Halló, Ísland! First Impressions of Iceland

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Vik, Iceland Vik, Iceland © Amie Yeung

Iceland has been on my top 10 list of places to see since I was a teenager. Why? I’m not quite sure. I recall looking at a globe, fascinated with the wonders of the world. Somehow, our planet is home to over 7 billion people, spread out over nearly 200 countries.

Iceland, other than Antarctica, seemed to epitomize images of extreme cold – a place where nobody could possibly live, right? Of course, I was probably about 16 years old, never having traveled outside of Ontario, Canada, so what did I know? But at that time, Iceland seemed like a galaxy away. It was not on any top 10 places to visit list. It was never written about in any travel sections of the newspaper. It was never featured on any travel show on television. It seemed like a lost world, a place that needed to be explored.

Fast forward 11 years, and I can now cross Iceland off my bucket list. In 2010, I finally fulfilled a childhood dream.

At the time, I was living in Vancouver, British Columbia. A dear friend of mine was jetting off to Europe and I thought, “Hey, I wonder if there are any cheap flights to Iceland?” This was, of course, the year that Eyjafjallajökull erupted -- much to the chagrin of news anchors around the world whom had to stumble over the pronounciation of Eyjafjallajökull -- and caused major travel headaches all across Europe. This, coupled with Iceland’s economy, likely had something to do with the ultra cheap flight -- less than $500 direct and roundtrip! I was able to snap up at the time). I had asked a few friends if they were interested in going, but as expected, there were not many takers! After weeks of hounding, my dear friend finally said yes, she will meet in Iceland, and so, she purchased a ticket from London to Reykjavik.

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Upon arrival in Reykjavik, it was obvious that an amazing journey was about to happen. Note: I am an extremely organized traveler. Most of our excursions or tours were booked weeks in advance.

We partook in snorkeling (in November, mind you), horseback riding in Þingvellir, bus tours to see the geysers, a day trip to the Blue Lagoon (for the most memorable birthday ever!), and we did rent a car to drive around Iceland and stumbled across breathtaking scenery - beautiful mountains, black sand beaches, the infamous volcanoes, frozen waterfalls, empty roads, icebergs, and towns that seemed almost abandoned. Although Iceland is the 18th largest island in the world, its total population is just over 300,000, with most of those living in the Greater Reykjavik Area, so as we drove further away from Reykjavik, it got more isolated. Our primary goal with this car rental was to find a place desolate enough to experience the Northern Lights. Alas, luck was not on our side and we never did catch this phenomenon (*insert super sad/disappointed/heartbroken face here*).

Of course, all this traveling makes a person hungry! We were both really intrigued with what constitutes Icelandic cuisine. I did do some research beforehand, and one of Iceland’s delicacies is hákarl, or cured and fermented shark that has been hung to dry for a few months (it’s often called rotten shark). Well, by this point we had already tried whale and puffin sashimi, so I do not think our stomachs could have handled eating rotten shark :) Afterall, Anthony Bourdain did declare that fermented shark was one of the worst things he has ever eaten. Another popular item on menus seemed to be horse, and since we had already gone horseback riding and fell in love with our horses, that was also out of the question :). So, did our palettes enjoy anything? Yes! Iceland’s proximity to the North Atlantic Ocean meant that we expected some delicious fish, and delicious fish we had!

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Overall, Iceland was everything that I had hoped and dreamed of. Although we weren’t adventurous enough to try some of the Icelandic dishes, we thoroughly enjoyed each and every minute in this beautiful country with its friendly people and diverse culture. I can only hope to someday return and see more of what this country has to offer.

Amie Yeung

finding the extraordinary in the ordinary

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0 # Rome and Ice 2012-09-18 21:36
I begged and pleaded with all of my friends to take a trip to Iceland shortly after the volcano erupted. Airfare from New York City was very affordable. There were no takers, though. Sounds like you had an experience that I'm very jealous of. How was snorkeling in November?
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0 # Derek Freal 2012-08-05 16:09
Smart move visiting while the airlines prices were low -- that is in IMO the worst part about traveling, the high cost of airfare. And lucky you for visiting Iceland, that is still on my "must visit" list. The rest of your friends (except for the one who went with, obviously) are crazy! If I'd have been there I would have been racing you to the airline ticket booth LOL ;) Keep up the travels!
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