Iceland: Everyone’s an artist

Icelandic CatOn our last night in Reykjavik, we decided to make friends with a really sweet bartender at the famous Kaffibarinn after ordering the cursory shot of Brennivin. He told us that everyone in Iceland is a bartender, because everyone is also either a photographer, musician, or artist and tends bar to pay rent. We asked which of these he was, and he answered, “I’m all three!”

I think one of the things that draws me back to the country and stokes my fascination is the total saturation in literature, narrative, visual art, and music I felt while we were there. Our wanderings in downtown Reykjavik were punctuated by stopping to read the poetry that was painted on the sidewalks.

Reykjavik Sidewalk Poetry

Before we even left the city, I decided that someday I would try to partner with an organization that would send me back to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves, to write about and photograph it. Airwaves is a huge music festival that happens every fall. Even if you don’t score tickets to the shows, there are street performers and free gallery shows all over the city. It’s a little scary to admit it, but I’m still secretly harboring the dream of being sent there to cover it for a music or travel publication someday. It was while we were there that I really solidified my decision to quit my really terrible job and take my creative sabbatical, and having a dream that huge and beautiful made the idea of quitting my job seem easier. I’m still grateful for that.

Kex Hostel, Reykjavik Iceland

To close out the Iceland series, I’ve put together an Icelandic Love playlist so you can get a taste of the music and art that’s so prevalent there. Fun fact: I walked down the aisle to part of the first track — Sigur Ros’ Untitled 3!  I’ll likely be adding to it, so feel free to follow along on Spotify.

You can read about the rest of our adventures in Iceland in the archives



The Day I Thought We Died: Vík & Jökulsárlón

Iceland SheepWe got to the car rental place as soon as it opened. After signing so many papers and making so many copies and getting so many very stern warnings about not taking our rental car off-roading or over any bodies of water, we started driving out of Reykjavik. It didn’t take us too long to realize that we were headed in the opposite direction of our intended destination: Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon in the south of Iceland. It was recommended to us by multiple Icelanders as something we had to see while we were there. There are bus tours, but we wanted to be able to stop and explore at will, and I’m really glad we did.

Icelandic house

We drove for hours and hours. Through black sand deserts and over so many shallow rivers. Through lava rock and mossy hills. Past more waterfalls than you can count. There are so many waterfalls that many of them don’t even have names. The landscape changes are sudden and startling and otherworldly. We saw no one for most of those hours. There were a few hamlets of sheep farmers along the way, set at least a couple miles off the main road at the bases of mountains, but that was it.


After a few hours, we hit the tiny town of Vík along the southern coast, where we stopped for lunch. Vík is the southernmost town in the country, and is surrounded by a black sand beach and lava rock meadows that are covered in moss and huge stones.

Iceland Glacier

As we started heading north up the coast again, the black sand faded into snow and ice. If you’ve ever wondered what a glacier looks like, it’s as if a river is rushing toward you flooding through a valley and is frozen mid-flow. It’s kind of terrifying.

Glacial Lagoon

Jökulsárlón itself hardly looks real. The icebergs are bright blue and white and range wildly in size and shape.

Glacial Lagoon

After staring into the abyss (literally) for awhile, it was time to turn around and drive back through the glaciers and the sand and the rocks and the rivers. The sunset was hours long, and at its height, there was a split second when I seriously began to wonder if we’d wrecked the car and died. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. We drove around a bend, and I instinctively whipped the car to the side of the road so we could get out and take so many pictures. These were minimally edited. This is how it really looked on all sides.

Iceland Double RainbowIceland Rainbow

Iceland Sunset


Iceland: The Golden Circle

Thingvellir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

It’s typically not our style to do touristy guided tours. I want to feel like I’m more or less free to explore when and how I like. So it was odd that Chad and I found ourselves hanging out at the Icelandic Travel Market several times throughout the week. We definitely weren’t bored and looking for things to do; it was just that the employees there were so lovely, helpful, and fun that I wanted to befriend them. I will be forever grateful to one woman in particular, who I had really interesting conversations with about street style and anthropology and who also booked us with the most amazing tour guide ever to get the scoop on the Golden Circle.

Thingvellir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

The Golden Circle is a pretty touristy (except in Iceland, even touristy things aren’t overcrowded and overcommercialized — I could’ve walked into any field or waterfall I wanted to, and there were no crowds at all) roundup of a few natural highlights of the country, located in a ring. It consists of Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir. We took a few bonus stops, because our group consisted of Chad, me, one other solo traveler about our age, and our guide.

Our guide’s name was Cyprian, but we called him Cyppie. He’s a Kenyan filmmaker and artist who met his Icelandic ladyfriend while they were studying in Asia. They flipped a coin between living in Kenya and Iceland, and Iceland won. It works out well for him though, because Iceland has one of the longest “golden hours” — the time of day when the light is best for photography or film. He said it helps him get more “money shots.”

Thingvellir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

Thingvellir is the home of the first parliamentary session. It’s now a rift valley, with the fault between North America and Europe continuing to expand ever so slightly as time goes on. Thousands of people from all over the country would flock to Thingvellir each summer for the proceedings.  The spot where the Norse and Celtics met to organize in 930 has now opened up into a canyon, and you can actually see the gap between the tectonic plates. Interestingly, there’s a spot nearby where many women accused of various crimes, including witchcraft, were drowned. There’s a plaque by the water with the names of those who were drowned there; Cyppie told us that most everyone in the country was probably related to at least one of the names on the plaque. 

Gullfoss, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal


Gullfoss, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls, was one of the highlights of the afternoon. Because of the light and the mist from the water crashing below, there were consistent double rainbows over the falls.

geysir2 Geysir, Iceland | Lisli: The Journal

Geysir, as one might imagine, is where we got the English word “geyser.” There are all sorts of other, smaller geysers and hot pots around the area, and we saw them all go off several times. Apparently you can boil eggs or make bread by burying it in the ground near one of the hot pots, and there are hotels and restaurants nearby that serve them.  Cyppie kept reminding us that the warning signs were serious — 100 degrees Celsius is a lot hotter than Farenheit.

You can read about the rest of our adventures in Iceland in the archives


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A Mini Tour of Reykjavik

Harpa, Reykjavik IcelandThe Reykjavik city center is super small and easily explorable in a weekend or a day, if you hustle. It’s reassuring, actually, especially when you think you may have gotten punked via AirBnB. I wrote a food-based preview & recap of the city for the Town Dish, but this is a more general mini tour of Reykjavik. It’s interesting: Since our trip in 2012, there have been so many more “Hipster’s Guides to Reykjavik” and “Best Vintage Shops of Reykjavik”-type blog posts. It’s been great to reflect on what I enjoyed most (which, truth be told, was probably the Blue Lagoon), but I wish I had done this sooner. Without further ado:

Harpa Conference Center — Honeycomb glass walls and ceilings makes this brand new building cozy and warm like a greenhouse. It’s a nice break from the windy waterfront, and we were able to connect to the wifi inside to upload photos to Instagram & check Twitter. Because that’s how I do vacation. There are regular music shows, films, theater, and comedic acts featured here.


Hallgrimskirkja — Having studied abroad in Spain, I’m pretty over walking around in fancy cathedrals. I could tell that Hallgrimskirkja would be different, if only by the distinct architecture. The whole building turns into a steeple, which feels like it’s anchoring the whole city. It’s worth the few bucks to take an elevator to the top & check out the amazing views of the city, the water, and the mountains in the distance.

Icelandic hotdogs

Baejarins Beztu Pyslur — The oldest and most popular restaurant in Reykjavik is a legit hot dog stand. People pull over or get dropped off at the curb, and flock to this city staple. Icelandic hotdogs are mixed with lamb. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t stop here more than once an afternoon some days. In general, hot dogs are like drunk food of Iceland and you can get them on any old corner but Baejarins Beztu has the best.


Kolaportid Flea Market — Right near Harpa and Baejarins Beztu, the Kolaportid Flea takes place every weekend. It’s pretty overwhelming. I had a recent flashback while walking around the Punk Rock Flea in Philly last weekend, but the Kolaportid is even bigger and more crowded. Rows after rows of vendors sell everything from vintage clothing, costume jewelry, books, and antiques. We sourced Chad’s handmade Icelandic wool sweater from a sweet elderly woman who had learned Danish instead of English as her second language.


Fríða Frænka — If you’re into more upscale, pre-curated vintage or antiques, you really can’t miss Fríða Frænka. There’s barely room to turn around, but everything is eye catching so it’s difficult to not get sucked in for hours at a time. If only I had a little Icelandic cottage to furnish and fill with the impressive selection of midcentury modern pieces and unique tchotchkes & textiles. Maybe someday.

Red Cross — I got some treasures I still wear at this second-hand charity shop. I may or may not have purchased a handmade baby sweater for, you know, someday. I also scored my most-treasured Icelandic find here — an Icelandic wool blanket that I’ve relied on over and over again during the Philadelphia winters. It’s seriously one of my favorite things we own.

You can read about the rest of our adventures in Iceland in the archives

…also, there were cats. Lots of them.



Decision-Making 101: That time we almost moved to Iceland

That time we almost moved to IcelandEver since 2012, when Chad and I decided to go to Iceland (kind of on a whim, but also because of Sigur Ros music videos) because it was cheaper than going to Spain, we’ve been more than a little preoccupied with the thought of going back and staying there. For awhile. Like a year.

I don’t know if it was the clean air, lack of bugs, or this article about how some crazy high number of Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime, but we are still hooked a couple years later.

So when our dream apartment (800 square foot balcony. In the city. Yes, that is totally unheard of.) fell through, Chad started talking about how we could just move to Iceland instead of trying to find a place that would only be second best to the apartment we’d been dreaming of. I wasn’t totally convinced, but we decided to look into it, just to see. How many adventures start with “Let’s just see,” or “What would it look like if we…”?

And thus began a four-day frenzy of researching what it would take to become legal expats in Iceland while weighing the option of taking a second best apartment in our neighborhood. We needed to talk to close friends and family, just to get thoughts from people who love us, research how to get our cats over there, think through job implications, and work through visa options.

Turns out, it’s really difficult to move to Iceland. We’d have to quarantine the cats in an Icelandic facility for four weeks and pay about $1200 per cat. (Leaving them here is out of the question; I don’t think I could be without them for a whole year.) As far as we could tell, there’s no middle-ground visa that lets you work for an American company but stay abroad for more than three months. Chad even wrote a very nice email to the Icelandic government politely assuring them that we wouldn’t take any Icelandic jobs.

Would we have actually up and moved to Iceland just like that? I don’t know. Maybe we’ll revisit the idea someday when we’re in a different season. But I feel better knowing that we had an idea, researched all possibilities, followed it through to the end, and arrived at a solid conclusion. We can safely cross it off our list of possibilities for now without wondering “What if…?”

Thanks to some encouragement from Melanie awhile back, I’ll be sharing more thoughts and experiences from our time in Iceland over the next week or so. The Iceland Series is finally happening at long last! Here’s some Sigur Ros to get us in the mood. Enjoy!