Top 5 mistakes I have made in Iceland

Sometimes  people who don’t know me very well  are surprised to learn that I am going to Iceland on holiday. I think this is partly because there is a culture here of going on holiday specifically to go somewhere warmer. The other thing is that actually the general public doesn’t know much about Iceland. Selfishly, I’d like to keep it that way. I sometimes have to remind myself that at one time I knew practically nothing about Iceland either – and although I hate to admit I have been that embarrassing tourist.

Here are some of the ways I’ve been caught out in Iceland and what I’ve learned:

1.     Iceland –  it’s not covered in ice – but…  I must admit, I was very underprepared on my first trip, which was the Landmannalaugar trek. I did this as part of a group and the organisers told us the weather would be changeable, but not how cold it might actually be in June.

Snow = better for walking in than sleeping in

Snow = better for walking in than sleeping in

So on the first night we all went to sleep in our tents with our normal UK-summer nightwear on. The rest of the night passed in a weird kind of haze where nobody really slept because they were so cold and we were “pleasantly surprised” when we emerged and saw snow in the morning.  So for the rest of the week it was sleeping in UK-summer nightwear plus hat, scarves, gloves, heavy socks…

Lesson learned: don’t ever hesitate about bringing and wearing winter clothes in summer months.

2.     Wind as comedy. In Iceland it can be what would be considered REALLY windy anywhere else at any time of year. I have spent time attached to the fence near Harpa and several signs along  Lækjargata being too scared to move off because of the wind. This is a case of poetic justice as I love to see other people being blown around by the wind or falling down.

Lesson learned: This is a tough one – embrace the wind? Or don’t laugh when you see other people being blown around, it can be really scary! (ok – I will probably still laugh at other people, which means I am doomed as far as this point is concerned)

3.     There really might be trolls. When out for a walk, my friend and I ended up in a place where we were completely on our own and we found a single huge footprint. We both looked at each other and said in hushed tones: “TROLLS”. I can see this sounds ridiculous, but what else could have left a huge footprint?? Stupidly neither of us thought to take a picture, we had got quite scared at this point and just wanted to get to a bit where we could see other people again. We did manage to take a picture of ourselves on this 13asame walk which came out so ugly we couldn’t believe it – even the other people in our group screamed with laughter when they saw it. We looked like trolls ourselves. I’m telling you, we passed through a weird area.

Lesson learned: If something’s scary – take a picture of it before you run away. (before you ask, the picture of us is on an old computer and I REALLY wouldn’t post it anyway)

4.     I love to eat! Part 1  You know I love me a cheese pizza with jam. Imagine my horror when I dropped a big slice face down under the table. I still ate  it – we just don’t have the same kind of jam here and I wasn’t going to throw it away that easily.

Lesson learned: You can eat food off the floor.

I love to eat! Part 2  Well, it turns out even the most basic and seemingly familiar types of food can make you react badly. I never would have thought twice about eating anything in Iceland, until the time I had a kleina (doughnut) and got some crazy allergic reaction of the type that I’ve never had before or since.  It was very embarrassing and I probably should have seen a doctor. Apparently sometimes food might be cooked in an oil or fat you haven’t had before. I’ve since heard a similar story from another blogger around fish. I wrote more about this here, if you like to read about pain and fear.

Lesson learned:  Just grow up and ask for help if your face swells up to twice its size and you can’t breathe.

5.     You can’t always get what you want Part 1  As a general rule but in Iceland especially, if you see something you want to buy just buy it. It can even  be something as silly as a CD, which I’ve ended up going around 3 shops looking for because I didn’t just buy it in the first shop and nowhere else has it. (side note – something particularly charming in Iceland is the way the salesperson actually writes down your CD purchases – presumably because they only buy more in when they need to rather than overloading the stockroom with things that don’t sell. This seems to happen every time I buy a CD ).

Lesson learned: Just buy it! Even if you see something that seems like it will be in every other tourist/music/knitting shop it might not be. I’ve wasted a lot of time on this.

You can’t always get what you want Part 2  In the City Hall there is a large 3D topographic map of Iceland which isn’t really my cup of tea but is the kind of thing that

Handball vs the topographic map...difficult choice

Handball vs the topographic map…difficult choice

seems to get mentioned on travel shows and I’d previously gone to look at it  “just because” rather than because it was something I was desperate to see.  However, we did make a point of going especially to see it once (and even had to come back as it turns out the building opens later on a Sunday) only to find it had been taken away to make room for a Christmas display. On the same trip I was also desperate to go the flea market – and guess what – that was also closed around Christmas!

Lesson learned: Things you want to see go away at Christmas. But you can go and watch handball instead if you’re lucky.

Honourable mention goes to the husband who insisted on driving up a “road” up the cliff near Vík, even though the guidebook said it was only advisable with a heavy duty 4×4. Needless to say we abandoned it about halfway up and walked – at least we didn’t actually have to get towed out which would have REALLY been embarrassing.


19 thoughts on “Top 5 mistakes I have made in Iceland

  1. You can’t always get what you want holds true in a lot of other places too. After a while in both Hong Kong and South Africa I worked on the rule – if you see it and you need it / want it enough and you can afford it – buy it the first time. It may be months or most likely never before you see it again. 😉

  2. Great article! I made the same mistake with not buying something I wanted in the first shop and then never finding it! Also checked out your blog on the allergic reaction. I do have some food allergies but can avoid them easily by asking (my first Iceland word was the one for ‘nuts’), but I still carry allergy meds with me at all times when travelling. I am really paranoid when it comes to that!

  3. The same thing happened to me in Vik! We hired out a little Yaris and followed a 4×4. The car got stuck in the snow, but luckily we managed to dig it out with those ice scrapers for the windows.

  4. Another great – and useful! – post. I shall remember all of these when I travel to Iceland.

    Regarding #5 and the handball vs the topographic map….um, yeah, I’m one of those folks who would actually choose the map over some sports game. Yes, I’m a nerd. 😛

  5. I think once you get used to the wind it has a compelling rawness about it – when the coach stopped in the Highlands so we could bathe at the Hveravellir springs in 2007, the gale force slammed into me with locomotive force the moment I got outside and made each second of trying to get changed and run (literally) into the spring a perishing rite of passage. But in retrospect, anything less wouldn’t have been authentic, in spite or because of the fact it was August…

  6. Regarding the topographical 3D map of Iceland in the City Hall, it is good but perhaps over-reviewed. Walking around anywhere in Iceland exposes you to geographical and cultural attractions and phenomena so densely packed together you end up (metaphorically) tripping up over them – to the extent that even the relative sideshows are more interesting than ‘must-see’ attractions in other countries. You could argue that the giant chess set in Hafnarhus is as critical an attraction as the map!

    • Yes, it is quite weird to look at the map when it’s so easy to get to so many interesting geographical features! I just read about some people who went to see the Coliseum in Rome and it was closed for some reason, which would be more of a letdown…

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