In the past two posts I described my love affair with visiting Costco warehouses outside the United States. I wrote about our trip to Japan where in the Hiroshima Costco, I replaced a suitcase which had been broken by a taxi driver. In my second post, I wrote about how we visited both Costco warehouses in Madrid and Sevilla.
A few years ago, on the same trip to Madrid, we had been planning to travel directly from South Florida to Barcelona. Unfortunately, our plans changed because it was mid-September in the middle of a busy hurricane season. A week before we were supposed to leave, a storm was forming and it appeared to be heading in our direction.
As the storm intensified, we made the decision to pack up our house and hope that our newly installed impact-resistant would protect our house. However, it seemed as if everyone else in South Florida was trying to get out of the hurricane’s path. The availability of flights to Europe disappeared within a few days.
The only option, short of remaining in Florida until after the storm, was to take a flight from Miami to Barcelona on WowAir, an airline which is now out of business.
This airline, based in Reykjavik, required an 18-hour stopover in Iceland before heading to Spain. We quickly purchased the tickets and hoped we made the right decision.
As it turned out, we had caught the last flight to Iceland before they discontinued service as the storm approached. We landed in Iceland in the middle of the night. I had researched getting a room in a hotel near the airport but it was very overpriced and would have required paying for two nights because of the time we had arrived. Instead, I decided to rent a car for a day in which we would at least be able to take a nap.
The drive to the Costco was only about 30 minutes on a very well lighted modern highway. Since this was in the middle of September when the Icelandic daytime was quickly becoming shorter, it was dark until at least 10 am, the opening time. We had a good couple of hours of sleep and woke up refreshed.
The only Costco in Iceland has the same exact look on the outside as every other Costco in the world. If you just looked at the large signs inside the store, you’d swear that you were at your local warehouse in the US. However, when you’re inside the store, it quickly becomes apparent that you are in a foreign country.
The Icelandic alphabet has several unique letters, so checking out the smaller signs, especially in the food court, tells you that you are far from home.
As is the case in every other foreign Costco, many items from the particular country are featured along with the preponderance of American-store items, even though most are from China. It is always fascinating to us to see how the culture of the country is represented in its food items as well as the household products and clothing. The Reykjavik store had shelves full of Icelandic and Scandinavian seafood products as well as canned goods. There were also many rows of warm-weather clothes which unfortunately, were also made in China.
Just like in the American stores, we enjoyed tasting many different samples. These were mostly Icelandic products, including several types of herring. Again, you would have easily imagined that you were back home in the U.S. except that the mostly women samplers only spoke Icelandic.
Since many people in Iceland speak English well, it wasn’t hard to strike up a conversation with several people. They were enjoying themselves as much as I was. They too were curious why I would be visiting their store which had only recently opened. The big-box warehouse concept was a new model to the Icelandic people. Although they were very excited about the lower prices and the large inventory, several people expressed concern that the Costco invasion would decimate small locally-owned Icelandic businesses.
The Costco parking lot was shared equally by the local Ikea store which had also recently opened. It was packed with locals excited to be experiencing such a large store.
As in the US, most of the products, although modern Scandinavian in appearance, are from China.
We decided to have lunch there and it was almost identical to the stores we have visited in Florida. Icelandic people are very friendly to foreigners and enjoy practicing their English.
In our short stopover, we probably could have spent the time at one of the famed waterparks, but the timing just wasn’t right. And as usual, the unique opportunity to visit a new foreign Costco was too exciting to pass up.
We don’t have any trouble justifying our strange habit of visiting Costcos while traveling. I call it a “cultural field trip” and find it just as interesting and educational as any other tourist attraction in a foreign country. I always feel comfortable talking to people while we are there, and so far, it has always been a fun adventure!