I have always been a winter person, even those extremely cold winter days in Egypt were still pleasant for me. Two years into my time in Kuwait I found myself missing the winter season terribly. Despite what people think, I didn’t really believe that the cold a Gulf country like Kuwait offers during its wintertime is actually a proper season. I missed the chilly weather, the sunny cold mornings, and bundling up before going out! I was yearning to wear my leather boots and coats, and have those wool scarfs wrapped around my neck! I just missed the whole combo and I realized that I needed to spend some time in proper cold and dreary winter weather. That was when I started to think about where to go. I wanted a place where I can enjoy the cold but can still go out and do things!!
I guess it wasn’t that difficult for me to decide on Iceland, a country that I have had on my list for as long as I can remember. I have always been captivated by its unique landscape and the fact that it was one of the countries that hosted the mystic aurora borealis show every winter. And just like so the decision was made and Iceland it was. Let the planning commence!
I have never researched and read travel blogs about a country I’m visiting as much as I have done with Iceland. I really did my homework with that one as people would say. I read lots of blogs and as much as they were helpful, they also left me a little terrified. I had the choice of either visiting in January, hard core winter, or March, the softer version. But after what I read about the harsh driving conditions during the peak of the winter season, I had my mind set on embarking on that trip in March hoping for kinder weather! That left me with quite some time on my hand to have the trip planned properly since I only had the time span of 8 days to spend in Iceland and I wanted to make it worthwhile.
Starting my journey from Kuwait provided me with limited options on how to reach my destination. The optimum one was to fly to Iceland via Holland and that was perfect because both are Schengen countries so applying for a visa wouldn’t be problematic since I could easily approach the Netherlands instead of Iceland which didn’t have any consulate representation in Kuwait. Roughly, the plan was to issue a visa from Netherlands (God bless them for the 3-month multiple entry they gave me), fly directly on KLM to Amsterdam (port of entry to the Schengen area), spend a day in the “Venice of the North”, then on the following day hop on another flight to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland.
That was my first time flying with KLM and it was one of the best ever. I couldn’t believe the amount of food they kept feeding us while in the air, I was so stuffed by the time I made it to the ground 😀 At passport control in Airport Schiphol, the officer asked me how long I’m staying in the Netherlands and what my plans were. A standard procedure that I’ve gotten used to! I informed him that I was only staying for a day as I would be flying to Iceland the following morning. He was taken aback, looked at me and said: you come from a very warm country, why are you going to Iceland? Exactly! That was exactly why I was going to Iceland; I missed the cold! He was astonished by my action but wished me a safe trip and welcomed me to his country.
Needless to say that despite my very short visit, I loved Amsterdam and wished I was able to stay longer. I hope I can give it a proper visit soon. Read about how I spent my day here.
After enjoying myself in Amsterdam, I woke up early in the morning to catch a WOW flight to Reykjavik. The 3-hour flight was scenic, it was a lovely sunny winter day and the scenes outside the airplane window were just beautiful. The flight would have been more pleasant though if it wasn’t for my next-seat neighbor who seemed to be annoyed by me for some reason!! I received looks of disapproval and aggressive gestures every time I reached for my backpack (which was under the seat in front of me by the way not in the overhead compartment) to get something or when I tried to make myself comfortable in my own seat!! I don’t know what I did to upset that old lady, but she really made me feel uncomfortable! She even gave me a stern look and shook her head at me when I was waiting for my luggage! At that moment, I thought to myself: OMG here we go!!
The minute I stepped out of the airport and walked towards the airport shuttle, I was mesmerized by the surrounding landscape and the windy weather that I totally forgot about her and didn’t give her stance towards me much though until now just because I’m writing about it!! I was finally stepping foot into Iceland; the trip was materializing and that was all that mattered at that moment.
Iceland is quite an expensive country and when it comes to airport transfers, the cheapest means of transfer between the airport and the capital city would be the shuttle bus. There are a couple of companies that offer such a service at almost the same price. Some of them drive you to the BSI Bus Terminal in Reykjavik while others can take you all the way to your hotel’s doorsteps. For a comparison between the different companies along with other not-so-cheap means of transfers, click here. I had my airport transfer booked through my accommodation in advance with the option of being dropped off at the hotel. It cost me 4900 ISK (around 33 Euro) for a round trip.
Speaking of accommodation, it was quite a pickle to find an available bed in a female dormitory for my dates!! I seriously had one option, only one, and that was KEX Hostel. The hostel is nestled in an old biscuits factory, hence the name which means biscuits in Icelandic, it has an excellent location and the friendliest, most helpful, staff ever.
The remainder of my arrival day to Reykjavik was literally the only time I had to check the city. So, I went out for a self-guided on-foot tour around town once I checked-in. The location of the hostel allowed me to easily do so and my starting point was just across the street from the hostel, straight on sculpture & shore walk, the steel sculpture of Sólfarið or the Sun Voyager.
The Sun Voyager is a stainless-steel 18 meters in length sculpture of a ship located by the seaside of central Reykjavik along the Sæbraut. It is the artwork of the Icelandic sculptor Jón Gunnar Árnason. It is the most visited sight in the capital city and despite what most people think, the sculpture is not of a Viking ship. Laying gracefully facing the Faxaflói Bay and the Engey Island, it is an ode to the sun, a vessel of dreams as the sculptor envisioned it. It is meant to represent “the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom” as per Jón’s words. The Sun Voyager was created to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Reykjavik. In 1986 a competition for an outdoor sculpture was held and was won by Jón Gunnar Árnason. On August 18, 1990, the Sun Voyager was unveiled to the public shortly after Jón has passed away! Sadly, he wasn’t able to see the reveal of his masterpiece after all!
I loved the sculpture and how it perched so gloriously across from the sea. But what I appreciated the most about being there, was the moment I had with a Taiwanese couple I met while I was there. The couple were on a trip for their wedding and were taking wedding pictures all dressed up in a wedding dress and a suit. They were so adorable. I was sitting on a step admiring the view when they approached me to ask if I wouldn’t mind taking some pictures of them. We had a mini photo session in front of the ship, and it was one of the best times ever.
I continued to walk alongside the shore and ended up at Harpa. Harpa is a concert hall and a conference center that was designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects in cooperation with the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. It is known for its distinctive facade that’s adorned with 714 geometric shaped glass panels of various colors, an inspiration of the basalt landscape of Iceland. The construction started in 2007 and wasn’t completed until 2011. The Iceland Symphony Orchestra performed under the baton of Vladimir Ashkenazy with the Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson as soloist in the opening concert on May 4, 2011. Harpa won the Mies van de Rohe award in 2013, a prestigious European prize for contemporary architecture. It is home for exhibitions, concerts, cultural events and festivals. Visitors can enjoy the distinguished structure of the hall along with its café and souvenir shop not to mention the beautiful surrounding scenery.
After marveling at Harpa, I walked myself to Hallgrímskirkja, an Evangelical-Lutheran church and a main landmark of Iceland. The church is named after Hallgrímur Pétursson, a prominent Icelandic poet, and was designed by Guðjón Samúelsson in 1973 who was inspired by the shapes created by lava when it cools down into basalt rocks. The construction started in 1945 and took 41 years to be completed. The church is the largest and among the tallest structures in Iceland standing high at 74.5 meters. Visiting Hallgrímskirkja wouldn’t be complete without going up the tower and be dazzled by the uninterrupted views of Reykjavik. Unfortunately, it was closed when I visited, and I wasn’t able to stare at those views that I highly admired every time I saw them portrayed in pictures online.
Most shops and cafes were closed by then but nonetheless, I kept strolling around the city enjoying its ambiance. I admired at the graffiti and street murals I found here and there and enjoyed a windy leisured walk around the Tjörnin lake till it was time for me to sit somewhere and have something to eat. For that, I followed on one of the recommendations I got from the hostel staff. I walked myself to Grillmarkaðurinn which didn’t come cheap but was worth every króna. The interior of the restaurant is welcoming and cozy and had a modern touch to it. The restaurant collaborates with local farmers which guarantees the best local produce in every season. That’s one of the reasons why the restaurant can deliver its varied menu for the enjoyment of its customers.
The menu was diverse and I couldn’t decide on a main dish so instead, I went for a couple of small ones so at least I would be able to try more than one dish. Now, those who know me know that I’m not a big fan of fish but that changed when I was in Iceland. I kind of made a pact, with myself, to leave my fish-eating-preferences aside and try to enjoy the freshness of such a meal on an island like Iceland. And so, I started with a grilled whale steak! Yup! I ate whale meat and let me tell you, it doesn’t at all taste like fish!! It actually had a red-meat texture to it, and it was delish!
I followed it with a monkfish accompanied by some garlic potatoes!! I had no idea what monkfish was and when I asked the waiter he said, and I’m quoting: “it is a deep water very ugly fish, but it tastes good” 😀 I was sold! It was more of a fish skewer than just a regular piece of fish laying on a plate. It was filled with flavor and tasted so good! I concluded my superb meal with the Grillmarket Chocolate, and it was out of this world! I got a scoop of ice-cream inside a chocolate ball which melted away once this hot caramel sauce was poured on top of it, there were also berries and nuts!! OMG, I’m drawling now that I’m thinking of it! First dinner in Iceland was definitely a success.
I walked back to the hostel afterwards but before I call it a day, I hanged out at the bar for some time to enjoy a live performance from a local band, Silla and Snorri. You would probably be surprised to know that Iceland has its own share of musicians and quite an impressive underground music scene! Bands like Kaleo and Björk for instance are originally Icelandic. I was very much enjoying the live performance; the band was really great but as much as I would have loved to stay longer, I had to withdraw to my bunk bed and conclude the day. I was up for an early start the following morning for the actual start of my big Icelandic adventure. I was due to collect my rented car and venture into a road trip that I have been dreaming of for quite some time!
Read about driving in Iceland and all the craziness of renting a car next! Stay tuned!
The trip dates back to March 2017