To Visit Iceland Again

Dec 17, 2013 by

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Iceland was a place I approached with little research and expectation. It was a place, however, that I knew I would like. Anyone I’ve ever spoken to about Iceland has told me how spectacular it is.

Arriving in Keflavik, and knowing we had 2 nights there was, let’s just say, a little less than an inspiring way to start our journey. Yes it was grey, yes it was misty, but I usually like this kind of setting. Nothing sends my imagination spinning more than a moody backdrop to my day. This particular welcome to Iceland was anticlimactic, and I wondered what I had gotten myself into for the first time that trip.

The cab driver grunted as he hoisted our bags into the trunk of his car. We smiled our thanks, and he ignored us, grunting again as he settled into his seat. I showed him the address and the map I’d printed from our couchsurfing host, the driver returning a confused look, not knowing the address. He then made a couple of phone calls and was driving with enough confidence that it appeared he knew where he was going. When it seemed we were near, he grabbed the map and glanced at it, confirming his direction.

The old army barracks stood solemnly against a drab grey sky, lonely in their isolation, almost with a look of defeat and acceptance for their lot. This is the place that would host us for two nights. The cab driver nodded as he pulled into a parking space.

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As the driver stopped, Saj reached for some money to pay him, and (bless him) thanks to an incorrect currency conversion, accidentally tipped him ~$10 instead of the $1 he had planned on. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that we found out that it isn’t even customary to tip in Iceland. Needless to say, we finally managed to get a smile from our cab driver. He promptly leapt from his warm seat and into the drizzle and spittle to help us with our bags. We thanked him again, and he drove away.

Our driver had pointed at one of the doors, reassuring us that it was the one we wanted. So in we went, up a few flights of stairs we went, and then there we were, face to face with the door of our host’s home. I knocked.

There was silence.

I knocked again. Silence. And my stomach dropped. I had been in charge of organizing the couchsurfing (since I’d done it before, and Saj hadn’t), and it looked like our host wasn’t home. I looked at Saj. I could tell he was worried but was reluctant to speak his mind, knowing it would do no good. It was just after 6:00 am and we were fresh off our overseas flight with nowhere to drop our full backpacks. This was not the way to start off our first trip together.

We discussed the possibility of leaving our bags there and just roughing it out in town for a bit, and coming back later to hopefully find our hosts home. Neither of us liked this idea, and then I was struck with a realization.

“Their phone numbers,” I said. “She left me phone numbers.”

I scrambled to find the numbers I’d (thankfully) jotted down. Saj had purchased a travel plan for his phone before we left, and we agreed that this was a perfectly appropriate time to make use of his minutes. There was no answer with the first number. My stomach sank a little more. I tried the second one.

A man’s voice answered.

“This is Colleen – your couchsurfer,” I tried to explain. I was still delirious from the flight over. “We are outside your door, and there is no answer.”

“Really? My wife should be home. And anyway, we never lock the door. Just go on in and wait for her then.”

I tried the door. “It’s locked,” I told him.

“Hm,” he said. “Are you sure you are at the right place?”

“I think so,” I said. And then we bantered on only to deduce that in fact we were not at the right place. Thank the heavens. We were one building unit over from the right one. Once in front of the right door, I knocked and the barking of a dog was the reply. I heard more commotion from inside, and then a little boy no older than 4 answered.

“Hello,” I said to him, smiling.

“Hi,” he responded shyly and ran away.

His mother came to the door, welcomed us inside and showed us where we would be staying. All we wanted at that point was a place to catch a little sleep and feel human again. We played with the dog for a bit and then passed out like the walking dead. Thus, our trip to Iceland began.

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*

What started off as a slightly bumpy and grey introduction to Iceland ended up being a beautiful journey with Saj. We explored Keflavik and got accustomed to the time zone. We spent a glorious day in the waters of the Blue Lagoon. We hitchhiked, we ate some good food, we did a tour of the Golden Circle, and we ate the best tomato soup I’ve ever had in my entire life, ever. We shopped for Icelandic sweaters, and Saj bravely tried fermented shark. We enjoyed Reykjavik, did a lot of walking, a lot more eating, and I learned, with great relief, that Saj and I are compatible travel partners.

Since this introduction to traveling as a couple together in Iceland, we have both been saying how we’d like to go back. When we went to London to visit my dear cousin and her boyfriend, we discussed our trip to Iceland. As it turned out, they had done much the same thing on their way to England at the beginning of their school year in London. Without even trying, we’d almost had identical trips: a day at the Blue Lagoon, a day in Reykjavik, and a day seeing the Golden Circle. Of course, they missed out on an enlightening trip to the penis museum, but no matter. It would seem that our trips had satisfactorily been the perfect Introduction To Iceland.

Another thing the four of us agreed on was that the next time any of us are in the country, renting a car is an absolute must (plus much more time in the country!). Not only do other travel bloggers agree that this is a great way to see the country, it is reassuring to see, through a quick search that there are some affordable ways to do this, especially if the cost is split a few ways. Renting a car in a different country is something I have never done before but when I go back to Iceland, I will definitely be doing so.

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As I get older, I find a great sense of comfort in returning to a place I’ve already fallen in love with. Sure, there’s something to be said for the ever venturing traveler, ceaselessly setting foot on new soil, and while I may have fallen into that category at one stage of my life, I like knowing that there are places in the world (like Ireland, Madrid, Brasil, Easter Island) that I jive with. Iceland quickly became one such place, and when I go back, the journey will come with feelings of excitement and comfort. Seeing new parts of a country I already love is a blessing. So I can say this with certainty: I can’t wait to visit Iceland again… and next time, I won’t be dealing with a grunting, grumpy cab driver.

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26 Comments

  1. cubiclethrowdown

    Man, Iceland is all in my face these days. How do people end up here? On purpose? Part of that Iceland Air layover thing? I would love to see it but all I can picture is everything including getting there costing a ton of money.

    • Colleen

      I went half on purpose, half as part of a layover. Don’t regret it for a second. Can’t wait to go back. I’m already daydreaming…
      It is expensive… but there are ways to “cut costs” and in doing so, I found that Iceland averaged out not much more expensive than a lot of places. And our flights were cheap! Let me know if/when you go. I might tag along. 😉

  2. What a cool experience! I’ve had more than one trip start out a little rocky, especially when trying to find Couch surfers and arriving at odd times! I’ve been wanting to explore Iceland ever since I took an Icelandair flight to Paris this summer. They did a great job of advertising their country and making it seem so spectacular. I hope to visit soon!

    • Colleen

      Couchsurfing truly can be the strangest experience. While my experiences have been positive, there is always a feeling of something odd lingering over it all. I’m glad things worked out in the end. I don’t know what I would have done as we were completely stranded out there!
      You would fall in love with Iceland. Consider that your warning.

  3. So stark, colorful and stunning… simultaneously.

    • Colleen

      It’s probably one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever visited… and I feel like beautiful doesn’t do the place justice.

  4. Iceland is definitely on my list for 2014! I’ve heard SO MUCH about it – it’s about time I go there and experience it myself! On another note, I totally agree with you with returning to places you love. There is a certain comfort and a very familiar feeling, almost like you’re seeing a long-lost friend with whom you once connected. I kinda love it and I agonize over my travel choice every time I have to pick a place to go to.

    P.s. hope your finals went well!

    • Colleen

      Hi Pauline! Good to hear from you. 🙂 Exams went well I think! I know what you mean… I agonize almost every day over where I want to go, because that list pretty much involves EVERYWHERE. haha!

  5. I soooo had a different impression in my head about Iceland prior to this post. I pictured it as damp and cold…without emotion. Of course, your writing and continual cup half full view of life helps too! Is it common to not have the phone number contact of the place you will be couchsurfing at? I’m so glad that it all worked out and definitely a good omen when a friendly dog greets you at the door with a little boy! 🙂 Btw…the picture of you and the eagle mural is a home run, Colleen!!

    • Colleen

      Mike, I’m so glad you see my writing that way! I try to keep things as positive as possible.
      As for the question about couchsurfing, it really depends on the host. I stayed with someone once who just told us he would meet us somewhere at a certain time, and we just had to trust that he would be there (which he was). And you’re right… anytime there is a dog – DEFINITELY a good omen. 😀

  6. Icelandic Air recently had an amazing 96 hour special going on (airfare from US + three nights accommodations). I seriously considered booking as it’s a country that like you, I know almost nothing about but it seems fascinating. I didn’t book since buying a plane ticket to get me to the airport where the specials were from did not make the special so “special” price wise. But one of these days I’ll get there ha.

    • Colleen

      What a tempting fare! I do hope you’ll make it to Iceland one day; it’s an amazing place.

  7. Sometimes I think we travelers put too high a premium on “first times”. I mean, there really is nothing like visiting a place for the first time and seeing what it’s all about, but rarely does first = best in any aspect of life. So many mistakes are made (like not renting a car) and you rarely get a chance to really hone in on the very best things; on a return trip, you know exactly where to go and what to focus on and you can really get down to the business of exploration because the little things that maybe threw you for a loop the first time are old hat now. Iceland really does look like an incredible destination (it’s on the very top of my list of places I want to go), so I certainly don’t blame you for wanting to go back! Now, if only it weren’t so expensive!

    • Colleen

      Steph, you just get me! You may even have described the feeling of returning somewhere better than I did. God you’re good. I’m so glad I know you!

  8. Emy

    The picture of you with the eagle art is so cool ! 🙂
    The landscapes in Iceland are so beautiful and always make me want to book a flight ticket immediatly but on the contrary, the weather/cities and houses look really gloomy to me! Just like Englad sort of.
    But I definitely agree with you, discovering new places is exciting, arriving in a completely foreign place is a thrilling moment but I love going back to places I know and feel super familiar with! Florence, Berlin and Budapest are my favourites! It feels like visiting old friends!

    • Colleen

      Thanks Emy!
      You are so so close to Iceland compared to me. Can you just go?? 😀 I’ll meet you there…

  9. Iceland is absolutely awesome and I totally understand your wish to go back! There’s so much more to see than the Blue Lagoon or the Geysirs. Do you like horseriding? Go on a tour through the backcountry – or else go hiking there, it is so beautiful and you’ll meet sheep everywhere 🙂 Renting a car isn’t that easy though. If you don’t wanna stick to the highway you’ll need a 4WD and often a guide who is able to see you through rivers and currents. Anyway: Have fun. I hope I’ll read about the trip on your blog one time! Have a nice day. Anna

    • Colleen

      Good to know – that’s the first I’ve heard of car rental being difficult. Although I doubt I will be doing any off-roading… but never say never, right? 🙂

  10. Oh man. Iceland was a random addition to our trip thanks to the free layover and I am SO glad we did. We also Couchsurfed (and had some trouble finding our place) but our hosts were seriously among the best hosts we’ve ever stayed with (and we’ve been blessed to stay with some amazing people). It was cold and grey when we arrived too, but luckily it cleared up in parts over our two days there and never rained too much. Agree a set of wheels is a must – we actually weren’t planning on renting a car until we got confirmation from our CS host, and it turned out they didn’t live in Reykjavik centre. Because so many people are visiting Iceland lately, there are tons of people on CS also looking to share the costs of a ride which makes it more affordable.

    • Colleen

      Isn’t that layover wonderful??
      I’m glad to hear you had a similar experience with the car business… I know I’m not totally out of line with this one. I just can’t wait to go back and explore some more. Such a beautiful country!

  11. So desolate, so beautiful. Love this.

  12. So glad I found your blog from a comment on my guest post on ifs and&butts. What beautiful pictures of Iceland! I do hope you get to come back here and rent a car, the countryside is truly breathtaking and everywhere you look you will find some new amazing thing to look at!

    • Colleen

      Hi Kiki 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment! I really can’t wait to go back too. Perhaps I will see you there!

  13. I think when it comes to places that make you realize how small and insignificant you are compared to the power of Mother Nature, Iceland is among those at the top of the list. I would love to go in winter and see the Northern lights! I´m curious – can you soak in a hot spring even in winter? Or do they freeze to some degree at low temperatures? I´m not talking about the Blue Lagoon right now, but rather natural springs hidden all over..

    • Colleen

      Oh the northern lights would be unforgettable I’m sure. As for your question about the hot springs in winter, I honestly don’t know, but I imagine that it is a year-round thing. Who knows… something to look into!
      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Hope I hear from you again!

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