October 15, 2018
What’s an Awesome Nugget? I’ll tell you. It’s a moment of surprise and delight. Just a little moment–or maybe a big one–depending on your point of view. I try and keep my eyes open for these beautiful moments both because they make me happy, and I hope they make you happy too.
Lorna from Gin & Lemonade recently reminded me that it’s been awhile since I wrote an Awesome Nuggets post. She’s right. And thus you have before you, a collection of Iceland-related nuggets. Let us begin.
Iceland Wants You Dead
After an overnight flight, my husband, Paul and good friends, Dan and Jayme, piled into our rental car ready for adventure in Iceland. We had a few hours in the car before we’d reach our AirBnB in Selfoss on Iceland’s South Coast. As we drove, I read Dan’s copy of Rick Steve’s Iceland. We had planned sparingly, preferring instead to follow our inclinations on what sites to see as our seven days unfolded. As a general rule, we like outdoor activities. We knew we wanted to spend our days outside in the volcanic wonderland that is Iceland. But, we didn’t know but soon learned: Iceland wanted us dead.
As I paged through the guidebook I found a section devoted specifically to all the ways to die on the island. I read it aloud as Dan drove. At this point, we’d been awake almost twenty-four hours and knew we had at least twelve more to go to reset our body clocks after the trip from the Midwest to Iceland. “Is this normal?” I asked. “Does Rick Steve always include a section about death in his guidebooks?”
The answer, as you might expect, is no. However, we weren’t worried. Most of us are sane. All of us have life insurance. Adventure awaited.
Death Aside, Iceland’s Pretty Great
- The Hveragerdi Hot Spring River Trail was our first stop after checking in to our AirBnB in Selfoss. Jayme suggested we keep moving in order to stave off the sleepiness from our flight. We were tired, but the hike was just right: vigorous but not overwhelming. The promised “rustic changing facilities” were laughable; so we laughed. We all donned our bathing suits with the help of strategic towel wrapping, shivering in the chill air. But, oh heavens, if you can sit in a warm river after a long overnight trip with excellent friends, you should. You definitely should.
- Rainbows! Yes, it rains and sleets and hails all the time, but wait a few moments and everywhere you look: Rainbows! We saw so many by the end of the week, we were like, “Oh, look, another rainbow.” But really–RAINBOWS!
- You gotta get naked. If you want to visit any of the thermal pools in Iceland (and you should) everyone is required to shower without a bathings suit both before and after enjoying a soak. To me, this is awesome because naked is just naked. Let’s get over ourselves shall we?
- We stayed at two different and equally fantastic AirBnB places. Both looked out over water. Both were immaculate. And, in both
cases, beds did not have flat sheets or a large quilt for a big bed. Instead, two pristine white, single-sized duvets lay neatly side by side on the queen and king beds. So no partner steals the covers! Genius.
- The Icelandic language is so close to the Old Norse they can read the stories from the 9th century Sagas with the same trouble we English-speakers may have with Shakespeare. In other words, it’s a really really old language that hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s lovely to listen to and though I tried to sound the words out with help from Rick Steve’s instruction guide, it made my tongue feel like it had run the equivalent of a tongue-marathon. So I gave up after awhile. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a delight. And the fact that literally every Icelander speaks English not just like it’s a second language but like it’s their second, FIRST language is also quite amazing.
- If heaven is a giant, perfectly cooked slab of glistening white halibut then I found it in Iceland. Whilst trying to find a cafe for a quick bite we stumbled upon a restaurant called Surf & Turf in Selfoss with a fresh fish lunch special. You may have heard that food is pricey in this tiny island nation. It is. But for just under $10 we each got a huge plate of perfect fish with root vegetables and a steaming buttered potato. Heaven, thy name is halibut.
- In other food news, let me tell you about piping hot cinnamon rolls from a bakery called Brauð& Co. Our apartment in Reykjavík was just a few blocks from one of their locations. One day after the four of us had all gone out for a run along the coast, I beat the other three home (because I ran only half of their 11 miles) and thought I’d buy us coffee at the little store across the street. I walked past Brauð & Co and realized Rick Steve had not listed, “death by olfactory overload” as one of Iceland’s dangers. The smell coming from that place made me feel like the cartoon characters whose feet lift from the ground in scent-induced ecstasy. When the rest of the crew returned from their run, I took them to the bakery. The blond Icelander behind the counter, upon hearing how close our apartment was to the bakery promptly said, “Well, you’re f’ed. You’ll be in here every day.” She was right.
- We went to a thermal bath called Fontana. I soaked in the hot water then noticed a few people submerging themselves in the cold lake adjacent to the geothermal pools. Jayme and Paul dared each other to try it. I went along. To say it was cold would be like calling Mark Zuckerberg “well-off.” But jumping back into the warm pool after a cold dunk felt like nothing I’ve ever experienced–something like when you get a massage and it hurts, but it hurts so good. Jayme must have felt the same way because she said, “I feel so good right now I could kill a rabbit.” Which, if you know Jayme, is both totally funny and totally Jayme.
- We picked our way on wobbly stones to reach a cavern into which a waterfall with an unpronounceable name meaning “dweller in the gorge” flowed. It was the third waterfall we’d seen that day, including Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss This one, Glúfrabúi, we had to work a little bit to reach. At Skogafoss–because I have a penchant for talking to strangers–I struck up a conversation with someone about the waterfalls in Iceland. This fellow said unequivocally, “make sure you follow the path.” And he was right. We
might not have known to follow the path through the thin aperture of the cavern to reach Glúfrabúi had he not warned us. It was glorious.
- The clever tagline of 66˚North, a popular Icelandic clothing line, is “Protecting Icelanders from Iceland since 1926.” Since we each packed rain pants, a hat, coat, gloves, and multiple layers for each day’s journey, it’s easy to see why Icelanders need protection from Iceland. There’s a saying on the Island, “petty reddest.” Roughly, it means “everything will work out in the end.” Icelanders are routinely found to be ranked among the happiest people on the planet. And it’s ironically, at least in part, attributable to the weather and the harsh conditions they endure together. I think there’s a certain magic to that worth giving more thought to.
- On our last full day, we thought we’d try something different. We’d been to the original Geysir from which all geysers get their name, seen a glacier, and trekked over and under waterfalls. The four of us had soaked in thermal pools and rivers, including the touristy-but-nonetheless-worth-it Blue Lagoon. And we’d all eaten fantastic fish, glorious cinnamon rolls, and some memorably awful ham and cheese sandwiches. We decided to finish up our trip with a yoga class led by the soft-spoken Klara at Reykjavík Yoga. Offered at a reasonable $20 rate, the class was taught in English to appeal to
Iceland’s over 2 million visitors. Klara assured us no one would watch when we made the ridiculous face required for effective Lion’s Breath and reclined in Pigeon pose. Yoga was then followed by happy hour and a ceremonial shot of Iceland’s herbal-infused spirit, Brennivín. If any day starts with yoga and ends with cocktails, that’s a good day.
- We spent seven full days and nights together. We traveled in a car, shared a bathroom, and negotiated who would hold on to the keys because Dan tended to forget exactly which pocket he’d put them in. With some people, it’s just that easy. And that, quite simply, is awesome.
There you have it. Iceland wants you dead, but it wants you to live a full, adventurous, delicious, rain-splashed life before you go.
Your Turn: Have you been to Iceland? What were your favorite moments in Iceland or wherever you’ve travelled lately?
For more Awesome Nuggets check out this page and share your own.