Let it be said that I’ve always preferred taking pictures of people and city streets over sweeping landscapes. In fact, I’m quite terrible at that sort of thing, preferring instead to leave my camera in the car and remember the most scenic vistas of a trip through the pages of a National Geographic.
Another trip to Iceland though might change my mind. We spent just three days in Reykjavik and I wish I had the ability to take pictures of the places we saw as beautifully as they look now in my mind’s eye.
As we stumbled bleary-eyed through the Keflevik airport, my mind fixated for half a second on a Bjork quote (of course) pasted up on one of the walls, something about emotional landscapes. Whatever. Trite, I thought.
Until we boarded a bus into Reykjavik, a chilly rain slapping at the windows. I’ve never seen sky look so close, as if attempting to smother the low-lying alien-looking landscape of black volcanic rock and green moss below. It was the bleakest, most oppressive looking landscape I’d ever seen. Surprisingly though the scene felt inspiring, not depressing. As if the world’s youngest landmass may be rife with not just volcanoes and glaciers but also a bracing current of wild possibility.
I’m writing all of this from Delhi now, incredibly jet-lagged and still suffering the effects of sleeping so little for the few days we were in Reykjavik. Midnight sunshine is a powerful thing to the uninitiated.
I still have some photos from our last few days in the US to share but with the memories of our Iceland trip still fresh, I wanted to share a few quick notes and pictures before I head to bed (updated: I did go to bed…only to be woken up at 11:40 with a request to play “choo choos” until 3 am…toddler jetlag, arghh):
*Reykjavik has fantastic coffee. On a tip from this blogger, we stopped in at an almost impossibly warm and cozy cafe called Mokka for, yes, mochas and waffles. The coffee was excellent, the mocha as satisfying as the best childhood cup of hot chocolate and the warmth and soothing dark woodwork could have kept me there all morning…and possibly for the next year and a half.
Our other favorite coffee shop was around the corner from the flat we rented. Seemingly too cool for a name or signage, the place overflowed with well-dressed hipsters and artsy types sipping impeccable espresso drinks made by somber pierced and tattooed baristas whose world championship barista trophies crowded simple thrifted wooden shelves along the otherwise the bare white walls of the tiny shop. Giant hot pink coffee roasting machines consumed a quarter of the floor space to churn out sweet coffee smells and the most perfect productivity-inspiring background noise a person could ever ask for.
*Reykjavik is somewhat unlike any other city I’ve ever been to.
For one, the city center is tiny. Every single tourist site in the city and every single restaurant recommendation we received were all within easy walking distance of each other. Even with Will occasionally going “boneless” in the middle of the sidewalk or deciding he would rather walk backwards while warning pedestrians with his “beep beep!” we still managed to cover most of the city center in less than one morning, including a stroll by the US Embassy and several long stops to feed the ducks at the pond–most definitely the highlight of Will’s trip to Iceland.
For two, walking around Reykjavik is a little like walking around inside my favorite Pinterest boards. As I said to Chris at one point early in our trip, “we’ve walked two blocks and I’ve already seen half of everything I’ve ever admired on Pinterest either for sale in a store, in the design of an apartment or being worn by someone walking down the street.” It seemed to me there are a good many people in Reykjavik who manage to dress especially effortlessly and gorgeously–as if they’ve just stepped out of a fall fashion plate and are on their way to sit for a photo shoot of what everyone wishes writing a novel looked like…that or off to film an indie version of a rom-com horseback riding scene through the medieval landscape.
*Sweaters. Dear Lord, the sweaters. They are to Iceland what shawls are to winter in Delhi: beautiful yet genuinely practical solutions to local climate conditions. Totally justifiable expenses, if you will…if you live in a place where you actually need them. There were beautiful wooly old-fashioned patterned crew necks and mustard-colored, shaw-colored tunics and wooly hats and mittens to go with it all. The only thing that kept me from plunking down for my own wooly piece of wearable coziness was the knowledge that we live in New Delhi…and that if I broke down and bought just one sweater I would likely fall down a diamond-patterned wooly rabbit hole and most certainly find even more sweaters I’d like even better just two stores down.
*The only person in the family who did end up with an Iceland souvenir though was Will who may have managed either the best or most ill-timed catastrophic diaper failure of all time as we stood in the middle of the most impressive (and expensive) road-side gift-shop/rest stop/cafe I’ve ever visited. We’d forgotten our customary spare outfit back at our rented flat and so, 5 minutes and $40 dollars later, Will became the proud owner of quite possibly the softest merino wool base layer pants he’ll ever own.
*We ate delicious sushi, countless coffees and fantastic pastries for what seemed like New York City-ish prices. Heaven. The sushi was especially satisfying. Our standards may be slipping a bit after a year in land-locked Delhi but its hard to beat raw fish as fresh as the ones we sampled for lunch in Reykjavik. The locally farmed arctic char was especially delicious.
*One of my favorite things about traveling is perusing grocery stores to find the sorts of quirky little products that exist only in specific regions or countries around the world. Iceland sells a product called “Crunions.” Basically, it’s a tub packed full of deep fried crunchy bits of onions ostensibly to be used for topping hot dogs. I can only imagine though how good they’d be on a salad or as a garnish for bowl of thick soup. If only we’d had time and space in our luggage to buy a few more boxes (And a few more of the black licorice filled chocolate candy bars as well).
*While Iceland is not exactly a warm place to visit, the country’s geothermal power makes it surprisingly comfortable even for a person like me who wears sweatshirts when it’s 70 degrees out. All of the houses and restaurants and shops are heated almost to the point of sweating, but not uncomfortably so. It’s fantastic.
*The people seemed really lovely. Friendly but not intrusively, helpful but not the least bit patronizing. I don’t know how they manage such pleasantness with so many tourists swarming amidst such a small population.
*The landscapes. We rented a car on our last day to see what we could of the “Golden Circle.” If I had a kroner for every time we saw a little gravel road we wished we had time to turn down, well, I’d probably be wearing a wooly Icelandic sweater right now. We did manage to turn down a few and hope to get to visit again to take some longer drives through the rest of the country.