November is my least favourite month – rainy and cold, but without much useful snow. It is however a very good time to take advantage of cheap flights to travel somewhere unique. Two weeks ago Laura and I decided to make a quick trip to Iceland.
Because Iceland sits just below the arctic circle, daylight was scarce (10:30am-3:30pm). We had to plan our days carefully to take advantage of it. A typical day involved a swim at the local pool then some driving before sunrise, hiking in the daylight, and maybe another swim before dinner!
Iceland has changed a fair bit since I visited with my family in 2008. Many tourist sites were busier in November 2016 than they were in June 2008, and infrastructure such as boardwalks and signage has been added to reduce the impact of so many people on the fragile land where things grow slowly.
The country’s economy is enormously dependent on tourism, and all the locals we met were very welcoming, though perhaps a bit reserved as seems to be typical of many nordic cultures. The capital city Reykjavik has a touristy core where expensive design (ceramic, textile and jewelery) shops are thriving. However, a short walk reveals what seems to be still a very liveable city.
The highlights of our trip were definitely our visits to geothermally heated swimming pools – or sundlaugs. We skipped the Blue Lagoon on this trip, though if you are only making a short stop in Iceland it is certainly worth a visit. Myvatn Nature Baths did not dissapoint, especially as it is very well located on a hillside with excellent views of sunset.
Even better however, were the local swimming complexes at Akureyri and Blonduos. Firstly they were accessible for a fraction of the cost of the aforementionned sites. More importantly they were almost exclusively frequented by locals and gave us a glimpse into Icelandic culture. The Icelandic swimming experience begins by showering completely naked in a common area in the changing rooms. This really breaks down many barriers as everyone is largely equal in the nude. Then one heads outside to choose between swimming pools, hot tubs, and steam rooms of varying temperatures. Even Goldilocks would not be dissapointed here. Periodic dunking in icewater tubs between the hot tubs makes the experience complete. It was clear that many community and social affairs were discussed in the hot tubs, especially by the local elders.
If you plan a trip to Iceland, be ready to rent a car, spend lots of money on food, risk scurvy due to the lack of fruit and vegetables in the shops, bring lots of warm clothes, and most importantly – don’t forget your swimming suit!