upon request" or, for some bakeries and small cafes, just whenever the owner arrives; this is particularly true in the winter when there are less tourists in Reykjavik and locals tend to stay inside more.

4. The city seems to me a sort of Alaskan fishing town in the Swiss Alps. It has a definite European/Nordic feel, but mixed with the wild nature of the vast, empty North American expanses. When you walk down the center of the city, with Hallgrímskirkja Church at your back, the streets are laid out so you can see all the way down to the harbor, and the mountains* across the water - that is an amazing view, flanked by small colored houses, that really creates the fishing town feel. On the other side, with the harbor behind you, looking past Hallgrímskirkja, you see mountains rising up in the distance along with church steeples that have a strong Alpine feel.

5. I knew Iceland was expensive, but hot damn! In 24 hours I spent $132: airport transfer, dinner, a magnet souvenir, coffee and pastry dessert, breakfast (skyr, coffee, pastry), coffee. Prices at the airport are actually less than outside, because they avoid some tax - I recommend stocking up on basics there. 

$13 for a Ben and Jerry's pint!!

6. I spent $43 just on the airport transfer. It was soooo easy and convenient, though, I would recommend it - I purchased it on the plane from the flight attendant (available on WOW and Icelandair, just ask), and it was a door to door, round trip service, no hassle, minimal wait

7. The famed Icelandic yogurt, called skyr, is great!! As I consider myself a yogurt connoisseur, I was so excited to try skyr in its homeland, but while it is delicious and smooth and rich, it's not really miles above Greek or other 'traditional' yogurt products...

8. Icelandic people are broad shouldered and tall. Lots of blondes, but lots of brunettes too. Lots of beards...

9. Icelandic people (by the admission of three locals who I accosted with my cultural questions) are not particularly romantic. I was told that people rarely do big proposals or grand gestures. More of a snuggle up fireside bunch.

10. Icelandic people have a wicked sense of humor. From the sarcastic, self deprecating comments of my waiter and the tourism officer workers, to the bawdy comics of Hugleikur Dagsson (and others) that are popular amongst locals and tourists alike, Icelandic "gálgahúmor" (black humor) is itself worth a visit!

11. Icelanders are more religious than I would expect for a northern European country. 94.8% of people are registered in some religious group...but actually, nowhere near that many people regularly attend church. 
pic courtesy of Moore Travel Tips

12. As every article about Iceland is obligated to mention, more than half the population believes in elves! Interesting historical folk and traditional roots - worth a read. 

13. They have some great pastries in Iceland! Many are borrowed from Denmark, but there are a few originals as well. And THIS is the correct way to eat a kleina

*I read here that, in fact, Iceland has no mountains - it's just rocky ground punctuated by deep glacial valleys that make it look like mountains...but I find that quite hard to believe - regardless of the geological classification, it certainly looks like Reykjavik is ringed by mountains!

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