There is no ice or snow on the ground in Iceland in mid-August, but it is cold enough that I am kicking myself for leaving my sweatshirt at home. All day it feels like 4:30 pm, the sun low on the horizon behind a heavy haze of clouds. I land late in the morning exhausted from a sleepless yet short Nordic night on Wow Airlines. Wow! Only $30 extra for a day layover in Reykjavik? You’d be correct, but backpackers take note: 30 bucks is likely the cheapest hostel you will find in all of Iceland, and meals are rarely cheaper. A ‘meal’ of french fries and a beer at Reykjavik Chips—an Icelandic institution that exclusively sells fries and beer—ran me 2050 kr or 19 USD. Iceland is one big Yankee Stadium. Beware.
My hostel, dubbed “Hostel B47,” is close to the small Reykjavik downtown. Weather is overcast with intermittent sprinkles. On a hill overlooking the town, Iceland’s second tallest building Hallgrímskirkja, a Lutheran church, looms over Reykjavik. Strewn about the town are adorable (a word I try not to use but find necessary in this circumstance) fish shacks and restaurants. I stop by a pond, the Parliament building, and concert hall Harpa, which is an impressive and ultra-modern building overlooking the water. There is a Viking vibe to the place, similar to Norway’s Oslo. One of Reykjavik’s most popular photo-ops is a statue of a Viking longship (“The Sun Voyager”) placed near the concert hall on the water.
Before going on my somnambulant tour of Reykjavik, I stopped in the hostel to charge my phone. There I met a Canadian, also in her last year of college, whom I relished chatting with about backpacking in Southeast Asia. She had fell off a motorcycle in Laos and had to fly home to fend off infection with her undeniably superior Canadian healthcare system. She told me about how she struggled in India and Sri Lanka as a woman, but that I would probably be fine, which is good news as I intend to go to both of those places in a few months. I also met a Luxembourgish- Colombian guy who seemed very eager to relay what he ate for dinner the night before: a $100 horse steak with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and berries on top, paired with red wine. I realized I actually enjoyed the ‘party hostel’ thing: young people swapping travel tips and stories. It is one of the rare instances where I meet people my age where we seem to have something meaningful to talk about. As I was leaving, a man introduced himself to us as a Master’s degree student in Norse studies. For his studies he explained he intended to learn classical Icelandic in order to translate texts like the Sagas, which are stories from the 9th to 11th centuries still housed in a museum in Reykjavik.
I finished my tour around town with a large bowl of traditional Icelandic lobster soup at Sægreifinn, a small blue shack on the water. I turned in at around 4:30, the level of light not having changed a bit since I landed. Thankfully, the hostel had good blinds that allowed me to sleep despite the regular comings-and-goings of the other guests. I awoke at 2 am, surprised at the darkness outside, and caught a Reykjavik Excursions bus (about $35) to the airport. I probably could (and should) have slept another hour, but I had no idea how regularly the buses ran at 2 am. They appear to run roughly every 15 minutes, so I easily made it from my hostel to the airport in about an hour. Customs and security check was a breeze as well, so travellers need not worry too much about budgeting more than 2 hours of airport time. In all, I highly recommend Iceland as a layover destination. While expensive, it is perfect for a day trip, but I would avoid sleeping over if at all possible. While the hostels are not terribly expensive, only $10 or so more than in Paris, for instance, minimal transport from the airport will run about $30 each way, so not sleeping in Iceland is a fair way to save some money. Food can be expensive too, so I am glad I had a couple classic Icelandic meals, but would not have spent any more time (or money) in and around Reykjavik if given the opportunity.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.