Oh, you’re going to Iceland?
I experienced this exchange dozens of times in the past 6 months as I prepared to travel abroad for the first time, alone. When I booked this trip it seemed perfectly natural and very exciting. But that’s not to say I didn’t feel some fear when preparing. I scheduled my flight to New York a day early to check out my favorite galleries and a few museums but also because I was extremely paranoid some weather fluke would cause me to miss my first international flight.
Once in Iceland people didn’t think twice about me traveling alone, many said it’s the way they prefer to travel. I certainly prefer it. I am definitely the type to learn by doing and by doing, I mean getting lost and finding my way back. This is especially true when in New York and I learned that no matter what, walk with purpose. Walk swiftly and without looking around, no one will know you are lost and you might just discover the cutest bagel place where you can sit down and then Google Maps your way back to where you need to be. I learned this the hard way in Brooklyn. The second you flinch, with a look of panic, a man will come up to you and ask if you are lost. This is not something you want to happen, especially off of Franklin Ave, near Crown Heights, which is where it turns out I was. Like I said, totally lost.
After an eventful 24 hours in Brooklyn, I am finally on my way to Keflavik Airport, the main hub in Iceland. When I left New York it was 10pm and after a 4.5 hour flight I arrived in Iceland at 6:30 am. This is when I had my first cup of Icelandic coffee and let me tell you what IT IS AMAZING. Later I learned they import their beans from South America just like most American coffee houses ( and Starbucks) but the secret sauce is they are specially roasted once they make it to Iceland. The image of coffee below is from Kaffi Mokka my favorite spot in downtown Reykjavik and the sculpture that greets you at Keflavic Airport.
In addition to amazing coffee, they have amazing food. When I was researching and preparing for my trip I got really mixed reviews on the food and heard about the horrors of fermented shark but I actually loved everything I ate. What I found was a very mild palette, lots of fish, light meats, cheese, eggs, and yummy breads. Nothing was overly sweet or spicy but full of flavor. My very first day I ate at Loki Café, a sweet little mom and pop café with traditional eats.
I loved it! And enjoyed a perfect view of Hallgrímskirkja and got warm and cozy after making the trek to see it, just as the sun went down (at 5pm). Luckily for me, it was quite snowy which made for brighter days than are usually found in January.
Hallgrimskirkja is a Lutheran cathedral in the heart of downtown Reykjavik that was conceived in 1937 and completed in 1986, designed by State Architect Guðjón Samúelsson. It was so magical and the best place to spend my first afternoon sunset in Iceland.
While most of downtown resembles Charleston with cute little homes between two and three stories, the Church is not alone in the sky. Further downtown, near the Harbour there is a beautiful, modern skyline with what are here considered skyscrapers. These contrast the magical little cottages that sometimes look like mini castles.
The whole city is a reflection of the wonderful people who live there. They are all so kind and friendly (and speak amazing English) which made it easy for me to get around. I did discover my favorite word – UTSALA – which means sale and was music to my ears in the stylish shops that line Laugavegur, the main drag, equivalent to our King Street. The only difference is instead of Anthropolgie and H&M there are Scandinavian brands, local Icelandic designers, and tourist traps full of little sheep made from Icelandic wool and fun Northern Lights apparel. Even though I knew these were all very touristy things, I still thought they were beautiful. Pictured below is local designer and shop Spaksmannsspjarir. I love the Scandivnavian sense of style!
Even though it was mid-January when I was there the lights and decorations from Christmas were all still up. I overheard someone ask why and their response? “We just like it!”
This totally sums of the fun nature of the people in Reykjavik . They love the city feel of downtown but value their surrounding nature and everyone I spoke to told me I must come back during the summer months, it’s like a totally different country! I was lucky enough to have weather that allowed me to travel to the Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle. The Blue Lagoon is totally amazing and a must, must, must see!
But nothing captures the magic of Iceland like Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall.
The sheer size and sound of rushing water is enough to take your breath away but when you add in the terrifying bridge that overlooks its edge it really captures you. It is so beautiful! (Even at -15 degrees centigrade)
This was a once in a lifetime journey and I am so happy to share it with you!