Saturday, July 6, 2013

Iceland: In Retrospect

Iceland has been a wonderful experience, and I'm really glad we went there for our (much delayed) honeymoon, but there had been some challenges we've faced these past few weeks.

The beds are small, and, with one exception, have all been two twin beds, usually pushed together (except for one night, when they were against separate walls). Ed is a large man, and there's not much he can do to shrink his six-foot-five-inch self. The joke was that one of us would fall between the beds sometime during the middle during the night. 

Ditto with the showers. Water went everywhere.  It was difficult to scrub oneself without hitting a wall or shower curtain, and Ed often wasn't able to stand up completely if he wanted to wash his hair.

The place we rented the past week has allowed us to do laundry for free, which has been very much appreciated. But the drying process takes upwards of three hours or longer. I've made multiple trips up and down to check on the state of our laundry. (The last place we rented, where we stayed for a week, was on the cheap side and not the three-stars it was given: The non-carpeted floors weren't swept so we dirt got tracked everywhere, including the beds; we got a bath mat as often as not; the dish detergent that had been low when we arrived was later filled with water; the bathroom was so tiny that sometimes we had trouble getting in or out of it, and the glass shelf that was above the sink was so close to it, I couldn't actually wash my face in the sink.)

Iceland heats its water geothermally, which means the warm and hot water smells strongly sulfuric. And that's all I'll say about that.

Those are relatively minor complaints, non-issues in the long run - and the only bad things I have to say about Iceland in general or Europe as a continent (I've encountered problems with small beds and small showers in other European countries). However, we came away from our trip with a lot of appreciation for what Iceland has to offer, as well as a few ideas of what turned out well and what we could have done differently.

We encountered genuinely kind, helpful, patient people who didn't make us feel awkward for being confused, loud, English-speaking Americans. I tend to feel self-conscious about traveling to non-English or non-German speaking countries; I feel like I should apologize for not having learned their language, but really, one can only learn an indefinite number of foreign languages, and it's ridiculous to think that one should be fluent for short, perhaps one-time trips. A few key phrases would probably have been helpful, but nearly everyone we encountered spoke English fluently. I do admit I loved sometimes being greeted in Icelandic and presumed to be a local.

There were so many things to see: Lots of different types of landscapes (the volcanic lava rock fields continue to just astound me; they're some of the most amazing landscapes I've ever seen), glaciers and icebergs, many opportunities to go whale-watching or puffin-watching, scuba diving, different types of walking or jeep tours, the list goes on. We even could have gone inside a volcano if we could have justified paying $300 per person, but with all our other travel expenses, it was just a bit too much for us on this particular trip.

The Ring Road was absolutely worthwhile doing. We should have spent an extra night between Egilsstaðir and Reykjavik (we spent a night in Höfn, which is to the south of Egilsstaðir and east of Reykjavik), and perhaps spent one or two fewer nights in Reykjavik, which has a fine offering of art museums we could have spent several days visiting, but neither of us is especially interested in the visual arts. We should have spent a day or two in the West Fjords; this was the only part of Iceland we didn't visit, but we didn't think we'd have time. Spending a night in the West Fjords and a day or two fewer in Reykjavik would have been a good idea. By the end of the trip we felt like we were stretching to fill the last day and a half in Reykjavik.

Our day trip around the Golden Circle was also a wonderful experience; we saw a geyser, a crater, an old church, and the original Alining, where the General Assembly of the Parliament was established in 930 AD.

Wearing hiking boots and jackets (I brought one with a hood) and bringing an umbrella were all really good moves. We did not plan for any formal evenings out so we didn't pack any formal clothing, which would have taken up needless space. We had a few days of warm, sunny weather; the rest of the time, even if it was sunny, it never got warmer than the mid-50s, and often it rained. The hiking boots were especially great to have, if only because they made it easier to tromp all over the place and climb over things, which were often done unexpectedly.

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