I do not enjoy winter. With ice comes the risk of slipping and breaking a bone that Donald won’t allow Obamacare to fix. With snow comes blizzards and avalanches and the need to resort to cannibalism while stranded. Just think of it this way: Bears, who are some of the world’s most fierce and rugged animals, rarely venture out in the winter. They’re like, “Man, wake me up in March!” So why would I go to Iceland in the middle of winter? Because I was curious, my wife’s been wanting to go for years, and round-trip tickets were only $300 each.
We flew into Reykjavik via Wow Airlines, an Icelandic low-cost airliner with destinations in seven U.S. cities and a number of places in Europe. I was not expecting much; their reviews are mostly bad and I’ve been jaded by Spirit Airlines, the discount carrier/Greyhound of the skies whose cramped flights cause knee and mental health trauma. But damn, I was wrong. The legroom on Wow was ample and the plane was only about 60 percent full. Also, as a grown man with a Prince album cover hanging on his wall, the purple carpet and purple flight attendant uniforms were a nice touch.
Most importantly (other than arriving safely): We saw the Northern Lights about five hours into our flight. It was like a big green wave escaped from a Coldplay video to fly next to us and escort us into Iceland. We happened to be seated on the lucky side and other passengers crowded around waiting for a look. I let them, because as my Facebook profile says, “I’m a pleasant guy who brings a lot to the table,” though I would have minimized their viewing time had I know this would turn out to be our only clear view of Aurora Borealis.
DAY 1: Even In Reykajvik, You Cannot Escape Migos
We arrived in Iceland at 4 a.m. with seven hours to kill until Airbnb check-in. The airport was fancy, it had free strollers and floor-to-ceiling cubicle toilets that allow ultra-private load dropping. We stayed there for a few hours to window shop before catching the Fly Bus to Reykjavik. Had I been smarter, or listened to my friend who had been to Iceland, I would have used that time to buy liquor and beer in the duty free store at the airport.
Iceland’s a lot less than progressive than other Nordic countries when it comes to drinking. Beer with more than 2.25% alcohol was banned until 1989, and even today, outside of bars, you can only buy alcohol at state stores. We learned this the hard way while searching the city’s markets for buy a bottle of wine, only to settle for a scrawny yellow beer with, you guessed it, exactly 2.25% alcohol.
Just a bit more about the prices in Reykjavik: If you’re coming from the U.S., multiply whatever you would usually pay for an item by three. Yeah, it’s expensive as hell. A burger from a regular ol’ take out joint will run you at least $20. A plate at your average restaurant is around $35. Now, I didn’t work up the courage to approach an Icelander out of nowhere and say, “Please tell me about your economy,” but I’m thinking the high prices are based on the country’s wages and social services (the average wage is about $4,700 a month). Thankfully we found a grocery store called Bonus, which sells food at only twice what I’d pay at home.
But, as we learned while walking around aimlessly at dawn, near street art tagged on tiny stores, snowy mountains overlooking the city, and an ocean colored in a frozen blue that I’ve only seen on a mid-2000s limited edition BMW M3, the views and vibe make up for the costs, at least if you’re just visiting for short time.
After sightseeing, we retired to our apartment for a long nap. I got up to make a quasi-traditional Icelandic meal: a big ol’ piece of lamb.
After that, bar hopping. We started at The Big Lebowski, which may very well be a tourist trap, but the (high alcohol!) beers were good and the small crowd had energy. We went to another spot that was a major sausage fest and then walked across the street to “Reykjavik’s best dance club,” which turned out to be a gay club. The sign said “queer,” but I assumed it wasn’t a direct English-to-Icelandic translation. Duh. Our night ended at Barnanas, where young Icelanders danced and rapped along to Migos and other hip hop that lacks substance, which doesn’t matter when you’re in a club.