Missing Iceland

IcelandLeading up to this year’s Iceland Airwaves festival, I started having dreams that I was headed back there. I’m still having them. About once a week, I have a dream that I’m going to Iceland on a last minute trip by myself. Usually I try to find a friend who can come along with me, but often I end up traveling solo.

I’ve heard that Iceland is a place you don’t go just once. You start saying, “The first time I went to Iceland…” instead of “That time I went to Iceland…” Now that the country’s otherworldly landscapes have tenaciously taken hold in my consciousness, I’m starting to believe it.

Last year when we were there, I decided that I wanted to go back for Airwaves this year. And not just that, I wanted someone to send me there to write about it. How is that for an audacious dream? Obviously, that didn’t happen. I didn’t work to make it happen, either. And I’m ok with that. My work this year has taken me in a different direction. That said, I’d never pass up the chance to go and write about Airwaves if someone wanted to send me in the future!

I don’t know why I’ve been headed there so often in my dreams. Maybe because I was there about a year ago, during a really transitional point in my life. A lot of things were changing, and Iceland gave me the space (literally and figuratively) to think and make better choices. Maybe it’s because the temperatures have dipped and the days are getting darker and I’m taking inspiration and encouragement from how Icelanders compensate for winter darkness with warmth and light and coziness. Whatever it is, I do know that I’ll find myself back there someday.

I’m thinking of sharing a little more Iceland here. Maybe it will help me figure out why it’s been such a presence on my mind lately.

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Iceland: Day 3

Our third day in Reykjavik was another wander-around-the-city day. As I mentioned, the whole city is really manageable in a day. We anticipated having more to explore within the city center. That is probably the only drawback of my preferred travel style. No tour, just show up and do your own thing. It usually yields excellent results and only rarely lets me down.

We decided to check out the hostel we originally wanted to stay at before we made our AirBnB plans. Kex, a converted biscuit factory, is just as amazing as we thought it would be. Even though it was a little out of our price range (we didn’t want to stay in a dorm style room), there’s a great bar and patio that anyone can visit. If you choose to stay inside, the library is one of the coziest most wonderful interiors I’ve ever seen. They have shows there at night, and you can even get a haircut. I really enjoy the aesthetic, and I’ve got a huge crush on their website.

Since we’d kind of gathered the main concepts of the city layout in the prior couple days, I was able to focus on its more subtle characteristics. Like the poetry in the streets. Delightful.

And we met yet another beautiful Icelandic cat. She was really friendly and almost followed us down to the water.

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Iceland: Day 2

We caught a later brunch on our second day in Iceland at a place I really wanted to try. Grai Kotturin was another place I’d discovered in my research for this article over at Dish Trip. Its name translates to something like Grey Cat or Grey Kitten, which sold me even further. Who doesn’t want to eat a cozy brunch in a place called Grey Kitten? I certainly do. Especially after a rainy and cold walk during which a giant truck barreled through a giant puddle and made a giant splash of water that soaked my left side.

I had to take photos of our food everywhere we went because I promised an editor an article about the food in Reykjavik upon our return. That made me feel less silly about taking the ubiquitous photos of latte art.

Each of these dogs has a name, and they are pleasant breakfast companions, silently watching over you while you enjoy a delicious Icelandic interpretation of American breakfast food.

After brunch, we decided to figure out if going to the Blue Lagoon on a rainy day was at all a good idea. The woman in the tourist shop (I know, I know, usually not our thing) said that it would be perfect. She said it would be warm and cozy with even more steam rising off the top of the water, and that going in the rain was her favorite.

The Blue Lagoon is quite the tourist attraction and definitely priced as such. I heard that years ago, before the resort was built around it, you could just roll up and jump in. No more. That’s ok. It was totally worth it. I almost wanted to pay the overpriced admission a second time before we left the country. Sometimes when I’m really stressed or my body is sore and tired, I fantasize about going back to Iceland just for this.

After a long bus ride and walk back to the center of Reykjavik, we were cold and hungry and I just wanted more comfort food. We found Cafe Babalu. We struck up a conversation about the music in the restaurant with one of the waitstaff, who happened to be from Boston working an internship with Iceland Airwaves. After we talked for a bit, we discovered that we were also renting rooms in the same apartment, we just hadn’t run into each other there yet!
We grilled her about the music scene in Reykjavik and got the down low on the venues, bars, and thrift shops to check out. She also introduced us to the British band Daughter, who will be playing in Philly in March! Some chili, a panini, two plush mounted animal heads, and a new friend later, and we were ready to head back to our apartment for the night. 

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Iceland: Day 1

We woke up on our first day in Iceland prepared to wander around Reykjavik and get the lay of the land. Our apartment was in a really convenient location, right in the center of the 101 district, so it was in the heart of everything, including tourist shops, which usually aren’t my thing. Reykjavik is so small that they can’t be avoided though. It seems like touristy things are mixed in with everything else. We quickly discovered that the 101 district is completely walkable in a day.

We left our cozy apartment and headed up Skólavörðustígur to look for Mokka Kaffi, a cafe I’d read about in preparation for our trip. I wrote a preview piece for Dish Trip, so I’d done a little food research ahead of time, which especially made our first day easy. I am prone to get hangry, especially when traveling.

We were surprised to see that in the mid-40s temps Icelanders still enjoy sipping their coffee at sidewalk tables. 

Interestingly, I thought the whole city smelled like waffles. 
We spent the rest of the day wandering around Reykjavik and getting our bearings. I love wandering days in new cities.
I took a million pictures of this church, Hallgrimskirkja. It dominates the small city.

This is the organ inside Hallgrimskirkja.

Have you ever seen those TV specials about people who are in love with inanimate objects? I told Chad that’s how I felt about this rough mountain in the distance.

The Harpa Conference Center is completely built out of this beautiful honeycomb glass. It’s beautiful inside and out, and toasty warm inside. We stopped here for a bit to use the free wifi.
This street-side hot dog stand is the most famous (and oldest?) restaurant in Reykjavik. We returned countless times during the week so Chad could get his fix. Turns out the secret ingredient is lamb. The hot dogs really are delicious, and you’re supposed to eat them with a special blend of toppings. Like a true 5 year old, I ate mine with ketchup only.

For something like $5, you can take a teeny-tiny elevator with 8 or so of your new best friends to the top of Hallgrimskirkja and appreciate stunning views of the city from all sides.

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Iceland: The Intro

I’m not so into the cold. Really. It took a little convincing for me to go on vacation to somewhere not warm. But I had seen enough Sigur Ros videos to know that the beauty would make up for having to pack a coat.

We rolled into Reykjavik in the middle of the night. Neither of our flights fed us substantially, so I was pretty hungry and decided that the best option would be to buy a packaged sandwich at the bus station because I was afraid that everything would be closed. Not so. Tall blondes were spilling out of bars right and left, and stumbling into convenience store hot dog joints. Turns out, hot dogs are the drunk food of Iceland. 
But the weird, gross bus station sandwich had satiated my hunger, and we moved onto a new problem before us: the small dilemma of not being able to find our apartment. After a good 45 minutes of walking up and down the same stretch of street and asking the more sober-looking amongst us if they recognized the address, I was almost convinced we were scammed and stranded in the street at 2 a.m. in Reykjavik with herds of drunk Norsepeople.
After realizing that our street changed names right in the middle, we soon found our building and were greeted by warmth, whites, oranges, and fluffy textiles. I still sometimes fantasize about that duvet and those pillows. It was the coziest, and I am forever an AirBnB evangelist. When we go back to Reykjavik, we will be staying here. How could we not, with this friendly face to greet us?

I realized that I somehow neglected to take photos of the beautiful room we stayed in. Here’s one from its AirBnB page. It was really the coziest. In the afternoons, the sun would shine through that great big window and warm the whole room. Some days, we’d take a break and come back for a little siesta in the Icelandic sun.