Two visits to Iceland later, and I’m still head over heels for this place. Find out how Iceland stole my heart twice in a row.
“Would you like some soup?”
A seemingly honest question, but after days of pinching pennies in the expensive aisles of Iceland’s grocery stores, my sister and I didn’t know how to tell this kind Icelandic café owner that we had already eaten and were just looking for a warm cup of tea. Instead, we just looked at each other quizzically, unsure of how to respond.
The lady tucked her curly, dark hair behind her ear, her kind eyes smiling toward us. “Don’t worry,” she said, “it’s free.”
Maria was the woman’s name, and after having traveled extensively through the United States and learning English in the process, she’d come to own a cafe in the small Icelandic town of Hvammstangi. It is one of three restaurants in town. On this particular cold and rainy summer day on the Northwestern coast of Iceland, my sister and I stumbled into her cafe, Hladan Kaffihus, chilled to the bone after setting up our campsite for the night. And luckily, this cafe owner was about to throw out a few liters of leftover soup from the day, which she kindly offered to us instead.
We took a seat and Maria poured us some delicious tomato soup with a side of home-cooked bread. She told us about how she likes to knit with Icelandic lopi in her free time, showing us proudly some of the children’s garments and home goods that she made by hand. She talked about traveling to the United States, and how she has siblings who live there. Here we were, in an Icelandic fishing town of less than 600 people, after having driven for almost two full weeks around the perimeter of the island, bonding over tomato soup and carrot cake with a witty Icelandic woman. How’s that for a cultural experience?
And that’s when I first started to fall in love with Iceland.
Cue back to 2011 – freshman year of college. A stack of white, lined flashcards sat on the right upper corner of my desk. No one would have even noticed these nondescript cards except that they were adorned with somewhat unintelligible words, phrases like “Góðan daginn” and “ég elska þig“.
A bullish challenge for myself, I had tried (and failed) for months to learn bits and pieces of the Icelandic language. Naively, I knew even then that I wanted to travel to Iceland one day. I watched Sigur Rós’ documentary, Heima, several times, drooling over how beautiful and striking Iceland’s landscape is. I created hours of music playlists primarily composed of Icelandic artists. Iceland rose to the top of my bucket list as I continued in my fascination of its language and culture.
And then, in the summer of 2015, I finally set foot in this beautiful place.
My sister and I took on the feat of driving Iceland’s ring road in mid-June. It rained 75% of the time, and the other 25% of the time, it was absolutely beautiful. We got a little unlucky, but the awful weather didn’t stop me from falling head over heels for Iceland’s striking mountains, towering glaciers, peaceful lagoons, and powerful waterfalls. Everywhere we looked, everywhere we drove, there was something else to see.
Iceland gave us so many opportunities to have some really unique adventures. We went for a relaxing swim in the world-famous Blue Lagoon. I bought a traditional Icelandic lopapeysa to shelter me from the cold and the wind, and featured it in many of my photos throughout the country. My sister and I went horseback riding in Myvatn (and wound up covered in midge flies). We ate tons of carrot cake. We tasted (and hated) hakkarl, Iceland’s infamous fermented shark. We saw the midnight sun. We explored an abandoned American airplane at Sólheimasandur. We drove through blizzards, thunderstorms, and sunshine, sometimes within the span of a few hours. We hiked and walked and explored. And we realized that Iceland is a giant park.
A winning shot
So then, come summer of 2016, I knew I wanted to start mobilizing on a second trip to Iceland. I found an exciting contest to enter to win a trip for 2 to Iceland (flights, Iceland Airwaves tickets, Reykjavik city pass, and hotel included!), so I wrote a song, made a music video, and entered blindly.
2,000+ votes and a small army of supporters later, I found out I won the contest. Hilarious awkward winning video below:
In early November, I returned to Iceland once again for Iceland Airwaves Music Festival. This time, I brought my boyfriend with me, who I’d told time and time again that Iceland was one of my absolute favorite places in the world. We packed our backpacks and our hiking boots and jumped on an Icelandair flight to Reykjavik. I secretly worried that no trip to Iceland could beat my last one, and I’d feel disappointed.
Iceland gave us even more to be thankful for the second time around. We helped Nanna from Of Monsters and Men crowdsurf in the NASA theatre. We ate sustainably raised tomato soup in an Icelandic greenhouse. Surprisingly, there’s a lot to eat for a vegetarian in Reykjavik and Iceland! We explored black sand beaches, national parks, and waterfalls. We chased (unsuccessfully) the Northern Lights every night. We saw two full winter days of sunshine and warm(-ish) weather. I even bought another lopapeysa (and cried at the price tag).
When I knew Iceland officially stole my heart
Iceland didn’t steal my heart in one fell swoop. In fact, I didn’t realize just how much I loved this enchanting place until I was boarding my flight home this past November, teary-eyed and nostalgic from the blissful few days we’d spent there. There’s still so much left on my bucket list, including exploring ice caves, snorkeling through Silfra, trekking in Thorsmörk, and visiting the Westfjords in Iceland. I’m crazy about Iceland; so crazy, in fact, that I’m planning on going back every year for the foreseeable future. Yes, it’s that incredible.
And if you’re not convinced yet, check out these photos of Iceland’s sheer beauty and magnificence:
A land of stories
After looking through these photographs and remembering all of the adventures behind them, I realize that the one most compelling thing about Iceland is that it’s a land of stories. Vikings came in on giant boats to settle this vast and untouched terrain, and with them came the unique sagas that make up the history of this fascinating place. Every Icelander we met had some kind of fascinating tale to tell us, whether about the land, the sea, or the folklore present throughout the island.
As my sister and I explored around Ásbyrgi in the northeastern part of Iceland, someone told us the legend of its cleanly cut, geometric topography: a Viking god’s giant horse laid its foot on the land and left a horseshoe-shaped imprint in the rocks. In that very spot, they say, is today’s Ásbyrgi Canyon, also eerily and cleanly cut out of the earth.
This is just one of many tales that make up the roots of the Icelandic nation and its fascinating people. And, as I sit here in sweltering Texas planning my third trip to this breathtaking country, I can’t help but think that my adventures in Iceland will one day make up the threads of my own personal story.
Have you been to Iceland? What did you think? Share your viking stories in the comments.