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A solo journey to Iceland

Kefflavík International Airport (KEF) exit towards customs, before entering Iceland. Yu’s solo trip to the foreign country was an unforgettable experience that opened her eyes to a new lifestyle.  XINGLING YU/THE STATESMAN

Fresh air hit my face as soon as I stepped outside Keflavik International Airport (KEF). It was like I had been transported to a world devoid of human waste. The air was free of artificial scents and pollutants, starkly contrasting with the pungent air I had grown accustomed to in New York City.

Devoid from the streets were the piles of garbage on the corners waiting to be picked up, and there was not a rat in sight. In Reykjavik, there was barely any trash anywhere. As a woman who has spent half of my life in the Big Apple, my excursion to Iceland expanded my understanding of the world and the beauty of experiencing different cultures. 

Before starting my solo trip to Iceland, I learned an interesting airport rule: you can only purchase items when you are departing from Iceland and you need to present your boarding pass to the cashier when paying for your purchases. Initially, I assumed I could buy whatever I wanted upon my arrival at the airport. 

My journey began in the early morning hours with a bus ride from KEF to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Upon arriving in Reykjavik, I noticed that the bathrooms were labeled “WC” for “water closet.” 

The hotel where I made a reservation only allowed me to check in after 3 p.m., meaning I had to carry my luggage with me until then. As I wandered to pass the time, I found a lovely restaurant where I ordered a chocolate milkshake, bacon and eggs. Although the chocolate milkshake had an intense sweetness, the bacon and eggs tasted decent. Brunch enthusiasts might have difficulty enjoying their meals, as the sun does not come out until 11 a.m. and most restaurants do not open until the afternoon.

Later that day, the hunger came back with a vengeance and I sought out a meal and a water bottle at a local market in the area. The water bottles differed notably from the U.S. With the mountain shape on top of the bottle and the label saying, “Natural Spring Water From Iceland,” it was quite a peculiar look. It was the freshest water I have ever drank in my life. The french fries in Reykjavik were super salty compared to those in the U.S., but at least the prices were better. The lamb I ordered was paired with a garlic sauce, and it tasted fresh and delicious. It piqued my interest in wanting to try more of the local restaurants. 

While strolling in Reykjavik, I came across Skólavörustgur Street, famously known as Rainbow Street. I also saw the notable Hallgrímskirkja, a 74.5-meter-tall church. As I continued walking, I came across the Sun Voyager, a renowned 1990 stainless steel sculpture of a boat on Sæbraut Road. Harpa, a concert hall in Iceland, was to the Sun Voyager’s left. The building was magnificent and was illuminated with rainbow colors at night.

On Skólavörðustígur Street in Reykjavik, I couldn’t help but notice that the rainbow painted on the road was well-maintained. It was a beautiful sight, displaying its finest colors. I also noticed that the houses were well-maintained and had unique colors. One house had a red roof and cyan paneling on the sides, while another was entirely green with white windows. The roads were also distinctive, with one feeling like a steep mountain climb. Something that I want to highlight is that restaurants in Reykjavik do not expect tips, which is a refreshing change from the excessive and unreasonable tipping culture in the U.S.

One vital law I learned in Iceland is that you can only rent cars if you are 21 or older. There were no trains in Reykjavik and the only methods of transportation were buses, cars and taxis. Since I’m not old enough to rent a car, I spent a few hundred dollars booking tours that provided transportation to visit some of the most famous attractions in Iceland. The buses I took to the various tourist destinations were orange and black, and the cost of a ticket was 570 króna – the equivalent of $4.18. 

 I visited the beautiful Gullfoss Falls in southwest Iceland during one of my tours. On my way back to Reykjavik, I also visited the black sand beach, Reynisfjara, and saw the Reyniskirkja Church. Later, I booked another tour to see the northern lights at night and was delighted to see the lights flicker in a wavy pattern, emitting a greenish-white hue.

During my final days in Reykjavik, I visited a restaurant called Ramen Momo in Tryggvagata, the city’s center. I ordered a fresh, healthy ramen called Chashu and kimchi that was better than any I have had in the U.S. After finishing my meal, I wasn’t full, so I decided to go to another restaurant called Osushi Reykjavik, which is also located in Tryggvagata. I tried their sushi, which was fresh and delicious. One of the more unique sushi dishes they offered was mango sushi, which was an enjoyable combination.

I will never forget the sensation of the crisp Icelandic air and the wonderful people I met during my trip. The locals were very talkative and friendly, even when you were the one who initiated a conversation. For instance, while I was dealing with the fact that Iceland’s restaurants don’t open till later in the day, it was the locals who informed me of places to go. They were interested in where I was from and asked me questions about myself and my life. It was a whiplash from the “mind your business” attitude prevalent in my home city. They were warm and they cared for my well-being, even accompanying me to a nearby local spot. 

I was always scared of traveling around the world solo. However, I decided to take a huge risk and it turned out to be the best choice I’ve ever made. I came to understand how each country had distinctive cultures and cuisines. The privilege I feel to have visited such a beautiful country is something I’ll always treasure, and its awe-inspiring landscape cemented Iceland as a destination I’d recommend to anyone thinking about traveling.

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    Anup ChauhanFeb 5, 2024 at 8:37 am

    I see, I see. It must have been an exhilarating experience. I find your use of imagery insightful and well used. The highlight of cultural differences showcases the grand distinction between our lives in the U.S and other countries. While similar articles come off as niche or cliché at times, there is essence of “hidden gems” within the your work that gives off a more original feeling. Overall, nice work.

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