That Time I went to Iceland – Arriving, Midnight Sun & Depression

My first solo trip was 1999. The planning started as a trip to the USA. However, somehow that morphed when I chose my travel agent who introduced me to the concept of ‘round-the-world’ flights. Suddenly, the entire globe opened up to me and I started looking at all these countries and places which I had never imagined visiting. This included Russia, Egypt, and Iceland.

Yes, Iceland! I had never considered it as a destination before 1998-ish, but suddenly it zoomed into the frame. What was it like? I presumed, I guess, it was just covered in ice. I probably wasn’t sure if people lived there. I mean, I was much younger and there was no internet, no social media, so it’s fair to say that almost anything and any place in the world had far less exposure 20 plus years ago.

And so I thought Iceland sounded like a place worth visiting – it was ‘out of the way’ for starters, and had a certain mystique about it. How I decided to allocate the best part of two weeks to it I’m not sure. I can’t exactly remember how long I spent there, but I think 2 weeks is about right.

I didn’t really have much of an idea of what I would do when I was there, in fact I really didn’t have a plan as such other than spend time in the capital Reykjavik. I had the Lonely Planet Guide, and that was about it. I flew from Oslo through Stockholm to Reykjavik on SAS. I hadn’t really read much of the book before taking that flight.

The airport is a long way from the city. There were 2 or 3 hostels in the city itself, everything was full. So I ended up in a place called Harnfordujur, which was right next to the city. A tiny suburb or town, it was on the shore and had a few little houses. I took a bus from the airport which was around 30 minutes I think to Harnfordjor.

The hostel was SPOTLESS. And it was one of the best hostels I ever stayed at. The manager was this lady who I think either lived there or nearby, only leaving in the evening but I’m pretty sure she was there 24/7. It was a local bus of around 30 – 45 minutes into Reykjavik, and they weren’t frequent. Still, I was surprised that there was barely anyone else staying there. Three levels, all with their own fully equipped kitchen.

And I used that kitchen every day – the prices were really high at the time in Iceland, and the Aussie dollar was really poor. There was a supermarket a stone’s throw away from the hostel and I would go there and buy stuff to make a couple of mini-pizzas for my dinner. I had prided myself when travelling around Europe before crossing over to Iceland on being able to do a decent meal for around $3AUD, but it just wasn’t possible in Iceland. I would through pasta together with a red sauce and a few vegetables. That kept cost right down. I would throw in some meat from time to time – usually chicken or frankfurts, which were generally as cheap as anything you could find in a supermarket.

And I’m sure I cooked this as well in Iceland. But I have specific memories of making the pizzas. I was paranoid at this point about my budget – I’d done really well until I’d hit the United Kingdom where I’d gone way over spending money on seeing theatre in London and on the Glastonbury Festival. Iceland was just another level up in prices – I would think the most expensive place I have ever been. And possibly the only place on Earth that might be cheaper now than it was 20 years back.

The first night was seriously weird. It was the middle of July, and I mustn’t have thought it through. I knew there were many hours of sunlight. But I was still surprised by 24 hours a day of it! And it really threw me, I have to say. I woke up at two in the morning, it was bright outside. I panicked thinking it must be time to get up until I checked my clock. Then my brain slowly worked out what it was. But did I have a full proper night’s sleep in Iceland? Not many.

And so a malaise that had been threatening began to overtake me. I’d been going since February, and I surmise from all past experiences that after a few months of travel I fall into a bit of a depression. Motivation seeps away and days just sort of happen. On top of that I indeed do feel depressed. And I was certainly feeling here – and for the first time as this was my first big trip.

So instead of doing exciting things, exploring Iceland, I chilled and did very little at the hostel. Different people came and went from the hostel and I chatted with them. I was reading a book – the Kenneth Williams Diaries – which actually was really depressing, and without a doubt although intensely interesting was probably not the best read for someone with a bit of depression.

I would go into Reykjavik to see movies, I saw at least two. One of them was whichever of the Austin Powers’ films was out at the time. And I enjoyed that. I don’t think it was more than $10 to see a movie in that cinema, so that was a pretty cheap activity.

I remember wherever I went there weren’t that many people about. It was a little eerie to be honest. The weather was pretty good over all, there were plenty of bright, sunny days, but there was the odd rain-filled day as well.

Despite not really doing anything, my diary writing was way way WAY behind too, two weeks or more of entries needed to be caught up on and a lot of information had already been forgotten. Book, bed, cooking, diary, chat, movie… I’m not sure how many days disappeared before I decided I needed to leave Reykjavik and do something more…

The second part will be a-coming next week! Thanks for reading…. May the Journey Never End!

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2 Comments

  1. You were certainly ahead of the curve in visiting Iceland! Travel pre-internet was harder in almost every way, but there was a simplicity to it that was appealing looking back. But I do understand that after a while on the road, a funk can happen and you just don’t want to get out and explore anymore. Your memories are perhaps not Instagram-worthy (heaven forbid), but to me they are very real and much more interesting.

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