We checked the weather pretty consistently leading up to our trip to Iceland. The forecast was gloomily unwavering ~ 53 degree high with 70% chance of rain every day we were there. I wasn’t too concerned. I don’t like hot weather and rain doesn’t especially bother me (it more so bothers my naturally curly hair, but ce la vie when in Iceland, yes?).
So it was a super surprise that our last few days were filled with sunshine. The golden glow of the sun makes Iceland even more magical than it is in the grayness.
We arrived at six a.m. last Friday morning, and after getting our rental car (a cute little VW Polo with heated seats!) we made our way down route 41 from Keflavik to Reykjavik. It felt oddly surreal. To begin, our flight had been somewhat painful ~ neither of us had ever done a transatlantic discount flight, and let me tell you, Wow Airlines is discount. So we were tired. There had been several delays for various, increasingly absurd reasons, and then no pillows, no water or snacks … and a fellow passenger who insisted on keeping her window open, allowing bright sunlight to stream into the cabin the whole flight.
The thing about Iceland is that it reveals itself slowly. The mist and Scottish rain were in full force as we searched for our car in the parking lot. The country felt vast, as though emptiness stretched out in every direction. When we were finally ensconced in the car and we’d duly read the driving instructions (road signs for four-wheel drive only roads, how to navigate blind corners, flooded roadways, being mindful of the strong wind, etc) we set off, finding out that our GPS didn’t work, and doing it the old-fashioned way (y’know, with road signs and paper maps). The country-side was fascinating~ volcanic rock covered in vibrant green moss interspersed with clusters of bright purple flowers. Puffs of sulfuric smoke billowing from the ground ~ a different cloudy white than the mist.
We made it safely to Reykjavik, sprawling along the shores of the ocean. It didn’t feel like a city, but a country town filled with quaint buildings and shops. Our apartment was close to a main thoroughfare and after checking in at the office, we headed down for breakfast at a cafe recommended by a friend. It was surprisingly good ~ avocado on rye toast topped with arugula and bright, sunny side up eggs. After eating, I felt a little more like a human so we wandered into stores and explored the area, waiting to hear that the apartment was ready for our occupancy. Reykjavik is amazing ~ clean and filled with well dressed people, flowers blooming in overflowing pots on every lamppost, cobblestone streets, musicians on the corners and street art lining the narrow roadways. Our first day was filled with tiny discoveries of the country ~ clues as to the Icelandic culture and people. We did an early dinner at a small restaurant called “Old Iceland” (it was the best meal we had our whole trip, and we had some great meals). Cured salmon, plump sea scallops, and our first taste of Icelandic Fish Soup. We ventured up to the church at Reykjavik’s center after dinner. Following that, I was dead on my feet and looking forward (very much!) to sleep.
On Saturday, we did the Golden Circle. Iceland has a road that traverses the whole island called the Ring Road, and the Golden Circle is a small piece of that route. It includes Thingvellir National Park (the rift between tectonic plates), Geyser and Gulfoss. We spent the whole day on the Golden Circle. Everything was more beautiful than the last thing, and when you finally walk across the windswept moor and see the Gulfoss waterfall at the pinnacle of the trip ~ it takes the breath right out of your lungs. We walked right up to the side, rain coats zipped up and hoods on. It felt like true, pure, unadulterated magic.
For John’s birthday on Sunday, we booked time at the Blue Lagoon and the LAVA restaurant there. We arrived in the mist and rain of the morning ~ by far the coldest and rainiest day we were there. After navigating the gauntlet of the changing rooms, I met John on the other side, and the lagoon spread out before us, fading into dark cliffs and mist. We waded in, water warm as a perfect bath, and slowly floated out, stopping to get glasses of champagne at the lagoon bar. It was amazing, how blue the water was in the dark grayness and rain of the day. The juxtaposition of the water’s warmth and the rain’s slick coolness remains indescribably perfect. The water was opaque, so you couldn’t see your hands even an inch beneath the surface, and no matter how much time passed and how many more people arrived and drifted in, it never felt crowded or loud. It just felt blissfully peaceful. People covering their faces and arms with silica masks, floating into caves and underneath the man-made waterfall. We found perches in shallow water and just sat, talked and drank champagne. The epitome of decadence. Lunch was yummy, too. We did fish soup again (it is exquisite) and I had lamb, since Iceland is very proud of its lamb. It was tender and perfectly seasoned, served with buttery baby potatos and perfectly cooked vegetables. The restaurant did a special dessert for John’s birthday which was both beautiful and delicious.
We’d left Monday open, because we didn’t want to overbook ourselves (MS has taught us that). So when we finally pulled ourselves out of bed, we decided to drive south, toward waterfalls and black sand beaches. On a small quest to see the Iceland we’d come to know from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” The Iceland we saw was better. Full of blinking sunlight and intermittent rain. Craggy cliffs drifting into the clouds, waterfalls dotting the mountainside. Volcanic rock softened by moss. It was the perfect last day, which ended with a walk behind a waterfall and sandwiches from a food truck. As we wound our way back into Reykjavik at nine p.m. the city had begun its celebration of the big Euro Cup win over England. Fireworks set off in the midnight sun, car horns intermittently beeping. The kindest and safest sports celebration I have ever witnessed in my life.
Tuesday morning was full of sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. The blueness was vibrant. We made our way back to Keflavik and enjoyed our last fish soup at the airport with Sauvignon Blanc and cured salmon over sliced hard-boiled eggs and arugula. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.
Iceland gets into your consciousness, filling it with optimism, with peace and gentleness. I felt changed as we flew home across Greenland the wide Atlantic Ocean. I hope, as life reverts to the routine, I remember to hold the stillness, and peacefulness of Iceland in my heart and mind always. And I very much hope that our next visit isn’t too far in the future.