It’s starts with a daydream. A moment when you leave your environment and venture off into your mind to escape. We’ve all done it. Been caught in a conversation, meeting, what-have-you and realize you don’t remember the last 15-30 seconds. Possibly someone pulls you back to reality with a question you have no context or answer for. For me, it’s a sign that it’s time. It’s time to take a break, get out of the day-to-day and venture off into all that is new. All that is unknown. All that is disconnected.
My wife and I landed in Keflavik around 6:30am or so and made our way through duty free and a cafe before getting our rental and making the 3-hours drive across the southern ring of Iceland. One of the many things I love about my partner is that our skills compliment each other (she would probably interject here, but it’s my blog so it’s my truth). There were five key design elements I requested to craft this trip:
Once the framework was in place, I became the Minister of Cultural Research and she, the Minister of Making Everything Happen. AirBnB is our go to for travel home and abroad. It’s still loaded with places where those liked-minded live. We initially found a few places in the West Fjords, but travel at this time can be sketchy and the roads may or may not be passable. We agonized a bit because the places we tagged were really cool with views of mountains, water and pristine land. Then, boom, she found it. A beautiful modern listing- Eyjafjallajokull – in the south with amazing views of the Eyjafjöll mountains, glacier and Vestmannaeyjar islands. It was perfect. Solitude and style. She nailed it.
Still though these were pictures and we were about to spend the first 4 days of our trip out in the middle of nowhere so – always it’s a gamble…
The color contrast of roadways in comparison to the surrounding countryside was strikingly beautiful. An Instagrammer’s dream. The asphault roads so black and without delineation clutter. Black roads and browning green grasses for miles and miles. Our driveway, a two-mile stretch that fed off the main Highway 1, maintained this aesthetic. All along the route we passed wild horses roaming the fields. When the wind is up they all stand in unison with their rears facing the oncoming wind – all pointing the same direction and stoic. A real sight to see. We were in farmland. We were just the only ones without a farm.
An overwhelming feeling of calm and joy overtook me as we approached our home away from home. All these months of dreaming and planning were real. The past 48-hours – frantic. I was dead tired from the overnight flight and 3-hour drive, but all that washed away. The world slowed to our speed. Our very own palace of solitude where we could escape the mass-connectedness of the world and focus on the singular most important connection – our own.
It was a simple design, heavy on Ikea, but it provided everything we needed to relax, sleep, cook and make the morning coffee. 360 degree prairie views with the seaside on one side and water-fall rich mountain flanking the other. We had made a stop at a local grocer and picked up the necessary goods – eggs (the best I’ve had in years), Kaffi (coffee) and delicious bread and jam combo. Food shopping in another country is always fun. Seeing the different packaging and variances in the dominant tastes of the culture.
Side bar – we thought our local grocer’s didn’t like tourist. You have to bag your own groceries (not as common in US), but they sling the bags at you aggressively. It was only when we had visited a number of stores that we saw it was common and not done dismissively. Bag slinging was cultural – I think.
The furnishings were simple and well placed – Ikea heavy for sure. The living room provided for good morning coffee and book time. The dining table and candles were a nice touch in the evenings for supper, listening to music and… well, book time.
A a bit of placement for Dwell Magazine, but it was the remote cabins and architectural gems in Scandinavian lands that I had read about in the magazine that inspired this stop on our vacation.
The shower was great. Remoteness tends to offer a comfortability with being naked to the outside world. At least for us Americans. A shower with an expansive view like this ensures cleanliness. In the mornings, wild horses would walk by as they grazed on the native grasses. A friendly wave and hello and they were on their way.
The views extended to our bedroom as well. Again, simple and pleasant. The fact that our bed was one single mattress was attractive to us both. Traveling abroad you find twins adjoined to make a bed fit for the married. It can be a bit of a learning curve on the back, so this was nice. Also, the floors were heated so placing your socks and pants out flat make for a toasty wardrobe.
The farmlands of Iceland are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Homesteads nestled under mountain ranges with waterfalls providing a steady stream of water for the wild horses, sheep and birds roaming free on the land. This stop was near the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano that erupted in 2010. We stopped, looked around and I fantasized about living here for a moment and turning it into a world-famous craft brewery. The lava-filtrated water blowing away anything the Rocky Mountains could achieve. We’re coming for you Coors!
Our next stop was the Skógarfoss Waterfall. A gorgeous sight with only a few others around to share in the spectacle. Rumor is that the Viking settler Þrasi Þórólfsson hid a chest of treasure in a secret cave behind the waterfall. Allegedly the locals found it, but when they grabbed the chest it disappeared and only the medal ring handle was left and they made it the door-knocker for the church. Though unsubstantiated, the lore is fun.
Hiking to the top provides for stunning views of the countryside. With the interspersed rain we took the chance and booked it up to get this photo and come eye-to-eye with the water’s tipping point.
My wife is used to me bringing up the rear as I capture picture after picture, she treks on.
When we reached the peak she turned to me and said, “Why don’t you put the camera down and use the lenses God gave you.”
It took a second before a realization began to unfold – was I really disconnected? Though there was no Wi-Fi, no cable to the internet and no cellular device active – the camera was an offline barrier to experiencing the moment. No photo would re-create the mist hitting our faces or the sound and feel of the wind coming off the waterfall. She taught me a valuable lesson on the top of that waterfall. Experiencing the moment and leaving time for a couple of good photos is so much more valuable than experiencing everything through a lens in search of the perfect shot.
Thanks love. (the only photos of me are either credited to my wife or my tripod)
Our day trip continued on as we headed out to Jökulsárlón. Snow began covering the mountains and the roadsides. Again, the contrast was breathtaking. There were no gradient. Only absolutes. Stunning absolutes.
We made a friend on a sign we couldn’t pronounce.
And eventually made our way to one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever seen, Jökulsárlón – translation, “glacial river lagoon.” The glacial lake is part of the Vatnajökull National Park and covers an area of about 6.9 sq. miles (18 km2). You can take a tour of the lake in a amphibious vehicle, but we decided to walk it’s edge and take it’s beauty on foot. Photographers can be seen scattered along the water’s edge.
Growing up in San Diego, we visited the San Diego Zoo and Sea World often. The enclosures for the arctic creatures, made of concrete, were always painted a white with blue edge. It looks false, like a movie set. Even as a child I remember the facade of it all. Unnatural in it’s attempt to be natural. All these years later I experience the origins of their design and am amazed by their natural beauty. The blue of the icebergs is gorgeous, even ghostly.
The cracking sounds of the gargantuan ice clusters, rubbing together at the whim of the current, reminded me of the power that sat below the water’s surface. The tension of the frozen masses was erie.
As I stood along the shore I wanted to burn this view into my memory. I don’t know if it’s something in the Irish genes, but it’s in these times of amazing natural splendor that I feel melancholy. Here we are in Iceland, staring over one of the most wondrous sites in all of the country and I am happy, but a small part of me is sad at the same time. The thought that I may never get a chance to see this view again in my lifetime a chilling reminder of my own mortality (accept the pun).
But then again, I am lucky enough to have had a chance to see them in the first place. To experience another adventure with a wonderful partner. One who I can get lost with and wander with. One who I can disconnect from all else with. The world back home be damned for a spell, it’s our time to be alone – together.
Due to the delay in Canada – read [PT1] for context – we didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time as we would have liked in our home in the wilds. Our stay was short, but we made the time most of the time we had. Now it was time for a return to city life. Here we come Reykjavik and 4.5 days of bands, bands and more bands – it was time for Iceland Airwaves!
Upcoming I’ll be focusing heavily on the music of Iceland, the festival and great spots for coffee, records as well as shopping. One awesome update though – I posted a photo of our time at our home in the wilds, tagged AirBnB and later they contacted me that they loved the photo and wanted to post it to their account – photo credit accompanying of course. A few weeks later, there we were on AirBnB’s Instagram profile.
Funny story about this photos. My wife was ready to hit the road and I was doing what I always do – trying to get one last great photo. I setup my tripod and had it all framed. She reluctantly agreed and all I said was “don’t smile and try to look stoic.” The goal was to re-create the American Gothic painting, but reimagine it Icelandic. What do you think?
Two more parts to our Icelandic journey are on the way. Stay tuned for my favorite record stores, coffee shops and I’ll even show off my awesome new sweater.