The Iceland weather forecast is like a Bible that changes from minute to minute. If you read something yesterday, or half an hour ago, that thing is gone now. A storm has replaced it, or a gale wind, or a shining sunny moment where once a squall lived.
In other words: Don’t trust it. And don’t make plans more than a day ahead, if you can avoid it.
The country is also beautiful. Yesterday, while walking around the city of Reykjavik in a snow shower when there was 0% chance of precipitation, I was captivated by its charm. I mean this not sarcastically at all: The city was gorgeous, lit softly by sun behind clouds and providing perfect photo opportunities for murals, churches and buildings.
Afterward, the best hot dog I ever ate was a terrific lunch. It’s called a pylsur and includes lamb as well as pork and beef — plus onions, fried onions, mustard, ketchup and remoulade. For pronunciation aficionados, the stand is named Bæjerins Beztu Pylsur.
I don’t eat hot dogs at home (because U.S. food is generally awful), but I’m glad I ate this one!
Walking in Reykjavik
I’ve now taken two walking tours in Reykjavik accompanied by snow. The first tour brought just a shower, but the second, the Icelandic Financial Miracle tour, took place during a full-blown snowfall; we finished the tour in a quiet garden behind the Parliament building, standing in four inches of fresh-fallen snow. It was beautiful, not to mention super-educational.
In fact, this tour was one of the highlights of my trip so far. At only 25 euros, it’s a fantastic deal. (Two other people no-showed, bringing our tour below the minimum number of participants, so I broke the Icelandic no-tip rule and gave our wonderful guide a giant tip.)
The guide, Magnus, is an economist and university professor who tells a captivating tale of the people, places and events behind Iceland’s financial crisis. I learned so much about the history of this country, including its rapid rise in the 20th and early 21st centuries from subsistence farming to finance and tourism center, its “corporate Viking” pride and ambitions, and the adjustment to post-crisis reality and recovery (including imprisonment of several high-level bankers). In fact, I liked it so much, I’ll write a more complete review of the tour later. It was like the best college class ever — in the snow! Plus, we walked past beautiful places like this cemetery:
Afterward, I was freezing because I wore cotton socks instead of wool socks (Iceland newbie mistake!), so I retreated to a cafe with another person from the tour and we shared our own stories of life and travel.
Hunting the Northern Lights
On the way home I stocked up on more beet juice (seriously, it’s everywhere!) and then went out to see the Northern Lights. This time I abandoned the large bus tour concept and went straight for the goods: a SuperJeep tour. My thought process was that SuperJeeps could chase the gaps in the clouds and find the Northern Lights.
Disappointment: We were locked out of the SuperJeep at the first stop. This was sort of funny and sort of not, since we were in the middle of nowhere at Thingvellir National Park. Fortunately, there was a fleet of SuperJeeps on the tour, and several drivers together jumped on the vehicle and removed the window so we could continue our tour. I was impressed and astonished that a SuperJeep window was so detachable and our guides were so awesome. I don’t have a photo of this moment, but I wish I did.
We went into an “impassable” area beyond the national park and finally found a break in the clouds. The moon was full and it was absolutely beautiful, so despite the absence of Northern Lights, I enjoyed the trip.
After a couple of hours of waiting and watching the moon and stars through the hole in the clouds, our guides gave up and served us hot chocolate and vodka. Definitely better than the bus tour.
Iceland’s Lottery Tickets
At last, we returned to Reykjavik and I finally got to pee after five hours. (The biggest downside of these trips is not actually the unpredictability of the Northern Lights. It’s the complete absence of toilet facilities on the buses and SuperJeeps. I saw one lady wandering into the wilds of Thingvellir, telling her husband that they had to find a place where no one could watch her go. To their credit, the boat tour operators use a boat that has restrooms.)
The nice thing about all of the Northern Lights tours — bus, boat and SuperJeep — is that if they don’t cancel the tour and you still don’t see the lights, you get a voucher for another free trip. This is an awesome policy that makes the tour price worthwhile. I’ve now collected three vouchers. Hopefully one will be the Golden Ticket.
I went to bed at 3am, internal body clock spinning and totally in love with this weird place called Iceland.