It’s the cocktail at the airport that signals we’re on vacation. Up until then I am checking my phone. Still engaged. Still connected. Not free and mentally ready to immerse myself in the adventure at hand. The trip of a lifetime – Iceland. My beard has been grown long for some time now in preparation for the escape from Los Angeles. I am free of the cubicle, the status meetings, the countless emails AND I’m ready to embrace nature. Ready to embrace awkward naked group showers prior to geothermal baths. Ready to embrace rotten shark tastings, significantly stronger beer and words I have no freaking idea how to say. I’m ready to have my mind blown by the aurora borealis. Let’s get the heck out of the states and make a go of it in foreign lands. Let’s go to Iceland!
The dream of Iceland began over 9-months back. It was on our trip to Ireland and England that we began talking about “where next.” The travel bug always looking for a fix. Spain, Chile, back to Costa Rica, Bora Bora and Iceland. Yes, Iceland. The black sheep in the bunch. The dark horse in the race. She wanted sunshine, beaches, relaxation. I wanted to avoid sunburns. There was only one card to play. We had talked about experiencing a major European music festival. We are both huge music fans and even met in the famous Trocadero rock club in Philadelphia. Last year we tried to go the Leeds Festival and just missed the cut off on timing – the lineup sucked anyway. During my random online parousings I happened upon Iceland Airwaves, a festival that began in 1999 and has been called “the hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar,” by David Fricke of RollingStone (more on David Fricke in my next blog posts). A google search turned up this 45min Iceland Airwaves Rockumentary and that was it, we were going. Packed with bands that are immensily talented yet under the radar, accessibility and a small town feel with a global draw – yup, this was it. I was sold. The odd thing was the wifey didn’t need much convincing either. The sandy sunny beach was out and 8hrs of sunlight, freezing temperatures, a secluded cabin and 5 days of a music festival was in. We were going to Iceland Airwaves.
Prior to our departure I made a rather extensive YouTube playlist of Iceland Airwaves bands. The lineup was not filled with the usual summer bands that make their way from fest-to-fest. It was different. There were very few I was intimately aware of. How would I go about knowing the right bands to see? How would I even know what styles of music to explore? How the heck could I fly to Iceland and fuck this up? I couldn’t. With steadfast dedication I took to YouTube and Spotify to put together multiple lists of bands, videos and playlists. To finding the best local blogs where I could patch together a list of coffee shops, records stores, shopping and food that were must haves. Heck, I even put together a custom google map to get a lay of the land. We were ready. Or so we thought…
Right before we left my wife took this picture of me in the woods of Maryland. It was the last time I was happy for the next 36-hours. Due to unbelievable incompetancy on AirCanada’s behalf we were about to be run through the ringer and get stranded – yup, we missed an entire day in Iceland. Out of lemons we’ll make a shandy and when AirCanada put us up in the Travelodge near the Toronto Airport for the night, I decided to head to the bar and give the local brews a shot.
The bartender greeting me with the most friendly of symphathizing welcomes. It was midnight and the bar was partially populated with the stranded. The first thing I noticed was the size of the beers. These were no 16oz pints, but they weren’t 22oz either. They were somewhere in the middle. Dangerous. I ordered up a local and then two more. The last one was probably not a good idea, but hell, you are on in the Travelodge of the Toronto airport once (I hope). Below are links to the beers of Canada I tasted. My favorite was the Barking Squirrel. It seemed to have more personality than the other two. Not to knock a good Pilsner, but I’ve always looked to Pilsners in warmer weather. They simply aren’t hearty enough for the fall and winter months – this man’s opinion.
After, I went to bed feeling slightly better, definitely buzzed and yet still with a strong desire to get out of Canada and get to Iceland.
We were not alone as the packed terminal of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport would highlight. Interestingly enough, you can order a beer from iPADs here. I still prefer ordering through humans though. They make for better conversation.
Finally, we boarded the IcelandAir plane, exhaled and were on the way. It had been 36-hours and we were filled with that Christmas Eve type anticipation. The flight was later in the day and we were scheduled to land at around 7am Iceland time. I’ve never been one to be able to sleep on planes so I knew I was going to need the nearest espresso upon landing before we ventured off on a 3-hour long drive to our first stop – a beautiful cabin we found on AirBnB. The plane took off, I watched an Icelandic film about a man and a horse and 6-hours later we were landing in Keflavík. We swung by the duty-free, grabbed the closest cup of Kaffitár coffee and headed on our way in the early morning darkness of the Icelandic sky (more on Iceland’s coffee scene here). It wasn’t until about 8:30am when the daylight began to break ever so slightly and an hour more before we arrived at the cabin.
We had plans to drop our stuff, get a meal and head out for explorations. Instead, we landed and went straight to bed. Five hours later we woke up to this view.
There it happened. The stress of the last thirty-six hours faded away. All was right with the world. Wild horses sauntered by, my wife was slowly waking up herself and a detachment from my normal life set in. We had broken free. We were disconnected from our real world. We were alone, happy and it was now time to enjoy the next 8-days and embrace all that is the joy of vacation.
Over the next few blog posts I’ll be sharing our experiences and giving you some resources to use to explore the Icelandic culture yourselves. As a preview, here are the chapters of our Iceland Airwaves experience. They will colorize when available. I hope you enjoy them and please feel free to leave a comment with any feedback or questions you have. I’m happy to share more detail where needed to assist future travelers with a bit of curated advice.