Winter is upon us, huh. Dark, cold, wet, dark and dark. And dark. Unless you just arrived here fresh faced, and totally oblivious to the fact that you are now located on the dark, cold, wet edge of the Arctic Circle, you will know quite well that it entails being engulfed by dark darkness. Not to mention coldness. And wetness. That your beloved tan will fade from pale to grey to translucent. That venturing between buildings will be an arduous task that you will spend more time dreading than executing. That you will have a harder time waking up in the suffocating morning blackness of winter than you had falling asleep in the eternal summer sunshine of a couple months back.
Don’t worry, though. Icelandic winter with its darkness and coldness and wetness can be hard to cope with for sure, but this only means that the people that have had to cope with it for generations have spent a lot of time and effort learning how to cope with it, to deal with it, and finally to love it.
There are tricks, advice and activities just for that purpose that have been passed down by generations. It’s certainly no coincidence that most Icelanders make it through the season alive, well and with most of their sanity intact. They have come to learn that there are in fact many great things about winter on the edge of the Arctic Circle.
Here are some of them.
Taking it easy, having it cosy
Fact: You are going to spend a lot of time in your apartment (or wherever you hang your hat) over the next few months. Learn to enjoy it. Make your home as nice as possible. Clean your house, stock up on candles, blankets, food and booze. Board games and books. Borrow some DVDs. Download seasons of ‚’The Wire’‚ or‚’Mad Men’, or whatever else strikes your fancy. Burn some incense. Bake cakes. Take it easy. Remember that nothing really happens in Iceland from around November eight to March fifth (give or take – save for the holidays, and some partying), and be happy that you can relax without feeling like you’re missing everything.
Have lots of dinner parties
This is what January and February in Reykjavík are all about. Cook strange new dishes, have friends over, have strangers over, play board games, drink heavily, wind up at some bar or other at four AM. It’s all in the game.
Visit friends and family
Be sure that you are not the only one that went ahead and transformed their apartment into a den of cosy excellence for the winter. Your friends and family probably did that, too, and most of those people are really nice! Go and visit all of them, eat their food, drink their coffee and bask in the warm glow of their personalities.
Don’t have any friends? There’s always the library!
Go to the library. You can get all sorts of books, comics, music and stuff there. You can hang out there all day if you want, or you can get a library card and check out a stash to bring home.
Don’t like to read? Engage in some WINTER SPORTS
There is a worldwide consensus that winter sports are way awesome. Need convincing? Well, think about it for a second. There’s skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating, curling, sledding (including bobsledding!), ice hockey, throwing snowballs at people, building snow men, that crazy sport where you cross country ski with a rifle, AND MORE!
Now, if your bag is ice-skating or snowman building (or anything that doesn’t require a steep hill), you can do that within the confines of Reykjavík as long as there’s snow. The downtown pond is an excellent place to skate when it’s frozen over, and there are also indoor skating rinks in Laugardalur (www.skautaholl.is) and Egilschöll (www.egilsholl.is). For skiing or snowboarding you’ll need to go out of town. But you don’t need to sweat it. Bláfjöll (www.skidasvaedi.is) is a mere 25-minute drive out of Reykjavík, and it’s definitely worth the ride. You can also venture further out of town, to places like Akureyri, Ísafjörðurur and Eskifjörður for longer trips.
We’re pretty sure there’s no place in Iceland that’s been destined for bobsledding or skiing with a rifle, but why not use the opportunity and create one?
If you are a tourist over for a brief visit and you left all your winter sports equipment back home, remember that you can rent most of it on location (availability permitting – do your research!). Also that there are often organised tours for that kind of stuff. Ask any tourist information office, or browse through all the wonderful ads in this very issue.
This is always true, as Iceland’s swimming pools are always lovely, but going swimming during winter is for some reason especially nice. Take our word. Go swimming. Soak in the hot tub. Feel your troubles and the SAD melt away.
Have a getaway, romantic style!
If you don’t have someone to engage in a romantic getaway with, you should focus on finding someone. That will be a nice task for the winter, and you can disregard everything else on this list (however, having a cosy apartment, being well read and all active in winter sports certainly can’t harm your chances with potential partners). If you do, however, you’re all set for a romantic getaway. It is a perfect way to shake of the winter gloomies and any Seasonal Affective Disorder you might have acquired.
And you have so many options! If you are member of a union, you can likely get a summer cottage with a hot tub (perfect for gazing at the Aurora Borealis in) and other niceties for cheap (make sure to reserve it in time). You can also get a room for CHEAP WINTER RATES at any of the nice hotels lining the country (Hótel Rangá in the South of Iceland and Hótel Búðir by Snæfellsjökull, for instance).
You could drive to any of the excellent natural hot pots in Iceland and soak for the night while gazing up at stars and Northern Lights (try the excellent ‘Thermal Pools In Iceland’ by Jón G. Snæland and Þóra Sigurbjörnsdóttir for locations and descriptions of pretty much all of them). You don’t even need to spend the night.
Or you could try for a farm retreat at one of the many farm accommodation (www.farmholidays.is) lining the country. They are off-season as well, and the quality might surprise you.
Make sure to catch some daylight
Finally, the gap for catching daylight is getting shorter by the day (until December’s Winter Solstice, where it will start getting longer by the day – but by then the margin is so short that you won’t really notice) so make sure to get out of your house or place of employment for a few hours while the sun feigns shining over this desolate rock in the North Atlantic. It will make a difference.
Also, take your vitamins and drink your lýsi. That also makes a huge difference.