Charleen Famiglietti is a New York City-based 20-something who loves to book spontaneous trips abroad, especially for the food, wine and photos. She’s an award-winning writer and publicist whose trips in 2012 alone included Belgium, France, Israel and The Netherlands.
Before my trip in August 2009, there were only three things I knew about Iceland: It’s an island in Europe; it’s actually quite green, despite the country’s misleading name; and it spawned the swan-wearing pop star Bjork. So when a friend suggested that we take advantage of Icelandair’s stopover program on our way to Sweden ($529 roundtrip, including tax), I was indifferent at best. But little did I know, that this lush, Bjork-spawning Island off the northeast coast of Europe could be so shockingly beautiful.
Cut to our five-hour Icelandair flight from JFK. As we’re soaring over the Atlantic, we are asked by the friendly attendant if this is our our first time visiting Iceland. Our answer lands us several bottles of free champagne — cheers to new friends and a new land! We are taught that “Tak” means thank you, and it’s the only word we’ll really need to know, as nearly all Icelandics speak English. And, halfway through the flight, our friendly flight attendant — a heavy-set bald man who has already offered to show us around – tips us off that there is a famous Icelandic pop star right here on our plane. Maybe it’s the champagne, but I’m all tingly, and know that the next two days will be absolutely surreal.
We arrive in Reykjavik, lurking close behind Bjork at baggage claim. She gives us the cold shoulder, understandably, as her scarf sheds neon green feathers in her wake. This is the first and only time we will be slighted by anyone in Iceland.
This is when my friends drop an unexpected bomb. They’ve arranged for a “friend” they met on Skype to pick us from the airport and bring us to our hostel. I put my foot down, sure I’d have to phone Liam Neeson, as we are about to star in the sequel to Taken.
But things tend to have a way of working out in Iceland. Instead, I begrudgingly agree to let our new Skype friend meet us at our Hostel — a fair compromise, I think. Though I’m still not convinced we aren’t at the targets of some elaborate kidnapping plot.
We’re exhausted, and the sun does not set until midnight, so we decide to take a trip to the famous Blue Lagoon — a beautiful geothermal spa, a 30 minute car ride from the center of Reykjavik (20 minute drive from the airport). Guests are required to shower at the spa’s facilities before entering the warm waters, which are believed to be extremely beneficial for those suffering from skin ailments. Rich in minerals like silica and sulfur, the water temperature is kept at around 38 °C. The aqua blue water, the steam, the green scenery all make for extreme relaxation.
Our second day in Iceland is spent with Jon Sveinsson of Choice Tours Iceland. For $90 a person, Jon drove the three of us all around the country for eight hours. We toured geysers, volcanoes, awe-inspiring scenery, and even a tomato farm! I still say those tomatoes were the sweetest and most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.
The rest of the food was nothing to write home about — a large variety of fish and bread. Although, I was surprised by an outdoor hotdog stand in Reykjavik, Bæjarins Beztu (meaning best in town). The works featured ketchup, a slightly sweet Icelandic mustard, remoulade, minced pickles, and fried onions — a unique and surprising combination — but it definitely worked.
The nightlife can only be described as cozy. We went out for drinks at a quaint wood-paneled pub-style bar. It seemed that every person in the place had been acquainted, even if they’d only just met that night. We even ran into Jon dancing along to an acoustic guitar (a total coincidence).
All in all, Iceland is well worth a summer visit, if only for the mind-blowing scenery that could’ve been lifted straight off the pages of a fairytale. The people were accommodating, and I’ve kept in touch with everyone I met during that trip — except of course for Bjork.
Featured Image: Iceland Landscape (Kristen Schultz)