Some reflections upon my time there (ETA, added a few more on July 20, 2013)
- Like all Scandinavian countries, Icelanders speak excellent English. Everyone speaks English. And not halting English, but a fluent English that demonstrates their mastery command of it. They speak English so well that my mother and I both thought that at times it felt like we never left the US.
- Icelanders are extraordinarily friendly and helpful people. We felt very comfortable with everyone.
- Icelanders seem to be quite outdoorsy.
- They are also unfailingly polite and courteous. Once I needed to make a left turn, but I realized this a little too late. I was in the wrong lane and couldn’t switch over to the turn lane because we were all stopped for a red light. I put on my left light blinker hoping that after all the cars in the turn lane had gone, I would be able to slip in. The car in the turn lane behind me saw my blinker and immediately let me in. I was floored. This would NEVER happen in the States.
- When driving on a single lane highway, Icelander indicate that you should pass them by flashing their right blinker. In addition they will not pass you until you give them the right blinker OK. I didn’t know this and a car patiently followed me for well over an hour until it finally realized that I had no clue. Until I figured this little system out, I wondered why the driver wasn’t passing me considering there was plenty of room. In the US, the other driver would have been a little obnoxious with me and indicated that they wanted to pass by tailgating and flashing high beam lights. Icelanders – never. Again unfailingly polite.
- Touring (camping with bikes) is quite popular. I saw several people doing this while driving.
- So is hitchhiking.
- The Icelandic hot dog, pylsur, is a national obsession. You should definitely get one while you’re in Iceland. I don’t care for hot dogs, so my mom ate one for me. The sausage is made of pork, beef, and lamb. What’s makes the Icelandic hot dog different from American ones are the sauces and condiments. A hot dog with the works has ketchup, remulade (a mayonnaise based sauce), mustard, raw onion, and crispy fried onions. The best hot dog stand, Bæjarins beztu pylsur, is in downtown Reykjavik.
- Airbnb is great in Iceland. I was looking for a well-priced, clean, and comfortable place to stay in Reykjavik. The nicer hotels were pricier than what I wanted to pay. The ones in my budget were grungy looking. For the same price of the cheap hotels, I had my choice of all sorts of clean and pleasant apartments that my mom and I could stay in. I chose one that was near downtown (in retrospect, I would care less about staying in the center of town because we didn’t do much in Reykjavik itself) and where we had the whole place to ourselves.
- Getting a GPS navigator for the car rental was one of the best decisions I made. I found navigating the streets and highways confusing without it because your ability to choose the right turn off in one of the million traffic circles that they have is based on your knowledge of their geography. If you just arrived in Iceland, you don’t know where anything is.
- Don’t be 100% reliant on GPS. If your final destination is a remote place or on an unmarked road, GPS will get you somewhere near your destination and you’ll drive about bit hoping that you’ll accidentally stumble upon your final destination.
- Highlights of my trip were: riding an Icelandic horse, soaking in the Blue Lagoon, see icebergs and a glacier at Jökulsárlón, and walking behind Seljalandsfoss.
- Other memorable moments were: seeing Thingvellir, Geysir, Gullfoss, Skogafoss, and taking my mom to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, really, I did that to her. Why? Because I wanted to see if I could shock her. I failed. That women is unflappable. The museum is an interesting curiosity. You can read more about it here.
- While it was nice to splurge at Blue Lagoon, it really isn’t necessary to get all of its enjoyment. I recommend just getting the 40 Euro entrance fee and skipping the extras (or get them a la carte if you really want something in particular). Go after you have a nice lunch. Bring your own towel (or you can rent one quite cheaply). Bathrobes and slippers are not needed. Blue Lagoon provides free salica salt scrubs, so you can get a facial scrub without having to pay extra.
- Although I was worried about having astronomical sightseeing costs (partially because car rental is not as cheap as in the US and gas is VERY expensive), it turned out that Iceland was no more expensive than my usual vacation. Many (if not all) of the sites are completely free. I didn’t pay a single entry fee fee for Geysir, Thingvellir, and all of the waterfalls.
- We also saved money by bringing our own food. Partially it was to save money. The other reason is that my mother is a little old Korean lady who needs her Korean food. For her two-week trip, we packed a suitcase full of rice and Korean ramen AND another box full of other Korean food and noodles. We’ve done this several times and got this down to a science.
- Don’t leave filling the gas at the last minute. Without an Icelandic credit card, you need to be at a gas station that has an attendant, which means you need to fill up during working hours. Occasionally at the larger station there may be a machine where you can pay cash to fill your tank, but it doesn’t give change back. Thank goodness there was an Icelander to help me because I had no idea how to use that machine.