From the terrifying, vertiginous heights of a 60 meter waterf
all, to the giddy delight of having scaled it afterward, to the dazed distraction of being in the midst of incomprehensible multinational conversations, and the woozy, weak-in-the-knees sensation of toppling into bed once the day is done…if asked to sum my time in Iceland up in one word, my reply would be: “dizzying”.
A week later after arriving home and having settled back in, the dizziness is just now subsiding and yet I am still feeling rather unsteady and out-of-place. A new friend summed it up rather eloquently, I think: “Repatriation can be a lot more shocking than expatriation, because we expect to feel comfortable, we expect things to be familiar, but everything is different. Not because everything has changed, but because *we* changed. Our frame of reference for the familiar has changed. “
All of this sounds like a complaint, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it to be. I’ve never fancied myself much of a traveler and I am finding that it rather takes some getting used to. I think when one travels one must learn to let go of schedules and learn to embrace the unexpected and these are usually both difficult lessons for me. This journey proved to be no different in that regard and yet I think, at some point I , just…let go. Gave up. Due to the fact I did not speak the language (I know maybe four words of Icelandic) I didn’t know what was going on around me 99% of the time anyway, so why not just let someone else make the plans and I’d just end up where ever I ended up. And it would be fine. “þetta reddast”, I heard repeated several times during the trip. “It will be ok. It will work itself out.” Þetta reddast.
Though I was in Reykjavík primarily for the wedding of my gentleman’s brother – which was a splendid affair at Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland – we did have time, in between visits with family (and there was a lot of family), to explore our own agenda. Which were chiefly pastries, penis museums, haunted houses, and more waterfalls.
kleina (fried doughnut) and hjónabandssæla (“happy marriage cake”)
Höfði house. Haunted by a lady ghost, according to local legend.
2008 Icelandic handball team at the phallological museum
random waterfall in Þingvellir
Because my guy and his family are originally from Iceland, there were many aunties and cousins still living there who had not seen them in a long time and who wanted to spend time catching up. There were long coffee hours with trays of hangikjöt (smoked lamb) or salmon sandwiches and delicate pancakes either rolled thin and sprinkled with sugar or stuffed fat and full of cream and jam. There was an evening of at least 40 relatives packed into an apartment for bowls of traditional kjötsúpa – a humble but fragrant and nourishing meat soup, usually made with lamb and earthy winter vegetables. I’ll scarcely mention the grilled minke whale, for those readers who may face ethical or philosophical dilemmas regarding this…very…delicious issue. And then, there was an afternoon in the town of Akranes where I was invited for a meal of the most delicious fish and chips that I have ever had in my life.
Boat graveyard at Akranes
Akranes is a charming little fishing town, but there is a wee dodgy strip which could be mistaken for Innsmouth on a gloomy, grey afternoon. Though apparently the ninth most populous town in Iceland, Akranes seemed small and rather isolated to me. We were taken on a little tour of the town, which included the boat and town history museum, as well as, the lighthouse – which was an unexpected and wonderful surprise for me, as Amiina, a lovely, unique group of musicians whose works I stumbled across recently and who sound like the dreamiest, tinkling music box, had recorded at this lighthouse in the past few years. I was delighted to see that the lighthouse, though small, also hosted exhibits of the poetic or artistic variety from time to time. Before leaving I was gifted with a knit version of a traditional hat, hand made by a very generous auntie.
Old Man Houlihan at the Akranes boat museum. He would have gotten away with it – if not for those meddling kids.
Little lighthouse at Akranes (viewed from top of big lighthouse)
By Sigurbjörg Þrastardóttir. Exhibit at the Akranes lighthouse.
Lovely knit hat based on a traditional costume
In addition to the town of Akranes, another one of my favorite places was Árbæjarsafn, which is the historical museum of the city of Reykjavík as well as an open air museum and a regional museum. Unfortunately, we put this visit off until the last minute, on the weekend – during which time it is not open. Technically. We were still able to walk around and look at the houses, but we were not able to go into them or explore them. Nonetheless, we still spent about two hours walking around and marveling at the simple beauty of the structures.
Vestry at Árbæjarsfni
Old houses at Árbæjarsfni
I was very lucky to experience Iceland from a unique perspective – though I did many of the tourist-y things (I ate hotdogs from every stand in the city for pete’s sake; I took a photo of this guy), I also spent a great deal of time with the people who actually live there and got to see things from a native’s perspective, as well. Which included many home-made meals, I might add, and in a city as expensive as Reykjavík, that’s really a lovely blessing.
A few tips, if you are thinking of traveling to Iceland:
- Bring layers! I traveled during the end of August (which is like a relentless hellscape in Florida) but the weather I encountered in Iceland was in the 40s and 50s and drizzly. Cold and rainy. Tee shirts and light sweaters and light jackets are best for hopping between coffee houses on a chilly day downtown, I think.
- A sturdy pair of water proof boots is essential if you are going to be visiting the waterfalls or doing a bit of hiking. I purchased a pair from LL Bean and they are marvelous. I highly recommend them.
- Try to check out the happy hours for restaurants. They are all so very expensive, so take advantage of deals where you can find them.
- Go to Café Babalú, have a cappucino and check out their Star Wars themed bathroom, visit the The Einar Jónsson Sculpture Garden, stop by the Reykjavík Botanical Gardens, people watch at Kringlan, eat Skyr with blueberry jam every morning, marvel at how everywhere, even at the grocery store, you can find yarn.
And be reminded of why we go away. (says Terry Pratchett) “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
I am glad I am no longer the same person who would have never left. Though now I feel I am not actually the same person who did leave, either. It’s all so confusing! Perhaps I’d better start planning another trip and see what happens.