"I'm not exaclty sure how Iceland in winter is going to be different from Alaska in winter." This from Jacy, one of my three travel partners during our one and only planning meeting for this, the Iceland trip.
She had a point. Iceland is an isolated, sparsely populated hunk of land in the Arctic. Main activities for tourists include walking on a glacier, ice climbing, and buying cool winter gear. Not exactly the typical beach vacation for wintered-in Alaskans.
But, after being ehre for 2 days, I think that we are all in agreement that Iceland is waaaay different than AK and can totally justify the expense, time, and hassle of traveling thousands of miles laterally across the hemisphere.
First of all, although yesterday we battled a blizzard that blew two-foot drifts across the road and pelted sand-like snowflacks at our faces - we've been promised that the weather is usually quite mild. The Gulf Stream is Iceland's friend and generally keeps the country cool and moist all year but saves it from the deep freeze winters we experience over in the West. Temps in the winter swing between 5 and 55 degrees. We (lucky us!) just happed to catch them in a 5 degree valley.
Second, Iceland is full of Icelanders. Alaska, on the other hand, is very low on Icelanders. Here it seems everyone is Icelandic! It's great! The fashion is more Euro-Nordic (but still sensibly warm), the hotels look like Ikea threw up in the lobbies, and the buildings are a mix of traditional quaint houses and contemporary steel-and-angles design. Way different from the T1-11 subdivisions at home.
Also their language rocks. A mouthful of consonants and funky vowels spoken very quickly. It´s amazing they can get anything said with words like Rauðarárstígur in their vocabulary. But they seem to make it work. And there is nothing cuter than a little girl in braids jabbering to her father in excited Icelandic.
Three. Iceland may not have cool animals or beautiful vegetation or enormous mountains, but it does have one thing that makes it much cooler than Alaska.
Why didn't we think of this? They use it for everyting - inexpensive heat from the steam, geothermically heated water for pools and hot tubs and long, long showers, they pipe water under their sidewalks and parking lots and driveways so they don´t freeze up. It´s fabulous. And I know from experience that winter is easier to bear after a long, hot, free shower.
So there you have it. We are obviously not crazy for traveling to Iceland for a winter vacation.