I am actually still getting over the fact that my time in Iceland is now over. Gone, done, next please. It actually breaks my heart a little thinking about it. Before I went, I was part expecting to feel like I was back in New Zealand (which would feel even more so being reunited with Andy’s parents, Pete and Janet) so I was looking forward to the comforts of home. There were definitely some subtle differences however, included in my first impressions below.
1. The landscape is stark. Unlike in New Zealand, where you can expect to find hills and rivers and mountains and paddocks with cows, sheep and more, the landscape in Iceland just seems to stretch indefinitely. I was most impressed by the miles of roadside lava fields covered in moss, sometimes with the lava forming unique shapes and moulds. Also, hills, mountains and volcanoes are plentiful, but they tend to jut, rise out of nowhere and rather than having peaks, often sit flat like table-tops. Similar to New Zealand, it doesn’t take long to go from city or town to mountains to beaches and in Iceland’s case, glaciers and volcanoes!
2. Fauna differs but mostly by way of proportion. Icelandic horses are everywhere: all through the countryside and lots of places where you can rent them too. They are shorter and chunkier than what I’m used to seeing, and probably with slightly thicker coats. They look more like ponies. Sheep are still common, but less than what I was expecting given their huge wool range (although maybe we were just in the wrong places). Instead of the kiwi, Iceland proudly boasts the puffin. It is a little black and white bird with a bright orange beak. It is a sea bird and is now considered a threatened species.
3. Iceland is a cashless society. Like, entirely. Can you believe I had 10 days in Iceland and I did not lay eyes on the currency! I still don’t know what an Icelandic note looks like. Instead, the norm was to use cards – anywhere and everywhere. It sure makes things convenient, although I suspect longterm it means I would spend more as I tend to monitor the cash in my wallet far more closely. I don’t use cash that often back home (weekly at the farmer’s market) but I usually have some in my wallet, just in case.
4. Aside from my suspicions that using solely cards would lead to increased spending, Iceland generally was REALLY EXPENSIVE. Everything, from accommodation to rental car to food and especially drink, it is not a cheap place to visit. Fortunately sight-seeing is free (well, most of it) and so our daily activity spend tended to remain quite low. Sometimes we had to pay for parking at waterfalls, but it was a 24 hour ticket so although we still had to pay it (annoyingly!) we thought it must have been to target people that wanted to camp there the night. Despite this, Iceland is not prohibitively expensive to visit – of course, there are ways to make it cheap (supermarket food, camping etc).
5. Icelandic cuisine is divine. In short, evening menus are usually dominated by cod, salmon, arctic char (similar to salmon) and lamb (all local). Of course, I had choice paralysis virtually every single night. We tended to eat simple breakfasts and lunches from the supermarket and would eat out most nights. I really enjoyed the local ‘Skyr’, basically a glorified Greek yoghurt, but with loads of different flavours and it is really good for you. I was not such a fan of the pickled herring, commonly served at breakfast time. We concluded that trying to eat cheaply would probably result in a massive compromise on the quality (and subsequently feel overpriced as hell) so eating at recommended places each night was definitely worth the additional money spent. Unlike New Zealand, where the hick towns can get away serving mediocre fish and chips, even the smallest restaurants in the smallest Icelandic towns served the most mouthwatering food.