Back whilst we were packing up mum’s house, during a much needed coffee break where my brother played candy crush and I checked status updates on Facebook; Iceland popped into my head and seemed like a great idea. Five minutes later my bank account was £100 lighter and I was back scrubbing the oven.
As things go, Iceland came around in no time at all, sandwiched between Barcelona and a trip back home. With my suitcase stuffed full of thermals and winter jackets I was ready to once again sneak out of work, airport bound.
First though a quick lunch time meeting at the bank. I hadn’t thought anything of the bank manager at the time but somehow we ended up swapping emails – this will all come into play later, for now though, back to Iceland.
So I arrived at my hostel at 2am, having never stayed in a proper hostel before I didn’t understand how things worked. A little hyper active at being in a new country, I bounced into my room only to find it pitch black and everyone asleep. Wheeling my suitcase back and forth I finally whispered into the dark ‘how do you know which bed is yours’ an angry sleepy voice floated back ‘just pick one!’. After a bit of poking I finally crawled into a top bunk, possibly waking everyone up in the process.
The following morning was spent horse riding. Icelandic ponies are different, they have really long backs and short stubby legs, they also have four speeds unlike the rest of the ponies in the world which I was informed, have three. Apparently if an animal leaves Iceland, it can never return because the laws are so strict so when Icelandic ponies go to horse shows etc, that’s it, they’re not coming back. As I’d discovered magical riding abilities in Easter Island, I ended up in the experienced rider group, pretending I belonged there and trying my best not to fall off.
This was followed by a spot of whale watching. We saw a black fin in the distance – it could have been a bin bag but the boats followed it regardless, then we saw some white splashes – dolphins, they could have just been waves. It was cold, I pulled my hood tight so that only a small hole remained to see through and hugged myself for warmth. Surrounded by couples and families I sat alone and wondered ‘what the hell was I doing, travelling alone was hard!’.
Dejected I headed back to the hostel, only to find it had come alive since I’d left in the morning. My room was now filled with 19 and 20 year olds; all either on gap years or heading to/returning from studying abroad. We went for dinner. We went for drinks. We swapped stories. Finally at one bar the bouncer asked for ID’s. I didn’t have ID so he asked my age, I whispered ’30’ he didn’t hear. I tried again ‘thirrtyyyy’ giving him the ‘keep it on the down low look’. ‘THIRTY’ he boomed for all to hear which was quickly followed by a chorus from my 19/20 year old companions ’30?! Oh my god, you’re so old!’. When exactly did I become the old person of a group?! Ughh!
We each put a 1000 kroner in and ordered a round of ‘Black death’ shots; leaving just enough money left over for one shot of the bar’s strongest tipple. The problem came in deciding who should be forced to drink this shot of doom. After much discussion I had the bright idea to suggest the person who had taken the most flights that year. Surely the girl from Arizona studying in Hawaii must have flown back and forth a whole bunch of times, or the guy from Seattle studying in Germany and who had visited 15 countries that very summer, or what about the two students from Hong Kong, that’s a lot of connections to get to Iceland from Hong Kong! And of course, we could definitely rely on the 19 year old guy from Newcastle, UK coming to the end of his gap year travels. As we went round the table revealing our numbers, much to my dismay and building panic, all their numbers were relatively low, not coming close to my stupid 17 flights meaning I was forced to drink hell’s liquor. I wasn’t letting them all off though so I returned from the bar with a round for everyone. If I was going down, they were coming with me!
Somehow I’d managed to pick the one weekend that Iceland had its largest festival and I was staying right in the heart of it all. Unfortunately I’d also managed to book in a glacier hike, taking my hungover self away from the festival, live music and free street waffles (which according to one guy were awesome and could be made into chocolate, ice cream, tripple layer waffle sandwiches).
The truck drove me straight through the North American and European tectonic plates, which are slowly splitting Iceland apart by about an inch a year. The scenery is exposed and raw, sharp cliffs, black ash covered mountain, great plains, sulphur fumes rising out the ground and giant rock formations. It feels completely prehistoric, I half expected to see some great beast sweep down from the rocks, it’s shadow casting a cloud over an unsuspecting pony right before being seized in the creatures claws and carried away to feast on. It’s easy to see why Jules Verne set ‘Journey to the centre of the earth’ there, the places just inspires you.
We donned our snow shoes, grabbed our pick axes and made our way out over the glacier. If you cut a glacier in half it would look like swiss cheese, there are tales of people falling down a hole and managing to walk out the other end however most who fall down a glacier hole die, so probably not worth trying.
Returning to Reykjavik that evening, we all re-grouped and headed out for the festivities. I’m not entirely sure what was going on, I’m convinced Liberace was on stage at one point in his white suit and cape, there was also an extremely impressive firework display – for a full five minutes where they basically set off all the fireworks in one go to some classical music and then we met a drag queen who called herself ‘The Queen of Iceland’ and told us tales of the boyfriend in Paris who had broken her heart.
The next day, once again feeling a little delicate I made my way to the Golden Circle tour. On route I learnt all about moss. There are not many trees in Iceland but what they do have is moss; moss that is protected by the government! You are forbidden to stand on or pull any up, the fines are extremely steep if you’re caught doing this, we’re talking half a million kroner steep! . On one lava cliff face some boy scouts had pulled out clumps of moss to write their troops name. This was visible to read as we drove to the golden circle, the boy scouts had done this in 1951! It will take almost 200 years for the moss to grow back!
By the third night all the young’ns had left (how old do I sound?!), tired of pretending to be a 20 year old student and eating nothing but cereal bars, supermarket sandwiches and dodgy slices of pizza from takeaways I decided to be an adult and went for a proper meal which turned out to be in a raw food restaurant. It was actually amazing food, raw, uncooked, super healthy and delicious, who knew!
Being an adult lasted all of an hour, just as soon as I got back to my hostel and put my pj’s on these three American 25 year old guys on a five week European tour burst into the room and off to the pub we went.
We got a bit drunk, I learnt all about American fraternities and sororities which was fascinating and from what I can gather is basically a popularity contest thrown in with making freshers your bitch and being smacked on the ass by a paddle.
Sitting in the Big Lebowski bar, drinking too many White Russians, Elton John’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ came on the radio. Two of us drunkenly declared it the best song ever and then attempted to recreate that scene in ‘Almost Famous’ complete with closed eyes and clenched fists at the chorus which I can only imagine did not look as cool as it felt at the time.
Eventually we ended up back at the dorm in our connecting bunks. My feet made contact with one of the American’s, I pushed his feet away from my space. This was interpreted as a come on, maybe it was, we were all pretty drunk, it’s hard to tell now, either way, he appeared up my end of the bunk bed and some active kissing took place. Only I was very aware of the other 9 people in the room. Footsie guy declared he had a condom in his bag which for was pretty presumptuous of him. ‘Ummm yeah I’m not having sex in a room with 12 people in it!’ I replied. We returned to our respective bunks, or more accurately him to his.
The next day we all went for pancakes and nothing further was said of the night before. They then got a flight to Amsterdam and I went to hang out in the blue lagoon on my own surrounded by couples. Word of advise – do not put your hair in the pool, it turns to concrete for days.
That afternoon, I finally plucked up the courage to visit the Icelandic penis museum. A museum dedicated to nothing but animal penis’ (Peni? Penises? What is the plural?!). There was the 5 foot whale penis, the tiny snail penis, the horse’s one, the elephant penis. There was even a mythological room with a troll’s, a mermans (his looked infected!) and a vampires. The crown jewel’s of the collection was the homosapien specimen – a 90 year old man’s, let’s just say, for his sake, I hope things had shrunk with age! I pretty much spent the entire visit (and walk back to the hostel) giggling like a school girl.
That night, the last night, desperate for sleep and a nice little quiet night in but still keen for some company, I told myself I’d had three nights in a row, expecting a fourth was probably pushing it. And then two Australians turned up…
One had been on Tinder and managed to score a date with an Icelandic girl. Now I should tell you here, everyone in Iceland looked like a model! The men were tall and broad, blue eyed and blonde haired. With those natural muscles an Englishman would spend hours in the gym to achieve and still fail. The women were also tall, slim limbed, perfect pale skin, big blue eyes and long blonde hair which always seemed to be blowing away from their face unlike mine which did nothing but try to blind and strangle me. It is just a beautiful race. Unfortunately my new Australia friend didn’t manage to secure a date with the traditional Icelandic ladies and in walked a rather large Goth girl; luckily neither felt a love connection so we quickly got past that and got on with drinking beer and hearing what life was like in Iceland from our new Goth friend.
It turns out dating in Iceland is very different than that in the UK. For a start, if you see someone in a bar, it is the girl who approaches the guy. If they are both keen then they go home with each other that night. This is followed by a few weeks of casual sex and then finally, the guy might ask the girl on a date and they decide to start seeing each other, if that goes well, then they become boyfriend and girlfriend.
A typical Icelandic date pretty much consists of going on an ‘ice cream drive’. The Icelandic love their ice cream which seems odd because it’s bloody cold there! An ice cream drive literally means driving to the next village/town over and getting ice cream together.
Another nugget I found out about Iceland is that they have a Facebook page for hugging. So you know sometimes late at night when you’re just a little bit low and just need a hug? Well in Iceland they go on Facebook, put a little status up and say they are looking for a hug. It gets arranged and someone comes round to hug. Goth girl showed us the page ’26 female looking for a hug tonight’ ’24 year old man, wanting to spoon this evening’ ’23 year old female, looking to hug and a little bit more…’. I had a lot of questions about this, like do they just turn up, hug and leave? Do they spend the night? What about body odour? Do you offer them a beverage? What if they’re not a good hugger?
This would never work in England! Can you imagine how awkward it would be?! ‘Would you like some tea before we participate in this practice of hugging? How do you want to do it? Arms over or under? How long should we hug for? How do you feel about a firm handshake instead? Spiffing old chap, now let’s talk about the weather!’.
I got off the plane at Gatwick the next morning having had 1 hour of sleep. That night I went on my very own Icelandic date for ice cream with the bank manager. Only at the time I hadn’t realised it was a date, I hadn’t really given it much though and just presumed naively that it was two people randomly meeting up for ice cream, as you do.
He walked in and was SO much hotter than I remembered, how had I missed that?! I wasn’t prepared for it. I wasn’t wearing the right outfit, I wasn’t thin enough, I didn’t know how to date, it had been too long, was it even a date?!! Did he think it was a date? Shit! Why was he so hot! I dripped my ice cream all down my top. Beer came out my mouth when I laughed. I flicked my hair in his eyes. He was hot. And nice. I was just an idiot. Damn it.
He came back from the bar with shots of tequila, and sambuca and jagerbombs. We got drunk. It was fun. The bar, on Oxford street let us hold our own private lock in. We talked and we flirted, we discussed our moves, you know those moves you play at the bar when you’re trying to get the attention of the opposite sex. Apparently my moves worked (or at least they worked better than dripping ice cream down my clothes). The bar tender kept giving us more free shots. ‘Screw it’ I thought ‘I’m leaving the country in a matter of weeks, it’s been a whole load of shit these last two years, I deserve to go a little wild, I’m suppose to go wild, that’s how it works’ I told myself.
‘You can stay at mine but there will be absolutely no sex! No sex! Nope, none, no!…Ok, well maybe there can be a little sex’ I drunkenly slurred into his big stupidly smoking hot blue eyes. And suddenly, after a year of no one looking in your direction and feeling like the most hideously ugly person ever, someone likes you and just like that, you’re back in the game.