First Overseas Trip: Iceland

The only countries other than the USA that I’d ever been to were Canada and the Bahamas. So technically I’d never really been overseas in my life, until I went to Iceland.

Iceland wasn’t as far as I thought it was — it’s basically like flying to California from New York, except the trip to Iceland is even shorter.

iceland_referenceSo it turns out that the plane ride wasn’t going to be the longest I’d ever ridden. I thought it was going to be like 10 hours or something — it was only 5 hours.

20150623_231732Not to mention this trip was probably going to be the most north I’ll ever travel on Earth.

20150624_004246When I first got outside of the aiport, the first thing I smelled was, in a word, unpleasant. It was kind of stenchy — like urine and/or sulphur, or possibly boiled eggs. But I learned later that this smell is kind of important.

For instance, if you are in Iceland and you turn on the hot or warm water from the tap, you will smell the sulphur. It was kind of nauseating to me at first, but after a while I got used to it. I heard that the hot water that goes into the tap comes from hot springs underground and that the water doesn’t need to be heated again before reaching you. Even if the water needed to be heated again, the energy used to do so is renewable and sustainable. If you want to drink directly from the tap, just run the tap water cold for like 10 to 30 seconds and it won’t smell at all. The cold water apparently comes from their glaciers. If you want more details about Iceland’s renewable energy, you can read about it here. 

These facts are probably some of the most fascinating things I discovered about Iceland. The water is among the most potable in the world, and the energy comes from renewable sources. So in practice, I didn’t have to feel as guilty about taking long hot showers. But Icelanders don’t think like I do. They’re considerate. Not to mention smart and effective.

20150701_081610I’ve only ever seen ONE toilet in the USA where there were 2 flushing options — one for going number 1, and one for going number 2. I’d say like half of all the toilets I’d ever used in Iceland had the 2-button thing going on.

20150624_100823There was not one body of water in Iceland that I saw that had any garbage in it. I mean, sure, Iceland has tons of tourists, but still I always got the sense that Icelanders were more considerate and respectful towards their environment anyway.

Then again, there’s this to keep in mind. Iceland has only about 320 thousand people living there (most of them living in or near their capital city of Reykjavik), compared to the USA having over 300 million people. It’s way harder to distribute all kinds of things to that many people — ideas, unity, jobs, basic needs… I got the impression that Icelanders are really in it together. The USA has all kinds of problems going on with many different groups of people with all kinds of different interests and beliefs. Not everyone in the US validates global warming, many don’t care about their environment, many don’t believe in government assistance, many rich people think poor people are just lazy. There’s just so many people in the US that we’ll probably never be as in touch with each other as Icelanders are. Icelanders are so close to each other that they have to look up each other’s ancestries to make sure they don’t accidentally marry their cousins or something. But they really treat each other well, overall.

You can find out more details on how nicely people are treated in Iceland here.

As you can probably tell by now, Iceland seems to really resonate with me. For lack of a better word, I’d consider them pretty hipster.

20150624_125013I was initially afraid that I’d have trouble finding vegetarian options in Iceland. But to my surprise, everywhere I went to eat, the menu had at least 1 vegetarian option — and their food was always delicious!

I think this one was grilled cauliflower with barley and some kind of citrus sauce:

20150625_091418This one is astarpungar (“Love Balls”), basically fried dough and in this dish, with caramel and ice cream:


Salad and some cheesy garlic bread:20150626_153456

Cauliflower soup with some bread and smjor, or butter:20150629_124516

Pizza that had either gorgonzola or blue cheese in it, with currant jam in the middle:20150629_130430

This pizza tasted so good, especially with the jelly. It was really amazing how their gorgonzola/blue cheese was evened out by the currant jam, I just can’t explain it. It’s not like I minded the cheese in it, there was just some kind of “special effect” going on with the combination.

Here’s some skyr (pronounced “skeer,” and I think the “r” at the end is rolled a bit) cake we had:


The whole time I was in Iceland, I thought skyr was yogurt, or a brand of yogurt. Then I read somewhere that it isn’t yogurt, it’s cheese. Then I read somewhere else it’s a unique dairy product from Iceland that isn’t yogurt… or that the main differences are that skyr has more protein, less fat and is healthier than yogurt. *shrug* Whatever it is, it’s apparently healthy, and I really like it.20150628_094631

The skyr on this cake was nice and thick — in other restaurants or eateries, they vary in consistency, from more cheesecake-like to more whip cream-like. I prefer the more cheesecake-like consistency.

On this particular skyr cake that I bought though, it was topped with some kind of yellowish orange fruit and at this moment I have no clue what it is. It had the consistency of a tomato, inside and outside, but tasted like kiwi. Anyone know what it is? If you know or find out, let me know!

For the one week stay, it probably wasn’t the best idea to have restaurants as the main source of food. If you go to Iceland for a week or more, Bonus seems to be a good choice for groceries.


Can you imagine how I felt when I went to the supermarket and found these?


Vegetarian alternative meats!20150625_115945By far, those vegetarian hot dogs were the most convincing I’d ever tasted. Then again, I haven’t had real hot dogs in at least 5 years (not that I know of anyway). I got so scared, I kept checking the label again and again. Even though it’s probably in Icelandic, or perhaps Swedish, it at least said “ovo-vegetarisk.” Should be safe… right?

So now that we’ve established that Iceland has the greatest drinking water, fascinating facts about their energy usage, nice people, and great food, let me tell you about the sublimity of their natural landscapes.

Just keep in mind when vacationing here, be careful when driving out here!

20150627_053622“Eru beltin spennt?” “Are the seatbelts fastened?”

20150627_105555Apparently there are a lot of places in Iceland you’re simply not allowed to drive, especially if you don’t have a jeep with 4-wheel drive or something. I think you can get fined for driving in certain prohibited zones, but would you really want to risk your life driving over glaciers or hidden mud springs?

Speaking of mud springs, I didn’t even know what they were until I saw one.

20150627_072219They’re kind of like geysers, except they don’t seem to erupt and they have mud instead of water. The one pictured above here was at a rolling and splashing boil. I didn’t want to get too close to it, though.


It was really amazing hiking through the landscapes — the rolling hills, the cliffs, rivers, waterfalls, and how you could see hills from like miles away.

20150627_063341 20150627_075136 20150627_075603

20150627_081250 20150627_081349 20150627_081351

And the sheep. Just roaming around, apparently not belonging to anyone or any farm:


The weather here during the summer is like 40-50 degrees at the warmest, sometimes 60 degrees on particularly warm days. It gets to be around freezing or cooler during the winter. So whenever you go to Iceland, it probably won’t be shorts and tank top weather, unless you’re like running a marathon. Also, take wind chill into account. There’s almost always wind chill. 20150627_081449

I know that people say that lamb is truly delicious in Iceland (or so I hear), but it looks like the sheep have a pretty nice life. Well, at least during the summer. If they feel cold, they could just sit by a steaming geyser in the vast hills of grass.

But you have to be there to know what this steam smells like. 🙂 20150627_081512

In the picture above, you could just barely make out this ram just vigilantly glaring right at you.

The one natural spring that I went to and bathed in was a part of a river that felt so incredible.

20150627_082123It’s like 40-50 degrees out, windy, and mostly cloudy. I knew that going in and out was going to be a real pain, but the water must have been like 90 or 95 degrees, with no one heating it artificially. It’s just there! The water temperature was not scalding hot at all, nor was it uncomfortably cold. It was just perfect.

Here’s some pictures of an active geyser named:



It erupted like every 5 minutes or so. Standing in the way of the steam that came out after it erupted, I was startled and panicked a little 😛 The steam was hot, and the smell was quite pungent. 20150628_073757 20150628_073800 20150628_073805 20150628_074321

The calm and clear hot springs were really pretty to look at as well.

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Everyone’s a troll.

If you decide to visit any larger water falls, I suggest bringing a poncho. Especially if you visit Gullfoss.

20150628_092046That day it was so windy, I hoped that anyone who brought their babies held onto them real tight.



Here is Skogafoss:20150629_151423 20150629_151710 20150629_152311 20150629_152330 20150629_153228 20150629_153234I’d also never seen a double rainbow in person until now, let alone one that arched right over the road like we were in the world of Mario Kart:

20150629_121854Another fun fact about Iceland is how during the summer, the sun doesn’t really set. It sets for like 2 hours sometime after midnight.


That clock was working. Yes, this is how bright it is at midnight in late June. I find this insane.20150624_195834It really doesn’t get much darker than this during the summer, which totally messed me up when trying to manage my sleep cycle. Coming back to the apartment every evening felt so weird, because I had this sense of guilt, like my day wasn’t over yet. It was like the sun was saying “No, not bedtime yet. You still got more things to do.” So falling asleep was super hard for me during the first half of the vacation, even though I tried using a sleeping mask to help me.


On this evening, it was like, 9pm — the sky was still that blue and the sun was still so high above the horizon.20150629_165153

Here’s some miscellaneous observations I made from my experience in Iceland:

– When traffic lights are turning green, they go from red to yellow first.

– There’s more iconography than text in traffic signs.

– There are a lot of roundabouts when driving.

20150630_074733 20150630_092124

20150630_134150– They take credit or debit cards everywhere. I didn’t have to withdraw any Icelandic Krona during my trip.

– If you haven’t noticed from my other pictures, these purple/blue flowers, called Alaskan Lupins, are everywhere:

20150627_064551Icelanders seem to consider them weeds because they just grow everywhere uncontrollably. But come on! Even Icelandic “weeds” are beautiful! They’re actually like candy to the horses as well.

Speaking of horses, I went horseback riding for the first time. Well, I rode a pony once when I was like 11, but the pony was guided by someone else and I was never instructed on how to ride it.

20150630_105125Icelandic horses are shorter, but they are apparently nicer in their temperament. The guide carefully assigned each person to specific horses, according to their level of experience I guess.

You know when people tell you “The proof is in the pudding,” you should really go and experience stuff for yourself. Seriously. Even as I’m trying to share this experience with you, albeit in the form of a blog post, you should just go out and experience things. Just in general.

20150630_113616The ride with about a dozen other people was about an hour long or so. I don’t think I’d ever spent that much time so close to that many horses before. My most up-to-date preconception of horses kind of came from watching the whole series of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” (and no, I’m not ashamed at all).

The horses were truly adorable and nice.

granaBut first-hand experience with them was enlightening. As you might have guessed, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” isn’t quite an accurate representation of horses (not to mention the guide never wanted us to call their horses “ponies,” even their younger horses). I saw at least one of the horses drooling and grinding her teeth a lot (or chewing the mouthpiece of the harness?), and as she shook her head every now and then during the ride, she spattered a lot of her discharge all around her. Lovely, huh?

Another behavior I’d never seen before was some of the horses nuzzling on the rear ends of some other horses, especially mine. When I first saw this, I found it funny. Then one of the guides told me to pull the reigns off to the side whenever my horse exhibited such behavior. I realized at the end of the ride that it was probably some kind of mating behavior, especially since the horse I rode on was male. 😛


I thought the horse I rode on was a little crazy, though to be fair I’d never really ridden on a horse before. He farted a lot, and about half the times I clicked my tongue and gave a little nudge with my legs to tell him to start walking, he’d yank the reigns out of my hands by nodding really hard or he just wouldn’t respond. I was told some of the horses weren’t always very responsive to our commands, but fortunately from the experience of the ride, I learned that I didn’t always have to signal to my horse to move. I rode mostly in the back of the group, and my horse always walked or trotted when the rest of the horses in front were moving, and stopped when the rest of the group stopped.


After the ride was over, the horses were visibly happy.



I really enjoyed the experience with the horses, and the women guiding us were attentive and thorough. For the awesome riding experience I had in Iceland, you can book your ride here. 
20150630_130130So that’s essentially the bulk of the vacation in Iceland.

I loved the scenery, I was truly fascinated by their energy sources, the people are nice, the food is great, and the numbers on everything else are just staggering (like the low incarceration rate and crime rate).

I didn’t mean to really put down any particular country in this blog post, though. Every country has their perks and flaws and their reasons for them. The USA has always been my home, and I did actually miss some things about it. Coming back home from the airport, the sun actually set at night, and the sky was black. The cars are much roomier, and as it is summer now, I can actually go out and appreciate the wind in 80-degree weather. I’ve always lived in denser areas like Long Island and now, the New York City area.

It was nice to have had a lot of peace in Iceland — you couldn’t even hear any birds chirping from the apartment where we stayed. It was just so quiet. The neighbors were nice and considerate.

There was even a nice photo of my home in the apartment in Iceland:


At home though, traffic is busy, the neighbors upstairs are stomping as usual, and people drive by honking with their speakers blasting reggaeton through their open windows. What’s not to love?

Well, basic take-away from this, artistically I was really inspired by the scenery. I’m probably going to do a bunch of painting from the photos I took. Also, I do highly recommend visiting Iceland. I hope this was an enjoyable and enlightening post!

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