Pack your bags, dear Reader, because we’re about to beat this Middle Georgia heat!
(And there was much rejoicing.)
In celebration of our two year anniversary, William and I – and you! – are heading to Iceland to rejoice in dramatic landscapes, midnight sun, and long-sleeve shirts.
Iceland: “So Hot Right Now”
Iceland is totally having a moment. It seems nearly every week another one of my Facebook friends is kicking back an Icelandic beer at some hip bar in Reykjavík. Dear Reader, if you’re starting to get the everyone’s-been-to-Iceland-but-meeeee feels too, well… they have.
If I’m being honest, this made me hesitant to visit Iceland at all. And not just because I’m late to the party or because the most clever hashtags have already been claimed. Rather, the tourism boom of the past decade has resulted in the Disneyfication of some of my favorite sites and cities. (Hi Barcelona! I still love you!). With the ratio of tourists to Icelanders hovering around 6:1, I feared we were destined for lines, overpriced entry fees, and crowds.
Still… the case for Iceland was compelling. A small island roughly the size of Ohio, Iceland is home to a mere 350,000 people (like, total). The country is truly a study in contrasts: its fiery volcanoes juxtaposed with frosty glaciers, its sustained summer sunshine offset by the endless night of winter. And yet, Iceland received little to no love from the travel community until 2008 when the value of the Icelandic Kroner plummeted, making vacations there extremely affordable. Then, in 2010, ash from the massive volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (not a typo) halted air travel throughout Northern and Western Europe for almost a week! Okay, Iceland. Now you have our attention.
Daydreams & Recycled Air
Let’s fast forward through our trudge to the airport, shall we? Regular readers know I’m one of those rare finds who truly enjoys air travel. Flying offers a brief reprieve from my earthly woes as I literally float above the trappings and frustrations of my life below. I love having hours to read and to ponder the digital world map illuminated on the seat-back TV – oh, the places we’ll go! For me, vacation begins right here in Seat 5A: my airborne library complete with teeny, tiny snacks.
My “Ode to the Majesty of Flight” aside, I arrive in Reykjavík with a cramp in my neck, anxious to get our adventure underway. Billy crams our luggage into the tiny trunk of our white Peugeot rental car and we head straight for the famed Blue Lagoon. Our reservation – and you must make a reservation for this trendy geothermal spa – is for opening time, 8AM.
In Hot Water (And It Feels So Good)
Surely you recognize the milky blue/green waters of The Blue Lagoon, dear Reader? You likely already know its warm waters are renowned for their healing properties – the silica contained therein brightens complexions, soothes irritated skin, and eases weary bones. Old news, right? Most people don’t realize, however, that the Lagoon is man-made (though the full swim-up bar complete with skyr smoothies should have tipped you off). Instead, the Lagoon waters are renewed every two days by the adjacent geothermal power plant. So while Iceland is brimming with natural hot springs, this pricey tourist spot is not one of them. Not that I’m complaining mind you, it’s the perfect way to recover from a cramped overnight flight.
Steam rises thick from the surface of the water. It creates a cozy veil separating me from everything outside of myself, everything outside of this experience, this moment. Even my mind is quiet. Ripples of warmth, soft as silk, glide over my shoulders as I wade through the mist in search of my husband. A few moments pass before Billy’s silhouette finally comes into view.
“Masks?” I suggest, referring to the available silica and algae mud mask treatments. He nods and soon we are lounging in the shallows, waiting patiently for the silica to do its magic. The crowds are beginning to roll in now and we people-watch together in silence.
“This crew, over here,” Billy gestures to a rowdy group of older Asian men.
The men have drinks in their hands and they speak boisterously in a language I don’t understand. They call over to a group of Asian ladies at the edge of the Lagoon, their wives maybe. I don’t understand them, and yet I do. Some things are universal, like the bravado of men entreating women to come celebrate. And the feigned reluctance of women to release their inhibitions and partake in the festivities.
Billy smiles and shakes his head. I giggle. It’s fun.
Blowin’ Through Town
After a few restorative hours, it’s time to leave the Lagoon behind. Our drive to Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital city, is uneventful and we pass only the occasional car. With a thriving arts and music scene, the city is the beating heart of Iceland’s economy and government – not to mention host to some of the summer’s hottest festivals (if you’re into that kinda thing). Remember those 350,000 Icelanders? Well, 60% of them live in Reykjavík!
After throwing our bags down at our hotel, there is no time to waste. The weather lends itself to my favorite fall ensemble – ripped jeans, fun sneaks, and my green military jacket over a baggy v-neck. Inwardly I rejoice and tilt my face to the sun. The air is crisp, the breeze light through my hair. It’s the first time in months I’ve enjoyed being outside. Back in Georgia I’ve come to dread my walks with Miss Mary – the scorching heat, oppressive humidity, and persistent gnats make for an unbearable combination. I firmly believe that if Emerson had settled in Middle Georgia, there never would have been a transcendentalist movement. But I digress….
We begin by strolling over to the Harpa Concert Hall, its distinctive glass facade visible from our hotel window. Once inside we inquire about a few of the upcoming shows and enjoy the atrium’s architecture for a few minutes. Our journey continues along the waterfront where we admire the surrounding snow-capped hills and the deep blue of the Atlantic.
From there William and I cut over to Laugavegur, the city’s main drag. We pop into a few stores and peer eagerly into several bakeries (well, maybe that was just me peering eagerly). Perched on a hill overlooking the city is Hallgrímskirkja, one of Iceland’s most recognizable landmarks. This Lutheran church is the largest in the country and its facade is inspired by the mysteriously shaped basalt columns found along Iceland’s south shore. I mean, it’s cool alright but I’m a little churched out to be honest. Between living in Italy and our current tour of the Deep South, the past two years have felt like one big Churchapalooza. Besides, everyone already knows my fave places to get my prayer on are La Sagrada Família and The Blue Mosque.
Does it seem like we’re blowing through Reykjavík, dear Reader? We totally are! The city’s funky charm is palpable but there is so much more waiting for us out on the open road. Won’t you join us?