Iceland is not the best place in the world to visit during the winter. Especially if you crave long, sunny days with still winds and a nice crisp, dry cold. Where I come from, winter is hell—it snows so much that you actually cannot get to school. We have temperatures like -20° C, snow is black from pollution, and it just goes on and on for months. Living in a country where people are still relatively new to this sort of hellish winter-inﬁnitum (we only got there about 400 years ago—you guessed it: Canada) means that no one is ever happy and people complain all of the time. And that doesn’t make things any easier.
When I came to Iceland, all set to spend my first winter here, I thought: “Yes, this will be so much easier…”
Oh, how I erred.
Winters in Iceland are much milder, this is true. They have amazing northern lights, beautiful white snow and swans. Indeed it is not so much the temperature that affected me, but the overwhelming feeling that I just kept missing the little sunshine I was offered, day after day.
You see, when winter came and the days started getting shorter (what Icelanders call skammdegi), I had no way of knowing that these would be the last minutes of sunshine I would see for weeks. The darkness took such a toll on me that my sleep cycle was turned around completely (which means I didn’t really go to school—don’t worry, I got away with it). I was sleeping until 2 pm, and by then, if it wasn’t grey, the sun was already disappearing. For four weeks, I did not see any sun. And I went insane, and it was no fun. I felt like that guy from The Shining. I watched all the worst movies from the 90s, I almost exclusively ate rice, and I didn’t come out of my room.
It was difficult, but the following spring was the best I have ever seen. I didn’t expect darkness to have so much power over how I felt and what I did, but it did. Now I know. I go to the gym, I go out to cafés, I do my best to see my friends, I go out as soon as it gets sunny (even slightly cloudy will do it) and I’m careful about when I go to sleep and when I wake up.
So my words of advice to those of you who plan on staying over the winter are as follows: Wake up early and do everything you can to catch the sun. It will be your best friend.
Do not underestimate its power.
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