Bidding for the 2019 Summer transfer season is quickly approaching. We’re not on that cycle, so I’m not overly focused on it, but I thought I’d give my two cents on the Pros & Cons for folks that might be considering throwing their hat into the ring for a tour at Embassy Reykjavik.
- It’s Iceland!! And Iceland is really popular right now. So friends that might not have come to visit you yet might do it now! Icelandair is still running their free stopover program that started in the 1960s (!) and really took off in the 2000s. So you can either stop there at no cost on your way to Europe or go directly on Icelandair or on their discount airline, WOW, which has some pretty decent fares. Both are adding new US destinations all the time. From the East Coast it’s only a 5-hour flight, depending on your departure point. And some Icelandair flights even simulate an aurora for passengers with colored cabin lights on night flights. 🙂
- Housing – All the housing that was in our housing pool was amazing. Most commutes were under 20 minutes. Some folks lived in larger houses in the suburbs, which still weren’t very far away, and others lived in apartments downtown…most with sea views. Our house was 15-mins from the embassy, had two stories, a basement, a fenced backyard, a garage, and two solariums. And it bordered a park where we walked our dog every day. Some folks even had saunas and hot tubs. It was awesome!
- Proximity to Mainland Europe – There’s not much in the way of Baroque architecture or 1,000-year-old castles, but Iceland is still part of Europe and has a long and interesting Viking history and Nordic culture. For a small capital city with only 200,000 people in the metro area (London had 13 million), it has an impressive amount of international cafes and restaurants. Even though flights to mainland Europe weren’t always as short and cheap as I would’ve liked, it just depended on your destination. You could get to Edinburgh in two hours, where Athens took the better part of a day. But they’re still shorter and cheaper than coming from the US!
- Family Friendly – Icelanders don’t love kids the way Italians love kids, but they trust them, and they trust other people. So it’s a very safe society where children are allowed to run around and be themselves without being micromanaged by the government. They actually do leave their babies in the stroller outside the restaurant or café when they’re inside…without fearing a visit from Child Protective Services. And it’s a very active society, so you can get your kids out in nature instead of being glued to the electronics.
- Nature – I could follow this point with no words and a few hundred pictures of how gorgeous the landscape is (do a Google image search on “Iceland nature”). But I’ll try to keep it somewhat brief. Waterfalls, glaciers, ice bergs, hot springs, black sand beaches, basalt columns, geysers, auroras, snow, volcanoes, lupine, puffins, whales, swans, horses, seals, sheep, reindeer, arctic fox, and every outdoor sport you could possibly imagine.
- Climate – Twenty hours of daylight/darkness…whichever you like least. I loved the dark winter…it’s cozy and cuddly and promotes great sleep. But I hated waking up at 3am in the summer to go to the bathroom and being blinded by the sun, then tossing and turning for hours because your body now thinks it’s time to get up. Some people hate the cold or the rain. If so, don’t bid on Iceland! I love the snow, so I would actually put climate in the “pros.” 🙂
- Isolation – Like the daylight/darkness, this might bother some people more than others. I think it might be easier for families that are naturally plugged into certain social structures like schools or churches. We had a very small Embassy staff and still had two people curtail…both were single women. A lot of local folks are related to each other and already have all the friends and family that they need, so it can be a tough society to break into. It can also create a bit of a pressure-cooker effect. If you have any personal issues that need dealing with, Iceland can blow them wide open…again, that also might be a good thing.
- Island Time – Even though it was an island in the North Atlantic and not the Caribbean, no one was particularly in a hurry to get things done. I suppose some people might view this as a positive thing, but it could get a little frustrating if you actually wanted to accomplish something. It took a repair guy over six months to fix a tile he had broken in the solarium floor when looking for a leaky pipe. He would never email us or take our calls, but he would show up unexpectedly at the house at dinner time, and if we didn’t let him in right at that moment, we wouldn’t see him again for months. Which leads to my next point…
- Communication – Three weeks into the school year, the local school was still making changes to the class schedule. Many people that were invited to embassy events would never RSVP; they would just show up…or not. Half the time our business contacts would simply not respond to email. Word of mouth was a big thing, so if you weren’t in the loop, you just didn’t hear about things. It once took me three months to pay a bill for having my car detailed because no one would return my calls or emails to tell me how much it was.
- It’s REALLY expensive. More expensive than London if you take out housing and just compare the cost of living…particularly restaurants and alcohol. And things like hotels, parking and admission to the Blue Lagoon increased even in the two years that we were there to take advantage of the booming tourist economy. The Blue Lagoon now scales the price throughout the day according to how busy it is during the hour that you want to arrive. But it’s still cheaper than living in DC and paying for your own housing!
So those are my thoughts! Iceland will always have a special place in my heart. Half way through our tour another 18 months seemed like a really long time. But in the end it went so fast, and we had a hard time letting it go.
Best of luck!!