Iceland: The Land that Changed Me
When my friend Karen invited me to visit her at her new home in Iceland, I thought she was just being polite. But the more she kept encouraging me to do it, the more I realized it was a serious invitation, and that’s when the ball started rolling. The resulting trip not only changed every idea I had about Iceland, but also every idea I had about the rest of the world.
Despite having traveled extensively already, I had never really considered Iceland as a travel destination, and to be honest I probably never would have gone there had it not been for Karen’s persistence. I thought it would probably just be cold and, well, a land of ice. It sounded boring. I had no idea that a place so remote and isolated could be so vibrant and full of life.
Karen lives in Akureyri, on the north side of the island, but since all international flights enter through Reykjavik (on the southern end), I spent my first night and the following morning in Iceland’s capital city. There are only about 300,000 people in the entire country, so it took a little time to get used to everything being scaled down for a very small population. It was nice, though, and virtually stress-free. Traffic was minimal. I could go to any restaurant and not have to wait for a table. People weren’t bumping into me as I walked down the street. It was the nicest experience I’ve ever had in a city setting. People seemed friendly and relaxed rather than pressured and rushed.
Domestic travel within Iceland is most often done via flight. The interior of the country is uninhabitable and mostly covered in ice, making trains impractical and car travel impossible. There are ways drivers can get around the island via coastal roads, but it takes many hours, and often the twists and turns are exhausting to navigate over long trips. A flight from one side of the country to the other took about half an hour, and was very casual. It was very much like getting on a bus, no hassle or red tape.
The landscape of Iceland is as beautiful as it is unusual. A volcanic island, Iceland’s surface area is almost completely black, including the mountains and the beaches. To compensate, the Icelandic people favor brightly painted buildings, creating a stunning contrast of color across the strange landscape. I was shocked at how mild the weather was, especially considering it was only March. There was very little snow except in the mountains, and although the air was crisp, it wasn’t particularly cold, even at night.
Karen was an excellent host, taking me all around her corner of the island, exploring different towns and observing the wonders of the countryside. We stopped for amazing hamburgers (the best burger restaurants in Iceland are almost always inside gas stations, believe it or not), and we very seldom encountered another car on the road. We pulled over frequently so that I could take photos— there were so many things I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing, things I never wanted to forget.
I only spent four days traveling through Iceland in total, but that short half-week changed me for good. There is nothing like sitting on a balcony in the late evening, sipping your hot chocolate under the lights of aurora borealis, while listening to the silence around you and enjoying life in general. Iceland is a wonderful place, and I hope I have the good fortune of returning there very soon.