The second I stepped foot off the plane in Keflavik, the full weight of the situation hit me full force. It was cold, rainy and deserted outside (and in, for that matter), which, well, basically sums up Iceland. Who goes to Iceland anyway on vacation during the first week of Icelandic winter?
Apparently, this clueless nomad. Actually, I didn’t know it would be winter already. I knew that summer high season runs from June 15 to September 15 (the exact day I landed), and call me crazy, but I assumed that just meant I would get here around early fall. But wait, it’s Iceland, and there are two seasons: summer, which if you’re lucky can get up into the 70s during the day, and the sun doesn’t set at all; and winter, which occupies the other 9.5 months of the year and is bitterly cold and even more bitterly windy. Like now. From what I’m told it jumped from 50s last week to 30 this week, a dramatic switch, and even the natives are complaining how cold it is. Perhaps I should have packed accordingly. Silly me. Oddly enough, it never really falls below 30s here – even in the height of winter around February – however, the harsh wind coming in from Greenland over the Atlantic makes it feel a good 10, 20 degrees cooler.
Don’t get me wrong, it IS beautiful here. Stunning, breathtaking, picturesque, awe-inspiring, all those words I generally only reserve for Lonely Planet trite usage do apply. After arriving at 6:30am on Saturday, after a sleepless five-hour flight in which I didn’t sleep a wink thanks to God’s little valentine (AKA an annoying, crying child) seated to the left of me did not shut up the entire time, and I mean the entire time (not that I wanted children in the first place, but all of the flying I have done has secured that thought that a family of dogs will be more than enough for me, thank you!), I went through customs and picked up a giant bottle of vodka on the way. Because that’s what you’d do at that hour of the morning when arriving in what many think of as the North Pole, no? I felt ever so slightly odd purchasing alcohol before the sun even rose, but I’d be advised by ever so many tourists and locals alike before my arrival that you WILL want to drink while in Iceland (maybe to distract from the cold?) and you WON’T want to buy a bottle of anything once you get in town, because while I paid $20 for vodka at the airport, the same thing would have cost me upwards of $60 in Reykjavik. I don’t like my liquor that much.
I took the bus straight to my hostel, the Salvation Army, which is apparently the cheapest (at $40 a night, plus $10 a night for a quilt, I hardly find that cheap) and most convenient place in town. Three nights there, then I’m off to CouchSurf the rest of the time. It was miserable when I arrived, and I was worn out, so I checked into my room, which is a four-bed dorm accommodation (oh, and a big sign on the wall saying “ALCOHOL IS PROHIBTED” caught my eye as I unpacked my vodka – oops, guess that’s why it’s a Christian hostel!), but as it’s no longer high season I have the whole place to myself, and passed out until about 3pm. When I woke up, I called James, an Aussie CouchSurfer I was supposed to meet up with, and went over to his house on the city’s second main street Hverifsgata, where he lives with his Icelandic girlfriend Hanna. Now, I don’t know what I was expecting when meeting my first Icelander, but Hanna is the craziest, coolest, most off-the-wall person I have ever met traveling, as were all of her friends she introduced me to that night. I am in love the people here….how can you not be?
James and Hanna had two CouchSurfers staying over, Eva and Eva from Slovakia, and we (and when I say we, I mean they) cooked a big dinner and sat around drinking and talking until midnight, when I went out for my first runtur. A runtur is basically a massive pub crawl that all Icelanders partake in every Friday and Saturday night. It starts with dinner and drinks at a friend’s house, because it is imperative that you get as inebriated as you like before going out seeing as a drink (beer even!) starts at $10 a pop! We waited for Hanna’s friend Signy then went to a series of pubs and clubs – that’s where the evening’s events begin to get a little hazy – until the jetlag and exhaustion set in, at which point I headed back to my hostel a little after 5am, which was conveniently around the corner, and passed out until well into the next afternoon – my first night in Iceland a sure success.