Next month I’ll be enjoying a bit of culture in Iceland, which has been top of my bucket-list for too long, and I cannot wait. I’ve been reading loads of blogs about the place, so feel as though I know it well already. Although it’s a really popular destination now, there are plenty of people who ask “what are you going there for?” – it’s too dark, cold, and expensive they say. Well I hope to prove them wrong…
1. It’s too cold
You may think there’s a clue in the name. But according to legend, the country’s Viking settlers who had fled Norway liked it so much they decided to call it Iceland to dissuade outsiders from turning up. Some people have a saying “Greenland is ice, Iceland is green”. Whether this is true or not, I’m expecting it to be pretty nippy in March, maybe not too different to a UK winter.
The Gulf Stream passes the south of the country warming things up, so although the interior, the north and the east are going to get a bit parky Reykjavik shouldn’t be too bad. Lonely Planet even says the south west tip of Iceland gets “hot summers and mild winters”. Regardless, I’ve got a new woolly hat, thermal gloves and thick socks, and am considering getting long-johns just in case.
2. It’s too dark
As Reykjavik is the world’s most northerly capital, on the edge of the Arctic circle, days can be very short. If I was going in January, I’d have less than five hours’ daylight – the sun would rise after 11am and set before 4pm. In summer it’s the opposite, getting dark at midnight, and then light again at 3am – my trip in March shouldn’t be anywhere near these two extremes, and close to what I get back home.
One upside of the dark days is the chance to see the Northern Lights. If I’m very lucky with weather conditions and light pollution, I might get to see this strange phenomenon of bright colours sparkling in the sky.
3. It’s too expensive
This is the one I’m a little nervous about, and fear it may be true. Having said that, flights and accommodation are both very reasonable. Iceland’s Keflavik airport is on the budget airline route with easyjet and wowair flying there, while IcelandAir have just launched flights from my local airport, Birmingham. I was surprised to find hotels are a lot cheaper than other European cities, with lots of hostel options too – could Reykjavik be a budget traveller’s destination?
I doubt it, and am dreading the high booze and restaurant prices. I’ve heard a lot of people advise stocking-up on alcohol from duty-free, but for me one of the joys of travel is to drink local beers in local bars (this will be my epitaph). It sounds like I might need to extend my Visa card’s credit limit, or take advantage of happy-hours.
Hopefully the effects of the financial crash of 2008 will have a positive impact on my wallet, but I’ll have to wait and see.
4. The food is horrendous
Being so isolated, Iceland tries to be self-sufficient and relies on its own produce rather than importing where possible. This means lots of lamb (not my favourite meat) and sea-food, with as little waste as possible. Sheep’s head with mash and whale-meat on a stick, anyone?
But any country where there are precisely zero McDonalds is doing something right. Apparently the last ever meal bought at Reykjavik’s branch (before it closed due to the economic problems) is now on display at one of the city’s hostels – one tourist attraction I might skip.
I’ve heard good things about the hot-dogs, fish and chips and lobster soup, so I won’t waste away over there.
5. They’re rubbish at football
This is one myth I can bust before I go. You may not have heard of the top domestic clubs Valur and KR, but you’ll probably know some Icelandic players who have played in England such as Siggi Jonsson, Joey Gudjonsson, Gylfi Siggurdson and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
For a country with a population of 320,000 (about the same as Coventry), Iceland punches above its weight at international football, and narrowly missed out on a place at the 2014 World Cup by losing a play-off against Croatia. They have a decent chance of qualifying for Euro 2016, having already beaten The Netherlands and Turkey in qualifying.
With six Reykjavik clubs in the premier Úrvalsdeild division, I’d love to get to a game, but as the season runs from May to October I’ll be out of luck. Bizarrely, the league’s top goalscorer for the past two seasons has been an Englishman, former Middlesbrough trainee Gary Martin.
I’ll be happy if some myths I’ve heard are true: unbelievably fresh air, the best tasting tap water around, no crime, everyone’s in a band, legendary nightlife.
Whether I can bust the other myths or not remains to be seen, but one thing for sure is I’ve never looked forward to a trip as much as this one. Iceland seems to be one of those countries everyone falls in love with and vows to return to again and again.
***Do you have any tips for me?***
***Is it really that expensive?***
***Which football team should I support?***
***And should I get those long-johns?***