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Embrace the journey

Personal, Travel

October 3, 2017

Iceland

When we told people that we were going to Iceland for our honeymoon they looked at us a little funny. “Isn’t that an awful lot like Alaska?” they’d say. “Don’t you want to go somewhere a little warmer?” While we understood their thought pattern, warm temperatures and all inclusive packages weren’t really what we were looking for. We wanted an adventure, and to genuinely experience a new place.  Five star resorts and room service weren’t really going to give us that experience.  Gabe had always wanted to go there, especially after a friend had lived there for 6 months. I’d actually done a report on it in high school and the idea of a volcanic Island covered in glaciers intrigued me. To top it off, Icelandair was offering great prices on direct flights from Anchorage to Reykjavik. A 6 hour non-stop flight right over Greenland? Sign us up!
We arrived in Reykjavik at 6 am on a Monday morning in May, and were determined to not let jet-lag or our 6 hour time difference affect us.  Grouchiness soon settled for me as we lugged our backpacks around, tried to find food and regain our bearings after landing in a foreign country after a night of no sleep. We couldn’t check in to the apartment we’d rented for the first few days until the afternoon. To top it off, I had a vicious cold, and the lack of sleep really didn’t help. Once we got checked in, the day vanished as a short nap turned into sleeping until almost dinner time, watching a movie on our lap top, and going right back to sleep until the following morning.
The first few days we stayed in a little apartment in Reykjavik. It was within walking distance to most of the downtown area. Being able to have a home base, without needing a car was awesome and really gave us a taste of being a local.  Those first few days we did a lot of walking making sure to pack in museums, the Harpa concert hall, Hallgrimskirkja cathedral, Grotta Island Lighthouse, and of course and the little touristy shops.  We’d start our mornings with coffee and chai at Reykjavik Roasters and a pastry from Braud & Co., which were both just down the street from our little home away from home. We made the point to try and pick out locals and talk to them wherever we went, asking them what they like to do.  The tips we got from them ended up being some of our favorite places, making the the trip that much more memorable.  Without these people, we wouldn’t not have known about Tapas Barinn, which was a little basement restaurant that took an Icelandic twist on the traditional Spanish tapas, or  Sundlaugin á Hofsósi, a community pool up in the northern fjords, or the lobster pizza at Pakkhús in Höfn on the southeast side of the island. These ended up being places that helped determine our route the rest of the trip.
After those three initial days in Reykjavik, we hopped in a camper van and over a span of 9 days drove the main circle road around the island, pulling off and camping wherever we pleased.  The van served as transportation, and lodging, and gave us all the flexibility we wanted.  We were able to spend more time in places we liked, and less time in places we didn’t. We would purchase food for a few days at the local Bonus grocery store and utilize the refrigerator, little one burner stove, and portable grill that came with the van rental. We’d pull off the road and eat lunch on cliffs overlooking black sand beaches or at the base of giant waterfalls. A highlight in those first few days was hiking to the thermal pools just north of Hveragerði. As we sunk into the steamy warm water of the river that ran through the valley my stuffy nose and tired lungs thanked us.  A day later we found ourselves running toward an abandoned viking village at the base of a mountain. It was a film set that had been built, but never used. At 5 am, we were the only two people there yet we were kept company by a small herd of caribou grazing nearby, and a few majorly shedding Icelandic horses that lay in the grass drinking in the morning sun. It was somehow comforting to feel so small in such an epic landscape.
As we headed north, we found ourselves gaining a lot of elevation eventually landing us in a snowstorm on our way to the Mývatn Nature Baths. Thank goodness for Gabe’s Alaska winter driving skills. He expertly navigated us through the wind and snowdrifts.  Others on the road didn’t fair so well. Later that day as we sat in the warm thermal pool, the tail end storm we had passed through slowly made its way to where we were and snow started to gently fall on us. The days that followed contained the Cow Cafe, a cafe attached to a dairy farm that had the freshest cream you’ve ever tasted, the Herring museum in the northern fjords, which contained a history of the herring industry in Iceland, and staying in an Airbnb that happened to be hosted by Icelandic celebrity and former Miss Iceland, Manuela Osk.
Our last day in the city we decided to return one last time to the Hallgrimskirkja Cathedral. Little did we realize that it was a Sunday.  A church service was being held, but standing outside the interior doors we could hear what we had longed to hear the week prior.  The organ sounded and the angelic sound of children singing filled the room, echoing through the columns and rising to the ears of even those in the clock tower above. Never had we heard such purity of sound in person. The way it filled the room was almost almost tangible, as if I could reach out and touch it. We left Iceland feeling as if we had tasted a little bit of heaven.

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