I lay on my back in my swimsuit laying next to my (now husband) fiancee. The stars were copious and the air around us was freezing. Every breath I exhaled floated as white matter in the direction of the plentiful stars. We had visited a local “swimming pool” as the Icelanders call them. As an American, I’m more inclined to call them “thermal baths” because they are scolding hot.
“Us locals like to come take a swim with our children. Then we wash them, change them into pajamas – it’s a natural way to induce sleep. Visiting the baths before bedtime will be the best sleep you ever get. Trust me.” We did trust our tour guide, and that’s how we found ourselves at Vesturbaejarlaug swimming pool. It’s the favorite one among locals. Many Reykjavik citizens have memories of splashing about as children and return now as adults to discuss the matters of the week with their peers.
Most of Reykjavik believes that the baths, being full of geothermal water, have healing properties. People will come in order to soothe all sorts of ailments. Many, I assume, visit just to lay back in the warm water and look up at the stars as we were doing. Bathing in the water had a strange way of making me feel like I was doing something “natural.” That would be the first of many of the “swimming pools” we visited, and of course the Blue Lagoon would be our final one.
Iceland has a way of throwing travelers steadfast into its way of living. You cannot find “whatever you want and need” in Iceland, and that’s why I like it. Icelanders are decidedly proud of their culture and fierce about protecting it. Citizens cannot even give their children non-Icelandic names! With that, nature is pervasive within the culture. It is the basis for much of the literature and sagas of the country.
Where I live, New York City, I’m hardly ever aware of circumstances such as the trees blowing in the wind or the sky changing from light to dark. There is a business in the people, the energy, and the aesthetics. Iceland is quiet and spacious.
One cannot help but be conscious of nature’s subtleties. The sudden dimness of the light in the sky was always something I enjoyed watching. I more enjoyed the opposite too. Since we visited in winter, the morning hours were frequently pitch black and ethereal. When we arrived in the city at 4AM it was DARK and there was not a ton of man made light around. However, people continue on their day as normal.
In our AirBnB there was a window inside of the shower. I always enjoyed feeling the hot water hit my back and hair as the cool velvet air from the evening sky rushed in through the window at the same time. It felt therapeutic and was a daily ritual. The cold wind in my face during walks caressed me so tenderly, that it was easy to imagine that it had hands and lips. If you’re afraid you won’t pick up on these subtleties of nature – don’t fret. You will not be able to help but notice that in one moment there is a blizzard while in the next there is absolute sunshine. Reykjavik has a saying. “If you don’t like the weather – wait five minutes – it will change.”
Iceland has a proud Viking history, and when taking a meditative walk by the water at the edge of Reykjavik as the fog rolls in, it is not too hard to imagine a Viking longboat rowing in from a faraway raid.
I have an obsession with the Vikings, possibly since the show on the history channel aired. Walking through Thingvellir National Park to see where Vikings from near and far gathered to discuss important matters at the parliament was a bucket list item for me. I couldn’t believe that people so long ago would travel to such a remote area. I imagined what must have went through their mind as they took in the immense natural splendour around them and the seemingly endless and vast swaths of land.
At no time was this more apparent than watching the Northern Lights at the park. Our guide warned us that there was a minimal chance of seeing nature’s best performance. Dozens of travelers stood in Thingvellir Park, seemingly all being told the same news. I’m a weirdo, so I pretended we were Vikings and all gathered around for a mid winter ceremony. It was a weird ass ceremony because nobody out of the entire crowd spoke at all.
One guide announced, “you know – ancient people believe if you clap and cheer it brings the lights out.” HELL YEAH if ancient people did it, then I want to as well. Again, I have a really idiosyncratic obsession with early people. The crowd clapped and cheered with all of its might and a faint green light appeared. The crowd went wild, and screamed louder as the light became stronger and spread across the sky. With one final gusto of enthusiasm the lights became their strongest. I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the crowd.
The Northern Lights were a little different than I expected. For one, they do not dance and sweep across the sky as I imagined. You know when you stare at an image for a long time? Then you stare at a blank wall and see that image? It felt a lot like that. However, it was incredibly magical and made me feel connected to the nature around me and the people before me.
There’s no shortage of waterfalls in Iceland. Standing above them, in front of them, and even behind them will surely stun anyone into silence.
Standing in front of Skogafoss falls was a reminder of how frail we are as humans when compared to natural elements.
I could not believe how close we were able to get. I can totally see how early settlers must have believed that the gods inhabited Iceland. Skogafoss certainly looks and feels as though one is in another dimension entirely.
Gullfoss falls is especially powerful and is a good reminder how frail humanity in comparison to the powers of nature.
Iceland’s nature isn’t just limited to its landscapes. It has a host of wildlife – none more famous than the Icelandic horse.
Despite its small stature, they are considered horses and not ponies. They are only found in Iceland and not shipped anywhere else. They date all the way back to the Viking age.
During a lesson, the guide said that in the summer some locals will get drunk and ride their horses around, laughing as they get thrown off. The horses sometimes run away, but always return safely home. Many Icelanders also ride bareback as well. Icelanders are fucking fearless!
Have you read my post about the douchiest horse ever? You should! It’s my top rated story and will make your sides hurt with laughter.
Nature even inspires many of the locally sourced meal options at restaurants. Menus are full of langoustines and seafood. The fish chowder is not at all what I expected. It’s so thick that it comes served on a plate. It comes with their famous brown bread and butter.
Iceland is synonymous with the sea. Walking around the old harbor area we came across some old boats and rustic seaside cottages. It’s not at all unusual that the best lobster bisque ever would be served in such surroundings.
Saegreifinn definitely gets my vote, and many others, for best lobster soup. It has HUGE chunks of lobster in a velvety, creamy broth served with fresh bread and butter. It might have been one of the best things I ate in Iceland.
A great opportunity for anyone able to do so is glacier hiking and ice climbing. It’s a unique chance to really connect with some of the greatest natural wonders of Iceland. Check out my post on hiking Solheimajokull glacier!
Nature has long been a source of inspiration for much of Iceland’s creative masterpieces. Sometimes, when if you get really lucky, it might inspire the person you love to ask you to spend the rest of their life “adventuring” side by side together.