In the past decade since I was last in Iceland in July 2000, it has become a serious tourist destination. A lot has changed in this small Scandinavian island nation. It’s about half price what it used to be after the collapse of the economy, although it’s still bloody expensive. The capital city of Reykjavik has cut back on some of the seedier things that used to attract a lot of male visitors, albeit many bachelor parties still come up to Reykjavik. And most recently, that pesky volcano that caused billions in lost revenue from flight cancellations, when it spewed ash up into the atmosphere several months ago. Although Eyjafjallajökull (try saying that three times fast…or even once) has become a boom for t-shirts in the city, it may well be the most famous thing to come out of Iceland since Bjork…well they also have this thing called the Blue Lagoon!
Located about 45 minutes by bus from Reykjavik out by the airport, the Blue Lagoon is simply a must see and do. It ain’t cheap at almost $40 to get in. Plus you have to rent lockers, towels and get suckered into buying other things like Viking beer in the lagoon but it is surely worth it. They have apparently expanded it since I was first there ten years ago but it is certainly still awesome-just be careful on the slippery bridges around the lagoon.
Set in a vast black lava field, the milky blue hot springs are fed water by the futuristic Svartsengi geothermal plant which provides a dramatic scene setting for your dip. Throw in a swim up bar, a bunch of other people and tons of silica to rub all over yourself and you are seriously in another world.
People from all over the world come to the Blue Lagoon to see the dramatic views and setting but also because the water and the silica is believed to help with treatments of various skin problems like eczema and scoliosis. The silica is available at designated corners of the lagoon. You can reach your hands or a shovel in and pick it up like so much goop and then plaster your face with it. It reminded me a bit of the white mud I did that with in Palau earlier this summer.
However, you give three overgrown boys access to such things and there will be some seriously mature things that go on such as silica throwing fights! My two buddies, Mike and Joe, and I started slapping each other with the silica and slamming in each others hair and throwing it when all of a sudden some Icelandic kid that works there comes running up. His quote was simply, “Excuse me Sir (speaking to all three of us), please do not throw the silica” as he rolled his eyes as if he’d seen this a thousand times. We all laughed and felt retarded and for whatever reason just continued saying that quote the next few days. Adolescent fun aside, the Blue Lagoon is super cool and definitely worth a trip out if you’re in Iceland.
The only problem is the awful showering situation they have once you’ve come out of the lagoon. You are covered in volcanic soot and silica and your skin feels really gross and grimy so you must shower. The problem is it’s one of those big rooms with no separate shower stalls and just a bunch of naked Asian tourists (there are a ton at the Blue Lagoon) and Icelandic dudes.
It is really an atrocity as nobody seems to realize why they are given towels. I mean, I seriously do not understand why grown men cannot just put on a towel after they shower when other people are there. It is seriously uncomfortable. You’ve all seen it in the locker room at the gym or wherever, you know-that guy or woman too I’m sure, but I swear in the Blue Lagoon it gave new meaning the word revolting. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing but common decency and common sense should play a part too!
Anyway…back in Reykjavik there are few things to do but the main sight is certainly the Hallgrimskirkja (below) which is a very cool looking church that’s visible from 20km away and the most identifiable landmark in Reykjavik. It took some 20 years to build and it pretty cool inside. It is punctuated by a gift from the United States of a statue of Leif Erikson right outside the church.
When we were there, we ran into a team of Icelandic people playing a home game of the Amazing Race and we had some awesome interactions with them. I have some great video of it (unfortunately no pictures though). They were pretty funny and were kind of a microcosm of the Icelandic people, very nice, very fun and love to drink!
Which leads me to the real reason Reykjavik has become such a popular tourist destination for younger people. They have a ton of great bars and nightclubs. The locals start what’s called a runtur, or wild bar crawl, on Friday night and don’t really stop until Sunday night as drinking during the week is a no no in Icelandic culture, although I have a difficult time believing they don’t.
We went out Friday at like 1am for a bit. Apparently because of the prohibitively expensive costs of alcohol everyone drinks in their flats until 1 or 2am then goes out all night, then repeat for Saturday and perhaps continue through Sunday. It makes for long and tiring weekends but they seem to love it and have ridiculous amounts of energy.
The only thing the Icelandic revelers lack is spatial awareness as they seemingly have no regard for bumping into others and dancing wildly and hitting others as they do so. It was pretty funny but at the same time, you’re like “WTF”! Some of the places we checked out were B5, Bar 11 and I won’t even try to spell or pronounce the other places. All were packed and pretty fun…if you don’t mind crowds and staying up til 6am getting banged into constantly!
Sunday, our goal was to find a sports bar to watch opening day of the NFL, the FIBA Gold Medal game and the US Open final. We succeeded and found an awesome place where we watched the Miami/Ohio State and Federer/Djokovic debacle the day before and we literally sat at our table watching sports for 9 hours. In fact, the waitress and several other bystanders commented on how devoted and impressive our all day sports, food and beer affair was. Our thought was, its Sunday-that’s what you do on Sundays in the Fall-football! But hey, we’ll take what we can get!
Aside from that, the only other thing I seriously recommend doing is some culinary experimentation. Pass on the fermented rotting shark crap they allege to specialize in-although it does come with a shot called “black death” (on the left above-to mask the taste of the shark) which actually isn’t that bad but my buddy Mike liked the extra hot Seaman Shot much better!
Go for the amazing hot dogs served right in the town center at a little stand (above) called Bæjarins beztu pylsur that is awesome. In fact, Bill Clinton has been there and loved it. You won’t be disappointed. Truth be told, we went there like 5 times literally in 3 days. Second, find a place near the port on the water called Sea Baron’s as it serves these amazing whale meat skewers (two below) and lobster soup which is to die for. It’s hard to find, in fact I gave up looking but Joe and Mike trudged forth and found it and promptly bbm’d me a picture to make me come out and I am glad I did because it was awesome!
All in all, Iceland is a pretty cool place to be and see. I have now been twice and still failed to get around the island other than Reykjavik or the Blue Lagoon and have now been to both airports. However, from what I have heard, it is worth getting out and checking out some of the national parks and waterfalls. The problem is you must plan ahead and prices are very high, especially for the snowmobiling trips on the glaciers, like $500 or so for a few hours, so be prepared but Iceland is a fun and exciting place. It is very safe and easy to get around. Stay in the city center and I do recommend getting a flat (apartment) as we did instead of a hotel as you’ll have a lot more room. I will most likely be back through Iceland (if I don’t go through Denmark instead) at least once more next year or so to get to Greenland and I will try to see some more next time.
I am now in London for the night and flying back to New York tomorrow. I will be planning some big trips coming up at the end of October and who knows what between then and now although it’ll probably be just within the US. I will be posting here and there as well. But stay tuned and thanks again as my readership grows each day.