Welcome to part 1 of a series about my recent travels to Iceland, the ultimate land of whimsy and wonder. As cliche as it sounds, it is truly a place that has to be experienced to be believed–pictures don’t do it justice, and you wouldn’t believe the wind until you were trying to open (or close!) a door against it. The country is known for its extremes and is playfully referred to as “the land of fire and ice.” In fact, the volcano Katla has been threatening to erupt since the 1960s, and its seismic activity was hotly discussed in the media in the days leading up to our arrival. (Thankfully, it did not erupt during our stay.)
The air in Iceland is frigid, even at 45 degrees F, which I have been known to brave sans coat back home. I saw more rainbows on my ten-day trip in Iceland than I have seen in my entire life–even a rare, full rainbow, the kind that perfectly arches over a cloud, so large and so close that I couldn’t even get a photo of the whole thing in one take!
Sadly, my husband and I were just two days too late for the magnificent Northern Lights display seen in Reykjavik at the end of September–so my hunt to see the aurora will continue. Fortunately, we saw so many insanely interesting things that it is impossible to be upset about missing the lights.
Our trip was at times exhausting, as we circled the perimeter of the island (the “ring road,” as locals call it, which was close to 25 hours of driving). We flew into Keflavik Int’l Airport and actually exited the plane on the tarmac upon arrival (when we left, we boarded a bus and were driven to the airplane, possibly due to the weather conditions and/or because it was dark out?). The area surrounding the airport was the most alien landscape I have ever encountered. The airport is located on the Reykjanes peninsula, which is covered in dark lava rocks–it is much flatter here than the majority of the rest of the island, and is sparsely populated (though, with a full country population of 330,000, that kind of goes without saying). The Blue Lagoon is not far from the airport, so there are strong smells of sulfur from the geothermal water in the area heading north to Reykjavik. It looked like a different planet–that is the best I can describe it. I didn’t even take any pictures of the area because to be honest, it was the least pretty of all the different terrains we came across.
From there, we drove up to the Reykjavik area (outside of Mossfellsbaer, which is north of the capital city) for our first three nights. The house we were staying at legitimately did not have an address, as we later discovered was actually fairly common. Icelanders get around mostly by landmarks (“turn left after the farm, turn right after the two freestanding mailboxes, follow the road until you think it ends and then keep going”)–even their mail sometimes lists directions and hand-drawn maps instead of an address!–and because of the slight variation of the English alphabet, it is difficult to search and find on Google Maps.
Luckily it was daylight when we were searching for the house, and a nice couple out for a stroll was happy to try to answer our questions about the mysterious whereabouts of the house. For a moment, we thought we’d been swindled, as the road sign listed houses 1-7, and our house, according to our VRBO reservation, was “8.” We finally discovered it hidden in some trees (trees–also a rarity in Iceland): a cute “A” frame home where the owners were inside with a pot of coffee and some sandwiches for us. I was surprised to be greeted personally like this! Suffice it to say, the sandwiches were not vegan, which I felt horrible about declining because I thought it was so kind of them to offer us food after we’d traveled overnight and not yet slept. Rather than explain with the language barrier (we later discovered that “vegan” and “vegetarian” are often mistakenly used interchangeably there), I opted to say we’d just eaten, which felt hugely rude to me. I also hadn’t slept for over 24 hours, so I was relieved when they didn’t insist we eat and eventually left us with the house.
My husband slept in the lofted bedroom and I, though exhausted, headed outside with my camera. The forecast for the duration of our trip called for rain, so I was not about to miss out on the partly sunny skies. I suited up in my hat and gloves and reveled in the peace of the nothingness around me–just water lapping at the beach and the sounds of strong wind gusts traveling through the mountains.
Days 2 and 3 were full of adventure–horse-back riding over lava fields, a dip in the Blue Lagoon, stray cats in Reykjavik, and a tour of the Golden Circle. The constant pursuit of decent vegan food proved to be a bit of a challenge, too. Stay tuned!