I finally made it to Iceland back in September, while en route to Germany for another round of classes for grad school. It was one of my shortest trips ever – I spent barely 24 hours inside the country – but it was absolutely one of my most rewarding travel experiences. Like, if I had an Eat Pray Love-style book advance to go travel (or if I could just afford to take off and go there for 6 months as therapy) I would 100% go there and find a sheep farm to work on, or rent a room in some village and everyday just walk and sit somewhere and stare at the landscape. Suffice to say, I need to go back.
I can’t remember the last time – or if this has even happened to me before – that I was not only excited about going to a new country, I was positively smiling with giddiness as I drove my rental car from the airport, past Reykjavik, to Thingvellir. I was struck by what simultaneously felt like vast expanses of green that looked like they could belong to a central Asian steppe, and how everything always seemed to be ringed in by stark mountains. I guess it’s the relative absence of trees. I loved the volcanic rock, the snow on the mountain tops, the different greens of grass and the rust and sage-green lichens that clung to rocky hillsides. People compare it to being on another planet, and that’s quite honestly how I felt – I’ve never seen any other place like it.
Thingvellir is the site of the world’s first (known) legislature (Althing) and oldest existing parliament, and is also the point where the European and North American tectonic plates meet. I had limited time and a spa appointment to get to (priorities), so I didn’t fully explore the whole site, but I relished what I did see – even on a relatively short, paved hike surrounded by other tourists.
I am not known for being able to tolerate the cold very well, but I’m starting to think I handle it better than heat. After a few vacations in Sri Lanka and Malaysia – which I still loved – my husband observed that I’m not very good at going to the beach. No, I don’t sunburn (unlike him, I know how to use sunscreen now and then), but I am scared of waves in the ocean, and I get bored and eventually stressed out about having nothing to do but sit on the beach. Beach days are great now and then, but if I was going to go somewhere and really recuperate this would be it: someplace cool enough that I could move around and not get sweaty, some amount of manual labor, and Iceland ultimately still appeals to the desert girl in me.
Iceland is also probably the most expensive country I’ve traveled to. A few people warned me about this, but I was in a bit of a shock – yes, I was in touristy places, but each time I stopped to eat, it set me back about $30. I did splurge on a gorgeous wool blanket and have no regrets about that. In the airport I also picked up a few skeins of wool yarn, and one of these days I will finish crocheting the thing I started before I went off for another month of traveling.
I opted to continue driving north a bit and go to the Laugarvatn hot springs spa instead of the Blue Lagoon. Since I planned my trip so last minute, I didn’t realize you had to book a time slot at the Blue Lagoon in advance, and by the time I was ready to book, the only time slot left was after 8 pm. So I went here instead and had a grand time. Once again, I was surrounded by tourists (this time a French and Canadian wedding party) but there’s not much you can do about that these days in Iceland, I suppose.
At this point in my career as a photographer, very few pictures I’ve taken actually fill me with joy. I have had elated moments when covering news and knowing that light and composition have lined up at the right moment. But usually, at best, looking back through my hard drives of pictures feels like work, and at worst, fills me with a kind of panic and dread. I’m not ready to revisit a lot of my pictures from the last four years in the Middle East yet.
The few pictures I took in Iceland are not amazing, but they do make me happy. And they’re reminders of how a day spent in this landscape lifted a massive burden off my chest and left me feeling lighter than I had in months.