“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
Well, surely for this trip my heart was agreeing with my brain, and they were both saying “are you insane?”.
I am a creature of habit – I like hot temperatures, medieval cities, ancient monuments. So when in 2018 Mr B. came to me, suggesting a trip to Iceland, I couldn’t take him seriously. My immediate objection: this place has the word ICE in its name, it will be freezing cold and there is no way that I am going to take some time off work and spend money to go visit a place where I need to wear layers and layers of clothes to survive against hypothermia (yes, a little dramatic, I know). It was as simple as that, and I kept looking for a nice yoga retreat in Portugal, possibly in close proximity to the beach.
While I was looking at those stunning photos of villas, the pastel de nata, the ocean – thinking to myself if I would ever be able to do the crow pose (spoiler alert: after 2 years the answer is still no), my phone flashed.
It was the usual daily horoscope notification, saying something along those lines: “don’t be a stubborn idiot, sometimes listen to the others as their ideas might be better than yours.” These might not have been the exact words, but you got the gist of it. So I did what I always do when I don’t like my horoscope: I ignored it.
After a couple of days I found the perfect retreat: a beautiful flat above a yoga school, 5 minutes away from the beach, in a central location close to restaurants and shops. It was perfect, so I tried to book a long weekend but they were fully booked for the next 6 months. I kept looking, and despite I found some amazing places, there was always something wrong with them: too expensive, too far from the ocean, yoga classes too early in the morning or too late in the evening, etc… So I decided that those were signs that I wasn’t meant to go to Portugal that year.
In the meantime I kept receiving my horoscopes, and the messages were always something like “obstacles are taking you to the right path”, “sometimes we need guidance from above”, “trust those around you”. Nonsense.
So I kept googling “warm holidays Europe”, “best beaches”, “best places to visit”. And this when a very odd place came up: I saw a photo with some pebbles and a puffin, I kept scrolling and it didn’t look any better – a dry and brown landscape, people wrapped in sweaters and scarves, a questionable plate of food that I then found out was Svið… and then I saw it. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life: the northern lights. I have to admit, I had no idea they could look so bright and colourful, and I could never be bothered to check them online. It was just something I knew existed, but I was never curious enough to have a look or to read anything about them. I had to know more about this place, so I kept scrolling this album, and despite there were other pretty pictures, it still didn’t look like the place where I would go on a vacation. Some interesting things, yes, by still not the place for me. Then I read the title of the album: Iceland in winter. You got to be kidding me. The phone flashed, the usual notification and a message:”pay attention to the signs”. OK I GOT IT, LEAVE ME ALONE.
So I was going to book this trip, totally unconvinced and thinking I was going to waste time and money for a place where I would spend all my time in the hotel, near the fireplace or any source of heat. Yes, I am fun when I am in this mood, I know. Since the northern lights were the only reason why I kept looking at the album, I thought to myself “better checking when is more likely to see them”. Google gave me a response in 0.71 seconds: the Northern lights season in Iceland is from September to April. Obviously. So here I am, booking a November holiday in a place where the average temperature is 1-2°C (33-35°F) in wintertime, only to see something that could have easily been modified or photoshopped for that album.
Talking to friends that had already visited Iceland, they had only one piece of advice: cover yourself. Cover yourself well, with warm, waterproof clothes. Great start!
During the weeks before the flight, something changed: my usual WHY ME, WHY, became WHY DID I DO THIS, WHY. So much fun in those days, as you can imagine.
We land in this airport, and I admit it is quite cute: there are Christmas lights, elves, pieces of modern art…well it is kind of ok.
I am still not totally convinced, so I wait to get out and see what this place looks like. The temperature outside is cold, as expected, but bearable – not expected: well I guess those waterproof insulating clothes are actually working. A bus takes us from Keflavík Airport to Reykjavík, and the view during the route is that dry, brownish land that I saw in the pictures – but this time they hit differently, I don’t know why but now I find them suggestive
We get to Reykjavík,and my mind is not focusing anymore on those 4°C, especially when in front of me I have these incredible spots:
Ok, it is day 1 and I am already thinking that maybe this place wasn’t a bad idea. It is not Portugal, but at least I am not miserable in my hotel room, wrapped in blankets and watching TV in a language that I don’t really understand.
Fun fact #1: Icelandic language didn’t change much over the centuries. The first Bible in Icelandic, printed in the 1500s and currently located in the Skógar Museum, can still easily be read by Icelanders today.
Fun fact#2: The Icelandic language lists over 150 words to describe wind.
Day 2. We are off to see something called Golden Circle. I purposely didn’t Google it, I let Mr B. take care of everything – the only thing I know is that everybody is crazy about it, but I didn’t want to set any expectations. At the end of the day, I am still not sure why I booked this holiday, so any good things I see today are just a bonus. But mother nature clearly heard me and screamed STOP BEING A PAIN, and in doing so she shows me the most stunning show she has to offer – well done, that`s why you are in charge:
And, just in case that wasn’t enough to make me stop whinging, the show keeps on giving:
And the icing on the cake, of these spectacular creations that nature has gifted the world with – the reason why this trip started in the first place:
It is the most beautiful and majestic phenomenon I have ever seen, and despite the temperature below zero, the only thing I can think of is how lucky I am to witness nature in all her greatness.
You might think that by now, I am totally convinced that this trip to Iceland was a good idea – and you are wrong. It is still not giving me the opportunity to relax, to just chill in a warm place and do absolutely nothing. Yes, the places I visited are beautiful, but what if I only want to live la bella vita, just for one day? And to answer this question, we need to get to day 3. Day 3 is the Day that changed everything, that made me open my eyes to how little I knew about Iceland and about myself actually. Day 3 is the day I have been in paradise. Have you ever heard of the Blue Lagoon? It is a geothermal spa, located in a lava field near Grindavík.
The water has this milky colour due to the high silica content. It is also rich in algae and minerals, and it is believed it has beneficial effects on psoriasis, so in 1994 they opened a psoriasis clinic, and in 1995 they started marketing skin products.
The temperature of the water averages 37–39 °C (99–102 °F), so even if outside it is freezing cold, you totally forget about it, and can enjoy one of the best experiences you can have in life.
And what about the food in Iceland? It is unbelievable! It is tasty, full of flavours, and with that Nordic touch that make it proper comfort food:
And I didn’t mention yet what I loved most about Iceland: its warmth. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but I have never been in a place like this, where everywhere I go it feels like home: nobody knows you, and yet everybody treats strangers like old friends, being always super kind and helpful. The coffee shops are the place you want to go after a bad day, as you know that in there nothing bad can happen: it is just you, some good lo-fi music, and your coffee. And in my case, it has always been a very good coffee.
And I can only conclude this post with a picture of Kaffibrennslan, my favourite place of this trip that seemed hopeless and a total waste of time. You won’t believe it, but on my last day I was sitting here drinking my coffee, and the usual notification popped up. The message said “you are in the right place”, and for once, me and my horoscope were on the same page.