Don’t be confused – obviously, if you don’t live in this amazing island country already and you are not a sailor, getting on a plane is how you go to Iceland ! What I really mean is how you could make your trip even more memorable, although if you have functioning senses and a decent mind, the geological wonders and fresh air should be enough to make your time there pretty unforgettable already. But in all reality, who am I to tell you how to enjoy Iceland ? I am just a girl from Hong Kong who travelled with four Lithuanians and had a great time in our ugly Citroen Berlingo on the roads of Iceland. If I were to make one conclusion, that will be don’t take anyone’s word and just go and explore Iceland by yourself !
Due to its isolated location from the rest of Europe, Iceland is not commonly regarded as a weekend getaway destination (although flight from London is short and Reykjavik nightlife is awesome so if you want that then maybe). After my trip I confirmed that Iceland is really only for people who appreciate and want to be close to the perfectly-preserved nature with a sense of respect and eco-responsibility. Of course you can stay however long and wherever you want but to get the most out of your trip, you’d have to go out and hike.
Also, I know I sound creepy but I really enjoyed the conversations (or even just encounters) I had with the Icelandic people. It was interesting firstly because there aren’t that many of them in the world and I hadn’t seen any Icelanders in Hong Kong. Secondly because they were very friendly and we definitely share the same dark sense of humour.
A lady on the bus stroke up a conversation with us and told us how she helps at her friend’s farm every summer to give birth to lamb babies (animated with fierce arm pulling motion). On our shuttle bus to the airport we asked the young driver if we could put our bags at the back compartment and he just responded, “No.” with a straight face, which of course shocked us and made us laugh one second later. Stella, the owner of a country hostel in the Westfjords, has been running the place with her 50-year old son for more than 10 years and still keeping up with technology and the latest online marketing tools. It would also be hard for me to forget that Icelandic teen who was studying when I waved at their window and asked for directions to our airbnb apartment in a small town, as well as the even younger Iceland boy (3 years old) who got called by Auksė as a “guy”. You would think Icelanders are cold because of their cold weather, but once you get to know them … it’s lot of fun.
We went in September/ October and we enjoyed quite a lot of the sunny weather leftovers with only a few mild showers. Of course there were windy and cloudy days, but it only made us appreciate the good weather more. Temperature wise – chilly cold but never below 4 degrees (estimated by my skin) if you are in the city and 2 degrees when on top of a fjord. If it got really cold for you, I recommend dancing to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and Backstreet Boys’ Everybody with your mates. You will be warmed up immediately and you get a group hug afterwards.
The only shame was that ferries to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve stopped running from September. But it’s the beginning of the Northern Lights season, so fine by me. I will just come back in summer.
2. Where (Accomodation)
When you are five in a group, the best thing to do is rent apartments on airbnb. They have everything for a household and you can cook (i.e. saving money on expensive dine-outs), do your laundry or just watch Icelandic TV. Go wild and pick a summerhouse out of the ring road … they probably have an outdoor hot tub on the wooden terrace. I myself definitely reached a qualia climax when we were sitting in the jacuzzi watching the northern lights. It was our private jacuzzi and it felt like the lights danced only for us … even just for one hour, there was nothing more we could ask for from the nature.
Also all homes in Iceland have dishwashers and the same IKEA dish towels (checked blue and white).
Get a driver in and rent a car. Install a music app on your phone (I recommend downloading Joox right before the trip so you get the most out of its VIP free trial services like no ads) and let everyone add their favourite songs on the playlist. Buses in Iceland are good … but it requires a lot of effort to figure out which station is where and sometimes they are late. Also, since the buses don’t come very often (like once every 30 mins), they will limit your freedom to move around the country at any time you want.
4. What (Destinations and Activities) – Stay tuned for the next post for a detailed itinerary
We only had 10 days and we wanted to see places properly, so we decided not to rush through the Ring Road. Here are our three main destinations :
Reykjavik – as expected, a lot of tourists everywhere. Most of them Asian families (because they are so rich) and Americans (as new flights opened up). Nightlife is awesome.
Snæfellsnes Peninsula – the most magical place to drive around randomly, and we stayed in the coolest hostel ever named.
The Westfjords – where we stayed in a summer house with no wifi for three days. I personally had the most fun there.
Definitely with four Lithuanians. First of all it makes a great story on the road and in the pictures – what is this Asian doing with four gorgeous blondies ? Then there comes the advantages of travelling with Lithuanians – they will bring loads of and constantly offer you food, they will argue (or discuss serious things) in Lithuanian but it sounds so mild and you won’t know what they are talking about so you can be the comfortable outsider who has nothing to do with missing the turn or dividing the bill. Can’t agree ? Just imagine travelling with four Germans instead. Or four French people – everything they say in French sounds like sex and you won’t want to miss out. Four Scandinavians ? Well their English is so perfect, you will be in every single conversation including the difficult ones. And I think the world already knows the decibel level of “passionate and expressive” Chinese tourists.
Truth to be told, it was a pleasant experience travelling with my four Lithuanians – the Auksė, Ieva, Solveiga and Sasha. It was more than pleasant actually, they restored a bit of my faith in humanity. Being stuck with them in a summer house in the middle of nowhere with no wifi for three days was actually pretty fun, and I found each of their little perks interesting instead of annoying. I would really enjoy being on another trip with them if we could make it work. However I am still a bit reserved on the infectious stupidity in one of them and may require external supervision when both of us are left alone.
6. How much
I am not rich at all but since I came all the way from Hong Kong, I had the feeling that I needed to do whatever I could to fully enjoy Iceland because I don’t know when I will be able to come back. I’d rather skip lunch for the next month than lying on my bed one night regretting not to go on that kayaking or horseback riding trip just because it was expensive. I’d say Iceland wasn’t that expensive if you shop in supermarkets outside the capital. Don’t eat chicken or beef but vegetables, fish and Pringles (and liquorice).
7. What else ?
Bag your best cameras (“take only pictures and leave only footprints) and just bring a fucking tripod (imagine why I am so angry). Otherwise you’d have to put your camera on top of the car to capture the northern lights (and they are still blurry).
In terms of hiking equipments: nothing is ever a “must” … but the more well-prepared you are the easier the hike will be (and the less likely that you will die). If you have a windproof jacket or anti-slippery hiking shoes, you won’t have to suffer so badly from the harsh wind or wet mud getting onto your feet. Unfortunately I didn’t have either of those so I just wrapped my thick scarf around my head and watched carefully each of my steps. It was definitely clumsy and I might have missed the view from paying too much attention on the path. I am not advising anyone against getting proper equipments, but I had limited budget for something that I will not be using so often in Hong Kong, so I used common sense and paid extra attention.
Lastly, just go, shut up and feel. Nothing needs to be said when you have pure nature all to yourself.