The fire and ice island of Iceland has never been on my radar for travels, but when I caught wind that WOW Air was soon launching direct service between St. Louis and Reykjavik, my interest was piqued. All I really knew at the time was that Bjork was from Iceland.
I decided to check out this frozen country of Iceland and challenge myself to travel somewhere different. I booked WOW out of Chicago directly to Reykjavik. Flights range from $100 to about $350. C’mon, how can you beat such affordable international travel? You will soon be able to book from St. Louis to Reykjavik for an estimated $150 and to any of their European destinations from an estimated $200 one way. Please note, you will have a layover in Reykjavik.
WOW is a fun, friendly and very stylish no-frills airline based out of Iceland. If you understand what you will experience prior to traveling on WOW, you will have a pleasant journey. If you require any customer service, baggage transport or anything other than your check-in or assigned seat, be prepared for a nominal additional fee.
This modern affordable approach to air travel has WOW living out loud and proud. Known for their brand new, bright purple Airbus carriers and super stylish team members, WOW makes your travels feel like one big party.
I was shocked to find out that WOW Air has only been around for six years and only employs around 1,200 people worldwide. In fact, the flight attendant I had from Chicago to Reykjavik was also featured in an online advertisement I had seen. Talk about teamwork and reinvestment in your people. And it doesn’t hurt that most Icelanders are extremely attractive. Needless to say, my six-hour flight from Chicago to Reykjavik was quite comfortable and had plenty of legroom. The brand new Airbus carrier and stylish crew made my WOW experience, well: Wow!
You Have Arrived and the Spotlight Is On You
Any LGBT traveler will feel completely at ease in Iceland. Reykjavik only has a couple of gay bars, but that mainly is because LGBT acceptance is common and everywhere. Iceland was one of the leading nations who ushered in equality by recognizing same-sex partnership back in 1998. The LGBT community is a welcomed fabric in the tapestry of Iceland.
To my surprise, I arrived right in the middle of Reykjavik Winter Pride and quickly got passes for the grand masquerade party that Saturday night. The festivities were rather sultry and fun with plenty of eye candy. Iceland hosts a variety of LGBT events to celebrate the diverse culture of our community, including an annual Bears on Ice, which takes place in early September; the traditional Summer Pride and Winter Pride; Kiki; and a slew of other events throughout the year.
The Suite Life
Reykjavik is really the only major metropolis, and it can be a unique experience getting around and finding accommodations. I stayed at the amazing Hotel Borg in the heart of the city. It was a luxury Icelandic hotel and even had heated bathroom floors. The staff was super accommodating and the rooms were most spacious.
While hotel living is very common while traveling abroad, many travelers to Iceland have use housing and rental services like AirBnb. Most travelers I met were renting small apartments or homes and loved it. I would suggest that if you do AirBnb it, choose to stay around the city’s center where most of the shopping, dining and nightlife take place.
If you do need to get around the city, Iceland has a well thought out bus system. There are even bus services like Flybus for excursions and airport transfers. The airport transfers are about a 45-minuet bus ride but there are departures almost every half hour.
Get Out and Explore
Although Reykjavik is the metro pulse of Iceland, there is so much to experience all over the country. Reykjavik Excursions has a ton of adventure options, and I wasted no time in booking a few excursions, most of which depart early in the morning simply because you do have to travel as much as three to four hours for some sites. If you book an excursion, plan on it taking most of your day.
I’ve Seen the Light
How often are you in a place where you can see the famed Northern Lights? At the right time of year and when the skies are clear, there are night excursions to view them. It is about a four hour commitment but well worth it. If you do not get to see the Northern Lights on the night you booked, Reykjavik Excursions will rebook you for another night for free.
Climb Every Mountain
I’m not the most outdoor wilderness guy out there, but I thought I should challenge myself and climb a glacier, do some snowmobiling and check out a geyser. This excursion will take your entire day and evening. Reykjavik Excursions does have free Wi-Fi on all their buses, so it makes the long rides between stops go by fairly fast.
Top of the schedule was the first geyser ever documented. It was named Geysir and that is where we get the word from today.
Next up was the great waterfall. After centuries of glacier expansion and contraction this enormous waterfall of fresh glacier water has carved out a deep ridge that is a sight to behold.
I don’t think anything could of prepared me for the next segment of my journey. After the great waterfall, we were transferred to a fleet of Russian Military Off Road Carriers that had been converted for passenger travels. We were to take a 2-hour, very slow and very scary crawl to the top of the glacier. Mind you there are no roads, just some snowdrift markers to let the drivers know where to head. Yes, we did in deed get stuck on our way back down the glacier but aid crews arrived in about 30 minutes and help us get on our way. While it was a very bumpy and treacherous ride, nothing could provide the magnificent views and vista of Mother Nature quite like this.
Upon reaching the summit, we were directed into a makeshift shanty cabin and given protective gear to go on our next adventure, snowmobiling atop the glacier. Temperatures and winds here are so brutal that any unprotected body part is subject to frostbite in seconds. I will tell you, I arrived overly prepared and even with the protective gear atop my own attire I was still frozen to the bone. My fingers and toes have never stung and hurt so bad. But, you know what, I did not care one bit. This was a once in a lifetime experience. We were fortunate that the day we came the sky was clear and sunny and air was so fresh and clean. There is nothing like riding around on a snowmobile at 70 miles per hour on open fresh clean snow with no end in sight.
The trek home is very long, very arduous and yes you will be worn out beyond belief. However, you do not want to miss this excursion.
Hit the Spas
Now that you have been frozen to the bone, it’s time to heat things up. Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is one of the most noted attractions for the nation and is conveniently located near the airport. You will definitely keep warm in these ancient geothermal pools bubbling up from the volcano below. It’s the strangest feeling being outside in 0 degree temperatures, being pelted on your head by ice rain and snow while wading and floating in about a 100-degree natural hot springs. The mineral waters also do wonders for your skin. For about a week after visiting the Blue Lagoon, my skin was so tight yet so soft and glowing like I’ve never seen before.
You Must Go Home Now
Even though I only spent five days in Iceland, I was over the moon about my experience. The people are friendly and attractive. Everyone speaks English, mainly because Icelandic is one of the most difficult languages to learn and speak. I started out this adventure with not much knowledge of Iceland and I left having a real sense of the people, the lifestyle and the identity of this surreal and accepting nation.
I will have to take another trip to Iceland sometime during the summer months to see the difference in the landscape and activities. During the summer months, Iceland experiences 24-hour days and temperature highs in the upper 50s.
GURL did you know
- There are no trees in Iceland.
- The entire population of Iceland is only about 350,000 people; 70 percent of them live and work in Reykjavik.
- Icelanders do not have family last names. Instead of having last names like Smith or Jones they instead simply add the word “Son” or “Dottir” after a person’s fathers first name. For example, my father’s first name is Edmond. So, if we were Icelanders my name would be Darin Edmondsson and my sister’s name would be Dava Edmondsdottir.
- Iceland sits in the middle of the North American Continental Shelf and the Eurasian Continental Shelf on an active geoplate called the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
- The Vikings settled Iceland around 800 AD; they were the first to ever establish a parliamentary government in 940 AD.
- There is virtually no crime in Iceland, no standing army and police officers typically do not carry guns. No police officer has ever been shot in the line of duty in Iceland.
- Over 80 percent of Iceland’s energy is powered by geothermal sourcing. Geothermal pools being pumped into the homes and buildings across the country provide heating. Electricity is mainly powered by wind turbine. There is very little consumption of fossil fuels in Iceland except for petrol for their vehicles. V