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Things To Do In Iceland

So about a week and a half ago my dad was saying I should take a vacation since I haven't really taken one since I started working in September 2003. I was reluctant, but it was so goddamn hot that the thought of staying in DC straight through August sounded pretty bad. Thus, I fired up the old web browser to see where one could fly in Europe relatively cheaply in August on pretty short notice. The answer turned out to be Reykjavik August 11-18 (back just in time to catch Gogol Bordello at the Black Cat), so I bought the tickets. Then I decided to buy a guidebook and try to figure out what I should do. Thus, some vague plans are starting to come into view, but I'd still be open to suggestions if readers have any ideas. So far, I've mostly been refamiliarizing myself with Bjork's catalogue.

August 1, 2005 | Permalink


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I hear the hotsprings are nice.

Posted by: Matt F | Aug 1, 2005 6:05:32 PM

One of my favorite places. Do the Golden Circle tour, go see Thingvelleir (sp?), the Thai food is quite spicy, nothing is cheap, bathe in the pools, bring a winter coat. Enjoy the sparseness and lack of trees.

Posted by: Tyler Cowen | Aug 1, 2005 6:05:53 PM

Fabulous choice--I've been there three times. Since you have a little time you can get off the beaten path:

*Fly to Akureyri and enjoy the cute town, an amazing view of the midnight sun, and the remarkable geothermal features at nearby Lake Myvatn.

*Take a bus to Thormork, a beatiful little glad behind the mountains. Most stop at the geothermally heated greenhouses at Hveragerdi. Native-grown bananas in Iceland!

*Take a plane (boat if you're brave) to the island of Heimaey. Interesting small-scale volcanic destruction + lots of puffins.

*The Blue Lagoon is a must--acre upon acre of steaming hot water set in the lava fields. Ahhh.....

Posted by: Liebestod | Aug 1, 2005 6:15:42 PM

Make sure to eat two wonderful local dishes: Putrid Shark and Puffin.

And drink brennevin- aka Black Death.



Posted by: rifffle | Aug 1, 2005 6:40:37 PM

I recommend getting laid. I hear Icelandic women are the bee's knees, and your current blogging patterns suggest you aren't getting enough action.

Posted by: Matt Davis | Aug 1, 2005 7:29:27 PM

Try running into Smari.

Posted by: ogged | Aug 1, 2005 7:57:47 PM

Huh, I was just there. The long versions:
You could take a bunch of pictures, visit an mazing water fall called Gullfoss, visit a powerplant/soak in the blue lagoon, feed and ride horses, or go clubbing all night and tramping all day. More helpfully: take a wide range of clothes. The weather is very dynamic and you are likely to need heavy duty rain&wind gear and shorts/swimstuff in the same trip. Swimming is a big thing. A couple swimsuits might be a good idea. It's very expensive, just keep that in mind. I wish I had had a chance to visit the big Laugardalur complex. Prepare to be ogled while bathing before swimming--they're very big on hygeine, and require that everyone bathe naked before entering the pools, and they communally police it. Give yourself plenty of time for the Blue Lagoon if you decide to do it; it's annoying to be rushed when you're wet and covered in salt. Check out the various public pools (I wish I had tried more than one, like the really big one at Laugardalur. I was travelling with lots of people on something a little less than business, so my bus tour can't be duplicated, but if you can book a tour through the south central Iceland (the Geysir, Gullfoss, the parliament, ) I recommend it. You can also rent a car and drive down to Vik, the southernmost part, looking for Puffins and Dyerhoaely, but it's very very very wet and rainy. If I did it again I wouldn't make a day trip of it, but would stop at the various falls and really enjoy the scenery. Are you much of a nature person? Horse riding is also a lot of fun, if slightly soreness making--I'd never been before, and it was surprisingly easy. I heard the whale watching is spotty, but it might be better. There are supposed to be some good museums if you are interested in Viking history. The Perlan Restaurant is also worth a visit--great view if you can get to the dome and apparently interesting displays. The greenhouses--in Selfoss?--are also quite fascinating. Take a nice camera, if you can! Try some of the cumin liquor, yogurt-like Skyr, and the Noi Sirius raisin-and-hazelnut chocolate and Noi Kropp Chocolate covered Kix-like-objects. There's also some very tasty garlicy buttery cheese, and really good sliced dark bread. Being a vegetarian I can't speak to the majority of Icelandic cuisine, but if you get a chance to try lichen patee please blog about it, I'm terribly curious.

Seriously look into arranging for a cell phone there, as landlines are few and far between.

If you're very outdoorsy and want to climb mountains and such, please don't be what one friend's sister laughingly termed "a stupid foreigner." Don't go places by yourself, tell someone (preferably an Icelander) where you're going, try to take a cell phone, and avoid roads that are clearly marked no entrance and such. It's a beautiful country, but it is slightly dangerous, and they haven't bothered to put up guard rails and such in most of the obvious places.

Have fun!!!! I really like Iceland, and while I was there for personal reasons, I recommend it highly.

Posted by: Saheli | Aug 2, 2005 2:52:54 AM

Avoid the candy with the chloroform in it. It can't be good for ones long term health.

Posted by: rana | Aug 2, 2005 3:40:34 AM

All the advice so far is spot on! It's an awesome place, visually. Rent a 4WD; you'll be glad you did if you decide to drive around. Don't count on seeing the sun, although you could get lucky. The Blue Lagoon really IS a must. (At all the restaurants we went to, there was never pepper on the table! Only something that looked like Lawry's Seasoned Salt. Never did figure that one out.) Enjoy!!

Posted by: nikki | Aug 2, 2005 4:30:37 AM

Do some saga reading. Njal's Saga is the best place to start. Then ancient historic sites like Thingvellir will have some resonance for you. Besides, Njal's Saga is just fun to read--feuds lasting for generations, battles on the ice, legal shenanigans complete with outdoor courtroom scenes. Have fun!

Posted by: Jim | Aug 2, 2005 10:08:58 AM

So far, I've mostly been refamiliarizing myself with Bjork's catalogue.

You might want to bone up on your Sigur Ros, too.

I'd recommend going out to the Vatnojokull (sp?) glacier if you have time/interest in doing some outdoorsy things. You can jeep/snowmobile on on the surface of the glacier, and the lagoons and such are incredible sights.

Posted by: Al | Aug 2, 2005 11:29:13 AM

All I have to say is

"Black Cat, Black Cat"

Posted by: Zach | Aug 2, 2005 1:38:43 PM

Sigh, deeply envious.

Coming from the sort of family in which family vacations are very important, all three of the vacations I've taken since graduating high school in 1996 have been family vacations, which really aren't vacations at all....

Although I am taking four days to go to the Folsom Street Fest in September, which is about as un-family as I can get!

Have fun! Although I can't help wishing you'd decided to obliterate some of your Red State ignorance instead on this vacation. There are some very cool places in the U.S. that you've not seen, and I hope that you make an effort to get to them some day.

Posted by: flippantangel | Aug 2, 2005 5:49:02 PM

If you're interetsted in modern architecture, there's at least one interesting firm there, Studio Granda http://www.studiogranda.is/

They did the Reykjavik City Hall, among other things.


Mr. Smed

Posted by: mistersmed | Aug 3, 2005 12:25:03 AM

There are some very cool places in the U.S. that you've not seen

Yeah, Matt Taibbi said something about that once that made me feel so guilty it kind of seared itself onto my brain. About Bush's critics: "A great many of them like to laugh at George Bush for not reading books and for being uninterested in visiting other countries. But a lot of those same people are guilty of the opposite offense. They prefer to read books and travel abroad rather than actually getting to know their own country face to face." (Then again, I'm a liberal and Catholic so making me feel guilty is no real challenge.)

Even so, I'm terribly envious about Iceland. I was going to go there earlier this year until we realized that we would be going when there was only, like, 3 hours of sunlight a day. Preferring to wait until I could see the country, we chose Rome instead.

Posted by: Becks | Aug 3, 2005 8:41:54 AM

Go, go, go!!!!

I was there last winter, and I loved it - I long to return in the summertime. It's only a 4 hour flight out of BWI, quicker than getting to the west coast, really, most times.

As suggested above, don't miss the Blue Lagoon, or Thingvellir. (The entire 'Golden Circle' - Gullfoss, Geysir, and Thingvellir is very cool.) Read the sagas.

Everything in Iceland is shockingly expensive once you are there, particularly in summer. Don't be surprised if your car rental costs more than your airline ticket - or that you might not be able to get a last minute car rental in August.

Since the food isn't that great anyway, I saved a lot of money on my trip by packing some food and alcohol, and sticking to the grocery stores instead of restaurants.

Have a great time! Iceland is one of my favorite places and I can't wait to get back and see more of the places along Rt 1 that can't be gotten to very easily in the winter.

Posted by: Matilde | Aug 3, 2005 2:29:33 PM

(Then again, I'm a liberal and Catholic so making me feel guilty is no real challenge.)

LOL. Being neither Catholic nor particularly liberal, I blame it entirely on my mother.

But in terms of seeing places in the U.S. versus abroad, guilt was the farthest thing from my mind. I simply, in a way that is deeply embarrassing for a quasi-liberal, find the United States has a fascinating and amazingly varied array of places to be. My good fortune with the family vacations was that, growing up, I've been by either car or train through nearly every state in the continental U.S. (exceptions: Colorado, which I'm visiting later this year, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. And my experience of Alabama is limited to eating at a truck stop there). Shenandoah, Western Montana, Acadia, the Bay Area are all places of amazing natural physical beauty. The large Western places of seemingly vast emptiness don't mesh with my aestetic ideals, but they are well worth seeing. I can't visit Gettysburg or Antietam without a feeling of awe and horror and the tragedy of lost human lives there, how recent in the scope of time history really is, how very close we are to incredible evils. The culinary variations of this nation alone justify extensive travel, and the variations of speech, taste, and dress never fail to amaze me. And then there are places like Las Vegas that are gorgeous in their very tackiness and the welcome reminder that we aren't a puritan nation after all. All these things, combined with my thrifty Protestant Welsh upbringing, have limited my travel generally to the U.S. I don't frown on travel elsewhere, and there are certainly places abroad I want to see (I'm especially waiting for change to come to Cuba so I can go there). But I'm extremely grateful for the opportunities I've had to see places in the U.S. both on and off the beaten path.

Posted by: flippantangel | Aug 3, 2005 2:48:17 PM

Well, my red state knowledge has been beefing up recently. Since moving to DC two years ago, I've added Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas to my portfolio having previously been to zero red states. My thinking is that the thrilling world of professional political journalism will afford me more opportunities to travel for free in this great nation. It just happened to be the case that the '04 conventions were held in the two cities I used to live in, there's the Iowa caucuses, the always-swinging Ohio, etc.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Aug 3, 2005 3:08:33 PM

My thinking is that the thrilling world of professional political journalism will afford me more opportunities to travel for free in this great nation.

I am a huge fan of getting work or work-related things to pay for travel. That's how I'm financing my trip to Colorado later this year, as well as the first trip I ever took to the Bay Area a few years ago. I've even been known to interview for jobs I had no intention of taking solely for the expense-paid trip there (this was how I saw Boston).

Sometime this fall you should convince the Prospect to pay for you to travel around more of VA to report on the Kaine campaign, especially central VA and the Shenandoah area, which are beautiful. You should also consider traveling to some of the "Southern Ivies"--UVA, Duke, Vanderbilt--to write some snarky pieces about the social norms and political leanings of students there and how they differ from Harvard. If you're attracted to the blond(e?), put together, made up Southern type, it could be a very enjoyable trip for you, and if you're not, girls that don't fit that mold will appreciate that, too, so you do well either way. And Nashville is a great city, although I'm biased.

Posted by: flippantangel | Aug 3, 2005 3:49:20 PM

Iceland? Well, I guess so. But if you really want to escape the summer, I suggest the Southern Hemisphere. Argentina is quite nice, and cheap, this time of year.

Posted by: neil | Aug 3, 2005 5:09:44 PM

Try to see New Orleans before it loses all of its character. It’s being commercialized and sanitized for the average tourist’s consumption at a frightening clip. I don’t give it long until the French Quarter devolves into another Times Square (if it hasn’t already – it’s been a few years since I’ve been back). [And a tip for guys headed there – if you want to meet local girls, try the “gay” parts of town in the Quarter past St. Ann. While there are some gay bars down there, it’s really just more like the Village in NYC and a lot of the local girls hang out down there to avoid the tourists. Act charming and you may end up with an extremely memorable tour guide. If you’re just looking to meet drunken co-eds from Ole Miss, OTOH, go right ahead with the tourist bars.]

Posted by: Becks | Aug 3, 2005 5:53:06 PM

While I have been known for excessively plugging for Yglesias to go on a crosscountry roadtrip--and still think he should do it (You know you want to!), I think in his case it would be something of a busman's honeymoon. Iceland is sufficiently strange and different from the United States that he can put policy concerns aside.

Posted by: Saheli | Aug 3, 2005 8:04:18 PM

"Thingvellir" ... what a great name. Makes me want to go even more than before. I'm massively jealous.

As for the red states, I don't know about that advice. I was pretty liberal before I lived in one of them for a few years. Now I think there's a whole section of the country the Borg just need to excise. And you know what they say about Iowa: it's Kansas without the glitz.

(Now don't get me wrong. Some of my best friends are red staters. No, really. Of course, they all have blue state minds, so they probably don't count.)

Posted by: quixote | Aug 4, 2005 8:06:25 PM

Iceland is awesome, and the recommendations up above are spot on. If you can drive around the island, do it. Flying is great, but damn, there's so much variety there. The treeless place I recall from the 80s is now changing and there are (gasp) actual stands of trees.

Some of the roads are spotty. The tour buses are pretty good, and there are lots of options out there. People are insanely friendly and language will not be an issue.

Damn, enjoy. I've been there 3 times, and I love it...

Posted by: mc | Aug 4, 2005 8:31:29 PM

Five things, Matt:

First, read Vollman's The Ice-Shirt. Besides being a tremendous read, when I got to whatever museum it is in Rejkavik that has all that history in it, that he got it just about exactly right.

Second, while you are at that museum, whatever it is, have lunch. It's quite generous, and far cheaper than just about anything else.

Third, if you go out drinking, go to Sirkus. It's been a year and a half, but Sirkus had the cheapest beers by at least 50%. Also, it's not very tourist-y and has a great dive bar feel and often has music.

Fourth, find a grocery store and buy some smoked fish (something like $2/lb--bring some home), black bread, and mayonnaise. If you like mayo, the local stuff (Gunnar's?) is pretty awesome.

Fifth, find a hot dog vendor. Food there is stupidly expensive, but the locally-made lamb dogs are great and cheap.

Also, there's likely to be some kind of big art installation downtown by the Borg Hotel ("You will be accomodated") which could be worth seeing.

Have fun!

Posted by: David Yaseen | Aug 5, 2005 1:28:32 PM

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