To start my official time abroad I left Michigan on Thursday morning and set out for Boston to catch my eventual international flight to Iceland. Six months ago after initial planning I never really thought I'd start things off in Iceland on this trip, but here I am, 15 hours later, sleep deprived, and a lot of jet lag later.
I arrived in Iceland early on Friday morning while figuring out bag pickup and cheap booze purchases from the duty free, I made some new friends in the airport who I ultimately ended up spending the entire next few days with roaming throughout the country (more in the next post about all of that). We hopped on a bus from the airport in Keflavik, a former NATA military base and about 45 minutes outside of the city of Reykjavik (Reich-a-veek as the locals pronounce it), the capital of Iceland and by far its largest city.
Because our arrival was so early, we had a very peaceful and relaxing drive with little traffic following the 3:45 a.m. sunrise. Similar to Alaska, the sun sets for only a couple of hours here in the summer, providing long, seemingly endless days to the typical outsider. The city, as you can imagine, was undeniably dead for the first few hours we roamed around, but we managed to find some places that were open. The hostel where I would be staying allowed us to drop our bags and leave them in the storage room throughout the day until we could check in in the afternoon. Since it also had free wifi (something very important to a traveler with no phone plan) we used this as our home base for much of the first day. We found a bakery, as well, that opened quite early and spent some time there in the morning getting some pastries and coffee to hold us over until later in the day. I hadn't had much dinner the night before and my body was still adjusting to the time zone and lack of sleep, so food was the most important thing to me at that point in the day.
Following breakfast we spent time roaming around the city, visiting the church in the center of town and the Leif Erikson statue in front of it. For a Friday, I expected the biggest city in Iceland to be a lot more busy, but even through the late morning it was quite dead. It wasn't until lunch when we stopped by a small cafe for some sandwiches that I noticed any sort of crowd starting to pick up.
Iceland is a country of only a little over 320,000 people, of which nearly two-thirds of the population lives around the main capital city, Reykjavik. Reykjavik itself is really interesting and old city, full of small cafes, sandwich shops, a shopping center, and a LOT of tourism hubs for the all-too-common outdoor adventurer here looking for an adventure like myself. Iceland has been exploding recently with tourism, recently getting ranked as one of the top countries to visit by Forbes in 2015. The typical tourist here is more of what you'd expect in Alaska or Montana: rugged and outdoorsy types who are camping next to a waterfall or hitch hiking alone around the island. I imagine that within a few years, Iceland will be booming with higher numbers of visitors. The country is still relatively undeveloped in terms of infrastructure, but I see that changing soon, especially around the Reykjavik area. If you plan to visit Iceland, look at doing it sooner rather than later. I'm a big fan of visiting places I feel are relatively undiscovered or untouched, and Iceland will quickly lose that identification.
Once we walked around Reykjavik for a while, we decided to start working out some of our hostel arrangements. The group I met up with in Boston were four friends from college doing a month long Euro trip. They're hostel was a bit out of town, so I tagged along with them to their digs for the night as I still wasn't able to check into mine. Once there, we relaxed for a bit, showered, and decided on our plans for the rest of the day. Napping was a must, but we worked out a reservation to go fishing as well on into the North Atlantic for the afternoon. As if this day wasn't already jam packed enough.
After some naps, our fishing trip left around five in the afternoon, full of local Icelanders looking for a fun evening with their families. There were others on our trip as well, mainly from the Scandinavian countries or northern Europe, but we were the only Americans out there. Actually, during my time in Iceland I've noticed very few groups of Americans. It's mainly Europeans on summer vacation. They really know how to take vacations a lot better than Americans like I'm used to, balancing work and real life much more effectively than I've seen anywhere at home. It still boggles my mind that the U.S. hasn't adopted this method for personal health reasons. Though many companies back home give a lot for U.S. standards (2-3 weeks), it doesn't even come close to what Europe or Oceania do.
Our fishing trip was a great time and lasted the entire afternoon right up until dinner. We were fishing for cod and whitefish mainly, and brought in a good amount throughout the afternoon . Following fishing, our captain and first mate grilled up the fish we caught right on the boat and prepared us some dinner for the night. It couldn't have been much fresher than that.
Once back in port, we made our way back to the hostel to get ready for a night out in Reykjavik. It's a pricey place, but we decided we needed to experience a weekend night here at least once before heading out of the country. Friday's in Reykjavik certainly didn't disappoint, and the locals enjoy a good time out just as much as the rest of us.
I'll be tagging along for a road trip with the same crew across the southern part of the island through the weekend before heading off to Northern Ireland on Wednesday morning, the cheapest way to get off this island was flying to Belfast. Unfortunately for me, I'll be stuck on another island yet again and will need to once again figure out how to get off that one too. I guess that's what traveling is all about.