Vicarious Tourism: Iceland in Winter

Not content with spending my whole R&R in the States, I spent a few days in Iceland on the way home with my sister and two friends. When I talked about this trip to people ahead of time, they all said something along the lines of, “Iceland in winter? Are you nuts? It’s COLD there!” My sanity may have been questioned. However, I feel my decision has been vindicated, as I have returned safely home with all of my extremities intact, a camera full of photos, and a head full of very fond memories.

The trip was not an unalloyed success, due entirely to factors beyond our control. We had very bad luck with weather. An unseasonable warm spell melted a lot of the snow, rendering our planned dogsledding excursion impossible. Even more heartbreaking, the sky was solidly cloudy every single night we were there so we never got to see the aurora borealis, our main purpose for going on this trip in the first place.

Despite these disappointments, we had a hell of a time. For such a small place (pop. 120,000) Reykjavik turned out to be a pretty fun town and a great base for day trips. We saw medieval illuminated manuscripts, rode Icelandic ponies, stood under a geyser, snorkeled on a continental divide, spelunked a lava tube, and spent luxurious hours in various geothermal hot tubs. We consumed a range of Icelandic specialties, including but not limited to smoked puffin, salmon on rye, brennivin (a caraway schnapps), and fermented shark. I don’t especially recommend that last one, but it was fun to try.

I think we’ve all decided we want to go back to Iceland someday, though perhaps in more hospitable climes so we can see more of the country than we did on this trip. I may go back in the winter too and try to catch the lights again; it’s not too far from Dublin, so I could pop up for a weekend when the weather looks fine. So it wasn’t everything we had hoped for, but most of the time we were having too much fun to notice.